< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: January 2013

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Memories of a Holocaust Survivor

I went to hear Manfred Katz speak at an assisted living home the other day. Mr. Katz is a survivor of the Holocaust and his story was enlightening and very moving.

He was from a very small town in Germany with only about 800 inhabitants. Hitler came into power around the time he started school, in 1933. This was the first time he realized he was “different” because of his religion. The Jewish children sat in the back of the room while everyone else was in alphabetical order. Also school was six days a week and any Jewish person was not allowed to go to school on Saturdays because that is their Sabbath. So he missed every Saturday making him unprepared and therefore punished on Mondays.
Rations started with the beginning of the war and Jews received less. They also could only shop in certain stores and at certain times. In 1938 laws were passed and now Jewish lawyers and Jewish doctors could only help other Jews. They were also required to wear a yellow star on their clothes.

On November 9th of that year rocks came through their front windows and people entered the house smashing and stealing. His family hid in the garden and then went to a neighbors’ house behind theirs to try and hide. But that family was afraid and wouldn’t let them in.

They left their town for another where his mom, dad and younger sister stayed with a Jewish family they knew in a single room, but there was no room for him so he moved into a Jewish orphanage and only saw his family on weekends. He had an older sister who was working in another city by this time and who in 1940 moved to America.

One time his younger sister got sick and his mother went to a drug store to buy medicine. The sign on the door said No Jews Allowed. She didn’t know what else to do so she tore off her yellow star and went in. She was arrested and taken to jail for 5 months. Mr. Katz said when she returned she had lost a great deal of weight and most of her teeth.

Around the day Pearl Harbor was bombed his family got a message that they were being moved to an undisclosed location. They were to bring only what they could carry. They boarded a train early one morning and three and a half days later the train doors were finally opened again. By this time they were starving and the elderly people couldn’t even stand up. There were guards waiting for them and they were given a choice to walk or get in a truck.

They were in Latvia on the northeast coast of the Baltic Sea and since it was December the walk for those who could was icy and cold. They later found out that right before they arrived, the camp (or Ghetto) they were going to had had 25,000 men and women staying there, but all but 2500 had been taken out to the forest where a mass grave had been dug and they were murdered.

This forest was also where the truck from the train went.

Life in the Ghetto was harsh. There was no indoor plumbing or running water. Rations were small and everybody went to work; six days a week all day long. He was 13 years old when they arrived and he worked in both a slaughter house and a fish plant. He tried to scavenger food even though he knew if the guards caught him with anything he wasn’t supposed to have they would kill him. Most of the people felt like they had the choice of either dying a long slow death from starvation or a faster one at the hands of the guards.

In early summer of 1943 he got word he’d be moved to a different place. Without his family. They spent their last days together in prayer, in tears and with his father giving him advice. On the day when he got on the truck to leave his family waved goodbye.

And that was the last time he ever saw them.

He was taken to a concentration camp also in Latvia. Concentration camps were very different from the Ghettos. In the Ghettos families were still together. They still had civilian clothing. In the concentration camps everything was taken from them, their hair was shorn and they became a number instead of a name. Mr. Katz was processed in a main large camp and then sent to a smaller satellite camp where the German army needed workers. He found his uncle there who had been taken from the Ghetto several months earlier and that was a bright spot.

He was assigned to work in a German laundry and his uncle was assigned to unload provisions for the army. Somehow his uncle smuggled him food and he believes that’s the only reason he is still alive today.

By the end of 1943 the Russian army was on the move and their camp was “in the way”. They were put on a boat and taken across the Baltic Sea to the south to what is now Poland. This concentration camp had no gas chambers, but it did have 2 crematoriums which were kept busy 7 days a week 24 hours a day. At this camp he was assigned to a boat yard, but his uncle wasn’t assigned.

This wasn’t good. One day in November of 1944 he came back from work and his uncle wasn’t there. He was told he’d been sent to the infirmary. But there was no infirmary; that was just a transit point to the crematorium. He was alone again.

