He Shall Come To Judge

In my estimation, the most chilling words in the Bible center not on Hell but on judgment. To judge is to separate the wheat from the chaff; the sheep from the goats; the lost from the found.

Judgment determines who is deemed righteous and who is not. The righteous spend eternity in Heaven and the unrighteous, in Hell. If we were judged on the basis of our works (the sum total of every thought, word, and deed as measured against the perfection of a holy God), none would be found righteous.

Romans 3:10 states this emphatically. “There is no one righteous; no not one”. Instead, we are declared righteous on the basis of our relationship with Jesus. If we know Him, we inherit His righteousness as our own and when measured against the standard of perfect holiness, are not found lacking. But we have to know Him. And He has to know us. This is where those chilling words come into play.

 As part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the crowd that “Many will say to me on that day,” ( what day?… Judgment Day) “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you.” They had the good works, but they didn’t know Jesus. They were expecting His approval but the reality is that their works, even the really impressive ones, didn’t matter at all. The measuring stick was something else entirely. And that is the heart of judgment.

 We see the same illustration in another form in the Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids. “At that time, (what time? … the end of time) the kingdom of Heaven will be like 10 bridesmaids who took their lamp stands and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.”

 As the story continues, we learn that the bridegroom arrives without warning, leaving the foolish bridesmaids to scramble for oil while the wise were immediately prepared to enter the wedding feast. When they arrived later, the foolish bridesmaids banged on the door and begged to be let in. But the bridegroom replied, “I tell you the truth, I do not know you.”  The bridesmaids had lamps, but they were empty. Without oil, the lamps were useless. In the Bible, oil often symbolizes the Holy Spirit and without the Spirit, we cannot lay claim to the righteousness of God. Our works, just like the empty lamps, will never be enough.

When Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, the critical question will not be  “do I know Jesus?” but rather “does Jesus know me?”  I can think of nothing more tragic than standing before Him expecting approval, but hearing the words, “I never knew you.”

~ Melissa Gibbs has been a member of LIFE Fellowship for over 10 years, is the mother to four boys and the late widow of JD Gibbs.

All Power and Authority

In the first few moments of the movie, we watched her light up and ask hard questions as her beautiful mama told her stories at bedtime. Brave curiosity and fearless adventure twinkled in her eyes as she ran about and soaked in the activities and people of the all-female, Amazonian warrior-filled island of Themyscira.

Diana, princess of the Amazons, grew in skill, wisdom and stature, training as an unbeatable warrior. She loved justice. Loved peace. Loved goodness. It was all she knew… until the day a handsome American spy, Steve Trevor, crashed his plane in the waters off the paradise island and Diana dove in to save him.

As she grew to know Steve, Diana learned of the danger, death, destruction, and darkness in other parts of the world. Of the war to end all wars. Of atrocities, injustice and brokenness that crushed the innocent and eminently threatened all life.

The weight of angst and compassion within left her breathless.

Diana Prince, Wonder Woman, could scarcely fathom the thought, let alone the harsh reality of this type of evil.

This is what she trained for. This is what she existed for, to defend against and crush evil, to protect the weak. She had to stop the war. To look evil in the eye and snuff it out.

David felt a similar rage about the injustice that surrounded him when he penned Psalm 58. Not much warm and fuzzy going on here, just hazes of heaviness. Snapshots of darkness. Brutal pictures of brokenness that left him pleading for divine retribution.

3 “The wicked go astray from the womb;
liars wander about from birth.
They have venom like the venom of a snake,
like the deaf cobra that stops up its ears,
that does not listen to the sound of the charmers
who skillfully weave spells.

God, knock the teeth out of their mouths;
Lord, tear out the young lions’ fangs.
May they vanish like water that flows by;
may they aim their blunted arrows.
Like a slug that moves along in slime,
like a woman’s miscarried child,
may they not see the sun”

(Psalm 58:3-8).

David wanted God to look evil in the eyes and snuff it out.

