Friday, December 29, 2017

The Great King

For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.
Malachi 1:14b

I have one deep allegiance that directs every other relationship and action in my life. That allegiance is to my King. Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is my God and my King. And my heart is aligned under His rule first. That does not mean I always worship Him as I should. It is a lifelong task to serve my King and bring my thoughts and actions under His rule. But my heart loves Jesus first. And He is the great King Who rules all. He will make His will done in my life as I serve my King. And He is making His rule known among the nations.

Israel struggled in surrendering to God as King. They wanted earthly kings like the nations around them. But God’s plan was quite different. He would be their king and they would shout it to the world life under His rule. Yet they repeatedly rejected this covenant and eventually God judged their disobedience by captivity among the nations they envied until they turned again to God’s rule. He is the great King. He will be known among the nations as His people serve, love, and are blessed by Him.

Lord Jesus,
You are my great King! You are the Lord God Almighty! You rule the universe and love Your people. You give us all we need for life and godliness in the precious promises of Your Word. You died for sin, rose to defeat sin’s rule and took away death’s sting so we can know You and eternal life! I will fear and follow You, my King!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

beyond death

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
John 20:18

Jesus is alive. The story of redemption is complete because Jesus is no longer dead. He has risen just as He said. Death has no more power over us. Sin no longer must be our master. By dying our death and now living, Jesus has given us our victory. The sorrow of death is turned into the joy of sins forgiven and eternal salvation as our future.

Facing death of a loved one, as well as celebrating Christmas, and being at this point in John’s gospel all in the last seven days has been an interesting work of God’s sovereign hand. I’ve realized at this stage of my life I will simply face more death, and eventually my own. That’s not morbidity, just part of aging. And the gospel gets so much clearer as the cold, hard truth of death keeps itself before me. There is resurrection and life in Christ who came to save His people. There is absence from the body and presence with the Lord. And in that comfort of the gospel is all that I need. And I am beyond comforted. I am strengthened knowing that loved ones who have trusted Christ are with Him and that I am with Him too and one day will be with them. This is confident assurance that robs death of its fear and its worst damage. Jesus is stronger and better!

Mary Magdalene saw the Lord and reported what He said to her. The disciples saw the Lord in resurrected power and were empowered to preach the gospel to their world. These are historical facts. And that same gospel message has been the content of all my faith since I first believed it so long ago. It is the foundation on which I have lived and will continue to live until the day when I too know that death is swallowed up in victory as my soul continues to live with my Risen Savior... my living, loving Lord!

Friday, December 22, 2017

smoke and glory

...and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary...
Revelation 15:8

A vision shown
of a heavenly throne
smoke billowing
as glory is filling
Your holy sanctuary

Justice will flow
down from Your throne
like smoke if rises
where Your glory resides
witnessed by prophecy

In Your glory
the final story
written in Your Word
revealing the glory of the Lord
for us to see

From smoke shines light
to illuminate our night
around Your throne
we will come home
forever to be free

Thursday, December 21, 2017

remember to praise

Remember to extol his work,
of which men have sung.
Job 36:24

Even when men are theologically skewed from the truth God has revealed, they can still get a few things right. This is the case with Elihu’s call to praise. He may not have an accurate or helpful theology of suffering, but his call to praise is certainly worthy of commendation. God should be remembered and praised regularly for His great works. Men should discipline their souls to offer praise to their Creator. It keeps things in holy perspective.

And so it is with my heart today. I will heed this call to worship. I know I am going to have a completely unpredictable day today. And I already know parts of it are going to be really hard to bear because of the reality of suffering and death. But God’s works are great. And suffering and death are only on the earth because of sin. Jesus has defeated both sin and death by His own suffering death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. So I will remember the gospel and remember to praise my God!

I praise You now. I have been saved from sin’s dominion over me and granted life in Your Son. And all who believe in Him now have eternal life and will never perish. And so I praise You in Your great work in me. Give me more of that perspective, I pray. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

complete and total forgiveness

He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
Micah 7:19 

The prophet Micah hoped for the day when Jesus would accomplish this very prophecy. God would save His people from their sins, the very hope that the angel announced to Mary when she was told to name her son Jesus. He is the complete fulfillment of this prophetic announcement of pure grace. Jesus has trampled our iniquities. Jesus has cast our sins into the deepest abyss of the ocean. He is our Savior.

In Jesus all my sins are fully known by God and fully forgiven by Him. Because of the Lord’s compassionate love, shown by sending His Son Who was born in a manger and died on a cross for us, we can know that our sins no longer imperil us. We can find grace. We receive mercy because of the cross. We know we are forgiven because of the sinless Son of God Who took all sin upon Himself. He became sin, Who knew now sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

And as Christmas Day nears, I will celebrate God’s compassion poured on us in Jesus. I will know His peace despite heartache, hurts, and death because Jesus is a Savior; He is my Savior! I will be most thankful that He has tread down my iniquities and cast my sin away, in grace now clothing me in His own righteousness. I will celebrate the gospel good news of salvation when I celebrate the birth of my Lord.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Jesus is no secret.

The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.”
John 18:19-20

The only defense Jesus offered to Annas the priest when brought before Him for illegal questioning was to appeal to the public record. Jesus taught and healed and served people publicly. He was no secret conspirator. He spoke the truth and declared His purposes for anyone to hear. He taught in public gatherings. He had lots of followers who could tell His teaching as clearly as He could. He confronted the self-righteous religious elite at their every public debate with Him. He was never secretive.

Today Jesus is no different. He is not a secret. I love that I can pick up the gospels and by reading my Bible hear His words as clearly as when He said them originally. I can watch Him do His works, and be challenged by Him myself. I can gather publicly with His followers and be challenged together to follow Jesus. His teachings still confront a corrupt system of human religion. His life still stands as the example that I want to follow. His death and resurrection are still public, historical events that forever deal with what is wrong in me and compel me to believe Jesus and commit my life to Him. I don’t need a private, secret experience to find God’s favor or to bolster my faith. I openly commit to a very public Jesus, around Whom all the biblical story revolves and the history of humanity flows.

Lord Jesus,
I follow You and the world can know it. And in less than a week another very public worldwide celebration of Your incarnation will come and go. Some will barely realize what the event was meant to be. As I follow You, may I make You known to those who know me because Lord Jesus, You are no secret!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Revelation’s interpretive challenge

And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.
Revelation 9:6

For me, one of the huge problems with the preterist view of the Book of Revelation is to find proper historical analogy to the various plagues and judgments in the book. Normal reading of the text sees prophetic prediction going on. This has to be wrested away from the text to force the meaning of the Book of Revelation to be fulfilled in the first century or shortly thereafter. Revelation reads like prophecy. So interpretive honesty must humbly start there. It is the “when” of the events that is hard to pin down.