In January of 1945 they needed to move the people from this camp again. Only now there were no trains or trucks, so they walked. 350 – 400 people moving very slowly. For two months. They slept in abandoned barns. Some people couldn’t go on and lay down to die. Others who couldn’t keep up with the even snail pace were “helped” to die by the guards. By mid-March they had about 100 people left.

One morning they woke up in the barn and no one opened the doors like usual. After a while they opened them themselves. And the guards were gone. Mr. Katz said, “Their own hide had become more important then guarding these walking skeletons.” At this time he was 17 years old and weighed 65 pounds.

Even though they seemed to be free they didn’t know what to do. For 3 and a half years they had been told what to do every minute of the day and also were given a half loaf of bread a day to eat. Little though it was it was something. Now they searched abandoned farmhouses for food. They ate almost anything and many more got sick and died because most of what they found was rancid. There number went from 80 to 70…

They finally made it to Berlin. People from camps from all over Eastern Europe were there and the questions were always the same, “Where were you?” “Did you know so and so?”

From there he went to Frankfurt and got a job with the US Army. He knew his older sister was in Wilmington, Delaware and sent letters to the Jewish agency there to try and locate her. She had gotten married and had a different last name, but finally someone saw her first name, thought it was unusual enough and contacted her. It was his sister.

In September of 1945 a friend talked him into going to the bombed out synagogue to celebrate a Jewish high holy day. It took some convincing because, as he said, he was “pretty mad at God.” During the service someone tapped him on the shoulder and said there was a man in the back looking for him. He went back there and an American 1st Lt. in the US Army Air Corp said, “I’m your brother in law!”

He had flown from Delaware to Paris and caught a hop to Frankfurt to look for him. And as he said, ‘Where do you look for a Jewish person on a high holy day? In a synagogue of course!”

It took awhile, but his sister and her husband managed to get him to America where he not only finished high school, but college and became an engineer. He married and had 4 sons and now has 9 grandchildren.

He loves America.

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God’s Purpose in our Trials

I’m reading the book “Just Give Me Jesus” by Anne Graham Lotz and what she said about trials is something I want to remember:
Bad things will still happen to people God loves, but when they do they have a greater purpose than the physical or the temporary or the material or the visible. Sometimes it’s to bring us to absolute helplessness and hopelessness so that we put all of our faith in Him, His power and grace and total sufficiency for our need.
When He delays it’s never because of indifference or preoccupation with other things or an inability to act. His delay has its purpose the development of our trust in Him and Him alone for our own good and His glory.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Come to Jesus

Matthew 11:28-30 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Some of our burdens are self inflicted. But God has allowed the others to happen to us so that we will feel the weight of this world. And when we come to Christ in weariness of the world He promises us eternal rest.

This passage is a description of becoming a Christian and what it means to follow Christ. “Come to me”. We come to Jesus and are born again. And then He tells us how to walk with Him: “take my yoke, learn from me”. We follow Him step by step. There is a freedom to being yoked to Him because He’s leading us in the right way; the good way. He knows what to do, what’s ahead, and we are safe with Him. When we are yoked with Him our burden is light because He is carrying the load!

“Not my will, but Yours, Lord.”

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Getting Through Trials

2 Corinthians 4: 7-18 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”] Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

This passage is about trials. And it tells us that we get through them with God’s power. We are just jars of clay. Ordinary everyday pots! But we have a treasure in us! And that’s Jesus.

Paul had been through more trials and hardships in his life then any six people put together. Yet he can say that he’d been hard pressed, but not crushed. He had been perplexed (why is this happening kind of thing), but not in despair. Persecuted (he’d been flogged and stoned!) But he says he was not abandoned. Struck drown, but not destroyed.

Paul says one of the reasons for our trials is because if we get through them showing Christ’s patience, His faith, His calmness, it draws people who see us closer to God. It spreads the Gospel. If we get through a trial right we glorify God!

So he’s saying there are reasons for our suffering and therefore we do not lose heart. Our light and momentary troubles will be forgotten in Heaven. And Heaven is what our eyes should be fixed on. Not the trials of this life.

