A Christmas Devotion for Easter

Yesterday was Easter Sunday and I trust everyone had a wonderful time of celebrating the most momentous event in world history.  As my thoughts and meditations were focused on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, I recalled something that occurred to me last Christmas.  Certainly, I’m not the first to notice that these two holidays and what they celebrate are inextricably linked; but while listening to a Christmas sermon this past December, something hit me that I’d never seen before.

Much of what we see and hear at Christmas has been adopted, and therefore corrupted, by a world that’s growing increasingly bitter to the full message of Jesus Christ.  It’s not unusual, during the Christmas season, to see banners and billboards with phrases like “Joy To The World,” and “Peace on Earth.”  No doubt, a world that is otherwise hostile to the message and purpose of Jesus Christ, can easily embrace calls for peace on earth. But the problem with that is the angels aren’t calling for peace on earth, they are announcing it.

The phrase, “Peace on Earth” comes from Luke 2:14, where we find the multitude of the heavenly hosts saying, “Glory to God in the Highest. Peace on earth, good will toward men.”  This, of course, is how the King James says it, but perhaps a better translation, may be found in the NASB. It reads, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  Considering this proclamation, there are two questions we should ask.  What is the nature of this peace?  And, for whom is this peace intended?

Easter provides the answer to these questions, especially as explained by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians in Rome.  Romans 4:25 says, “He [Jesus] was delivered over because of our transgressions, and He was raised because of our justification.”  This tells us that this child, proclaimed and celebrated by the angels, was betrayed and nailed to the cross as payment for our sins; and, He was triumphantly raised from the dead as proof positive that God had accepted this sacrifice. This was God’s intention from the beginning.  His Son would atone for the sins of those who would then stand before Him justified. But Paul doesn’t stop there. Continuing into chapter 5, he goes on:

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have d obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God,” (Romans 5:1–2, NASB).

The peace that the angels announced on that starry night is not peace among neighbors or nations.  Nor is it peace among social and political rivals.  It is peace with God bought and paid for by the blood of the baby in the manger. Peace that was broken by the tragedy of sin.  This peace brings eternal joy.  And those, who by Christ’s sacrifice, stand justified before God share in this deep and satisfying joy.  However, there are many who willfully reject the saving work of Christ; and for them, the temporal joy of presents, bunnies and baskets represents the only joy these holidays can possibly bring.

Christ’s resurrection is cause for celebration 365 days a year!  As we celebrate let’s not be shy about telling the full story of Christ to those for whom this life stands to be the best life they will ever know.

Romans 8:28 – Does God have a plan for me?

Rom_8-28_v6_Wreath_WebDoes God have a specific plan for me? This is a question that has been weighing heavily upon me recently.  I have a good friend who is convinced that God does not invest Himself in the day to day events of our lives; but rather, His expectation is that we will be obedient to His word, share the gospel, and remain faithful through life’s many ups and downs.

Recently, I came across an article written by someone I respect addressing this very question. Citing Romans 8:28, the article was affirming that God does, in fact, have a definite plan for my life.  Unfortunately, I found the author’s biblical support rather unsatisfying.  Not that he said anything particularly wrong, he just didn’t answer what was troubling me.  I want to know if God is bringing about His will for me in this life, or am I simply careening from one trial to another, trying to be obedient and persevering until my earthly body wears out.

Romans 8:28 is a verse we all know. However, it has been so often taken out of context and used, with good and kind intentions, to tell us that this particular rainstorm is going to abate and we will soon be basking in the glorious sunshine of unforeseen blessing. Since tribulations are a promised element of the Christian life, most of us have been quoted this verse at one time or another.  Many of us have even used it in this way.  But what does this verse really tell us?

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose,” (Romans 8:28, NASB95).

Is this a “Cheer up, it’ll all be ok” kind of verse? Not really.  Should this encourage us?  Yes, absolutely.  In looking at this passage of Scripture the first thing we should recognize is that God is absolutely sovereign.  “God causes all things…” tells us that He has the power and authority to harness everything in our lives and bring them harmoniously into His perfect will and purpose.

The second thing we see is that this is meant for a specific people. The “good” that God intends is for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.  So, what is the “good” that Paul is talking about?  What does it mean to be “called according to His purpose”?  Thankfully, we don’t have to look very far.  He answers this question in verse 29.

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren…,” (Romans 8:29, NASB95).

Here, we see that God foreknew and predestined who would love Him and be called by Him. And, the “good” that He works “all things together for” is their conformity to Christlikeness.  Our conformity to Christ is the purpose which we, the redeemed, are called.  In addition, verse 30 reminds us that His ultimate plan for us is our own glorification.  Glorification made possible by Christ Himself.

and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified,” (Romans 8:30, NASB95).

It turns out that it will all be ok.

So, does God have a plan for our lives? In a word, yes.  His plan is that we, as those called by Him, will be conformed to the image of His Son, and He will use “all things”—failure, success, sickness, pain, and even our own sin, to bring about this sanctifying work. This is His plan.  Is it yours?