There is no event in the first century or in the Roman Empire for that matter, that fits this account of supernatural flesh eating locusts torturing humanity. It just isn’t found in history and the Romans would have some sort of record of this kind of event. So the preterist turns the Apostle John into an imaginative old man, says there is something deeper and non-literal to these plagues, and moves on to close the book. And this is usually a person who in every other text of scripture wants a normal, plain reading to govern the interpretation. This is a person highly committed to the gospel who misses a chance to see just how powerful Jesus is in judgment. 

Somehow preterism is comfortable denying the Book of Revelation the same respect given all the rest of the Bible in matters of interpretation. And this is a key reason why I do not ascribe to this view that the Book of Revelation was all fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem... or as some extend to view... in the collapse of the Roman Empire. It is such a big stretch of imaginative interpretation. 

The Book of Revelation is apocalyptic New Testament predictive prophecy literature. It details in elaborate visions times of God’s judgments upon mankind. It fits into a broader prophetic picture of what the Old Testament AND the New Testament apostles wrote of as “the Day of the Lord.” It describes and warns about God’s judgment to come. It is predictive prophecy. It is also very challenging to interpret for this reason, and I approach it with respect and a humble hermeneutic as a result. There are dispensationalists who equally harm the Book of Revelation by forcing it to interpret present events. It was not meant for that either. Again... humble hermeneutics should approach the text... for me, I’m OK that I don’t know all that is going on here, just that future judgments are the power of God that will be at work in the world.

Friday, December 15, 2017

presumption on God

If you have any words, answer me;
speak, for I desire to justify you.
If not, listen to me;
be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.
Job 33:32-33

Elihu speaks to Job. And the young man does tend to go on and on, echoing elements of the other three friends of Job, but with a proudly theologically precise tweaking of the past arguments against Job. Yet just like all the other friends, his main assumption is that Job has done sins that warrant his sufferings. He presumes to know Job as well as God knows Job. He presumes to know God’s motives. And in those presumptions are the folly of Elihu’s self-described wisdom.

The egregious sin in Job’s story is committed by all the characters as dialogues on suffering are spoken. The sin in the story of Job that each man makes is to presume to know why God is doing what He is doing. Even Job succumbs to this in his defensive speeches. No one can know what God thinks about a specific situation outside of direct revelation from Him. But young, impetuous, impulsive, experiential Elihu thinks he has wisdom to teach Job. He basically tells Job to shut up and listen to him. And then the young man with a dangerous confidence in his own theology rips into Job fiercely as he teases out an intricate, sometimes accurate, but ultimately presumptive, theological treatise on how God relates to humanity. It goes on for a total of five chapters and is only abruptly ended when God Himself thunders His answers to everyone out of a tornadic storm.

In the end, God pulls the plug on Elihu’s grand theological exposition and has the last word on Who He is and why He does anything! God alone confronts Job with the truth. God alone dispenses true wisdom. God alone reveals Himself and actually never tells Job the back story or motives behind Job’s pain. And Job seems fine with never knowing. God doesn’t have to explain Himself or His works. He is God.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

how repentance looks

Hate evil, and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
Amos 5:15

The prophet Amos issues a call to repentance even as his prophetic message pictures painful judgment to fall on the house of Israel. There is hope beyond the heartache and an offered renewed relationship even in the midst of prophesied pain. God desired repentance from His people, even as He prepared judgment on a stubborn and unbelieving nation.

This repentance could be seen in three ways. First, the people must hate sin. They must see their actions, born from sinful hearts, as wrong and must hate the wrong they have done and thought. When we excuse our sin even when we are confronted, we cannot yet repent. We must hate sin to truly find grace. We must be repulsed by the ugliness of our evil. We must sometimes even repent of not hating sin enough. And when we hate that we have within us the desire to love our sin, we can begin to understand repentance.

Repentance must also be seen by loving righteousness. It seeks to love what God loves. It sets its affections on things above. It wants to love what is good and finds pleasure in God and the good things He is and does. We must love good, not begrudge the good, in order to be truly repentant.

The first two parts are attitudes and affections. The last part of this call to repentance is action. Those who hate evil and love good will seek to establish God’s justice. Their actions among other people will be just and fair first. Their repentant moral affections will want the right things done in the world. They will be people of justice like God is a God of justice, hating evil and loving righteousness.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

sin, righteousness, and judgment

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
John 16:8-11

The Holy Spirit’s convicting work has a three-fold emphasis. He is at work convicting all people in three crucial categories. This conviction (sense of wrong and awareness of God’s greater accountability) prepares the way for the good news of the gospel to be received by those who will believe it. I believe that all people everywhere know the feeling of conviction in these three areas. They may not realize that it is God doing this in them, but they are aware of a human deficit in three ways.

The first is conviction of sin. People know that other humans do wrong things. When they are really honest, they will admit that they do wrong things as well. They will argue and perhaps self-justify with “degrees” of wrong-doing when confronted with self sin, but sin and its negative affects on humanity are pretty well known. And the Holy Spirit convicts at a personal level as all people fall short of the glory of God in sin.

The second conviction area is righteousness. The world has imperfect standards, but even then human beings realize that there should be some standard of right. In the gospel, we know this standard is found in Jesus. Conviction of sin is strongest once we know Who Jesus is and why He entered planet earth to die for the sin of the world. Righteousness is the standard that His life shows us now that He is with the Father. And this standard aggravates our sense of sin, convicting us even further.

The third area of conviction concerns God’s right to judge sin and unrighteousness. Seeing Jesus as God’s righteous standard, convicting of sin personally, knowing sin deserves punishment, the Holy Spirit shows us that the world stands deserving judgment... that each of us is part of that condemnation. This is painful to realize, but sets us up for wanting something so much better. The Holy Spirit thus convicts so that the gospel can be heard for the really good news that it is!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

the praise God deserves

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
Revelation 5:13

Every creature in the universe sings out this worship song in John’s vision. It is a worship service to celebrate the worthiness of Jesus to judge the world of men. It is frankly not the kind of action we might celebrate with praise, but in John’s vision just before Jesus opens seven sealed judgments that will literally shake the heavens and the earth, all of creation shouts out His praise. God is to be worshiped for His justice, even as His judgments are devastatingly powerful.

