Friday, October 20, 2017

no dead faith


So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
James 2:17

Faith produces works that are pleasing to God. Faith does stuff in the world. It produces not just a positive energy, but new actions that do good things observable by others in the world. It changes our actions. It works because we now believe.

Now, works do not on their own save us from our sin. I cannot of my own suddenly do the right stuff and expect God to look at me in favor. My best actions, apart from salvation by Jesus, are still filthy garbage in God’s sight. I need Jesus to save me from sin. And by faith I trust His saving work in me and for my sin. From that faith procedes the proper actions that shows the change Jesus is making in me.

Just as I cannot find salvation in my works, I also cannot just live as I want if I claim to believe in Jesus. A faith that shows no change, that does not regenerate a life to do good things in the world, cannot be a saving faith. Belief is not just a cognitive intellectual exercise. Jesus changes our hearts and that transforms our lives, because the heart is the treasure chest from which we show all that we value in what we do. Faith to be real, must be known to others by how we live and not just in what we say we believe.

Jesus,
You have changed my heart. Through Your saving work in me, I am learning to love people as You do. You have helped me learn to live out a generous grace to know You, follow You, and love this world as You do. I can give myself to the gospel, to others by Your grace, and to the God I now love because of this change. By faith, I work!
Amen

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

nails and goads


The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.
Ecclesiastes 12:11

This verse at the end of the book of Ecclesiastes is a key to understanding the book. It is a book that gives us observations about life that are both goads and nails. A goad is a pointed stick used by a herdsman to provoke livestock forward. It is not an elegant instrument. It has one job: make a reluctant beast uncomfortable enough to move along. It is the ancient tool used as a cattle prod.

The nails are a different kind of pointed instrument. They are used not to move with a sense of uncomfortability, but instead to fix something in place. Nails secure something down. They hold things together. Nails build stuff. They represent truths that hold together observations in a way that make sense of a larger, useful structure.

When reading Ecclesiastes then, it is good to realize that some of the statements are meant to be goads. They prod us by brute force and poke our sensibilities forward into movement with painful reality. Where we read terms like “under the sun”, “worthless”, or (most often and to great effect) “vanity”, we can see the goad is in the hand of The Preacher (the narrator of the book), pointing right at us. We feel the business end of the goad poking at us and making us quite uncomfortable in ways we don’t particularly like. And God wants us to have that response. It is one intention of Ecclesiastes.

But scattered among the goads are also some firmly driven nails throughout the book. These statements provide security and are frankly, a welcome relief from the constant poking of the goads. For instance, the last two verses of the book (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) are perhaps the strongest nails in all the book, firmly building a structure through which we discern the framework of the book and bring it all together. God wisely gave us this unusual book of Hebrew wisdom to get our attention with goads and nails. It is brutally straightforward with its observations about life. It is brilliant in its wise advice for living beyond the uncomfortable ragged realizations. God gave us nails and goads because He knows we need them both.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

fire of irony


It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.
Jeremiah 36:3

God’s heart is not to administer punitive judgment on sin, but instead in love to see sinners repent and turn to Him. This was the hope God gave to Jeremiah as He gave instructions to the prophet to carefully produce God’s Word on a scroll. The hope was that it would be read, heeded, and in repentance God’s people would turn from sin back to God, finding His forgiveness and halting the impending fall of Jerusalem and coming captivity in Babylon.

There was a mixed response to this scroll of prophetic preaching from Jeremiah. In the temple it was well received by the religious leaders who kept it and cautioned Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch, to hide because they knew the message would not sit well if it reached the palace. And indeed, it went bad when the king fetched the scroll from the temple to be read to him in his chambers.

There, to the worst fears of the priests, Jehoiakim was shockingly dismissive and disdainful of the Word of God. As his scribe read the scroll to him, the king sliced off each finished section with a knife and dropped it into a fire (Jeremiah 36:23). This was more than just disinterest. This was an outright contempt for God’s message. He understood the prophecy from God clearly knowing it said that Babylon would destroy Jerusalem. And in the end that was exactly what happened as the king’s actions set in motion the final rejection of God and His prophet.

But the Word of God did not fail. Jeremiah again dictated a second scroll and Baruch faithfully wrote it down. God’s Word survived while the king fell and his city burned in a fire that really started with the king burning holy scripture in contempt. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

spirit and truth


But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
John 4:23-24

God is spirit. He is not limited or localized in a physical body. He is everywhere present, above, beyond and in the created universe. He is the only being this way. He made this universe yet He can be known, but those who worship Him must realize this about God. He is always with us and we cannot escape His presence or person. We worship God in spirit, which means that we can acknowledge or turn to Him anywhere. There is no need to pilgrimage to any one holy place according to Jesus. Our worship comes from anywhere we are, and the sanctuary of worship must first be our own hearts. That is how we begin to worship God in spirit.

God is truth. When we look for a standard, a rule of life, we must look to God. And that truth is known in what He has revealed, most clearly in the Holy Scriptures — the Bible, and in the Living Word — Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In Jesus, the Word (the truth) became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory (John 1). In the Holy Bible we have clear, understandable, searchable, readable truth in its pages, and they always point in some way to Jesus and the story of our salvation brought in Christ. To worship God in truth means that the Bible saturates our time in worship, the gospel comes into focus, and Jesus is praised, believed, and obeyed.

In spirit and truth, I worship You, my God. And in Your Word I see You as spirit and truth. And from my heart’s sanctuary I give You my praise, confession, dedication, and love, O God of spirit and truth known in Jesus my Lord and Savior.
Amen

Friday, October 13, 2017

wandering sinner


My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
James 5:19-20

This admonition to go after wandering sinners with the gospel give unique insight into the make-up of the early church. James was perhaps the first epistle written chronologically to the Christian community. And it ends with this admonition to go after anyone “among you” who “wanders from the truth”. This would seem to have been a known sinner, not a hypothetical illustration, and this was important enough to caution the entire church with a precedure to assist in this type of situation. It seems this type of thing was something Christians faced. Apparently the very early church welcomed people who weren’t quite settled into Christian belief but were under the preaching of the gospel.

I see two classes of people addressed in this passage: brothers and sinners. The “brother” is exhorted to go after a wandering “sinner” who had once been a part of Christian community and the brother is told to seek to restore the wandering one with the gospel. It is clear this “sinner” is not a believer because his soul is in danger of death, and that can only be the second death, or hell, that is the peril. After this restoration a “multitude of sins” is covered, which implies atonement by Jesus at conversion.

The early church did not take for granted that all among them were truly converted. They had this admonition to follow in cases where clear gospel conversion needed still to take place. And the way such people were “brought back” was through the gospel being believed resulting in true forgiveness of sin, release from their guilt, and deliverance from hell. The gospel is how we deal with wandering sinners. It is our only message and hope.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

patience, not pride


Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Ecclesiastes 7:8

At the start
of something new
my foolish heart
may not trust God through
but try to do
a thing alone
and caught up in the new
stray far from my home

But the end comes
all too soon
and if my plans run
ahead of God, Who
sees all things and knows
their end for His name
I can miss what He shows
is His glory and fame

Better is the end
of a thing I see
for God can send
comfort and security
from start to finish
Jesus is Lord
nothing should diminish
His power and Word

Future glory awaits
me if I will see
that heaven’s gates
will open to perfect glory
God made beginning and end
for the praise of His grace
my will should then Ben
to look at His face.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

faith and faithfulness


I have not run away from being your shepherd,
nor have I desired the day of sickness.
You know what came out of my lips;
it was before your face.
Jeremiah 17:16

These statements come in the middle of a prayer by Jeremiah asking God for deliverance from persecution. The people of Judah just despised Jeremiah. The whole of Jerusalem seemed set on opposing the messages that God gave to the prophet. And his response was to run to God for the counsel, care, encouragement, and refuge that he needed at that time.

