Thursday, December 29, 2016

body and blood

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many."
Mark 14:22-23

In this way Jesus made sure we would never forget Him or the work He came to accomplish. We are not commanded anywhere in scripture to celebrate Christmas or Easter. But we are commanded by Him to remember Him regularly through this simple meal. The Lord's table was set up by Him at Passover for His disciples to focus on His redeeming work. This is the mission of Jesus in the gospels -- to seek and to save the lost. And this is what the bread and the wine are placed before us to remember, celebrate, and proclaim until Jesus comes again. Communion commerates His death atoning for our sins.

Having been in Christmas celebrations, I now pause to reflect on Christ's sacrifice. This is exactly why  we sing "the King of Kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone Him." Jesus was born to die for sins, taking our punishment upon Himself, so that by faith we might accept His work for us and be forever saved. And the bread and wine of communion are the physical reminders of His sacrifice.

The manger would lead to a cross, and the cross to an empty tomb. And these three are the vivid parts of the story of Jesus our Lord, showing our need for Him to come as our Savior and to give us the glorious new life that we can enjoy in Him! As as we meet together as His followers, we have in common the reality that His blood saved each of us. Remembering Him at His table -- the bread His body, the wine His blood -- we remember God with us, and for us, in Jesus.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

stay awake!

Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.
Mark 13:35-27

These are Jesus' words to His disciples as He is headed toward the events that will lead to His crucifixion and resurrection. The main teaching He focuses on is the surprising imminence of His return again to earth. Jesus makes a big deal about His disciples being ready and "awake" at His return. It is even more poignant given that in just a few hours He would find His disciples sleeping at the moment of His betrayal (Mark 14:37-42).

I've always been intrigued by the fact that Jesus spent so much time explaining details of His second coming to the disciples as He prepared to go to the cross. It is as if He wants to bolster them doctrinally to withstand the shock, pain, and humiliation to come. And I have to say that Jesus emphasizing eschatology at a time like this in the gospel narrative has kept me a dispensationalist in the premillennial camp for all my life. I have good friends who aren't there, but I think the easiest hermeneutic taking the text at what it says leads me to conclude that Jesus is talking about a coming for His disciples, followed by the great tribulation, followed by Him coming to establish His kingdom and to rule and reign over all the earth. A simple reading of the texts, particularly these words from Jesus, convince me to reject covenant theology's cut and paste job with interpretation regarding eschatology.

So as I head into a New Year, it is good to "stay awake". The Master of the house may return. The voice that announced this truth to His disciples on the night He was betrayed is the same voice that predicted His own death and resurrection that accomplished salvation for all who believe. It is equally authorative on eschatology. And I will believe Jesus when He says He will return for His own and it will be a total surprise. I must stay awake with that thought. My obedience to Jesus must not grow slack.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

the hardest thing about prayer

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
Mark 11:25

God wants His grace to transform the way we relate to people. Grace isn't just about healing our lives with God's power. It's about healing hurts with other people right now. And it is to be as constant in our hearts as our prayers are to be. Jesus instructs His disciples to offer forgiveness to people who don't even ask for it! How hard is that to do? I find it really difficult. I have to stumble through all kinds of self-justifying sinfulness to repent of pride and do so. Yet Jesus links forgiveness before prayer with effectiveness in our own prayer lives, indicating that we cannot pray well if we harbor an unforgiving attitude toward any other person.

How many of us want God to answer our prayers? I'd think all of us do. So according to Jesus, we better first pray with an attitude of forgiveness toward anyone we may be harboring resentment toward or anyone with whom we have a current conflict. Gracious forgiveness must flow into our most difficult relationships if we expect to find God's answers to our prayers. And really, aren't a lot of those prayers about our relationships? It makes sense that when grace does this, our hearts change, our God works in us, and the answers come. To find grace we must also release God's grace to change our hearts as we pray forgivingly. Christians have to be forgiving people. We can't be bitter. We can't be fighters. We must be people whose relationships pour out grace. And that starts with the hardest kind of prayer: forgiving prayer.

Monday, December 26, 2016

...the brightness of His rising

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Isaiah 60:1-3

Jesus certainly was an unexpected way in which these promises to Israel would be made known. He is the light of Israel and of the world. He is the glory of the LORD, revealed in humanity for all of us to know, worship, and love. God did "rise upon" Israel and the world, with the dawn of redeeming grace in Bethlehem so very long ago.

Jesus came to earth and His life has been a light to the world ever since. The beauty of God's love, sending His only Son, to die for sin and be raised to life, is known because that light that still shines in this dark world. God's light will be seen in the gospel. Jesus calls the world to know Him, to believe that the light is here, and to know the stunning brilliance of God's glory through forgiveness of sins, new life in Christ, and the worship of the Lord.

Dawn on every day since the birth of Jesus has been filled with a new light. It is radiant with the hope of the gospel and the love of God in Christ. And in the light of Jesus, all is as it should be, for He is coming again to rule this world in truth and grace... to make the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Light

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5

Jesus came as the light of the world. Sin made this world a dark place. It was dark when Jesus arrived as that baby in the manger. It is still dark. But darkness never has overcome the light of Christ. The gospel shines brightly with the good news of eternal salvation and abundant life in Christ. That will never change. Since Jesus has come to us, darkness cannot win. That is what we celebrate when we light those Christmas lights!

There is darkness in the world but Jesus outshines it all. There is the darkness of human suffering by war: Jesus, Prince of Peace, outshines it. There is the darkness of sickness and physical pain: Jesus, our healing, outshines it. There is the darkness of pornographic lust and sex trafficking: Jesus, Lover of our Souls, outshines it. There is the darkness of human injustice, homelessness, and displaced refugees: Jesus, the Judge of all things, outshines it.

No darkness can overcome what Jesus has already done by His advent here. No darkness nor death can undo the saving work of Calvary or the glory of the resurrection. No darkness can undo that Jesus has already arrived, that He has died for us, or that He has risen from the dead. No darkness can stop what God has already done. Light has invaded the earth. No time of earthly pain or sorrow will be more intense than eternity with Jesus or His presence in His people right now! Jesus is the light of the world. Light the Christmas light by proclaiming His good news in the darkness! Our King is here! Don't fear the darkness! Our King is here!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

oppression, longing, & deliverance

And he burned the house of the Lord and the king's house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem.
2 Kings 25:9-10

With the trauma of the fall of Jerusalem the punishment of the Babylonian exile set in for the Jews in Judah. All the residents of Jerusalem that survived the siege were led away to Babylon, all weeping with the painful memories of dead loved ones, burned homes, a destroyed and ransacked temple, and broken down city walls. It was a painful time with little hope.

But we look back on the biblical account and realize that God cared for His people by the Exile. He kept them safe, and as the book of Daniel recounts, many Jews thrived in the captivity. In Babylon (and later Persia) they would rise to positions of prominence. Among them were Daniel, Ezra, Esther, and Nehemiah. They would obey God and by kept until he was ready to return them to their land again. They would serve as priests, prophets, queens, and court officials. And the Jews would emerge from their captivity with a stronger commitment to God and His Law and with a real, new hope.

They'd come back with Messianic hope. Once back in their land, the Jews would create thriving cities again, but would stay politically weak, eventually to be dominated by Alexander the Great, and then by Rome. But even these events could not diminish the hope of a Messiah to come Who would lead them back to the glory of David's reign.