The refrain of shouted worship in this worship acclamation is fourfold. The praise recognizes that God the Father and His Son deserve blessing,  honor, glory and might. The first two are what we humans “give” to God... we bless His name, we worship Him by honoring Him. We ascribe blessing and honor in our praises. The second two are attributes of God we recognize in our worship: God is glorious and we give Him glory... God is mighty and we know His power. We sing of His glory and His mighty power. Only God is glorious. Only God can do His wondrous works.

God of glory and might,
I worship You this day You have made. I bless Your name. I honor You as holy and righteous, the Lord of my life, the Savior of my soul, the Creator of all I know and all that I am. Forever may I give You blessing and honor and glory and might, my God!

Monday, December 11, 2017

when it just gets worse

But when I hoped for good, evil came,
and when I waited for light, darkness came.
Job 30:26

This is the simplest description of the most personal part of Job’s suffering. He kept hoping to turn a corner on his pain. He was waiting for it to get better. It had not done so, in fact, whose who came to offer their comfort in his losses only made it worse. There was no good news for the moment. There was no breaking light of dawn. There was only pain and suffering.

And this is a feeling that was more than just emotion. It was the reality of Job’s pain. It just got worse. And there wasn’t a lot of light in his dark days. There was no comfort coming from his friends and Job has resigned himself to that. It was a really bad time in his life. The pain had settled in. The realization that this experience was his new normal was Job’s painful expression. There isn’t anything a human can do to change that kind of reality. It must be accepted and then God must be trusted despite all parts of life seeming to be incongruous with grace.

Sometimes life just gets worse. There is no other way to see it. It is best to accept this becuase given the decay of mortality and the curse on sin, that is every person’s destiny. There is hope beyond this only in Jesus. He died so death would end its finality. He rose so that hope would be our actuality. We know that God is making it all new and better eventually, but things must get dark before that dawn. The only hope for good is the gospel. That can sustain us as life gets harder and suffering dominates our days.

Friday, December 8, 2017

God will have His day.

Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near,
and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.
Joel 1:15

The prophecy in Joel focuses on a future day in which God will judge the earth. Joel uses the devastation from a plague of locusts to call Israel to consider this greater judgment to come in the Day of the Lord. Just as the locusts left no food in the fields, so the Day of the LORD will be complete in its destruction. Just as the nation was powerless against the insect onslaught, so no one would be able to stop the Day of the LORD in its coming to destroy.

God will have His day. In the story of humanity and God recorded in the Bible, we know that before the universe is restored to its created “goodness”, a day of destruction will occur. The earth and all the elements of the universe will be burned up and remade as creation is restored to its original state of sinless perfection and the glory of God is known universally in the new creation. But before this renewal of all things, there must be a destruction of what has been cursed by sin. The curse has to be real. The destruction must happen. That is the Day of the LORD.

All the beauty of the earth and the heavens right now is marred by the curse of Adam’s fall. But that will not stand forever. God will redeem us from this mess through Christ, He will judge the world of humanity, bring an end to sin’s curses forever, and then magnificently restore all the universe to His original intention as Creator. It will be glorious. And it is that hope that is a source of confidence for our future, even as we live in present difficulties, struggling against sin and brokenness. The Day of the LORD will change it.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
John 15:18

My only offense to others
Should be the cross
My only “fault” to watchers
Should just be Jesus
My Savior, my Master, My King
Should be known in me
And if folks don’t like Jesus watching
They won’t care to look at me

Some people hate Jesus Christ
Because they know they must change
And the gospel calls them to another life
That they reject as strange
They refuse the gospel, refusing God
And don’t want to hear it ever
They look at Christians as somewhat odd
When we say we can live forever

If some today hat Jesus our Master
Then we may be hated as well
But Jesus is judge, rejection is their disaster
When the hate and rejection end in hell
My aspiration is to let Jesus live in me
Showing His love to people all around
No mater what others might think of me
I am Jesus’ disciple, pilgrim here, heaven-bound

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

overcoming the second death

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.
Revelation 2:11

By the grace of God, no Christian will taste the agony of the second death. Jesus has overcome for us. We will though Him overcome the second death (see Revelation 20:4-6 for what this is).  By faith in Jesus, Who took our sin’s punishment upon Himself so that we might know His gift of eternal life, we are not condemned. Because Jesus has overcome hell, we can know life forever with Him!

Death is real for all of us. We are mortal. But the sting of death and the terrors of hell are gone in Christ! He has redeemed us from sin’s curse. It has no power over our eternity. We have won in Jesus’ victory.

O Lord Jesus,
Thank You for having such love and for conquering the curse of sin so that I might know eternal life! And in Your death and resurrection is my strength and security. I am Yours for eternity. And though this mortal life will end, it will open up for me to eternal joy with You!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

God is bigger than you think.

With whose help have you uttered words,
and whose breath has come out from you?
Job 26:4

This two part question is a response from Job to Bildad’s contention that since it is impossible for sinful humans to match the majesty of a holy God, Job must be in the wrong and thus he is suffering under God’s retributive judgment. Bildad’s words are lean and direct: man is just a maggot... a disgusting worm in comparison to the majestic God (Job 25:6).

Job’s reply to Bildad’s observation is filled with strong sarcasm as it begins, thanking his friend for the great “help” such an observation is for the humiliated sufferer (Job 26:2-3). But then Job transitions to agreeing that God is majestic and powerful, but not without reminding Bildad that God is the source of the very breath by which men utter their words. God is sovereign and gracious to even allow Job and his friends to be having this strange theological free-for-all in the midst of Job’s staggering pain. Job recognizes the very breath that allows them speech to debate as coming from the Lord.

Then Job begins to preach about the power of God. God controls the fate of those now living, and relates to souls of those now dead who are in their eternity. Hell and death are open to His control and knowledge. He hangs all the stars and planets in space and controls everything about the earth. He sends weather, both pleasant and stormy at His will and command. All the natural forces that can make men tremble are under God’s direct control, and these are just the bare edge of what God does and Who He is (Job 26:14). Job’s reply to Bildad’s is summed up with this vivid reminder: God is bigger than you think!

Since that is true, we should be very careful what we attribute to Him and how we do so. We are only looking at the outskirts of His ways, and there is so much we do not know about an infinite, holy God. It is better to keep our theology humble and our submission to understanding God’s words and His works in check. He is bigger than we think. I’m in trouble once I’m sure I have God figured out! He is bigger than I can know.

