Tuesday, September 30, 2014

the cost of believing God

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations."

Genesis 17:9

God keeps giving a hope of a promise to Abraham. He tells the patriarch that next year he and Sarah will have a son together. And he renews a covenant with a commitment asked of Abraham. Circumcision would be the sign of obedience and faith in this covenant with God.

So now Abraham, who is 99, and Ishmael his son through Hagar, who is an adolescent of 13, are both circumcised. Without being too graphic, I have to say that this was a real step of obedience. An extreme old man and a young teenage boy both obey God in this matter. I can't help but speculate on how well that must have went. It's hard to get a teenager excited about anything spiritual... let alone to have an elderly man perform a circumcision on him! Yet Abraham and his household obeyed the LORD in this matter.

Abraham's faith is now fully displayed by his obedience to the LORD's command. The covenant was given and followed. Now the old man and his old wife will patiently wait for God to keep His covenant in the birth of Isaac. The promise of God has now been a sacrificial and painful commitment of faith by Abraham. The cost of that faith shall soon be rewarded many times over in the joy of a son for Abraham and Sarah.

Monday, September 29, 2014

friend of sinners

" The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”"

Matthew 11:19

The one "accusation" that could be made about Jesus, that Jesus Himself claimed was tue was that He is a "friend of sinners". He associated with people as they were. He sat down to eat and drink with "sinners". It was an association so close that the religious leaders saw Him as a glutton and a drunkard. It was not that Jesus abused God's good gifts, it was that He celebrated God's good gifts with "sinners" - the wrong group of people in the minds of the religious elitists. But it is because Jesus is close to people as they are that He can offer rest for the souls of the weary and heavy-laden (Matthew 11:28-30).

I ask myself: "Could I bear the same 'offense' as Jesus did?" Hardly. Remnants of my old fundamentalist upbringing and its stodgy self-righteousness can keep me from any association with people who need Christ... just like the enemies of my Lord would like it. I am so wrapped around being among churched sinners that I seldom can associate with the unchurched ones! And let me tell you, I know some whopping big sins in the lives of the saints... including myself! My wife is ten times better at caring for those outside the church than I am. I need to go with her instincts on this. I should learn from her what I think she sees naturally through Jesus. It's good to be friends with those who aren't yet Christians.

I'm not sure that the current evangelical church circles in which I am spinning can really bear to get Jesus' reputation assigned to us. It wouldn't put best-sellers in our local Christian bookstore. How about "40 days of eating and drinking"? Flat sales for sure. 

And when I see some "upstarts" try to be like Jesus in this matter, they only make a claim, winding up sinning with the sinners more than eating with them and loving them like Jesus. Some of them have become indistinguishable from the world. Jesus maintained both truth and holiness while being loving and associating nearly exclusively with the lost and the neediest people that He came to save. I have just got to follow my Master more closely in this matter!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

battlefield: me

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Romans 7:21-23

This passage explains why Christians sin. It explains why I sin so much. It is a description of the war going on right now inside of me. Every believer knows this conflict, not because we are the soldiers, but because we are the generals in both armies and we are also the battlefield!

There is a deeply rooted call to holiness that a loving Christian hears daily. The more my soul is soaked in scripture, the more I sense the call to godly living. It is what Paul calls here "the law of the mind." I know I should grow in sanctification. I know I should be like Jesus. I know sin is a bad thing for me. And I want to fight sin and gain holiness.


There is sin in me still. This sin nature (what Paul calls in this passage "the law of sin") is a serious infection of the soul. I am tempted by my own fleshly desires. I must still battle wrong and selfish urges. It is this "old man" (a term Paul uses elsewhere) that must be kept at bay by "new" teaching and commitments in Christ. My body is the battlefield where this war is waged every day. EVERY DAY. EVERY. DAY. nonstop. If this was the experience of the spiritual giant St. Paul, it has to be my day to day battle now. Understanding that is a key to beating sin.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

storming on idols

An oracle concerning Egypt. 

"Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud

and comes to Egypt;

and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,

and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them."

Isaiah 19:1

The picture of God coming in a storm to judge Egypt is vivid. Anyone who has survived a storm knows the attendant feelings of helplessness that the storm brings. There is fear and an awesome respect for the merciless fury in the winds and rain. And that was the warning given to Egypt. All their false gods would be of no comfort when God finally came to judge them.

The image of an idol trembling is arresting. God will shake our trust in anything other than Him. He will make us uncomfortable. He will bring a healthy fear as our idols fail us. He will reduce them to nothing worthy of our trust. Our hearts will be ripped of their false beliefs when we have to face the reality of God's swift storm.

I am reminded that fear can be good. It can drive us to trust God. It can goad us forward to find faith again. It can help us strip idolatry from our souls so that we might truly worship a mighty God. In the raging storm is a call to align our hearts fearfully with a powerful God. So when God judges, He will be known. And that is glorious and good.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Broken Hope

Such are the paths of all who forget God;

the hope of the godless shall perish.

His confidence is severed,

and his trust is a spider's web.

Job 8:13-14

What is there

to sustain my future

if God does not care

for me?

What else is strong

enough to keep me

holding and pressing on

if not God?

God is my hope.

He must be my strength.

Trust in man

is disappointing;

no person ever can

give hope meaning.

Trust in this earth

is fleeting;

it is not worth

the cost.

God is my hope.

He must be my source.

Monday, September 22, 2014

an appeal to the King of the earth

But the LORD sits enthroned forever;

he has established his throne for justice,

and he judges the world with righteousness;

he judges the peoples with uprightness.

Psalm 9:7-8

O King of the earth,

Look on us now. What do You see? Do You see the arrogance and the violence among us? Do You see the terror in which men kill and destroy one another, falsely claiming to act in the name of God? Do You know how the nations rage? Of course You do.

In all this turmoil and awful pain, You are in control. You have known all along that Your creation would reject You and Your Law. You knew the people of Your creation would reject You. When You sent Your Son, they rejected Him. And He warned His disciples that they too would know rejection. And so it continues. Yet Jesus took all the judgment of our sin, even the sin of rejection, upon Himself on the cross. And He rose from the grave in order to offer hope especially to this evil age.


You sit upon Your throne and You will establish Your justice among the sons of men. I trust that. I work toward that now and for the future. I long for Your uprightness in Christ to be known and to change sinners. I must make it known by proclaiming the gospel and living by the changes the gospel has brought to me. And in Your mercy You will continue to save from among this wicked generation. Rule and reign in us, O Lord.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

trustworthy God

These are the inheritances that Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the heads of the fathers' houses of the tribes of the people of Israel distributed by lot at Shiloh before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. So they finished dividing the land.

Joshua 19:51

And with this notation Israel had officially moved in to the Promised Land. Now the promises of the covenant relating to Canaan have been kept. God fought for His people and the land was theirs just as He had covenanted with their fathers. God keeps His Word and Joshua's generation lived in that wonderful time of fulfilled promise. They were the people who saw that God had given them everything they had.

God does not lie. He keeps His Word and we can see this in scripture. So Christians have a faithful record that lets us know we can trust God today. When we believe Christ for eternal salvation it is because He has kept His Word in the past. When we hope for Christ's kingdom, we do so convinced that God does not lie or offer vain promises. When we see His future plan for Israel in scripture, we are confident there is still a land and a possession for them as well as for all of us who now follow the Messiah.

And so God is trustworthy. He will provide for us. He will never leave us. He keeps His covenants.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Protection & Promises

 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

Genesis 15:1

God's covenant with Abram is preliminary to all our ways of understanding God's covenant with Israel. It is the way to understand the outworkings of redemption. It is unilateral. God simply makes and keeps His promises and as the story unfolds we see God's faithfulness to His Word even as Abram struggles to live out its meaning.

God promised to make of Abram and Sarai an uncountable nation of people. He promised to give Abram's descendents the land of Canaan. But of great importance is the first promise of relationship. God promised to protect Abram. God promised to reward Abram. There is love in the covenants that God makes.

