Draw Near to God

Do not come any closer.

These were the words of God to Moses at the burning bush. Throughout the Old Testament, God repeatedly warned his people not to come close. He commanded Moses to put a barrier around the mountain of the Lord lest the people climb it and be destroyed by their holy God. The children of Israel were commanded to keep their distance from the Ark of the Covenant, which was symbolic of the presence of the Lord. Even the priests were not to enter the Most Holy place because the presence of the Lord was there. This distance between God and His people is dealt with all throughout the Old Testament.

In the New Testament, however, we see a startling contrast. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

In the Greek, the word “come” has the idea of drawing near. This passage invites us to draw near the throne of grace. Unlike in the Old Testament where God’s people were told to keep their distance, now we are invited into the very near presence of God. Why? What has changed?

Throughout the Old Testament, God commanded His people to keep their distance not because He did not love them but because He wanted to protect them. God is holy holy holy. We are unrighteous, completely defiled by sin. Unrighteousness cannot stand in the presence of the Holy God. He is a consuming fire. He commanded His people to keep their distance lest He consume them.

So what about now? Why can we draw near? Are we better than the people of the Old Testament? Has God changed?

We are as unrighteous as ever. God is unchanging. He is righteous and holy. In our unholy state, we have no access to God.

The invitation to come into the very near presence of God is not based upon our holiness. It is based upon the holiness of another. Because Jesus Christ lived a perfectly righteous life, died and rose again, we can stand before God.

We can draw near not on our own merits but rather on the merit of Christ. As believers, we are clothed in His righteousness. It is only through the holiness and perfection of Christ that we can draw near.

What an incredible reality! No longer do we have to keep our distance from God. No longer is there a chasm between our Lord and us. Christ has bridged that chasm for us and we can draw near to God.

Hebrews 10:19-22 says, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Because of the work of Christ on our behalf, we can draw near with full assurance of faith. We do not have to fear being rejected by God. If we are in Christ, He invites us into His presence. He desires that we would draw near and discover the joy of intimacy and sweet fellowship with Him.

Jumbled Efforts and our Amazing God

I rested my chin on my hand and tapped my pen against my desk. A blank card sat in front of me. What should I write?

Because I was in one of the advanced classes at Bible College, I had arrived a few days ago. The students who were attending the basic class would arrive tomorrow. I was excited. For the moment my room was empty, just me and my stuff. Tomorrow I would have three new roommates. The card in front of me was to one of them. I wanted to do everything I could to make them feel welcome. After agonizing over the cards for a while, I finally finished them, wrote names on the outside of each envelope and laid them out on the desk. Going over to the door, I looked again at the names. Suddenly I realized that the door tag was different. The name Morgan had been removed. What happened? I wondered sadly. Walking over to the desk, I removed the card that I had written to Morgan and put it at the back of a stack of blank cards.

When the students arrived I was excited to get to know them all. While we were waiting for dinner one evening, a girl struck up a conversation with me. I learned that her name was Morgan. Immediately, I thought of the card in my room. Did I write anything that would make it exclusive to my roommate Morgan? I didn’t think so. Later I went back and re-read the card. It was very generic. After all, I hadn’t really known the girl I was writing to. I had basically said that I was excited to get to know her and glad she was here. I had also included my favorite Scripture verse at the bottom. Ok, I thought I’ll give this to the other Morgan. At least that way it won’t be wasted and maybe it will bless her. Setting it on my desk with the intention of delivering it later, I began working on a homework assignment.

The card sat on my desk all week. Every time I saw it I thought, oh I need to take that to Morgan. Finally one afternoon I thought, if I don’t do it now I’ll probably never do it. Picking up the card, I walked downstairs to Morgan’s room and slid the card under her door.

Later that day, I received a letter from Morgan. In it, she shared with me that she had stepped out in obedience to what she felt the Holy Spirit was calling her to do that afternoon. As soon as she did so, the enemy attacked her. Her mind was filled with doubt and she began to struggle. It was then that she noticed my card. The Holy Spirit used my card and especially the verse at the end to confirm that she had done the right thing and that He was pleased.

When I finished reading her card, I sat back in amazement. The card I had given to her was intended for someone else. Even after I decided to give it to her I had meant to deliver it days beforehand. I saw so clearly the goodness of God at that moment. He knew all along who would receive that card and when. He knew what she would need to hear and He gave me the words to write.

What an amazing God we serve! He can use even our jumbled efforts at service to bless others beyond our wildest imaginations.

Becoming a Mature Believer

What does it look like to grow as a Christian?

Many young believers see their need for God so clearly. They realize that they have sinned and messed up their lives. They are desperate to live differently and know that apart from God it is impossible so they cling to Him. They are dependent upon Him. They seek His will in the smallest moments of everyday life.