It was to this culture that God sent His Son. Jesus was born to a people under oppression. He was born to a nation aware that they were not truly free. And He would show them the first freedom and the best deliverance was from sin's tyranny. The oppressed and the oppressors would turn against Him, but only to ultimately fulfill God's plan. Jesus would deliver us by His death and resurrection, and God would use oppression and longing to bring about deliverance.

Monday, December 19, 2016

from Bethlehem

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
Luke 2:4-5

From Bethlehem came forth
The Ancient of Days
newborn child
cradled in manger hay
Messiah mild
in that little town
of Bethlehem

In Judea's countryside
arrived a Savior
Jesus was born
God's righteous favor
that Christmas morn
in tiny village
of Bethlehem

The city of David
gave a new Prince
the world's King
Who'd go from hence
making the nations sing
born in the town
of Bethlehem

From Bethlehem
was born Jesus
victorious Lord
come to save us
as God's Word
predicted He'd come
from Bethlehem

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
Micah 5:2

Friday, December 16, 2016


He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.
Isaiah 40:11
Look upon that manger scene and see the shepherds adoring their Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. God intended for simple peasant shepherds to be the first to know about the Lamb of God come to save His people from their sins. He too would shepherd His people. Jesus is both Lamb of God and the Great Shepherd Who gives His life for the sheep.

Hundreds of years before angels spoke from the stars telling shepherds where to find an infant Savior, Isaiah foretold the tender care of the Great Shepherd. Jesus tends His flock. He cares for us. He gathers lambs up to hold them close, and He gently leads His people. Jesus loves us in this way because the Lord is our Shepherd and we shall not be in want. Jesus came to care for us like no one has. He came to lead us like no one could. He came to give His life for us so that we might be saved in Him, by Him, to Him as His flock. Jesus is our Shepherd and we shall not want.

O Lamb of God and Shepherd of my soul,
By Your blood I am forgiven and by Your life I am given life. But I must be led by my Great Shepherd. I must know how You gather me close and gently lead me, though I am prone to wander. Your rod and staff comfort me. The voice of Your Word calls me and I know You in that voice and follow You. Each manger scene that I see this Christmas reminds me of Your Shepherding love for my sheepish, wandering soul. Thank You, Lord!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

light shined

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
Isaiah 9:2

Jesus is the light of the world. His light is the life of mankind. By the light of Jesus we see our great need, we find salvation in Him, and we find hope and peace as He clearly shows us the way to a joy-filled relationship with the Father. Jesus is the only light in our darkness. Only He can bring hope and healing over our sin.

How fitting it is to think through Isaiah's poetic prophecy on a dark winter's morning. The season is in full control now. It is dark. Days are short, and gray... cold, with very little sunshine. A numbing cold and darkness settles in and even creeps into my soul ever so slightly. And that is just a physical manifestation of the winter season that will lift in another 60 days or so. We shall see light again by God's good design.

This is just a picture of what is always true for our souls. Sin is a great darkness (really the worst darkness) and it grows unfathomably deep as it is multiplied by billions of sinners in cultures and a world that is far from God. It feels as oppressive as a sub-zero December ice-storm frozen morning. But the light of Jesus breaks through to shatter this deep darkness with a great light. And the warmth of the incredible good news of the gospel warms us so that sin's winter has no more frozen death grip on our hearts. A universe frozen in darkness is thawed and reborn by the warm light of God's grace.

At Christmas we celebrate that the light has shined. Jesus has come. And the gospel is a roaring flame that warms hearts and melts the cold darkness of sin and death around us. Live now, warmly, in the light of the Son!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

the greatest gift is yours

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5-8

And that, Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is all about. It is easy to get caught up in the holiday wrappings as we labor to decorate around the celebration of the arrival of our Savior. But do we really worship Jesus with lights, trees, eggnog and parties? Sometimes it is good to take a long look at the gospel story again at Christmas time. And this Philippians passage leads us to do that today.

Jesus humbled and emptied Himself in the manner of a slave to become that wondrous baby in the manger scene. God came down. The invasion of grace occurred at an unlikely entry point of Bethlehem, and in the humble home of a carpenter's wife, a child would grow to bring a revolution to the world... a revolution of peace and reconciliation that would come by His life, death, and resurrection.

Jesus in life teaches us how to truly live. In His death, He took the worst of our dying away, and in His resurrection guaranteed our own lives beyond hell and the grave. In His humility He became Lord of all. And He calls us to arm ourselves not with power or strength or weapons, but with His same humble obedience so that we might be born again to new life.

Jesus is the Christmas gift. He is the Giver of life and love to all who will only believe the amazing good news as they repent of sin and trust Him for eternal salvation. This also is "yours in Christ Jesus".

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

present and future Messiah

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
Isaiah 11:10

Isaiah foretells of Jesus in this passage. And as I look back at the prophecy fulfilled, I am in awe of what God has done in sending His Son. So long ago, centuries before Jesus was born, God spoke through Isaiah of a branch sprouting forth from a broken stump of Jesse. A Messiah would come from David's line. He would be known by the Spirit of God clearly at work in His wisdom, words, and rule.

The Branch out of Jesse would bring justice. He will judge the wicked of the earth and bring justice to the weak, poor, and oppressed among all the nations. He is adorned and strengthened by faithfulness to God's Law and wears righteousness like a warrior's sash around His waist.

The rule of this Messiah restores the world to Eden's gentle and beautiful perfection. There are no more predators to fear. Children romp and play with lions as lambs frolic with wolves. Cobras become baby toys. It is a world where the curse has been lifted and evil no longer imperils human life. Jesus shall reign in such a new earth, and because I know Him as Savior, I shall know Him as the Prince of Peace in a world totally made right again. 

I'm on the back half of my life as I have reached the age where mortality is a daily reminder. That's OK. That is how life works now. And I find myself longing for Eden's perfection to come not just to my body (as I am reminded every morning of it's slow demise... limping into the kitchen to make coffee, working arthritic fingers so that I can grab a Bible and turn the pages), but to all of Creation. We groan together, this world and I. We want to know that Jesus rules over this all and I know that with my own eyes (and without the aid of trifocals) in a resurrected new life, I shall see and experience that Jesus' resting place is glorious. I long to breath the invigorating air of that land!

Monday, December 12, 2016

complete repentance

Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.
2 Kings 23:25

This is God's assessment of Josiah, king of Judah, who became king in Jerusalem at just eight years of age, but who ruled with an unrivaled passion for God and obedience to God's Law. There are four times that the word "all" is used in this one verse to describe Josiah. They are worth pondering.

He turned to the Lord, first, with all his heart. God had the king's heart. He loved the LORD and His Word and thus serving God came first from his affection for God. We serve what we love, and there was no doubt, Josiah loved the Lord, and as a leader, modeled that love for all the people as his heart compelled him to lead Judah in loving repentance back to the worship of Yahweh in His temple.

The young king turned to God with all his soul. This was not a political move or a shift of emphasis to gain power. This was a deep, spiritual work in king Josiah. And it brought spiritual change to the souls of those who lived in Judah.