I do too.

In a day of advanced civilization, it seems impossible that humans would be sold into sex slavery and fly planes into buildings… inconceivable that missionaries would be gunned down by extremists, and churches and schools would be left in pools of blood on the other side of hate.

Yet, in spite of the jagged crevices of injustice that abound, we are not helpless. You are not helpless. We have access to the resurrection power of Jesus in His name. His power is now ours.

His is the power of completion. His is the power of authority. His is the power of intersession.

Evil can and should motivate us to pray without ceasing. As pastor Ben said, “We live in a world that is a clash of kingdoms!”

Confidence can rise even in chaos because we cry out to a listening Lord who hears and cares. And we have all authority in Christ to stand strong against forces of darkness, trusting that the One who made all things will eventually make all things right.

Dear Lord, When injustice and depravity overwhelm my heart, turn my eyes to see Your hope. Crush and contend with all that is evil in the world, Lord. You are the Healer of the broken and Friend to every sinner, the One who knows the sorrow of each scar. Heal our land, Jesus. Give us wisdom, courage and confidence to trust Your eternal plans to avenge all darkness with Light. 

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

~ Gwen Smith is an author, speaker, co-founder of Girlfriends in God and host of the Graceologie podcast.

There Ain’t No Grave

Sometimes, it’s easy for us to analogize Jesus’ resurrection into us being resurrected out of a bad situation. The event gives us hope that a health problem will clear up, a financial gutter will turn around, or a relationship will be restored. There’s no doubt that we should have hope, but there’s something that transcends the quality of life we have this side of heaven. What should be a foundation for all of us as believers is this: a peace that surpasses understanding.

The resurrection itself indeed surpasses understanding. Pastor Dan said this past Easter Sunday that we hear that someone was raised from the dead recently and are immediately skeptical, and he’s right. It’s a strange thing to believe in, but we believe it all the same. Christianity lives and dies on that proposition: did Jesus rise again from the dead, and then ascend to heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father?

Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 15:13-14:

“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

The resurrection is a beautiful, terrifying, and fascinating truth to behold. We as believers read the eyewitnesses’ accounts in Scripture and believe the Word of God, and that faith is a gift we can only receive from God Himself. And how grateful we should be for such a gift! 

If Jesus took the wrath for our sins upon Himself on the cross and yet still rose again, then He has yet another gift for us as Christ’s bride: eternal life. Going back to the hope we have, of course, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be praying and hoping for things to go well for us here in our mortal lives. Christ tells us not to be anxious because God has provided for us everything we need all along and will continue to do so.

But the peace that surpasses understanding goes much deeper. It’s truly believing that we will spend eternity with Him one day. Nothing that can happen to us on this side of heaven can bring about despair when we have that kind of hope! Jehovah Jireh provided us a ram in the thicket, a lamb for the final sacrifice, and His only begotten son in our place for the judgment against sin that must be satisfied.

I was worshipping with the band this past Sunday, and that fact became more real for me than it ever has. I’ve only been a believer for a little over three years, and I’m so grateful for how much God has done in my life thus far, but it’s taken time for some of these things we say and take for granted to take hold of my heart. We were singing, “There ain’t no grave that’ll hold my body down,” and the gravity of that truth overwhelmed me.

Christ’s resurrection means so much to us as believers, as it should. Alongside His death on the cross, they are the pinnacle of our faith. The evidence of His Spirit moving among us, His followers continuing to believe no matter the obstacles across Church history, and the eyewitness accounts presented in Scripture are more than enough. Now we answer His call to repent and believe and seek to carry out His will through the Great Commission. Reflecting on the resurrection is so beautiful. No matter what happens to you here, Christian, look to the cross and look to the resurrection for the proof that He has bought you, He has adopted you, and He’s bringing you home to eternity one day.

~ Alex Nicholson serves as Music Director and Social Media Coordinator at LIFE Fellowship.

