Thursday, December 31, 2015

another year of vanity

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
Ecclesiastes 1:2-3

I don't think I have ever landed on a more appropriate passage for New Year's Even. Truly life is full of vain and seemingly fruitless toil. It can be mind numbing, especially if I only look at it "under the sun" without trying to discern God's work in my life.

That is one of the clues to understanding cynical Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes. Many of his observations are strictly human, meant to show us the absurdity of human existence when viewed strictly from humanistic terms. Without God, life makes very little if any sense at all. That is kind of the point of the book.

Looking to the new year, I must look to God. People will disappoint me. They do it all the time. I will disappoint people. I do it all the time. I won't be satisfied in the work of my days and my labor in life without God's love, grace, and perspective to guide me. I don't want to dwell in the cynical sarcasm of Solomon. I want to look beyond myself and beyond life "under the sun" to "life in the Son" as I look to my Savior!

I praise You for the life-changing uplifting perspective of the gospel. Jesus, You are my hope in this vain and fruitless world. You reward my life's work. You alone redeem me and my days from worthless vanity. Thank You!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

on my side

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
Psalm 124:1-3

I was against Him
an enemy
when He loved me
died for me
saved me

And now won by that love
I serve Him
give my life to Him
worship Him
live by Him

God is on my side
Jesus changed me
drew near to me
held on to me
saves me

Whatever rages against my soul
will not prevail against Him
because in Him
I am held by Him
secure in Him

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

half a heart

And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart.
2 Chronicles 25:2

This is an ominous life summary. Amaziah was so close, but because he was only half-hearted in his love of God, he ultimately suffered great loss. All of the victories his army gained on the field of battle were not quite spectacular. He was only half concerned about it and his army reflected the same self-concern, with Ephraimites looting Judah's own cites on the way back to Jerusalem (see 2 Chronicles 25:10-13).

His casual attitude toward God became an inlet for idolatry. Idols captured in battle captured his imagination and were worshiped by the king, resulting in God's anger on the nation (2 Chronicles 25:14-16). When God confronts the king with a prophet's word, Amaziah threatens to kill the prophet.

In the end half-heartedness is just idolatry with a mask. He is undone by an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Joash king of Israel that removed all power from Judah. After a few years as a puppet king, Amaziah is killed by a palace conspiracy (2 Chronicles 25:25-28). His story never has a good point to it. He did not give God all his heart.

Monday, December 28, 2015

I need a daily reminder.

To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire.
Deuteronomy 4:35-36

The way in which God dwelt visibly among Israel in the Penteteuch was meant to bring the people close to Him in faith. They heard the law verbally from God Himself. They saw God lead by smoke and fire in the very center of the camp. God even spoke from that pillar to the people. They had His Word literally sounding out in the very middle of their lives. And yet they struggled with unbelief.

Deuteronomy is a reminder of the Law, a sequel of the covenant in a sermon meant to keep the covenant in mind for Israel. It is Moses' way of ensuring that the nation remembers the Lord. It was given so that between the visible reminders from God every day, and the written words of the Law, Israel would commit in covenant with God.

As always, faith in God among rebel humans who value most our own autonomy is not easy. Israel had God in the camp and His covenant in their hands. Yet they would fail in faith repeatedly, not just in Sinai, but also when they arrived in the Promised Land. We will always quickly forget, which is why we need God's Word to daily remind us as powerfully and as much as possible. I need it. I need a scripture saturated life. I need a daily reminder.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015 much he must suffer...

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.
For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Acts 9:15-16

Jesus called Saul away from being a persecutor of Christians and into becoming the foremost preacher of the gospel in the New Testament. Jesus called Ananias to be the first Christian to come alongside Saul and to heal him from blindness. We know it was Jesus in verse 17, where Ananias reminds Saul that Jesus is Who met him on the Damascus road, and Jesus sent Ananias to restore Saul's sight. 

Jesus had plans for Saul. Jesus chose him, just like all the other apostles to send him before "Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel". That commission from Jesus serves as a biographical summary of Saul's life from that point onward and it shows us an outline of the direction that the book of Acts will go from that point on in the storyline.

