Is God a Spiritual ATM Machine?

ATM machines.  They exist for one purpose.  People drive up to an ATM, put in their debit card, punch in the magic password, and transact banking business.  I use my ATM machine exclusively to deposit checks and receive money.  I can say with complete honesty; I have no relationship with my ATM. Zero. Nada. None. I go to it when I need something.  I don’t talk to it (that would be weird), think about it after I leave, or spend time lavishing praise on it. I use it to meet my needs.

I wonder if sometimes I treat God like that.  I simply show up when I want something.  I seek his hand more than I seek his face.  I pursue God because He can benefit me.   If we are honest, we all have treated God like this.

Yet, the Bible gives a very different picture of God.  He is a Father who longs for His children to spend time with Him.  The New Testament introduces us to an Aramaic word, Abba.  This term is used three times to describe God:

  • Mark 14:36, And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.  Remove this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
  • Romans 8:14-15, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father!”
  • Galatians 4:4-6, “But when the fullness of time has come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

A little language history will help.  The Jewish people spoke Hebrew early in their history.  The Northern Kingdom, Israel, was conquered in 722 BC and assimilated into the Assyrian culture.  The Southern Kingdom, Judah, was conquered by Babylon, and the Jewish people exiled into Babylon began to speak the language of the Babylonians, Aramaic.  By the 1st century, the three primary languages spoken in Palestine were Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and a few Romans spoke Latin.  Many of the Jewish lay people would have spoken Aramaic.

The term “Abba,” used only connected with “Father,” was an Aramaic expression used by children to address their fathers.  It is equivalent to the English, “papa,” or “daddy.”

Jesus uses the term in Mark 14 to address his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It would seem appropriate for Jesus to utilized this intimate term for God, yet in Romans and Galatians, we are given the privilege of referring to God as “daddy.”  Speechless.  What are we to say to this?  Because of the depth, profundity, and beauty of the gospel message, as sinful rebels we are adopted into the family of God and can cry out through the Holy Spirit, “Abba! Father!”  We can call God, “Abba!”

My relationship with God is not like a spiritual ATM! This intimate, close, dear, beloved, cherished, relationship with my heavenly “Papa” is not because God is a 24/7 dispenser of “blessings” or a celestial masseur.

“As a Father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”

His name is Abba Father because he is God and there is no other!  He is the King of the universe!  As his children, our lives are hidden in Christ.  Not a hair will fall from our heads, not a breath will be expelled from our lungs, and not a rhythmic beat from our hearts will happen apart from His sovereign purpose and pleasure.  Our loving Father will accomplish his purpose in our lives and in that we rest.

Psalm 103:13, “As a Father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”

Application:  When you pray today, because of Jesus’ finished work for you, you can call your heavenly Father, Abba!  Father!

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Sin is Cosmic Treason against God

The Bible tells us that not just Adam and Eve are guilty of sin. We all are. The gospel of Jesus is full of stumbling stones, and this is one of the largest. To people who obstinately see themselves as basically good, the idea that we are essentially sinful and rebellious is scandalous and revolting.

Many Christians talk about sin as if it were merely a relational quarrel between God and man, and what is needed is for us simply to say we are sorry and receive God’s forgiveness. You may think that. Let’s go deeper. The image of sin as a quarrel between God and man distorts the seriousness of sin, the depravity of man and the holiness of God. It communicates that there is no broken law, no violated justice, no righteous wrath, no holy judgment, and therefore no need for a substitute to bear that judgment.

The Bible’s teaching is that sin is indeed a breaking of a relationship with God, but that the broken relationship consists in a rejection of his kingly majesty. It’s not just adultery; it is also rebellion. It is not just betrayal; it is also treason.

“If we reduce sin to a mere breaking of relationship, rather than understanding it as the traitorous rebellion of a beloved subject against his good and righteous King, we will never understand why the death of God’s Son was required to address it.” (Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?)

There is a massive distinction between understanding yourself to be guilty of sins and knowing yourself to be guilty of sin. Most people will acknowledge they have committed sins, small isolated mistakes. The question we must ask though, is there a difference between sins and sin? The answer is a resounding, yes! Sins are isolated transgressions we commit. Sin runs to the very depths of our hearts.

Greg Gilbert says, “Sin is the deep-running deposits of filth and corruption that we never knew existed in us and that we ourselves could never expunge. That’s how the Bible talks about the depth and darkness of our sin-it is in us and of us, not just on us.”

Slow down and read that last paragraph again.
The sinful words we speak, the sinful actions we do are not just isolated sins. They rise out of the evil in our hearts. Read the following verses.

