Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Last Day and a Vision of Destiny

I was reading Revelation 22 on this last day of the year 2009. What an extraordinary chapter this is! One must read Revelation 22 with Genesis 3. All that was lost in Genesis 3 in the sin of the human race is regained in Revelation 22 in and through Christ. The curse is taken away ("There will no longer be any curse", verse 3), and people have, in this glorious eschatological destiny, access to the tree of life (verse 2), which access was lost in Genesis 3. As I read with relish each and every verse in this chapter, my heart's yearning for the future grew and grew until I thought my soul would burst open with joy. I cried out with John, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." Come, beautiful bridegroom of my heart; come and take Thy royal throne. Come, and before You our knees bow and our tongues confess Your glory and kingdom.

There is much about which to be concerned as we journey timidly (and perhaps frightfully) into a new year. But Christians rejoice to know that there is much that has not changed. God is still on the throne, and nothing happens to us except what God has wisely and lovingly decreed for our good. Also, our precious Lord will not abandon us, but He will accompany us in every trial and in every struggle. Our journey is His journey, and we journey together with God, hand in hand. And finally, God will by His sovereign grace, love, and power bring us this year toward home to heaven where we will joyfully share in His glory. Our destiny is assured and worthy of all we can give to it.

So, Christian friend, let us give of all we are and have for Him in this new year. May this year witness God's faithfulness to His own promise to His own people. "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen (Revelation 22:21)."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Beginnings, Endings and the New Year

The end of one year and the beginning of another is emblematic of life itself. Life is a series of beginnings and endings, of starting and finishing. But the Christian hope is linked to the great ending of all. And for the Christian this ending is the true beginning of something that will never end. In Revelation 21:1-4 states, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, make ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.' "

Every completion of something in the time-space dimension is a reflection of the fleetingness of life. Life is transient at best. James said it was like a vapor that soon passes away (James 4:14). Ultimately no man (except Jesus) leaves a footprint, carbon or otherwise, on the face of history. We live, love, work, plan, grow, fail, and struggle until the end. Paul said that if only in this life the Christian had hope, then Christians are an extraordinarily pathetic people, and they should be pitied by all (1 Corinthians 15:19). The Christian's life is beyond the ravages of time and the vicissitudes of life. Our joy is beyond the grave, and the reflections of joy we share here pale in comparison to what is coming. It is the Father's good pleasure to share His kingdom with His children, and the children will giggle in divine glory beyond the distant ethereal sunset.

In the Book of Revelation the old apostle John, who had seen so much in his life (good and bad), was now waiting for the upward call to go home. Exiled on the penal island of Patmos he had a remarkable vision of Jesus. Jesus came to the sweet John and reminded the elderly, weakening apostle that Jesus was the alpha, the omega, the almighty God. Jesus was once dead, but now He is alive forevermore. He is the King of Life, and in His sovereign hands are the keys of the greatest enemies of all: death and Hades. For John that was the greatest news of all. John's aging eyes saw the end of that which will pass, and he saw the beginning of that which is to come. All of God's people, joyfully adorned as a bride for her husband, described also as a new city, will rejoice in the new heavens and new earth. And God, with tender mercy and intimacy, will touch their cheeks to wipe away every tear with His merciful finger. Those tears, salty with pain, sorrow, and agony of heart and body, are precious to our God. And He loves us enough to wipe these tears away Himself.

At the end of things there are often tears, but sometimes there are tears at the beginning of things. But the end of mortality and the beginning of immortality will be cause for the greatest wiping away of tears of all time. This awesome promise, this dynamic anticipation will make all worth while. So, finish your year, Christian friend, and begin with the joyful knowledge that you are in God's sovereign and good hands. And remember, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, or entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9)."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Scriptures and the New Year

I always become nostalgic, a bit sentimental, and do a whole lot of self-analysis as the end of the year approaches. As I near the beginning of a new year, I smell the fresh air of beginning over, and a newly minted vision is manufactured in my heart. All sorts of questions abound at a time like that: What will last? For what is worth giving my life? What is valuable in this life?