Josiah turned to God with all his might. The king used all power at his disposal to personally repent and worship the LORD. He led the nation to do so as his reforms became national revival. He used his power to worship and glorify God and it staved off judgment and saved his generation in Judah.

Finally, Josiah was thorough in his understanding of scripture to keep all the law of Moses. Here is the real power behind Judah's revival. They turned back to God's Word. It all began with the discovery of the Law in the back of the temple. God's Word convicted Josiah who led the nation to obey scripture and glorify God.

O God,
May Your Word draw me with all Your power to worship You with all my heart, all my soul, and all my might. May you draw me so close to You in Your Word that nothing else is nearly as important. And may I be used to help others see Your greatness so that my generation might know You are the Lord.

Friday, December 9, 2016

always completely forgiven

He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
Psalm 103:10

God's mercy and grace extend to sinners in His deep love for us. He provides a way for sins to be atoned and for our relationship with Him to prosper. In David's day, God would forgive through the act of obedience whereby a sinner in faith offered a sacrifice as an intervening priest took the life of an animal and offered its blood so that sin could be atoned. Today, God now sees us atoned by the blood of His Son.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
Psalm 103:11

What motivates God to be so merciful to us as to provide costly atonement for our sin? It is His faithful love. God saves us because He loves us. It is about His love and not our value. And it was that love that led Jesus to arrive in a stable in Bethlehem to die on a cross outside Jerusalem so that He could empty a grave and have us forever with Him.

as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
Psalm 103:12

We never have to doubt the extent of God's love and forgiveness. When He forgives a sin, He removes it from the record. Just as east and west never meet, so our transgressions once forgiven in Christ, are not to be held against us ever again. That is why God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness when we confess our sins to Jesus! That is so liberating. What joy is mine forgiven in Christ!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

child in Bethlehem

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

There He lays, newborn with His family, come to save us from our sins.

But not just a child... He is a king.
We think Him tender and mild yet He is our Creator.

Infant hands sleeping curled, will raise the dead, calm stormy seas.
The voice that with words created the world is quieted as His mother sings.

A prophet of old called this child great things with titles so bold they could not fit earthly kings.

A Wonderful Counselor now held close in mothers arms would calm our souls secure in the Father's forgiving love.

The Mighty God, our Creator majesty would be considered odd by those He came to free.

Everlasting Father from eternity past teaches us what will matter for eternity yet ahead.

Prince of Peace sleeping peacefully would bring release from sin's tyranny.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

store it up

I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Psalm 119:11

The Word of God is my provision for life and my protection against sin. Knowing God's truth by reading His Word and committing it to my memory provides the best hope for me to make holy decisions in my life. I must be serious about daily exposure to God's Word and the intake of biblical truth and wisdom. It is my source of life as much as food and drink sustain my body.

I like the way the ESV translates this verse, because we store up things for two reasons: value and need. Treasuries exist to save money and resources to drive economies. Silos hold grain for future food. Banks keep money for when it is needed. In the same way I must "store up" God's Word because it is a precious commodity that will never spoil. And in the vault of my heart the Word of God can be ready to comfort and compel me in obedience. It can be the resource of strength when sin comes calling. It can be the armory from which I draw out the Sword of the Spirit to fight against my temptation. But I must treasure it. I must take action to "store it up" through things like journaling, extended reading, and serious meditation upon it through scripture memory.

I thank You for Your Word. And I thank You that more than four decades ago You saw fit to save me, and though I was yet a young boy, You gave me parents who saw that I filled my life with scripture, who took me to church, who encouraged me to participate in scripture memory while my then young mind could soak a lot of it in. I have so much truth in my heart that I've drawn on for a lifetime! Thank You Lord for the treasure and sustaining goodness of Your Word!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

the promise to the dreamer

Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
Genesis 28:14

This Messianic promise came to a young Jacob as he lay dreaming, head upon a stone, in Bethel. There God gave Him the details of the Abrahamic covenant that had sustained the faith of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. He offered this conniving young man a unique role in God's unfolding drama of redemption. From Jacob's children would come blessing to all the earth as his descendents spread across the Promised Land.

Of course, this promise points to the ultimate blessing of all the people of the earth. That blessing arrived with Jesus. In Him all the world finds peace with God. In Him, all the wisdom and knowledge of God is found. In Jesus, God is known. Through Jesus and only through Him we have sins forgiven, peace with God, true blessing, and eternal life. As Jacob lay asleep with this fantastic dream of God's promise in his head, God was revealing His unfolding purpose of salvation.

And I sit here so many millennia later, hot coffee at my kitchen table, on a dark cold December morning, half a globe away from Bethel, looking back on how Jacob's wildest dream came true in Bethlehem. Preparing this Christmas to again celebrate Messiah's birth just a short 19 days from now, I pause to marvel at the revelation of Jesus in the faint stirrings of Messiah melody as I look up the rungs of Jacob's ladder with him.

Like the conniver Jacob, my own mess of a life is blessed by God in Jesus. He is my hope, my present joy, and my future blessing. I live my life with the dream of Jacob, longing for all the families of this earth to be blessed in and by Jesus.

Monday, December 5, 2016

manger to cross to tomb

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
1 Peter 1:17-19

Jesus is my perfect sacrificial lamb Whose blood ransomed me. I was bought away from sin and from sinfully futile "self-salvation" attempts by His great sacrifice. I can sing at Christmas because He died on the cross and rose again for the salvation of His people. It is true that Jesus is the reason for the season. Yet it is His redeeming sacrifice that is the reason for His incarnation in the first place. His precious blood paid the price for my sin. I must see the destiny of the cross and empty tomb as I gaze in wonder at the child in the manger.

At Christmas if I only see the shepherds bringing lambs to the manger, I miss the point. It is about the Lamb of God IN the manger... God sending His only Son in the flesh of humanity to live and die and live again, something God the Father pictured on Mount Moriah centuries before with Abraham and Isaac. That humble manger trough is filled with the precious little Lamb of God Who would take away the sin of the world. Jesus would fill not just a manger, but the world with truth. From the ridiculous, miraculous cradle at the manger He would be raised to make a tortuous, humiliating cross a brilliant symbol of God's love for humanity and then be raised from the dead so that an empty rock tomb became an arena of ultimate victory. 

By the precious blood of the spotless Lamb I am saved. And like the grateful worshippers around God's throne I sing, "Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain to receive glory and honor and dominion and power." The Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world (yes... even my sin), and on Mount Calvary the Lord has provided my sacrifice. I believe and I am saved! Amen.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Sin's affects: not much has changed

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Genesis 3:8

Sin destroys relationships. It damages our capacity for intimacy and companionship. It makes us aware of our differences and forces us into relational hiding. This is clearly shown in the sin of Adam and Eve at the Fall of humanity. Immediately upon giving in to the serpent's lying temptation and eating the forbidden fruit the consequences of sinful guilt come storming upon them. They were uncomfortable with themselves and hid their differences from one another with fig leaf underwear. It didn't help their sudden loss of intimacy but only made things worse as they hid from each other first.

And then guilt led them to try to hide from God behind the cover of garden trees and bushes. Of course, both efforts at relational hiding failed spectacularly. Sin is a cruel failure experience at all levels. It promises so much. It leaves us so crippled. It damages the human heart from the inside while taking extreme external measures of personal protection that briefly fool us into thinking we've got sin covered.

