Saturday, January 30, 2010

His Joy, Our Joy

John 15:11 (NASB), "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full."

John 17:13 (NASB), "But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves."

Hebrews 12:2 (NASB), "Fixing our eyes on Jesus...who for the joy set before Him endured the cross..."

One would be a bit pressed to find a concept more desired and sought, and less experienced and understood, than the virtue of joy. Joy is that marvelous possession which does not come by money or achievement. It cannot be bought or earned or artificially induced. Although one may feel that he has caught joy, often he does so only to discover what he has grasped is a fleeting fancy.

Equally tragic is the fact that many Christians haven't the slightest clue of the importance and central significance of joy in their faith experience with Christ. Joy goes with everything in the Christian life: obedience, worship, service, study, prayer, fellowship, ministry, and theology. The mature Christian realizes the painful necessity of walking with God through this vale of earthly tears because of the real nature of sinful reality. But it is only the few who actually rise to see through the clouds of despair the true vision of the color of joy in the glory of God made understandable through the suffering of this life.

Jesus made the issue clear and certain. He gives to His own His joy, and His joy cannot be less than full. This joy, the promised joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ applied with power and grace to the inner life of the true Christian, is the joy that enabled Jesus to EDURE THE CROSS. Therefore, I must say that the joy of which He speaks must be, along with all the divine virtues and grace that belong to the Lord, the greatest power on earth. It must be brother to the virtue of love. But what is Christian joy?

1. Christian joy is that discovery made in the heart of the believer whose soul has been transformed by divine grace that indicates Jesus is more precious and beautiful than the believer could ever conceive, and He belongs to the Christian. ("and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory." 1 Peter 1:8 NASB) Jesus is not the means to something else, but Jesus is Himself the gift, and in Him we have all. No wonder the New Testament describes the inheritance of the believer as the Lord Himself. What else could we want that is not in Him? What joy to know that we know Him as He indeed knows us, that we have Him as He has us, and we belong to Him as He belongs to us. It is oneness that is complete in its love and joy.

2. Christian joy is that assurance that all that matters most is most secure in His promise to us. Nothing can separate us from Him, and nothing can separate us from His love. There is not the slightest possibility of failing to experience and enjoy God's glory in heaven, for the child of God. Christian friend, you are as sure of heaven and the glory of God in which you will be an integral part, as if you were there already! This is not a reflection upon you, but it is a reflection upon the awesome power, love, and grace of God who chose you before the foundation of the world and who has accomplished His regenerative power in your heart. He who began His work in you will finish what He intended, planned and began in your life. And nothing, absolutely nothing, can stop God from accomplishing His holy will in your life. It was His will to save you, and God will not lose what He intended to save!

3. Christian joy is also hope, anchored in the soul by virtue of truth and the assurance by the Holy Spirit, that each and every tomorrow in the journey with God adds a layer of glorious perspective in our walk with Him. And each step in this journey only takes us closer and deeper and wider into the greatest and most magnificent experience a human could ever know - to join in God's eternal glory with Him. Christian brother and sister, one day you and I will know what even Adam in all of his innocence and ethereal experience could never have known - the joy of being found and saved and made like Christ, even though once we were utter rebels against God. Our failures will only cause the greatness of God to shine all the more. Our sin will only add luster to the glory of God's saving power and grace. Our weakness will only add more melody to the angelic song of God's glory in saving sinners. Sin, the worst act the universe will ever witness, is by God's power and grace, the means by which God's glory shines with an eternal beauty.

We have joy, everlasting joy, deep and abiding joy, joy beyond all human comprehension and imagination, JOY, JOY, JOY! May we rejoice this day in the joy of Christ made full in us.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jesus Wept

In preparation for my Sunday sermon this week, a sermon from Isaiah 53:3 on the sorrows and suffering of Jesus on the cross, I had opportunity to reflect again on John 11:35. The significance of this verse is not that it is commonly conceived as the shortest verse in the English Bible, but the significance of the verse is what the verse truly, deeply, and meaningfully says about God. Jesus was, and is, God. Here at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus (God) is weeping. Twice more in this chapter (verses 33 and 38) the Bible speaks of how much Jesus was moved with emotion and compassion in the presence of death and grief. Jesus is not "putting on a show" for the crowd; Jesus is really and genuinely overwhelmed with emotion.

The thing that stuns me about this is that it is God who is weeping. He is standing at the tomb of a dear friend, a friend whom He will momentarily resuscitate from death, and He is weeping! Why? Is He weeping because He is bringing Lazarus back to a life of pain, sickness, and death? Is He weeping for Martha and Mary who grieve horribly over their brother's death? Is He weeping for His people who suffer, struggle, endure all sorts of sorrow and disappointments, sickness and ultimately physical death? Is He weeping for the world? Luke describes in his Gospel Account (Luke 19:41) that as Jesus approached Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, "He saw the city and wept over it."

God is not insensitive to the needs, pain, and heartache of His dear people. Isaiah 63:9 (NCV) says, "When they suffered, He (God) suffered also." Hebrews 4:15 explains to us that Jesus, as our High Priest, sympathizes with us in our weaknesses, faults, and failures. And added to this, Paul argues and teaches in Philippians 3:10 that Christians find in common suffering with Jesus (Note also Paul's reference in Colossians 1:24 to his filling up, in his suffering for the church, the suffering of Jesus.) a sweet and intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ. There is no more sweeter or more soul-satisfying fellowship with Jesus than the fellowship we have with Him in suffering.

In the film, Gods and Generals, at a particular point in the War Between the States, the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson has developed a friendship with a family whose home is near the place where the army is bivouacked. General Jackson enjoys the company of a young girl in the family. In the midst of a brutal and tragic war, General Jackson finds an innocent and precious respite in the fellowship of this little girl. But she becomes ill and ultimately dies of scarlet fever. When the report of her death is brought to General Jackson, he is immediately and obviously overwhelmed with grief at the news. He quickly and decisively walks away from the tent and his staff where he sits on a stump of a tree and begins to weep. He weeps convulsively and uncontrollably. His staff watches in stunned silence. General Jackson has never shown emotion before now; he has never cried over fallen comrades and friends in the war. Finally, one speaks voicing the confusion that many of them were feeling, "He has never wept before. When all of his VMI students were killed, when his friends and fellow soldiers were killed in battle, he never wept for them." But a wise man standing nearby says, "No, you are wrong. I believe he is weeping for them all."

When you think of Jesus weeping at Lazarus' tomb remember that He weeps for you as well. He is weeping for you when you hurt, when you are scared and uncertain, when you sin and fail and your heart is broken with conviction and guilt, and when you stand before death, He is weeping, He is weeping for you. HE IS WEEPING FOR US ALL."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Suffering and the Glory

OK, I admit it - I'm addicted to Romans chapter 8! I love to preach the Bible, all parts of the Bible, but I especially love to preach from Romans 8. By the way, I am preaching through Romans 8 in my sermons at church as I work my way through the Book of Romans. Romans 8:28 was the source of comfort my mother gave to me repeatedly as I was growing up. She loved this verse so much, and she applied it is such a way in her life, that when she died we etched this passage in her headstone at the cemetery. Romans 8 just seems to house within it all of the great and comforting truths that extend to the extremity of life. I cannot fathom a circumstance in life for which Romans 8 would not speak or could not give comfort.

