Jesus

My Help Comes from the LORD

smokey mountain

One of my favorite places to visit is the mountains of North Carolina. I think one of the reasons for that is because mountains make me feel very small. It’s hard to go to the mountains, see the majestic sky lines and the unbelievable views and not be in awe of God’s creation.

This year in particular, I felt very small. The house in which we were staying was surrounded by terrifying roads along with a terrifying driveway leading up to the house…and let me tell you, I probably prayed as hard and as fervently as we drove up and down these roads and that driveway as I’ve prayed in some time. There’s nothing like contemplating your impending doom, to get you praying…and praying hard!

I write all of this a bit tongue in cheek, but on a very serious note, I came back from vacation quite refreshed (even if it wasn’t that relaxing). I think one of the reasons I came back so refreshed was because I had time away from the everyday “hustle and bustle” of life to spend some time contemplating the things of God. And no matter where you find yourself, it is always a good thing, and a beneficial thing, and a soul refreshing thing to do…to contemplate the things of God.

For me personally, the mountains are a good place to do this. I’ve heard some say the beach helps them to connect with God in a way that they may not in their ordinary day to day lives.

With all of this being said, and aside from my terrifying drives that got me really close to God a few weeks ago, the fact is we as Christians here in America live in relative safety. We get to worship in relative safety. But this has not always been the case, and that is the backdrop for one of my favorite Psalms – Psalm 121.

The backdrop of Psalm 121 is that of a pilgrim traveler that was making his way up to Jerusalem to go up to the temple to worship. And this pilgrim who was making his way to and from the temple would encounter many trials and dangers along the way.

I suppose in light of the immediate context of this Psalm, some might wonder how this Psalm would apply to you and I. Well, let’s take a closer look.

While it is true that you and I dwell in relative physical safety in our day, that doesn’t change the reality that we are still pilgrims in the midst of a dangerous world. This being true, we can see very plainly in just the first few verses just how applicable this text is for us.

In verse 1, the Psalmist says, “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?”

Friends, even though we may not be facing perilous physical journeys right now in the way of dangerous mountain roads, the fact is that all of us deal with challenges in this world. Dangerous challenges that threaten to derail us on our journey WITH and TO God, and that threaten to derail us on our path to worship.

Our world and our lives are filled with things like sickness, the death of loved ones, difficult relationships, money issues, trouble at work, and we could go on and on. All of these things are in addition to the Spiritual and emotional challenges that we all face. (Of course the big one that sort of sums up all of these things up is SIN…We ALL deal with sin.)

Each of us could, I have no doubt name something that we are dealing with right now.

So…in this context, I love this question. Why? One, because it is an acknowledgement of and an awareness of the need for help. Secondly, because it implies that there is an answer, and there is help to be found.

The Psalmist asks, “Where does my help come from…?” As the Psalmist looks to the hills as a picture of the trials and dangers that await him, it reminds us that we are a people who do need help. Much like I said earlier about how the mountains help me to feel small and they humble me…so does our seeing and going through challenges and difficulties in our everyday lives. These things help us to remember that we are not self-sufficient. We are not strong. We are not the ones with all the answers. We are small…and we are in need of help along the journey of life.

But here is the reality. The truth is we are all tempted to look somewhere else, other than to God for our help. Unfortunately most of us, and maybe even all of us often look in places that offer no help at all or at least they don’t offer us the help that we truly need.

But, the Psalmist here in Psalm 121 gives us just the answer that we need, and tells us EXACTLY who we are to be looking to for our help. In the midst of whatever trial, and in the face of the mountains that lay before us.

Verse 2, “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

Folks, we can and we MUST be looking to the ALMIGHTY, ALL POWERFUL, SOVEREIGN God of the Universe. The God who is the creator of the heavens and the earth. Look around at the world, look all you want, and you won’t find anything that God didn’t create. If God created it, He is sovereign over it. I know sometimes it seems like the world is out of control. Sometimes it seems like your problems, your hurts, your pains are too much for anyone to bear…but if you have the ALMIGHTY God, the creator of the world…the one who is sovereign over ALL things…then what should you fear? Nothing!

Is anything too hard for the Lord? Absolutely not!

Look what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8.

Romans 8:31, “…If God is for us, who can be against us?“

Romans 8:35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?….” Verse 37, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

There is a lot going on in these verses, but I think we can sum it all up quite simply…You are in good hands with God. Nothing can separate you from the love of God. There is nothing this world will throw at you that can destroy you if you are in the hands of God, and friends if you are in Christ, that is precisely where you are. Firmly in the hands of God.

And I think the Psalmist in Psalm 121 would agree. So,  no matter what challenge or what mountain you see before you on this day…be looking to the LORD, the only one that can truly give you the help that you need.