Jeremiah remained faithful, proclaiming messages that God gave him that were extremely unpopular and pressing on despite the hatred he received in response. He did not falter. He bravely stayed the shepherd God made him. He did not even take a sick day (to use a modern equivalent) during this difficulty. He may have felt like giving up, but he did not give up.

A big reason why Jeremiah stayed faithful in persecution can be found in the last half of this verse: He knew God knew His faithfulness. God knew His prophet had declared His message exactly as God desired. God knew that every word that came out of Jeremiah’s lips was faithful to what God had sent him to say. All that Jeremiah had done was not hidden. And that is why he could pray for deliverance with such confident passion. He believed God would be righteous in all things, even toward Jeremiah’s faithfulness under persecution.

Faith believes God and is not distracted by circumstances. Faith commits to being faithful to God’s Word. Faith trusts God despite outward difficulties, knowing God is faithful to those who trust Him for salvation.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

two responses


Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
John 2:23-25

Jesus shows His power and His authority early on in John’s gospel. His creative power over the natural world is shown when He turns water into wine and the guests rejoice at the wedding in Cana. His first miracle is at a public party and His disciples are drawn to believe in Him as a result. His authority is shown later at the Passover in Jerusalem where on the largest possible public platform in the city, Jesus clears the greedy money-changers out of the temple in passion for God’s holiness and the pure worship of the Lord.

Two separate lines of response to Jesus now can be traced from this point on throughout the gospel of John. First, the leaders of the religious establishment begin to confront Jesus with increasing hostility. After the cleansing of the temple they demand a “sign” from Jesus in order for Him to warrant His authority for doing what He did there. He simply prophecies of His eventual death by their hands and resurrection from the dead. In essence the gospel is His authority warrant.

The second response broadly is a growing crowd of enthusiastic followers. But it seems clear from the context that most of them are following Jesus because of the miracles (they saw the signs), and not necessarily because of His mission or His message. That is why John shows us the caution Jesus exhibited by not entrusting Himself to the crowds who merely believed the miracles more than the man or the message. Believing Jesus for the sake of His mission and trusting the gospel must by our motivating responses to Jesus in order to truly have faith in Him. It would seem that “Jesus is cool” is not enough for Jesus to find faith in us.

Monday, October 9, 2017

stumble tongue


For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
James 3:2

Words show the world what is in the heart. And sooner or later what we struggle with internally will come pouring out of our hearts. The tongue paints a picture of the heart then... and it is usually not a pretty one. We all stumble in many ways. And it is usually the tongue that trips us.

The words we say not only are pretty good indicators of what is on our hearts, but they also have the power to do so much more than we think they can do. The tongue is thus small, but powerful (James 3:3-5). It can be an unruly, fire-setting, poisoner of people, raging with fire from hell itself (James 3:6-8).

Our words can testify to our hypocrisy and besetting sins. We can worship God and curse people, sometimes within the very same breath (James 3:9-10). And this duplicity, though spoken aloud by the lips, originates in our sin-defective hearts. This is why we must be careful with both 1) “following our hearts” no matter what romantic lies our culture tells us, and 2) “speaking our minds” no matter how much the words burn at us, beating on the doors of our lips, demanding to be let out. The worst advice out there is to “follow your heart” and “speak your mind”. This is because our hearts and our words will generally be hurtful when not subjected to the control of obedience to God’s Word and sensitivity to God’s Holy Spirit.

God,
Forgive my failing, stumble-tongue. I am so guilty, particularly with my closest loves, of letting words flow from my sin-darkened heart. Those words can destroy. Give me words that honor You and the people made by You. I must let You guard my lips, and think and pray about what I choose to say.
Amen

Friday, October 6, 2017

sacred sin


Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.
Ecclesiastes 3:16

There isn’t an institution touched by human hands that isn’t tainted by depravity. Sin is pervasive. It can dirty even the most noble concepts. From a strictly human perspective (that is what “under the sun” implies each time you see it in Ecclesiastes), sin infects human truth, human justice, and human standards of right and wrong. Our falleness brings even our highest and brightest aspirations down into darkness and sin.

So we should not be shocked when we hear of police or court officials whom we have tasked with bringing justice instead caught in some scandal themselves. Sin will taint what we try to do well. Even the human leadership of the church without exception will bring shameful sin into what God is making holy. And sin keeps lowering standards of morality away from God-given, scripturally revealed holiness. Societies will always find a way to wriggle out of truly obeying God’s Law. And in the place of righteousness, wickedness in some form will be heralded as good, noble, or free. Human hearts are naturally sympathetic to sin and will always lower aspirations into wickedness. And then the sin will be treated with a special kind of respect bordering on the sacred.

The standards of human behavior lauded in human society, when uncorrected by God’s wisdom, will pervert justice and fall far short of righteousness. New virtues replace true holiness. Abhorrence of sin will be replaced by acceptance of sin. Tolerance of what is wrong will be a new standard of human achievement. Obedience to the rule of a holy God will be dismissed as harmful and instead the mandate to follow one’s own heart and inclinations will be the noblest and most buzz worthy philosophy of life. Actually, that is what has been going on for thousands of years of human history. 

As our wicked imaginations remove all rules from the game, the resulting free-for-all will continue to bring chaos and pain. Don’t be surprised then to find that mass killing, war, hate, and abuse continue unabated... they are the children born of the new virtues hooking up with our ancient depravity. And humanity will applaud our wicked freedom... yes we will... even as it spawns a generation of sin that kills us. The wages of sin is... death.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Truth has perished.

And you shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.’
Jeremiah 7:28

This chapter of Jeremiah is really hard to read without cringing at the harshness of our sin. These words were part of a public sermon that God commanded Jeremiah to preach at the gates of the temple in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 7:2). In it he takes the nation of Judah to task for superstitiously holding to temple rituals while simultaneously personally neglecting the heart and lifestyle changes that God’s Law was meant to make within them. They said God lived among them at His temple. They did not live like it mattered at all. And in this way they defied and disobeyed a holy God.

They went after false gods in their deliberate disobedience (Jeremiah 7:18). They did not obey when God repeatedly used His prophets to call them back (Jeremiah 7:24-26). And this pattern would just keep cycling through generations, even with this very sermon as Jeremiah preached to them (Jeremiah 7:27). They had rejected God’s truth, killing it by their idolatry. They had become the generation of God’s wrath by rejecting repeatedly His tender, passionate, strong calls to repentance (Jeremiah 7:29).

When God reveals His truth to people, they are responsible to Him with that knowledge. Rejection of His revelation is rejection of God. And when God’s merciful call to repentance is rejected, there is only His wrath and judgment upon sin left for those who refuse Him. God is generous in His revelation of the truth and His offer of salvation. He persistently called out to Israel to repent for generations before the truth finally perished and His judgment was all that was left for them. How we must learn to quickly heed His Word, repent of sin and neglect, and receive His grace!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

unimaginably good news


The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
John 1:29

This is how John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the world. Right from the beginning, John was clear that Jesus came to save us. He heralds the gospel in pointing to Jesus, the Lamb of God, Who takes the world’s sin away. Any Jew hearing these words from John knew what he was saying. Jesus would be a perfect, sinless, holy, atoning sacrifice, given by God for the entire world.

For those under the Old Testament Law this was an unimaginable, breathtaking, even scandalous announcement. For at least three reasons, this was groundbreaking news. First, Jesus was a man who was the Lamb. The sacrificial system given to Moses explicitly forbade human sacrifice, as animals were substitutionary. That meant that Jesus was the substitute for us, dying in the place of sinners. It meant He was spotless, perfect, and would give up His life for sinners. 