I was reading Romans 8:18 and pondering afresh the pervasive problem of human suffering in light of the majestic glory of Christ. The glory of Christ in its existential reality and eschatological promise form the expansive refuge of hope for the Christian. With weakened heart and trembling hands I take this word from the Word and press it to my aching soul. Here in God's Word I see the following:

1. Suffering, though in contradiction to God's un-fallen creation, is not outside of the realm of normalcy in terms of living in a world in rebellion against God.

2. Suffering is the part of the experiential fabric of Christian's life as he or she seeks to live out in this world authentic faith in and love for Jesus Christ.

3. There is a sense in which suffering Christians continue to share in the sufferings of Christ (see Colossians 1:24).

4. As such, Christ suffers with His suffering people as they live out their active and anchored faith in Christ for the sake of the Gospel.

5. Because of this suffering Christians have a sweet fellowship with Jesus, and Jesus makes Himself known to them in the context of their pain.

6. The Christian life is not intended to be an escape from suffering, but rather a glorious declaration to the universe of the worthiness of God and the wonderful life Christ gives in spite of any and every circumstance.

7. Suffering becomes the ambiance in which the Christian begins to formulate an understanding of the greatest gift of all - the gift of glorification in eternity in which the believer will join Christ in eternal joy, hope, peace, and glory! Thus, suffering becomes, in effect, the window through which we see the glory of God, and death becomes the door to our greatest victory.

Oftentimes we Christians will confess these truths through the veil of our tears. We will weep and grieve, yet rejoice in the process. For pain and sorrow and suffering are nothing to be compared with the glory Jesus shares with His darling Bride, the church. And, Christian friend, you and I are part of that Bride. Our destiny is GLORIOUS! Rejoice today in all things through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Remarkable Purposes of God

Reading Genesis 27 one wonders how in the world God could ever use such a family as Isaac's. I mean, talk about dysfunctional - this bunch would make a great reality television show. Here we have the wife/mother conspiring with one of her sons against her husband (father) and another son, and we have the conspiring son deceitfully arranging a situation whereby he can steal the firstborn son's blessing. Add to that the so-call "great" firstborn son is really a hair-brain: impulsive, shallow, undisciplined, and willing to trade his future for immediate gratification (What a great leader in the making! Can you feel the sarcasm dripping from my statement?). Esau, the firstborn, would have been voted by his class to be the most likely to succeed in the soup business (Ha! Sorry, couldn't help myself). On top of this we have the husband/father (Isaac) who seems to be the doofus in all of this.

The burning questions one must asked in all of this is...Can God use this family? Can God bring about His sovereign plans in the midst of this mess? One might assert that surely such sinners as these would be disqualified for God's use. But, if we think like this, then we would be mistaken.

In fact, Romans 9:10-12 says, "And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according his choice would stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, 'The older will serve the younger.' Just as it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." Wow! There is more going on in Genesis 27 than first meets the eye. That is usually the case in life. Don't look at the surface of things; learn to look deeper, and learn to trust God.

I take from all of this the following:
1. God's plans are bigger, more complicated, and more involved than any of us can determine. We must learn to trust God's plan and choices.

2. God picks folks for His own reasons; we must learn to accept that.

3. Sin does not stop God's plan. God is so transcendently great that sin (evil though it may be) can only serve to enhance the grace and glory of God. God's purposes will be established.

4. Folks are saved by God's grace without contributing anything to their salvation. Even the faith we exercise to trust Jesus as Savior and Lord is a gift from God.

5. Don't analyze a situation too quickly; wait till God is done with it. In the end, God will be shown to be the sovereign and good God in charge of all things accomplishing His will.

When I read passages like Genesis 27 informed by Romans 9, I have only two things to say: (1) Praise God for His all-powerful sovereign grace and plan, and (2) I'm glad God uses sinners; that gives me hope.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Same Question, Different Meaning

Oftentimes there are clues to the proper interpretation found right in the biblical text itself when interpreting Scripture. One must learn to make careful and close observations of the text and make insightful and correct conceptual connections within the text itself.

I think this is true in Matthew 25:31-46. This is what is commonly called the Olivet Discourse named for the place where Jesus made predictions relative to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the end of time (eschatological) events that will occur. But there is a major theme included in this section - the theme of divine judgment and divine redemption.

In this section the saved and the unsaved are clearly indicated and delineated. There has always been, and there will always be, those who "get it" and those who don't. When Jesus comes again the Scriptures say that there will be one taken and the other left.

One of the most fundamental differences between saved people and unsaved people is how each group thinks. There is a world of difference between the two groups. Notice in the text in Matthew 25 that this contrast of perspective is clearly marked by a question that both groups ask God in the day of judgment. The day of judgment, for God's covenant people who are saved by grace through our Lord Jesus Christ, is really a day of salvation. Yet it is clear that the people of God know instinctively and experientially that they are not worthy of salvation. God commends them - the lives they have lived and the heart they possess, in verses 35-36. But the saved respond to God in verses 37-39 that they do not believe themselves to have been obedient to God in their lifetime. They cannot remember the times in their lives when they saw themselves faithfully performing the duties that reflect their salvation. When God said to the saved, "You came...", the saved respond, "When?...When?...When? (verses 37, 38, 39)." The saved never feel pride, arrogance, and self-achieved honor. The saved always feel that they are the unworthy recipients of divine grace and mercy, which in fact we are.

But look at how the unsaved think! To the unsaved the Lord says, "Depart from gave Me gave Me did did did not... (verses 41, 42, 43)." With stunning dullness, insensitivity, and hard-headedness the unsaved say in response, "Lord, when did we...and did not?" Theirs is not a heart of repentance, contrition, or even admission of guilt, sin, and failure. Instead, the instinctive nature of the wicked, unregenerate heart is to make excuses, to seek to justify, to cover up, and to deny all guilt and sin. What a difference there is between the heart of the saved and the unsaved!

The heart of the saved people of God never feel that they have done enough, they never feel they have been as obedient as they should, they can never forget the awesome, sovereign grace of God poured out freely and abundantly upon them in Christ. The people of God, when they ponder their salvation through Jesus Christ, marvel that God would love them and choose them and want them for His own. They do not speak of God not being fair to them; they do not demand justice from God. Rather, the people of God relish the divine mercy lavished upon them in Jesus Christ. They rejoice in the cross of Christ, and they take hope in Christ's resurrection. They (we) are a joyful people; they (we) are a grateful people.