Distorting the Gospel

cross

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-8

As you read through these three verses, the thing that immediately stands out if you are familiar with Paul’s writings in his other letters is the firmness with which Paul is writing. Paul is not coming to the Galatians with a gentle rebuke. Paul is upset, and it shows.

Usually Paul would open his letters with some form of thanksgiving to those whom he was writing. But there is no such thanksgiving found in this letter. Paul gets right down to business.

As Paul writes this letter he is a lot like a parent whose child has gone off track or has gone astray. Many of us have children. Have your kids ever done something wrong, and honestly done something so stupid that you were just flabbergasted by it?

I know I’ve looked at my kids many times and just been dumbfounded as to why they would do something like that. They know better! I’ve taught them better than that! And that is sort of what Paul is saying here. Paul is saying, “I can’t believe you! Why would you do this? You know better!”

And why is Paul so upset? These believers were turning away from the true Gospel.

For those of us who have young children, if one of our kids were to take off running towards the road we wouldn’t gently call them back. No, we are going to raise our voices. We are going to yell at the top of our lungs for them to come back. We are willing to do anything, to say anything to keep our children safe and secure. Our child’s safety is a matter of life and death. And so is the Gospel…

This is Paul’s heart as he writes these verses.

In these verses Paul is astonished, he is angry, and he is grieved. It is clear that Paul has the heart of a Pastor. Paul is grieved that the Galatian believers would so quickly turn from the Gospel of grace that he has preached to them, in order to follow those who would distort the Gospel of Christ.

And friends I can so identify with Paul here.

Nothing grieves me more as a pastor, than seeing sweet people who have a real and sincere desire to follow God end up under teaching that distorts the biblical Gospel.

As we talk about this thought of distorting the Gospel, let’s look at some ways in which the Gospel gets distorted in our day. As we will see, this happens in both subtle and non-subtle ways.

First, there is this idea that many Christians have, or they have been taught that, yes they are saved through their surrender to Christ, but THEN they also have to have the right beliefs or the right behaviors to go along with this surrender.

This sounds almost right. And you might be hearing that and say, “Well, I don’t see the problem.” And I’ll give it to you, this is almost the gospel…but, almost the gospel isn’t the Gospel.

There are also times we will hear folks say, or challenge us to “give your life to Jesus” or “ask Jesus into your heart or life” and then we will be saved. Again, this sounds biblical. But here is the problem. When we say things in this way, or believe that this is the order in which things happen, we miss the fact that it is “grace first.” Here is what I mean.

You aren’t saved by your strong belief in God, or even our level of trust in God. Your level of faith or the strength of your faith isn’t the measure of whether or not you are saved. You don’t need to manufacture strong feelings or desire for God in order to feel secure in your standing with God.

Here’s the key. You aren’t saved BY your faith. You are saved THROUGH faith. If we think we are saved “BY” our faith then that means we are making our performance our savior. But when we understand that we are saved “THROUGH” faith, we make it clear that Christ is our Savior.

The Gospel is also sometimes distorted by those that teach it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are a “good” person. (As if there was such a thing. We may be good compared to other people, but compared to a Holy and perfectly righteous God whose standard is complete holiness, we fall quite short)

Now on some level this sounds good. I think a lot of us would like to believe that everyone who is a good person was saved. We all probably know some folks who we would call “good people”, yet they don’t know Christ. It grieves us to think that perhaps these people if they don’t come to know Christ may end up in hell. So, I think a lot of us probably wish that we could be saved simply by being good.

But the problem is, it’s simply not the case. The Bible is clear that we are saved by Christ and Christ alone.

Again, this way of thinking that we can be saved by doing good works, is simply not true. If it were true that we could be saved based on our own goodness then Jesus wouldn’t have needed to die. There would have been no need for the cross. But hopefully we all know that we were in desperate need of the cross. We needed to be rescued, for apart from Christ we have no hope.

But not only would this teaching mean that Christ died for no reason, but what does it say about “bad” people? If “good” people can be saved, where does that leave bad people? I guess it damns them all to hell, with little or no chance of redemption.

But this clearly contradicts Scripture and even Jesus himself, most notably Matthew 9:10-13. Jesus tells us in those verses that He didn’t come for “good” people. Jesus says that He didn’t come to call “righteous” people. Jesus came for sinners, and he came to save sinners. Sinners like you and me!

So trusting in our own works completely misses and distorts the Bible.

There are also those who would tell you, (both professing believers and even unbelievers) if you were to ask them about heaven or how they get there, they would say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.”

But friends, being sincere won’t get you saved. I have a friend who is very sincere that she doesn’t need to believe in Jesus to be saved. But she’s just as lost as she can be. A runner can be very sincere about wanting to win a race. But if he goes the wrong way he’s never going to get to where he needs to be. You have to know the way, and Jesus and Jesus alone is the way. Sincerity isn’t enough. Only Jesus is enough.