Monday, December 4, 2017

wrapped in the wings of the whirlwind

A wind has wrapped them in its wings,
and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.
Hosea 4:19

Idolatry is a devastating destruction, and generally those who worship what isn’t God, will find the results to come whipping into their lives like a storm wind without shelter when they need it the most. God, through His prophet Hosea, is laying out the case for Israel’s spiritual adultery. They have forsaken the faithful covenant love of God and gone after the worship of idols with an outrageous lusting abandon. And the awfulness of that idolatry adultery has so caught up the culture, that the nation is carried along in a whirlwind of unfaithfulness. It will eventually end in destruction and shame as survivors are led away captive from their nation.

God makes it clear that this was a destructive spiritual force that was ruining His people, but it was fueled by their choice to abandon God and seek the idols of the nations around them. The Lord was going to let them continue in this painful direction with their willful spiritual adultery only because the crash at the end of the whirlwind would be what it would take for the nation to repent, trust, and again return in covenant with God.

God will let those who find no shame in their sin continue in their unfaithfulness. But that is in itself a strong judgment meant to bring them to their senses. Wrapped in the dizzyingly dangerous swirling tornado of sinful choices, they will be carried along until it all comes tumbling down. And when it does, His mercy, grace, and forgiveness will again be offered to the repentant, broken nation. It is better though to avoid the blowing wind, to fear and obey the Lord, and to find His blessing in obedience.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Prince of my peace

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
John 14:1

Jesus makes this promise/command right after He informs Peter that he would deny Jesus three times. I’m sure this caused a stir among the disciples and a sinking feeling in Peter. And yet Jesus makes this call to faith and promise of peace. The path to a calm heart is the peace of Christ. And that is found in faith in Him.

The disciples picked up on this truth and spread it through the church. They knew that believing the grace of Jesus brought the peace of Jesus into lives. Seventeen times in the New Testament writings, the church is greeted with “grace and peace”. It is practically an apostolic signature. Paul used it. Peter wrote it in his epistles. John proclaimed it. So this call to believe Jesus and thus calm troubled hearts certainly sunk in to become a hallmark of early Christianity. They believed and found peace. We believe God’s grace and find peace.

It is now December, and we are celebrating the gift of salvation in our Prince of Peace, Jesus. Despite the chaos in the world, Jesus reigns. Jesus brings peace... peace with God through the forgiveness of sins by His death... peace with our future by the hope of eternal life through His resurrection... peace in our present by interceding with us now before the Father. Jesus also brings peace with other people through the creation and growth of His Church as His people of peace. Jesus brings peace to our troubled hearts as we trust His sufficiency and then surrender our sorrows and weaknesses to His great healing and sustaining grace.

Lord Jesus,
Prince of my peace, I will not let me heart be troubled by the cares and worries around me. I will believe in You and find peace.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

what false teachers do

These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.
Jude 16

This is a summary of the character and activity of false teachers. There is a class of people within Christian circles who hold to and proclaim false doctrine and by seeking personal gain from their endeavors undermine the gospel. Jude warns us so that we can know them from clear criteria.

First is their general attitude toward orthodoxy: they grumble and complain. That is often the start of false teaching or sinful practices gaining a foothold. The false teacher hates that the gospel makes for uncomfortability. They seek comfort above all. There is complaining against leaders, against the teaching of the gospel, against the gospel itself in some fashion.

Then we move to understanding their motivation. They are moved by sinful desire. Nobody goes full blown apostate with a desire for holiness and doctrinal clarity. It is driven by a desire to please self, to somehow lighten Christ’s demands or diminish His authority. The false teacher moves his desire to the authority of biblical doctrine and the resulting teaching and practice becomes egregious sin.

Their lives are clearly self-centered. Their speech is attention-getting. They are heard and adored by many. They appeal to personal pride as they boast. They get a crowd and use that crowd as a basis for legitimacy. They court celebrities with their own cult celebrity status. They seek personal power and the stature of perceived success and achievement through gathered worldly possessions. These days they ride around in chauffeured Bentleys, travel on private jets, live in exclusive mansions, fill arenas with eager, confused crowds, sell books plastered with their faces on the cover, and all the while ignore the gospel, in essence opening wide the gates of hell with their carefully manicured hands to let everybody behind them inside.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The wicked can indeed prosper.

When he is carried to the grave,
watch is kept over his tomb.
The clods of the valley are sweet to him;
all mankind follows after him,
and those who go before him are innumerable.
Job 21:32-33

Job shares an uncomfortable observation that dismantles the erroneous theology of his friends. They assume that Job’s sufferings are a result of God’s judgment. They insist that God always judges wicked men. But Job points to the sad reality: many wicked men prosper by their abuse of power or wealth and live long, wicked lives, dying and being celebrated by the masses even in their death. This overly simplified theology is woefully inconsistent with life observations. Rich men, full of wickedness, are buried in elaborate tombs to much ceremony. Many have done this before Job’s time. Many will do so after.

Sinners celebrate the lives of sinners. There must be some other kind of justice than what can merely be observed in fallen human society. People are unjust and act wickedly. This is rampant in all cultures. The biggest memorials are given to the largest abusers. There is no justice among broken mankind.

God takes us uncomfortably deeper than the surface. Humans lay on a thick veneer of celebrity idolatry on people they see as successful who frankly may not deserve such adulation. And that creates a kind of false physical prosperity at the cost of deep spiritual poverty. The wicked can get the best food, the best homes, the best protection, the best healthcare, and the most resources. And with that they can live long lives. They get elaborate funerals when it is all over. They are eulogized and perhaps memorialized. But that does not mean they were right before God. In a sense their deception in wickedness became their own worst judgment. God is greater than the seeming prosperity of the wicked.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Prophecy can get weird.

And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king's business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it.
Daniel 8:27

Prophetic literature produces some strange stuff. Here we have Daniel, the prophet who authored the book that bears his name, admitting that the vision he saw and faithfully recorded made no sense to him. That’s right... the author had no idea what he wrote down actually meant. This is a rare moment... the prophecy was well beyond the grasp of the moment. And it challenges a basic interpretative principle.... “determine author’s intention”. In this case, the intent of the author is to write down the vision and be perplexed by it. 