As sin did in Adam, so it also works in me. The Puritans used to teach their children: "In Adam's fall, we sinned all." And unconfessed sin is a guilt-inducing, soul-debilitating personal obsession that keeps me from knowing the joy of relationships with God and with people. When I "remake" myself, driven by guilt, and try to hide my sin from God or others, I hurt God and other people just as Adam and Eve did in the very first sin. They only had trees and fig leaves as hiding tools. I have a much more sophisticated toolbox of choices to utilize for hiding my sin, given thousands of years of help from sin's history as it has warped humanity! But in the end I'm just strapping on another fig leaf. The first step in dealing with sin is coming out from the bushes and letting God confront me in confession.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

wise dominion over the earth

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Genesis 1:26

Humanity was directly created by God to rule this planet. We have dominion over fish, birds, animals, insects, and the entire earth. This was the first command given to us about us. We were told to fill the earth and to rule over every living thing (Genesis 1:28). That is our mandate to creation from our Creator. 

Balancing dominion with wise stewardship honors our Creator. We rule the planet for the glory of God. Destroying the planet in the process is not part of wise rulership. But we also need not fear utilizing resources God has given to us. We must keep them in good form and balance. And we should not exploit people for the sake of the resources.

We were made to be holy stewards. But sin corrupts the way we command our planet. And to not acknowledge that is sin. I am no raging environmentalist, but I do firmly believe in managed conservation of forests, minerals, water, resources and wildlife. I this it is wise, even at the expense of big business. Without such management, humanity is just stupidly sinful enough to wipe out what God gave us to use.

Why do we have dominion over the earth? Because we are made in the image of our ruling Creator. God rules and wants us to rule as well. How do we exercise this rule best? Only through wise stewardship that can only be rightly understood and practiced in the redemptive work of Christ Who gives us the capacity to live in the image of our Creator once again.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

You do all things well.

And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Mark 7:36-37

You do all things well. You never make a mistake. You bring healing, wholeness, and a joy so amazing that I just have to talk about it. Just like these Decapolites, I am amazed at what You do. I am amazed that You save people. I am amazed that you recreated what sin has broken. I get to see You restore life to weary souls. I see the wonder of Your touch in people's lives every day as I serve and follow You, and I am amazed. You do all things well.

And, Lord, I am astounded at what You have done in me. I am just a sinner You changed. I cannot fathom how messed up and ruined I would be outside of Your saving grace. I'd be a bitter, selfish, and miserable man. Yet because You have saved me, You define my life now by grace, joy, mercy, and Your care in and through me. And I am amazed. You do all things well.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Who then is this?

He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Mark 4:40-41

Jesus silenced a storm. The disciples who were in the boat with Him were genuinely afraid for their lives as they saw the waves crashing in and filling the fishing boat. Jesus arose from a nap, rebuked the wind and sea with His Creator's command: "Peace! Be still!" Suddenly the wind died and the sea was calm and the storm was no more. These men, most of whom grew up as fishermen on the lake they were sailing were astounded. They'd never seen anything like this. It was supernatural.

Their fear then changed. Jesus not only rebuked nature, but He also rebuked His fear-filled, faithless followers. He gets to the root of their fear with five one syllable words: "Have. You. Still. No. faith?" Each word in that probing questions echoes with the sudden new calm, even as the wind is still ringing in their ears and their legs are still unsteady from the pitching of the boat from the tempest.

The disciples then feared and respected what they saw in Jesus. It seems from the text He simply created calm where there was none. It wasn't that the storm moved on and died out normally at His command. It was that peace and calm suddenly appeared at His command. He created calm instantly from the chaos. No human could possibly command that kind of power. They were left wondering at divinity!

Who then is this Jesus? That is a question all followers of Jesus ought to be constantly asking as they encounter Him. Do I feel wonder, awe, even fear at His power and person? If not, I may be distant from Him with a low view of my Lord. But, if I am close enough to Him to be uncomfortable with Jesus as God, a little afraid of what I see in Him, I am right where my Master wants me to be in order to teach me Who He is.

Monday, November 28, 2016

discipleship: a call and a command

(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
John 21:19

Following Jesus is both a call and a command. This is particularly apparent here at the end of John's gospel where the apostle John chooses to end his account of the story of Jesus with a conversation between the Lord and Peter that emphasizes the discipleship inherent in the process of believing in Jesus. The last recorded words John gives us from Jesus are on following Him. In verse nineteen in response to Peter's third affirmation of love, Jesus prophesies Peter's own death, ending that prophetic statement with just two words: "Follow me." The call could be no more clear... to follow Jesus would mean Peter's own death. Peter would suffer for the sake of his Master.

Peter attempts to divert this rather uncomfortable conversation about following Jesus to death by asking about John, implying if he too would follow Jesus to death. But Jesus simply refuses to make John the focus. Instead He keeps Peter focused on His call to lead His sheep while following the Master. And by so doing Jesus ends with a reiteration of the seriousness of the call to discipleship with a three word command: "You follow me!" (John 21:22)

When I see the beauty and the power of my Savior Jesus, and in the brevity of two and three word statements from Him I feel the call upon my my own heart to follow Him, I must believe. His grace saves me and brings new life and I willingly say "Yes, Lord" to His call to be His follower.

Yet Jesus Himself warned to "count the cost" and when I find rejection from some and ridicule by others in this world for following Jesus, I am tempted, like Peter at Jesus' trial, to hide my allegiance to Jesus in order to fit in. And here (just like Peter) is where I need the stern command again: "You... follow Me!" And somewhere in the tension of the sweet call and the sobering command of discipleship is where I live my life day to day as a follower of Jesus.

Friday, November 25, 2016

restoration and renewal

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep."
John 21:17

This conversation between Jesus and Peter is deeply personal and touches at Peter's heart in the deepest places. It is a section of the gospel I find strange to read in one sense, sort of listening in on what should be a private matter. I feel like I stumbled into a very important, very private talk. It would not be my preference to have Jesus so directly question my love for the world to read.

Three times Jesus asks Peter, the disciple who most adamantly and most publically denied Jesus at His trial three times, to affirm his love again for his Lord. And three times Peter does so, with the fresh memory of three denials and the sound of a crowing rooster still echoing in his heart. The third question from Jesus is the hardest to bear, for Peter's heart breaks at it. And Peter's affirmation is the most direct at that point. He knows Jesus knows his heart and appeals to Jesus as omniscient and forgiving God.

With all three questions, the conversation allows Peter to re-affirm His loving allegiance to His Master. And after all three of Peter's responses, Jesus leaves Peter to obey the command to "Feed my sheep". Jesus re-affirms Peter's call to be a shepherd. And in this cycle we see conviction, response, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration all take place. 