Sometimes our trials are caused by our own actions. But sometimes God is acting. And when He does it’s always for our good:

Seven Purposes of Our Trials

  1. To inspect us. James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
  2. To direct us. Proverbs 20:30 Blows and wounds scrub away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.
  3. To correct us. Psalms 119:71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
  4. To connect us. Psalms 119:67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.
  5. To protect us. Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
  6. To perfect us. Romans 5:3-4 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
  7. To project us. Philippians 1:12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

God's Plan for Evangelism - Conclusion

So, wrapping up. Once you repent of your sins and believe in Christ’s work you can rest in Him knowing that nothing can separate you now from His love! And rejoice in that knowledge! The verdict of “Forgiven” will never change because it’s grounded solely and forever in Jesus: His death on the cross in your place and His intercession for you now at the throne of God.

For Christians the cross of Jesus is an immovable testimony of God’s love for us and His determination to bring us safely “home”.

But we have a job. Luke 24:45-48 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

God’s purpose is nothing less then the redemption of the world and that purpose is to be accomplished through us! Whether we preach or teach or it’s through our conversation around a meal with family, friends or coworkers. That is how God has determined to save sinners. That the Gospel comes from those who know the forgiveness that comes from Him.

There are lots of good works that can be done, but those things can be done by anyone. There is only one way to be saved. There is only one Gospel. And only Christians can tell it. That’s the most important thing we can be doing.

And one day we will be a part of the millions worshipping our king:

Revelation 7:9-10 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

God's Plan for Evangelism Part 12

Romans 6:12-13 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.

Even though we still live on earth in an age of sin – we – believers – are called to live a life worthy of the kingdom to which He has called us. This living out the kingdom life is done primarily in the church. The church is where God’s kingdom is made visible in this age.

Ephesians 3:10-11 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The church is the area God has chosen to showcase His wisdom and the glory of the gospel. The church is where we see people who are formerly alienated; reconciled and reunited because of Jesus. When the Holy Spirit is at work remaking and rebuilding human lives it’s where God’s people have to love one another, to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows. To weep together, to rejoice together and to hold one another accountable.

Of course the world is against us. In the early days Christians who said “Jesus is Lord” were killed for it. Today saying that is considered intolerant and bigoted by the outside world. We weren’t promised easy. In fact Jesus told us we would be persecuted, reviled, mocked and even killed.

We press on because we believe God about our inheritance waiting for us in Heaven. Our present sufferings are small. They are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed when our king returns!

Some churches today are misrepresenting the Gospel. There are some who preach only that Jesus is Lord. While that’s true:

Romans 10:9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

1 Corinthians 12:3 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

It’s not all of it.

In Acts 2 in Peter’s sermon, he explains what Jesus’ Lordship means. That this Lord had been crucified, buried and resurrected. And that His death and resurrection, above all, had accomplished the “forgiveness of sins’ for those who would repent and believe in Him. He is not just Lord, but Savior! If Jesus is just Lord, this could be terrifying news to an unbeliever because it means Jesus, as Lord, has the right to judge you, which He does, but it would just be judgment. As Savior too He has given us a way out. So if you repent and believe that He is Lord and Savior that’s Good News!

Some churches preach good works more then the cross. They want people to believe and to join the church, but the cross is …. messy. But we have to remember that the Bible tells us the cross will be foolishness to some and get over it! We still have to tell it because it’s the truth. Good works will not save anyone!