If this Scripture narrative is indicative of a saved heart (and it is), in which group does your heart seem to fit? Are you joyfully and gratefully amazed that Jesus loves you? Or, are you one who will hear a different message from God in the end, and will your heart rise up on self-centered denial revealing the blindness of your soul?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Faith and God's Provision

Genesis 22 is a marvelous passage of Scripture. We call passages like this "Messianic" passages because they anticipate, foreshadow, or predict the Messiah/Christ in some way. Genesis 22 is so sweet because it anticipates the death of the Lord Jesus as a substitute, atoning sacrifice for our sins. On Mount Calvary Jesus Christ gave Himself as our sacrifice for sin, as God the Father's sacrifice for sin. Just as God provided the ram for the sacrifice on Mount Moriah for Abraham, so God provides Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, for our sins on the cross. Wow! Just thinking about this is glorious! Indeed Calvary is God's provision for the sinner. In the cross of Jesus Christ, we see God's provision for the sinner.

1. God provides forgiveness for our sins.
2. God provides cleansing for our sinful guilt and shame.
3. God provides justification whereby the sinner in Christ is wonderfully acceptable to God and clothed with divine righteousness.

But there is also a teaching on Christian faith in Genesis 22 as well. Using sanctified imagination I wonder if Abraham struggled when God told him to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac. Surely Abraham wondered why God would give to him a son of promise, and then ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. And yet, Abraham demonstrates absolute, undeniable, and unwavering confidence in God. He did as God commanded. Whew, that must have been tough! But Abraham did it, and he did it because he believed God that much!

Hebrews 11:17-19 says, "By faith, Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, 'In Isaac your descendants shall be called.' He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type."

Two main ideas are given here: 1) Abraham's faith in Genesis 22 is a type of Christian faith, as is indicated in Hebrews 11, and 2) The essence or core of Abraham's faith, and Christian faith, is the belief that God is able to save us in Christ. Thus, the critical component of Christian faith is not the faith itself, rather, it is that God is able to do what He has promised in Christ.

OK, I want to draw some relevant and associative connections between Abraham's faith and true, Christian, saving faith, such as...

1. True faith is based in the revelation of God.
Abraham believed what God had said to him. He believed God's word and promise. Today we must believe God's word which is God's Word, the Bible. The Bible is the focus of our faith today. God has spoken today, but not in dreams or visions or prophetic thoughts in our heads (see Hebrews 1:1-3). Rather, God has spoken in His Son (Jesus) and the Scriptures; we are called to believe God's Word, the Bible.

2. True faith is real hard.
In fact, true faith is impossible for people to provide. This is why God gives faith as a gift (see Ephesians 2:8). If one has faith, true faith, then God is operative in his life to provide this as a gift to him. It must have been very hard for Abraham to have faith in God when God asked him to sacrifice his son. But Abraham did the hard thing; that is faith.

3. True faith is sacrificial and life-changing.
Faith in Abraham's life radically changed him completely. It changed where he lived, what he wanted in life, and what his life was all about. This is true of true faith. Faith in Christ is not a "ticket" to heaven or a "fire insurance" policy to keep us from hell. True faith is certainly the means by which we are brought into a saving relationship with God, and thus avoids hell and gains heaven, but this is not mean that faith leaves us unchanged. True faith transforms our will, our affections, and our mind. This is so radical in our lives that Paul calls Christians "new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17)."

4. True faith is convinced of God's ability and promise.
True faith does not look at itself; true faith looks at God. It depends upon God. It takes God at His Word; it rests upon the veracity and integrity of God alone. This is true faith.

Now for a final caution: Be careful to not misinterpret a non-prescriptive biblical passage and make it prescriptive. For example, some might read Genesis 22 and say, "Well, God called Abraham to sacrifice his son, therefore God calls all of us to do the same." No, no, a thousand times NO! The text in Genesis 22 is not prescriptive, that it does not command us to do the same as Abraham did. Rather, the passage is DESCRIPTIVE and ILLUSTRATIVE. The passage is descriptive in that it describes what God told Abraham to do, not us. But it is illustrative of true saving faith. The application of Genesis 22 has nothing to do with offering one's children to the Lord as sacrifices. It is about how God provided a type or foreshadowing of Christ in a remarkable moment and event in the life of a man long ago. If a biblical passage is prescriptive and exhortative, then it will be clearly seen all through the Scripture. Just a word of caution...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Comfort of God's Faithfulness and Compassion

When I teach biblical hermeneutics to my college students I tell them to take the biblical text very seriously. Many questions must be asked concerning the text including, "Why does the Bible say what it says in the way it says it?", and "What does God want us to know about Himself in this text before us?" Often approaching the text in such a way will enable us to perceive, with meditation and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, some important truths that are meant to be extrapolated from the text.

I was reading Genesis 21 today, and I was struck by two verses that seem to shout out a marvelous truth about the nature of God's sovereign goodness and faithfulness - verses 1 and 17. Verse 1 reads, "Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised." The application and reference concerning the content of this verse is the conception of Isaac in Sarah's womb in keeping with God's covenant promise to Abraham and Sarah. God had promised Abraham and Sarah that though they were childless, He would give to them a son through whom God's covenant to Abraham would be realized. This verse (above) speaks about the person and nature of God in light of that promise. God did not forget His promise, and God kept His word to Abraham and Sarah.

Abraham and Sarah had disobeyed the Lord by trying to work out God's promise on their own. They had utilized an ancient culturally acceptable arrangement whereby a man could have a son to call his own by having a child through a female servant of Sarah's (Hagar, Genesis 16). But when Sarah had her own son, the promised son, friction developed between she and Hagar and Hagar's son, Ishmael. The result was that Hagar and Ishmael were driven away into the wilderness of Beersheba (Genesis 21:14). There, destitute and without any resources for survival, Hagar thought both she and her son would die. One can hardly imagine the emotional trauma this mother felt as she gently and lovingly laid Ishmael under the shade of a bush knowing that soon he would die without water. She could not bear to endure the suffering of her son, so she moved a distance away because she did not want to watch him die. There she wept in agony of heart and soul (Genesis 21:16). But in verse 17 the Bible says, "God heard the lad crying." It also says in the same verse that the angel of the Lord called to Hagar from heaven and said, "Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is." The angel of the Lord gave her the promise of the Lord's provision and pointed her to a nearby well where water was available for them. And they both survived.

Now, why did God put this passage here? Why does God tell the story in the way He tells it? What is God wanting the reader to grasp from the story and how the story is presented? Perhaps, as some would suggest, this story essentially describes the origins of the descendants of Israel and the Ishmaelites (nomadic Arabic tribes in northern Arabia). But I feel differently on the matter. As interesting and helpful as this information in the story is concerning the ancient genealogical referencing of people groups, I think more is being said here. I believe something is being said about God; God wants us to see Himself in the story. What can we learn about God in this passage?