Jesus restores Peter to kingdom usefulness in this hard conversation walking together on the lakeshore after a breakfast of grilled fish and bread. Peter leaves off being a fisherman with one last miraculous haul that Jesus gave him, and now begins the work of being the shepherd Jesus is calling him to be, tending the flock Jesus is giving him to lead. This is both restoration of relationship and a transformation of Peter's life. Jesus does both quite well still today.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Jesus on mission

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”
Mark 3:20-21

Jesus was not even understood by His own family. The press of ministry became so great for Jesus and His disciples that He had to institute protective measures. In Mark 3:9 He instructed His disciples to procure a boat for Him so He can use it as a safe platform from which to teach. I think it also served as a quick getaway transport to "lose" the crowd when it got to be too much. Jesus has to clear time to get alone to pray and can only find time to do this by rising very early in the morning to avoid the press of the crowd each day (Mark 1:35). The reports of His miracles are so sensational that Jesus' reputation proceeds Him so that He cannot enter any large town anymore without causing a stir (Mark 1:45). He keeps primarily to the countryside, evidently camping out with His disciples, but even there the crowds still track Him down..

Mark's gospel is quick to pick up on the sensation Jesus has made among the people. Crowds always surrround Him, so much so that Jesus cannot even have a simple meal with His own mother and brothers. His family thinks it has all gone way too far. They don't see His mission or the ministry, just a mess, and their response is to try to rescue Him by intervention from what they see as craziness.

Even though Jesus is so massively followed, Mark points out the negative assessment of Jesus' family ("He is out of His mind") as well as the criticism of the Jerusalem scribes ("He is possessed by Satan"). Yet neither the outrageous demands of ministry to the crowds nor the outlandish accusations of the scribes or even of His own family will keep Jesus from His mission. He saw among the crowd and His disciples people who were clearly understanding Him and seeking the will of the Father Who sent His Son (Mark 3:34-35). And that was why Jesus came: to make family out of those who accept Him and then do the will of God.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The One coming soon

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
Revelation 22:12-13

Jesus is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. And He Who is first in my heart has the right and the power to judge me. This promise Jesus gives to return soon is both thrilling and chilling. It thrills me to know Jesus will return to rule this world and fix what is so very ruined by sin and death. Yet it is also chilling because He will do so intimately with my heart. He will repay every person according to what each has done. He will do so with me. I will answer to Him. Jesus is my judge and He knows the degree of faithfulness I have or have not had with His call to live and speak the gospel.

Even though Jesus comes to evaluate and to reward, I work through that sobering aspect of judgment with joy. I love life, and I love Jesus even more. I have everlasting life in Him. And I want above all to see Him, to dwell with Him in an eternal home, to continue to enjoy Jesus forever. If I live on in this earth another day or get to see Him come in this way He describes, then Maranatha, Lord Jesus! And if I travel through death's valley first, then that is fine with me as long as I am with Him. His rule is the passion of this heart in life or death.

Yes, come Lord Jesus... soon! Yes, You alone are the first and the last. Yes,You have me as Your own, and even though I have not always served You as well as I could, I will receive my recompense with respect and awe and worship of You. I bow to You, Risen Lord and Coming King.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Yet Believe

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
John 20:29

What Jesus said to Thomas
He also says to me
I want so much to see Him
in order to believe

I follow Jesus in the pages
thinking of Him as I read
yet I wonder if it's enough
to truly read it and believe

What I want from Jesus 
are answers to receive
and I pray fervently to Him
wanting to believe

But what I pray for
may not ever come to be
and in that crisis of my asking
will I truly still believe?

Thomas saw His God and Lord
and it forced him to his knees
no more doubting what he then saw
he came by seeing to believe

Jesus told him there would be others
who never would get to see
with their eyes the risen Savior
yet greater blessing attends their belief

Although I walk behind my Savior
Whom I never truly see
yet I know Him, learn to trust Him
blessed by Him since I not seeing, yet believe

Friday, November 18, 2016

the Jesus I know

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
John 20:20

I would have been unable to speak had I been in this room at this moment. Jesus shows Himself in resurrection power to His disciples. They were hiding together in a locked room and suddenly Jesus appeared to them all. He bid them to know His peace. He showed them the wounds of His crucifixion. They know it is Jesus. They rejoice. Their fear is turned to faith and their sorrows burst into joy.

The disciples' encounter with Jesus is one of encouragement and exultation. They are encouraged as they praise their risen Lord. They had seen Him first so long ago as an intriguing teacher -- a rabbi to follow. Then Jesus showed Himself to be a healer and miracle worker Who made the blind to see, fed the crowds supernaturally, and even raised the dead back to life. But now, standing before them having defeated death Himself, He was clearly the all powerful God of all things. He is their Lord.

Every Christian who has encountered Jesus since the time of the apostles has encountered the risen Lord and King in all His power. Every awareness I have had of Jesus has been as the One Who has won over death and has proven Himself to be the perfect sacrifice for my sin. I only know a risen Savior and Lord. I can't have Jesus any other way! And I too am so glad that this is the Jesus I know. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

three hallelujahs

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God..."
Revelation 19:1

The praises that surround the throne of God in heaven in this vision center on three clear points of worship. God is praised for them and recognized as possessing uniquely salvation, glory, and power. And these are things I should be praising God for right now.

Salvation belongs to our God. Only Jesus saves, and God has brought our salvation in the death and resurrection of His Son. Jesus, the perfect, sinless Lamb of God was sacrificed so that our sin would die with Him. He was raised to bring us new life. We are born anew in Him. God alone will save those who believe. Hallelujah!

Glory belongs to our God. He alone is glorious. His holiness and goodness are showered on us in the grace of Christ's love for us. We see His glory in our salvation, in His Word, in His Son, and in the new life He gives us so that we may be holy and pleasing to Him. His glory is known in the created universe, and in the hearts of the redeemed. Only God has this glory. Hallelujah!

Power belongs to our God. He can do all things. He upholds all things. He made all things. He keeps all things. His power is seen in His Son Who on earth healed the sick, fed the hungry, loved the rejected ones, and raised the dead. And His power is at work in us as we have believed and through it He will both will and do His good pleasure. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

wrath and judgment

The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.
Revelation 16:19

The visions of judgement John has for the city of Babylon the great are horrific. The entire world is caught in the chaos of the events of judgment described here. The sun scorches the earth, then the world is plunged into total darkness. There is war, death, and unimagineable natural catastrophe. And still in the descriptions humanity defies and curses God, refusing to repent (see Revelation 16:9-11). The world is ending and still God is cursed.

God's purposes are directed at the center of world power known in Revelation as "Babylon the great". From this city the beast, false prophet, and antichrist have controlled humanity in the ultimate dictatorship and defied God. From this center of all human sinful activity, the world has been corrupted and God's saints have been targetted and executed systematically. And all the horrific judgment has come to focus on the evil that is Babylon. Even as this world is shaken from massive earthquakes, the leaders still defy God again, assembling a vast army in The Valley of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16).

I believe John's vision describes events yet to be. And this motivates me to respond in two distinct ways. The first way I respond is to fear God and love the grace of the gospel. God's justice is fierce, His wrath on sin is great, and knowing the cross satisfies both makes me want to praise the Lord. My second response is to be gospel-committed in conversation. I want to see people saved from this fate. I want as many as believe Christ to be spared this sort of future. I want to be diligent to live and to tell the good news so that people may find God's mercy and grace in Christ.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
Revelation 12:9

In the dramatic vision from John the apostle recorded here, we get a reminder of what the devil does. The devil is the deceiver of mankind from the ancient days of the fall of Adam and Eve in Eden, all the way to these present days. He accuses God's people as Satan and he deceives all the world. He is a liar, an attacker, and a deceptive tempter for individuals and nations to do great evil. In John's vision it takes all the warrior angels of heaven's host led by Michael himself to cast Satan and his demons down to earth.

