Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Christ leads

At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses.
Numbers 9:23

God led Israel in the wilderness in the most visibly apparent way. After the tabernacle was completed, God's presence filled the sanctuary, manifesting God's glory by a cloud hovering over the tent by day, and a fire by night. When God desired Israel to move to another encampment, the cloud over the tabernacle lifted. And Israel obediently packed tents, possessions, and family and made the move. They very literally followed the Lord.

It seems from the text that they were not given advance warning. The cloud lifted and they journeyed on, not knowing to where they would go, but confident that God was leading them. It was really quite an arrangement of faith. They still trusted God (albeit He miraculously and visibly displayed His presence) for what they did not know, which was WHERE they would go. And that is the picture of faith that I am reflecting upon today.

Israel did not have it "better" with their cloud and fire visibility of God. They still had to keep the Law and offer animal sacrifice for sin, even if the trade off was emprically verifiable irrefutable evidence of God. I'll still take New Testament faith! Here's why: Jesus is historical. That's a type of visibility. He really lived in human history, just like for Israel an actual cloud and fire hovered over the tent of meeting. I cannot comprehend Him with eyes or ears or hands, but His evidence in history is as irrefutable as the existence of Abraham Lincoln.

And Jesus leads by His Word. It is as accessible to me as a cloud that I could see. Its direction is powerfully clear, so clear in fact that I am kept in line by what I understand of it every day, even if some parts take a little more effort for me to comprehend. What I do know and understand will keep me busy my entire life! And since Christ leads me so powerfully and knowably, I would say tangibly through my bible I hold in my hands, I will trust what He shows me there; I will do what He says because He has freed me from the Law and forgiven all my sin.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

words of eternal life

For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.
John 12:49-50

In this declaration, Jesus makes an amazing claim: He only obeyed all that God the Father told Him to speak. His every word is the Word of God. This is why the Father could also testify of the Son, both at His baptism and the Transfiguration: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. All of you... listen to Him!" When Jesus spoke, the very Word of God that made the universe and planet earth, the word that commanded the sun, moon, and stars to appear out of nothing was speaking in Jesus.

Jesus claimed that every word He spoke to the disciples, to the crowds, even to the Pharisees and gentiles, was what the Father commanded Him to speak. So as we read the gospels, we are seeing what God has spoken in Jesus. Jesus said that the outcome of His Word was nothing short of eternal life. So it is true that if we really want to know what it is to live forever, we better listen to and obey the words of Jesus. To seek Jesus is to find life.

Lord Jesus,
Today I seek to hear Your words. And in so doing, I will find You not in a strange internal nudge, or in the dew shining on a flower petal, nor in the smile of a child. I will find You in the Word of God, as You ARE the Word of God, speaking God's Word because Jesus... You are God! The gospels are Your Word to me. They are precious, for in You is my life. You want me to live with You Whose Words are eternal life. And as I trust in You Who died for me so that I may live, I will let Your words guide me to share the good news to a world that needs to know You died and now live again so that we might have the words of eternal life.

Monday, September 28, 2015

strength to finish the good confession

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
1 Timothy 6:11-12

Paul sent these words to Timothy as he labored as a young minister of the gospel, but I find they fit any stage of ministry, and are encouraging not just for new ministers, but also for seasoned old dogs like me! One of the dangers of long-term vocational ministry is settling into complacency. I have to fight it from time to time. It is a great thing to love and serve people faithfully over many years, and I dearly see it as one of the unique blessings of my life. But it is also dangerous. If a person is not careful, they can rely on old actions rather than new proclamation of the gospel. You can catch yourself spending relational capital with familiar people too quickly rather than investing in harder gospel ministries to new people.

Pastors and all Christians who are committed to serving Christ with their gifts must always pursue what is right, seeking to live godly lives, living by faith, loving people, staying steadfast in faithfulness to Christ and His gospel, and gently fighting the good fight! It is in so doing that we hold to the gospel and hence to the good confession we made of it when we first believed. That should never change.

I thank You that this admonition to Timothy holds true for me. And help me to model it faithfully, finishing ministry well. I don't want to fade into irrelevancy concerning the gospel. I don't want to burn out, neither do I want to rust out... I want to be known as a man who faithfully, gently, yet passionately held to the good confession of the gospel and in that way fought the good fight.

Friday, September 25, 2015

what God desires

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:6

God wanted His people to respond to Him in a relationship of love. But their desire was fleeting. Like a foggy morning mist, their love for Him burned away quickly after sunrise (Hosea 6:4). They ran after other gods the way Hosea's whoring wife, Gomer, ran after other lovers.