Pondering these type of thoughts, my meditations drift back to the preciousness of and the majesty in the divinely revealed Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. God has spoken! He has spoken in language, and as such, He has spoken perspicuously, authoritatively, sufficiently and with the energy of life. No wonder David wrote, "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul (Psalm 19:7)." Again he would write, "Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psalm 119:97)." Paul charged Timothy to "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2)." Jesus quoted the Scriptures to Satan when the evil one tempted the Master. Jesus gave the Scriptures the highest place of value and worth when He said, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4)." Paul urged Christians to take up the Word of God like a sword to fight off the evil one (Ephesians 6:17).

Thomas Cranmer extolled the Scripture when he said, "For the Scripture of God is the heavenly meat of our souls: the hearing and keeping of it makes us blessed, sanctifies us, and makes us holy: it turns our souls; it is a light to our feet: it is a sure, steadfast and everlasting instrument of salvation: it gives wisdom to the humble and lowly-hearted: it comforts, makes glad, cheers, and cherishes our consciences ("The First Part of the Exhortation to the Reading of Holy Scripture" found in "Certain Sermons or Homilies", 1864, p. 3)." God has not only spoken His mind and heart in the Scriptures, but God has also so empowered them as to accomplish His will in human hearts. Jesus spoke of the sanctification of His people when He said, "Sanctify them in truth; Your word is truth (John 17:17)." For, as Hebrews 4:12 states, "The Word of God is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." John Calvin said, "God is true, not only because He is prepared to stand faithfully to His promises, but because He also really fulfills whatever He declares; for He so speaks, that His command becomes a reality ("Commentary upon the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans")." God's Word understood, affirmed, and believed is part of the divine power that causes the sinner to be born again (1 Peter 1:23), and it the Word of God that will cause us to grow in faith and grace throughout our lives. Paul declared, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17)."

As we approach a new year, let us recommit ourselves to the God of the Word by being committed to the Word of God. Let's pursue the Word of God with a holy passion, an authentic hunger, and a deep desire to glorify God in the understanding and application of His Word. May we who are preachers refresh out commitment to preaching exegetically and systematically the Word of the Lord, and may every Christian plan to regularly and meaningfully read and obey the Word of God. For God's Word will never pass away. The Psalmist wrote, "Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in heavens (Psalm 119:89)."

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Divine Promise for the New Year

Reading in my private devotions today, I was reminded of the beautiful and tenderly scripted passage in Hebrews 13:5-6, "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you, so that we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?' " This statement in found in the context of the exhortation to extricate ourselves from the love of money. The real issue here is "security." Security is not found in money, power, prestige, or one's station in life. Security has always been, and forever will remain, an issue related to one's relationship to God. The Christian has the greatest of confidences, because the Christian has the Lord. I think this is the essential meaning of point in Hebrews 13. The writer reminds us that we need not fear because we belong to God. I hear in the Bible passage the clear and distinct ringing of divine providence applied by divine wisdom and love. Nothing can touch the Christian except what passes through the hands of the Christian's all-powerful God. Nothing occurs to the Christian except what God, in His all-wise providence, determines is best for the Christian. In addition, God will never withhold from the Christian all that would be desirable, beautiful, and favorable for the Christian in this life and in eternity. Psalm 84:11 states this truth emphatically.

But, though God gives many good and perfect gifts to the Christian (James 1:17), there is something more tender, personal, and intimate that gives the Christian hope and comfort. Hebrews 13:5 says that God Himself will never desert or forsake us! There are five negatives utilized in the Greek to EMPHASIZE the fact that God will never, ever, without question or doubt, desert or forsake us. The Christian must say, "I have God; what else do I need?" "What else" indeed! If one has the Lord, then one has all. As John Wesley once wrote, "One who has no money is poor, but one who has nothing but money is poorer still."