God even sent his angel Gabriel to help the prophet to understand the vision, (That’s right... the Christmas Gabriel) but even then the angel could only reassure the prophet that the vision was “for the time of the end” (Daniel 8:17, 19). Then Daniel is instructed to “seal up the vision” because it would only be clearly understood in those latter days. Daniel has to stay unclear on it all. This is some hard stuff to read.

To understand the book of Daniel then, means we should assume that God meant for some of these prophecies to get clearer over time in the unfolding of progressive revelation in the biblical text. And personally, I find the Book of Revelation in the New Testament to fit wonderfully with these more esoteric portions of the book of Daniel. It is as if God has finally chosen to “unseal” Daniel’s visions with the further insight of Revelation. Classic, normal, literal, dispensational hermeneutics help bring insight into Daniel’s dilemma. And scripture then can help interpret scripture. The one book of apocalyptic prophecy in the New Testament helps bring light to the most apocalyptic major prophet of the Old Testament. In Bible College days I took a course called “Daniel/Revelation” that helped bring some order to the weirdness of both books. I’m still convinced (without going way overboard with “conspiracy walls” filled with end line charts, current news clippings, and yarn-line connections) that this is the best approach to both books.

Monday, November 27, 2017

basin and towel

Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
John 13:5

Jesus led with humility and love. He showed that to His disciples when one of His last actions before His betrayal was to humbly wash the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper. I also believe Jesus to be the ultimate hero and perhaps the toughest man who ever lived. Yet in that mix of courage and love, Jesus cared to show His men the kind of humility it takes to love people well.

Jesus picked up a towel and a basin bowl of water and proceded to do the lowest household chore any host could provide. He washed the feet of every man in the room one by one. This was the task usually reserved for the lowest household servant. But Jesus, the Master of His disciples, set an example for them by doing what nobody else would do. And they learned from His humble service.

Disciplemakers have to adopt the humility of their Master. They are not afraid to stoop down and in love to care for the needs of those they serve. Nothing is beneath them if they adopt their Master’s posture seen in the basin and the towel. Caring for people’s needs at the simplest level is part of the call of Christ upon us. He made Himself nothing. He took upon Himself the form of a servant. And if we want to be like Jesus as we follow Him, it becomes less about our wants or comforts, and all about serving others like Jesus, the foot-washing Servant and Saviour of the world.

Jesus is a Savior Who serves and He calls those who deliver His saving message today to serve in humility and love. Nothing is beneath us as we live like Jesus.

Friday, November 17, 2017

I need to give.

But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?
1 John 3:17

God’s love leads us not only to care about those in need, but to share with those in need. God’s love is outrageously generous, coming to us while we are sinners totally unable to change our desperate broken lives. Yet God gives to us, providing all we needed for salvation in Jesus Christ. Now that we are so outrageously and extravagantly loved, how can our hearts be closed to ways we see the need of others around us?

It is once again the “holiday season”. And American culture is rife with all the commercial trappings. So charities are also out in force knowing the best time to catch at least a little generosity is right now. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if people were so generous that end of year appeals based on holiday sentiment or tax incentives did not have to dominate charity work? Wouldn’t it be cool if we helped people for other reasons than just wishing they had a nice Thanksgiving dinner or that a kid who might not get a Christmas present would get one? Those things are good, but they are kind of temporary. And the needs of the poor, the hungry, the immigrant, and the ill all go on long after Christmas.

For Christians, the case for charity is rooted in the love of Christ. Because Jesus meets my greatest heart need and is transforming my heart from radical self-centeredness to radical God-centeredness, I can love a brother or sister in need. My possessions are tools for the kingdom to advance the love of Christ in the gospel. They are no longer toys for me to hoard. I know God’s love lives in me when I share it through the physical blessings God has entrusted to me.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

I need to know my sin.

How many are my iniquities and my sins?
Make me know my transgression and my sin.
Job 13:23

Job was a righteous man, commended by God to none other than the tempting devil himself. A man of integrity. A man of character. And in his sufferings, Job trusted God, even in his confusion. And although his friends accused him of somehow sinning to incur wrath and punishment from God, Job knew his own heart well. He knew he did not deliberately disobey God, but he also knew he was certainly capable of great sin. And so he asks God to make his sins known to him.

The speeches from his friends have accused Job broadly and strongly of unspecific grievous sin. They lack specifics. Job knows sin is never vague. And his plea is to seriously see the sins... to know the specific charges against him. He is a man of repentance and faith. He wants to turn from real sin and believe a real God and obey with real actions of real faith. This mythical accusations can’t get him to real faith. Job wants to know where he needs to change.

And that aspect of spiritual readiness to deal with sin is still needed for a man of God today. I must know my sin in order to move toward holiness. I must let God shine the light of His truth on my heart by regularly exposing my thoughts and actions to His Word. I must seek His Holy Spirit’s conviction of my sin. And I must trust Him to keep my heart soft to His work so I will repent of sin and trust my Savior. I want to know my transgression and my sins so that I can be changed by God’s work in me!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

I need a watchman.

But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.
Ezekiel 33:9

Ezekiel, as God’s appointed prophet, was watchman for the house of Israel. He was called to warn the people of the coming destruction. He had advance warning by God of the army coming to shatter the walls of Jerusalem and destroy the city. He was to faithfully deliver this message to the people despite their unwillingness to listen or repent. Once they had been warned, their choice was on them. The watchman was to faithfully warn. The people had to respond to save themselves and the city.

Of course, the hard part of the role of watchman is seeing disregard from the people for the words of warning. But the watchman could not lead the battle or fight it alone. He could only alert the people and prepare them. If they chose to ignore him, their defeat was not the fault of the watchman.

And so it is with my own wickedness. Scripture and the Holy Spirit, along with loving Christian brothers and sisters, warn me of my wrong. And if I don’t listen and refuse to repent, put off sin, and put on holiness, I will be defeated. And with watchmen’s warnings, I will be saved by heeding the words so that I am not defeated in battle. Obeying the warning call, I can fight the good fight, find victory over sin, and rejoice in the salvation Jesus brings me. But I need the words of the watchmen to warn me, to correct me, to alert me to battle, and to find hope in deliverance in Christ. That is why I need people to be preaching the gospel to me through relationship and accountability. Thank You, Lord, for alerting me. Thank You, Lord, for giving me the words of warning from the watchman.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

empty promises from slaves

They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.
2 Peter 2:19

Peter’s vivid apostolic warning about false teachers is some of the strongest language in the New Testament. It warns Christians to stay true to the Word of God and their Savior Jesus Christ. Not everyone who claims to be speaking to Christians is speaking Christian truth. False teachers stray from the gospel. They want followers. They carefully craft both message and personal image to gain a crowd. They supplement and diminish the gospel with deceptions they devise.

