Posts tagged ‘sacrifice’

Is Your Cross Empty?

I love southern gospel and I love old church hymns. Generally I find that the old hymns in particular can really put my heart and mind in the right frame for worship. While much of today’s Christian pop music tends to focus on the me side of our relationship with God, and feel-good feelings; it can lack God-centered praise and worship. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of wonderful, praise-filled, God-honoring modern songs. But there really are so many that focus on the feelings, and that can be a dangerous thing. Faith in God is not about having that mountain-high-feel-good feeling all of the time. Just like being in love does not mean feeling all ooey gooey inside every day for 60 years. That kind of love goes deeper than week knees and pitter pattering hearts, just like mature faith goes beyond the mountain high to the low valleys and every where in between. Mature faith causes a Christian to praise and worship through the tears, in spite of pain that is not understood. 

Mature faith is the kind of faith that gave us the hymn It is Well With My Soul by Horatio Spafford, written after all four of his daughters died in a shipwreck. 

While listening to my favorite gospel album I was struck by the words of a church favorite. I sang it often as a child. It was my brother’s favorite when he was a young boy. If you grew up watching pioneer or cowboy and western era television programs, you may have heard it coming from a small country church. The Old Rugged Cross. Look closely at the words of the last verse and chorus:  

To the old rugged Cross, I will ever be true 

Its shame and reproach gladly bear

Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away

Where his glory forever I’ll share

So I’ll cherish the old rugged Cross

Till my trophies at last I lay down

I will cling to the old rugged Cross

And exchange it some day for a crown.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true. I will cherish the old rugged cross. I will cling to the old rugged cross.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. 

Something tells me I should not be true to the cross, but to the One who died on it. I should cherish and cling to Yeshua (Jesus’ given name before He was born) and what He did for me on the cross, but not the cross itself. The cross was simply wood, created by the One who hung on it. The cross did nothing but stand there, inanimate unfeeling, incapable of doing anything. I do not owe my loyalty, love or praise to a piece of wood. I owe it ALL to Yeshua, who sacrificed Himself for me, using that cross to do it.

You may think I am nitpicking. Consider the modern day cross. We wear it on a chain around our necks; have statues of it in our homes and churches; print it on clothing, purses, checkbooks, and even tattoo it on our skin. When you sing in church, do you find your eyes resting on the cross hanging on the wall of the sanctuary, or perhaps you finger the cross on a chain.

There is an ad floating around social media now. A company selling ergonomically correct crosses, painted with designs to please the visual palette. The purpose? To make it easy and comfortable for you to hold in your hand and find peace. Please tell me you see where this is a problem. 

We are a people who trivially use the tool our Savior used to save us to become the focus of worship and the source of our salvation. This is why God commanded the Israelites to make no carved, or otherwise, image of anything from the earth. He knew our foolish tendencies. Did you know that God told the Israelites that if they built an alter to sacrifice on, they must not use cut stone, but raw and untouched. Why? For the exact same reason. And yet here we are. We have removed Yeshua from the cross and made it our idol. The cross, empty and standing where is was put by human hands, is worth nothing. 

Over the next few weeks, as we approach Good Friday, I urge you to prayerfully consider the place of the cross in your worship. We must glorify Yeshua who bore the cross, not the cross that bore Yeshua.

It is Finished…making Jesus a Liar

John 19:30 – “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”

What was finished?  Certainly Jesus’ life here on earth, His life as a man.  Was that all?  No.  It is deeper than that.  What did Jesus come to earth in human form to do? He came to be the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world.  He came as the sacrificial lamb to replace all other lambs and sacrifices previously required by God in the Torah (the Law of Moses) that were intended to be payment for sin.  Once Jesus died on the cross, His single purpose for being here was fulfilled…it was finished.  His sacrifice was over, and there was no need for anyone to sacrifice in anyway again in order to gain salvation from their sins.  Let me say that again because it is vital to faith and salvation.  Here it is, are you ready?  Paying attention?  Look!  Understand!  This is the salvation of the LORD!

THE moment Jesus died on the cross was THE VERY MOMENT that sacrifices on our part, in an effort to cover our own sins and save ourselves by our good works (that is, after all, what sacrifices are) STOPPED.  S.  T.  O.  P.  P.  E.  D.  Stopped.  Ended.  Fine`.  Kaput.  It was finished. 