But there is an ironic twist in Saul's calling. He must also surely suffer greatly for Jesus. The man who once led the persecution of Christians with fierce and unrelently intensity would change to become the one most persecuted for Jesus' sake. He would endure unexpected perils and pains for the sake of the gospel. He would admonish others to do the same. Indeed, Saul's life from that point on would be characterized by both advancing the gospel with wild success into new regions and simultaneously suffering for it. While called to minister the good news of salvation, he was also called to endure hardship along with it.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

consuming fire

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,
for our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 11:28-29

I find this admonition to be one of the strongest calls to worship in the New Testament. It balances grace with warnings, thankfulness with the fear of the Lord. And the awareness that it commands is a necessary reminder. The reverence it promotes is something my heart can lose if I am not careful to heed to the type of worship it demands.

First, the passage calls us to thanksgiving. It commands Christians to be grateful. Specifically, we are called to be grateful that God has given us a kingdom that cannot be shaken  in judgment. Jesus has taken all of that upon Him already on the cross for the church. Judgment comes for those outside Christ, but in Christ we are unmoved by the fear of the judgment and moved by the grateful thankfulness that Christ has taken all of it.

That moves us to worship, but it also keeps a healthy respect in our minds. Even though Jesus takes all our judgment, our God is still a consuming fire. He is the God of the burning bush, the God whose presence in the camp was a pillar of seething flame. We must still approach Him with respect, wonder, and a healthy, fearful awareness of His holy fire.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Ninevah: Nahum & Jonah

What do you plot against the Lord?
He will make a complete end;
trouble will not rise up a second time.
Nahum 1:9

That is the way God handles those who try to work against Him. They will not succeed. Their defeat will be complete and they will not live to trouble anybody a second time. God's justice and judgment are full. His purposes always prevail. No one may stand against Him.

With the prophet Nahum, the end of Ninevah is proclaimed. Jonah is a story about Ninevah's gracious moment of repentance granted by God. Nahum however is about Ninevah's final fall. Their wicked oppression and vile idolatry will never stand against God. God would make a final end of Ninevah.

So what should I do with this fact? I think it leads me to worship a strong God, not because His judgments or actions are vindictive, but because He is both gracious (Jonah) and firm (Ninevah) in His righteous actions toward humanity. And the God of both grace and justice came to earth in Jesus His Son to graciously save me while putting a final end to sin and death's hold on this world. Sin and death will not rise up a second time because Jesus has defeated them entirely through His death and resurrection.

Friday, December 18, 2015

blessed with this woman

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Proverbs 31:30

Character and commitment always trump appearance and ability. This is true in many of the most important parts of my life. It is especially true of my marriage. I'll admit it: in terms of character and commitment, I married much better than I deserve! My wife keeps me strong and honest. She exemplifies the kind of work of love this passage demonstrates in her daily commitments, sacrificing her wants and desires for the needs of her family EVERY SINGLE DAY. She's amazing!

Lord knows how much I need this woman as my wife. God has given me this gift that I cannot begin to place value on because my life would not be functional without her. I praise God, and I'll praise her.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

my keeper; my shade

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
Psalm 121:5

These words are a strong comfort. If the Lord keeps me, nothing should bother me. I am in His hands. He protects me. That means that nothing that happens to me is outside His wisdom or care. So I can rest in faith that He is keeping me, even if I hit a rough patch in my life.

The Lord keeps me when life is tenuous. If things are shaking, God can and will help me stand firm. I may find things shake me, but nothing shakes God. When my heart is hurting or lonely, God is right there, keeping me, loving me, and never letting me go. God is keeping me. That is my stability.

God shades me. Now, I have to admit that by faith I accept this, because I don't always feel it. There have been some days lately where what I feel is burning heat and withering lack of strength...physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But God is there, ready to be my comfort IF I turn to Him as He is at my right hand. Notice that the Psalm has God's shade available as near, but not over us. I think that wording is clearly intentional. I must turn to God, my shade and my keeper to find my rest and comfort. I come to Jesus weary and heavy laden, and He gives me His promised rest. But first I must turn and go to Him.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Repentance is hard work.

And Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and all the people and the king that they should be the Lord's people. Then all the people went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars.
2 Chronicles 23:16-17

A young king and a priest who was gifted as a strong leader were used by God to bring renewal in Judah. But the repentance that Joash and Jehoida led was a rough road and what took place was not easy work. It involved both a positive commitment in a pledge to a renewed covenant with the Lord AND it involved the negative work of tearing down sinful idols and demolishing paths to false worship so that sin could be replaced with holy living. Idolatry had to be eradicated so that worship of God could be real.

Repentance without this demolition of idols is simply not repentance. God doesn't get to be one of several worship options. It fails somewhere in the swampy ground of regret or lost intentions if we don't rip out idols. Since repentance always means an "about face" in scripture, to get a new heading means recovering lost ground by marching back in the right direction past our false worship and to God. We must allow God to help us tear down before we build up.

In New Testament parlance, we must "put off" fleshly sins before we can "put on" the righteousness Christ provides. It isn't easy to rip down stone altars, kill our Baal leaders that have taken up leading residence in our hearts, and break apart cherished idols into rubble. But it is absolutely necessary if we are to truly live in repentance.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

feelings are a bad ruler

And they took in their hands some of the fruit of the land and brought it down to us, and brought us word again and said, ‘It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.’
Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God.
Deuteronomy 1:25-26

Fear will keep us from knowing the joy of the promises of God fulfilled to us when it leads us to distrust and disobey God. The report from the twelve spies showed the beauty and provision awaiting Israel in Canaan. They only needed to trust God's Word and enter in. But the fear of giants and the numerous people who could oppose them tainted the report of the spies. It was the fear that the nation heard, not the truth of the good land that God was giving them. And so the nation used the feeling of the fear as a rationale to disobey God and rebel against His command.

Rationalizing with our feelings is very common path to sin. It is not wise to do so because feelings are in essence irrational. But we rely on them like they are the best tool. They are not tools, nor or feelings ever meant to be guides. Feelings are gauges at best, and a gauge does not ever fix a problem or drive a car. Gauges alert and inform us to take the best action and that's it.

Faith and the Word of God should lead me, and not my feelings. Feelings alone are a bad ruler. Trusting them will lead me to sin. But faith in God's Word will never fail me. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

advancing by scattering

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.
Acts 8:4

Persecution never hurts the gospel. In fact, it has the opposite effect, as shown in this simple statement from Acts. It was the persecution of Christians that sovereignly mobilized the church into a highly effective small team strike force with the gospel at its center. Men and women dragged off to prison? No problem for the church because the liberating gospel is not ever chained. Christians run out of town? It's a God-given missions trip because nothing can stop the power of God for salvation in the gospel. Scattered Christians sowed gospel seeds everywhere they went and the church sprang up in the fertile fields watered by the blood of martyrs.

I believe that the result of "easy" times for Christianity is a mild apathy at best, complete gospel abandonment at its worst. It was the concept of "Christendom" (a secular embracing of a Christian state) in Europe that pacified the church into a stupor and led to the unprecedented rise of scripture-denying, gospel-abandoning theological liberalism. And then the church sanctioned practical unbelief in the authority of scripture, the veracity of the gospel, and the power of God. This resulted in a powerless church. Travel Europe today and the churches that used to be the center of public life are now museums.

In the places where the church is persecuted now in the world, she is faithful to the gospel in its biblical simplicity, and to the call to spread the good news. I've met believers from persecuted places. They have a passion for Jesus that convicts me and admonishes me. How I need to take this principle of effective scattering to my heart! Preach the Word when it is maligned and Jesus will be known in this world! 

Friday, December 11, 2015

my confidence

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.
Hebrews 10:36

There is a life pattern here that the author of Hebrews encourages his readers to remember and keep in practice. He has spoken to them about the way in which the trials of persecution have marked them. They persevered despite the pain (Hebrews 10:32-34). Confidence in trial has been a subtheme throughout the book as well (see Hebrews 3:6; 4:16; 10:19).