As the years go by, often, these believers grow up and become more “mature” in their faith. They become accustomed to the Christian life. They lose their conscious need for God’s help. They stop depending on Him and seeking His help and guidance in every area of their lives.

This is normal but is it right? Should we grow up in our faith to be independent of God or should we grow more dependent every day?

John 15:4-8 says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

As believers, we should constantly be growing and becoming more fruitful for the kingdom. According to Jesus the only means by which a believer can bear fruit is by abiding in Him. If we abide in Jesus we will bear much fruit. Without Jesus, we can accomplish nothing.

A branch’s job is not to bear fruit. Instead, it is to abide in the vine. If it abides in the vine, it will produce fruit. In the same way, our job as believers is to abide in Jesus. If we do so our lives will overflow with fruit.

Although it is normal for us to grow in independence, we should instead grow in dependence. This is the key to maturity and fruitfulness. The Christian life can be summed up in one word—Jesus. He is our aim, our goal, our life.

A mature believer is one whose whole life is wrapped up in Jesus, one who has truly learned to abide in and depend upon Him.

Is that your reality as a believer? Is your life summed up in Jesus? Are you growing more dependent upon Him every day?

May we mature in our faith by growing in dependence.  May we cling ever tighter to Jesus.

His Story or Yours?

What is your view of history? Do you see it as a chain of random events brought about by the desires of men or do you see the hand of God guiding and orchestrating?

In Acts chapter 13 Paul preaches a stirring message to the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch. In his sermon, Paul reminds these Jewish worshipers of their history placing God at the center of everything. God, not man, is the major player in history.

According to Paul, God chose the Jews, exalted them in the land of Egypt, brought them out of Egypt, destroyed seven nations in Canaan, distributed Canaan to the children of Israel, gave them judges, gave them Saul and David as kings and raised up a Savior for Israel.

Far too often when I look at history I see the works of men and miss the hand of God. God is not distant. He is involved in history. Throughout all of history to this very day and hour, God is working.

As Benjamin Franklin said at the Constitutional Convention on July 28, 1787, “God governs in the affairs of men.”

If asked, most Christians would certainly agree but how often do we actually think this way? When we look at the history of the world, do we see the hand of God? What about when we look at the history of our own lives? Do we see God at work throughout our lives or do we give coincidence credit for much of what happens to us?

Throughout his epistles, Paul constantly exhorts believers to give thanks. According to Paul, we ought to be giving thanks always, in everything and for everything. Paul’s prayers throughout scripture overflow with thanksgiving to God. Could it be that Paul was so quick to thank God because he had learned to see God’s hand in history?

When we see our lives as the accumulation of random coincidences, we have little for which to thank God. When instead we recognize the hand of God guiding and providing for us throughout our lives, our hearts will overflow with thanksgiving.

When we view history as a chain of random events brought about by human beings, we have little for which to thank God. When, however, we recognize the hand of God throughout history, we can praise Him for all that He has done in the past.

When we fail to see God’s hand at work in the past we will most likely struggle to trust Him with the future. If God has not been involved in history up until now, why would He suddenly get involved in our lives? If God’s hand is absent from the past we have little hope for the future.

If, however, God has been at work throughout all of human history, we can trust Him with today and tomorrow. We can rest upon the fact that the God who has walked with his people all throughout history and to the present hour will continue to do so in the future.

What about you? Do you see the hand of God working throughout history and your own life? Consider how the Lord had been faithful to you over the years and rest upon the fact that the same God who guided and directed your past holds your future.

Walking With a Limp

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A liar, deceiver, and manipulator, Jacob was self-sufficient, independent and able to get his way. But all of that changed in Genesis 32. Jacob came face to face with God and wrestled with Him through the night. He came away from that encounter with a new name and a limp.

Up until this point, Jacob had gotten everything he wanted in his own strength. He was strong and independent. In this wrestling match, God dislocated Jacob’s hip, giving him a limp and showing him how weak he really was.

Jacob desperately needed to learn to depend upon God. His greatest spiritual weakness was His own strength and intellect.

Whether we realize it or not, we are all weak and broken. We all need to learn to depend upon God. We all have a limp but it isn’t until we come face to face with God that we recognize it.

When we truly see God we finally see ourselves as we really are. We will never fully understand our own helplessness and vileness until we come face to face with Him—His power and His holiness. It is impossible for us to truly understand who we are until we know who He is.

A true encounter with God will always leave us with a limp. Suddenly in light of God, we see our weakness and we realize how desperately we need to depend upon Him.

As much as we may dislike seeing our own destitution and desperate need, it is actually a wonderful thing. As long as we are striving in our own strength we can never accomplish anything. It is only when we recognize our need and depend upon the Lord that we can be truly effective and productive.

