Friday, September 22, 2017

at a distance


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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 21, 2017

apostates


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

sin bites


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

new = good?


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

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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

Not Guilty!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

priest and sacrifice


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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

wealth has wings


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

disdain for scripture


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

turn again


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

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

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

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

praying with Jesus


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

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

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

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

watch my words


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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 7, 2017

God's Plans



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

full days


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Avoid gospel neglect!


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

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

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

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

Monday, September 4, 2017

easy, tiger...


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

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

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

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

Friday, September 1, 2017

religion without repentance


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

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

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

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

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