All posts by stephen

Who Will Represent You in the Heavenly Court?

“The defendant doesn’t stand a chance,” I thought. He sat nervously in the courtroom, on trial for drug possession and distribution. I was there for jury duty – that civic practice no one likes, but everyone is thankful for.

I’d never met the defendant. I didn’t know any details of the case. We were still early in the jury selection process, and if chosen, I’d do everything in my power to view him “innocent until proven guilty,” ignoring first impressions and letting facts speak for themselves.

Still, I had my doubts. You see, the defendant had declined a court-appointed attorney. Instead, he opted to represent himself. His suit was two sizes too large. His questions to potential jurors were awkward and choppy. I felt almost embarrassed for him. Meanwhile, the prosecutor was confident and sharply dressed – a District Attorney well versed in legalese and courtroom etiquette.

Sitting in court that day, I was reminded of another trial coming. The Bible says, “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). This time, heaven will be the courtroom. God will sit on the bench as Judge and jury. We will be the defendants. God promises to weigh not only our visible behavior and religious expressions, but every secret thought and deed.

Let’s be honest. We don’t stand a chance defending ourselves against an all-knowing, all-seeing, perfectly righteous God. We will each stand guilty before him. There will be nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no excuses or alibis to withstand his scrutiny.

Thankfully, there is a skilled defense attorney standing by who can take our punishment and make us innocent. 1 John 2:1-2 tells us, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

That word “advocate” speaks of a defense attorney. Jesus is willing to speak on your behalf, and intercede to God for you! Have you ever admitted you are guilty and need a defense attorney? Or are you seriously planning to represent yourself on judgment day? (Which would be a dismal failure.) Jesus alone “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

As it turned out, I wasn’t selected for jury that day, and I never heard the results of the drug dealing case. I pray that whatever the outcome, justice was done. But I’m also thankful to have an advocate named Jesus Christ who will represent me in the heavenly courtroom. He’s the best lawyer in the business and has never lost a case. If you haven’t yet sought him out, I encourage you to do so today. You never know when the trial will begin.

(This article first appeared in today’s edition of our local newspaper, the Hi Desert Star.)

Photo credit: Hope Media Stock Photography

The Lady With The Lamp

The year was 1844, and a war was raging in Europe. Already, thousands had died on the battlefield, and thousands more probably wished they’d died. Instead, they were helpless casualties of the Crimean War, agonizing from injury and infection. No one seemed to care. But all of that was about to change.

Despite protest from her family, a young nursing graduate named Florence Nightingale insisted on going to the hospitals of the warfront. The conditions were deplorable. Nothing could prepare her for what she was about to see at the British-based hospital in Constantinople.

One biographer writes, “The hospital sat on top of a large cesspool which contaminated the water in the hospital itself. Patients lay on their own excrement on stretchers strewn throughout the hallways. Rodents and bugs scurried past them. The most basic supplies such as bandages grew increasingly scarce. The number of ill and wounded steadily increased. Even water needed to be rationed. More soldiers were dying from infectious diseases like typhoid and cholera than those that had been injured from battle itself.”

Nightingale wasted no time. She ordered the less-injured soldiers to scrub the interior of the hospital. She set up separate stations for triage, surgical procedures, and long-term care. She took steps to sterilize medical instruments. She quickly endeared herself to the injured soldiers, and earned a reputation for her no-nonsense system of cleanliness and care. As a result of her nightly ritual of making rounds by lamplight to check on the patients, she earned the nickname, “The Lady with the Lamp.”

I’m sure as soldiers sat in the dark hallways and saw the lamp moving closer, it inspired them to hold on just a bit longer. The one carrying the light brought with her a sense of hope and healing.

In a similar way, Jesus describes his followers as “the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14). Like Nightingale, Christians are called to work in hard places, to serve with compassion, and to shine a light of hope.

Jesus is the true Light of the World (John 8:12). He is the source of all that is true, good, and beautiful. But amazingly, he has chosen to put his light inside us. The only way people are going to see the healing light of Jesus Christ today is if they see it in his disciples.

What does it mean to shine the light of Jesus? To be sure, it includes sharing the gospel. But it’s more than that. It also includes living out the implications of the gospel through our everyday lives. Jesus makes this connection clear in Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

In the coming year, may each of us shine our lights for Jesus, penetrating darkness to speak the truth and share in suffering of those God places in our pathway, all for the glory of God.

Who is someone you know who puts the gospel on display?  What is it about them that inspires you?

Praising God for 2017

It’s often difficult to measure success in ministry. So much of God’s work happens quietly, subtly, behind the scenes and beneath the surface.

We’ll never know the full extent of our labor this side of heaven, or see the full picture of what God is doing. However, over the past twelve months, several ministries have borne visible fruit.

Here are some highlights of the past year:

  • Celebrated new baptisms and members
  • Helped establish Pillar Church in 29 Palms
  • Began a weekly broadcast on our local radio station Z107
  • Provided Easter and Christmas cantatas
  • Hosted a walking tour at Desert Christ Park
  • Outreach week with The Master’s University
  • Took a major leap forward in our Children’s ministry
  • Removed sound booth and expanded sanctuary seating
  • Installed state-of-the-art speakers and sound mixer
  • Improved our ministry team organizational structure
  • Welcomed a new intern from California Baptist University
  • Added a junior high class to our Vacation Bible School
  • Updated our name to Crossview Bible Church
  • Hosted a Parenting Class using Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart
  • Raised $250 for Syrian Refugees during VBS
  • Delivered dozens of boxes to Operation Christmas Child
  • Enjoyed a Fall Men’s Retreat on “Living Well”
  • Re-introduced Saturday morning SALT discipleship
  • Successfully sold our property across the street
  • Took the first steps toward a church facility revitalization
  • And, we had a full house at our candlelight Christmas Eve service

It’s been a busy and fruitful year. To God be the glory!