Secondly, Jesus was the Lamb sent from God, not provided by us. Every other sacrifice was provided by sinners to offer on the altar to God. This time, God Himself provided the Lamb. God was making the effort to save because we could not save ourselves. God did what sinners could not do.

And finally, and most unexpectedly, Jesus would take away the sins, not just of Israel, but of the world. His atonement for sin would be global. That meant that the Gentiles would be included in this sacrifice, a concept totally new to those who heard it and offensive to the ethnic sensibilities of the Jews that guarded their exclusive relationship with Yahweh. God was in Jesus reaching all the world, atoning for all sin, for all people, for all time, everywhere!

O Lamb of God Who takes away the world’s sin,
I come to You, Jesus, thankful for Your sacrifice, knowing You took my sin upon You on the cross so that I can be forgiven, have life, and follow You, my Lord!
Amen

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

stand the test


Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
James 1:12

Jesus warned His disciples that they would know trials and difficulties in life. Part of life involves unforeseen and unwanted hardships. Jesus Himself had to endure opposition from those who did not understand Him or want His message to be known. They eventually tried to kill Him, not knowing He was giving His perfect life by His own choice for their sins. He remained steadfast and brought eternal life to all who will believe.

Here, in this passage, a blessing is offered for those Christians who remain strong under enemy fire. And the trials being endured by those First Century believers to whom James was writing were severe. They were being persecuted, imprisoned, and some were killed for their faith in Christ. This hardly compares to even the hardest trial I have ever known. The biggest test I have ever stood was being complained about by a self-proclaimed atheist co-worker once decades ago. And she was complaining to a Christian boss who knew well what was going on, and wound up commending me.

As we live in a culture that needs Christ in a growing intolerance to Christian teachings, we are seeing a rise in the opportunity for the church to know, love, and heed this promise to stand the test and receive the crown of life. And there are parts of the world where Christian faith is a crime punishable by imprisonment, even death. None of this opposition negates this firm promise of God. We know that enduring any trial or difficulty that confronts our faith will find the blessing of God coming to us, stronger in comfort than any trial ever would be in difficulty, and holding us close to Christ our victorious Savior and Lord.

Monday, October 2, 2017

contentment in Christ


All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
Ecclesiastes 1:8

I am always appreciative of the insights from the book of Ecclesiastes. The way in which Solomon directly approaches the insights about life, with the harsh light of his sometimes jaded observations, pulls me into a very real appreciation for the regenerative work of the gospel. From certain worldly points of view, this life is so imperfect and disappointing. If we did not have God’s Word, His grace, His Holy Spirit and were left only with “life under the sun”, we would be stuck in the misery cycle that Ecclesiastes so starkly, repeatedly, and efficiently points out to us.

Life has a hard, bitter edge. It is tough. We work hard to enjoy a few things, but wind up wearied in our work. And the search for joy beyond our work adds to the weariness. As an end in itself, without God in the picture, life can become a senseless, exhaustive, unsatisying cycle of sameness. We may try to numb that dull pain with new experiences, but the exhilaration is brief and ultimately we cannot see or hear enough with our senses to keep our lack of satisfaction at bay. Without Jesus, our incompleteness keeps gnawing at our souls, never finding relief. It keeps Ambien at the top of pharmaceutical sales.

But I know in this: in the saving life of Christ, I am born again! And in the worship of my Savior and Lord, I am always filled with new joy. In His grace and mercy I am forgiven and made new, and every life joy and experience finds true purpose, not as an ends in itself, but in fulfillment in Christ! And with the glory of God in Jesus as the focus, my joy is overflowing. I am most satisfied when I seek my life’s satisfaction in Jesus! All that my eyes now see and my ears now hear and my hands now touch are filled with the pleasures of contentment in Christ!

Friday, September 29, 2017

perpetual universal worship


From new moon to new moon,
and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the Lord.
Isaiah 66:23

The prophet Isaiah ends with a clear picture of a restored Jerusalem where God’s people once again gladly worship Him. And in this restoration, the world enters into the celebration, worshiping God wholeheartedly. There is also a refreshing renewal as it is clear this happens as a result of a totally remade universe... what Isaiah calls “the new heavens and the new earth.” In this born again future universe, all will be as it should have been before the Fall in Eden. The world will walk with God.

This verse indicates that this worship will be both universal (“all flesh shall come to worship”) and perpetual (“from new moon to new moon” and “from Sabbath to Sabbath”). God will always be the big story every day and His worship will be the big celebration of each day. There will be no more distractions, no big bad news story dominating the news cycle... no sports idolatry or mindless entertainment filling stadiums and distracting from the glorious focus of pure delight in cheering on the grace of our God! His worship will be fresh, new, powerful, wonderful, and every moment it will always be the delight of all the hearts of all of humanity. We will be doing what are hearts have always wanted and have been created to do... delighting in the worship of the LORD and enjoying Him forever!

The unceasing worship of an infinitely wonderful God and Savior is my glorious future. And even now I may partake of such delights. In Jesus is all the beauty and satisfaction that my soul craves, and so with an old gospel song on my lips, I enter into worship today, anticipating this future of worship in a remade universe set right again. 

“I will arise and go to Jesus.
He will embrace me in His arms.
In the arms of my dear Savior...
O, there are ten thousand charms!”

Thursday, September 28, 2017

things concerning himself


And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Luke 24:27

I imagine this was quite a sermon! How great it would be to hear Jesus explain every Old Testament text about... Jesus! The scriptures tell His story, because the Bible is meant to bring us to the gospel. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, and the Word of God written faithfully and flawlessly points to Him. He is the plot thread that ties together all the sub-plots and various seemingly disconnected stories found in thousands of years of collected literature that we call the Bible. And Jesus is what puts the Holy in our Holy Bible. He is the grand theme whose redemptive work is celebrated, foretold, and anticipated in every sub-theme of God’s Book.

The Bible is the Book of Jesus, then. And as Jesus read it, He pointed out that the Scriptures tell His story. They give clarity to the cross, compelling us in our belief because so many generations before Jesus was born, God was making His salvation ready and known. And the gospel story is the culmination of the biblical narrative. Jesus makes all of scripture focused upon Him.

When I read anywhere in the text of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, I must be sure to remember where each book, each story, each song, each prophecy will point to Jesus and the gospel message of salvation by faith in His atoning sacrifice and life-giving resurrection. It’s all there. Jesus preached it to stunned disciples on the road to Emmaeus. We can search those same scriptures today, and with the Holy Spirit’s work in us, and committed to a simple, clear, sensible, normal, grammatical, historical reading of the text... we will find Jesus too!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

struggle against sin


Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Hebrews 12:3-4

Sin-fighters rejoice! Jesus has already fought the hardest part of the battle for you! He endured the cross, despising its shame, so that He could perfect our faith (Hebrews 12:2). The cross He endured for us is a source of our strength. We can fight sin, trusting His work and not our own, finding strength and encouragement, looking to the cross and believing the gospel. We don’t have to bleed out in our sins because Jesus has already done so, winning the fight against sin and death.

But we do still have a struggle against sin. And we always must come at it looking at the cross of Christ, repenting and believing as we trust Jesus. This fight is always with us. It is often a daily struggle. We must always dose our thinking and actions with the gospel so that the struggle against sin can be won in us by the cross.

Lord Jesus,
I confess I need this look at the cross. I struggle against sin in me. But I praise You for You took all my sin upon Yourself, enduring hostility from sinners for me. You do not want me weary from sin fighting. You don’t ask me to shed even one drop of my own blood against my sin. You forgive me because Your sacrifice covers it all, every wrong thought I think, every evil intention in me, and all my selfish actions and violations of God’s holy standards. Thank You, my Savior! I confess. I believe. I embrace the gospel as a sin-fighter.
Amen

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Correction is love.


Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor
than he who flatters with his tongue.
Proverbs 28:23

It is important that we always remember that we are fallen and have a tendency to regularly need correction. Many life lessons are learned best by some kind of correcting rebuke. If I am not paying attention while driving and head the wrong way on a one way street, and a police officer issues me a ticket, I guarantee it will have an effect of helping me be a better and more alert driver afterwards. The correcting rebuke may even have a consequence, but in the end, I am a better person. And the end makes the experience valuable.

In a similar way, I must empower fellow Christians with the power of speaking loving rebuke into my life. They must be able to pull me aside, and using words filled with the love of Christ and the Word of God, offer careful rebuke of my “wrong way” direction. How sweet such rebuke later turns out to be! I’ve never regretted those who have truly loved me enough to share an admonition. I count them dear friends and true faith companions who are with me diligently and realistically.

Flattery is not love. It is nothing more than a “like button” in the real world that inflates ego at the cost of maturity, both for the flatterer and for the one being flattered. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage one another. Encouragement is not flattery though. Encouragement is done in the Spirit, points the one being encouraged to Jesus in some way, and ought to be biblically supported as it is shared. Flattery, on the other hand, is done in the flesh, centers on the person, and is used by the flatterer for personal advantage, totally obliterating a biblical worldview in selfishness. Flattery ultimately tears down lives. Correction builds up lives by focusing on God’s sanctifying work in us, and it is truly love.

Monday, September 25, 2017

what lasts forever


Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and they who dwell in it will die in like manner;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my righteousness will never be dismayed.
Isaiah 51:6

We live in a world of entropy. Stuff wears out. What now is living will eventually die. Creation was cursed with death upon Adam’s sin, and God’s faithfulness to us since then has been to graciously provide a salvation beyond the inevitability of our own mortality. This old world wears slowly out, spinning thread bare and tattered like a comfortable old coat. We are bound by our lives in it to a decaying and dying universe. All people, everywhere, from any time, will die. This occurs with 100% certainty.

God’s mercy does not disappoint us. He provides salvation that never dies, but will be always active for the redemption of His people forever. To know His salvation in Jesus now is to know eternal life in Him forever. And only God can lead us to the eternity we were created to enjoy with Him. Only His salvation can save us beyond this death-bound worldly existence. His is our hope. One day He will re-create a new heavens and a new earth not cursed by our sin and we will enjoy the universe as it was always meant to be. Until then, His salvation will not disappoint us!

Lord Jesus,
I remember that this mortal body is destined for dust. Just as the earth wears out, so my own life gets thin the longer I live here. You are my salvation and You do not dismay! Your salvation is forever, and that is a long time to know You! Oh, keep my eyes fixed on You as I live out my earthly days for Your glory. I know I will not be disappointed!
Amen

Friday, September 22, 2017

at a distance


And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
Luke 23:49

These people were witnesses to the most momentous transaction to ever take place. They watched as Jesus, the eternal Son of God, died for the sin of the world. Luke’s gospel recalls one final prayer cried out by Jesus: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!” And then He died. And from a distance those who knew Him watched the atonement take place,

The land was supernaturally dark as the sun’s light failed. The curtain in the temple that was meant to separate sinful humans beings from the holy presence of God was torn in two. God Himself was letting the world know what was happening. In the darkest day, new grace was rising up as sin would be forever atoned by the death of Jesus. The Son would lead us directly to the Father with no more need for human priests or endless sacrifices on an altar. Jesus cried out and died once for all.

I view these events from an even greater distance, but believe them with all my heart. I see love at the cross that all people need to experience. I know my Savior there and hope for others to find Him. And as I believe, the distance is shattered and Jesus is as close as my whispered prayer of repentance and faith and worship.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

apostates


It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Hebrews 10:31

Apostasy is a very serious matter, perhaps the “worst case scenario” in the life of the Church. Hebrews 10 warns against Christians deliberately denying Christ by choosing a life of sin over their Savior. This choice denies Jesus in some conscious way, leaving the accountability and encouragement of His church (Hebrews 10:24-25), and deliberately rejecting repentance and faith in Christ’s sacrifice (Hebrews 10:29), grieving the Holy Spirit Who convicts of sin and enlightens God’s Word so we know the right way. All that is left is God’s judgment (Hebrews 10:27).

We live in an age where such easy apostasy can get instant “support” from outside the church. With internet communications instantly letting us connect with those who “think like us”, we can be fooled into thinking that since other people share our thoughts, we are right. But that just means that other people are under God’s judgment as well. And outside of Christ, the whole world is under the influence of Satan. It would make sense that sinners can congregate in their sin, in great numbers, and with loud voices. They may even “care” for those who share their sin. But this does not mean they are right.

Apostates simply choose to join the nations that rage against God. But all who reject Christ cannot be saved because they have rejected their only hope of salvation, and as long as they do that, their rejection keeps them from eternal life. That means that their willful rejection is their worst sin. Until such person willfully repents and believes, and trusts Jesus for salvation and life, surrendering to His Lordship, they will remain in the fearful condition of judgment in the hands of the Almighty, Great I Am... the living God.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

sin bites


Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own
is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.
Proverbs 26:17

This is wise advice. The proverb warns us against inserting ourselves quickly into the quarrels and conflicts of other people. No matter what we do, we have just put outselves in a position where we are going to get bitten! Meddling in a quarrel creates greater conflict and will turn at least part, if not all, of the conflict against the one who meddles.

It is much better to mediate a quarrel. The mediator can secure two parties in conflict into a relationship where a third party can be a person of peace who can lead the quarrel to end in peace, forgiveness, and restorative grace. But that can only happen if everyone is brought to the gospel first. And people have to be ready to do that. Often they are not.

I am no longer amazed at the conflict I see around me both inside and outside the church. Sin creates enmity with God. It is divisive, separating us from God and creating distance and difficulty in human relationships. Right after Adam and Even sinned, they hid from God and covered themselves from each other. Sin creates uncomfortability and conflict. It is at some point at the root of all our quarrels. It can turn a simple disagreement into an all out war.

Sinners in conflict don't need other sinners meddling in their quarrels. Sinners in conflict need the gospel. Only the restorative grace found in Jesus' death and resurrection can resolve our fights and calm our hearts. Jesus is our Mediator. Jesus is our Peace Who made peace with God and with other people possible! If I want to make peace, I must point people to the gospel, lest I meddle and get burned by the conflict.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

new = good?


“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert."
Isaiah 43:18-19

If you just look at these verses out of context, you might be quick to see an awesome Christian motivational poster. But that is not the intention behind the "new thing" springing forth. God is making a declaration of judgment against His people who grew weary of Him and no longer sought Him (Isaiah 43:22-24). The new thing God was doing was to bring the Chaldeans down upon His people in Jerusalem, and use them to lead a captive remnant back to Babylon because the people have sinfully disregarded their God and their covenant with Him.

New things aren't always good things. A new hurricane spinning through the Atlantic, a newly elected leader, a new decision in a court case, a new scientific breakthrough in a rogue nation... all have destructive consequences inherent in their "newness". And sometimes God uses that new thing to call His people back from complacency as the hard consequences shake us up to the reality of who God is and who we need to be. 

Contemporary culture is idolatrously enamored with what is new... the latest smartphone, the current movie, the hottest holiday toy for children, the viral video, or the celebrity sensation of the day. And it moves faster than ever at the broadband speed of the worldwide web. But the gospel is an old story, and mankind has been answerable to our Creator for millennia since the world was made by Him. These new things that enchant us might be what He hurts to see in us, so another "new thing" we cannot anticipate might be what He uses to destroy our false worship and shake us up so that He can draw us back to Him.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Not Guilty!


Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.”
Luke 23:13-16

Not guilty
yet He died for sin
not His own
but ours
lead Him to be accused

Not guilty
Holy Lamb of God
bore our sin
upon Him
beaten, mocked, abused

Not guilty
Pilate said so clearly
but then caved
to soothe
God's accusers, he washed his hands

Not guilty
yet on a cross
Jesus would die
in love
taking sin's punishment as the God Man

Not guilty
such a Savior
is our Jesus
for us,
Praise His saving power!

Not guilty
He makes us holy
through His love
always known
by believing Him this hour.

Friday, September 15, 2017

priest and sacrifice


He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
Hebrews 7:27

Jesus is the better high priest because He is perfectly sinless and is both priest and sacrifice. As our Great High Priest He intercedes for us before God in a way that we cannot. As our perfect sacrifice Jesus atoned for all sin once for all time at His crucifixion. His sacrifice was offered only once for all people, all sin, and all time. There is now no need for priests or daily sacrifices. Jesus has guaranteed a better way of dealing with our sin (Hebrews 7:22).

Jesus willingly gave His perfect life as a sacrifice forever on the cross. Through His death, sin is atoned. And God the Father raised Him back from the dead as a guarantee of our own new life in Christ. And now Jesus always lives to make intercession for us, pleading for sinners, always bearing the scars of His love and redeeming work for us.

Lord Jesus,
You are "holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens" (Hebrews 7:26). You are the only sacrifice for sins that brings us forgiveness and that satisfies God's wrath on sin. And You willingly gave Yourself for us. I believe. I trust Your sacrifice. I plead it's effectiveness. I know You are my Savior and I commit to You as My Lord. And in that commitment is all I need for this life, and solid trust for my eternity. I live because You willingly offered up Yourself.
Amen

Thursday, September 14, 2017

wealth has wings


Do not toil to acquire wealth;
be discerning enough to desist.
When your eyes light on it, it is gone,
for suddenly it sprouts wings,
flying like an eagle toward heaven.
Proverbs 23:4-5

The acquisition of wealth alone is a poor life's goal. One can never have enough and money has a way of being spent as fast as it is earned. Material goods require maintenance. The more one has the more one must spend. Wealth flies away. The picture here of it sprouting wings would make a humorous comic strip. But it is sadly too real. Mammon is a cruel, fickle, elusive master.

The picture of this proverb is of someone hunting wealth with high purpose. They toil at it. The can see their quarry always just ahead in the bushes. It is so very, very close. And just as they can take their best shot at it, wings sprout out and away it flies never to be seen within range again. And if someone spends their lifetime in that pursuit, the cost and frustration can be catastrophic.

How much better it is to wisely place our energy into the pursuit of God and His provision and wisdom. Then, whatever resources we have become blessings with which to worship Him, not flying idols that flee from our worship. The issue at stake is our heart. The heart that constantly fixates on wealth will find satisfaction out of reach. The heart that holds every blessing in life as a gift of God to share with others for God's glory will be blessed. God satisfies our longings. Wealth can only elusively fly just out of reach.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

disdain for scripture


And the word of the Lord will be to them
precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little,
that they may go, and fall backward,
and be broken, and snared, and taken.
Isaiah 28:13

The leaders of Jerusalem had a deadly "ho-hum" attitude toward God's Word. They disregarded the word of prophets that the Lord had sent to them. They were bored by the Law they were supposed to respect and follow out of love and obedience to God. They no longer even had any cultural respect for the significance of scripture. It had became a monotonous litany repeated in routine, but not believed and obeyed from the heart. This would be the downfall of the priests and leaders.

They mocked scripture with their sing song "precept upon precept; line upon line; here a little, there a little" attitude. God saw them as scoffers rejecting the holy Word and rejecting Him (Isaiah 28:14). This attitude toward scripture would lead to a fall from which they could not recover. Jerusalem and its leaders, the officials and the priests, would be broken, snared, and taken away to Babylon.

I always want the Holy Spirit to awaken my heart when my Bible is open. I want my thinking to be crisp and my heart to be open. May I never, ever let my selfish heart treat scripture as repetitive religion. It is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword. It cuts through my sin and life's confusion and gives me through grace the thoughts of God for each day of my life. In it I see Jesus. In it God speaks, and is there anyone else more important to hear than God? No way! I want God to always converse with me in His Word. I always want scripture to lead my life and show me my Savior!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

turn again


“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Luke 22:31-32

Jesus knew Simon Peter's heart. He knew that as the religious leaders arrested Him, the disciples would flee in fear. And He warned Peter that he would deny his Master three times (Luke 22:34). Yet God was sovereign even over this awful moment. Jesus prayed for Peter's faith to weather this storm of doubt and denial. By telling Peter this in advance, Jesus helped equip him to believe, even in his worst denials. Peter would "turn again" to Jesus and be used to strengthen all the disciples, for really their fear made every one of them a traitor to their Lord.

Jesus loved, forgave, and encouraged Peter, knowing full well the faith crisis that would lead to Peter's denial. His grace forgave even that offense in advance. His love reached out well before His disciples fled to encourage and strengthen them so that they could survive and serve again. "He remembers that we are dust". And in faith's broken frailties, Jesus knows our every weakness and strengthens us beyond them so that as Satan sifts us, we can still stand again.

Lord Jesus,
I may fall, but I want to stand again! Every time I selfishly turn to my sinful desires for satisfaction, whether it is pride, anger, self-shame, or giving in to a sinful lust my heart wants, I sin and run from You, denying Your Lordship. I'm so wrong to do so. I'm sorry for my sin. I always need Your grace and mercy on me, a sinner. I see here that You always know well in advance when I am going to struggle and deny, and I know You don't want me to fall completely, so please... keep Your Word and Holy Spirit active in me, making me miserable in my sin and tugging at my heart so that I turn again to You!
Amen

Monday, September 11, 2017

praying with Jesus


In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.
Hebrews 5:7

Jesus prayed to His Father, and He taught His disciples to pray. He offered prayers of blessing, prayers of thanksgiving, and also interceded for others with deep emotional and spiritual commitment. Just before His arrest, trials, beatings, and execution, He was praying with intensity in Gethsemane with His men. He was ultimately "saved from death" through resurrection victory over death three days after death because the Father honored the high priestly prayers of His Son.

Jesus agonized in prayer, and He is the sinless Son of God! How much more should I commit to the earnest hard work of offering prayer and supplications? I must pray in repentance so often, which is itself quite emotionally tapping. In addition, as a pastor shepherd, I am often called to pray with and for the flock in my care, often with the burdens of their repentance, often with the pain of their afflictions and losses, always with the love of Christ for them pressing hard against my heart. And the tears flow as sometimes the loud cries of this burden of prayer weights upon me.

And in those moments, Jesus Himself, High Priest and Intercessor for all believers, helps carry the load of that prayer to the Father. The Spirit of God also intercedes, joining in my groans and making sense of what I struggle to put into words. I do not ever pray in those moments alone. And when I pray to God through His Son, I know the Father hears His Son. And I am heard. I can be sure of it. And the burden grows lighter as Jesus eases the load.

Friday, September 8, 2017

watch my words


Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue
keeps himself out of trouble.
Proverbs 21:23

So much trouble comes from words because words reveal the heart, and the heart is at its core broken and sinful. Words can be massively destructive. My mother may have tried to comfort me with "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." But even this well-intentioned advice backfires in the stinging tears of ridicule and attack by another person's words. The truth is that words can and often do wound people. That is why this simple proverb is profound wisdom to heed.