Christians must be diligent with doctrine. We must know God’s Word. We must read it, study it, listen to it preached, demand that those who teach it also live by it, and base our thoughts, attitudes, and actions on biblical truth... not on what any person says. Smiling faces on book covers are a dead giveaway that the focus is being pulled away from Jesus. So is popular acclaim of the person. In fact, I still believe the best Christian writing has stood the test of time and was written by men long gone to their reward. Read the dead guys! There is a reason their books are still being published! Run right past those flashy bestseller promotional displays and find the Christian classics section. That’s where stability is.

Not everyone who claims to understand God really does so. Not every crowd gathers to the truth because usually false doctrine is much more appealing... it seduces our sinful selves. And if we take it in, we are in danger of becoming caught up in our sin again. False teaching enslaves, even as it promises a better life. Staying in the Bible consistently in personal reading and study, demanding pastors preach only the Bible, and praying hard for God to show us what His Word says so that we can stay true to Him will help keep us from such deception.

Monday, November 13, 2017

insights from a man born blind

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
John 9:35-38

The faith that the blind man (now healed by Jesus) has is growing with each challenge. He is grilled by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem twice. His only answer to them is to recount the facts of his healing. When questioned about the moral authority of Jesus, he can only go back to the events that gave him sight. And not knowing what else to say, simply states the obvious: nobody has heard of a man born blind being given sight by a sinner. So Jesus must be better than that.

When the enraged leaders throw the healed man out of the synagogue, Jesus finds him when He hears the news. And in a very short conversation, the man embraces the worship of Jesus as God, seeing and believing the truth, even as the Jewish leaders continue angrily in their spiritual blindness. Now the man can see in all senses of the word. He can see with both physical sight and spiritual insight. He is made whole both in body and in soul. And it is the Pharisees who are blind.

The insights from this episode are intense. Jesus gives sight. Jesus gives direction. Jesus deserves worship. Jesus gives hope and peace to those He heals and saves. The courage of faith can withstand the cruelest attacks. Faith can hold up to mockery and scathing ridicule. Jesus is Who He is. When He makes us whole, we know it in our souls and nothing else is as important. And believing in Jesus is what our souls were made to worship. Whole souls seek their Savior!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

knowing God too late

therefore, behold, I have stretched out my hand against you, and will hand you over as plunder to the nations. And I will cut you off from the peoples and will make you perish out of the countries; I will destroy you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.
Ezekiel 25:7

It is possible in judgment to know God too late. That is exactly what God told the Ammonite nation would happen to them. They would know His justice and judgment upon them for their generations of hate and apathy poured upon God's covenant people Israel. And in the end they would know God meant business with them. It wasn't a pretty business. And it isn't how you should ever want to finally know God.

So this kind of knowledge of God came only in pain. It involved God's hand stretched against them. It left them plundered among their enemies. It ended their ethnic and cultural identity as a unique people. It was destruction. And the fact that a destroyed nation will "know" implies a knowledge of God carried beyond death and to the next life. This is an eternal judgment. Even the damned know God is in control. But it is too late for them to know anything other than judgment for their sin and rejection of Him.

It is no joy to see this side of God's justice at work. Especially since I know that Jesus took all judgment for sin upon Himself on the cross. So I must live and speak grace. I must love people. I must share the good news. I must pray for others to repent and come to Jesus. And I must be serious about my sin by always turning from it to my Savior. I want to know Him by grace and not judgment. I want every person I know to never know God too late!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Jesus changes lives.

He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
John 9:25

With this simple testimony a healed man astounded the critics of Jesus. There is no arguing that can diminish the powerfully moving impact of a transformed life. Every person in the area knew that this man had been born blind. It was an amazing miracle of transformation done only by Jesus and it could not be refuted. It happened. Jesus changes lives!

And what was true in a physical sense for this man is true in a spiritual sense for every person who finds salvation in Jesus. We know we were blind, but now we see! Jesus brings sight to blind eyes. Jesus brings light to our darkness. Jesus heals and transforms all who believe. And we know it. We experience it. It cannot be denied. It is the clearest and first evidence of the power of the gospel. Jesus changes lives.

And Jesus continues to change lives. The gospel is the power of God at work in us all the time. It leads us to regular, consistent, clear, daily repentance and faith. Jesus is in one sense always opening eyes. And I know it. I feel it. I experience it. I cannot deny it. It is how I know that I know that Jesus lives and has done His saving work in me. He removes from me a fuzzy out of focus view of life and brings Himself into clear focus, and through Him I see everything else as I should. He continues to do it each day as I walk with Him. Jesus changes lives. It is powerful! It is wonderful! It is the best thing to live for every day.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

grow in grace and knowledge

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
2 Peter 3:18

The apostle Peter ends this short second letter with this admonition to grow in Christ. He encourages us to grow in two very distinct areas: grace and knowledge. So it would be good to understand what it is to practice this kind of growth.

What does it mean to grow in the grace of Christ? Grace is the core of the gospel. It is God becoming man, loving us, teaching us, dying for our sin, and conquering sin and death by the resurrection from the dead. And in that grace offering salvation to all who will believe. We must grow in the grace of Christ by daily defining our lives by the gospel message, being a people of repentance and faith and sharing that good news with others.

What does it mean to grow in the knowledge of Christ? I don’t think this is just about theology, or giving the right answers to a catechism question. This knowledge is more about knowing Who Jesus is and what our responsibilities are to Him. The text calls Him “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” This knowledge knows and believes the gospel so that we are saved. But it also obeys Jesus because He is Lord. So this growth in knowledge leads to outward change. We obey Jesus Christ. That is how we know Him.

O Lord,
Help me to grow in grace and knowledge. I want to always love and live in the gospel. I want to obey and follow You. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

kind to many friends

He who withholds kindness from a friend
forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
Job 6:14

This is Job’s complaint in his suffering after his “friends” join him and attempt to bring unasked for perspective to all his losses. They aren’t there out of kindness anymore. It is turning into a very personal theological debate with Job’s integrity questioned at the center. Job has had a reputation as a righteous man who obeys God and does good to others. He was a friend who was known for his kindness to people. But when the tables turn and he is the one in need, he does not receive much of the same from those friends of his who came to him in his trouble.