Jesus Our High Priest

“High priest” can be found over 40 times in the Old and New Testaments before we get to the book of Hebrews, where for the first time Jesus is mentioned as our high priest.

In fact, Hebrews is the only book in the New Testament to contain this truth. That got me thinking about something Pastor Ben said: “We have to ask the Bible questions. We have to think critically.”

Why was it important in Hebrews to identify Jesus as our high priest for the first time? The audience of the book of Hebrews certainly knew what a high priest was, for they were mostly Jewish. Some began to question whether Jesus was the Messiah and considered going back to their Jewish faith.

Hebrews 2:9-18 is about how Jesus’ death turned death into glory. So how does this “high priest” idea fit in? Why is it so important?

The Jews knew they couldn’t approach God directly. In fact, in everything relating to God, the high priest represented them. He was responsible for making atonement for the sins of the people by making sacrifices on their behalf. Once each year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies and presented the blood on the mercy seat on behalf of the entire nation. There was no other way for the Jewish people to be cleansed from their sins. In fact, if anyone else ever entered the Holy of Holies, or even if the high priest went in on any other day of the year, it meant immediate death (Lev. 16:2). Indeed, the high priest was one of the most important people in Israel. He was responsible for the spiritual welfare of the entire nation.

“A fresh set of eyes.” That’s how we were encouraged to look at this passage. As I read it again and again, I began to understand how the Jews must have felt the first time they heard the news:  Jesus is the high priest who offered His bloodonce and for all so that there is never again a need for continuing sacrifices on their behalf.  Wow! When I really try to put myself in the shoes of the Jewish listeners, I can only imagine the overwhelming freedom and relief they must have felt! Their whole lives revolved around sin and sacrifices. This news surely turned their world upside down!

What other roles did the high priests play? In addition to atoning for the sins of the people, they were required to help the miserable, fallen and oppressed. Therefore, a high priest needed to be merciful. As John Calvin stated,

“It is a rare thing for those who are always happy to sympathize with the sorrows of others. Therefore, whenever any evils pass over us, let it ever occur to us, that nothing happens to us but what the Son of God has himself experienced in order that he might sympathize with us; nor let us doubt but that he is present with us as though he suffered with us.”

What a beautiful truth! While Jesus didn’t need to suffer in order to be compassionate and merciful, He chose to suffer: FOR us and WITH us. And He invites us to draw near to Him in our every need so that He can comfort and empathize with us; so He can remind us that we are His  chosen family.

By His death and resurrection, Jesus overcame the chains of death – for us. And His death also broke the chains of fear, condemnation, guilt and shame. He knows all our sin. He takes it as His own. He welcomes us into His family. Indeed, there is no reason to fear. Can you imagine how the Jewish listeners must have felt hearing this? Those who lives were marked with frequent reminders of their sin and separation from God and their inability to do anything about it on their own?

Jesus is the high priest who intercedes for us by offering Himself as the perfect and final sacrifice once and for all eternity. He is the high priest who covers our sins, brings glory to death and reconciles us into fellowship with our Father God. That is the Good News of the Gospel shared with a few that has transformed the world.

There is a lot of theology in these 9 verses in Hebrews. Perhaps it can be summed up in the familiar children’s song that goes like this: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” May the love of Jesus given in His death and resurrection radically mark our lives and change death into glory for us all as we live and share His Good News!

~ Nicole Bryan has been a member of LIFE Fellowship for over 10 years and will graduate from Dallas Theological Seminary in May with a M.A. in Biblical Studies. She and her husband Callan have three children. 

Standing Ovation

Several years ago, I was introduced to a format of prayer that altered my way of approaching the Lord. The format, called ACTS, may be one that you’ve heard of or use too. But for those who are unfamiliar with this acronym it stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

The first part, adoration, is what truly shifted my heart posture. I begin each of my prayers simply telling God how amazing He is by audibly declaring to Him several of His attributes. By applying qualities that I, a simple human, understand to a perfect, holy God, allows me to relate to Him in a new way. I feel closer to Him…connected.