To find out more about our church, please visit www.CrossviewYucca.org.

Marks of a Servant Leader

“Who is the greater — one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:27)

CEOs usually work on the highest floor of a corporate office. Captains typically reside in the largest cabin of the ship. Sales associates with the longest tenure often get to pick their schedules first. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with these arrangements. But in the upper room, Jesus taught his disciples that biblical leadership is servant leadership.

I have been meeting with a group of guys at church on Saturday mornings to discuss theology and church leadership. We call it SALT for “Servant Leadership Training.”

At our last meeting, I shared a number of marks of servant leadership in the church. Which of these are being manifested in your own life? Do you see any areas that need improvement?

A servant leader is one who…

• Doesn’t wait to be asked or assume “someone else will do it”
• Is willing to make commitments and then to keep them
• Never tries to just “get by” but goes the extra mile
• Looks for nothing in return
• Considers no task to be too small
• Always respects authority, even when he disagrees
• Makes time for people and does not treat them as an interruption
• Learns to communicate in a spirit of patience and love
• Takes a personal sense of ownership in the work of the ministry
• Is a good listener – always on the lookout for ways to help
• Is willing to give up his rights to put others first
• Enjoys walking in the footsteps of Christ
• Doesn’t give up – even in the face of criticism or opposition
• Learns to delegate, but always in a spirit of humility
• Labors and toils with a smile, rather than in a spirit of grumbling
• Puts himself in the shoes of others and considers their plight
• Is quick to give praise and express appreciation to others
• When he receives praise, he immediately gives glory to God
• Ends well when it’s time to move on
• Remembers it is better to give than to receive (Ac. 20:35)
• Is willing to admit his mistakes and learn from them

Father Abraham

Tomb of Abraham in Hebron, Israel. Photo Credit: Todd Bolen, BiblePlaces.com

Someone recently asked me, “Who are the real children of Abraham? Are all the children of Abraham ‘Israel’? Do the promises contained in the covenants apply to those of the flesh or to those of faith?” Here’s how I responded to my friend…

I believe that throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, “Israel” refers consistently to the ethnic, physical descendants of Abraham. “Gentiles” is a broad term for all non-Jews. Sometimes, it speaks of the godless pagans. At other times, it simply refers to the non-Jewish people groups of the world and would be synonymous with “Greeks” and “the nations.” Context in each passage will easily determine if it carries a negative, spiritual connotation of godlessness (Eph. 2:11; 4:17; 1 Thess. 4:5; 1 Pet. 2:12; 4:3) or is a simple statement of non-Jewish ethnicity (Rom. 1:13; 9:24; 11:13).

In the Old Testament, people could only be in right relationship with God by believing in God as Savior, and participating in the Mosaic covenant. The law was never a means to salvation; it was God’s holy measuring stick to convict people of their sin, and then for those who believed, it became the outward expression of one’s faith in the one true God. Gentiles were required to proselytize or convert over to Judaism in order to become a full member of the covenant community. Remember, the church was a complete mystery at this point and had not been revealed, nor did it even exist (Matt. 16:18; Rom. 11:25; Eph. 1:9; 3:3-6; 6:19; Col. 1:26-27).

Contrary to the teaching of some, the New Testament continues to maintain a distinction between Jew and Gentiles. People will often look at a passage like Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek” and conclude that all distinction has been removed, and that the church is the new or true Israel. But this simply is not the case.

In the present era, the Jew/Gentile distinction is diminished, but it is never lost. In a similar way, male/female and slave/master distinctions may look different under the new covenant, but they are never abolished. We must not press Gal. 3:28 and Col. 3:9-11 so far as to eliminate all distinction. These passages speak of spiritual equality, not functional equality. In fulfillment of his covenant promise to Abraham, God still has a future plan for ethnic Israel. See for example:

Acts 13:45–46 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.

Acts 14:2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.

Romans 9:24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Romans 11:11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.

Romans 11:25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

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

Galatians 2:14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

I believe this is the point of Jesus’ statement in John 10:16 also: And I have other sheep [Gentiles] that are not of this fold [Jews]. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

In what way, then, are Gentiles the children of Abraham? According to Romans 4, all who believe in Christ are children of Abraham according to faith. Paul as a Jew could call Abraham “a forefather according to the flesh” (Romans 4:1). But down in verse 11, he says Abraham becomes “the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well.”

Using a classic Hebrew figure of speech, where a child resembles his father, Paul is saying that even non-Jews can call Abraham father when we imitate the same kind of faith that he exhibited by grace alone in Christ alone. So, it may be a silly Sunday School song, but there really is theological truth in the song, “Father Abraham, had many sons…I am one of them, and so are you…”

Sometimes, the terms “circumcised of heart” and “children of Abraham” speak of a spiritual reality and refer to both believing Jews and Gentiles in a figurative sense. But, and this is important: the Bible never uses the technical term “Israel” to refer to the church.

Nor do I believe these expressions remove or transfer God’s promises away from Israel (which he made in the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants). Through the New Covenant, his blessings spill over and now affect believing Gentiles too. But God would never revoke the promises he made to the Israelite nation.

Jeremiah 31:35–36 “Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord of hosts is his name: ‘If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.’ ”

All glory be to God!