1 Corinthians 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

1 Corinthians 2:2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 Corinthians 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

Preach it anyway, because:

1 Corinthians 1:25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

God's Plan for Evangelism Part 11

More in the Bible on the Kingdom of God.
Matthew 13:41-43 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
Jesus also looks forward at the Last Supper to the day He would drink again of this fruit of the vine with His disciples. Matthew 26:29 “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Paul looks forward to the resurrection of the dead in eternity in 1 Corinthians 15 and he tells the Ephesians they have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 1:13-14 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

In 1 Peter 1:5 Peter speaks of a “salvation already revealed in the last time.” And the author of Hebrews tells us we are strangers and exiles on the earth and we should look forward to “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (That’s Hebrew 11:10, 13)

One day Jesus will part the skies and return to establish His kingdom finally and forever. The world will be set right, justice will be done, evil over thrown forever and righteousness established once and for all.
Isaiah 65:17-19 See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.
We will have a new world. And God will dwell with us. We won’t suffer or hurt or die anymore. God will wipe away every tear and we will finally see His face.
Christians will not bring about the kingdom of God. We can do a lot of good on earth; we can help people and share the Gospel; but the kingdom of God will come in God’s time and by His power. The heavenly Jerusalem comes down from Heaven; it’s not built from the ground up.
We look, rightfully, to Jesus as our hope, not some human power or action. We are to long for His return. For Him!
Inclusion in the kingdom of God depends entirely on one’s response to the king. Jesus made this very clear. When the rich young ruler asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered “follow me” which for that man meant turning away from his trust in his own wealth and believing in Jesus. He talks about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. In the end the difference between “come” and “depart from me” is how each person responded to Jesus as He was presented by His “brothers”, that is His people.
The Jews knew from scripture there would be a Messianic king who would rescue them. They also knew about a suffering servant of the Lord, prophesied by Isaiah and had a vague idea of a divine “Son of man” who would appear at the end of the age. (From Daniel 7). What they never fathomed, though, was that all 3 of these would be the same man!
But Jesus declared Himself to be the fulfillment of Israel’s messianic hopes and also referred to Himself as the divine Son of Man. AND he said the Son of man came “to give life, life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43) which points to the suffering servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53:10.
He told them! And us! That He Himself fulfilled all at the same time the roles of the Davidic Messiah, the suffering servant of Isaiah and Daniel’s Son of Man! He was infinitely more then the earthly revolutionary the Jews were hoping for. He was the divine servant king who would suffer and die for His people to win their salvation make them righteous in His Father’s eyes and bring them gloriously into His kingdom.
Based on all of that is it any wonder that Jesus makes entrance into His kingdom depend solely on whether a person repents of sin and trusts in Him and his atoning work on the cross?
Therefore, being a citizen of Christ’s kingdom is not a matter of just “living a kingdom life” or “following Jesus’ example” or “living like Jesus lived”. A person can be those things and still not make it into the kingdom.
Repentance and faith! Relying on Him alone as the perfect sacrifice for our sin and our only hope for salvation is what it takes.
Way back in Genesis 15:3 we hear: Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
God said the cross is what it takes. He says it’s enough! Who are we to say it isn’t?

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Friday, January 11, 2013

God's Plan for Evangelism Part 10

Jim Elliot, a missionary who was killed by the Indians he was trying to help at about age 27, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This quote captures both the cost and the reward of being a Christian.

It is costly to become a Christian. But look at some of the rewards: forgiveness of sins, adoption as God’s children, a relationship with Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit, freedom from sin’s tyranny, the fellowship of the church, the final resurrection and glorification of the body, inclusion in God’s kingdom, the new heaven and new earth, eternity in God’s presence and seeing His face!

Paul quoted Isaiah in 1 Corinthians 2:9 9 However, as it is written “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”—the things God has prepared for those who love him—

The Christian life is not just about avoiding God’s wrath. It’s about being in a right relationship with Him and enjoying Him forever. Or “gaining what we cannot lose: – becoming a citizen of His eternal kingdom.

The moment we become believers Paul tells us in Colossians 1:13, God delivered us “from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.”

Jesus preached on the kingdom of God constantly. So did Peter and Paul. The author of Hebrews wrote:

Hebrews 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,

What is this kingdom, exactly? Is it a place? Is it here now or is it something we’re waiting for that will come in the future? Why is it the kingdom of God? Doesn’t he rule over everything whether a person is a believer or not?