May this confidence of heart, which is God's gift to you in Christ, be your comfort this day and in the new year. Christian friend, God will never cast you out, never throw you over, and He will never walk away from you. Though none of us know what the future will bring, we do know that God will never forsake us at any step in the journey to the glorious celestial city. Hallelujah!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Life Reflections at the End of the Year

Soon 2009 will be but a memory and become a part of the mosaic of the past. It always seems strange to me when a year passes out of my present radar of experience. Where do years go? What happens to the time that was the year past? Alas, I digress from my original intent.

As I finish a year and begin a new year, I have many wonderful Christian truths that serve as an anchor for my soul and the solace of my heart. Of these, three great mountains of truth rise to bear witness to me and to comfort me in my moments of anxious distress and uncertainty.

First, there is the great veracity and liveliness of the holy Scriptures. I have never found the Scriptures lacking in any substance of value. They are absolutely true, and they are the means by which we come to know saving truth and enter into that truth in a personal way. The Scriptures teach us of the nature and decrees of God, and the Scriptures guide our feet into the paths of holiness and Christian discipleship. Many times the Scriptures have been the balm of Gilead to my hurting soul. Many times my aching and weary heart has been renewed by the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit blowing through the canyons of Scripture.

Second, the hurts and pains of the Christian's life are but a reflection of the great cosmic struggle between Satan and God. Satan would attack Christians because Christians are God's beloved people. It is very encouraging to know on which side of this struggle we are. Christians bear the mark of Christ, and they may even bear the marks of persecution for Christ. Ours may be a journey that is rife with disappointment and sorrow, but in all of life's vicissitudes we overwhelmingly conquer in and through Christ, because we belong to Christ. Christians rejoice in the Lord and in the glory of the Lord. We do so because we are His.

Third, the providence of God is my most beloved comfort of all. There is no greater help to the hurting Christian than the sovereign providence of God. The sovereignty of God is absolute, and He asserts His sovereign power to watch over His own people. Even Satan must bow before the sovereign God of heaven and earth. Even in the darkest of days, when Satan seems to do his worst, God is able with wisdom and grace to weave patterns of glory with threads that sparkle with His love. The Christian can and must trust God fully, and they will breathe the air of hope. And biblical hope never disappoints.

The power and life of the Scriptures, the loving and victorious relationship with God, and the sovereign providence of God are the three pillars upon which the weakest Christian can lean with certainty and assurance. As we face the new year, let every child of God rejoice in the knowledge that the darkness of the unknown is brightened by the promise of God for His people. Thanks be unto God!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from Bethlehem's Manger

Each Christmas I imagine what it was like to be in Bethlehem on that day when Jesus was born. I stand a short distance away and watch as the shepherds excitedly run to the stable and breathlessly look upon the scene before them. The undiscerning observer would have seen a humble, poor family unfortunate enough to arrive too late to get a room in Bethlehem. But to the shepherds who had received a crash course given by angels in Christology the scene was filled with glory and amazement. The shepherds, after a pause to gaze intently upon the face of the Christ child, joyfully explain what the angel had said to them not far away in a simple field outside of Bethlehem.

I wait patiently until the shepherds leave with their news of the new born Savior, then I humbly approach the stable. Timid to barge in unannounced, I wait until Joseph sees me. Then, with a knowing heart, he nods his approval, and I slowly step into the faint light of that little scene. Mary is tucking baby Jesus with a small wrapping, as she has done many times that night to make sure he is snug and warm. Then she lifts her eyes to me, and sweetly smiles. I shuffle closer to the manger, and look down into the face of the Son of God in human flesh. Suddenly every Christmas carol I ever heard bursts into song. Every Scripture verse on the incarnation I know explodes with fresh meaning and inspiration in my heart. I look at the lips of Jesus and think of how He spoke His Word into existence. I gaze upon His hands and think of the power that flung galaxies into space. I look into His eyes, and I see glory; the glory of God in the highest of heaven. And trembling with delight and awe I speak to Him. Out of my heart flows effervescent praise and joy. "Glory to God in the highest; Immanuel has come! All is well; God's redemptive plan is alive and assured. One day there will be a cross; one day there will be a resurrection, and one day the world will be filled with the knowledge of God. All because of this very night."

