The power only comes with the truth

Sometimes I think we promote the Gospel like advertising companies promote products. We select our target audience, do some research on what they want, and spin our narrative to match their perceived needs.

While this may be an effective marketing technique, it is entirely ineffective when it comes to the Gospel. Unlike the latest iPhone or breakfast cereal, the good news of Jesus Christ does not need to be adapted based on culture or context, for one key reason: it has the power of God within it.

I think often we forget this, as we look for fancy, eloquent words or clever coercive devices, twisting the message into the most relevantly palatable morsel we can. We forget that God, not us, defines His method of salvation. He has given and empowered ONE Gospel: That Jesus was crucified, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that He was raised to life again for the forgiveness of sins.

We must be careful never to water down the truth, for it is only the true Gospel that has within it the ‘power of God unto Salvation.’

It is not the words, or the persuasiveness with which they are proclaimed, that saves people; it’s the power of God. So if you want to see results that last, preach the truth that has the power, not what elicits a feel-good or emotive response in the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Why was the blood of animal sacrifice a ‘pleasing aroma to the LORD?’

blood sacrificeI’m reading Leviticus. It’s tough going. There are rules and regulations listed in extreme detail, and a lot of directives involving the blood, fat, meat and regularity of animal sacrifices.

My housemate told me that she loves reading the Old Testament because of what it teaches her about God’s character, so I’ve been really focusing on what I can learn about who God is.

He seems to like blood.

The picture of God as presented in Leviticus appears demanding and somewhat brutal. How can the God I know and love have been so keen on the constant offerings of blood and flesh, to the point where he considers it a ‘pleasing aroma?’ It seems sadistic.

So I’ve been praying and meditating, and last week God gave me something powerful: It shows his abhorrence to sin.

So often I just ignore sin in my life. But God really hates it. He cannot abide it. There is absolutely nothing good or worthwhile in sin.

God doesn’t like death either. He created a world without it. But death has in it one redeeming feature that sin doesn’t have. Justice.

In the disgusting brutality of the shedding of blood, there was something good: The pleasing aroma of justice, which covered the stench of sin.

God was willing to endure the death of animals, and even of His own son, so that the sin of humanity could be washed away. It was not the smell of death that pleased God, but the smell of atonement.

How do I know I’m not a psychopath?

Yes, I have actually asked myself this question. Very occasionally, when I remember the following two things, I have a mini freak out.

  1. We are all likely capable of unspeakable evilindex
  2. It only takes one screw up of epic proportions in the space of a few minutes to completely change your life.

What is it that is restraining me from a momentary epic screw up, and how strong is that thing that’s restraining me?

I was reflecting on this with a very down to earth friend who surprised me with her answer. She said first that we obviously create personal boundaries and make daily choices to adhere to a moral code to reduce the chances of an epic ‘brain fart,’ but that if we accidently screw up, jail isn’t actually the end of the world.

What? I actually thought it was! But she’s right. When you know God and you know grace, screwing up is never the end of the world.

But still, it’s not ideal.

This morning she sent me this quote: “Grace is not simply leniency when we have sinned. Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.”

Immediately after, I saw this by Challies: “God’s providence is the single greatest hindrance to the tsunamis of sin that would otherwise gush out of our sinful hearts.”

So, I think I’m safe. But it is a good reminder that when I see people who have epically screwed up, I need to remember that “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

The Gift of Death

The gift of death is, paradoxically, the gift of life.

One of my beautiful students asked me the other day, why God would create such beautiful people, only to let them die.

garden_of_edenIt’s a fair question, but it’s one limited by lack of information, because if we understand the fullness of the Bible, we can understand the gift of death.

When Adam and Eve were in the garden they were free to eat from the Tree of Life. They were going to live forever in the bliss and beauty of what God had created.

The right to eat from the Tree of Life was only taken from them after they sinned. Because living forever under the curse of sin was never God’s plan for anyone.

Adam and Eve both died a physical death, but it was not a tragic one. Physical death was one of the gifts that God gave them, along with the redemptive death and resurrection of His Son, in order for them to enter into eternal life.

Death can be a great tragedy, but only when it takes a person who refuses to accept God’s gift of life. For those who have life, it is the beautiful gateway out of an existence marred by sin.

Why prostitutes had an advantage with Jesus

382805_10150412644633143_1558372632_nSome time ago I watched a documentary by Louis Theroux about legal prostitution in America. What surprised me about these women was how broken they were. There were no pretenses. They are who they are and they know it.

Sure they have attitude and sass, and a lot of bravado, but once you get them talking, deep down, it’s not something they’re proud of.
It made me realize what it was that caused Jesus to hang out with them in preference to the religious elite of the time. While the prostitutes were under no false illusion about who they were and their need for a saviour, the rest of us spend so much time thinking of ourselves as good and trying desperately to cover anything that cracks the facade. The prostitutes of Jesus’ time knew they were seen as the scum of the earth, and came to Jesus in humility, recognising their true place before him.