Job lets us in on the proper motivation for altruism and real friendship. We are kind to people because we love and fear God. Those who love God, respect His Word, obey Him and worship God are going to be kind to people and especially so with their friends. They cannot help it. To resist kindness is to resist God’s work in them. The overflow of their true relationship with God is true care for people. This builds solid relationships when all parties honor God. God’s people do not withhold kindness. God spreads His beneficent grace around the world because the sun and the rain help both the righteous and the unrighteous alike. This is common grace.

I want grace to flavor my life not only in what I receive from God in Christ, but also in what I bring to all my friendships. I am truly blessed with many friends both inside and outside the church. I love them all. And if Jesus is really my Master, He calls me to a generous kindness to each and every one of them. I want to always be generous in my friendship, sharing my life, never withdrawn out of fear for safety, or self-righteous judgment, but instead... like Jesus... learn to be the friend of all people that I can. And the fear of God, obeying and worshiping in love, will help me be this sort of friend who never withholds kindness.

Friday, November 3, 2017

How sick is your heart?

How sick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a prostitute, because you scorned payment.
Ezekiel 16:30-31

This is a harsh chapter to read. God likens unfaithful Israel to a lustful, cheating wife. She tries to pretend to be a prostitute to look like she is at least profiting from her unfaithfulness, but she is really just in it for the sex. This is a very rough analogy that could make for some highly controversial Sunday morning preaching if it was preached today as directly as God said it through His prophet Ezekiel!

There are five words at the very beginning that get my attention. It is the observation: “How sick is your heart”. God’s people had a problem first and foremost at the heart level. It was a crisis of character and commitment that would lead to God’s judgment. But it began at the heart. Sick hearts lead us to sick lives. If I am honest, it speaks directly to where my attention needs to be focused if I want to be a serious follower of Jesus.

I know that at its root my heart was born to be wicked. I cannot trust my heart outside of Your Word guiding me to change. I am inclined by sin’s sickness in me to live out sick choices, selfish desires, lustful wants, and sinful deeds. You have to have my heart’s affections first! I have to want You first, above all else.

I do not want to be a heart going astray like Israel, lusting after worship of anything or anyone but You, Lord. So help me. Help me guard my heart. Help me to keep Your holy truth in my thoughts and my affections in order to stay truly heart healthy for Your praise and honor, Lord Jesus!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Light of the world

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12

I need the light that only Jesus is. I live in a world of darkness. It gets darker every day I live. The darkness is accumulating with each sinner in the world and with every sin in my heart coming out into my life. I need the light to see my way. I need Jesus or I stumble along in the dark.

Sometimes at night
I am afraid
I cover my eyes,
Cover my shame
So here in the dark
Broken apart
Come with your light
And fill up my heart

Oh great light of the world
Fill up my soul
I'm half a man here
So come make me whole
Oh great light of the world
Come to impart
The light of your grace
To fill up my heart

The wind of this world
Can push us around
Folding us up
Backing us down
But here in the dark
I'm not alone
So come with your strength
And carry me home

Oh great light of the world
Fill up my soul
I'm half a man here
So come make me whole
Oh great light of the world
Come to impart
The light of your grace... To fill up my heart

Great Light of the World, by Bebo Norman

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

We can do it.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:8

Peter established that a string of character qualities born out of the actions of a Christian’s daily life will result in effective and fruitful Christian living. To be a Christian involves faith (2 Peter 1:5), character (2 Peter 1:5-7), and the evidence of continually growing visible fruit in the believer’s walk (2 Peter 1:8). All three flow from faith in Christ (2 Peter 1:1), grace and peace in the knowledge of God (2 Peter 1:2), and are the naturally expected confirmation of God’s election of us (2 Peter 1:10).

The power to do these things comes from God Who has granted us all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). His Word shows us what we need in order to live this way and combat sinful desire (2 Peter 1:4). It can be done. We can fight sin, grow in Christian character, and live productive Christian lives for the glory of our God and Savior.

I love that Peter does not give one second of sympathy to our fallenness. Instead, he celebrates our great Savior and the powerful work He has done in our salvation from election, to faith, to redemption, to our sanctification. Then Peter calls us to actively apply that truth that we believe in a personal application of sanctification... to believe and to add to our belief the character and activity that is consistent with the work Jesus has already done in us. We can do it, not by our own power, but because Christ has already done it and continues to work in us by His great power.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

his and hers

He: O you who dwell in the gardens,
with companions listening for your voice;
let me hear it.
She: Make haste, my beloved,
and be like a gazelle
or a young stag
on the mountains of spices.
Song of Solomon 8:13-14

Lovers want to be with one another. And the Song of Solomon ends with the couple, Solomon and his lovely bride, singing out their longing for being together. It is romantic opera. The last verses of this grand love ballad casts the bride in a garden with her friends, awaiting with excitement for the arrival of her love. Solomon sings out asking for her to join him so he may hear her voice in the garden and quickly make his way to her. She encourages him in answer to make haste to come to the fragrant mountains of their love where they can finally be together.

The one clear theme repeated all throughout Song of Solomon is longing. And it is fitting that the book ends with one more expression of the longing for love. Love has at its root an aching need to care, to be with, to hold what is loved. The lover craves the beloved. And both Solomon and his bride constantly express this longing to be together all throughout the song. To love is to long. To be loved is to be wanted with an aching, passionate need.

The Lord Himself said at creation: “It is not good for man to be alone.” And when Adam first set eyes on Eve, he knew what God meant. So love and marriage between a man and his God-given wife is a good and holy thing. The love of a caring family is a good and holy thing. The need to love and to be loved is made in us by God and He gloriously created sexuality and marriage so we might know it, and be satisfied in His creation, and celebrate it all well. Love is worth singing about.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Do not fear.

“I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, ‘Do not close
your ear to my cry for help!’
You came near when I called on you;
you said, Do not fear!’
Lamentations 3:55-57

Timely words for any time my heart is afraid. I’m trusting God when things seem impossible or overbearing or out of my control. Fear is always around the corner... and not the creepy horror show kind of fear. That’s nothing... it won’t happen. I won’t get jumped by killer clowns or shadow monsters. But what is real is the fear that follows in sin’s wake. The broken system we live in that we inevitably trust in will let us down. That makes me at times afraid to trust anything. My own failures (rooted in by broken sinfulness) will lead me to fear.

