Repent and Live

Ezekiel goes into a long explanation of how someone who commits sin will die for what they have done. In short, he is saying that the penalty of sin is death.

In fact, he goes further to say that a righteous person who turns to sin will, themselves, die. So if you think that you will be able to look back to your previous days and depend upon them for your justification…think again!

On the other hand, he does say that there is a way out. Someone who is living a sinful life but who will repent and turn back to God, away from his old life, will be allowed to live. This is the type of person that God wants. Someone who will, with humility, realizing that they have done what is wrong, turn away from their past and come to God.

Ezekiel wraps up this section by saying:

For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

Ezekiel 18:32

Ezekiel pre-dates God coming to earth as a human being in the form of Jesus, but Jesus had a similar message. In fact, it was the first message that he preached:

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark 1:15

The first step to enter into the kingdom of God is that of repentance. When we realize that we have been wrong and done wrong, we must lay down our pride – something that is very difficult for must of us to do! – and instead humbly come to God in repentance. Only in this way can we come into the kingdom of God and live!


Idols in Their Hearts

I’ve spent a fairly significant amount of time lately thinking about what Jesus said when he talked about the kingdom of God being like a man who found a treasure in a field and then sold everything he owned so that he could buy the field to be able to obtain the treasure.

Or in the parable immediately after that as the merchant of pearls found a very precious pearl and so, in the same way, goes to sell everything that he has to be able to return and buy the pearl.

I think this teaches us that obtaining, or we might say accessing or entering, the kingdom of God is worth everything. There is nothing that we have in this life that is worth anything more than being able to enter into the kingdom.

Of course, this has profound implications for us. If nothing is worth more, I should be willing to sell it all or give it all up: My home and all of my possessions, my relationships, my interests, hobbies, passions. Everything. Jesus says that it is worth it all to enter into the kingdom of God.

This morning, I read Ezekiel 13 and 14 and saw something similar in what I read there. Here is one of the verses that highlights the problem that God had with the people of Israel:

Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the LORD will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry.

Ezekiel 14:4

Some of the elders of Israel had come to Ezekiel to inquire of God and to hear from him. But they had other things, even idols, that they placed before their relationship with God. God was a connection that they had “bolted on”, let’s say, to their lives. They weren’t committed to God. They didn’t truly believe that he had all of the answers. They looked, instead, to other gods and other things in their lives.

Ezekiel continues later in chapter 14 by talking about how God says that he will destroy the land because of the people’s unfaithfulness to him. It is crucial that we understand this. God wants our complete fidelity, our whole lives, our minds, our hearts, our souls, and our strength. He wants it all and won’t accept anything less.

I think this is directly connected to what Jesus taught as he spoke of the people who would sell everything to “obtain”, or enter into the kingdom of God. He wants every part of us and so this is how we must dedicate our day today, to give it all to him!


Then You Will Know That I Am the Lord

I was reading through Ezekiel 11 and 12 today, according to the Bible reading plan that our team is using. The instructions for our time say that we should pick out the verse that speaks the most to us.

But today, instead of thinking about this, I was trying to think about what God was saying the most through these two chapters.

There is a famous section in Ezekiel 11 about God turning the peoples’ heart of stone into a heart of flesh, so I considered picking this, but I actually don’t think that this is the main message that God is trying to get across in these couple of chapters.

Instead, I think that the message that I see coming through Ezekiel is that the people of Israel have been disobedient and God will punish them. But even that declaration of punishment isn’t the main message.

In chapter 12, God says this:

The inhabited towns will be laid waste and the land will be desolate. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’

Ezekiel 12:20

God wants his people to recognize him for who he truly is. He is the Lord. He is the one who brought them out of Egypt. The one who sustained them in the desert, who brought them into the promised land. He has been faithful to them, even when they haven’t been faithful to him. The people of Israel have gone and served other gods. They have not recognized God for who he is and what he has done for them.

So this is the reason for God’s punishment of the Israelite people. God wants them to know him for who he is. To glorify him for who he is, just as he intended from the beginning and wants them to do even now.