1. God is the God who sees, understands, cares, and acts.
There is an essential, absolute, transcendent goodness in the character and nature of God. And God is involved in His creation and human history in such a way that His wisdom, truth, and goodness are seen in evidential means giving hope and purpose to history. This will be ultimately demonstrated in the application of the Lordship of Jesus Christ at the end of history. The Bible wants us to know that God sees, and this should comfort us. God understands what we are going through, and He cares about us. And God acts in accordance with His eternal decrees, sovereign wisdom, and providential will to bring about goodness for us in our circumstances. This is our hope.

2. God never forgets His promises.
The very fact that God makes promises to humans is a phenomenal truth. God's promises can be categorized into a number of categories including promises regarding the physical continuance of the earth and seasons and His promise not to flood the earth again, but most of God's biblical promises are identified with His covenant of redemption and the people He has chosen in that covenant. All through the Scriptures God is shown to be trustworthy and faithful, keeping His promises to His people (Numbers 23:19; Joshua 21:45; 23:14) . God cannot fail to keep His promises to His people, because God is the faithful God. God can be counted upon to stand by His Word absolutely and undeniably.

3. God is compassionate and merciful.
God delights in showing His compassion and mercy in the lives of people. This is most powerfully seen in the life of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 20:29-34 two blind men cry out to Jesus to heal them as He was passing by. When Jesus asked them what they wanted, they replied, "Lord, we want our eyes to be opened (verse 33)." How simple and straightforward this request is, and yet it is so full of pity and pain. The very next verse says (verse 34), "Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes..." God is moved with compassion; He is full of mercy, grace, tenderness, and compassion. Thus, did God declare Himself as He prepare to pass by Moses hidden in the cleft of the rock in Exodus 33:19.

4. God is the Master of the big picture.
There is one more point to which I turn my mind for our deliberations this day. Even though God showed His faithfulness and mercy to Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Hagar, and Ishmael, there is something greater being revealed here. We must not miss the underlying point in all of the story - God is working on a larger scale to bring about His redemptive plan and will for the benefit of the world and His own glory. If we think God is simply present to help us because we are so important to Him, we miss a bigger point that is included. We must understand that our lives are part of the larger historical and eternal mosaic of divine glory. Everything that happened to the people in the story in Genesis 21, and everything God did for them, resulted in blessing to many other people. And ultimately redemption is achieved in accordance with God's plan, and God is shown to be the glorious God that He is. We must never lose the understanding of the purpose of our individual lives as connected to God's greater plan.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Matthew 18:1-6 - "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, 'Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, 'Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

I have had my fill with "bigshotitis." You know what bigshotitis is - it is that attitude that is centered on the perceived importance of self, nourished by a magnificently warped view of our own self-achievement, basted with a heavy dose of the sauce of arrogance and bragadociousness. Whew! That recipe stinks!

And the worst part of it all - I see it too often in myself. Ours is a day that instills pride and self-inflation as primary characteristics of a healthy self-esteem. We don't want our children to lose at athletic games because it may hurt there psychological development. We want them to make the highest grades in school (whether or not they earned them; it looks so good on the resume!). Ours is a culture that has so exalted self-deification that our bookstore chains have whole sections of the store dedicated to how to improve self (or at least, improve your opinion of yourself, whether you improve or not!). It is all so yucky! And worse, it is all so unbiblical!

I read our passage of Scripture referenced above, and I was once again struck by how God thinks so differently than we do. We want to order people around, God says serve them. We want to be thought important in the eyes of others, God says humble yourself. We want to be big shots, but God says be a servant. We want others to invest in us, God says give yourself to others. We are so backward, so upside-down, and so inside-out.

But I live with someone who lives what Jesus is talking about. His name is Joel, and Joel is my son. Joel is 17 years old, and Joel has the marvelous distinction of being very special - he has Down syndrome. Joel's emotional and spiritual DNA is a mosaic of giggles, hugs, kisses, and smiles that would bring the sunshine back on a dark and cloudy day. I come home to the patter of running feet to find Joel leaping into Daddy's arms, and giving him (me) a big, wet kiss. Priceless! The world calls Joel retarded; I call him, "gifted." The world calls him a burden; I call him a "delight." The world calls him limited; I see the unlimited love potential of a boy whose heart is as big as Texas. On the day Joel was born I said, "What am I going to do with Joel?" Now, seventeen years later, I say, "What would I do without Joel?" Something has changed. Life hasn't changed but I've changed. Joel has been my teacher and mentor. He is showing me the beauty of simplicity, the majesty of love, and the glory and depth of sweetness. I want to be more like Joel! I think God wants me to be more like Joel. I think Joel is more like Jesus than I ever will be.

I think Jesus was describing Joel in Matthew 18. May God give us all minds to understand and hearts to embrace the wisdom of gentleness and kindness. May God give us the joy in knowing God's ways are way above our ways. May God give us the courage to grasp God's ways and will regardless of what the world says. Amen!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Logical Biblical Thinking

Sometimes I use my blog to express ruminations of all sorts relative to my Bible reading, current events and trends, theology and ministry, and "burrs" that get under my metaphorical saddle. Today is a "burr" day. This is a period of our national history where logical, rational, and balanced thinking is almost disappearing. We make assertions without evidence, and we make declarations without knowledge. And many times it doesn't seem to bother us much.

This kind of thinking carries over into the Christian world as well. Regularly, consistently (shall I say), almost every day, I hear Christians make assertions and declarations that they contend is biblical, but have little evidence of being a biblical view at all. Many Christians have become "parrots" simply repeating what they have heard or read. If they hear a preacher, teacher, or leader say something that seems to register as being right, then they repeat the view or "fact" without knowing if it is fact or not.

The most obvious and blatant of this kind of faulty reasoning comes from the recent statement that the earthquake in Haiti came because God is punishing Haiti for its sin. Now, there is NO DEBATE about the issue of whether or not God punishes sin; He does, and He will. But the question is, "Did the earthquake occur because God was punishing Haiti for its sin?" If we say, "yes", then we are stating that we have absolute certainty based on absolute epistemological evidence that this cause and effect is clear and undeniable. And we must answer why God has not judged other sinful nations (including our own) in a similar way. The truth is, God does not give us the epistemological insight and certainty to make such statements. The best response that I have read on the biblical and theological meaning of Haiti and the earthquake comes from Dr. Albert Mohler on his blog. I would suggest you read his entry on the topic.

I would like today to think with you about logical, biblical thinking in general. How can we as Christians do a better job of discerning and declaring true biblical truth?

1. Make sure you get the Bible right.
The Bible gives many trans-generational, trans-cultural, and transcendent statements regarding many things, especially in theology including moral and ethical behavior. The main teachings of the Christian faith ("worldview", if you prefer) are clearly, consistently, and obviously taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible. These theological truths are clearly seen when appropriate and right hermeneutical principles are applied to the interpretive process. It is vital and necessary for a Christian to have a right understanding of what these hermeneutical principles are.