To continue to sacrifice as a penalty for sin; to pay penance, for example, is to deny the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  It is to call Him a liar.  He said it was finished, but we do not trust what He said.  We do not believe Him.  If we do not believe what He said, that His death was the be-all-and-end-all of mankind’s sacrificial attempts to earn salvation, THEN WE DO NOT RECEIVE HIS SALVATION!  Because we demonstrate that we do not believe that He, Jesus, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that NO ONE comes to the Father except THROUGH Jesus.  Jesus, the conduit…as the final sacrifice…the only sacrifice that provides the way to salvation and eternity with Him in glory.  To deny the finality and exclusivity of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is to deny His salvation through faith alone.

It is not just that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  That He was born of a virgin and was both fully God and fully man.  That He was completely sinless.  That He died on the cross and rose again from the dead.  We MUST accept that His sacrifice was the final payment for our debt.  To continue to pay penance, in whatever form that takes in our lives, is to say that Jesus’ death, His sacrifice, was not good enough.  For we must, obviously, make it better…complete it for Him…do what He, the Son of God, could not do…make a sacrifice of our own to finish what Jesus said was already finished. 

To not accept the sacrifice of Jesus is to mix pagan religious beliefs of ancient times with the true doctrine of Jesus Christ.  It is to say that OUR works, mixed with OUR faith, is what will truly save us.  This is NOT Biblical.  It is contrary to the absolute truth of God’s Word, which says, For it is by grace (extended from God the Father through Jesus the Son at the time of Jesus’ sacrifice, providing the only legitimate path to salvation, the only path accepted by God)…for it is by GRACE that we are save, NOT OF WORKS, lest any man should boast.  Not one of us will get to Heaven and stand before the judgement seat and proudly proclaim how we did it our own way…and be given access to the Kingdom.  Anyone who stands before Jesus with that as their ticket will be told, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”  It is faith, and faith alone that will save you.  Not a mix of faith and works.  Not a mix of faith and personal sacrifices for our sins…because in doing so, you have denied that Jesus is enough, that He paid it all.  And in the end, you have not had faith at all, for you have not fully trusted Jesus alone for your salvation…you have trusted Him only as far as your own works would take you.

Please.  Today.  I plead with you as the return of Jesus draws near, accept the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus.  Repent from the sin of rejecting His plan of salvation and replacing it with your own.  Seek His forgiveness and rest in the promise that He has then saved you and you will enter into His rest.

Fasting: Intimacy with God

Recently my Sunday School class has begun a study on fasting.  It is based on a book, and led by the author on a dvd.  We listen and discuss.  I missed the first 2 sessions, and was finally able to attend the 3rd one last week.  I have to say that I left feeling really uncomfortable with what the man said.  Some of it really rang true of the Doctrine of Prosperity.  If you are unfamiliar with that term, it is the teaching that God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and happy and as soon as you give your life to Him, and give your money to His ministry, you will be healthy, wealthy, and happy.  It is a false doctrine that is not true to what the Bible teaches.  Jesus himself warned that those who followed Him would face trials and persecution.  He also warned that it is very difficult for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God…because with wealth, the temptation is so great to rely on self, rather than God, which is not the way to salvation (Jesus alone is the way, the truth and the life).  The apostle Paul stressed that when we are weakest, God’s strength shines through.  How then does it seem right to say that God wants us to be wealthy (and take the risk of being pulled away from Him), and healthy all the time (allowing us to live by our own strength, and not the strength of God).  And happy?  There is a difference between being happy (superficially, based on current circumstances) and filled with the joy of the Lord (the hope that we have in His presence at all times).

Back to fasting.  The author of the series said some things that sounded right.  But he also said some things that made me cringe.  He encouraged fasting as a way to breakthroughs in your prayers.  To sum up, when we fast, God takes extra notice and bam!  Miracles and answered prayers!  The breakthrough in your financing that you have been praying for.  The healing, the deliverance from drugs, or homosexuality, or other sins.  I believe that God stirred His Spirit within me for a reason.  Do you pray that God will give you wisdom and understanding before you enter a place where His Word will be taught?  It is so important to seek His leading, even while we are being led by others.  False teaching abounds, even when that is not the intention, and we must be on guard at all times.  Seek the guidance of the Spirit, our Counselor, so that we won’t be led astray.  1 John 4:1 tells us we are to test the spirits to see if they are from God.