We protect those we cherish. With God as his shield, Abram and his descendents would experience grace and prosperity by the hand of a loving God. And history has shown this to be the case. Jews and Arabs (Abram's descendents all) are numerous and at the center of the world stage even now.

God rewards in love. The promises that God made Abram were gifts that Abrah did not earn. He got them because of God's love. In fact, Abram failed... repeatedly. He lied about his wife, he tried to pass his servant off as his heir, and he fathered a child with another Egyptian servant who was not the promised heir God decreed. Yet even in Abram's failure, God was lovingly faithful to keep His promise.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

to the sick

And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick."

Matthew 9:11-12

Jesus came to the sick. It was for sinners that He lived and died. Even self-righteous sinners can benefit from His sacrifice. That's why I can write this because I am a sinner met by Jesus and saved by Him.

Why is it that as Christians we don't often live and love like our Teacher did? He upset the religious elitists with His associations with sinners. He ate with sinners. He engaged at their level... at their dinners, in their homes. And they flocked to hear Him and be with Him.

Christians ought to be about this world like Jesus, befriending the sick and the sinful. Churches aren't expensive health clubs, they are to be accessible clinics for the sick and the dying to know the gospel. We have lost the winsomeness of Jesus in our smug self-righteousness. We fail to mobilize disciples as doctors who have been tasked with making house calls.

Such repentance starts with me. Although I do have unsaved friends and neighbors, I don't make them my dinner companions like Jesus did. That is where I need to be more like my Master.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Old Self: Dead

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

Romans 6:6

So the way to look at my sinful self is to see it emaciated, crucified, and dead. When my sinful old self was crucified with Christ, it was so a new life might be had in Christ's resurrection. The gospel is thus my reason for living as a Christian. It is my life. Any other life that I once had is dead and gone.

The perspective I must have on what I once was must be balanced by this fact. I am a new creation in Christ. The old self is dead. The new self lives in Christ. I am no longer enslaved by sin. I am now the slave of Christ, duty bound to follow my Master's desires for me because He saved my life.

This gospel perspective is what I must carry with me. It gives me real hope. It will make me find the life I already have in Christ. It will give me the right opinion about sin. It is a lifestyle that I must inhabit.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

restored Israel

 For the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob.

Isaiah 14:1

This was a mesage of hope to strengthen the Jewish people as they suffered in exile in Babylon. God promised to restore them to their home. He promised in compassion to make them a nation that the world would look to once again. And that is exactly what occurred.

The Jews were allowed to leave their captivity. Babylon was temporary. Again, they came home to rebuild families, homes, and cities. Again they were given the blessings of the covenant as they followed and worshiped Yahweh. And the interest of the world was again focused upon Israel.

And now in the start of the 21st century, Israel is again a focal point. One of the reasons I believe in God is I cannot explain Israel without Him. The Jews by all practical rights of history should have been wiped out by all the centuries of hatred poured on them. Yet the nation of Israel somehow keeps going strong. Clearly God is keeping something with Israel. I can't deny it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Nothing Left

What is my strength, that I should wait?

And what is my end, that I should be patient?

Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze?

Have I any help in me,

when resource is driven from me?

Job 6:11-13

All strength - tapped.

All health - gone.

All wealth - stolen.

All joy - lost,

There are times

when a life

has nothing left.

All smiles - now tears

All hopes - now fears

All resources - liabilities

All friends - now enemies

These awful times

when there is

nothing left...

Turn to God

He's never gone;

Complain to Him

He knows what's wrong.

In these times

when nothing's left

God is close.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Lord Judges

The LORD judges the peoples;

judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness

and according to the integrity that is in me.

Psalm 7:8

This is quite the prayer. It accepts the reality of God as Judge. I'm not sure that is a part of God that "comforts" me. I know my sin so well that the thought of God as judge disturbs me. I know what my sins deserve. Even though Jesus died for those sins, I know that the weight of them brought me far from a holy God. I would not pray for God to judge me.