I want to be a man of few words, if only so that I can keep my mouth and guard my tongue. But because ministry is so communication intense for all the right reasons, my words can get in the way if I am not careful. I have to teach a lot, talk with people a lot, often about very difficult and personal subjects. And I wince when my words get in the way of God's Word, which unfortunately happens from time to time. I hate that it happens. It is very, very hard to keep my big mouth, my selfish pride, and my personal demands out of the conversation, especially if it shifts to being "about me".

But if I slip, the gospel works for the sins of my mouth! Praise God! Repentance is communication to God and people that my words and actions hurt and were wrong. I then turn to God's Word for correction when my words failed. If I center what I need to say and believe lovingly around God's Word, I stand the best chance of keeping my mouth out of the way. God's Word never sinfully wounds. It builds up, confronts, corrects, and encourages always with God's holy truth. May my words be fewer and may God's Word dominate my conversations so that the gospel is proclaimed, Jesus is made known, and God is made much of by "this poor, lisping, stammering tongue."

Thursday, September 7, 2017

God's Plans



The Lord of hosts has sworn:
“As I have planned,
so shall it be,
and as I have purposed,
so shall it stand..."
Isaiah 14:24

What God plans
never fails
what He has said
comes to pass

Not so with man...
we fail
and in the end
what God does lasts

The purposes of God stand
through time and change
His plans endure
nothing people can do
will halt the wisdom of God

That which God decrees
is made sure
His Word is what will be
guaranteed

It may be known by degrees
gradual in a timescale
beyond one lifetime into eternity
it is so certain

The purposes of God stand
unchanged, unfazed by our industry
God's Word endures
forever settled, sure
secure by the wisdom of God

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

full days


And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.
Luke 21:37-38

This is the regular schedule of the Passion Week according to Luke's gospel. Jesus kept up an exhausting pace of teaching in a city packed with Passover pilgrims who flocked to the temple in overflow crowds to hear Him. All of this was leading somewhere very important. The pace quickens as Jesus pours Himself into ministry that will culminate in false accusations from His enemies, illegal trials, and His execution on a cross by Roman soldiers outside the city of Jerusalem.

As Jesus poured His life into teaching people, He also would pour out His blood in dying for the sins of the world. He would sacrifice His time, His energy, His very life for us. It began with this intense schedule. And after His death, when He seemed silenced for good, He would burst from His borrowed tomb three days later having beaten sin, death, and hell for every one who heard Him teach, and for all the sinners who will ever live.

The gospel plan placed upon Jesus a heavy schedule. But He made use of it for the love of us. And now, as I offer Him my new day this chilly September morning, how can I not fill it as much as possible, with gospel efforts and thoughts? It seems fitting to serve Him with a full day seeing how much He did so for me. He poured Himself out in love for me. I can pour myself into my day for Him!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Avoid gospel neglect!


...how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
Hebrews 2:3-4

The gospel message and the gospel life are both tremendous trusts. The warning here is not to neglect the gospel, with the call to always guard our hearts from drift by always paying closer attention to the gospel (Hebrews 2:1). This is a serious call. The gospel is not just an entry to new life, but rather, it is the life itself. We live in constant repentance and faith. We turn to the gospel's core truth when we struggle, realizing we are sinners, Christ is our Savior, and we only have hope and forgiveness and life in Him. We believe the gospel for life every day of our lives.

Why should we do this? Why should we live like the gospel is more than just a "one hit wonder"? This passage shows us that the history of the gospel itself answers this question. It appeals to history through four evidences or witnesses: 1) Jesus Himself preached the gospel. He called people to repent of sins and believe in Him because the kingdom of heaven is at hand in Him. 2) The apostles preached and bore witness to the gospel with their very lives. Those who knew Jesus most intimately always proclaimed the gospel, calling us to a gospel life by their lives. And they died for that commitment. 3) God the Father Himself authenticated both the message of Jesus and that of the apostles as they preached the gospel through miracles and signs. Those gifts tied exclusively to the apostles here were given so that the gospel might take root well. 4) The Holy Spirit distributed His gifts to those who believed within the church. The entire trinity those bore witness to the gospel's authenticity and necessity. We can see that as we read scripture today.

With such history, attestation, and importance, I too must heed the command to never risk gospel neglect. With God bearing witness to the gospel to me today, may the message of salvation in Christ alone, by faith alone, through grace alone be the focus of every one of my days. May God's Word always point me to it. May God's Spirit convict me of my need for gospel change and thus lead me to gospel declaration in what I say and how I live!

Monday, September 4, 2017

easy, tiger...


Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
Psalm 19:11

These wise words of deep character and self-control are ones I hope will be true of me. I want to be this kind of man, marked by good sense, not quick to fly off the handle with anger, and not easily offended. More and more I've seen society become a culture that caters to the offended and exalts individual outrage. We are a culture of the triggered. And nowhere is this now more apparent than in social media where people will quickly express outrage in a Twitter snippet or emotionally light a fuse with a Facebook post. My feeds often are disappointing cringe scrolls. America even has a commander-in-chief who tweets his feelings off the cuff. It is truly a sad time now for controlled thinking.

But it is wisdom that brings emotional control realizing we cannot just say whatever we want on a matter. Good sense is the antidote to a quick temper. The wisdom of God takes our finger off the trigger finger and keeps us from flippantly shooting from the hip at every perceived slight. It brings respect when we can overlook these small things because a bigger vision guides our lives and minds.

For Christians, I believe this good sense wisdom is found exclusively in the gospel. When I consider that the gospel declares me a sinner in need of saving grace, I understand others have the very same need as I do. When I realize forgiveness for my sins as well as the offenses of others is only found by Christ's death on the cross, it is hard for me to take up an offense for which Jesus died in agony. When I seek Christ's forgiveness in my repentance, it is impossible for me to hold back a grudge with someone whom I feel offended me. The gospel is the good sense that can make me slow to anger and able to overlook offenses because of what Jesus has done.

Friday, September 1, 2017

religion without repentance


Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Isaiah 1:13

God had enough of Judah's pretense. He didn't want people showing up at His temple, going through the motions without really being serious about their sin or His holiness. You can't make God your lucky ritual and live as you want in your iniquity. Sin is serious business. Dead. Serious. Business.

Our sin separates us from God. Sin costs us fellowship with God. Sin incurs God's wrath. Isaiah was a prophet of God sent to Judah to call the people of God back to taking Him seriously. And to do so meant they had to deal with their sin seriously. Repentance needed to precede all their activities or else true worship could not happen. It just added to their offense. God did not commend their unholy, flippant, religious ritual. He wanted their repentant, heartfelt worship.

Judgment followed the cavalier dismissal of sin. Death is always the end of sin. That is the universal constant. Sin entered the world and death is always with it. Only repentance and faith in God's provision to atone sin will remedy this. Judah needed to repent and in turning to God with sincere faith, offer sacrifices.

Since Jesus died for all sin, such sacrifice is no longer needed on our part. But seriousness about sin, repentance, faith, and obedience to the gospel are needed. When I go through religious motions, whether in Sunday assembly, or in my workday devotions, without a seriousness about my own wickedness, I have done wrong and must repent.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

what authority


One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.”
Luke 20:1-2

Confrontations are rooted in clear differences, and with this demand, the leaders of the Jews get to the heart of their issue with Jesus. They demand from Him the source of His authority. Jesus was known for teaching so much more differently than any rabbi of His time. His teaching resounded with authority (see Matthew 7:29 for just one example). This bothered the "approved purveyors" of religion because Jesus didn't appear to have their systematically approved credentials, yet vast crowds of people followed Him every place He went. He taught, He healed, He helped... all with authority.