There is a massive distinction between understanding yourself to be guilty of sins and knowing yourself to be guilty of sin.

Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

These verses reveal the wickedness of our hearts and God’s just wrath against us. Romans 1 reveals man’s willful blindness(19-21), wrong belief(22-23), and wicked behavior(24-26).

The Bible paints a dark picture of man’s sinful condition. Yet, we are not left in our sinful condition. Hope is offered. Light has shone. Jesus has come. The amazing truth is that though we were enemies of God, hostile toward Him; God decided to place his love and affection on us and save us through the person and work of Jesus Christ! This is a great salvation! This is what makes the gospel so stunning and beautiful!

1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…” This verse is unfathomable! There was no reason for God to save you, save one; God chose to save you out of the greatness of his mercy, grace, and love. We can say today, we have a great salvation!

Let me apply this. Today, beloved of God, live not as a prisoner of sin held captive by the power of the devil, but live as one who has been set free from the power of sin and one day will be set free from the presence of sin! You have been filled with the Holy Spirit of God who empowers you to live obediently and victoriously in Christ! Someone once said, “Life is what you are alive to.” Live as if you have been raised to life, liberated to live for the glory of God!

What are Spiritual Sacrifices?

The inspired text of 1 Peter 2:4-5 says, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”  I want to zero in on one arresting thought in this passage.  Peter speaks of believer’s offering “spiritual sacrifices.”

The context speaks of believers as a “holy priesthood.”  The primary function of the Old Testament priest, as they ministered in the tabernacle and later in the temple, was to offer animal sacrifices.  These sacrifices were for atonement for the sins of the Old Testament people.  When Jesus inaugurated the new covenant, animal sacrifices were no longer necessary.  The only sacrifices remaining for the believer to offer up were spiritual sacrifices.  That begs the question, what are spiritual sacrifices?

Spiritual sacrifices are “offerings” or “sacrifices” a follower of Jesus offers to the Lord.  Let me share with you six acceptable spiritual sacrifices found in the New Testament.

Your Bodies-Romans 12:1-2.  We are to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, which is acceptable to God.  We are to crawl up on the altar and offer to our Father our complete body.  As someone once said, the only problem with live sacrifices is they can crawl off the altar.  Every day offer yourself to the Lord.

Your Praise-Hebrews 13:15. We are to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.”  Our verbal praise from a grace-filled heart is a spiritual offering unto God.

Your good works and possessions-Hebrews 13:16. Let me quote this verse, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”  The believer’s good works and generous desire to share what God has given to Him is a sacrifice offered to God.

People you have led to Christ-Romans 15:15-16.  This invigorating and encouraging passage speaks of Paul’s offering of Gentile believers to the Lord as an acceptable offering.  People you lead to the Lord are a spiritual sacrifice to our rescuing and saving Father.

Your financial giving to the Lord’s work-Paul refers to monetary gifts that the church at Philippi sent him through Epaphroditus.  These gifts are described as a “fragrant offering and a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

Your prayers-Revelation 8:3-4.  In these verses the prayers of the saints are seen rising unto God.  The unbelievable thought in these verses is that the incense cloud of the saints’ prayers rises into the presence of God. Your prayers, child of God, are a spiritual sacrifice offered to the Lord.

Today, my encouragement to you is to offer spiritual sacrifices to your loving, faithful, redeeming, and gracious Heavenly Father.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

William Cowper, 1774

Please Help Me Understand The Bible!

2 Peter 1:20-21-“…Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

2 Timothy 3:16-“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”
The Bible is the inspired Word of God! In the series Awakening, I preached two sermons on the primacy of the Bible. In one sermon, I asked the question, “Can I believe the Bible?” I mentioned external evidence, internal evidence, and Jesus believes the Bible, as three reasons why every Christian can trust the authority and accuracy of Scripture. The verses above remind us of the uniqueness, veracity, infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible.

2 Timothy 2:15-“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” This verse speaks not so much to the authority of Scripture but to our need to present ourselves “to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed.” You and I are called to diligently study the Word of God! A growing Christian immerses themselves in the Word. They are not spoon fed by a preacher on Sunday and burped on their way out the church door! They are actively spending time in the Word.

Let me give you three steps to assist you in “righty handling the word of truth.” These basis steps to accurately understand the Bible were popularized by Kay Arthur and termed the “Inductive Bible study method.” Robbie Gallaty, Senior Pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church, has a great chapter in his Book Growing Up that gives great information on these three steps.
The three steps are: Observation, Interpretation, and application. Let’s briefly look at each step.