Make no mistake about it, the battle over sin and the devil's work is deeply spiritual and really hard! Sin came into the world as the devil's design to mar God's perfect work, and even though Jesus has defeated sin and death, Satan still fights frenetically fierce for his pride. God's angels can defeat him as Christ has, but we must appeal to the power of Christ. Our flesh will fall to him if we don't. Even in this context, the devil emboldens the world against the rule of Christ, and Christians are killed indiscriminately in his hatred. This looks to the entire earth like evil wins.

Christians have a foe at work in the world today. We don't have to be spooked by the devil though, because the Holy Spirit of God resides within us and greater is He that is in us than He that is in the world! Yet we should not take any battle with sin lightly. That would be a great deception. The devil is still very much a master of deception and he will get the upper hand on us if we aren't careful, which is why we are warned to watch our doctrine and practice closely. 

This is why we need to stand strong, praying in the Spirit and strengthening our hands and hearts in the Word of God. The devil runs from the Word of God and if we stay strong, refusing to let him twist the truth of scripture, we will not be deceived by him. We may be attacked. Some may even be killed, but God keeps our souls safe.

Monday, November 14, 2016

reasons to believe

He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.
John 19:35

John, the beloved disciple, the last of the gospel writers to pen his account of walking with Jesus, wants his readers to know that he was there, near the cross, when Jesus died. His account is eyewitness. He knows what he saw and he recorded it in his gospel accurately. John also knew the meaning behind what he saw, going of his way to point out the details in which Jesus' death fulfilled Old Testament scriptures.

In four details that John shared, Jesus' death was a fulfillment of scripture. 1) The soldiers divided and cast lots for His clothing in fulfillment of Psalm 22:18. 2) He was given sour wine in fulfillment of Psalm 69:21. 3) They did not break His legs in keeping with the custom for the Passover Lamb's sacrifice (Exodus 12:46). 4) Jesus was pierced through the side with a spear in fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10.

The combination of scriptural fulfillment and personal eyewitness testimony bear powerful witness to the saving work of Christ's cross. The eyewitness details give credibility to the historicity of the actual event as it really occurred. The scriptural fulfillment points to the sovereign, saving work of Jesus on the cross as God foreordained it to be. A real event, in real time, in conjunction with what the scriptures told brought about our salvation!

So what did John want from readers when he told us these things? John's goal was the faith of those who heard them. He wants us to believe. His goal in writing the gospel was that saving faith might come to whose who read and heard this account. He had borne true witness, tied that witness in details to the scripture, so that we might be convinced that Jesus is Lord and Savior and believe upon Him, trusting Jesus' atonement for the salvation of our souls and deliverance from our sins.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

snares from the fear of man

The fear of man lays a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
Proverbs 29:25

Living as I do in the sphere of human relationships, it is very easy to let social interactions become influenced by the fear of man. There are three areas I immediately see this affecting me. The first is the snare of the church. Fear can creep in easily in ministry, when words and actions that I do are under constant scrutiny by my brothers and sisters in the flock. It is easy for me to want to be liked, much harder for me to agree that what I am called to do is to show people how to live as God has decreed. There is a temptation to soften the truth of scripture to gain acceptance. But I must seek to please God, not people.

There is also the snare of politics. The picture of the snare in this proverb warns me of the way snares are subtle. They are disguised and dangerous. The fear of man slowly and almost imperceivably pulls us from faith in God. Having just completed this election cycle, I've had to struggle and fight (as has most of the American church) with balancing my responsibility as a citizen, the limits of broken secular authority, and the holy sovereignty of God. And I am sure this was seasoned much with the fear of man. I'm not going to think I acted as purely as I could have in that process. I sincerely believe though that politics has the strong potential to be a snare. And so I must stay vigilant in faith so that my heart trusts the Lord, and not human authority or mere earthly powers.

Sometimes I fall to the snare of self. This is fear of man that I impose upon myself. I have to guard against this because out of necessity I need to be a disciplined man. I have to impose certain systems and ordered actions into each day of my life in order to get things done. And I can make these systems so dominant that they control me rather than my work. The rules take over. And when that happens, I have a form of the fear of man (really it is legalism) that can pull me from the grace of the gospel.

O Lord,
Teach me to fear only You. I trust Christ for salvation because only His death and resurrection could save me from sin and give me life. And His kingdom always trumps all others. Pull me from these snares, my Lord.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

consequences in a broken system

Like a roaring lion or a charging bear
is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor,
but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days.
Proverbs 28:15-16

Since these words are true and unchanging, I should always be in prayer for my leaders. And in times of uncertainty, I can trust that God will honor those who honor Him, and bless a people if a leader honors God. So I pray hard always that leaders around the world will seek God's understanding because that will make a better climate for the gospel generally.

The warnings in this passage are real. Cruelty and oppression thrive in this sinfully guided world system. God is His wisdom certainly raises up the leaders He sovereignly chooses. I should still pray that they would be wise and rightly motivated people. And if they are not, and those leaders perpetuate further oppression in a broken system, I should work even harder at making the gospel my focus.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

sweet friendship

Oil and perfume make the heart glad,
and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
Proverbs 27:9

I have been blessed to have many friends in my years on this earth. And the words of this proverb are true in many of those friendships. They have proven to bring true joy to my heart, friends who may not always say what I want to hear, but who love me with the truth that I need. And I am a fortunate man to have such friends. It is a great gift from God.

I have had friends deliver difficult observations to me in love. They have helped me live out good times and hard times. They have laughed with me in celebration, cried with me in loss, confronted me in my sinfulness, and helped move me on from stuck places as we have pursued following Jesus together. God's hand is often seen by directing my friends to me just when I needed them most.

Those friends are like a squad of fellow warriors to me. We fight sin, we prepare for the battle and hone weapons skills together, we rejoice in victory, we tend to our wounded when the battle gets the best of us, and we obey our Lord and Master as we worship Him together. What possibly could be sweeter than this kind of shared life?

Monday, November 7, 2016

King of truth

Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
John 18:37

As Jesus stands before Pilate, His crucifixion looms just a few short hours away. And Pilate keeps confronting Jesus about kingdoms and authority. But the problem is that Pilate's limited terms of rule and Jesus' actual purposes are not nearly the same. Pilate is severely handicapped through secular limitation to talking strictly human kingdoms and authority on this earth. Jesus is talking about it in the view of having created all people and hence all kingdoms. 

Jesus gets to the root of Pilate's attempt to pin sedition on Him by revealing to Pilate His true purpose: to proclaim God's truth to the world so that those who hear this truth can make the choice to obey Jesus. That puts Jesus as a much higher authority than any king, answering only to the Father to be the judge of His actions.

Since I hear and believe the truth in Jesus, He is thus my King. And I need a King! Oh how I need a ruler over this heart! I will obey what my crucified and risen King asks of me. I will not be distracted by mere earthly games of political authority. Jesus is the Truth, and no earthly ruler can possibly change, inhibit, or destroy that fact.

My King,
Your crown of thorns, bejeweled with Your own blood, was worn for me. The nails through your wrists became Your ruling scepter extended over me. Your cross... Your throne. Your empty tomb... a royal hall. Oh rule over me in truth now, Jesus.

