Monday, July 31, 2017

love and endurance

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
2 Thessalonians 3:5

This short little prayer for the Thessalonian church is a good reminder of what a Christian needs every day. Paul prayed for the hearts of his disciples. And truly all our greatest needs must start by God meeting us at the heart. If Christ has our hearts, He has our lives.

The prayer is for hearts to be directed to two things... the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ. Love is the first and deepest heart need. We often try to fill that need with many insufficient loves... some we search for, some we quickly plug in out of inconvience. But no earthly person, thing, or experience of joy can ultimately satisfy our heart's need for love. Yet God can be found in other loves as He becomes first priority. We see His love as He creates earthly enjoyment and blesses relationships with His grace in Christ.

God also directs our hearts to the persevering endurance of Jesus Christ. Because to know the Father's love, we must in love obey Him, just as the Son loved the Father and obeyed Him, even to death on a cross. That takes steadfastness. I want to be faithful in the Father's love He gives to me. I want to be faithful in my love for the Father. I want to be steadfast in worshiping Him in and through His good gifts, starting with my salvation in Jesus Christ, and extending into every relationship, every action I take, every experience of my life, every joyful thing God gives me to do for His glory.

Friday, July 28, 2017


Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven.
Psalm 148:13

Above all on this spinning globe
The majesty is great of our Lord
His glory above the earth
Praise the name of our God!

Above the farthest stretch of heaven
The grace of God is freely given
Bigger than the universe
Praise the name of our God!

Above constraint of time or space
God sends love in amazing grace
So much more than we can experience
Praise the name of our God!

Above the limits of brokenness
Christ has brought freedom and forgiveness
We are free from sin and death
Praise the name of our God!

Above the curse on sin to die
Forever we live with God on high
By Jesus freed to live and love
Praise the name of our God!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

pride & fall

But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.
2 Chronicles 26:16

Heed this warning from the life of King Uzziah. He had a long and prosperous reign in Jerusalem, beginning his rule at the age of 16, and reigning 52 years in total. He was a God-fearing man who set his heart on seeking God for himself and the nation. The Lord blessed him so that Judah's power and influence grew. He fortified Jerusalem and built a strongly defensive army. National security and morale were high. The small nation became greater than it possibly ever could. And that is where the old king grew weak in his perceived strength and accomplishments.

For reasons known only to the king, Uzziah chose to violate the temple law and do a task reserved only for the priests... the burning of incense before the Lord. Perhaps he thought it would personalize his worship. Maybe he reasoned "It's only incense... it's not a big deal like offering a sacrifice like Saul did." But it was wrong. It disrespected God's holy commands. When God confronted the king who was in the very act of disobedience, Uzziah grew angry. He was chastised then immediately with leprosy, excluded from all entry into the temple from that day forward. He was banished to his own leper's house, losing palace privilege as well as his pride.

We should never take credit for what God in His grace pours on us. And we should never think ourselves above God's Word. Such pride brings separation and destruction.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

fearing only one authority

And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.
Luke 12:8-9

The context of this statement from Jesus is the warning of increased persecution that would come from Israel's religious leaders againt the disciples of Jesus (Luke 12:1-12). He has warned his disciples to steer clear of the hypocritical religion of the Pharisees. God makes all secrets known in His refining justice, so hypocrisy will always eventually be revealed by Him.

The fear of a disciple of Jesus is not for what man can do to any person. Instead, we respect God's justice, Who alone can determine eternal destiny. Human powers might give a death sentence, but God can judge sin and souls in hell. God knows us and cares for His own. But we must fear Him and not human powers.

True disciples of Jesus then will not be coerced by human torture or punishment into denying their Lord. They will resolutely acknowledge the Son of Man before the men who bring persecution. They will hold fast to Him because their souls are safe in Christ. No human misery outweighs the splendor of eternity loved by God in Christ.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

turning tide

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—
2 Thessalonians 1:5

These words were meant to encourage a church that was faithful to the gospel despite suffering in extreme persecution. The early church saw its leaders and members imprisoned, tortured, and killed for the proclamation of the gospel that Jesus died and rose again for our sins. They suffered for the sake of the gospel story. Paul, who had endured numerous beatings and imprisonment himself sent them this reminder: the tide will turn one day.