The encouragement will continue through the rest of the book where endurance is commended (Hebrews 12:1), stability in the life of obeying God's will is encouraged (Hebrews 13:21), and the future hope of a promised eternal salvation is lifted up as a goal (Hebrews 4:1; 6:12; 8:6; 9:15).

And this is my confidence: I must endure hardship, perhaps persecution, faithful to the will of God as He reveals it in His Word, looking to future hope when my salvation is complete with Christ in glory.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

people at their worst; God at His best

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.
Micah 7:8

Why did the prophet have this confidence? The picture painted here at the end of the book of Micah is not so rosey. The chapter opens with mourning in a deep personal vein: "Woe is me!" (Micah 7:1) It goes on to describe Judah in wicked rebellion: "the godly have perished from the earth" (Micah 7:2). The description of the results of such ungodliness are so severe that the prophet trusts no one (Micah 7:5), yet there is hope in God to be the only bringer of salvation (Micah 7:7).

Even when people are at their worst, God is at His best, and that is why Micah had this confidence. He knew God could save even a rebel nation. He knew God could work to move the people back to Him either in stern judgment or overwhelming grace. And Micah had hope for both. Even in the darkness of sin, the Lord will be a light.

Micah goes on to lead the nation in a sample prayer of repentance (Micah 7:9-10). His hope is that the people would bear God's indignation at sin, recognize their sin, repent, and wait for God's deliverance. After such repentance and salvation, the Lord can rebuild lives (Micah 7:11). Place your hope in God for a sure salvation!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Don't + or -

Do not add to his words,
lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.
Proverbs 30:6

The context of this simple warning is the veracity of scripture. "Every word of God proves true" (Proverbs 30:5). Scripture is sure, sufficient, and safe because it is the Word of a perfect, holy God Who has given us His truth. We can believe Him and live or we can disbelieve and die, which is really Adam's original sin.

But when we believe God's Word as true, we must still guard against some sinful tendencies we have in receiving it. The first tendency is to take away from scripture. We can diminish scripture. Liberal theologians have done it for generations by dismissing it as "myth" or simplistic belief belonging to a primitive time. Or they discredit prophecy by claiming it was written after prophetic events or to explain events and not prepare for them. That is the danger of making less of the Word of God. Back to the original sin: Satan did this with a question to Adam and Eve: "Did God say...?"

Yet this proverb warns us of the danger of adding to scripture. This was what Satan heard back from Even, "...neither shall you touch it..." an addition to the command that made it easier to believe the lie that Satan offered. When we add to scripture, we become liars. We attribute to God what He did not say, and we are subject to His rebuke. God should be taken at His Word. Let's not subtract from it, and let's not add to it. Let's simply accept God's truth and obey it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

my Creator & His commands

Your hands have made and fashioned me;
give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
Psalm 119:73

Because God is my Creator, He knows me better than anybody else. Because God's Word is perfect, He can lead me with it better than anything else. So some prayer like this one captured in this verse is worth praying every day. I should seek relationship with God, my maker. I should seek wisdom from His Word as my direction for each day.

I get pulled off this simple but vital game plan. Nearly every day, I want my autonomy. I live practically like I made myself and like my autonomous thoughts are the best wisdom ever. They are not. Life works best when lived for the Creator's glory. I am happiest living for God's glory and praise.

I drift from God's Word, taking in all sorts of other content, thus letting my desires rule over me. And the result is one form of minor league chaos after another! What a mistake I am making to turn from this simple wisdom, and what a profound disaster it is!

God, forgive me, please. I yield to You and accept the understanding that You offer to me. Help me to follow Your Word! Amen

Monday, December 7, 2015

none is able to withstand

And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you."
2 Chronicles 20:5-6

Jehoshaphat prayed in this way in the face of an imminent invasion. A coalition of armies led by Moab was marching up from the south to attack Jerusalem. Before assembling all his defenses, the king made a bigger strategic move. He publically called the nation to seek God in prayer and fasting, and then set the example himself by praying at the temple for a sovereign God to deliver His people.