Scripture teaches us that the kingdom of God is God’s redemptive rule over His people. “Kingdom” can be a bit confusing. We think of kingdom geographically. A place; with borders.
Biblically speaking though, the kingdom of God is best understood as more a kingship. Psalm 145:11, 13 describes God’s kingdom as God’s rule, reign and authority. They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, and Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.
And not just His rule and reign, but His redemptive rule and reign. His loving sovereignty over His own people!
1 Corinthians 6:9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?
The wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Also, the kingdom of God is here: Matthew 3:2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This was a stunning claim that Jesus made. The Jews had for centuries been waiting, hoping and praying for the dawning of the kingdom, for the day when God’s rule would be established on earth and His people finally vindicated. And now Jesus was telling them that that day had arrived. And through Him!
Jesus’ incarnation was much more then just a kind visit from the Creator. It was the launching of God’s full and final counter-offensive against all the sin, death and destruction that had entered the world when Adam fell.
And you can see the war happening all over the story of His life in the New Testament. King Jesus going alone into the wilderness to face Satan, the one who tempted Adam and had thrown the world into corruption so many years earlier – and He defeats him. He heals the lame and blind, He raises people from the dead. When He was on the cross He cried out “It is finished!” And death was defeated because 3 days later He rose again.
Step by step, blow by blow, Jesus was decisively rolling back the effects of the fall. The rightful king of the world had come and all that stood in the way of the establishment of His kingdom – sin, death, hell and Satan was being overcome.
What that means is: many of the blessings of the kingdom are already ours. Jesus told the disciples He would send them “another comforter” the Holy Spirit who would guide them, convict them of sin and sanctify them.
We are reconciled to God as a believer.
Paul even says in Ephesians 2:6 that in God’s eyes we are already raised up and seated with Christ! “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”.
But the kingdom is not yet complete. And it will not be complete until Jesus returns. Satan has been bound, but not destroyed. Evil has been defeated, but not annihilated.  The kingdom of God has been inaugurated, but not completed. Jesus spoke of a future day when the kingdom would finally be consummated.

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

God's Plan for Evangelism Part 9

Faith is NOT believing in something you can’t prove. It’s rock solid, truth-grounded, promise-founded trust in the risen Jesus to save you from Sin.

Romans 4:18 – 21 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

“Fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.’

What are we relying on Jesus to do? A human’s greatest need is to be found righteous in God’s sight, rather then wicked. When we stand in front of God we need Him to pronounce us righteous not condemned. That is what the Bible calls “justified”. God’s declaration that we are righteous in His sight rather then guilt.

How do we get this verdict? Not by asking God to look at our lives that’s for sure! For God to count us righteous He has to do it on the basis of someone or something else other then our sinful record. That’s where Jesus comes in. When we put our belief in Christ we are relying on Him to stand in as a substitute before God in both His perfect life and his penalty-paying death for us on the cross.

We are trusting that God will substitute Jesus’ record for ours and therefore declare us righteous.  Romans 3:22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,

All of our sin, rebellion and pride has been imputed (or credited) to Jesus and He died for it. All of His perfect life is imputed to us and we are declared righteous. God looks at us and instead of seeing our sin He sees Jesus’ righteousness. By His choice!

Again from Romans 4:5,7 God “counts righteousness” to us apart from works, and our sins are “covered”.

We don’t go to Heaven because we are good! And thank God that is true. Because how could we ever be good enough to stand before a perfect and Holy God on our own? God saves us by pure grace. Not because of anything we’ve done, but solely because of what Jesus has done for us.

There’s an example from the prophet Zechariah about what will happen. In this case to Joshua, but it could be any of us:

Zechariah 3:1-5 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan  standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”

Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

5 Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

We are totally dependent on Jesus for our salvation. His death for our sins – His life for our righteousness. The Bible is insistent that Salvation comes only through faith in Christ. There is no other way! Every other religion rejects this idea that we are justified by faith alone. Others say salvation is won through moral effort and good deeds. It’s so human to feel like we have to do something to earn our way. But there is no other hope. No other way.