Any time the church experiences persecution, it is because God has righteously deemed His people worthy of His kingdom so they suffer under man, while they remain faithful, loved and protected by God forever. Persecution means that Christians are doing something right. Jesus warned His disciples that the world would hate them just as it hated Him.

The tide will turn though. A righteous and holy God will call all people into account for their lives. Paul reminds us in this book that Jesus will return to judge this world. It is the theme of 2 Thessalonians. Jesus will call all those into account who do not obey the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8), and there will be dire consequences for rejecting Jesus (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10). We must passionately proclaim the gospel, faithfully, right up to that Day.

Monday, July 24, 2017

rescue from the cruelest sword

I will sing a new song to you, O God;
upon a ten-stringed harp I will play to you,
who gives victory to kings,
who rescues David his servant from the cruel sword.
Psalm 144:9-10

David's heart was filled with praise because of God's rescuing grace. He had been delivered from the hands of enemies. David was a warrior king. This psalm is filled with images from his military career as he prays to the God Who equipped him to battle Israel's foes (Psalm 144:1). He gives all credit to God for the progress Israel made against enemies (Psalm 144:2).

God delivered David and saved the nation despite human frailty (Psalm 144:3-4). He did it showing His power against foreign powers bent on discrediting David and the nation (Psalm 144:5-8). The Lord was the power and the leader behind every victory David knew as command in chief. God rescued the king and made His people great.

I identify with this psalm at a spiritual level, because living for Jesus is a lifetime spiritual battle. Some people aren't too fond of Christians. And another Christian leader's failure would be celebrated by many outside of the faith. So God must strengthen my hands and bring victory against the lies of sin that I must fight for and with myself and with others. Like David, I will praise God as He does this.

Friday, July 21, 2017

God made Judah great again

And the fear of the Lord fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were around Judah, and they made no war against Jehoshaphat.
2 Chronicles 17:10

This was the blessing of God coming to His obedient people. As Judah obeyed God and Jehoshaphat restored the worship of the Lord in Jerusalem, taking great measures to provide for the teaching of God's Law throughout Judah, God granted peace. Judah became powerful and prosperous. Peace came around the nation as an outcome of their faithfulness to the Lord and to His Law again.

God blessed His people when they simply obeyed the covenant again. The nation prospered under God as His covenant people. God kept His Word and His people worshiped Him, turned to God in faith, and taught His truth to the next generation. It took a God-fearing leader to get this revival started, but God used king Jehoshaphat to strengthen His people.

Obedience to the Lord is the only path to real peace. Believing Him and trusting Him are the sources of security. God's blessing comes by faith in what He has done, trusting God, so that we might have the ability to obey His Word, do His will, and know His peace.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

good gifts to children

"If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:13

By giving us the Holy Spirit to reside in us and beside us at all times, God has given us the best gift... Himself. But God gives all of Himself. He sent His Son to be our salvation. Jesus gave His life for us. The Holy Spirit is now with us. God the Father is always caring for us. How much more does God have to do to show He loves us? He gives us more than we can imagine at every turn. And God does this to people who were sinners when He provided all this.

This leads to worship, and a Paul Baloche worship song captures this wonder about Jesus.

"You Gave Your Life Away"

You spoke and worlds were formed
You breathed and life was born
You knew that one day You would come

So far from Heaven's throne
Clothed in human form
You showed the world the Father's love

You gave You gave Your life away
You gave You gave Your life away
You gave You gave Your life away for me

Your grace has broken every chain
My sins are gone my debt's been paid
You gave You gave Your life away for me

You lived a sinless life
Yet You were crucified
You bought our freedom on the cross

Forsaken for our sin
You died and rose again
Jesus You are the Lamb of God

You gave You gave Your life away
You gave You gave Your life away
You gave You gave Your life away for me

Your grace has broken every chain
My sins are gone my debt's been paid
You gave You gave Your life away for me

How glorious is Your love
If I could sing forever it's not enough
How glorious is Your love
If I could sing forever it's not enough

You gave You gave Your life away
You gave You gave Your life away
You gave You gave Your life away for me

Your grace has broken every chain
My sins are gone my debt's been paid
You gave You gave Your life away for me

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

gospel prayer request

At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
Colossians 4:3-4

If St. Paul, who literally lived and died for the gospel, wanted Christians praying for him to be bold and clear in his proclamation of the gospel, how much more should I seek clarity?! He knew the task was crucial to declare the gospel. There are four things in this prayer request that help us see what gospel proclamation should be.