Friday, November 4, 2016

muddy water

Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain
is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.
Proverbs 25:26

It takes just a little sin to defile what is holy, like a little mud can foul a clear stream. This is why Solomon warns us (particularly leaders in this context) about our closest associations. Sinful associations that allow wicked actions to go unchallenged will result in some serious pollution. A righteous person must stand in their righteousness and not let evil or tolerance of sin creep in.

The image I see here is that righteous people (God's redeemed people) can be clear, refreshing streams through which God's redemptive message and work will flow. But should we knowingly accomodate evil (in practice or in false doctrine), we fail to obey and glorify God and though His truth might flow, it is mixed with the mud of sin and the resulting pollution may make it no longer effective.

I should live in this world. I should befriend non-Christians, for Jesus is the friend of sinners. But I cannot "give way before" what I know is wicked. I must have my strong beliefs. I want the gospel's clear stream to flow through and around me so that others may know the joy and beauty of the sparkling clear water!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Passionately pursue justice as widely as possible!

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?
Proverbs 24:11-12

It appears to me after reading this passage that the wise person committed to living in a way that respects God's righteousness and justice will be moved against human injustice and evil as widely as possible. He will reject at all levels any evil and deadly sin and will not excuse it or willingly allow himself to turn a blind eye to it. He will not be uninformed. His conscience is widely led by a sense of God's justice and holiness.

So that observation informs my civic duty. And in one week I will have a chance to utilize this principle as I participate in a general election that is the sleaziest in my lifetime, hitting new lows of degeneracy and leaving no viable major party options that aren't fraught with some sort of horrible injustice. How do I vote in this situation? I will do so with the thought and careful consideration of the widest sense of justice possible. I will vote my conscience informed by God's Word first and foremost and that takes me far beyond political parties, awful candidate selection, and platforms as I evaluate the two worst case scenario presidential candidates and the other options available to me in the system. I have decided that I answer solely to God Who watches over my soul as I vote and once again, as is my custom, I will be praying in the voting booth. When I do so, I will answer to God for my ballot choices, and not any person, or organization, or political movement.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

love lost

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
Revelation 2:4

Jesus saw a church
A people that should love Him
And love each other
And somehow, both were gone

Jesus warned a church
To return to a love for Him
And to love one another
Lest He return and judgment come

Jesus sees me
And He calls me to love Him
And in that love to love others
He calls me to stay true

Jesus shows me
How to love by dying for me
And gives me love for Him and others
So His love shows in what I do

Jesus watches me
May He find me loving Him
And loving others
No matter the cost

Jesus judges me
Knows my love for Him
And love for others
May no love be lost

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

how I hope to be known

He who loves purity of heart,
and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.
Proverbs 22:11

People with great and favorable relationships, people who have real influence, are people who are pure of heart. They aren't in relationships in order to manipulate people to their own ends or to deceive. They are just good hearted people whose wisdom and grace can influence other people for the better. And it starts with the heart.

This proverb is something of a contrast with Proverbs 22:10, where self-driven contentious people are driven away. It also serves as a positive reminder when viewed against Proverbs 22:12, which warns us that God sees all hearts and actions and overthrows deceptive people. Right in the righteous middle is where we should live our lives, with purity of heart and grace-filled language.

This is how I want to be known. I want to reject impurity in all its forms: sexual lust, pride, coveting, materialistic drive, egotistical motivation, deception self promotion, or manipulation to get what I want. Instead, I long to be known as the person who speaks grace and truth, and the only way that I know to do that is to saturate my life, thoughts, and words in the Bible and speak it back to people in an honest, caring way.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Jesus controlled even His own death.

When Jesus said to them, “I am,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
John 18:6

At His arrest, Jesus shows His power over the evil men who had come to begin the events of His execution. He speaks just two words and they lose courage and fall to the ground. He states His identity not just as Jesus of Nazareth, but as "I AM"... the God of Israel's covenant. Jesus is clearly in control, even as the leaders of the religious elite move to take His life.

By stating His identity as "I am", Jesus is clearly claiming to be God. He has already boldly made this claim (John 8:58-59) and the Jews wanted to stone Him then. Now as they arrest Him intent on His murder, He states the truth that they hate one more time.

The crucifixion of Jesus was no accident. Jesus was no victim. He gave His life, as clearly seen here where with two simple words He stunned His accusers into momentary inaction. Had His hour not come, they could not have killed Him. But now, as the Passover Lamb gives up His life, He is the One clearly obeying His Father's will and giving Himself up for the sins of the whole world. He did so yielding to the will of the Father.

Friday, October 28, 2016

wise team guidance

Plans are established by counsel;
by wise guidance wage war.
Proverbs 20:18

Not all strategies are wise. And certainly human advice has its fallible limits as part of the effect of the Fall. But generally, wise counsel from experienced, godly people will yield better decisions and solid, successful strategies for living. Solo soldiers usually are the deranged, lone gunmen. It takes a strategic team to fight a battle that completes an objective to win in war. I believe the same is true about life. I will fail without the wise guidance of other men and women.

I have perhaps a decade and a half left of energetic fruitful ministry ahead of me, should the Lord tarry and give me life and health. I would like to invest that time in team development for strategic advancement of the gospel in the local church wherever I am, and around the world. I never want to see a pastor stranded, soldiering solo, without brothers in arms to assist him. I never want to be alone in that way either. By God's grace, I have the joy of being part of a team that I hope will be serving the kingdom with a God-blessed impact beyond our generation!

That will only come by wise counsel from a team that is biblically saturated, centered on the gospel, dependent on prayer, strategic on specifics, and deeply caring for each other so that everyone is equipped and encouraged. My prayer today: God bless the church with wise teams.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

the difficulty of resolving conflict

A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city,
and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.
Proverbs 18:19

This little proverb reminds us of the amazing amount of effort we must take to resolve conflict. It is never easy. I know this too well from the conflicts that I have contributed to over my life. I know it from the conflicts I have resolved. I know it from the incredibly hard work the ministry of reconciliation has been, particularly as I have engaged in it pastorally through specializing in counseling over the past ten years.

I've been a pastor for nearly three decades. And there has never been a season in ministry where it has been easy and without at least one conflict to resolve. That doesn't mean it hasn't been rewarding... it certainly has. But gospel ministry is hard work because I'm a sinner, under grace, ministering to sinners with the grace of the gospel.

I have seen the grace of God bring an unyielding brother or sister to the cross, and back to another person in reconciling forgiveness. That makes it all worthwhile. But I've also seen unyielding offended people walk away unable to forgive. That breaks my heart. 

Oh Lord Jesus, how I long with You to see the castle bars fall off and the city walls crumble so that reconciliation would flow through Your people! Make us tender to Your call to repent, and seek forgiveness from You and one another. Start with me, Lord. Amen

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

keeping my big mouth shut

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Proverbs 17:27

Our words give away what is in our hearts, and the benefit of God's wisdom is most often known in our control of the tongue. The character of wisdom conveyed in this proverb is self control. And that is not an easy virtue to attain when it comes to the heat of conversation. In the "click to reply" fast-paced word of social media, restrained words are few, and there is no emoticon for silence.

