Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Holy God

"I will reveal to the nations of the world my holiness among my people. They will live safely in Israel and build homes and plant vineyards."  Ezekiel 28:25-26 (NLT)

What do you think about when you hear the word holiness? In Christian culture, holiness is often defined as being perfect, sinless, or set-apart. In the Bible, the words holy, consecrated, sanctified, hallowed, and sacred are used interchangeably. They can be used of God—as the One who is holy; and they can be used of people and things that have been made holy by God: set apart for His service, purpose, or to display His glory.

In the verses above, God is making a statement about Himself regarding His holiness. At this time, His People had been exiled to Babylon because of their rebellion. Israel had become very corrupt and many were worshipping other gods. Because of their unfaithfulness, God allowed enemy nations to come in and take over. God's people were forced to live in submission to foreign powers after God had graciously led them to their own land.

But God promised to be merciful. He told His People (through the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others) that He would bring them back to their homeland after a time. In Ezekiel 28, we read these words: "I will reveal to the nations of the world my holiness among my people. They will live safely in Israel and build homes and plant vineyards."

I find this interesting because God is talking about setting Himself apart and revealing His glory to other nations by how He treats His People. He isn't saying, 'I am a great God because I am holy.' He says, 'I am holy because I am a great God. I love My People. I will care for them even though they rebelled against Me. I will keep them safe and provide for their needs.'

God's holiness isn't about keeping our sin at a distance, as if He can't handle being in our presence. In His anger, He sent His People away; but in His love, He restored them. His holiness draws us near. Why? Because we need Him. He only wants us to recognize that. He doesn't want us to try and make it on our own. He knows we can't have true life without Him.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that a holy God expects you to be perfect. "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" doesn't mean sinless; It means complete or finished. It's closely related to the word Jesus used on the cross when He said, "It is finished."  He was talking about bringing His purpose to a conclusion—to have done what He came for. He came to bring forgiveness to all, and it was done. Our completeness, our holiness comes from Him. It is not of ourselves. It is a gift.

We have a holy God. He is our righteousness. We bring nothing to the table except our broken, sinful, and needy hearts. But what does He bring? Everything! He brings His love, His mercy, His power. He brings Himself; and that's more than enough to meet our every need.

Trying to save ourselves with our own goodness and effort is not only futile, it's exhausting. Trying to provide for ourselves, protect ourselves, and sustain ourselves is futile too. Living this way isn't truly living. It's dying a slow death. If you want true life, cry out for mercy, forgiveness, and faith that God will meet your every need—spiritually, emotionally, and materially. Just rest in His love, His goodness, and His power. Let Him make you holy and complete, lacking in nothing. That is true worship. That is true submission to a holy God.

For no one is abandoned by the LORD forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love.

(Lamentations 3:31-32 NLT)

Photos by Roma Flowers, cristiano galbiati, and Adam Jackson. Freeimages.com
Scripture taken from Matt. 5:8, John 19:30

Saturday, December 24, 2016

So Loved

For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son…

Do you have a favorite Christmas carol? Do you know it by heart? If so, take a moment to sing it to yourself. Why is it your favorite? Is it the tune, the words, the meaning?

Whether it's a silly song or a serious one, it's probably easy to sing without thinking too much about what you're singing. You may not even know what it means or the history behind it, but that doesn't stop you from singing along.

Familiar Christmas songs, Christmas traditions kept year after year, and the gifts given and received often become so familiar, it's easy to overlook how special they are. Sometimes it takes a change, where certain elements are missing, to realize how much a part of our celebration they have become.

Perhaps you have experienced this: the year your family had to go without a tree, gifts, or some-one. If you haven't suffered such a loss, take a moment to think about what you would miss at Christmas—a little, and a lot. 

I don't bring this up to put a damper on your holiday. Quite the opposite, actually. Like a festive carol that puts you in the Christmas spirit, I want to share words from the Bible that remind us what Christmas is all about. John 3:16 says, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  If this is your first time hearing this verse, keep reading, and if it's so familiar you could say it in your sleep, you might want to listen in too, because I'm willing to bet you need to let the words go a little deeper.

God so loved… Because God loved everyone so much, He sent His Son, Jesus, to display His mercy...

Just think about that! I mean, what else could God have given to show how much He loves us? It's not like He didn't have other grand things to choose from. He could have given us each our own galaxy. He could have given us magical powers to fly. He could have given us rivers of chocolate and mountains of ice cream. But instead of going for whimsical gifts, He chose the most precious thing to Him. Not something He could wave His hand and create in an instant, but something irreplaceable. His most precious possession. Something that said, This is how much I love you. You are so loved.