First, God must bring OPPORTUNITY. Paul wanted God to open the door to people who needed to hear about Jesus. God must precede the telling of the good news, leading us to ready hearts.

Second, the truth of Jesus is a surprising MYSTERY. That is from the New Testament view of the word, the gospel is fresh news... a surprising turn in world history showing us that God loves us, sent Jesus Who died and rose again to save us. It is unexplainable by natural means but totally believable by faith alone.

The gospel needs CLARITY as it is told to people. Paul didn't want his personality or circumstances clouding the gospel story. The truth should always be clear.

And finally, sharing the gospel is a NECESSITY for the believer. Paul was under obligation and his request to be clear says as much because he says he "ought" to speak the gospel. I then out of NECESSITY must look of OPPORTUNITY to tell the MYSTERY of Jesus with CLARITY.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

confidence in completion

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
Psalm 138:8

Faith leads us to believe amazing things about God and what He is doing. And it leads us to experience great things from Him as we surrender our lives to Him. A faith destiny trusting God will bring us to see God at work in our lives as He does His purpose in us.

My experience of this though is limited by one factor: my lack of trust. I can sum up what hinders me with these questions: Am I willing to trust God's purpose and relinquish my personal agenda for my life? Am I consciously committed to Jesus as Lord directing my thinking, attitudes, emotions, and actions? That is what I must do in order for God to be truly worshiped. And then He will fulfill His purpose in me.

This psalm reminds us that God's purposes are linked to His steadfast love. It is grace that leads Him to do great things in the hearts and lives of repentant sinners that He brings to Himself for His glory. And He will "not forsake" what He is doing in His saving and sanctifying work in us. Just as the New Testament encourages us with "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it" (Philippians 1:6), so God will bring to fulfillment His purpose, in steadfast love, never forsaking us. Amen!

Monday, July 17, 2017

blessings from You

Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.
1 Chronicles 29:12

This is part of the last prayer that the author of Chronicles records from David. It is what is on the king's heart in his last days on earth. David has seen two dreams come to fruition: First, the provision for the building of the temple in Jerusalem for the worship of Yahweh... a building he considers to be "God's palace" (1 Chronicles 29:1). Secondly, David has seen the secure transition of power and the throne to his son Solomon.

These important events lead to great rejoicing in David and frame this worship prayer. David will die, but his spiritual legacy will live on within the temple worship and his promised dynasty will be blessed by God through the reign of Solomon.

That is how riches and honor come from God's hand to David. It is how God made him, and his throne great. And as David prospered and his son prospered, so did Jerusalem and all of Israel. God blessed the line of David in order to bless all. And through Jesus, the great Son of David, we all still know true riches, honor, might, strength, and great grace for any who would believe.

Friday, July 14, 2017

humble, obedient child

An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”
Luke 9:46-48

The social structure Jesus believed and taught is vastly different than those we would construct. Jesus does not construct His on power or fame. Instead, He bases His on humility and obedience. As His disciples repeatedly argue over their own perceived individual "greatness", Jesus quietly calls a child to His side to illustrate humble obedience.

Jesus shuts down the childish fighting of His disciples with the childlike humility demonstrated by the child at His side. He called His disciples to learn from this child... to be kids again. Receiving the child who obeyed Jesus' call would be like receiving Jesus Who obeyed the Father's call. Only then would they also know God. Only by humility and obedience can one know how to live as God intends.

And so must I, with the humble faith of an obedient son come to God. It saves me from delusions of my own significance. It positions me to serve God and others like Jesus did... in humble obedience to my Lord.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Disciple-making is hard work.

