The Chief of Sinners

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to  believe on Him for everlasting life (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

Pastors fear to preach the message of sin. They fear to preach even more so to their own congregations, that they – even after they are born again – are sinners. They cringe at the idea, but such an understanding is not only the beginning of the gospel, but the continuation of the gospel, because without sin there is no need for a Saviour.

Child of God, do you not still need the Saviour? Have you moved beyond and become independent of the cross? Do you recoil at the suggestion that you are a still a sinner in desperate need of the Saviour? Do you suppose you’ve reached an apex of spiritual superiority and are a perfected saint who doesn’t sin, aren’t a sinner, and your life is filled only with occasional mistakes because you’re a king’s kid?

Written near the end of his earthly life, the Apostle Paul called himself at that time the chief of sinners. He knew he needed that fresh and daily reminder that his sins were forgiven by the redemption in Christ’s blood. He relied upon the continuing firm assurance that his spiritual life was only each day by the grace through faith supplied by Jesus Christ. He rejoiced in hearing the same gospel he was preaching to the lost, that the death of Jesus is forever of eternal value, meaning, and power for every sinner called by God.

The chief of sinners kept continually at the cross so that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him.

A Christian never outgrows the cross! It is where living begins!

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Circumcision

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).

When Abraham was 99 years old, God appeared to Him and repeated the covenant He’d made many years earlier. The Abrahamic Covenant was God’s promise that He would:

  • Produce descendants from Abraham as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore;
  • Make Abraham’s name great;
  • Bless all the families of the earth through Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3).

When God repeated His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:9-14), He commanded that every baby boy on the 8th day after birth, was to have his foreskin removed; no other part of the human anatomy illustrates sin so well. From man springs human life, reproduced in his own sinful image (Genesis 5:5) who must be cleansed at the most personal and intimate level of his being.

Circumcision was widely practiced in the ancient world long before Abraham lived, and he would have been very familiar with the medical procedure.

God’s commandment for circumcision didn’t take away sins or bring a relationship with God; God called it the outward sign of the covenant between Me and you (Genesis 17:11). Today, Jews still religiously practice the rite of circumcision.

The purpose of every sign is to draw your attention to something else. When you see a sign for bread, you don’t stop, cover the sign with butter and begin eating away. The sign points you to where you can find bread. So what is circumcision a symbol of?

Cutting of the body doesn’t save a person, remove sin, or make a person right with God. The ritual symbol of circumcision was given by God to Israel to represent God’s desire to give people a new heart. The symbol directed every Jew to seek God for a changed heart from sin through faith in Him (Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:5; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:29).

That new heart is found only by personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Fully Preventable

According to government statistics, 110 Americans die each day in car accidents. The three leading causes of traffic deaths are:

  • Distractions, like cell phones
  • Speeding
  • Substance intoxication

Each of these causes of death is completely preventable. The use of a phone is fully banned for drivers in 15 states, and 47 states ban texting while driving. Driving above the speed limit is illegal in all 50 states. Substance intoxication is against the law in all 50 states.

An eternity in Hell is also fully preventable.

The Bible says that Jesus surrendered His life on a cross, dying in the place of sinners. By trusting in Jesus alone to take your sins upon Himself, you can receive eternal life.

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Matthew the Murderer

How many of you have ever murdered another person?” I asked the class at Berean School of Ministry in Tala, Kenya. One hand went up. It was the hand of my son in the faith.

Heads turned and looked around the room focusing on Matthew.

I asked, “How many of you have ever committed adultery?” Again, Matthew alone raised his hand.

One student later admitted that when he saw Matthew’s hand rise, he began thinking of ways to avoid the murdering-adulterer at the back of the room.

I had the students turn in their Bibles to the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus said: You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder,” and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…. You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28).

Matthew understood something none of the students comprehended. In our minds, the physical act is the sin, but Jesus said that even the thought of the mind or motivation of the heart is sin. Matthew wasn’t the only murderer and adulterer in the room; every one of us is guilty of these things, at least in our minds and hearts. Each of us is a sinner, and even after we are born again we are still in desperate and continual need of a Saviour.

But the Scriptures also make this promise to the child of God: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Have You Heard of Our Water?

Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed, and in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them (Psalm 139:16).

Last week we attended the annual Oregon State Fair in Salem. It’s always so much fun.

We enjoy looking at the dairy cows, draft horses, Asian chickens, old cars, pig races, and strangely dressed people from across our state. One fair venue houses hundreds of booths where people sell their wares, everything from hair chalk to snake jerky, bed mattresses to pickles the size of a football.

As we were wandering through the building, a young woman held out a cup of water. Have you heard of our water? It’s imported from Japan and it’s prolonging the lives of people all over the world. It’s been proven to extend your life, prevent cancer, and even cure diabetes. Would you like to try it?

I thanked her for the offer on such a hot day, but said, I’m a Christian and believe that God ordained the day of my birth, the day of my death, and everything in between. He’s in control of my life and none of your water is going to change that. 

She smiled and agreed. As we walked away a few minutes later, my son said, There you go again freaking people out. 

Jesus was offered a cup of water from a women. In return He offered her the water of life. He said to her, Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall given him will never thirst again. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:13-14).

A Garden Hose and Eternal Life

Ahhh, how I love these sweltering days of summer.

Growing up, we lived nearby my grandparent’s home. During the blistering hot days of summer, I’d turn on the old electric pump, find the end of the green garden hose lying somewhere among the beans, peace, cucumbers or carrots, and take a long drink of the cool well water. Hose water, watermelon, and fudgsicles were the unforgettable tastes of summer.

No matter how much of that cool hose water I’d drink, my thirst always returned.