It reminds me of a practice that takes place at the school which my children attend. It’s called a Standing Ovation and is basically a time when a particular student, on any given day, is placed in the middle of a circle and each classmate begins to tell him/her, one-by-one, all the things they like about them.

I’ve witnessed a few of these precious times and have heard comments as simple as, “You are kind,” to more detailed expressions such as: “When you see someone alone on the playground, you go over and talk to them so that they don’t feel lonely.” To see and hear this form of adoration from children towards one another is truly heartwarming and encouraging to say the least. I believe students on the receiving end come away from this experience feeling confident and uplifted as well as more connected with their peers. It is a real-life example of how words can change the way we feel about ourselves and maybe even inspire us to raise our personal bars of character excellence.

So, as I listened and made note of the fifteen attributes of God which Pastor Dan described during last Sunday’s sermon, I thought, “Yes, we should give God a standing ovation every time we pray!” HE IS WORTHY! He certainly doesn’t need our encouragement or positive affirmation, but because He is God, we somehow benefit from giving Him praise! Each adjective spoken raises both our minds and hearts to a more devoted, more intimate level. The divine attributes of God are endless and truly have the ability to draw us into closer communication with Him. There is NO ONE like HIM!

Our minds have to deliberately stay on what is TRUE about the Lord lest we slip into an evil false narrative that minimizes His majesty. As Pastor Dan mentioned, we should never change our view of the Holy Creator to become more acceptable to the world’s standards. The secular view is in stark defiance of the Christian view. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle between good and evil: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Satan does not want us to revere God as the all-powerful, perfect King of Kings that He is, and his plan to deceive and destroy anyone who loves God will continue until Jesus returns.
It is a daily battle for believers to keep our hearts aligned with the things of heaven. The chasm between sin and Savior is growing wider and wider. The pit of godlessness and depravity is sinking deeper and deeper. But…Jesus. We have Jesus! He is the only bridge that will connect sinner to salvation. He is the only One deserving of our adoration. Will you give Him a standing ovation today?
~ Tara Dye is a longtime member of LIFE Fellowship. She and her husband Paul have three children.

Self-Preservation | Self-Persecution

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” ~ Romans 12:1-3

Convenience. Sacrifice. Two different words. Two different worlds.

Reading the word “convenience” provides a pleasant soothing vibe. The word implies effortlessness. We search for this word when attempting to make decisions for ourselves. It appeals to our mind’s hesitant commentary of, “Will this cost me much?” Convenience feeds and soothes the flesh. Convenience is self-love.

The word “sacrifice” stands contrarily next to the word “convenience”. Where convenience promises effortlessness, sacrifice implies more than effort. There is an extremism associated with the thought of sacrifice. Sacrifice starves and kills the flesh. Sacrifice is love of something greater than self.

Decisions and behaviors rooted in convenience or sacrifice are observable and tangible witnesses. It is easy to discern whether a person loves self or something greater than self by whether they embrace convenience or sacrifice.

Years ago, I took the opportunity to visit a sacred religious island in China while visiting with my wife’s family. This island featured the largest Buddha statue in the world. It is so large that worshippers and visitors alike respond in awe. It is HUGE! I was taken in by the sheer presence of the sculpture set within a majestic setting of green mountains and waterscapes. I was truly amazed at the sheer size and magnitude of the work and the energy and busyness that emanated from the site.
However, as deeply as my mind was impressed, my spirit was deeply disturbed. Why was this? How could I be both amazed and deeply pained in such a beautiful and significant location?