The part about repent in” repent and believe” is turning from sin with God’s help. You turn away from sin and toward God. There are people who say they’ve accepted Jesus as Savior and that they are a Christian, but they aren’t ready to turn from their sins. So they haven’t repented. But you can’t accept Jesus as Savior without accepting Him as Lord.

To put one’s faith in the king is to renounce his enemies. This doesn’t mean a Christian will never sin. Christians are still fallen sinners even after God gives us a new spiritual life and we will struggle with sin until we are glorified with Jesus.

Galatians 5:17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

1 John 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

We will no longer have peace with sin. We will dedicate ourselves to resisting it by God’s power. One of the problems we have with the idea of repentance is we expect that if we genuinely repent, sin will go away and temptation will stop. And when that doesn’t happen we fall into despair and question whether our faith in Jesus is real. Yes God will give us the power to fight against it. But we have to remember that genuine repentance is more fundamentally a matter of the heart’s attitude toward sin then a mere change of behavior.

Do we hate sin and fight against it? Or do we cherish it and defend it?

At the moment we are saved our life does change. Gradually. We begin to bear fruit. We start showing the same love, compassion and goodness that characterized Jesus. We begin to do the kinds of things Jesus did because our fruit is from His tree.

Luke 6:44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.

When you stand before God don’t start pulling out things you did in life to try to get into Heaven. Just point to Jesus. If you want to say anything – say “Count me righteous not because of anything I have done or anything I am, but because of Him. He lived the life I should have lived. He died the death that I deserve. I renounce all other trusts and my plea is in Him alone.”

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Monday, January 07, 2013

God's Plan for Evangelism Part 8

Besides preaching that the kingdom of God was at hand, Jesus also would bring sinners into it  by dying in their place and for their sin: taking their punishment on Himself and securing forgiveness for them, making them righteous in God’s sight and qualifying them to share in the inheritance of the kingdom.

Colossians 1:12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

In John 1:29 John the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The lamb of God goes back to the Passover when the Angel of Death would sweep across Egypt killing the first born unless they had blood from a lamb without defect or blemish on the door frame of their house. If they did, God promised, the angel would see the blood and “pass over” the house sparing them the judgment of death.

The Passover feast, and especially the Passover lamb, became a powerful symbol of the idea that the penalty of death for one’s sins could be paid by the death of another. This idea of “penal substitution” in fact, grounded the entire system of Old Testament sacrifices. Every year on the Day of Atonement the High Priest would go into the center of the Holy of Holies and kill an unblemished animal as payment for the peoples’ sins.

Jesus came not only to preach God’s kingdom, but to die as a substitutionary sacrifice for His people. The “once and for all” sacrifice.

Jesus knew it from the beginning. And He foretold His death many times:

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Matthew 26:28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

John 10:15, 18 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.

He did it willingly and out of love for His people.

The early Christians knew what He accomplished on the cross.

Paul said in Galatians 3:13-14 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

And also in 2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

And Peter said in 1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

And in 1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

Jesus did not die for punishment of His own sins. He didn’t have any! It was punishment for His people’s sins! All their (and our) rebellion, disobedience and sin were on His shoulders when He hung on the cross. And the curse that God had pronounced in Eden – the sentence of death – struck.

Matthew 27:46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

At that moment, God, His Father, who is Holy and righteous, whose eyes are too pure even to look on evil, looked at His Son and saw the sins of His Son’s people resting on His shoulders and looked away while His wrath poured down on Jesus.  Darkness covered the earth for 3 hours. The darkness of judgment.

Isaiah prophesized about this 7 centuries earlier.

Isaiah 53:4-5 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Our sins! His punishment! His death! My Life!

And of course all this is true and good news only because King Jesus rose from the dead and lives!

Luke 24:5-6 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen!

Romans 8:33-34 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

Jesus sits at God’s right hand right now interceding for His people while He awaits His glorious return.

Who are His People? Christians. The definition of a Christian is one who turns away from his sin and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ – and nothing else – to save him from sin and the coming judgment.