Jehoshaphat loved the Lord and knew his place as king was under God. He believed that God was the true King in Jerusalem, and so he prayed to God to honor His covenant with His people. The king was mindful that God had written all of the history of Israel and Judah, and would continue to lead His people.

The prayer at the temple also recognizes God's sovereign hand in  control of all the politics of all the nations of the world. God rules over all peoples. No nation, no coalition, no army, no attack can withstand God. And that trust in God was rewarded when the invading coalition turned on itself before the siege and Jerusalem looted the battlefield outside the city walls without raising a sword (see 2 Chronicles 20:23). The faith of the king and the faithfulness of God met mightily in salvation for Judah.

Friday, December 4, 2015

plan before

These are the men whom the Lord commanded to divide the inheritance for the people of Israel in the land of Canaan.
Numbers 34:29

Eventually the Promised Land became Israel's possession. They transitioned from being a people wandering the desert to becoming a nation settled in cities and farms and villages in Canaan, a place God gave them. As God appoints tribal leaders whose job it is to divide holdings of land by family, the Israelites under Joshua are being prepared to fight off Canaanites and receive this gift from God.

This passage is a bit administrative detail, but the plan to divide the territory needed to be in place before any battles could be waged. The order in which God prepared Israel was smart planning. God moved the people to prepare them to receive this inheritance that He had promised Abram so many generations earlier.

Sometimes people need to be ready to receive God's promises. The tribal leaders needed to be in place BEFORE the battle for Canaan could be won. The plan for what to do with what God would give needed to happen BEFORE the armies could march, the battles could be won, and new homes come to God's people.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

This Life

“Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”
Acts 5:20

This Life that You give, Lord
is abundant and free
I repent of my sin
in Jesus believe
I can live eternally
freed by the gospel to be
all You have meant for me

This Life is in Jesus
my Savior and Lord
Who directs my life moments
by His holy Word
making my pathway sure
and my footsteps secure
choosing to use me more

This Life changes me
as I continue to believe
that Jesus died for me
many graces I receive
so that I can truly live
grateful for what Jesus will give
for this heart is now His

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

a better hope

For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness
(for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
Hebrews 7:18-19

Jesus brought a better hope than anything in redemptive history that preceded Him. This was because of Who He is as well as what He has done for us in securing salvation. The Law of the Old Testament could point out God's commands and just how guilty we were when we violate them in our sin. And the Law provided incomplete atonement that required nearly constant animal sacrifice to deal with sin. The Law of the Lord of course was good, but it was not ever meant to be complete (perfect). It pointed to what only Jesus could do as the God-man and Great High Priest.

Jesus' hope is better because His redemption is complete (perfect). Not only did He die for sin once for all, the just for the unjust as our sacrifice, but Jesus now lives, victorious over death (which was what the Law could never bring) and Jesus intercedes as our High Priest before the Father. With Him as our Savior and our Mediator, we can draw near to God with confidence.

Lord Jesus,
Thank You for my hope and salvation! I am forgiven forever, not by being good myself (which I could never do), but by clinging to Your saving work and Person! You stand between me and the Father and You draw us together. Thank You, Lord!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

can't run from God

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
Jonah 1:3

There are several lessons to be learned from the prophet Jonah. Of course, there is God's love for all people placed against our petty prejudices. All throughout the book of Jonah there is this story of the sovereign love of God for the nations that drives the narrative. There is also this host of subthemes in the book, including most prominently this one: no one wins a fight against God!

Jonah tried to run from God as fast and as far as he could go. He ran fast, responsing to God's command to preach to Ninevah with an immediate trip to Joppa, finding a ship (the fastest transportation available for any journey in Jonah's day) going the opposite direction. He ran far, planning to reach Tarshish which was the ends of the earth in the conception of the world for a Mediterranean Jew. Jonah wants to get off the grid, hoping that going fast and far, God would lose track of him.

But of course, you can't run from God, and before he knew it, God brought a storm and a fish to sovereignly push the prophet back in the right direction. No one escapes God's purposes. You cannot be out of compliance with God for long. It is impossible to run from God's presence when all things are before Him.