But God was faithful to Israel even if they were not faithful to Him. He sent them prophet after prophet whose messages cut them down, humbled them, and called them to repent so that they would love God again (Hosea 6:5). But they were sinners in the tradition of Adam. They could not keep the covenant. If any change would be permanent, it would have to be the Lord's doing. God promised to restore the nation, not because they were faithful, but because He is faithful (Hosea 6:11)

And relationship with Him is what God gave us in Christ. He poured His grace to us in the sacrifice of His Son because our sacrifices could never restore us completely. He sent His Son, the Word, so that we might see, hear, and know God revealed. In Jesus is the knowledge of God. Since God desires gracious love and knowledge of Him, He sent His Son to die for our sins so that we might know Him and receive His grace. In Jesus I have what God desires.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

fearing the LORD

The fear of the Lord leads to life,
and whoever has it rests satisfied;
he will not be visited by harm.
Proverbs 19:23

A life of worship, respect, obedience, and receiving the mercies and grace of God awaits those who fear the Lord. Really, who would NOT want these things? Fearing the Lord leads to life. It begins with an act of faith... believing that Jesus died for my sins, I trust only Him to save me and provide the life perspective that I desperately need. He only is the satisfaction sacrifice for my sins. Jesus only provides abundant life and satisfaction for my soul. I will rest in that.

I have dedicated my heart to trusting this truth from my childhood. It has never let me down. Individuals have disappointed me, my own misplaced expectations have let me down, and occassionally churches have made huge blunders, but all those things occurred from NOT fearing the Lord. Following Jesus has never disappointed me, even as it has challenged me. It isn't always an easy thing, but I do rest quite satisfied to be a disciple of Christ. I don't live in anxiety when I "fear" the Lord.

Lord Jesus,
I thank You for this life that You have given me and to all that fear You. May I live and proclaim Your greatness. Thank You for the rich satisfaction that only comes in and by You. Thank You for the security of forgiven sin, abundant life and eternal life in You!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

generations set free

Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord:
that he looked down from his holy height;
from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to set free those who were doomed to die,
Psalm 102:18-20

This is the prayer of every soul in need of salvation. All Christians know that God has done just what this psalm hopes for through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus Christ is the answer from God for the "prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD" (see the inscription of Psalm 102). God moved from His holy height, sending His only Son from heaven to earth to respond to the groans of those imprisoned by sin and doomed to death!

And the beauty of the salvation the Jesus brings is that it spans generations. My great grandparents on my mother's side came from German Prussia, They heard the gospel preached in German by Mennonite pastors. My grandparents knew the same message from their parents. My parents responded to the gospel call promising release from the prison of sin in a Baptist revival meeting up the road from our home. I first understood it in a children's lesson at Vacation Bible School the summer of 1971. And each generation the Lord saves, He does so through the proclamation of the gospel, so that a people yet to be created may praise His great name.

I thank You for salvation in Jesus. The Old Testament saints praised You while longing for it. And in the gospel You brought salvation forth. Generations have been saved from the doom of death. May we be faithful to proclaim it to the next generation.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Now these are the men who came to David at Ziklag, while he could not move about freely because of Saul the son of Kish. And they were among the mighty men who helped him in war.
1 Chronicles 12:1

Misunderstood, David found a cave
and hidden there God saved
Bringing men to him
discontented fighters
who would later lead armies

By Saul declared a fugitive
but God kept David strong and alive
at Ziklag
and as warriors assembled
David confidently led them
trusting God to protect

Mighty men by God were forged
of steely resolve wanting nothing more
than a king
They fought with David
for his sake sacrificed
and bravely became legend

David owed his own life's blood
to the men who with him stood
to fight
Devoted to him and David's God
faith fighters
like God's own army

Monday, September 21, 2015

the firstborn

Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the people of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine. And after that the Levites shall go in to serve at the tent of meeting, when you have cleansed them and offered them as a wave offering. For they are wholly given to me from among the people of Israel. Instead of all who open the womb, the firstborn of all the people of Israel, I have taken them for myself.
Numbers 8:14-16

The Levites enjoyed a unique position in Israel as the worship working class of the people. They were the men tasked with the physical tasks of the sacrificial system begun with the tabernacle in the wilderness. They cared for and carried the ark of the covenant and all the furnishings that God required for proper worship. They kept all the worship routines going at the tabernacle, from managing the burning of incense and lamps to the keeping of livestock brought in for blood sacrifice. They were solely devoted to the ministry of worship in Israel.