Jesus knew that their demand was contentious, so He asked them to answer a question on authority from Him first. He wanted their opinion on the authority of the baptism of John. And this effectively trapped the jealous, crowd seeking leaders. They'd either be embarrassed to admit they were wrong about John, or they'd risk further alienation from those crowds around Jesus, most of whom had known of John. They refused to answer. And Jesus then refused to enter their debate. He shrewdly got them to surrender first (Luke 20:6-8).

Jesus is the One clearly in charge in this encounter challenging His authority. Why? He is God and is the source of His own authority. He needed no credentials because He spoke the Word of God... quite literally with each conversation. The authority of Jesus is found in His deity. That is why affirming Jesus is God and man, Lord and Savior, are acts of belief and surrender. It is how His authority is recognized and proclaimed.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

an appeal in light of gospel transformation


I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.
Philemon 10

Paul wrote these gracious words of intercession to Philemon on behalf of a man the old apostle had discipled while in prison in Rome... Onesimus, a former thief and runaway slave, now sent back as a Christian brother to his master. This is a story of repentance and faith, of grace and forgiveness, of intercession and loving mediation. It shows the beautiful change the gospel brings to all aspects of life. It shows how Jesus transforms everything.

Paul could make his confident appeal to Philemon because the gospel had done great work. It prepared Philemon to be gracious and forgiving. It transformed Onesimus from a useless thief to a useful servant of Christ. It turned societal conventions upside down, so that a criminal slave, now forgiven in Christ, is expected to be welcomed in grace as a brother in Christ, and a child of faith begotten of the gospel ministry of Paul the apostle.

Paul's appeal for Onesimus is deeply personal, showing us how Paul's heart was wrapped around this new disciple. The tender relationships that develop in discipleship are great experiences. They are the very best stuff of life. And spending time in each other's lives around the gospel helps us extend grace in difficult situations.

By right of Roman law, Philemon could have had Onesimus executed. But by the saving grace of Christ, instead Philemon could welcome back a brother and believer into his household. And Paul could boldly expect this to be the case. His appeal is to the work of Christ. And how can we not forgive and accept when that is what Jesus has done for every one of us?!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

what must be seen in the church


Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
Titus 3:1-2

There are seven commands Paul instructs Titus to remind the church to put into practice in relation to the church's outward testimony to those outside the faith. This is the way Christianity should look to those who investigate it. The Church should relate to society with these distinct, winsome actions.

The church is submissive to the rule of human government. Christians generally obey the law of the land when those laws are not in conflict with God's Law. We do not defy authority, but affirm it within God's design for society. We are not outlaws. We are obedient to the rule of law in a civil society.

This keeps us ready to do what is good. We love and help our neighbors. We assist in making the world a better place. We help feed the hungry, clothe the needy, shelter the homeless, and heal and care for the sick and dying. The church can lead the way and really should lead the way in these good works, so that those outside the faith may partner with us and learn and obey the gospel.

We are careful in our words. Christians should be known for complimenting and encouraging people in right ways, not tearing them down. We should not be verbal warriors skilled with weapons of words. We should never be known as quarrelsome, argumentative, contentious fighters.

Finally, the world should know the gentle love of Christ in His church. We should be tender-hearted, caring, loving with the heart of Jesus as we courteously and truly care for our neighbors and the needy. In this way the outward observation of the Church matches the inward change of the gospel as we become more like Christ, our Master and Lord. And in this way Jesus is seen to those who are looking for Him.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Follow your heart?


There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.
Proverbs 16:25

In the light of this proverb it would seem the worst advice for living is "follow your heart". Our insights, wants, desires, and dreams left to themselves are all warped by sin. Mix that with emotionalism and the result is a recipe for death according to this warning. What I naturally choose for life direction outside the wisdom of God is deadly to me. I need some light to shine on my choices.

Thankfully, God is not hiding. He has made Himself known in His Word and He sent His Son into the world to show the way and provide the solution for my heart's sin problem. And Jesus defeated death in His empty grave. I then have the means to live beyond my deathly choices. My Savior can lead me in paths of life, light, security, and peace.

I must be suspect of all my motives and desires, forcing them into the light of the truth of the Bible. I must scrutinize my wants and desires, surrendering every one of them to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I must "take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). This new direction away from the path of death starts with my thinking. Jesus must renew my mind through His Word.

And I also have a helper to guide me in all truth (John 17:13-14). The Holy Spirit resides with me, nudging me in the light of the path to life. He works with the Word of God, leading me to gospel repentance as I continue to walk with my Lord. God has given me every reason to trust Him and every resource to follow Jesus. Don't follow your heart... follow Jesus. He leads to everlasting life!

Friday, August 25, 2017

stones cry out


He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
Luke 19:40

As Jesus drew close to Jerusalem for the last time at the start of Passion Week, the joyous celebration of His entry would soon quickly move into heightened confrontation. Eventually many in the crowd that welcomed Him through the gates would be screaming for His execution before Pilate. But for now, all is joyous praise in a wildly celebratory Messianic moment as Jesus rode on a donkey's colt like a prince through the streets of Jerusalem.

The praise of the Triumphal Entry was an ordained moment. It fulfilled Messianic prophecy. That is why when the Pharisees hear Jesus hailed as King by the crowd they ask Jesus to rebuke them. But He refused to do so. The truth had to be shouted out. And if the people would not shout out Jesus as King, the very stones of the city streets would have to do so. There is no denying who Jesus claims to be. He is the Messiah. He is the rightful King.

Christians see their King in the Triumphal Entry. We see Jesus in a glimpse of regal worship and get a sense for how we should worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is to be welcomed in full authority over us. We bow and cry out His praises. We accept His peace and blessing upon us. It came at the King's life given for us and is powerfully proven by His resurrection from the dead. His mighty works are unmatched. His love is perfect. Jesus is Our King. We sing His praise or the very stones will cry out!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

accord / adorn


But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.
Titus 2:1

From the proper teaching of sound doctrine flows the type of lifestyle that sets Christians apart in joy and holiness. After giving Titus this short command, Paul then goes on to describe the way lives within the Church look when sound doctrine is taught. He does this by describing the outcomes in several different people groups.

There are older men whose dignity, sober-mindedness, self-control, sound faith, sound love, and faithfulness are examples to all. There are older women whose behavior is reverent, not slanderous, and who can teach what is good by their lives. Younger women are devoted to husbands and family and exhibit self-control, kindness, respect, and hard work. Young men as well demonstrate self-control as models of good works. Teachers in the church are known for integrity, dignity, and sound speech. Members who are slaves model submission, so that their well-pleasing service without argument or thievery shows their good faith. And in these ways all these groups beautifully adorn the doctrine of Jesus Christ their Savior.

Dear Lord,
Your church adorns the gospel by living out sound doctrine visibly. Help me then, first as a follower of Jesus, to model that which follows sound doctrine. Help my life to show the transformative work of the cross and the power of Your resurrection. And as a leader, help me to help others in Your Church, Lord, do the same so that together we show the beauty of Jesus to the world.
Amen

...so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
Titus 2:10

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

a way above death


There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.
Proverbs 14:12

What chilling words! Grim news awaits the end of all world-gained wisdom. Human religions, culturally driven philosophies, and social platforms all may seem to have some element of benefit to them. But they all have the same bitterly realized termination point... a literal fatal flaw: death. No philosophy ends that real truth. No social program will wipe out the effects of mortality. No science or medicine ends the eventual descent into the grave that awaits each human being. The day of our birth and the day of our death are both human experiences over which we have no control.