2. Don't go beyond the biblical material.
Once President Abraham Lincoln was asked to submit a biographical for use in a speaker's forum. He did so with this note, "Please don't go beyond the material." I believe God would say the same thing to us. Don't say God said things that He did not say. Don't leave out what God said, as if He did not say it. Stick with the material. Dr. James Shields was one of my Bible professors in college at Howard Payne University. He used to say to us preaching students: "When the Bible talks, then talk; but, when the Bible shuts up, shut up." Good advice. Be especially careful to not ADD to the Bible or speak extra-biblically with authoritative power. Do not, for example, speak as if God has TOLD you something in a subjective experience. There is NO SUCH THING AS EXTRA-BIBLICAL REVELATION. God does not speak to us in dreams, visions, or even subjective reasoning (as an old friend of mine used to say, "It must be right, because it seems so right to me." He always said this with a smile knowing and admitting the ludicrous nature of the assertion.)

3. Handle uncertainties with wisdom and care.
There are many modern (and ancient) questions for which we have no clear biblical statement. In such cases we look for guiding principles inherent and stated in the Scriptures that give us guidance for opinion making and decisions. But when one does not have CLEAR and CERTAIN biblical background for making a statement, then it is best to couch such comments with language of moderation and personal perspective. One may say, "It appears to me, in light of what I know about Scripture, that this may be the true explanation of..." Those who hear this type of introductory statement automatically understand the speaker to be saying: "I can't speak definitively from the Scriptures, but what I am about to say seems to me to be right in light of what I know." This is acceptable language in such cases. It is VITAL that if we don't KNOW something, then we should not speak as if we do know something. We can still talk about it, and even offer opinions, but let's reserve the authoritative language for those things about which Scripture speaks authoritatively.

4. Speak the truth with love.
The theology of the Christian faith, and the moral issues relative to the broad-based understanding of what is right and wrong, are all taught clearly, authoritatively, and sufficiently (that is, we have no other authoritative revelation from God other than the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.) taught in the Scriptures. But even when we speak truly, genuinely, and accurately from the Scriptures, we must do so with love and kindness. The Scripture verse that speaks to me on this topic is Ephesians 4:15. Christians are conduits and voices of divine love speaking the truth from God in light of the Scriptures. We must never forget this.

For your convenience, I have put a link here with Dr. Mohler's blog which I referenced earlier in this blog.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Today the news broke about the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Our church is personally connected with Haiti because we have a church member who lives in Haiti (serving the Lord), and we know several in Haitian ministries. The news reports about the terrible destruction causes us all to pause and pray for the many people who have been grieved and hurt by this terrible tragedy.

Many, after such overwhelming events, ask the question, "WHY?" Why do bad things happen? Why do bad things happen to poor people? Why is there such pain and suffering in the world? Although such questions are deep and complicated, it is good to ponder the central issues related to the question, "WHY?", with the following:

1. Why do we ask why? What is the purpose of the question? Are we looking for ways to attack God? Are we looking for ways to justify our sin? The sinful nature is always ready to lash out at all that is good and pure. It looks for ways to excuse our sinfulness rather than confess and repent of it. Often our motives are hidden, even to ourselves. It would wise to ask, "Why do we ask the question, why?"

2. What good would it do to know the answer to this question? Are we capable of understanding the answer to this question? I think Job wanted to know "why?" Job suffered as few of us will ever understand. But in the end God did not explain "why?" Rather, God gave to Job a fresh understanding of Himself, of transcendent reality, and Job's humble place in it. God gave Job a sense of renewal based on a higher appreciation for the Person of God and for his relationship to God and life itself.

3. When natural disasters occur, we need to remember that creation is groaning. Paul would write in Romans 8:19-21, "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." Here we are reminded that creation is groaning because it is subjected to the awful and terrible effects of man's sin. I think this is why there are earthquakes and other natural disasters. Sin has caused the curse of God to fall on the natural environment. But one day this curse will be removed when God will remake all of creation. Each natural disaster is a reminder of the terrible effects of sin and the joyful anticipation of the coming eschatological victory.

4. These times remind us of the transiency of life and sudden and unexpected reality of death. When things like earthquakes occur, we are reminded that life is like a vapor; it leaves quickly sometimes (James 4:14). We need to always be prepared to die.

5. We are also reminded of our constant dependence upon God. We often think we do not need God. Sometimes we hear people speak of other successful people as "self-made people." Well, this is not really true. No one is self-made. We are all dependent upon God, absolutely, completely, and undeniably, whether we know it or not.

6. We need to care about each other. When tragedies occur, like this earthquake, we are reminded of our responsibility to each other. We need to care for each other, pray for each other, and reach out to each other. Let us pray for the people of Haiti, pray for the workers in Haiti, pray for the gospel workers in Haiti, and pray for the nations who will try to help Haiti.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Savior's Call

I have many favorite passages of Scripture to which I repose my heart regularly. These Scriptures are like trusted, faithful fountains of living water from which I enjoy drinking cool and refreshing truths to renew my soul. One of these passages is Matthew 11:28-30, "Come unto Me (Jesus), all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." This is the sweetest invitation I have ever received, and it comes from the Love of my soul - the Lord Jesus Christ. Even now reading this call from Jesus causes my soul to leap with joy within me. He needs only to whisper this alluring word, and I run into His arms with all the trust of a little child believing, trusting, yielding, and rejoicing.

Note the DIRECTION of His call. He calls us not to a philosophy or to an ethical system. But He calls us unto Himself. He will not entrust His darling children into the keeping of an angel, no, He will care for us Himself. He has given Himself to us, and He has saved us for Himself. He has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." He has said, "I will watch over you and care for you with the grace of My heart, and no one will take you from my hand." His call to us is always to come to Him.

See also the OBJECTS of His call. He calls those of us who are weary and heavy-laden. Surely this is specifically addressed to those in sin who need a Savior. But it also addresses the Father's little ones who hurt and struggle all through their earthly sojourn. Every pain, every need, every struggle, every weakness is a cause to fling ourselves into the mighty, majestic arms of our darling Jesus.

Again, give attention to the INSTRUCTION of His call. He calls us to take His yoke upon us and to learn from Him. This is the most basic definition of Christian discipleship I have ever read in Scripture. Be yoked to Jesus; you belong to Him. Learn from Him, walk with Him, follow Him, obey Him, share your heart with Him, and listen to Him. This is Christian discipleship - one cannot fathom life separate from Jesus! It is all about HIM!

And finally, please see the PROMISE associated with His call. I can hardly imagine a more precious promise than is given and guaranteed to us by the Lord Jesus in this passage. He says, "I will give you rest...You will find rest for your souls." He says again, "I am gentle and humble in heart...My yoke is easy and My burden is light..." Jesus is no hard taskmaster for His own. Jesus is the kindest, most wonderful Boss one could ever have. There is no more tender heart for us than His. There is no ear more ready to listen to our cries than His ears. There is no hand more prepared to strengthen, support, and deliver than His powerful hands. And best of all, we will have rest in Him. This is rest from the condemnation of the law, the wrath and judgment of God, the shame and sorrow because of our sin, and rest from worry and anxiety of life. We are forgiven, cleansed, renewed, protected, cared for and linked to God's love and family. Jesus is our Savior, the Spirit our life, God our Father, the Bible our guide, grace our strength, and our home is heaven. We rest in the blessings of the gospel, we rest in His providence as we run the race He sets before us, and one day we will rest eternally in His love, glory, and grace. Hallelujah!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Struggle from Sifting

I am speaking on spiritual warfare at my church on Sunday evenings, and I re-read Luke 22:31-32 in my preparations for those talks. Jesus says to Simon Peter, "Simon, Simon , behold Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."