John 15:4-5 says, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. We, like Jacob, need to come face to face with the living God and see ourselves in light of Him. We are weak. We are helpless. We are broken. Apart from our gracious God, we are utterly destitute. We need Him so desperately. We must learn to abide in and depend upon Him.

Are you like Jacob, striving to find happiness and fulfillment? Or have you come face to face with your own brokenness and destitution? Have you learned to depend upon God and embrace your limp?

What Will it Profit?

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Recently I worked as a nanny, caring for three children ages seven, five and three. It was a challenging job and I learned a lot.

I learned that you shouldn’t hand a three-year-old a bottle of food coloring, that making dinner with a five-year-old’s help can be quite a challenge and that I tire out far quicker than a seven-year-old. I also learned that no one can replace mom in a child’s life.

In our culture, independence, success, and achievement have been idolized while family has been sacrificed. Parents work long hours and children everywhere feel their absence acutely.

God instituted family. It is valuable to Him. In many ways, family reveals the nature of our God. Marriage is a picture of Christ and His church. Parenthood shows us a glimpse of God’s Father heart.

Godly families functioning as they ought to function bring glory to God and demonstrate His nature to this world. Is it any wonder then that the enemy would attack family?

The attack on family is covert. The enemy does not often tempt Christian parents to abuse their children. Instead, he tempts them toward distraction and busyness.

If Christian parents are chasing careers and success they will become too busy to love their families well. When parents are too distracted to invest in their children we no longer see a picture of God’s love and care for us.

Our world does not need more men passionate about their careers. We don’t need more women devoted to their professions. We need more fathers and mothers who are devoted to God first and their families second. We need more Fathers who, though they are exhausted when they get home from work, choose to wrestle and play with their children. We need more mothers who have time to listen to their children’s greatest fears, and dreams and longings.

Success and achievement in this world will not matter in light of eternity. Wealth will fade away. But the souls of our children are eternal.

Matthew 16:26 says, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

I would add to this question. What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses the souls of his children?

3 John 1:4 says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.“

Truly this is a great joy and one that every Christian parent ought to be seeking wholeheartedly.

Consistent Christianity

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The greatest argument against Christianity is not the problem of pain or the lack of miracles in our world but rather the inconsistency of Christians. Too often our actions contradict our message. We proclaim grand truth but live mediocre lives.

Although we as Christians often grow accustomed to this discrepancy, unbelievers do not. They recognize the inconsistency in our lives and often use it to discredit our God.

Two years ago I stumbled across a tract by an atheist that profoundly challenged me. Although he is an atheist, this man has a clearer understanding of what the consistent Christian life would look like than many Christians. The tract reads as follows:

“Did I firmly believe, as millions say they do, that the knowledge and practice of religion in this life influences destiny in another, religion would mean to me everything. I would cast away earthly enjoyments as dross, earthly cares as follies, and earthly thoughts and feelings as vanity. Religion would be my first waking thought, and my last image before sleep sank me into unconsciousness. I should labour in its cause alone. I would take thought for the morrow of Eternity alone. I would esteem one soul gained for heaven worth a life of suffering. Earthly consequences should never stay my hand, nor seal my lips. Earth, its joys and its griefs, would occupy no moment of my thoughts. I would strive to look upon Eternity alone, and on the Immortal Souls around me, soon to be everlastingly happy or everlastingly miserable. I would go forth to the world and preach to it in season and out of season, and my text would be, what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

This is the consistent Christian life. We claim to believe that earthly life holds little significance in view of eternity but do we truly live it? We claim to love those who don’t know Christ but how much can we really love them if we believe they are lost without Christ and yet are unwilling to preach the gospel to them?

As believers, we are called to give up everything for Jesus. We are called to be sold-out for Him. But are we? Our lack of evangelism condemns us. Our dusty Bibles condemn us. Our empty prayer meetings condemn us.

Where are the bold Christians who are willing to lose everything for Christ? Where are the Moseses of our day—the humble leaders? Where are the Esters of our day—the bold intercessors? Where are the Pauls of our day—the suffering servants?

Our world needs bold Christians who are willing to spend and be spent for Christ. May we become those Christians.

“Rise up, O men of God! Have done with lesser things; Give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of kings. Lift high the cross of Christ; Tread where His feet have trod; As brothers of the Son of Man, Rise up, O men of God!”
William Pierson Merrill “Rise up, O men of God.”

 

Trial Before Deliverance

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There were mountains on either side, the Red Sea in Front and the Egyptian army behind.

Can you imagine the terror of that moment, the fear that must have gripped every Israelite heart? Wouldn’t it be exciting to have been there when God came to Israel’s aid by parting the Red Sea before them?

Imagine watching God work like that in your own life. Wouldn’t you love to have your own “parting of the Red sea” story to tell?

In our desire to see God move mightily in our lives, we often forget that trial comes before deliverance. If the Israelites had not been trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red sea God would not have needed to part the waters in front of them.

