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.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

wise rewards

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
For by me your days will be multiplied,
and years will be added to your life.
Proverbs 9:10-11

Wisdom will only be found with those who respect, worship, and obey the Lord. That is where all wisdom begins. It is found in relationship with God. As a Christian, I know this beginning of wisdom through Jesus Christ, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" Colossians 2:3.

The promise of wisdom for the one who fears God is stated emphatically: "days will be multiplied" and "years will be added to your life." The general hope of God's wisdom is a full and long life. And I love that promise. Wisdom has huge rewards. It is what everybody is looking for and it comes by fearing God.

I don't regret my commitment to follow Christ. I don't regret digging into scripture nearly every day since I was about 16 years old. It has benefited my soul, kept me safe, delivered me from foolishness, kept much sin from decaying my heart and destroying my days, and truly blessed my life in ways that will last forever. Wisdom has led me to confess much sin before it completely dominated me and to chase after righteousness like a runner nearing the finish line. God's rich truth has brought joy and life to me through His wisdom! And it is all just the beginning of what will be mine in Christ for all eternity.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The scarcity of humility

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
James 4:10

Humility is a Christian virtue not much emphasized these days. There are way too many books written on success through getting what I want from God. And there are so few scriptural calls to humility. The apostle James thus should stop us in our fast tracks toward self-driven works efforts at personal kingdom building with his simple statement: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it very memorably: "There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn't matter who gets the credit." And he was just in one sense agreeing with God Who wants to pour out His enabling grace on humble people who don't need personal or financial incentive to get things done well for His glory.

O Lord Jesus,
I will work towards one hope: that I may stand before You even as the vast pile of wood, hay, and stubble that was my work in the ministry burns away, and my only hope is that where I humbly served You there might remain a few small precious stones shining bright in those ashes so that You would say to me with a warming and consoling smile, "well done, good... faithful... and humble servant."

Monday, October 10, 2016

Growing and going

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
John 15:16

Jesus told His disciples that they were chosen to go into the world with the gospel. This is sort of John's version of the Great Commission right smack dab in the middle of a passage on growing in Christ. The disciples were branches on the vine, expected to bear fruit, and were appointed by their Master to go into the world to do so.

I find it interesting then that in a sense, mission is built into the call of discipleship to grow in a maturing relationship with Jesus. It is the culmination of obeying His commands, loving one another, and remaining in Christ's love. We have to go forward with the gospel to our neighbors and the nations. We aren't growing if we aren't going!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Once is enough.

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Hebrews 10:14

In the death and resurrection of Christ, God has secured for me all I need for eternal salvation. Up until then a steady stream of sacrifices had been offered on the altar. The blood of bulls and sheep ran red in a constant stream testifying to the need for a Savior. But at the cross, Jesus gave His perfect life. That single offering secured for all time salvation for all who believe.

I am comforted and strengthened by the way this text describes what Jesus did, once for all, for me. He perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. The past, my present, my future are all secured in Jesus' offering of Himself. Amazing!

The grammar of this sentence of scripture is significant and glorious. Jesus has perfected (past tense) for all time (taking care of all the future) those who are being sanctified (present moment). I was saved in that sacrifice. I am being made holy now. I am seen as perfect through Christ's blood forever. And this will last for all time. Amen, and thanks be to God!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

mediator of a new covenant

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
Hebrews 9:15

Jesus began a new covenant between God and humanity, one that does so much more than temporarily atone for sin through obedience and animal sacrifice. His new covenant secures an eternal home for those who believe and are His. His new covenant redeems us from sin because it was secured by His own blood.

The text proclaims Jesus as the mediator of this new covenant. He is the "go-between". And on the cross, the God-man gave His life so that humanity could find peace with God, deliverance from His wrath on sin, forgiveness, and eternal life. The blood of Jesus' own life sacrifice secured all this for His people eternally.

Jesus did this knowingly and willingly. He knew the sinner I am. He knew my transgressions of God's perfect law because He died for every one of them. And He secured for me what no priest or temple ritual ever could: full redemption from sin's penalty of death, pardon for my sin before the Father, and everlasting life!

Monday, October 3, 2016

warnings and promises

For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.
Proverbs 1:32-33

It is not a good thing to disregard the wisdom of the Lord. Whether a person willfully turns away from it, or just has a casual "meh" response to God's truth, the result is the same: death and destruction. The Book of Proverbs opens with this ominous warning in order to convince us to pay attention to the wisdom God gives.

I have read through Proverbs at least once per year from the time I was sixteen. And the wisdom found here is personally profound. What I have learned from it has spared me sorrow and pain. And what I have refused to take seriously or have neglected to trust has cost me dearly. The warning of Proverbs 1:32 as well as the promise of Proverbs 1:33 have both been real for me.

O Lord,
Your wisdom has sustained and protected me. Thank You for the truth of Your Word. Yet I have not always trusted Your wisdom. And in my complacency, my foolishness has hurt both You and me. May Your wisdom call me to repent and obey today!