The way this proverb amplifies self-control is instructive. It starts with our words, but is maintained by a "cool spirit". So the key to wise speech is a heart not wildly given to responding with emotional mood swing speeches. It would seem that "venting" or "speaking my mind" is thus a very bad idea.

Since self control is the better part of wisdom according to this proverb, I will seek that. I am naturally a very foolish sinner spouting all kinds of sinful nonsense. I need God's grace and Holy Spirit to help me restrain my foolish heart from pouring over my lips, or dripping across my keyboard. And so I will seek the discipline of God's truth to guide my thoughts and thus purposefully restrain my heart and words, so that God's wisdom can rule in my soul.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Truth in the Words

For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.
John 17:8

Jesus spoke the words the Father gave
His disciples received them and were saved
by the truth they came to know
and the love that Jesus showed
they believed
the truth received
and were saved

Jesus spoke the truth in words
because only Jesus is The Word
sent from God, the only Son
so that from sin some could be won
truth in the words
truth IS The Word
believed on in the world

And in this truth we're sanctified
saved, kept, until glorified
in the Son the truth is known
prepared for life and eternal home
from God He came
new life He gave
now I am saved

Friday, October 21, 2016

He sees me.

The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
keeping watch on the evil and the good.
Proverbs 15:3

This solid statement is both encouraging and convicting. It is encouraging to me because it is great to know that God knows it all, sees it all, and discerns the rightness of all human thought and action. This is true both of presidential debates and of parents interacting with toddlers. I could never be able to do what God does because only He is God. At a seminar yesterday I was struck by the wisdom a church leader shared about the difficulty of getting to what he called "the last 10%" of the truth. It is incredibly hard to get that from people. It's true. We all hold back from one another at some level. But we can't hold back from God Who sees and knows it all.

This proverb is convicting to me because of my own tendency to hold back 10% (at a bare minimum) of the truth and to craft reality to my needs and wants. God sees and knows my evil and my good. I can't spin with Him! I can't reserve back my tithe of the truth from Him! That's crazy! No way can we withhold the facts from an almighty, all knowing, always present everywhere God. That forces me to accept my sin as wrong and repent of what His Word and Spirit show me... especially my attempts at personal sovereignty by withholding truth in any relationship.

God whose eyes see all I do and Who knows all that I think...
To You I turn in repentance. To You I look for wisdom to live beyond my massively messed up sinfulness. In You I will see how to serve, love, and live.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

two pictures of the fear of the Lord

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,
and his children will have a refuge.
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
that one may turn away from the snares of death.
Proverbs 14:26-27

These two proverbs give two unique pictures of the benefits of a life of fearing God. Of course the fear of God isn't about being afraid or in terror of God. Fear of God is about respecting, obeying, and living as God in His Word gives us guidance. It is about walking with the Lord, loving Him, and obeying His commands.

The first picture puts us in a place of security, a castle protective of extended generations. Those who fear God can be confident that God will take care of them. Those who by example show their children how to do the same will find a secure refuge in their faith and strength in righteousness. It can keep a family safe for generations.

The second picture is one of a peaceful water spring of life. Fearing God is like a bubbling cold water spring of pure water that nourishes us. As long as we stay in its flow, we are promised to be saved from harmful and deadly traps. Knowing, loving, and obeying the Lord brings refreshment and life to the soul that fears God. It is as pure and lovely as a clear spring of cold water flowing through the center of our lives.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
2 Peter 1:16

My faith rests upon the truth and reliability of eyewitness reports of what Jesus said and did. Peter says it emphatically. It's a clear claim to factual, historical faith. He is saying in effect, "Look, we didn't make any of this stuff up. It is all true. I was there. I saw it." People lived and walked with Jesus and faithfully reported the facts about Him.

When I believe the gospel, I can trust it as implicitly as I might trust an eyewitness account. What's more, the New Testament is filled with multiple written accounts, not just one, and they have a remarkable unity and clarity around the gospel: they all point to the life of Christ, to His saving death, burial, and resurrection.

Peter's eyewitness claim is another strengthener of what the scriptures present about Jesus. Reading theses accounts in the gospels plainly, one must conclude that the early Christians taught salvation by Christ alone. Examining the evidence of the New Testament leads to the conclusion that Jesus is both Savior and Lord.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

anxiety linked to my pride

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:6-7

Humility is a vital aspect of Christian character. Often it is in short supply in me. I confess that I am a pride-filled sinner more than I care to admit, and even not wanting to make that admission is in itself a dark manifestation of my pride. To be saved, one must humbly confess sin's control of the soul and it's impotence to make anything good. To live for Christ, that humble submission under God's rule must be sustained. Peter reminds us that God is sovereign. He will exalt us in Christ in His time.

Then this passage links a surprising problem to pride: worry. The implication is that lack of humility and surrender to God could be a common source of anxiety. And I think Peter wants us to see that. When I try to be in control, sin leads to failures, which increase my worries. I end up failing every time. So a way to defeat anxiety is to humbly submit to God's sovereign control and not fall to sin in the first place.

I see here a pattern: I must submit to the sovereign, loving rule of God in Christ with humility. When I do so, God's peace comes as I lay aside my need for control and confess that I have created my own anxieties. God will bring peace and will release me from fearful worries as I experience His care for me.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Spirit makes much of Jesus.

He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
John 16:14

This is Jesus summarizing the work that the Holy Spirit does among His disciples. The Holy Spirit is focused on glorifying the Son of God. That is what we should expect God to do as His Holy Spirit works among us. He should make much of Jesus. He should help us center on the gospel.

There is much error in the contemporary church when we insist on making God's Holy Spirit the center of our activity. That is not the way God works. Wild charismatic contortions, bizarre babbling, and unbiblical "prophecies" all draw the attention away from Jesus and away from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Is it no secret that the modern heresies of new-gnostic charismatic (we have the secret to power and others do not) and the sickening excess of prosperity teaching (God wants you rich, healthy, and happy) originate in this gross perversion of God's Holy Spirit's perceived work?

Remember... the Holy Spirit of God focuses our attention on Jesus, the Son of God, and His redeeming work in us. He only speaks what the Son of God says. That is how we know the Spirit is at work in us... when Jesus is made much of among us.

Friday, October 14, 2016

the fool's joke

Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool,
but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.
Proverbs 10:23

I've lived to see the first part of this proverb sum up the attitude of many people these days. Sin is a joke. It's a sitcom punchline, a comedian's running gag, a reality TV star's claim to celebrity. Evil intentions are dismissed as just "joking talk". This casual dismissal of the sin that separates us from a holy God and put Jesus on a mission of death on the cross sadly works its way into His church. We just don't grieve over sin like we used to, at least in the sense of seriously putting it to death so that we can live in Christ.

My observation is that when Christians deal with sin, we sometimes treat it confessionally and then stop there. I've been around "accountability" groups where the same sins keep getting confessed (that is a good thing, by the way, and I encourage confession to one another), but putting on holiness after putting off sin may not be encouraged with the same passion as simple confession. And that is taking sin lightly, just like the fool's joke.

O Holy God,
Help me to so delight in Your wisdom and the holiness it brings to me that I will put it on, in place of my foolish sin! Save me from light views of my fallenness! Save me from making the fool's joke.