In John 4, we’re told that Jesus became thirsty as He traveled through the area known as Samaria. The disciples went into a town to buy lunch which Jesus sat alone by a well dug by the patriarch Jacob centuries earlier.

In the heat of the day, a woman of ill-repute appeared at the well to pull up her daily supply of water. Jesus asked her for a drink and then offered her something amazing in return.

Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into eternal life (John 4:13-14).

Jesus said that once a person drinks from Him, that person will never thirst again. The one who is born again will never wander from Him in search of something else to satisfy the soul. Jesus saves, Jesus keeps, and Jesus satisfies those who are truly saved.

Anyone who wanders from the Water of Life in search of some other drink, has never really drunk from Him.

Being Godly

The phrase, Cleanliness is next to godliness, is a familiar in the English-speaking world. Though no one is certain who first coined the saying, everyone should know that it is not found in the Bible … not even close.

Godliness is being like God in character. So how do we know what God’s character is like? We either make guesses or we see what God says about Himself. It is the Bible – inspired or breathed by God’s Spirit – which reveals God to us (2 Timothy 3:16).

In Second Timothy 3:12, we read that godly living won’t win you any brownie points with those around you. In fact, godliness comes at a great cost. All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Why? Because the world hates someone who is holier than thou, to use another common English phrase.

Godly character begins in Christ Jesus. It’s a benefit of being in relationship with God through Jesus. It’s what Jesus called being born again. But godliness is also an outgrowth of knowing truth. As the Apostle Paul wrote, the acknowledgement of the truth which is according to godliness (Titus 1:1). Truth not only sets free, it transforms. When our beliefs prove false or our experience contradicts what God has said, it’s because we’ve turned away from the truth.

Again, Jesus said that God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). The more we know God’s Word – understanding and obeying it – the more godly He makes us.

** Please keep us in prayer while we minister in Kenya. Thanks!

A Visa

One of the steps for my travel to Kenya is obtaining a visa. A visa isn’t a plastic credit card. It’s the approval from a government to visit and then leave a country.

To get into the nation of Kenya, an American must have the permission of the Kenyan government. The visa will allows us to stay a certain length of time in Kenya, and later it will become our ticket to leave.

Without a visa you can’t get in. If you lose your visa, you can’t get out!

The Kenya visa application isn’t too bad. It’s all done online, is only about 5 pages of questions, and a fee of $51.

There are countries which have treaties allowing citizens to travel without a visa. American citizens, for example, don’t need a visa to travel to Canada or Mexico. Americans can visit 99 different countries without prior visa approval, but that leaves 97 others where a visa is required in advance.

It’s easy to understand why people are confused about world travel. It’s even easier to understand why people are confused about getting to Heaven. Ask and you’ll get all kinds of answers: everyone goes to Heaven; good people get in free; those who engage in certain religious rituals like water baptism can go; after you die you can work your way there by good deeds and the good deeds of others.

Getting into Heaven, though, isn’t about what you or I or the guy next door thinks, it’s about what the King of Heaven says. Who does He let into His Kingdom? His answer is the only one that matters.

Jesus said it best to the Jewish leader Nicodemus. Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).

Each of us is born into this world of humanity. We were born of blood, of the flesh, and of the will of our parents. These things, however, don’t matter to God. His government works differently. It’s about those who were born – not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man – but of the will of God (John 1:13). To those born again of God’s will, He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).

How to Know God

knowing-godYou search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me (John 5:39).

Most people think of the Bible as either a rule book or a story book, when in fact it is a divine Book revealing God in the Person of Jesus Christ.

It didn’t take long before people, including the Jewish leaders, took notice of Jesus. By night, one of them, a Pharisee named Nicodemus approached Jesus to find out who He really was.

There’s no record of the conversation until Nicodemus said, Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him (John 3:2).

In the two simple words we know, Nicodemus revealed how the Jewish leaders were gaining spiritual knowledge and discerning truth. Everything they knew about God and how He worked was by personal experience and observation.

What did the Jewish leaders know? First, they’d observed that Jesus was a miracle-worker; second, they believed that the miracles proved that Jesus had been sent by God; and third, the concluded that because of the miracles, the Jewish rulers should listen to Jesus.

Was personal experience and observance the way to discern truth and gain spiritual knowledge? Jesus didn’t think so. He said that their method for knowledge and truth was wrong. Instead, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Seeing God’s ways requires a new birth, a spiritual transformation, not seeing miracles.

Nicodemus was honest enough to admit that he didn’t know everything he should have known and that he was thinking in material, physical terms and not spiritual terms. How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? (John 3:4).

Spiritual knowledge and truth begins by knowing God, and knowing God requires what Jesus called a re-birth. There is no other way. The only foundation for knowing God is to know the Bible, for the Bible is the testimony of Jesus.

A New Heart

Where Living Begins Richard L Rice pastor

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

My grandmother carefully pulled open the top of her bathrobe to reveal the line of tape running down the center of her chest-bone and covering the surgical incision from her repaired heart. As a little boy, I could already understand the seriousness of a damaged heart.

The human heart is essential to life. Without its powerful pumping action 115,200 times per day, you would die.

In the Scriptures, the image of the heart is used as a symbol of the whole nature of the inner person. It is the seat of man’s being where desires, fear, faith, love, pride, joy, sorrow, emotions, sin, and evil resides.

The Bible never describes God as a divine surgeon repairing man’s sinful heart. Instead His promise is to give a new heart. The symbolic heart of stone, ever-resistant and rebellious toward God, must be wholly replaced with one of flesh. Only after getting a new heart are you able to love and serve Him.

Salvation isn’t a matter of “giving your heart to Jesus”; it’s a matter of Him giving you a new heart.

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live (Deuteronomy 30:6).