Observation-What does the text say?
This initial step involves observing. You need to become familiar with the passage. I suggest reading the passage three or four times.
Below are some questions that Gallaty lists in his book that will help you with observing the text:

  • Who is the author?
  • Who are the recipients?
  • Who are the main characters involved in the text?
  • What is happening in the text?
  • What the author intending to communicate?
  • What are key words in the text?
  • What is the context of this verse?
  • What important comparisons or contrasts to you see?
  • When do the events take place?
  • Where do these events take place?
  • Why do the events take place?

These questions will help you practically observe what is occurring in the passage. In this first step think of yourself as a detective! When I was young the game Clue was very popular. As a detective, you were trying to determine who committed the crime. The first step for every good detective is to gather the facts. You are observing and gathering all the facts about the passage.

Interpretation-What does the text mean?
This second step is not what does the text say, but what does the text mean? The reader is studying the facts that were gathered in step one.
A list of questions from Gallaty to ask:

  • What do the key terms mean?
  • How do the verses or phrases relate to each other?
  • How this passage fit into the larger story of the book it is in?
  • How does the passage relate to the story of the Bible as a whole?
  • How does this passage point to or speak of Jesus?
  • What are the differences between the biblical audience and me?

These questions will help the reader study the facts that were collected in step one. A scriptural truth/theological principle will emerge from the text. This next statement is important! Listen carefully! This truth/principle is the same truth the author meant for the original audience.

Remember, we haven’t reached application yet. At this point you are not asking what does this text demand of me? We are focusing on the original intent of the author. Let’s take a closer look at some of the questions we should ask in this step:

  • How does the passage fit into the verses around it and the book as a whole? This is important because it will keep us from taking the verse out of context.
  • How does this passage fit into the narrative of Scripture? The narrative of Scripture is that God, through the gospel of Jesus, is redeeming for Himself a people and He will one day restore all things as they were before the fall.
  • How does this passage point to or speak of Jesus? Luke 24:27 is a gamechanger when it comes to understanding the Old Testament. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Jesus clearly says the OT speaks of Him. We must look for the gospel when we read the Bible!

Application-How does the text apply to me?
“The Bible is not merely a book to be learned, but a book to be lived.” (Growing up, 93) Here are some questions to help you discover the application of a passage.

  • Is there an application already in the text?
  • Is there a command or exhortation for how we should live?
  • What does the biblical principle mean today?
  • What would the application of this verse look like in my life?
  • How can this biblical principle how me in my walk with God?
  • What does this text demand of me?

As the Christian daily looks to the finished work of Christ and understands the sufficiency of Jesus’ imputed righteousness for their right standing with God, out of the overflow of His grace the Christian seeks to frame his/her life within the boundary of God’s Word. The genuine Christian after he/she has observed and interpreted God’s Word now ruthlessly asks, “What does the text demand of me?” This step is crucial so that we are actively obeying God’s Word.

Let me close with Psalm 119:1-8:

1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
3 who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!
4 You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
6 Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous rules.[b]
8 I will keep your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me!

O Jesus, King Most Wonderful

O Jesus, King most wonderful,
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou Sweetness most ineffable,
In Whom all joys are found!

When once Thou visitest the heart,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart,
Then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, Light of all below,
Thou Fount of life and fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire!

Thy wondrous mercies are untold,
Through each returning day;
Thy love exceeds a thousand fold,
Whatever we can say.

May every heart confess Thy Name;
And ever Thee adore;
And seeking Thee, itself inflame,
To seek Thee more and more.

Thee may our tongues forever bless;
Thee may we love alone;
And ever in our lives express
The image of Thine own.

-Bernard of Clairvaux, 1090-1153

Stories of sharing the good news of King Jesus in West Africa

For security reasons names of individuals and names of the villages will be omitted from these stories.

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The first enthralling picture is of a group of children who were given a break from their classes and came out to look at us as we passed by. What is interesting is the children were in a Koranic school! (A school where the kids study the Koran) Most of the time when we walked around the village I carried my Bible (See bottom picture and look at my right hand). There was powerful symbolism as I carried God’s Word and we walked by a group of children being taught the Koran. Years of faithful seed planting has occurred in these West African villages through the ministry of Mission 10:14 and other missionaries on the field. God’s Word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the Heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) God’s Word will accomplish what He desires! (Isaiah 55:10-11)

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This delightful picture of men gathered in the morning, drinking coffee, and discussing events from politics to personal preferences, weather to the events of a day, is what I call the “local Starbucks.” A gregarious and happy lady would serve the men coffee as they sat and talked.