Thanks to the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ in my life, I was looking at this statue with “eyes that see”. I knew this sculpture to be an idol; a false god. It is a gateway to eternal separation from the one true God. But this was not the only reason that the Holy Spirit was tugging at me in that moment. After additional moments of observation and reflection, it dawned on me that God wanted me to take note of the various acts of worship occurring all around me and on the island.
For many of the individuals that were visiting the island that afternoon, this was a sacrosanct moment for worship. This religious icon represented something of real significance to them. Their passion for this experience and this site was nearly palpable. Their worship of this statue was visual and representative evidence of a faith in the significance and power of Buddha. I stood witness to people intentionally sacrificing self for the love of their god. Their acts of worship were most inconvenient to the flesh and yet here were thousands of men, women, boys, and girls intentionally participating in acts designed to express their faith and their devotion.

To have arrived at the holy site, the worshipers traveled on a series of buses, subways, and ferries. After this and upon arrival, there were literally thousands of people in line patiently waiting to pray, light incense, offer fruit that they had brought with them on the journey. Many tossed various amounts of money into wells and into trees, hoping to throw high enough to get into the highest of branches which was closer to heaven’s blessings. There were throngs of people climbing hundreds upon hundreds of stone steps ascending to the holiest place. Some of the worshippers so old that they required assistance from younger family, friends, and believers. Most notable of all was that, in spite of all these inconveniences, the worshippers worshipped with a keen and observable determination. It was clear that their acceptance of the expected sacrifice was what compelled them from start to finish for that day’s act of fidelity.

In this setting of drama and ritual, the Holy Spirit convicted me. Considering that my worship is not tethered to a specific time or space and that my worship is a moment by moment composite of my daily decisions and actions, was I an example of a living sacrifice for my LORD? Was my worship a witness of passion for Christ…or…was it a witness of my passion for my personal preferences and comforts?

This past Sunday, Pastor Ben preached a powerful message regarding Christ’s words, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Knowing that persecution is promised for followers of Christ, Ben encouraged us to prepare for it and to not fear it. In preparation for it, we will understand Jesus better and deeper. How? Because the narrative of Jesus’ earthly life was a progression from poor in spirit to persecution. As I listened to this message, I was struck by the reality that many of the Christians I have experienced in this day and age clamor over matters of self-preservation while claiming religious persecution. But Jesus’ teaching informs us that being treated unjustly and harshly FOR HIS SAKE is one of the greatest honors that followers of Jesus can experience. This teaching stands in critical opposition to my perceived rights and privileges. This teaching calls me to die in order to live.

The day that I visited the Buddha, God’s Spirit revealed to me that my worship lacked depth and transformational power. Unlike the worship occurring around me that day, my worship was rooted in self-interests and rotted by self-concern. Though I was worshiping the true God…my acts of worship lacked intentional and purposeful sacrifice. My body was not being presented to God in holiness and I was not pressing beyond the boundaries of my comforts in any way that could be seen or described as sacrifice.

For many of us, maybe feelings of persecution are actually suppressions of convenience. Maybe the offenses that we perceive are directed towards our faith and lives are actually convictions of the Holy Spirit about our lives.

During this season of pandemic and cultural upheaval, has our worship been shown to be a witness to our love of self-preservation, to conditional duty and learned tradition rather than an offering of our bodies and selves to the God that offered His body and self for our sake!

Do I acknowledge the LORD when I awaken? Do I acknowledge the LORD when I retire for the day? Do I read the Word? Do I arrive for Sunday worship on time? Do I live in a manner on Saturday that allows me to offer my best self on Sunday? Do I sing the songs of the Church? Do I reflect upon the sermon from God’s servant? Do I pray? Do I tithe? Do I serve? If I do not, not only am I not being persecuted because of righteousness, my worship does not flow from a devotion to someone larger than me. No. It is worship for me. And for that, I will not be persecuted. For that, I shall be judged.

There on the island of the world’s largest Buddha, in the midst of countless fervent and powerless prayers, I offered a quiet and repentant prayer to the resurrected Christ. And my Father beckoned me to Him, affirmed me as His son, and called me to die in order that I might live.

~ Jason Lanier serves as Worship & Arts Pastor at LIFE Fellowship