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Sunday, January 06, 2013

God's Plan for Evangelism Part 7

The bad news of human’s sin and God’s judgment is not the end of the story. If it was there would be no hope for us. But why was Salvation through the sacrifice of His Son?

For thousands of years after the fall God prepared the world through law and prophecy for the fulfillment of his promise in Genesis 3:15 with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Bible is the story of God’s counter offensive against sin. It’s the grand narration of how God made it right, how He is making it right and how he will one day make it right forever and ever.

Jesus had to be fully God in order to live a sin free life and beat death and he had to be fully human to represent us before the Father.

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

Jesus began His ministry on earth by proclaiming “The time has come! The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news!” What was the good news? For centuries, through His law and prophets, God had foretold of a time when He would once and for all put an end to the world’s evil and rescue his people form their sin. He would establish His rule, His “kingdom” in the person of a messianic King, one who was of the royal line of King David.

In 2 Samuel 7:11 God promised David that one of his sons would rule on his throne forever.

And in Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

This was Jesus! And in Luke 1:32-33 the angel said to Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

The Gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy that traces Jesus’ ancestry directly back to King David and then on to Abraham himself.  Matthew stylizes his genealogy, dividing it into 3 generations of 14. And 14, as any good Jew would have known, was the number arrived at by adding up the values of the 3 Hebrew letters D-V-D “David”. There should never have been a question of who Jesus is!

But the kingdom He was preaching wasn’t what they were looking for. They wanted someone to overthrow the Roman government and Jesus was healing, teaching, forgiving sin and telling the Roman governor “My kingdom is not of this world.”

John 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Someday He will rule on earth for 1000 years and then over the new Heavens and earth forever. But they were looking at what was going on right then.

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Friday, January 04, 2013

God's Plan for Evangelism Part 6

A lot of pastors today are preaching that our problem is negative thinking! Some of the biggest churches in the country preach that. And it’s a very popular message. They say, “Your sin is no deeper then negative thinking and it’s holding you back from health, wealth and happiness. And God will help you think positively about your life and then you’ll have it all!”

People flock to this kind of message! But Jesus Christ did not die to save us from negative thoughts! Actually the Bible teaches us that we think too highly of ourselves, not too lowly! Look at the serpent in the garden. He told Adam and Eve that they needed to think more positively about themselves, reach toward their full potential, be like God!

That didn’t really work out too well, did it?

There’s also a difference between knowing you are guilty of sins and knowing you are guilty of sin! Most of us have no problem admitting we’ve lied or been selfish or mean. Even the bigger sins don’t shock us too much anymore. But the Bible teaches we have sin deep in our very natures. We can’t get rid of it on our own. Jesus said out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness and slander.

Paul says by nature we are children of wrath. We are under sin’s power. Romans 8:7 says, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” Our sinful nature, left the way it is, keeps us from God. He is so perfect He makes us feel bad about ourselves. He makes us look bad in comparison and we run from Him.

In Romans 3:19 after Paul’s indictment of all humanity being under sin and utterly unrighteous before God, he said Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.

This is to stand before God with no excuses, no explanation and be held accountable! Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We are accountable and sentenced to death: forever separated from God unless we accept the gift of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 59:2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

When we studied Revelation we saw a little of the wrath of God. Revelation 16:1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.” Seven is a compete number in the Bible. It means all. And Revelation 1:7 Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”

The Bible teaches that the final destiny for unrepentant unbelieving sinners is hell. Revelation describes it as a lake of fire and sulphur. This is serious and anyone who shares the gospel and sugar coats it is doing great disservice!

Christians, Bible believing Christians, believe in hell because that’s what the Bible teaches us. God is warning us. And when He warns us He expects us to warn others. And also share with them the way out. That in His mercy He has provided a way out.

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Thursday, January 03, 2013

God's Plan for Evangelism Part 5

We also have a job to do: to be God’s vice regents ruling the world under Him.

Genesis 1:28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

But under God’s authority. And the Tree of Knowledge was a reminder of that.
Genesis 3:17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life."
When Adam and Eve looked at the tree they would remember that their authority was limited and they were dependent on God for their lives. They were stewards, but He was King!