God wants his people to know that he is God and glorify him for who he is. And that is what I believe God wants to tell us even today. He wants us to recognize him for who he is and what he has done for us. And without this, in the same way that God punished the Israelite people, we can expect a similar wrath to come upon us. God has been patient and kind, and will continue to be, but he expects that we will acknowledge him for who he is: the God of the universe, the King above all kings, the One who loves us, who pursued us and even sacrificed himself for us. And he is the one who deserves the glory.


Making a Plan for Abiding in Christ

Yesterday, I created a post on the Search Party website describing a plan that we are adopting as a team here in Catania to stay connected to the Word of God and in prayer, both individually and as a team.

Our challenge has routinely been that we knew that we needed to make time as a team for staying connected to Christ, obeying Jesus’s command to abide in him, but we have had many starts and stops in terms of how to do it.

One of my teammates introduced a simple idea to follow a Bible reading plan together, connected to a regular meeting among a few people to check in on one another and our progress.

I put the details of what we are doing over on the website. Our hope is that we can continue to expand the idea by doing this amongst the people of the churches that we are planting, the visitors that come in to work with us, and possibly even have others who are not here following along with us. We’re looking forward to seeing what God will do through his Word and Spirit as he speaks to each of us on a daily basis.


Pursue Righteousness – 1 Timothy 6

Paul has been explaining to Timothy in his letter that there are people who desire to cause division, that like to quarrel and cause strife and constant friction between people. They value the things of this world such as money and power over the things of heaven.

But Paul warns Timothy that he should pursue a different life. He says:

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

1 Timothy 6:11

As a man of God, Paul calls Timothy to pursue something much greater: righteousness – to live rightly before both God and man. To live in faith and love, both for God and man. To endure through hardships and to be gentle with others.

This is the core of the decision that we have before us as well. What is it that I value? What is it that I consider worth spending my time on? Do I invest in the things of this world, or do I invest in the things of heaven? How will I live today, tomorrow, and each individual day after that? Will I pursue gain for myself or will I pursue gain for Christ with my life?


Helping the Widow in Need – 1 Timothy 5

Paul addresses a challenging issue with Timothy in this chapter in that he points out which widows should be helped financially by the church and which should not. In this time, there isn’t a governmental support system or other programs, so the church would be the best opportunity for someone to receive support when they are in need.

Here is what Paul said and then I will list some of the principles that I take away from this below:

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.

If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.

1 Timothy 5:3-16

Here are some of the important things that I see in this passage:

  • It is important to meet the needs of those who are truly in need. The church’s resources should be used for this.
  • There are a series of restrictions that should be considered based on a person’s situation. These include:
    • The person should care for their own family.
    • They shouldn’t just be living idly or for their own pleasure and not working.
    • Age as a consideration. Paul specifically mentions that the woman must be over 60.

I do also notice that Paul really only considers widows. He doesn’t even mention men in this case. I don’t know if this is because he believes that the men should all be able to work to support themselves or if that just wasn’t done in their case, but it is interesting that this is the case.

In the end, I don’t know that the church should consider these as **the rules** for giving. However, it does seem that there are principles here that we can use as we consider how the church should give to others and to whom funds might be given.


God Owes Me – 1 Timothy 4

I don’t think that people necessarily would say this out loud, but I do believe that we certainly think it. The situation goes something like this:

  • I made a sacrifice for God.
  • I go to the church / mosque / temple every day / week / month / year.
  • I read the Bible every day.
  • I pray regularly.
  • I fast and abstain from food / water / sex.
  • I gave money to the church. I gave money to poor people. I’ve done good works to help others.
  • I followed all of the rules…most of the time!

And so, therefore, God owes me. He owes me to get into heaven…right? Wasn’t that the deal? God gives me these rules, and I need to live like a good religious person, and then I get to go to heaven someday when I die.


God owes me.

Wrong. Not true. Incorrect.

Today, I read in Timothy 4 where Paul says this to Timothy:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.

1 Timothy 4:1-3

In chapter 3, Paul explains again to Timothy that there is one God and one Mediator, Jesus Christ. And it is through Jesus that we are given grace and mercy.

But instead of receiving grace and mercy from God, we frequently choose to believe the lie that is taught by demons, that if we just follow some rules, or if we are just religious enough, or if we are a good person, then God will owe you.

