The Passover

As the Lord prepared to deliver his people, the Israelites, out of bondage in Egypt, he sent a series of plagues upon the Egyptian people. The last, and most terrible, of these ten plagues was to kill the firstborn sons of all the Egyptian families. God told Moses ahead of time what he was going to do—“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.” (Exodus 12:12).

God had a plan to spare the Israelites from suffering from this devastating plague. He told each family to take a lamb without defect, slaughter it, and put some of the blood on the sides and tops of the doorframes of their houses. God told them, “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” (Exodus 12:13).

The Lord did just as he said he would. At midnight he struck down all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, and there was loud wailing throughout the land. But the Israelite families were spared from this plague. Not a single family suffered a loss. That very night, Pharaoh finally allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt. The Lord had delivered his people.

The Israelites were to celebrate this Passover for generations to come. They would have a meal to remind them of how the Lord had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. He delivered them and redeemed them, because of the blood of the sacrificial lambs.

Jesus built on this long-standing Passover tradition when he instituted the Lord’s Supper. In the same way that the lamb’s blood brought salvation to the Israelites, the blood of Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, would bring redemption to those who would trust in Jesus for their salvation. Every Sunday Christians all over the world celebrate communion together as they remember the loving sacrifice Jesus made on the cross to purchase their salvation and deliver them from the slavery of sin.

Did you notice what God was looking for when he visited each Israelite home? He didn’t ask to see their performance record. He didn’t demand to see a list of all the evil actions they had avoided and all the good deeds they had done. All he was looking for was the blood on the doorframes. When he saw the blood, he passed over them and allowed them to live.

It’s the same way with the salvation we have in Jesus. God doesn’t weigh the good we have done against the bad. When it comes to our salvation, the Lord only looks to see if the blood of Jesus has been applied to our lives. Have you confessed Jesus as Lord and accepted him as your savior through faith, repentance and baptism? Make no mistake! The Lord will pass judgment on every human being. Those who are covered by the blood of Jesus will be saved. All others will meet their destruction.

“…But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:26-28).  

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Love Does Not Envy

Many preachers have to fight against the sin of envy. It is easy to fall into the trap of comparing your ministry with those of your fellow ministers. For example, when preachers meet, it doesn’t take long for the question to come up, “How big is your congregation?” There is a temptation to inflate the numbers just a bit. For years I have answered that question with the following statement—“We are running something under 500 in attendance.” 70 or 80 is something under 500, right?!

Preachers aren’t the only Christians who are tempted to be envious. The truth is, there are many people in God’s kingdom who have the same kind of ministry that you have. And, quite frankly, a lot of them are doing it better than you.

Ministry is not a competition. All that God expects from each of us is to do our very best at what he has called us to do. We mustn’t be envious of others.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”—1 Corinthians 13:4.

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Affecting the Others

Duke basketball team

COVID-19 has shut down another sports team. The Duke men’s basketball team has pulled out of the ACC tournament, ending their season. One of their walk-on players tested positive for the virus. Just losing one player who had a very limited role would not normally have a negative impact on a team. However, contact tracing would have made multiple Blue Devil players ineligible, thus making it necessary to cancel the rest of the season.

This illustrates a biblical principle about how the sin of just one member can have a negative impact on the whole church. 1 Corinthians 5 says that the serious sin of just one member works its way through the congregation like yeast works its way through the whole batch of dough. One person’s sin has a negative impact on all the other members, often in ways we would never expect, and maybe in ways that are not obviously noticeable. But the principle is plain for all to see. The holiness of every single member of the church should be a top priority, and serious sin in the congregation must not be tolerated. Churches who ignore this biblical truth will suffer the consequences for their disobedience.

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Heavy Lifting

Railroad workers recently left some railroad ties along the track behind our house in preparation for some upcoming repairs. Being a man, of course I wondered if I could lift one of them. I could not. I couldn’t even pick up one end of a railroad tie.

There are some objects that are too heavy to be carried by one person. Yet there are occasions when some heavy lifting is required. This calls for teamwork.

Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Sometimes we let our pride get the best of us and we refuse to allow others to help us with the burdens of life. At other times we are so self-focused that we don’t see an opportunity to help someone else with their heavy burden. Life is too difficult for us to ignore this biblical principle about carrying each other’s burdens. Let’s try to do a better job of obeying this teaching.