Yet this was prayed appealing to personal righteousness and integrity. The worshiper knew that God saw beyond sin. The worshiper was living in a measure of obedience under a knowledge of God's grace. And this request came from that heart. The repentant soul knows forgiveness and grace. It finds freedom to invite God's scrutiny in integrity and righteousness.

O God Who judges the nations,

In Christ I have been forgiven, for He has taken my judgment on the cross. You will look at me through His holy sacrifice now. And what righteousness or integrity that is in me is there because Christ's righteousness covers me. I can know the truth and do what is holy in Your sight. Thank You, Lord! May I not lose sight of this marvelous, helpful truth!


Thursday, September 4, 2014

leader, follower, leader

Just as the Lord had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses.

Joshua 11:15

So we see the fruit of real, personable leadership development. Moses took Joshua under his leadership example to learn to lead the nation, and near the end of Joshua's career he had faithfully done so in a way that carried on Moses' legacy as a leader. This is the way generational leadership should work. The tasks involved in receiving the Promised Land once given to Moses seamlessly found fulfillment in Joshua. God led through two very different men to accomplish His sovereign purpose.

I am both encouraged and challenged as I read this. I am encouraged to see faith extend across generations of leadership. It encourages me to continue serving faithfully as my predecessors did. But it also challenges me to keep developing the next generation of leaders. For a few years now I have had the privilege of doing this very directly. I wish to find the "young eagles" and help them to fly. Whether it is training leaders in seminary, or identifying them in the local church and equipping them for ministry... this is the last and most important work that I must do.


My prayer is to be blest by You to find young leaders who might advance the gospel in their generation. I will invest what time that You give to me to help them lead Your people well.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Babel's Fall

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

Genesis 11:4

This was the plan of the builders of Babel. Within a short span of time, the civilization that emerged after Noah's flood had ambitions of self-grandeur. They longed to be something great. They wanted to be a homogeneous city bent on celebrating themselves. There was a problem though. God commanded Noah and his sons to multiply across the face of the earth (Genesis 9:7). This tower scheme was a plan opposed to God's command for humanity.

I have scratched my head at this account. Certainly there are now dozens of mega-cities now upon the face of the earth that dwarf the brick tower intentions of the Babel builder's ambitions. Why are these cities not "judged" by the frustration God brought to Babel? 

I suppose the answer is all in the philosophy behind the building and in the timing. God supernaturally "confused" the languages back then because human homogeny was an impetus to disobedience. God's sovereign plan required this intervening twist of conditions to advance humanity around the globe. Nowadays, with people so saturated across the glove, the rise of civilizations and their urban aspirations are not the same issue as before.

Mega-cities are impressive feats of human engineering. I understand China has ten of them in the works for the next fifty years. Imagine that same creative ability surrendered for God's glory as a whole from each nation on earth. That is what God is bringing about through the gospel over time. It is the kingdom Jesus will eventually return to achieve. And then we will be truly civilized.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ask, Seek and Knock

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Matthew 7:7-8

These words, spoken by Jesus, are in the context of God the Father giving good gifts to His children. They are preceded by teaching on prayer that is primarily focused on asking God for His assistance. We ask for daily bread; we ask for daily forgiveness. We seek for a holy God to make His will known on earth. We pray for His strength to stand against temptation even as we ask for forgiveness when we have not stood up. We ask Him to deliver us from evil. We promote His glory as we long for His kingdom.

That is the kind of attitude and prayer that informs the commands to ask, seek, and knock. God longs to be active in our lives, but it seems He prefers to be asked. And that is one of many reasons why we pray. Prayer aligns me under God's authority and invites Him into my life. It puts my anticipation on His power to give what I need as He opens the doors for me.

God is gracious and forgiving. He is loving and merciful. His good gifts come to His children who trust Him, receive His grace, and ask for Him to give of it to them. And the Father absolutely gives good gifts to His children who ask. But we must ask... ask as Jesus taught us.