There is also another way that the Gospel gets distorted, and I think this is probably the one that most of us are familiar with. There are a lot of churches that are very intolerant of small differences, or what I would call secondary (non-essential) beliefs.

I’ve seen this in some churches who say you can only use a particular Bible translation. Some churches say you can have to dress a certain way, or you have to have your hair a certain length. Other churches elevate certain spiritual gifts to the point of making them a condition of salvation, or perhaps maybe a higher level of salvation…

But the problem is, none of these things are in the Bible. So what these folks are doing is adding to what the Word of God says. They are being more strict about certain issues than God himself is, which I think is a problem. We must be very careful not to speak where God hasn’t, or to shout when God has only whispered. We must put emphasis where God has put emphasis, not where it suits our fancies.

As believers our emphasis must always be on the “gospel of Christ” that the Apostle Paul spoke of. This is the one and only Gospel we see taught in the Bible, and we must be very careful to neither add to it nor to take away from it. We must never, ever, lose sight of this Gospel or the Jesus it points us to.

All Scripture

Bible

 

Let’s be honest. When most of us open our Bibles to read, there are some books, some passages, and some verses we like and read more than others. More times than not, I would bet we spend most of our time in the New Testament. If we do spend time in the Old Testament, we probably read the Psalms or maybe Proverbs. Those books are very poetic, and contain such practical wisdom! Who wouldn’t love reading them?

Now, if I were to ask us why we read the New Testament more than the Old, we would probably say something like, “Well, that’s where Jesus is,” or, “Well, I like to read about the Gospel…and the New Testament is where we read all about the Gospel and the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Just to illustrate this point, friend of mine told me recently about visiting a church, and a pastor glanced at the Bible that was on the table in the sanctuary – which was opened to and Old Testament passage – and the minister said something like, “I don’t know why the Bible is opened to that book, this is a NEW TESTAMENT Church!”

Now, most of us probably wouldn’t be so blunt…but I have a feeling, that even if we wouldn’t verbalize things quite that way, I think practically in our personal study of the Scriptures, that’s how we approach the Bible.

Take for instance a book like Leviticus. Most of us probably wouldn’t associate the book of Leviticus with the Gospel. Leviticus is one of the five books of Moses that we call the Law. Normally when we start our yearly Bible reading plans, IF we start a yearly Bible reading plan, or if we’ve ever attempted to read through the bible in its entirety…I would imagine that more times than not, Leviticus is the book that we end up getting bogged down in.

And there are probably many reasons for that. As you read through the book you’ll find that basically the entire book is instructions in regards to the various offerings and sacrifices that the people were supposed to offer to God.

In this book we see Moses talking about burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings…and on and on it goes. So, as we read through this book, it can be quite easy to get a bit bored (Let’s just say it)…especially because as we read through this book, we really don’t see how it applies to us.

We don’t have to offer these types of offerings. We are no longer bound by the Law. We don’t have to offer sacrifices. We are now under the new covenant, we have Jesus…so, the question we probably bring to the Bible as we read through a book like Leviticus, is “Why in the world should I read this? What the heck does this have to do with me?”

I would love to take the time to tell us all about how these various offerings and sacrifices all point us to Jesus and see His Gospel, but for now time doesn’t allow.

But, let me say first and foremost, the reason we should read a book like Leviticus in particular, and the Old Testament in general…is because it’s the Word of God. And as the inspired, God breathed Word of God, it ought to be important to us!

2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that, “ALL Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

These words by Paul, do not simply apply to the New Testament, though they do…but we have to remember, that when many of the Apostles and their associates were writing their letters and going around from town to town preaching the Gospel and planting churches…the New Testament as we have it didn’t exist. They, inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit were in the process of writing it and putting it together.

But yet, we see God working powerfully through their preaching. And what Scripture were they primarily teaching and preaching, and appealing to in order to make their case that Jesus was the Messiah? It was the Old Testament!

Jesus did the same thing as he preached…When Jesus first began his ministry, we read in Luke 4:17-21 how Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah, and told them that the Scriptures were fulfilled in Him. But maybe even more clearly, look at Luke 24:25-27:

“And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses (which no doubt includes the book of Leviticus) and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

So, when Jesus was preaching Jesus, what did he do? He went back to the Old Testament and he preached the Scriptures.

My point is this, the Sacred Scriptures for the Christian doesn’t start in the New Testament with the book of Matthew. But Jesus himself tells us over and over again that the entirety of the Bible, including the Old Testament and the books of the Law are about Him. There is not a book in the Old Testament (Or the New) that we can’t see Jesus, teach Jesus, preach Jesus, and glory in the Gospel, because the entirety of the Old Testament was written to testify to the Jesus that is beautifully revealed to us in the New Testament.