Soon I sense it is time to go. It is time to go back to pressure, stress, commitments and duties, dreams and challenges. It is time to go back to the job of living. But how can I ever see a sunrise or a sunset without thinking of the glory of God? How can I ever preach a sermon without thinking of the power of the Bethlehem's moment of glory? The world is still filled with problems, complications, bloodshed, sickness, and death. But hope is born in Bethlehem, and all is well. I can never be a pessimist again. Tomorrow will be a beautiful day!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Faithfulness

I have preached on the incarnation of Jesus Christ for many, many years. I never tire of thinking about the miraculous, majestic, magnificent meaning of the Son of God becoming man resulting in our salvation. The rich depth and cavernous truth contained in this biblical and doctrinal truth concerning the incarnation of Christ is overwhelming and enriching. How can any thinking Christian get bored with this story and message?

One of my very favorite parts of the incarnation of Jesus Christ is how the promise of Jesus' birth, the birth of Jesus itself, and the surrounding contextual narrative of the nativity manifests gloriously the faithfulness of God. The coming of Jesus Christ to earth proves once again that God is faithful, and He can (and ought to be) trusted as the dependable and trustworthy God. God's faithfulness is found everywhere in the biblical narrative concerning the promise and birth of Christ. Some messianic and divine promises fulfilled in Christ's birth include the following: God said in Micah that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (and it was so). Matthew explains that the birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah that a virgin would conceive and bear a son, and His name would be called "Immanuel - God with us." The Magi coming from the east fulfilled the Old Testament promise that the Gentiles would come to Christ's light. Even Simeon's experience with the Christ-child eight days after Jesus was born, was a fulfillment of the promise God made to Simeon, indicating that Simeon would not die until he saw the Christ of God. That promise was fulfilled.

As we think about the faithfulness of God in the incarnation of Christ, let us ponder the following thoughts that seem to be profoundly imbedded in this incarnational truth:
1. God is by nature faithful, thus He is absolutely and immutably faithful to every promise He makes. He cannot be unfaithful.
2. God's faithful promises center in the person and saving work of Christ.
3. God's promises are intended for His covenant people; we can depend upon God undeniably.
4. Just as God's promises were fulfilled in Christ's first coming, so God's promises will be fulfilled in the second coming of Christ.
5. Redemption itself is anchored in the faithfulness of God to save His people in Christ.
6. God's promises are fulfilled in history in the remarkable experiences of God's people.
7. As Christians journey on to the celestial city, they should look to the faithful God who promises faithfully to faithfully care for them and fulfill their deepest hopes for divine glory. Heaven itself is colored with divine faithfulness.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas' Consolation

Every year at Christmas I am freshly struck by the awesomeness of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. I enjoy preaching a series of Christmas sermons on the nature and meaning of the incarnation each and every year. And I never fail to find wonderfully fresh meaning from the biblical text outlining the powerful message of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

I was reading through Luke chapter 2 when I was gripped by verse 25 and a word contained therein. The passage deals with Simeon. Simeon had received a message from God that stated that he would not die until he had seen the Lord's Christ (verse 26). In verse 25 the Scripture describes Simeon's life as one of "waiting for the consolation of Israel." What a remarkable implication is given here concerning the meaning and impact of the life and work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ! Simeon was waiting for the Messiah, by whom would come the consolation of Israel. The Greek word for "consolation" is akin to the word used for the Holy Spirit ("comforter") in John's Gospel. It includes the ideas of peace, serenity, comfort, blessedness, and favor. Later, in verses 29-30 Simeon prayed to God having seen and recognized Jesus as the Messiah, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace...for my eyes have seen your salvation." Jesus Christ is our salvation, our consolation.