This is a frightening passage, but it also holds great comfort for Christ's disciple. Satan attacks God by attacking God's people. Satan releases his fury and power against God's people in an attempt to hurt God. This attack is called "sifting" in the text. The word, "sift", contains the ideas of pain, struggle, and hardship in it. How terrible it is that some preachers tell people that if they are "right with God", then they will not struggle at all. The Christian life is inundated with struggle, but this is not bad. This shows two things: (1) Christians have spiritual life, and (2) Satan hates them for it.

But Jesus told Peter that He was praying for Peter. And Jesus is praying for us. One of the most encouraging parts of the gospel is the intercessory, mediatorial ministry of Jesus Christ. He prays continually for each of His people by name and need at the throne of the Father. This has often given me comfort and strength to keep going - Christ is praying for me. He is praying for us concerning our justification and our faith. Jesus is praying that our faith will not fail, and our faith will not fail, because Jesus is praying for this very thing.

And Jesus also said that Peter would need to repent ("turn again"). This implies that there will be times when we will wither in the heat of spiritual battle. Our strength is not sufficient, and sometimes the Lord allows us to fall. But we will not utterly fall; we cannot utterly fail. A Christian's fall is not fatal; the Lord will always bring us back. He Himself will see to this. He will not allow us to absolutely and completely fall. He will always bring us back. And when we are renewed and restored, then we must help out our brothers and sisters in Christ, as the text says. We are not meant to fight the battles alone, and we must seek to help our spiritual family with their struggles in battle.

Several implications and applications come to mind as we ponder what Jesus said:
1. Christian, expect to be attacked; this is normal and natural in this world of sin.
2. Don't be overwhelmed by spiritual attack. Keep fighting, and do not lose hope.
3. The Lord is with us everywhere all the time; we are never forsaken.
4. There will be set backs, but we must always come back to the Lord.
5. Spiritual battle has both individual aspects and community aspects as well. Stick together as Christians.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Who Has Authority?

In Matthew chapter 9 Jesus heals a paralytic man. But before He does this Jesus heals the man's soul. Jesus said to him, "Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven (verse 2)." This caused no small consternation on the part of the scribes who were nearby and heard Jesus say this. They screamed, "This fellow blasphemes (verse 3)." The point they were making is that only God can forgive sins, and this fellow is not God! They were, of course, right and wrong. They were right to say that only God can forgive sins, but they were wrong in believing Jesus was only a man. Jesus knew what they were thinking (He always does), and He said, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" - then He said to the paralytic, 'Get up, pick up your bed, and go home (verses 4-6)." And the Bible says, "He got up and went home (I love the magnificent simplicity of the text; if man were writing this, we would have made it much more sensational. Thanks be to God that God wrote the Bible through human writers) (verse 7)." Jesus, the Creator and authoritative Son of Man, demonstrated His power and authority for salvation and renewal.

Here is the crux of the matter - authority. If I was asked what I think is the greatest essential, basic issue of religion, I would answer, "Who has authority?" So much in religion and spirituality centers on this issue. In fact, so much of life centers on this issue.

The New Testament says that Jesus Christ has all authority. In John 5 Jesus has authority to execute judgment, in Matthew 28 Jesus says He has all authority in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. And Philippians 2 says that every knee will one day bow to Jesus and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. This is the language of exquisite authority! John writes in Revelation that Jesus will come back with power and authority to take His rightful place over human history.

In today's culture, the main question that arises again and again in moral and theological discussion is, "Who has the authority to tell me what is right or wrong, true or false?" The critical component of life is authority! Well, Jesus Christ has authority, the God of heaven and earth has authority, and He has invested His authoritative revelation in written Scripture. All ethical, moral, and theological questions must be relegated to the question, "What does the Bible say on this subject?" This is authority.

No Christian should speak in self-exalting, self-authenticating, self-determining language. The Christian speaks with authority when he speaks the truth of the Word of God. We who know Christ must confront a post-modern (self-deifying) culture with the claims of the authoritative Christ. Churches must not seek to affirm self-centeredness (I.E. Churches must not ask questions of visitors, "What do you want from us? How can we meet your needs?" Etc.). But churches, pastors, and Christians must bear witness to the transcendently self-existent God who has made Himself known in Christ through whom we have life eternal and the forgiveness of sins. It is ALL ABOUT HIM because of His authority.

Friday, January 8, 2010

What Should We Do?

Reading Romans 13:11-14 one immediately resonates with the imagery and motifs utilized here by the Apostle in describing living the Christian life behind enemy lines. If we Christians are to live our lives and give a witness in this world, we need to understand the situation.

Present Darkness
Paul uses two terms, aptly applied, to describe the present situation in human history: night and darkness. These concepts are consistently expressed as colorful explanations of where we are in human history (in fact, these terms can be said to describe all of human history). We are in night; we are living in a time of darkness. These are days of biblical and theological ignorance, cold hearts, disrespectful communication, lost priorities, war and bloodshed, confused ethics, and contradicting post-modern morality (or, shall we say non-morality, or perhaps a-morality, or even pan-morality which is no morality at all?). Self-centeredness, godlessness, and growing manipulative power, all flavor today's world. What a time of darkness this is!

Nearing Salvation
But the Bible text before us describes this also as a time of nearing salvation. History is not cyclical but linear. We are pressing forward on a historical timeline that is purposeful and divinely ordered. The times in which we live seem to be controlled by the enemy of all that is good and right, but the circumstances are NEVER out of God's control. God was not elected to office, and He cannot be voted out. He needs no referendum, and He is absolutely, undeniably, and immutably GOD! The time when our salvation is going to be complete is getting closer and closer and closer. It won't be long before the easter sky brightens with a holy and glorious coming. Soon all the powers of darkness will be banished into that one eternal victorious day, and all the earth will ring with the praise of the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Christian Response
So, what are Christians to do now? How are we to live? What should we be doing in light of these wonderful truths? There are several things I think are clearly given in the Scripture in Romans 13:11-14 that respond to these questions.

1. We must know the time, recognizing where we are in history, what kind of day it is, and what is coming. This requires discernment that is identified with spiritual liveliness. We must see all things through the perspective of our Christian faith and teaching.

2. We must wake up. The term "sleep" is used in this passage as a metaphor for apathy, indifference, and neglect. Christians must not be passive, afraid, or uninvolved. We must act in accordance with the teaching of Scripture.