God claimed them by rights. Every firstborn was "redeemed" by the Law through a sacrifice required by God. And in his place, God substituted a Levite. All male Levites were in "replacement" for the firstborn males of the rest of Israel whom God saved in the Passoever. They were called to worship God with the nation and for the nation.

In them we have instruction on the seriousness of worshiping a holy God. God took the Levites for Himself. He demanded that Israel set them aside and that they do what every family should have done... devote 100% of their life work to the worship of the Lord so that sin could be atoned in Israel by sacrifice. It is a serious matter to get sinners right with a holy God. It required thousands of full-time men in the wilderness tabernacle to devote themselves fully to the requirements God gave in the Law. But today I am redeemed by the finished sacrifice of only one--- the only begotten Son -- Jesus Christ. He is my perfect priest. Praise Him!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Living in the Words of Jesus

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:31-32

Putting this little promise in its context makes it even more powerful. Here is what is going on: Jesus is in conversation with Jewish leaders. They had a hard time tracking with what He has just told them about God the Father (John 8:27). So Jesus goes on to predict their future crucifixion of Him (John 8:28) and how that will change everything. And He makes what had to be to them an audacious claim of sinlessness by declaring that He always does the will of the Father (John 8:29). And the result is that many in the group started to be persuaded and to "believe" (John 8:30).

Jesus turns to address just that group in verse 30. He issues them a call to be His disciples, which always follows belief... Belief in the gospel = following Jesus. And in that call we see the power and the beauty of the Word of Christ. To be a follower of Jesus means we live in, by, through, and according to His Word. We abide in it. We dwell in it. We take up our home in Him. We live in what Jesus says. That is the mark of those "truly" His disciples and that is according to Jesus' own criteria in this passage. You can't say You love Jesus, but have low regard for the Bible. That isn't loving Jesus.

Jesus promises that His Word will show us the truth. Know Jesus by knowing His Word and You know His truth. Know His truth and truth will bring the ultimate freedom! A follower of Jesus is not bound by rules and dictates, but is set free in truth and real relationship with God!

The end of the conversation shows that though these Jews were intrigued by Jesus, they would not live in His Word, which was a clear rejection of Him. They trusted instead in their natural birth as Abraham's descendents and did not enter into a new birth in Jesus (John 8:33-37). In the end Jesus tells them that Abraham is not their father, but rather the Devil is, whose evil will they were doing (John 8:42-44). You can't be both a child of the Devil and a disciple of Jesus. And they showed their allegiances because they could not "bear" Jesus' words (John 8:43). And thus they could not know the truth that sets us free.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

a mediating ransom

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
1 Timothy 2:5-6

There is only one way to be saved from sin and hell and to know the truth. Paul boldly asserts the gospel with this kind of direct authority. God wants all people to be saved. And He provided the means for people to be saved (see 1 Timothy 2:3-4). But they must truth Jesus as the only Savior.

In order for salvation from hell and forgiveness of sin to be effected, God had to send His Son both as the mediator (the bringer of peace and forgiveness) and the ransom price for our sin (because sin requires the eternal judgment of death and hell). Jesus is both our means of salvation and the mediator of it. He is our great "go between" as both God and human being, serving as the saving bridge of life between God and those who seek God for salvation. And we must run across that bridge to be saved. God can only be known through the mediating sacrifice of His Son. No effort of my own could cross that gap. But God in love sent His Son so that all people might have the opportunity to come to Him.

Jesus confidently commanded this even before He died for us. He claimed to be the exclusive means of mediation between God and man: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). And what Jesus is has not changed. No other way leads to God. There are not many ways to saving life in God, but exclusively, by Jesus, only ONE!

That is why, dear Christians, we must make the gospel known. It is the only means for people to know life, find eternal salvation, and live in the truth. And it ain't about being "spiritual". It is all about being needy and trusting in what Jesus, our Mediator has done for us because He alone is our salvation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

for God's sake

Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate.
Daniel 9:17

Rather than focus on the intense prophetic answer given to Daniel in this chapter, I'd like to instead take encouragement from the way that the old prophet prays as we observe it here. It is convicting to me. Daniel is involved in a national intercession in this passage. He is praying for God's holy reputation to be restored in Jerusalem, even as the exiles are still held in Babylon. He lives in Babylon but the prophet's heart is obsessed with Zion. And so he intercedes, confessing the sins of a generation and begging God to restore the people and the glory of worship at the temple once again.