Think of all of the great stories of Scripture. If the children of Israel had never run out of food, God would not have provided Manna for them. If they had never run out of water, He would not have brought water out of a rock.

Over the course of his lifetime, George Muller opened multiple orphanages that collectively cared for over 10,000 orphans. His orphanages were run on faith and prayer alone. He never asked anyone for money even when his ministry was in the most desperate need.

One morning the housekeeper of one of the orphan houses came to George Muller and informed him that there was no more food in the house nor was there money to buy any. When the orphans assembled for breakfast, George Muller bowed his head and prayed, thanking God for the food that He would provide. As He finished, a nock was heard on the door. A milk cart had just broken down outside the orphanage. Since the milk was liable to spoil before it could be delivered the driver wondered if the orphanage could use it. George Muller joyfully dispatched several of the older boys to carry in the milk. A moment later a second nock was heard. This time a baker stood outside. He explained that he had been unable to sleep the night before because the Lord had impressed the orphans upon his mind. He had spent all that night baking bread for the orphanage.

I don’t know about you but I want that. I long to see prayers answered and impossible situations turned on their heads. But in order for God to deliver us so miraculously, we first need to be trapped in an impossible situation.

Far too often when things go badly I become fearful or frustrated. I forget that these are the very moments when we get to see God work.

Psalm 46:1-2 says, “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;”

The psalmist declares that he will not fear even in the midst of the most extreme circumstances. Why? God is our refuge and strength. He is our help in trouble.

As believers, we never need to fear because our God is a very present help in trouble. We can rejoice in trials because our God is working in and through them to bring glory to His name.

The Problem with Missionaries

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Jesus said go and make disciples of all nations. He did not say send someone else to go and make disciples. Jesus never intended for the work of His kingdom to be relegated to “professionals”. While it is wonderful that we have pastors and missionaries who devote themselves to ministry full-time, Jesus has called every believer to make disciples.

While we ought to send and support missionaries it does not let us off the hook. As believers, we are all called to be missionaries wherever we go.

When was the last time you shared the gospel with someone?

Sadly many American Christians go for weeks, months, possibly even years without sharing the gospel because we do not recognize that it is our responsibility as believers to do so.

In the United States today, believers and especially young believers are obsessed with finding the will of God for their lives. Where does God want me to go to College? Who does God want me to marry? What does God want me to do with my life? These are all questions that many people are asking. But in all of our seeking after the will of God, we often miss the fact that God has revealed His will for our lives in His word.

According to 1 Thessalonians 4:3 the will of God is that we would be sanctified. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us that the will of God is that we would rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks in everything. Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:19 that making disciples of all nations is the will of God. Scripture declares what our lives, as believers, are to look like.

What is the will of God?

It is that we would live according to Scripture in every area of our lives, that every believer would be sanctified and shaped into the likeness of Christ and that others would be reconciled to God through us. God may call you to a specific job or ministry but regardless you are called to become more like Christ and to make disciples.

The problem with full-time missionaries is that we believe that it is their job to make disciples when in fact it is our job as well.

Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Are you making disciples? Are you seeking first His kingdom? Or are you seeking all of these other things because you believe that His kingdom is someone else’s responsibility to seek?

 

Tested by Fire

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Do you trust God?

When the sun is shining, the birds are chirping and the sky is clear it is easy to say that we trust God. When we have everything that we need and want and all of our dreams and desires are fulfilled it is easy to say that we trust God. When the road ahead is clear and smooth it is easy to say that we trust God.

But what about when things are not easy, when all of our dreams go up in flames, when life becomes painful and confusing?

In the good times, it is easy to say that we trust God but it is in the hard times that our trust is tested and proven. If we can only trust God when life is easy, we do not truly trust Him at all.

1 Peter 1:6-9 says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”

In this passage, Peter tells us that we are grieved by various trials so that our faith may be proven genuine. According to this passage then, if our faith fails us at the time of trial it is not genuine.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Faith is something that is seen in response to something that is not seen. We cannot see God but we can see a believer’s calm assurance in the midst of pain, peace in the midst of chaotic circumstances and trust in the midst of heartbreak.

Just as a candle’s light seems brighter the darker its surroundings, so a believer’s trust in the unseen God shines brighter the darker their circumstance. Candlelight in the middle of the day is barely noticeable. In the same way, a believer’s confidence in God when all is going well is hardly striking. True faith is not snuffed out by trials instead it shines brightly in the midst of them.

Our faith is proven genuine and displayed for all to see when it is tested by trials and difficulty. The underground church in China has a saying, “real gold fears no fire.” Real gold is not destroyed by fire. It is purified by fire. In the same way, true faith is never destroyed by trials. It is only strengthened and purified by them.

What about you? Is your faith genuine? Is it built upon the unchanging character of your God or upon the changing circumstances of your life?