So biting into the fruit wasn’t just violating some arbitrary command, “Don’t eat the fruit.” They were rejecting God’s authority over them and declaring their independence from Him. Adam and Eve wanted to be “like God” so they grabbed this opportunity to shed the vice-regency and take the crown itself.

In all the universe there was only one thing that God had not placed under Adam’s feet – God Himself. In disobeying God’s command they made a conscious decision to reject Him as their king. They knew the consequences: God had told them they would “surely die” which meant they would be cast away from His presence and be his enemies rather then His friends and joyful subjects.

Genesis 2:17 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

But they didn’t care. They went for their own pleasure and their own glory. The Bible calls this disobedience of God’s commands; whether in word, thought or deed, sin. Sin literally means “missing the mark” but they didn’t just try and miss. They deliberately opposed God’s desire for them. They broke their relationship with Him. And it affected them, their descendents and the rest of creation. They were cast out of the garden. They would have to work, hard and painfully, and eventually would die. But their spiritual life ended immediately.

And we’re all the same. Even the best of us have a basically sinful nature. We haven’t just broken our relationship with God by doing something wrong; we’ve rebelled against Him. And since He is our Lord and King we deserve His wrath. If we don’t get that. If we don’t accept that; we will never understand why the death of God’s Son was required to address it.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

God's Plan for Evangelism Part 4

Here are the key Gospel points:
1. God is Holy and righteous. He will not and cannot tolerate sin. Isaiah 6:3 3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.
2. Man is sinful and this sin separates us from God. Romans 3:23 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

3. The penalty for sin is death. Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

4. Man cannot correct his sinful condition. He can’t save himself! Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

5. Jesus died on the cross to save us from the penalty of death. Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

6. We receive this payment by repenting of our sin and excepting His death as payment. Ephesians 2:8-9 again and Luke 24:46-47 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. John 3:16 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. Romans 10:9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Sin is defined in the Bible as the breaking of a relationship and rejection of God Himself. A repudiation of God’s rule, God’s care, God’s authority and God’s right to command those to whom He gave life. It’s the rebellion of the created against the Creator.

God created humans to live under His righteous rule in perfect joy, worshipping Him, obeying Him and living in unbroken fellowship with Him. We were created in His own image so that we could be in a relationship with Him!

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Tuesday, January 01, 2013

God's Plan for Evangelism Part 3

This is God describing Himself: Exodus 34:6-7 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Yes, He’s compassionate and loving and forgiving. But He does not leave the guilty unpunished.

Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.

God’s rule over the universe is founded upon His remaining forever perfect and just. In order to understand how glorious and life-giving the gospel of Jesus Christ is, we need to understand that the loving and compassionate God is also holy and righteous and determined never to overlook or tolerate sin.

Habakkuk 1:13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.

You know, really, everyone wants God to deal with evil…just not our own!

So. In order to share the Gospel we have to have a clear answer to what the Gospel is. The Gospel is not about our personal improvement, our prosperity, worldly peace, politics or even our purpose in life. It’s about peace with God. Mending the broken relationship.

Romans 8:28-30 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

God causes all things to work together for good (Kingdom good!) “of those who love God” (believers). He justifies us, meaning He declares us righteous. So legally, in God’s thinking we are righteous as believers. If you can’t forgive yourself for something KNOW that if you repented and believe, God declares you righteous! And we are also imputed with righteousness by Jesus, meaning we are able to live it out by Christ’s power.

He also sanctifies us – meaning we are becoming more and more like His first born Son. We should be living like Christ; read the Bible, share the Gospel, serve others, go to church and show the fruits of the spirit. And this is all done for His Glorification now and later we will be glorified in Heaven.

The good news is: we were given the death penalty for our sins and Christ stepped in and took the punishment! 

There are some marks of true salvation:

  1. A person will believe in Jesus.
  2. They will not have a lifestyle of sin. We will sin. We will have pockets of sin, but we will not live a lifestyle of sin.
  3. They will crave the Word.
  4. They will do right before God.

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