3. We must live our lives in the knowledge ofd who we are, whose we are, and where we are going. We are told in this passage to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, which is defined in six ways: (1) Live with God's future applied victory clearly in your vision for life.

(2) Refrain from all things that represents spiritual and moral darkness. Christians must never be associated with darkness.

(3) Live with purposeful intent disciplining yourselves as watchful servants of Christ.

(4) Refrain from fleshly lusts.

(5) Control your anger, demonstrating Christian love and respect to others

(6) Live your life manifesting your understanding of what matters and what is valuable (do not be jealous)

The Christian life is not a categorical part of who we are as Christians. The Christian life is our life; it is all that we are. We cannot think or act in a way that is contrary with who and what we are in Christ. Christ is our life (Colossians 3:4). Until the eschatological light dawns, let us live as people of light in an age of darkness.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Anchored Christian Life and Ministry

I read Ezra 7 today as part of my daily Bible reading, and I came across a verse with which I have been much familiar over the years. But the reading of this passage struck me with fresh importance today. The last portion of Ezra 7:9 reads, "...the good hand of his (Ezra's) God was upon him." Then verse 10 states, "For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel." Ezra was a priest, a called representative of God. And God was blessing Ezra's life and work. Here the biblical text speaks of the essence of Ezra's life and commitment; here the Bible tells us what God was blessing in Ezra's life. Ezra took God seriously by taking God's Word seriously. He studied the Word of God, then he put the Word of God into practice into his life, and finally he taught God's Word to the people. This is, in a nutshell, the essence of an anchored Christian life and ministry. Learn the Word, practice the Word, then teach the Word.

Over the years I have learned that I have been mistaken many times in my life. But there is one place in my life where I have been right all along - the Bible is the Word of God, and it demands our study and obedience. Any Christian, and any Christian preacher and teacher, who does not get this, does not get the point! I am continually stunned by the fact that God HAS SPOKEN in language. The natural implication is that we should listen to Him, learn from Him, live out what He says, and pass the Word of God along to others. What else is there in life?

In addition, I am growingly amazed at how many so-called Christian leaders, churches, pastors, teachers, and denominations miss this point. Recently I received an advertisement from a denominational office that promoted an up-coming conference where I could learn the principles and truths about how to break the growth barrier in my church. If I attended, and learned these so-called powerful truths, then, the advertisement said, I could make my church grow in numbers far beyond what I could ever expect. And, the advertisement went on, God wants my church to grow, but...(the implication is that God could not grow His own church; He needs a little help from those who will go to the growth conferences). First, what Bible book, chapter and verse states that numerical growth is the indication that God is blessing a church? What about passages that speak of many going down the road to destruction? What about Jesus' statement that the road to life is narrow, and the gate to it is small. Few people find it! I have never heard this passage quoted by the growth experts. Wonder why? Second, why do we present God in our ministries and training as One who is impotent? Why do we present Him as One who cannot get His will done; He needs help from the almighty human? Huh? That is a different presentation of God than I find in the Bible. And to cap it all off, the advertisement said the conference would be held at a church that I know does not preach the doctrinal truths of Scripture. So, here we have a so-called good denomination linking with a conference promoting ideas that are not biblical, and the conference is to be held in a church that does not preach and teach the truth. We have come far from Ezra and Ezra's commitment!

No true change will occur in this world until God is taken for who God is, and God will not be taken for who He is until His Word is taken as His Word, and His Word will not be taken as true until the church believes the Word, obeys the Word, and preaches the Word. It is always the Word of God (the Scriptures) that will bring about the change that God wants.

I also read Acts 7 today. Stephen preached a powerful sermon regarding the truth, and he was killed for it. But there was one there, who witnessed and approved of the killing, who would one day be one of God's greatest servants - Saul of Tarsus. Studying, obeying, and preaching the Truth may get us killed, but it will bring forth the fruit of divine glory. Christian, let us learn the Truth, obey the Truth, and preach the Truth for God's glory. Amen!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Faithfulness Confronting the Challenge

OK, work with me here...I want you to stop and read Genesis 4, Ezra 4, Matthew 4, and Acts 4. This is the Scripture reading for January 4 on the Robert Murray McCheyne Bible reading plan. I have read the Bible following this plan for many years. Today as I read these four chapters, I was struck by the congruity and consistency of something found in all four chapters. In these four chapters there are three things to be noted: righteous obedience to God, a challenging trial given to the obedient servant of the Lord, and a faithful response on the part of God's servant to the challenge. In Genesis 4 Abel presented an offering that God honored, but Abel was killed by his brother (Cain) who hated him for his righteousness. God responded to Cain's sin on Abel's behalf avenging Abel. In Ezra 4 Zerubbabel and his friends were building God's temple. They were challenged by discouragement and fear by many around them, but they kept their commitment to God and the vision of obedience to Him. In Matthew 4 Jesus was tempted by Satan, yet Jesus faithfully fought off the temptation using the Word of God as His sword. In Acts 4 the apostles were abused and mistreated for preaching Jesus, yet they committed themselves all the more to the truth, trusting in God to give them strength to be faithful.

In all of these passages we see the following truths presented:
1. The righteous will be opposed by those who are not righteous.

2. True doctrine will be opposed by those who do not believe in true doctrine.

3. Obeying and following the Lord will bring challenges, trials, and struggles.

4. God calls His people to look to Him in these difficult times, and He will give them grace and spiritual strength.

5. As we obey the Lord by grace, we become a witness and an encouragement to others as Abel, Zerubbabel, Jesus, and the Apostles are to us.

Christian friend, this is our moment in time. These are our days of faithful life and service. We are, and will continue to be, challenged and tried by many things, but we must be faithful even to the end. God will not abandon us. He will stand by us, He will stand with us, and He will stand over us to shelter and care for us in the hour of our need. We must trust Him to be true to His promise to us. Let the people of God arise and go forth in faithful proclamation of truth and obedient service for the Lord!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Serious Reminder

Tonight I begin to give a series of talks at my church on the topic of spiritual warfare. Topics such as this always remind me of my constant and abiding need for the sovereign and all-sufficient grace of God. Speaking on spiritual warfare reminds me that my arms are too short to box with the enemy! My dependence on God is total and complete.

Yet, as Satan discovered in Job's case, when Satan does his worst, God achieves His best. Satan wanted a shot at Job to tear down God, but all he accomplished was to honor God all the more in Job's heart. What a joyful reality this is! This is the end of all spiritual resistance against God - God's glory. The glory of God shines through all the more richly.

Yes, we are warned by Paul in Ephesians 6:10-12 that we fight against spiritual entities, and this should cause us both to prepare our hearts in serious contemplation and prayer for the fight, and also to put on the armor of God by God's grace. But the victory is complete already; Christ has won the battle. He stands as KING of kings and LORD of lords. Christians are more than conquerors in and through Christ.