When is the last time you had the humility to ask someone for help with a matter that was weighing you down?

What can you do this week to lighten the load of a fellow Christian who is struggling?

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Mister No More

After having manufactured Mr. Potato Head for 70 years, Hasbro has decided to make a change. They are going to a gender-neutral name. He (it?) will now be known simply as Potato Head. Apparently, having a Mrs. Potato Head to go along with Mr. wasn’t enough to satisfy some people.

Count me among those who think that the crowd pushing for gender-neutrality has pushed too far. We should get back to a reality-based understanding that there are indeed differences between males and females. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Jesus quoted that text as he reiterated this important truth in Matthew 19:4-5—“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?”

There certainly is a lot of confusion these days about gender issues. People who insist that gender doesn’t matter at all also insist that we should elect a woman as president. Some maintain that it doesn’t matter which public restroom they use, no matter how creepy it looks or how uncomfortable they make others feel. Some boys would rather compete in sports against girls, unconcerned about the unfair advantage they have. Some adults are saying that little boys and girls should be allowed, and even encouraged, to change from one gender to the other, with all the surgery and bombardment of artificial hormones that decision entails. Our culture has already attempted to redefine marriage from the God-ordained one man/one woman relationship, and the price we will pay for that decision remains to be seen.

We need to be graceful as we speak God’s truth about these matters. But speak we must! We must not cower in fear of our opposition, not when so much is at stake. The moral climate we leave to our children and grandchildren will be partly determined by how willing we are to stand up for the truth.

Maybe it’s too late for our nation. Perhaps we have already crossed the line. Our society seems hell-bent on becoming the next Sodom and Gomorrah. Or maybe it’s not too late. Perhaps we can turn things around. It’s happened before. But no matter what happens, God will reward or punish each individual for their obedience or their disobedience to his Word.

So, men and women of God, let’s take our stand! Let’s speak the truth in love and trust the Lord for the results. Let’s say, along with Joshua, “…Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve … But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15).

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Be Careful What You Cancel

Cancel culture has claimed its latest victim—the late Dr. Seuss. It was recently announced that several books from the hugely popular author of children’s books will no longer be published. The reason given was that these books were racist. I watched a news story about this on one of the television networks and read an Associated Press story about it in the newspaper, but neither story convinced me that there was anything wrong about the books in question. The public response to the decision seems to be overwhelmingly in favor of the view that the politically correct crowd has seriously overstepped their bounds this time.

Cancel culture is nothing new. It’s been going on for centuries. In Jeremiah 36, we read about what king Jehoiakim did with a scroll containing the word of the Lord—he burned it. He found the words offensive, so he destroyed them. Jehoiakim would be punished for his mockery of God, and a new scroll was written to replace the one that had been destroyed. You can try to cancel out ideas that you don’t agree with, but you can’t do away with the truth.

It’s one thing to try to cancel a popular human author. But when you try to cancel out God, you are in for some big trouble!

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Shining Through

A little girl regularly sat in church next to stained glass windows with pictures of St. Matthew, St. Peter, and St. John. She was always fascinated by the way the light shone through in such a brilliant manner. One day her Sunday School teacher asked her what a saint was. She answered, “A saint is someone who lets the Son shine through.”

Sounds like a pretty good answer to me!

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”—Matthew 5:14-16.

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Tough Journey

Sometimes people get the idea that living for Jesus is an easy life and that those who follow Christ will always have smooth sailing. A close examination of the Scriptures will show us that this is not the case at all. Jesus himself plainly warns us, “…In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33).

One such example of a tough journey is found in Acts 27 and 28, where Paul and his traveling companions sailed for Rome. The trip was anything but an easy one. The many difficulties they experienced are a reminder that the Christian life is not always smooth sailing.

Early in the journey, Luke records that “the winds were against us” (v.4) and “We made slow headway” (v.7). Because of the time of year, “sailing had already become dangerous” (v.9), but those in charge of the ship decided to push on anyway.