You might be asking, 'But what is Jesus to me? Why is that such a great gift? No offense, God, but a new galaxy sounds pretty cool—or the house I've always wanted, an unending closet, a pool in the backyard…'

Yes, those things would be nice, and if you take time to think about it, He's probably given you a lot of good things—more blessings than you could think of before finishing this blog. But what makes Jesus so special? Why is He the best gift of all?

When Jesus came, His purpose was to proclaim God's love: His compassion; His nearness. God wasn't far away. He wasn't out of reach. He wasn't like a busy parent who is never home. He isn't like Santa who brings gifts at midnight but is gone in the morning. He is real and never more than a prayer away.

Like Christmas that wouldn't be the same without your favorite song, gifts, or your family, life would be very different without God's love. If Jesus never came, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be here; but if we were, there would be no hope for the future, no comfort in sorrow, no happiness to be found anywhere, no love in our hearts. This world would be a very dark, horrible place. There would be no reason to sing, "Joy to the World".

The prophet Isaiah said, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2,6)

You see, when God sent Jesus, He was giving us Himself; His presence; His unconditional, unending love.

This Christmas I pray you will take that into your heart like never before. God could not have given you a greater gift, so believe it. You are so loved.

The LORD delights in youHe will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. (Isaiah 62:4,5 NLT)

Photos by Rick Jernberg, Dany Sabadini; FreeImages.com

Sunday, December 11, 2016


My righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.
Isaiah 53:11 (NLT)

I've been reading in the book of Isaiah lately, and the ancient prophet makes many references to the promised Messiah of Israel. Today we know he was talking about Jesus, the baby who was born to Mary and Joseph. On the night of His birth, an angel was sent to shepherds watching over their flocks at night and made this announcement: "I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people."

In my previous blog, I talked about Jesus bringing the Good News that "The Kingdom of God is near."  In essence, the angel was saying the same in announcing the birth of the Christ-child. "A Savior has been born to you…peace to those on whom his favor rests."  God had come near to bring salvation, peace, and joy, as the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed hundreds of years before.

In Isaiah 53, we read about Who was promised, what He would be like, and His purpose. In verse 11 it says, My righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.  This is the cornerstone of God's Kingdom. His mercy and forgiveness counts us as righteous.

We are loved. We are forgiven. We are free.

Later in the Gospels, we can read a wonderful story that shows what this means for one woman. She responds to this free gift of salvation by attending a dinner-party held in Jesus' honor and washing His feet with perfume and her tears. The host of the party is disgusted by her actions because she is a "sinful woman", but Jesus is moved by her gratitude and love.

"I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love."

In contrast, the man sees himself as righteous with no need for forgiveness—or at least not as much as this woman. Other than inviting Jesus to dinner, he doesn't do anything to honor Him. Why? He doesn't understand how much Jesus has given him. He hasn't been made righteous through forgiveness, but rather is self-righteous, thinking he hasn't done much that needs forgiving, and he can easily make up for his shortcomings by having the Messiah over for dinner. (Surely that will cover it.)

But it doesn't work that way. Hundreds of years before, God had said, My righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for HE will bear all their sins. The "sinful" woman understood this, the "righteous" man did not. He didn't understand that he and the woman were the same: sinful but forgiven. That's the only scale of righteousness God has.

We all make mistakes. No one is perfect. We're all sinners. Perhaps you see yourself like the man who wasn't "too bad"; or maybe you see yourself as the man saw the woman. In his eyes, she was beyond forgiveness. Her sins were "too great". But in God's Kingdom, neither reality exists.

All of us like sheep have strayed away. We have left God's paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on HIM the sins of us all.

The sins of us all…I pray you believe that. You are forgiven. No matter what mistakes you have made, no matter what you need forgiveness for. You are. You are counted as righteous.

As the woman in the story who washed Jesus' feet with her tears, may your motive for loving God and showing Him that love be the same. Not from a heart of guilt and shame, nor from a heart of self-righteousness. But rather as one who owed a debt that couldn't be paid, so He paid it for you. Go in peace, dear one. You have been forgiven.

Scripture taken from Mark 1:15; Luke 2:10-11, 14; Luke 7:47 (NLT); Isaiah 53:6 (NLT)
Woman photo by Benjamin Earwicker, FreeImages.com