Jesus had a lot of time for these people. And their humility was their great advantage. As He said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” It is our great disadvantage that many of us who think we are morally healthy by the world’s standards, are dying of pride on the inside, while the humble are receiving Jesus’ forgiveness and grace.

Thoughts on Hell from the Hottest Place on Earth

1186903_28200330Today I’m apparently living in the hottest place on earth. With temperatures predicted to soar to 46 degrees Celsius it’s definitely a scorcher.

But you know what? Although it’s definitely hot, sitting in an air-conditioned house I’m hardly feeling it; I’m not being hit with the reality of 46 degrees.

This reminded me of a sobering passage from Jonathan Edwards’ famous 1741 sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God:”

 

‘There is the dreadful Pit of the glowing Flames of the Wrath of God; there is Hell’s wide gaping Mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, not any Thing to take hold of: there is nothing between you and Hell but the Air; ‘tis only the Power and mere Pleasure of God that holds you up.

You probably are not sensible of this; you find you are kept out of Hell, but don’t see the Hand of God in it, but look at other Things, as the good State of your bodily Constitution, your Care of your own Life, and the Means you use for your own Preservation. But indeed these Things are nothing; if God should withdraw his Hand, they would avail no more to keep you from falling, than the thin Air to hold up a Person that is suspended in it.”

How great is the grace of God that holds us out of hell! And how fearful the day that He removes His hold from those who, by their own will, have rejected it.

When Depravity Makes Me Mad (and it’s a good thing I’m not God)

I have to admit, sometimes depravity makes me so mad. When I talk to someone who openly loves everything that God hates; who blatantly scorns His word and mocks His name, I sometimes feel a deep, bubbling anger rise in me.

Some would call this righteous anger, and sometimes it is; but sometimes it’s not too. Sometimes I feel aggressively angry, sometimes I wonder why God still offers these people grace.

foggymorning_2201323A couple of months ago I was flying over one of Australia’s cities at night. I remember looking down and seeing the tiny cars zooming along the highways like glowing ants, and I thought about how small we all are when viewed from afar. I thought about how easy it would be for God to reach down and squish us with as little thought as we give to stepping on an ant that has bitten us.

And then I encounter depravity and I wonder why He doesn’t; sometimes I even wish He would. It’s a good thing I’m not God.

When faced with total depravity, God’s grace abounds even more. I should know, because He’s bestowed it on me. When I look at someone who curses God’s name, I must remember that ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

And those who continue to despise and reject Him must remember that ‘today is the day of salvation,’ and they cannot assume that there will always be a future chance for repentance.

You Couldn’t Handle the Guilt.

Photo Credit: Mare-of-Night

Painting Credit: Mare-of-Night

Growing up in a Christian home meant that while I always knew I was a sinner, my ‘good little Christian girl’ behavior often made it hard for me to really see myself that way.

As I grew older, and my understanding of both myself and the gospel deepened, I came to understand that while I was good at avoiding the obvious, visible sins, in my heart, I was no better than anyone else. I understood this, but I often struggled to really feel it; instead of wrestling with guilt, I’ve wrestled with not feeling guilty enough.

I’ve prayed through this many times, grappling with the paradoxical desire to fully comprehend my sinfulness (which would hopefully enable me to more completely experience God’s graciousness) while at the same time recognizing that the cross has done away with my sin and I am clothed with the righteousness of Christ.

I was struggling with this once again on the weekend; struggling with my lack of guilt and my apathy towards my sinfulness, when I sensed the voice of God say to me ‘Sarah, you couldn’t handle the guilt.’

I know that I’m a sinner, and I know that I’ve trusted Jesus with my sin, so instead of wrestling with not feeling it enough, I need to rejoice in God’s grace. He knows that I could not stand under the weight of my own guilt, and He has not asked me to. Jesus paid for that too.

If God is good, why doesn’t he stop human suffering?

Photo Credit: benreed.net

I know there is great risk of sounding trite in attempting a short answer to such a complex question, but I recently received an insight that I found quite profound.

We live in a world damaged by sin. As long as Satan is the god of this world there will be suffering. Most Christians accept this truth, but it is difficult knowing that God could stop it.

So, what would an end to sin and suffering look like? We would have a gloriously perfect world! A world, in fact, exactly like the one God has promised will come one day. The question, therefore, is not, ‘why won’t God end suffering,’ but rather, ‘why won’t God end suffering now?’

I recently heard Dr. Les Crawford, from the Adelaide College of Ministries, make this comment: ‘If God brought in the new heaven and the new earth now – that would be the end of redemption.’

It really hit me. To end suffering would mean to destroy all that is corrupted by sin. And God’s glorious agenda is to bepatient…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Some people face horrific suffering in this life, and I don’t want to trivialise that, but we must not judge God to be unkind for not yet transforming the world. He does it out of a heart of amazing grace, because He knows that while we are here, our suffering is temporary, but once the doors close on redemption, it is eternal.