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Looked closely at the man pictured with me. This is a fellow brother in Christ! Through the ministry of Mission 10:14, this wonderful brother has come to faith in Jesus. We need to pray for these believers because they are few in number and experience ostracism and persecution because of their belief in Jesus.

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This compelling picture of a small boy has an amazing story behind it. In a village in West Africa our team had planned to stay two nights. The first night we would show a film and the following night we would spend time teaching the believers. The days would be spent building relationships and sharing Jesus with Muslims. We had a plan, but God had other plans.

Our first day in the village was filled with relationship building and engaging Muslims with the gospel. After showing the film the first night, Pastor F presented the gospel and encouraged anyone who was interested in following Jesus to come and talk with us. The next morning word got back to us that two ladies indicated they wanted to trust Christ. We would meet with them at 3pm when they came in from the fields. At that pivotal meeting not only did those two ladies trust Christ but five other Muslims decided to follow Jesus!

As leaders we were blown away by what God was doing! You are probably wondering how the boy fits into this narrative. We made the decision to spend a third night in the village to help train the new believers. What I failed to mention earlier is that afternoon some of the Muslims had asked us to show the film that night again. We made the decision with how the Lord was moving to show the Jesus film the second night.

The first night we had 75-100 people for the film. The second night we had easily over 200 people come for the film. Just before the film was to start, I heard a little boy crying. I looked over and noticed his leg was badly burned. As I got closer, it was terribly burned. It was charred black. He had done it 16 days ago and he was no longer eating or sleeping. He was very sick and his parents had no money to get him to the hospital. We made the decision to show the film and the next morning Pastor F and our driver L would take the little boy to the hospital. There was a buzz the next morning! The Christians were providing for the boy. We were proclaiming the gospel, now through this act of service we were displaying the depth of God’s grace for these people.

Two other events reflect God’s working. First, a Muslim came to us and said, “If we would not have asked you to show the film the second night, you never would have seen the boy to help him!” Even a Muslim man recognized the working of God. Remember, initially, we had planned to not show a film the second night. Only after some of the people had requested to show a film and the seven Muslims came to Christ did we make the decision to show the film. Truly, if the film had not been shown the second night we never would have found the injured boy.

Second, the father of the injured boy was a Muslim man who had been persecuting the Christians in the village! In many villages the handful of Christian’s are ostracized and persecuted. God’s grace reached out to this rebel by providing care for his son. Isn’t this just like our grace-filled Father. He is always seeking out the lost that he might redeem and rescue them.

The picture you see was taken one day before we left. The boy received treatment and last I heard is recovering well. Praise God!

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This picture shows an encounter between myself, my translator, and J and Pastor F and a staunch Muslim. After sharing the gospel, I asked him, “Tell me, do you believe in heaven.” He was infuriated when he heard this! He robustly said, “Who do you think you are, God?” In his mind, I had no right to ask that question. Shortly after his question, he abruptly walked off. The truth is he is lost in the dark belief system of Islam. So many of the Muslims we met are warm, caring, and nice people, but we must not forget that Islam is a dark, devil-filled theology that leads people to eternal condemnation. We must continue to pray that God will use Mission 10:14 and other mission agencies to bring the light of the gospel to the dark world of Islam.

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These pictures show the primitive state of how these people live. The huts were mud-baked homes covered with thatched roofs. They have no electricity and no running water-They draw water from a well.

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There were many opportunities to share the gospel. The people were very attentive as we talked. I remember after seven Muslims (after years of sowing the gospel seed) came to Christ, you could see the joy on their faces. They simply sat there, reveling in their new life. It was a striking moment for me. The radiant looks on their faces is indelibly etched into my mind. The third night we had a worship service and taught them. Under the clear African night, brilliant stars clustered in constellations, the people sang and we taught. I shared from Ephesians 2 that they were dead in their sins and trespasses and followed the prince of the power of air, but God being rich in mercy and love and made them alive. I passionately taught them Ephesians one-they had been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. They were chosen, adopted and redeemed!

As I look back on my time in West Africa, I am convicted that I am not near as intentional in America as I need to be in sharing Christ with others. My we seek for intentional opportunities to share Christ.

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These are pictures of the warm and kind people we met in West Africa. May we remember and pray that God will call unto Himself a great harvest of Muslims. May the come to see Jesus as their greatest joy. May the Muslims in West Africa submit their lives to King Jesus!