Then a hurricane-like storm came along, and the ship was swept along, out of control. In spite of Paul’s attempts to reassure them, the passengers became fearful and discouraged. They saw some land and decided to run the ship aground. The pounding of the surf broke up the ship, and the passengers made it to land, some by floating on pieces of the destroyed ship.

Once they made it to shore, they still experienced difficulties. While collecting firewood, Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake, but, miraculously, he experienced no ill effects from the venomous bite.

It was a three full months before they were able to board another ship and continue on their journey. They finally arrived in Rome, where Paul, still a prisoner, was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. The book of Acts concludes with these words—“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (28:30-31).

From this Scripture we learn that we too can experience a tough journey as we live our lives for Jesus. Sometimes the winds will be against us and things will not come easy. Still we must push on. Sometimes we will have to pay the price for risky decisions that others have made. Let us not be discouraged; let us continue the journey. Sometimes we are reminded that we are not in control of the circumstances of our lives. Even so, we do not lose heart. Sometimes it seems like our ship is breaking up beneath us, with major upheavals in society, at work, in the family or even in the church. Still we must press on. Sometimes we feel like we have been the victim of a snakebite (figuratively, I hope!). We have to shake it off and go on. Sometimes we go through months at a time without making any progress. It is during these times that we need to exercise patience. Sometimes we feel restricted, like Paul was when he was under house arrest. But he didn’t let that hinder him from preaching and teaching about Jesus, and neither should we. Let us keep on spreading the good news “with all boldness and without hindrance!”

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Open Doors

We usually think of open doors as opportunities where all the obstacles have been removed. Sometimes that is indeed the case. You get a job offer out of the blue, no interview necessary. You find just the kind of car you were looking for, at a bargain price. Romance comes your way, and you weren’t even looking! Someone unexpectedly invites you to join them in their ministry in the church.

Quite often, doors open up in such ways. It seems like God is clearing the way for you to take advantage of a new and exciting opportunity.

Sometimes, however, an open door is not the easy way at all.

Writing to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul says, “For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” (1 Corinthians 16:7-9).

What’s that? There are many who oppose you? That doesn’t sound anything like our typical thoughts about an open door! It seems that an open door for effective work does not always involve taking the least difficult path forward. Sometimes an open door is the easy way out. At other times it is the hard way through. It takes some discernment on our part to determine if God is leading us in a certain direction, and we must be ever diligent to watch for open doors, no matter how they present themselves.

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Cheap Grace

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Cheap grace is preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

These words are just as true today as they were when they were uttered several decades ago. Cheap grace—if you can call it grace at all—has always been a problem in the kingdom. It was present in the early church. Paul the apostle warned the Christians to whom he wrote in his letters that their actions must match up to their professed belief in Jesus. This does not mean that perfection is required from us. That’s not possible! Jesus was the only person who was perfect. Living in grace simply means that we take sin seriously. Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, therefore we must never take our transgressions lightly. Our salvation does not give us a license to sin!

Romans 6:1-4 deals directly with this subject: “What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

The apostle John seems to have the same concern as he pens these Holy Spirit-inspired words: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2).

Every Christian will struggle with temptation. Every believer will continually have to fight against sinful desires. This is simply the nature of this battle between good and evil in which we are all engaged. However, to throw up our hands in surrender to sin is not an option. We must fight the good fight. No one who claims to follow Jesus can choose a lifestyle of disobedience. This would cheapen grace to the point that we could no longer truthfully call it grace. Scripture is very clear on this.

One of the reasons that the church was so strong in our nation’s history is that its members took grace seriously. They did not lower their standards to the standards of the world. They knew that holy living was not optional; it was a requirement.

Today you will find a much different story. It seems that cheap grace has become an epidemic in the church in America today. Worldliness has crept into many congregations, and if you were to point that out you would be met with indifference, or perhaps even anger. Tolerance is the new ideal, and the greatest sin in many people’s eyes is to offend someone with the truth of Scripture. Repentance is rarely seen. Still rarer is church discipline. When is the last time you heard of a church disciplining one of their members for the serious nature of their sinful behavior? (Take your time. I can wait.)

Many Christians would love to see revival in our country. But it won’t happen if cheap grace is allowed to become the standard. Let’s replace cheap grace with biblical grace. Souls depend on it. Maybe yours.

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