I left Sunday School last week determined to do just that.  I went to the back of my Bible and wrote down every verse that mentioned fast, fasting, fasted, and I began to read those verses and the ones surrounding it.  I spent time praying and studying what the Bible says about fasting.  The following is what I learned.  At the end of this post, I will include the Bible references that I learned from so that you can test the spirits also.

What fasting is:

Fasting is a sacrifice on our part with the intention of drawing near to God.  It comes from a repentant heart that seeks to be in the presence of God with an intimacy that removes all other distractions.  It is an offering of oneself in a way that is pure and complete.  During this time of fasting, we are held up in our weakness by the power of God.  We experience His strength in a way that we can’t when our focus is divided.  In the act of fasting, we bring honor and glory to God.  Fasting is purely relational.  Because it is just between us and God, it is intimate in its very nature.  It is a longing to be near Him, to adore Him, to be completely fulfilled and satisfied by Him.  It is the opportunity to give Him our undivided attention, to pour out our souls to Him.  When we are so closely connected to our Father, then we are so much more able to hear Him speak to us, and see His hand at work around us.  We benefit in this time of nearness by knowing Him more deeply.

Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights after being baptized and before being tempted by Satan.  He didn’t fast for a miraculous breakthrough.  He fasted to draw near to His Father and glean strength from Him.

Prayer in times of fasting are linked in Isaiah 58 and Acts 10 to the obedience of the person praying…obedience specifically related to helping the poor, the needy, the destitute, the oppressed.  God says that He hears and answers the prayers of those who give to those in need.  Then they will experience light in the darkness, healing, God’s guidance and protection, satisfaction of the soul, strengthening of your bones, and God’s provision.

The one time fasting is specifically linked with a miracle/answered prayer is when Jesus said that a particular demon responds only to prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:14-21).  This would be a very specific situation that I believe the Holy Spirit would direct and inspire to the result that the demon would be exorcised and God would be glorified.

Fasting is not to be a method of manipulation, an attempt to get God to answer your prayers in the way that you want Him to.  Before you shoot me down, consider what the Israelites were doing in Isaiah 58.  They fasted and prayed every 5th and 7th month during their 70 years of captivity.  But God did not listen to them.  Why?  They were fasting for themselves.  Mourning what they had lost.  Praying for what they wanted back.  But what they didn’t get was that fasting was about God…repenting, drawing near to Him, seeking His will, and living in obedience to Him by meeting the needs of the poor, and observing the Sabbath…to worship God.  How does our fasting tend to look?  Is it our heart’s desire to be nearer to God and seek His will?  Or do we say, “Hey!  Look at me!  See what I am doing here?  I am fasting!  I am making the supreme sacrifice so that You will hear me.  Now please answer my prayer!  I need a financial breakthrough…I need my relative to give up alcohol…I need my child to turn from immorality or homosexuality…I need so and so to be healed….”  I am not saying we cannot, or should not pray for healing while fasting.  But we must be aware of our motives, the attitude of our heart.  Is it pure?  What is our intention?  Are we praying and fasting for our will?  Or the will of God and for His glory?

Prayer, with faith the size of a mustard seed, can move mountains, can bring healing, when it is the will of God.  Fasting, with the right attitude of the heart, and obedience in giving, will glorify God first and foremost, will deepen and strengthen our relationship with Him, and will seek His will above all.  Fasting is not about getting our way, it is about worship – profound, intimate worship.

Scripture references:  Joel 1:1-15 (vs 14), Zechariah 7:1-14 (vs5), Nehemiah 1:1-11 (vs 4), Daniel 9:1-19 (vs 3-4), Psalm 35:11-14, Psalm 109:1-31 (vs 24), Isaiah 58:1-14, Matthew 6:16-18, Matthew 4:1-2, Matthew 17:14-21, Luke 2:37, Luke 18:9-14, Acts 10:24-33 (vs 30).

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It is the image of God reflected in you that so enrages hell; it is this at which the demons hurl their mightest weapons. ~ William Gurnall

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