Jeremiah wrote these words as Jerusalem burned in ruin around him. And even before then, as the rejected prophet, he literally prayed from the bottom of a muddy cistern where he was being punished and imprisoned. He pleaded with God from the depths of this emotional pit. And God came near when he called on Him with three words of strength: DO... NOT... FEAR.

I’m comforted by Your words of encouragement... Do not fear. I am going to pray hard for my life today to apply this truth. You know what is going on. You know I can fixate on the future and start to fear. You know I can wallow in past failures and then fear. But I will trust that You are near me now and I will believe that You can bring relief. I will not fear.

Friday, October 27, 2017

like this man

The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!”
John 7:46

Jesus spoke
With authority
Challenging pride
And false religion.
No one ever spoke like this man.

Jesus lived
The truth
With sympathy
Challenging our sin
And bringing grace.
No one ever lived like this man.

Jesus loved
The truth
And sinners
Accepting their repentance
And giving forgiveness.
No one ever loved like this man.

Jesus died
On a cross
Giving Himself
Exchanging His holiness
For our sin.
No one ever died like this man.

Jesus rose
From the dead
Challenging death
Giving eternal life.
No one still lives like this man.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

my source idols

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
James 3:14-16

My prayer is that the Holy Spirit of God would use this truth from God’s Word to purge me of selfish ambition and jealous comparison of my life with others. It is a horrible thing to have those thoughts ruling my heart. With them come conflict, disorder, and sinful practices. I want to avoid this personally. I want to avoid this in my ministry. The wisdom that comes from above must rule my heart and I pray it helps me lead my flock in that same ruling wisdom.

Lord, I am a broken man for whom Christ died. And my sinful nature still has this disturbing proclivity toward driving self-fulfillment, even in what I want others to see as “holy” in me. O God, purge me from this source idol of approval! I only need to live for Your glory and the proclamation of the gospel in my life.

Lord, I am a sinner who can covet the stuff of other lives, doubting Your provision for me... and not just materialistically. I can read into the Instaglammed filtered images projected by others and then wish I had their experiences or their perceived happiness. I am covetous. I compare my circumstances and become a jealous, bitter judge. This poisons my heart for living in Christ’s counter-culture kingdom. It ruins my chance at really knowing community in Your church. O God, purge me from this source idol of entitlement! I only need Jesus and His remaking of my life into a new and better person for His glory.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

life together

And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:12

There is strength in friendships. This small segment of Ecclesiastes reminds us of the benefits of investing in good relationships with our friends in community (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Two are indeed better than one. This holds true in friendships, in discipleship, in marriages, and in families. Life together is what people were created to enjoy. It was not good for Adam to be alone. Jesus even modeled community by pursuing relationship with disciples and with friends. We were never meant to be a solo act. And like the old song reminds us: One is the loneliest number. We need to pursue the God-designed strength found in community.

I think I first appreciated this truth while a young freshmen in high school. At that stage in my life, major changes were afoot. My old life had been uprooted. My family moved from suburbia to the inner city. My mother’s health declined rapidly. My father’s work hours and patterns of coping with all the difficulty kept him away from home a lot. I needed community to get me through, and God wisely and graciously placed me in the right place at that insanely difficult time to forge deep friendships that prepared me best for life. Those people are still strands woven into my life, and though I may not see them much, their impact remains deep in the fabric of my soul. I knew before the age of 18 that I’d never live without a community of relationships to sustain and nourish me, and with whom I was stronger. And I would give myself to strengthening that community as well. That is real church to me!

Lord Jesus,
Thank You for the call to live life together, with Your people, in the church. It is messy, no doubt. It is difficult at times. It is hard to obey You even while we are together. And we have to work out differences, and challenge our sinfulness together, and sometimes we hurt one another while trying to help. But it is still very much a good thing, and it is really good to be together in community with You, Lord!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

justice and pardon

In those days and in that time, declares the Lord, iniquity shall be sought in Israel, and there shall be none, and sin in Judah, and none shall be found, for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.
Jeremiah 50:20

What an encouraging insight into the full scope of God’s forgiving mercies! In this prophecy by Jeremiah against Babylon, the prophet delivers God’s decree of judgment against the oppressors of His people. There will be a time when Babylon will be judged for cruel treatment of the Jews. And the remnant left behind in the land of Israel will rejoice not just in God’s justice, but in His forgiveness of His people.

The reason a nationwide search for sin by God comes up empty is not because sinners got their act together and finally stopped all their sinning. Rather, it is because God pardoned them, and thus there are no longer any transgressions of the commandments for which God holds them guilty. They are pardoned! God’s forgiveness of sin among His people is the unexpected turn to grace in this stern pronouncement of the doom of Babylon. To the oppressors God pours out His justice in total destruction. To the oppressed who have turned back in repentance to God, He forgives in bountiful mercy so that no more guilt remains in them. The wicked are completely punished. Those in covenant with God are graciously restored and forgiven.

In both cases, God does the work. God moves Persia to invade and defeat Babylon. God pardons Israel and Judah so that His people can return to worship and obey their God. God leaves a remnant whom He forgives. God brings great judgment on the nations who rage against Him. He is holy, righteous, and gets glory for His great name in both His judgment, and His pardon.

Monday, October 23, 2017

king by force

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
John 6:15

This was the end result of Jesus feeding the crowd of five thousand plus by the Sea of Galilee. These people were so astounded by the miracle that they now saw in Jesus the perfect solution for a political leader. Imagine how great it would be to have a politician who could literally feed the masses. There would be no physical need if this kind of guy was your king. And the crowd was intent on a populist uprising to kidnap Jesus and “force” Him to be the king. What a weird ministry moment. Jesus just wanted to teach His disciples and to care for people by feeding the hungry that followed Him. The crowd instead wanted a revolution against Rome, with Jesus as their new Caesar.

Jesus easily refused this populist temptation to fame and earthly power. You do not “make” Jesus king by force of your own will. He is Lord alone by His own nature. You submit to His rule, You cannot force Him to do what You want. This was not worship that the crowd was intent on doing... it was actually rebellion that demanded that God give them what they wanted.

I cannot “make you Lord” by force of my will, as if any other rule could have legitimate claim over my life. I surrender my will to Your rule instead. I don’t believe You so that I can get my best life now in selfish greed! I don’t have a Lord I trust with my conditions met! I simply trust in You because I am nothing without You and only by Your Lordship do I have eternal life and anything here to call a life. O Lord, purge from me any sinful thinking that demands anything from You as a pretext to my trust in You. I submit to You, my King, solely on Your terms.

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.

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!

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.

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.