Some people believe that he owes you some type of ease in this life. They read that God is going to bless his people and they interpret it as God owing them money…meanwhile conveniently skipping over the fact that Jesus says that we should expect hardship and persecution.

Or other people believe that God owes you heaven, that because you have been a good person, or even if not a good person, a religious person, then God owes them eternal life.

But what are they really doing? By buying into this idea of following the rules and being, in some way the one who controls their destiny, they are simply considering themselves to be like God. This is the original lie that Satan told to Eve in the Garden of Eden, that by eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that their eyes would be opened and they would be like God.

But that is not at all the reality, and is certainly not the story that the scriptures tell. Instead, as those that have been created and who have rebelled against God, we deserve nothing more than punishment and death, but God gave himself as a sacrifice for each of us by sending Jesus Christ to receive the punishment of our sins. Therefore, we have before us an incredible gift of grace and mercy, and only through faith in this gift can we be saved.

God doesn’t owe me anything, but out of his love for me and for each of us, he has given me everything.


Conducting Ourselves in the Church – 1 Timothy 3

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

1 Timothy 3:14-15

Paul has been writing to Timothy to keep he and the church on track as he is leading the church in Ephesus. In the previous chapter, Paul spoke about how the times of prayer and worship should be conducted as well as the roles for men and women.

Now in this chapter, Paul is speaking about the appointment of elders and deacons and how the church is to be led and governed, and through these things, we can see that there is a way in which the church is ordered and managed, a proper way in which it is to be led.


One God and One Mediator – 1 Timothy 2

Paul is continuing to charge Timothy with his duties as Timothy continues his work in Ephesus. He reminds Timothy of the great truth about God’s desire to bring all people back to himself:

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

1 Timothy 2:3-6

Frequently, I hear a refrain from my Muslim friends as they try to proactively convince me that everything is OK, that the values that they had in their home country were the best. They say things like these:

  • Christians and Muslims…we are the same. We serve the same God!
  • You know… where I come from, the Muslims and the Christians are all together. When the Christians celebrate Christmas, the Muslims are there with them. When the Muslims celebrate Eid, the Christians are there too.
  • Yeah, the Christians have Jesus, and the Muslims have Mohammad, but we are all the same.

On the one hand, they have a point. I might typically respond that I do believe that we are all of the same as we stand before God. We are all people that are in need of God.

But that is, of course, very different from understanding who God says that he is and the truth that he is telling us about himself.

Yesterday, I was speaking with a man who was saying these things above, but I explained that Jesus said that he was the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one could come to the Father except through him. Jesus is therefore specifically not saying that you can come to God in one way or another. He is saying that there is one way, and if we do not know that way – a very real risk if we maintain the attitude that everyone is just OK as they are – then we cannot come to the Father, and we would be lost and destined for punishment forever.

Paul is emphasizing this once again to Timothy. There is one God and there is one Mediator, who is Jesus. And this Jesus gave himself as a ransom, a payment, to receive back the people that have been lost into the kingdom of darkness. He ransoms them away, paying for God’s wrath as he took it upon himself.


The Worst of Sinners – 1 Timothy 1

Paul is writing to Timothy, the first leader that he ever began to develop as part of his traveling apostolic team from the churches that he planted. It seems that his intent is to remind Timothy of the work that Paul has sent him to do, but in starting his reminder of the work, Paul starts with a reminder of who he is and where he has come from:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 1:15-17

Paul knows who he is. In the paragraph before this, in verse 13, Paul said that he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man. Today, we might even say that he was a terrorist. He was someone that killed others for their religious beliefs.

It is from this place that Jesus called Paul to serve him. Paul was a terrible person, maybe even the type of person that Jesus had chided previously while he was on the earth, and yet, now, he is calling Paul because he wants him to devote his life to serve God in the way that is truly God’s plan, through Christ, giving his life completely to him.

Paul was the worst of sinners, but God showed incredible patience with him. Not only that Paul would be saved but that many others would be saved as well and receive eternal life.

Most importantly, though, is that through all of this work of God, he is the one that receives the glory. Paul calls Jesus the King eternal and that he is the one who should receive the glory for all that he has done in Paul’s life. Paul’s salvation and work has nothing to do with what Paul has done, but everything to do with what God has done in and through Paul’s life.