So, as Christians:
1. Let us not overemphasize the enemy and his power.
2. Let us not neglect to recognize the seriousness of sin and Satan's power in sin.
3. Let us seek to use the means God has provided for our spiritual health and service (Bible study, prayer, worship, biblical preaching, fellowship with believers, and confession of sin).
4. Let us seek to live in the light of Jesus' victory all along the journey of life.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Comfort of Christ's Victory

As I refresh my heart this night with the message that I will attempt to deliver to my people in church tomorrow, I am challenged, encouraged and blessed. I have been thinking about Jesus' appearance and message to the aged and beloved John in Revelation 1:8, 17-18. John was the last of the apostles. They were all gone now, except him. He could close his eyes and recall those exciting days when he and James had first followed the itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth. He could blank everything from his mind and remember. He could remember the sound of Jesus' voice as He preached and taught the Word to the people. He could remember the sound of the stunned gasping of the crowd as Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. He remembered the tears of those whom Jesus had saved from sin. He remembered the deep and abiding gratitude of healed lepers. He also remembered when Jesus had sent the apostles out to preach. He was there when Christ commissioned them to go and preach to the world. But now John was alone on an isolated island, separated from all opportunity to preach and all he held dear.

But suddenly Jesus appeared miraculously to John and said, "I am the Alpha and the Omega...who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty...Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One...I was dead...behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades (Revelation 1:8, 17-18). What did Jesus mean by all of this? Did Jesus mean to encourage John? I believe He did. But He spoke words that are not only intended to encourage John, but us as well. What did John understand in the words of Jesus? What does Jesus want us to understand in these words? How can this passage challenge and bless us Christians as we sail into the waters of a new year?

The central issue of this theophany to John is the VICTORY OF CHRIST. The Christian faith centers on the victory of the Lord Jesus. Jesus Christ is victorious over evil, sin, Satan, and death. Jesus Christ is Master over history and the entire world. Jesus says in John 5 that the Father had entrusted to Him the authority to judge the human race, and Jesus would give His people eternal life and raise them from the dead. Jesus' victory engages life's realities. Christians live their lives facing the realities of their struggles with the knowledge and application of the Lord's victory. No matter what hardships befall us, we are strong in the Lord's victory. Jesus' victory is timeless; it is trans-generational, transcultural, and transhistorical. It is consummate and immutable. Jesus' victory is total, sovereign, absolute, and complete. Nothing can take the believer from the Lord's hands. And finally, Jesus' victory is over death and Hades. Even the great enemy, death, must give way to KING JESUS. Because our resurrected Lord lives, we shall live also. Not even death can separate us from our precious Lord! All of these ideas are interwoven into the passage in Revelation chapter 1. John understood it, and he rejoiced greatly. We must understand and rejoice as well. Although we do not know what lies across our paths in the future, we know that in Jesus, the ever living and victorious Savior and Lord, we too are "more than conquerors (Romans 8:37)" through Him who loves us.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Diets, Trash, and Credit Card Bills

OK, the new year has come, and all this "holiday" stuff is winding down to a new normality. This is where the path usually gets tough for most folks. All that "good will" to everyone is over, and reality now is "diets, trash, and credit card bills." Yep, that's pretty much what is left over from the indulgences that have been made since Thanksgiving. So, while you are putting your "I resolve for the new year" list together, I would like to make some observations and suggestions.

1. Keep first things first. A thousand little things will crowd out the important things every single time. The Bible says the little foxes spoil the vines, and yes, they do indeed. Distraction, delay, encumbrances, Check Spellingwasting time, doing the urgent thing over the important thing, doing the visible thing over the unseen eternal thing, will all rob you of the best. Little things often need attention, but learn to put the first things first.

2. Strategize for the distant goal. Christians live today in the light of eternity and God's glory. Even if a Christian doesn't know too much Bible or theology yet, he can usually chart a fairly strong course for life by asking, "What will I care about in heaven, and what brings glory to God?" This question is a very good counselor when decisions need to be made. Of course, many decisions are complicated, way too complicated to be resolved by simplistic reasoning, but this is a good start. Live today, but live for eternity.

3. Set goals, make plans, and create a schedule to evaluate. Christians read their Bibles, then seek to obey Christ by God's strength and grace. They do this by focusing on goals and making plans to reach those goals. Goals without plans are fairly useless. Plans must include details and thorough thinking about procedure and process. The Christian knows that he does not know the future, and God will indeed change things as he runs the race set before him. So, flexibility and submission are required for progress. But plans are needed none-the-less. And Christians take the time to stop periodically and evaluate where they are in life, to review their progress, confess their failures to God, and ask God to renew their vision.

4. Keep looking up as your feet walk on earth. The Christian walks on earth (every day life) but his heart and head are in heaven (see Colossians 3:1-4). Christians don't drop out of practical living, but they live their lives with a heart awareness and appreciation for things that ultimately matter every day. I think this is what is meant by "stop and smell the roses." Take time to listen to children giggle, roll in the grass and get grass stains on your bluejeans. Sometimes sip your coffee really slowly. Take the time to read a chapter of the Bible slowly and meaningfully asking yourself questions about the text as you go. Call someone on the phone who is lonely. Bake a cake for a sick person. Do something that matters while you do something that just NEEDS TO BE DONE, but will be forgotten in 72 hours.

5. Watch out for the legalism trap. In the process of changing your life you might begin to feel you are doing pretty well. Or, if you begin to be critical of others because they are not doing as well as you are. Then, you are falling into the "legalism trap." When one tries to improve life, there are two traps: the discouragement trap and the "I'm good" trap. Both are deadly, but the latter one is more subtle and pervasive. When you are comparing yourself with others, when you try to correct everything in everyone else's life, when you try to show others how good you are (there is a theological word for this - - - it is - - - YUCK!), then you are one big STINKO! Nobody died and made you boss. Back off and go to the temple, kneel beside a humble tax collector, and pray with him "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

6. Learn to enjoy God's gift of life to you. Which brings me to my final suggestion (actually this belongs in the "legalism trap", but it is so powerfully deadly I wanted to put it in a separate category); enjoy the life that God has given to you. Nothing will ever be perfect; live with it. Pain and sorrow will come; pour out your heart to God and trust in Him. Try to breathe in a cup of divine glory every day! "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it", the Scriptures say in Psalms. Read your Bible, pray, go to church, confess your sins, and do all those things that are a means to helping you stay spiritually healthy. But don't forget to do other things that enable you to be the kind of human being God wants you to be: read a book, plant a garden, repaint the house, plant a tree, take a special trip and enjoy God's creation, hug your children a lot, and smile, smile, smile! You will probably never be rich (thank God!). You will never be a BIG MOVER AND SHAKER (does that come as a surprise to you?). Just live your life with the joyful knowledge that you are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. God's love and grace have been lavished upon you (and you didn't do anything to get it or deserve it, so there!), and there is in heaven today a reservation with your name on it! And angels are excited about having a party with you when you get there (forgive me, I have a rich, and I trust sanctified, imagination!).

So, the new year is here, forget the diet and the trash and credit card bills (well, better pay the bills!), and let's get on with it!