Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Strange Fire

Leviticus 10:1-3 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, "It is what the Lord spoke, saying, "By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored."

The sons of Aaron offered "strange fire" to God. That phrase struck me this morning as I was reading this passage in Leviticus. It got me to thinking about what we offer as strange fire these days. No longer do we have the tent of meeting and burnt offerings to God like in the time of the Israelites. No, we now have the perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ and so we don't have to make atonement for our sins according to the laws of the Old Testament.
Now, my initial question was "What were these guys thinking?!" We know that everything had to be just so in order for the priests to make any type of sacrifice to the Lord and here are these guys, THE SONS OF AARON for cryin' out loud, who decide they want to play with fire (pun intended). If anyone should have known the consequences of not doing things God's way it should have been these fellows. Their father was the original high priest charged with taking care of the tabernacle.
This brings me to my next point. The pastors, theologians, preachers and teachers are the ones that should know the best. Please pay special attention to the emphasis on "should." Remember, the sons of Aaron should have known better than to do what they did in offering "strange fire" to God... but they didn't. Folks, there is some strange fire going around churches, seminaries and theological books these days. Some of the concepts that theological students are taught are far from what God has commanded. In some versions the word "strange" in this passage is translated "unauthorized," how fitting. There is strange fire that says that the old Gospel of sin and repentance is no longer good enough. Strange fire that says Jesus was not who He said He was and is not the only way to salvation. Strange fire that says that the Bible is not the Word of God and that very little of it can be trusted. While on the other hand all of what Bart D. Ehrman, Paul Tillick, Karl Barth, Soren Kiirkagaard and Oprah say can be trusted implicitly. Strange fire that twists the scripture to fit social inclinations rather that calling society to conform to the scripture. Strange fire indeed that says that God is not a man of His word. This is all wrapped up in wonderful ideas of free thought, tolerance and Godly love for our neighbors. Remember, Nadab and Abihu didn't do it completely wrong they just "added incense" to their firepans.
There are two very important things to remember though; one is that not all people in or associated with theological education are offering this putrid odor to the Almighty. Two, strange fire is not limited to anyone or any profession. Satan is an equal opportunity deciever and no one is omitted. What then is the solution, or, what does this have to do with me?
First we must see what kind of offering God wants from us. For the answer let's look at Psalm 51:16-17, For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. So, do we approach God with a humble spirit and humble heart or do we approach God as is we have Him all figured out?
Second, we must prepare ourselves to fend off the deception that is going to come. More and more of the "mainstream" churches are inching their way further from the truth of God's Word. By "mainstream" I mean denominations such as; United Methodist, Prebyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, and such. Again, this is an inaccurate generalization and not meant to speak for every member or every congregation. The same can be said for institutions of theological education and it may be that this is what is driving the direction of the churches. It has become fashionable to make mockery of tradtional Christianity and God and His Word. Strange fire. Anyway, we must make sure that we are properly prepared for the attacks of the enemy. That means saturating ourselves with the Word, constantly being in prayer and seeking the very face of God, all while clinging tightly to the Cross that got us where we are.
So, just as in the time of Aaron and his unfortunate sons, there is a strange fire being offered to God. It is up to each of us to recognize this and not be consummed ourselves by it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Ultimate Bailout Plan

God laughs in the face of $700 Billion.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

For the past two months or more the talk of bailouts has become the new chic conversation piece. It started with the banking industry, or the credit industry, or was it the real estate industry? Who knows! In any event the federal government has been inundated with bailout...excuse me, "rescue" plans, packages and those wanting a piece of the proverbial pie. Of course, just like every other problem we have in this modern age, the solution is to throw inordinate amounts of money at it in the hopes of drowning the problem in cash. It seems a little bit like the person who wishes to drown their troubles in alcohol only to end up with a splitting headache, a pickled liver and no memory of how it all happened. I digress.

I have a question. What if people desired a bailout from sin and guilt as much as they desired a bailout from bankruptcy or foreclosure? What if people actually went to God with faces down begging for help, begging to be delivered from the terrible place they find themselves? Would God be as gracious and loving and kind as the government? I hope you have detected by now that these are rhetorical questions. The obvious answer is that YES, not only will God be gracious, loving and kind to we sinners who repent BUT, He has already offered the best bailout package in history! Let me turn your attention to on of my favorite verses in the Bible, 2 Chronicles 7:14

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

and then in Romans 5:8

but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died to us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.

I'm not going to sit hear and tell anyone that if they give their heart to Jesus then He will heal their bank account or save their company from going out of business. It could very well be the case that the Lord sees fit to do these things, however, this is not the guarantee that the Word give us. That is not what Christ came to do though. He came to save us from our sins, redeem us to God and redeem our entire life. Why then do we not see people storming altars and churches begging God to forgive them like we see C.E.O's and C.F.O's storming Washington D.C with outstretched hands? Well I think people like Charles Spurgeon and Ray Comfort have the right idea. People don't know that they have done wrong. We have told them that God will heal their bank account if they follow Him and when that isn't the Lord's plan they...bail out. You see God does not have to make good on our deals. God is not responsible for making sure that we are not liars. We are, however, responsible for telling people the truth that He has given us in His Word. This is the truth about God's ultimate bailout package:
1) God created the world, everything in it including us.
2) We messed up and sinned, every one of us.
3) Because of that sin we cannot enter into the presence of the Holy and Perfect God.
4) God loves us and doesn't want to live without us so He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ.
5) Jesus paid the penalty, He picked up the tab, He bailed us out of moral bankruptcy, sin.
6) By accepting this sacrifice we are forgiven of our sins and allowed to enter into Heaven.
7) God's bailout plan is the only one that will work.

Now, if we do choose to accept God's rescue plan then some things are going to change or should change. One thing for sure, there will be no $400,000 executive retreats. We don't just get forgiven and then turn right back to our old ways. Will we still be in the woods? Yes, but we will be heading in a different direction. We have a new life, new hearts, new minds and new desires and new motivations. God wants to give us a new life not because He is fundamentally against fun, but because He created us and knows how we are supposed to function best. The point is this, God is able to do and has done far more than we could ever imagine. He has offered us salvation from a terrible, horrific eternity in Hell. He has also offered us eternity in Heaven and to make us a new creation even while we are here on earth. God's bailout package didn't cost $700 billion, it didn't cost a trillion, it cost Him the life of His one and only Son. To us it is a free gift.