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.
Colossians 4:12-13

Epaphras had a disciple-making shepherd's heart. He prayed hard for the maturity of the Colossians christians. He longed for them to be a church who followed Christ doing the will of God in full assurance. And he backed up his difficult, committed prayers for them with hard work with and for them.

Epaphras worked hard in prayer (the text says he was struggling for them in prayer) and he physically poured effort (possible translations could be "anguished greatly" or "took great pains") to see a church matured to be people who follow and proclaim Jesus faithfully. Both of these tasks, praying and disciple-making, go together. They require diligent attention. They are soul-deepening, life-committed, hard work. To see someone to maturity is the life work of a parent. Disciple-makers apply themselves as diligently, knowing there is just one letter's difference between "mature" and "manure".

I want to keep pouring myself into people this way, but I have to acknowledge it can be hard work, especially when they choose not to obey scripture or the gospel. People don't always get what God is doing, and I don't always get it either. People can resist the work of grace that the gospel needs to do in them. They willingly choose sin. Sometimes they are just so stuck in the wrong path they can't fathom the way out and choose not to let you pull them up. Even then, they need to be anguished over and struggled over mightily in prayer and personal conversation. Until you shed tears, you may not have made a disciple, just as every parent knows that you haven't really gotten into maturing your kids until you have cried over them and with them. Disciple-making is hard work.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

the worship place

Her priests I will clothe with salvation,
and her saints will shout for joy.
Psalm 132:16

A promise so bold
made to saints of old
Jerusalem held the holy place
where people came to know God's grace
there on Zion's hill
they repented and sought God's will

Salvation was the promise from heaven
as priests sacrificed animals given
brought by people in their sin
who in obedience entered in
covenant on temple site
there to be set right

The joy of forgiveness of transgression
of the law was now in possession
worship of the Lord in His place
brought a grateful smile to each face
looking up to heaven
sins atoned, now forgiven

Salvation's garment now worn
in obedience now adorned
joyfully praising new behavior
walking back down Zion's hill
leaving that place to do His will

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

worship Jesus so that the world may know Him

Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
1 Chronicles 16:23-24

This is a verse from a song of praise that King David wrote for the occassion of bringing the ark of the covenant to its new place in Jerusalem. There he appointed Asaph and his brothers with special duties in watching over it and leading the nation in the worship of the Lord. This was done not only to bring Israel into worship, but also to declare God's greatness among the nations.

David's hope is that all the earth would know the Lord as Israel testified day after day of His salvation. By bringing the worship of God to the capital city of an emerging power in Jerusalem, David set the ark of the covenant front and center on his priority list and the world stage as other nations came to Jerusalem.

David's hope is still why we worship. Christians, too, want the nations to know God in Christ and to tell of His greatness. We want His great salvation, accomplished on the cross and secured forever in the resurrection, to be known to all people. That is why the gospel is at the center of Christian worship, so that those who visit us may see salvation in baptism, in the Lord's Table, and in our gospel worship and preaching. We worship so that the world may know.

Monday, July 10, 2017

fear of the controversial Jesus

Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.
Luke 8:35

This response was partly due to the reputation of the wild man of the tombs, and partly due to the power of Jesus. We know the people of the Gerasenes had to deal with this demonized man in the past. They tried guarding him and shackling him with chains, only to have him break the bonds and run madly back to the desert tombs outside the city (see Luke 8:29). They kep their distance from him out of fear, making no more attempts to control his entrapped life by further bondage. They let the demons have him.

But here is this tormented man now clothed, delivered by Jesus, and in a civil frame of mind... and they are still very afraid. This time it is because of the change Jesus brought that saved this man and sent their pork futures plummeting over a cliff to drown in the lake (see Luke 8:33-34). The fear of the wild man has been replaced by the fear of the God man. But this is not righteous respect for the power of Jesus. They do not like what Jesus has done, because it has cost their city to see this man changed.

And so do many people react to the radical changes Jesus brings. They can't accept a new normal that is truly normal and righteous. That is what makes Jesus so controversial.