The point of this proverb is to sober us to see the benefit of following God's wisdom. It is the only "way" that leads to life with Him. We are already warned that wicked living yields destruction, while those who seek God's righteousness ultimately flourish (Proverbs 14:11). We are then warned after considering the end of human efforts that the laughter and joys of human experience are tempered by heartache and grief (Proverbs 14:13). We have to look for a life wisdom, a controlling philosophy, that exists above the mortal plane of human experience. Wise people seek God's truth for perspective on life. It gets us above the canyon lands of the grave. And God freely and abundantly supplies a truly right way that leads beyond death.

"The unfolding of God's Word gives light" (Psalm 119:130). We are promised that the Bible will give understanding to the simple. And when it comes to truth that guides us, that shows us how we must really live, that helps us handle the heartaches and the grief of our own mortality, we must look to the Bible where God has revealed Himself and His ways to us. God's Word is the "way" that doesn't just "seem right"... it IS right. The Word of God speaks clearly. God gives His wisdom in scripture that we can read and understand and follow. I will follow it for life, letting God lead me forever into life.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

everyone on board


We will not neglect the house of our God.
Nehemiah 10:39

These nine words solemnize a reaffirmation of the covenant, focusing on the worship of God in His temple at Jerusalem. The leaders of the returned exiles who had worked so hard under Ezra to build another temple, and who had endured opposition and enormous commitment under Nehemiah to restore the walls of Jerusalem, now turn to the final step of commitment by restoring all the temple worship necessities. They commit to giving themselves first to the Lord, and giving to God what God had given to them in order to support the priests, Levites, and others working in worship in the temple complex.

Their covenant at this time is a reminder for us to consider making commitments to guard against the inevitable drift in dedication that our souls can experience. When the work is hard and still undone, it is easy to stay committed. After all, the task is unfinished and the need to stay at it with dedication is clearly visible and apparent to everyone involved. It is after completion, once the newness of a thing wears off, that we are in danger of severe vision drift. And this led the Jews to recommit the priests, Levites, and temple leaders to God's Law first (Nehemiah 10:28-31).

This commitment then meant that the rest of the Jews who had returned to Judah would also obligate themselves to support the worship of God in Jerusalem. The rest of this covenant reaffirmation then expresses their willingness to give tithes, offerings, food, oil, wood, and all other necessities for the maintenance of the worship needs of the temple (Nehemiah 10:32-39). They will give out of worship and to the worship of the Lord.

Everybody made a commitment... the leaders to lead the worship by God's Law and the people to worship and support this in keeping with God's Law. And it was this "all in" total effort that led to this bold declaration: "We will not neglect the house of our God." Great ministry and great worship involves everyone so that God gains glory from all His creation. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

passionate, persistent prayer


I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Luke 18:8

Jesus told a story about a very persistent widow who kept bringing her pleas for justice to a self-centered judge. Although the judge had no truly righteous character, yet he worked to resolve justice for the widow just to rid himself of the constant pleas she made before him. His motives were still self-centered, but the outcome was justice, more because of the widow's persistence than for any other reason.

The point of the parable is that persistence in our requests before God is important. It is a type of faith. Jesus goes on to say that if such persistence gains justice in a corrupt system, how much more should we believe and be convinced in confidence that a perfectly holy God will rightly grant our requests when we ask of Him by faith? God will "give justice to his elect who cry to him day and night." God will not "delay long over them." God loves His people and those whose faith leads them to passionate, persistent prayer will find His answers more than available. He will abundantly answer.

There is however a haunting commentary from Jesus that echoes in my heart two thousand years distant from His original words. "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" And that questions presses in on me uncomfortably. In a daring age of human technology connecting us instantaneously to a vast reservoir of human sourced information, we may be tempted to take our problems first to Google, or to simply press a button and ask Siri. But Christians trust Jesus. He has our eternal souls in His care... it makes sense that faith leads us to ask of Him for justice and grace in our daily lives as well. But will He find that faith in us?

Friday, August 18, 2017

discipleship: culture & pictures


Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.
2 Timothy 2:3-4

The reality of Christian maturity is that it does not come easily. It is hard. Paul uses the metaphors of single-minded solders, rule-committed athletes, and hard-working farmers to make this point. All three word pictures emphasize the discipline involved in being disciples who make disciples. Followers of Jesus don't just happen. They aren't just magically made.

If we look in the context, we see that a culture of discipleship first is in place. The disciple-maker is strengthened by the grace of Christ for the ministry of being used by Jesus to make other disciples of Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1). The disciple-maker also stands in a stream of historic, orthodox faith that must be sourced in scripture and is flowing forward from its source, going all the way back to the apostles. Each generation of disciples must faithfully pass on that which has been taught them from other faithful people (2 Timothy 2:2). And those people who are entrusted with the gospel and who are making disciples must continue this. This is not easy work. It constantly must take place in cultures all around the globe. The church and any gathering of Christians is a discipleship factory that never shuts down.

And so I prepare myself, reminded to be single-minded in my focus like a fighting soldier. I am committed to compete with the freeing strength and skill-building disciplines of God's Word, like a winning athlete. I am willing to patiently work hard growing disciples like a laboring farmer. God help me to make disciples who make disciples for Jesus.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

be kind people


A man who is kind benefits himself,
but a cruel man hurts himself.
Proverbs 11:17

The contemporary way of understanding the principle that is behind this proverb might be found in the phrase "what goes around, comes around." Life is remarkably reciprocal. Given enough time, good deeds become their own reward and deliberate hurts against others return to hurt the perpetrator.

This proverb centers its attention on how we treat others. It promotes kindness to other people as a great personal character trait. Kindness is a social virtue that builds good relationships and benefits everyone, including the person who is kind. Kindness is thus its own reward. That does not mean that every act of kindness will immediately be met with thankfulness and altruism, but it does mean kindness is emotionally and personally satisfying. It is wise then to be kind to other people.

The opposite of kindness in this short saying is cruelty. The word means to be abusive or even terrible with people. This is a person whose actions use and hurt people deliberately. And ultimately these actions hurt the cruel person. He may immediately get what he wants by force or through mean control, but there will be no social grace flowing back to him. And so a cruel person must keep resorting to these tactics. A wake of mistrust and distant relationships builds around the cruel person as others attempt to protect themselves. The cruelest people often end up alone, in bitter anger, sadly dysfunctional.

I want to be a kind man with a generous soul, ready to invest well in others because God loves them. God forgives repentant sinners in the ultimate act of kindness, offering lavish grace to them that He alone provides since they can do nothing for themselves. That's my model of kindness. God did this for me, a ruthless sinner who was headed toward cruelty. And if God did this for me, then through His love, I should be kind to others.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

remember the Lord & fight for family


And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
Nehemiah 4:14

This speech encouraging men to keep building the wall in Jerusalem is how Nehemiah handled opposition. He confronted it with wise action, trust in God, and personal motivation to do what is right.

Nehemiah devised wise actions. With each group of wall-builders he stationed armed soldiers. These citizen warriors then worked as teams day and night to complete the wall so that the enemies of the Jews could gain no advantage. Each group had a ram's horn ready to sound an alarm if under attack so that the entire force could quickly muster for defensive fighting. Nehemiah had a strategy in place to keep the work going despite the opposition and to protect even a worst case scenario from becoming a disaster. It required more from the men so he knew motivation and faith had to be part of his communication, engaging their heads, hearts, and hands.

Faith was vital to what the leader communicated. The whole project to rebuild Jerusalem's walls was initiated by a call of God upon Nehemiah. And God had done so much with the wall-builders already. He would lead them to complete the tasks. God is great and awesome. He does not change, even if life gets harder or opposition emerges. Remembering God's grace and provision strengthens hearts and hands to continue serving Him at what He asks.

The motivation Nehemiah appealed to was family. The wall ultimately protected each man's own home. They would stand side by side to build as brothers in order to protect sons, daughters, and wives. Faith, family, and fortitude would help them to fight for what was right and finish what God had called them to start.