Jesus Christ is called by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 1:1 "our hope." The world today is talking a great deal about hope. Where lies the hope of the world? What can give the world a sense of joyful expectation of futuristic blessing? The answer lies not in the life or work of a politician, national leader, or human achievement. The hope for the world resides in Jesus Christ alone. In Christ alone our sins are forgiven by virtue of His atoning work on the cross, in Christ alone we are given eternal life, in Christ alone we are rightly related to God, in Christ alone we fulfill our human purpose for which God created us, in Christ alone we will ultimately reside in and enjoy the glory of God forever and ever. Christ alone is the hope for forgiveness, eternal life, justice, and goodness in this world. What a glorious consolation!

As we celebrate the Christ child in the manger this Christmas, let us remember who He really is and what He really means. In Him, in Christ Jesus, is all the hope of mankind. Christ is our CONSOLATION.

Friday, December 18, 2009

America's Syncretistic Christianity

Every biblically grounded, Scripturally informed, and theologically sound Christian pastor knows a very sad secret about American evangelical Christianity: it is eclectic! This is not a new phenomenon, and it has been a challenge for a very long time. Many life-time church going people think they remember a time when "all was well" with the church. They might regale others with anecdotal recollections about "back when I was a kid, church was great!" But the truth is that church in every generation had challenges to face and flaws to mend. One might be surprised to note that by Acts chapter 6 the first church in Jerusalem already had a major problem to fix. This birthed what we think is the ministry of the deacon.
But the problem has developed in the modern era to the point that the church is definitely in danger of losing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some might suggest that the gospel is already lost, and we don't know it.
Colleen Carroll Campbell said in a recent editorial entitled, "Christmas Wars Begin Within" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Thursday, 17 December 2009) that the problem of eclecticism in American Christianity has reached critical mass. She states that in a recent survey by the Pew Foundation that 22 percent of those who call themselves Christian believe in reincarnation, 23 percent believe in astrology, 23 percent believe that spiritual energy resides in objects (i.e. trees and crystals), 17 percent believe in the power of casting of spells or curses, 17 percent believe they have been in the presence of ghosts, and 14 percent believe in the veracity of fortune tellers and psychics. These are folks who would claim to believe in Jesus, the Bible, and Christian teaching. You can't get more syncretistic than that!
We are certainly "reaping" what we have "sown" in the churches for many years. One of the biggest problems with Christianity in America for decades surprisingly has been Christian ministry of the pastors, denominations, and churches. The pragmatic theme of "bigger is better, quicker is best" has been the watch word of the American church. Raising money, manufactured conversions, and theological animosity are taking their toll. The new wave of post-modern Christian leadership is not helping, because their call is for the church to be culturally relevant. Today we are told we must change to survive. I agree, but the change we are given by post-modern Christian leadership is to back off our hangups, retool biblical doctrine, and become more culturally sensitive. One gigantic post-modern seeker-friendly church did a survey of its ministry some years ago, and it discovered that the church was not producing disciples of Jesus Christ. For a brief moment I hoped the next statement that the staff and church would make would be something like this, "We realize now that we need to go back to the sufficiency of Scripture and the teaching of the doctrines of the Christian faith as the means of growing disciples." But no, they next stated that they need to take another survey and find out what the culture wanted now. Incredible imbecility! What will the next harvest be? I shuddered to think about it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Negative Christianity - the Latest Trend

Since when did it become cool to be negative to Christians and to Christian thought? No, I am not talking about pagans; I am talking about cool, modern (post-modern!) Christians who demonstrate their loyalty to Christ by being apologists for the worldly culture and polemical enemies of traditional Christianity. There was a time when Christians gave traditional Christian thought the benefit of the doubt (too much benefit of the doubt, probably), but now the trend is to attack everything traditionally Christian in the name of openness and Christian "cool." I begin to see how the religionists who think of themselves as "with -it" will become the persecutors of those who dare to speak prophetically to the secular culture. These so called "Christian evangelists" will continue to back themselves up beyond the point of irrelevancy; no, they will be backed up to oblivion.