Friday, July 7, 2017

three things that won't stop sin

These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Colossians 2:23

This verse describes three ineffective means of stopping my sin. At the top of the list is self-made religion. Picking and choosing my own moral code and custom built belief system is just a bad idea according to God. But it is the prevailing philosophy of religion in Western Culture. When Christian faith is restricted to the realm of "personal, private belief", with no voice in the public square or exchange of ideas, not held as an objectively sourced platform with truth claims, then all religion becomes self-made. "That's your interpretation..." is the mantra of many confronted with the exclusive claims of Jesus from the New Testament. But it is not up to me to determine right and wrong. My sin will always blur lines.

Asceticism is another failed way to fight sin that seems so promising. Withdrawing from all contact with anyone or anything might stop outward struggles to a degree. There are still monasteries to hide in. But this does not deal with the heart. There have been many bitter, hatefilled, sin struggling ascetics.

Severity to the body, extreme self-discipline, might also have a short-term effect on my outward sin,. But my problem is deeper... it is in my soul. I must change from the inside out. That is why trusting Jesus and receiving His forgiveness is the only way to deal with what is wrong with me.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

God of my home

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Psalm 127:2

This psalm is ascribed to Solomon as its author. I can tell because it has got Solomon's wry edge. This verse, in particular, sounds a lot like Ecclesiastes. The whole theme of this song of ascents, sung as travelers and their families made their way to Jerusalem, climbing the temple mount to worship, is the God-given blessing of family, particularly of children. Psalm 127:1 opens with the images of God building a house (household) and watching over the city (family).

Psalm 127:2 builds on the watchman of the city motif, showing the fruitless efforts we will make at guarding and keeping homes without recognizing God's control. We will wear ourselves into sleepless exhaustion trying to do God's job. He never slumbers or sleeps. He builds the house. He protects it.

O Lord,
You have built my home and family. And now with my children grown, half of them so far away from home, I trust You to keep them. Keep my family safe, close to You, close to Your heart! O that they will know Your care!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

forgiven much

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Luke 7:41-43

I must learn the lesson Simon learned here. Like this Pharisee, I rank my sin too low, assuming great sin in others to be so much worse, and priding myself on my seemingly small sins. But God, in Christ, forgives all sin. And I need to love that truth, embrace it as real for me, because my own judgmentalism and pride are in themselves horribly awful sins for which Jesus died.

Jesus freely forgives great sin. In this passage, the sinful woman (probably a prostitute) expresses great love for Jesus, extending extravagant worship to Him. She "outloves" the hospitality of Simon the Pharisee with her pure, and heartfelt brokenness and devotion. She gets what the proper response to the grace of God should be with her intense sacrificial gift, tears of repentance, and wordless public confession of devotion to Jesus. 

Oh to love like one forgiven of great sin! As long as I see my sins as petty, I will not love like she did. Pouring out my stored treasures from my broken jar in worship is what I, a thankful forgiven sinner, must do, for I have been forgiven much.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

peace by the cross

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:19-20

God dwelt in Jesus. Jesus is God. There is power in His words and deeds still at work the world because Jesus is fully God. God chose to dwell among us in Jesus.

There is saving faith in Jesus. Through Jesus, God is bringing people to Himself, reconciling and redeeming all of creation cursed by sin. Jesus came to restore to God all that sin had so carelessly ruined. Jesus is putting things right again.

And Jesus made peace forever at a costly price... His death on the cross. Through the blood of His cross, Jesus appeased God's wrath against sin, reversed the curse of sin, took the penalty of death for sin, and made peace for us where sin had made us enemies with God. It is because God came to give His life on a cross that we can know peace and be reconciled again.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Seek the Maker

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 124:8

it makes sense to me
that if there is something
I do not understand
about a thing I have
to talk to who made it...
the maker will have knowledge that I need

and so I can see
that the best life philosophy
to help me relate
to a world I didn't make
would be to talk to my Creator
so help comes from the best source right to me

I see a Designer's hand
in this wide universe grand
a Maker's mark I barely understand
yet I live and love with clear purpose
by a Savior I am purchased
and I can believe it

the Maker of heaven and earth lives
through Christ eternal life He gives
my help in eternal salvation
now proclaimed among the nations
His great name I will praise
for I breathe and live by His life-giving Spirit