How Daniel makes this request is humbling. He pleas for God to be merciful to him and to the Jews in exile. He personally takes responsibility for the sin of the nation through intercessory confession, knowing that only God's mercy can cover their transgressions. But his prayer is not at all self-focused. He also appeals to God's own name, to God's glory and power, asking God to act solely for the benefit of His divine choice to bring glory to Himself. He wants God to act in the way that brings praise to God. Daniel is concerned most with God's reputation as he intercedes for Israel.

I'm afraid I've got a lot to learn in praying effectively in this way. I mostly ask and intercede for my own reputation. I make requests of God because I want something for me. Like James pointedly accuses, I "ask amiss" to spend the answer "on my own pleasures". But when my heart is consumed with desiring God's reputation above my own, only then could I begin to intercede and pray a holy prayer like Daniel does. I hope I can learn to pray not for selfish ends, but for God's sake.

Monday, September 14, 2015

not so fast,,,

If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame.
Proverbs 18:13

Hasty advice is no help at all, but in the age of Facebook and Twitter, where a friend can tell us about an experience half a world away seconds after it happens, I'm afraid hasty words rule my world. It is one of the real dangers of social media, and the scriptures call us to consider whether it is healthy to quickly jump into that comment thread!

It is not unusual to have someone send a post or tweet out about a ministry activity or a sermon DURING the event. Particularly with the teaching of God's Word, my hope is that it would cause us to think and make deliberate commitments to God's truth. I would rather enter into a series of discussions over months as someone processes the truth of scripture and responds to the work of the Holy Spirit than have ten thousand likes on that clever post in Facebook. It takes times to carefully listen to what God hast o say to us!

Make me a listener. Help me to care by listen SLOWLY and CAREFULLY to You and with true attention to my brothers and sisters in Christ. I don't want to be a shameful speed counselor who answers fast and thinks little! I want to give careful attention to Your Word and Your people, becuase Your Word is the only truth, and Your people are precious enough to You that You died for them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

future perfect

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”
Psalm 96:10

Christians can never be satisfied with the justice or moral opinions of the society of humanity. People are fallen. Our endemic twisted natures pervert justice and subvert God's design. It doesn't matter at all... not one bit really... whether a political climate is conservative or liberal because all sinners are incapable of carrying out God's justice and will break God's Law. From the sense of God's rule, all people fail. All politicians disappoint us because sin frustrates holiness and people are sinners at their core. Our only hope for a perfect world is found in the hope and confidence this psalm generates: God has to direct His justice toward us.

This psalm calls for Israel to sing about God's justice to the nations. It looks to God's sovereign rule. It is a prayer and a song of faith and hope. When Israel sang this song in the temple, they were surrounded by Gentile powers that did not know God. How could it possibly be true for them that the world was established when so many Gentiles hated God and hated His people? These nations did not worship Yahweh. Yet the truth of God's rule of the entire universe was to be displayed in all the world. God establishes the world... even the world of the nations that do not know Him.

Believing this fact creates confidence for the future. God will judge the peoples (all the nations, Jew and Gentile) with His equity. I love the way that word "equity" is defined. It is described as God's perfect, sweet evenness. God's holiness is upright and fair. No sinner gets special treatment... yet all are offered His grace. This is what "establishes" the world under God's rule and care. He judges us. But He does so as a God of mercy and grace.

Ultimately Christians know this in the mercy and grace of Christ Who died for sinners and rose again for new life. And now as King of Kings and Lord of Lords He will judge the world in sweet, perfect justice. The hope of the world is the gospel of Jesus Christ and we must preach it among the peoples of this earth so that His Church may be established. Other societal structures are under God's rulership through the scrutiny of His justice and equity. We individual Christians, no organized church, (and thank God most of all...) nor any politicians will establish this world. God does it for His purposes, for His glory, and we worship as we look to the perfect future that Jesus brings!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

a gatekeeper

The gatekeepers were on the four sides, east, west, north, and south. And their kinsmen who were in their villages were obligated to come in every seven days, in turn, to be with these, for the four chief gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted to be over the chambers and the treasures of the house of God. And they lodged around the house of God, for on them lay the duty of watching, and they had charge of opening it every morning.
1 Chronicles 9:24-27

When David brought the ark of God and the tabernacle to Jerusalem, one of the main tasks became organizing the public expressions of worship in God's house. Jerusalem was big, cosmopolitan, and central to the nation's life. The ark had been in an out of the way countryside setting in Shiloh for generations. Now it was front and center in national life. That meant that more people would worship at the tabernacle now that it was located in the capital city.

Under David's leadership, the Levites appointed singers and musicians, as well as gatekeepers and guards. The worship complex in Jerusalm grew as it housed treasuries where offerings were stored and living quarters for various worship personnel. And this necessitated more staffing in order to distribute gifts and to guard them. A new class of administrative duties was created and organized around the worship of Yahweh and the offering of sacrifices in Jerusalem.

What was it like to be a gatekeeper? They rose early in the morning to open the house of God for worship. First with the tabernacle and then later in the temple, four gates (one in each cardinal direction) were to be opened. Guards were posted 24/7 and as the gatekeepers arrived, the guards would report and prepare for the day's worship activities and incoming worshipers and pilgrims. This happened every day, including the Sabbath, for priestly duties were always needed. God was always worshiped in His house and the gatekeepers kept that worship always available to God's people. 

On of these worship workers, Korah, captured the anticipation of worship each morning at the gates:
Psalm 84:10
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

And since one day with God in worship is better than a thousand days without Him, a gatekeeper at God's house opened the doors to a thousand great joys!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

camping in His presence

Thus did the people of Israel. According to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so they camped by their standards, and so they set out, each one in his clan, according to his fathers' house.
Numbers 2:34

God organized the camp of Israel in the wilderness. How else could such a large nomadic nation stay together? At the center of the camp was the tabernacle, where God was worshiped and His presence was visible with a pillar of smoke and fire. Around the tabernacle each tribe had its unique position and in each tribal campground, each clan encamped in a specific location. Everything was ordered by family and deliberately focused on the importance of the worship of Yahweh.

Out of worship, Israel's life was ordered. God provided the manna, they collected it and ate. Every aspect of their lives was one of dependence upon the Lord, even as each Israelite awakened to each new wilderness sunrise to find their tent door opening to a view of God's presence over the tabernacle.

In one sense for me, that same idea of ordering life around God is necessary. My house however does not face my church building! But my life must be ordered with a Christ focus. I believe strongly that scripture is that focus. I open its pages first thing each morning to see the presence of God and to hear His voice. I keep the bible and its message close in front of me at various points of my day. It is in my pockets, in my hands, before my eyes consistently because God knows that I need it and I believe that I must encamp around His presence!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Jesus is life.

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.
John 5:21

Jesis is a life-giving Savior. And Oh how glad I am that this is the case! Jesus came that we might have life, and have it to the fullest. Jesus fills the soul of the one who will come to Him. He will give life to one dead in trespasses and sins. He will fill with joy the broken and wounded heart. Jesus is a life-giver because Jesus IS life.

I was resurrected at the age of seven. Before that time, I was living as a dead person. I was born dead because I was born in my sins. But in 1971, God gave me life. It started with my parents, who both came to Christ after the preaching of the gospel one late spring evening. And I saw an immediate life come to them that wasn't there before. They quite fighting. The quit trying to find life in things. They loved Jesus and we worshiped Him as a family. And a few months after their conversions, I came to clearly understand the gospel and the meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection. Over several days I slowly began to realize that I needed the life that He offered. And so, I prayed the first prayer that I can remember praying and trusted Christ as my Savior. He made me alive at that moment.

I have never regretted that life! And no truly converted soul ever does. My life in Him has not been without difficulty, and Jesus promised it would mean walking a narrow way, but it has been rewarding. My new life in Christ has been dynamic, joyous, and beautiful. The Son has made me free and I am free indeed. I am so blessed to have my life in Jesus.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

worthy of his calling

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 2:11-12

If any Christian life results in the glory of God, God must empower that believer to live to that end. That's what this prayer of Paul's for the church in Thessalonica instructs us to understand and practice. It calls us to trust God so that He may do in us and with us all that is good, that our work of faith would lift the name of Jesus high.

Good intentions are not enough. I believe most Christians would say that they "intend" to live godly lives. But the issue is that our flesh is incapable on its own. We will fail if we don't get at this task under the Spirit's leading and with God's power enabling us. We must follow what God does in us so that our intentions become His purposes.

I want to live a life worthy of Your calling upon me. But sin in me weakens me. I was born a spiritually dead person and only Your Spirit can give me life. That is true in my salvation and also in my sanctification. Make me worthy as Your new creation in Christ. May my resolve to do good be because Christ's righeousness is good. May the ministry You entrust to me be done by the faith that You provide. May Your power be the strength others see in me.

And I pray for these things not so that I mak look impressive but so that the name of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be glorified in You, O God. May Your grace overflow in me.