Ancient Words

Years ago, one Sunday evening our humble and beloved pastor was preaching a sermon, the content of which I don’t recall. In the midst of it he professed to us his ever-growing, never dying love for God’s word. He was a man of the Bible. We all knew this to be true. He was not a famous preacher, nor was he envious of those who were. His passion was simply bringing God’s word to those God had entrusted to him as their shepherd. In explaining the depth of his love for Scripture he said, “I believe every word in this book. I believe it, cover to cover. I even believe the covers.” That was how he spoke of his devotion to the Bible. Thankfully, I was not tempted to engage in a debate over the divine inspiration of the covers, but I understood his point and it had an impact on me.

I’m typing this on an electronic device that contains within its memory more versions of Scripture than I will ever read. I can’t even guess how many print versions of the Bible I have in my home. Those of us in the English-speaking world have what bible scholars call “an embarrassment of riches” regarding good translations of the inspired text. And the inescapable truth is countless martyrs paid the ultimate price in blood for this to be so. As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it’s important that we remind ourselves of the price that was paid in order for us to hold this precious truth in our hands. May we never take it for granted.

Martyr’s blood stains each page
They have died for this faith
Hear them cry through the years
Heed these words and hold them dear

Ancient words ever true
Changing me changing you
We have come with open hearts
O let the ancient words impart

Ancient Words, Lynn DeShazo, 2001 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music

Romans 12:1-2 …by the mercies of God

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2, NASB95)

After taking eleven chapters to comprehensively explain the full gospel, the great missionary now “urges” us to respond.  He urges a response, not for the purpose of salvation, but rather because of salvation.  Referring to us as “brothers and sisters,” he calls to worship by the mercies of God. By God’s great mercies we are to offer ourselves, living, holy, and acceptable on the alter of service to the one who grants us mercy.  For it is by God’s mercy that we have a life to offer. It’s by God’s mercy that we are made holy.  And, it’s by God’s mercy that our lives can possibly be found acceptable.

God created us for worship, He compels us to worship and He enables us to worship.  He transforms our filthy rags of worship into something pleasing to Himself.   And, He does all this by the wonderful blessings of His tender mercies.

Psalm 73 – Right thinking is true thinking

Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25-26

This is my third posting on Psalm 73.  Previously, we’ve seen that this Psalm is a song of repentance.  Asaph, the psalmist, is repenting from wrong thinking–wrong thinking about God, wrong thinking about himself, and wrong thinking about the world around him.  Upon his repentance, Asaph discovers the blessings of right thinking.  He sees that God has always been and will always be his source of wisdom, strength, and life itself.

In Psalm 73 we see the contrast between worldly perspectives and Godward thinking. Thinking rightly about God brings us back to what is true.  It calls to mind what we have as those called out of darkness, into His marvelous light, (1 Peter 2:9).  It reminds us that the treasure of our sweet communion with God surpasses the entirety of the riches this world can supply.

In this song, we have seen how wrong thinking on our part results in envy, despair, anxiety, fear, and every other kind of sin.  It clouds our view of both ourselves (who we are in Christ), and God (who has granted us every blessing in the heavenly places).  The fact of the matter is, the only way to have a right view of ourselves is to have a right view of God.  AW Tozer reminds us in his classic book, The Knowledge of the Holy, that “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  The most important thing about us!

What comes to mind when you think of God? Do you think about what you’d like Him to do?  Do you dwell on what He hasn’t done for you?  Or, do you find yourself in speechless awe that the creator of all that exists has a thought of you at all?

The best way to start the day is to meditate on who God is, what He has done, and what He promises yet to do.  In the first of his two epistles, the apostle Peter tells us that we are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people for God’s own possession.”  Contemplate what it means that we are “God’s own possession.”  This is not true because we are something special in ourselves.  It’s true because we are in Christ and it’s Jesus Christ who’s special.

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;I have made the Lord God my refuge,That I may tell of all Your works. Psalm 73:28

Psalm 73 and the blessings of right thinking!

When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within,Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You. Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me to glory.” (Psalm 73:21–24, NASB95)

Psalm 73 is a song of repentance.  In it, Asaph realizes the grievous error of thinking wrongly of God. He recognizes that by thinking wrong of God, he also is thinking wrong of himself.  The denial of what he knows to be true of God drives him to the foolishness of his own counsel. Once he sees his error, he discovers something truly life-changing. He discovers what a truly amazing gift repentance is. By granting us repentance, God opens the door to a restored relationship with Him; and, upon walking through we can enjoy the multitude of blessings that come from right thinking. Right thinking about ourselves, and more importantly, right thinking about God Himself.

The envy of the wicked is treacherous. When this sin is present in our hearts it distorts our view of both life and its Creator. Our view of God becomes dangerously unworthy of Him. But God, in His faithfulness shows us our error and restores us to the plain and encouraging guidance of His counsel. He faithfully leads us through the traps and snares of this world until the time comes for Him to receive us to glory.

Repentance leads to a change of thinking. This change of thinking should lead us to feel compassion for those who live life within the deception that their prosperity and luxury will never end. It has been wisely said that for those without Christ, this life is the best they will ever know; and, it could all be gone before their next breath. May we who know redemption in Christ always remember that we are called to share the gospel with all who will listen, no matter who they are or what they think they have.

Syllabification Lamentation

Life has too many syllables.  At first, you may be thinking “life” has but one syllable.  On the surface this appears to be true, but therein lies the great deception.  Life, in fact, has ALL the syllables.  Think how much more pleasant life would be if we were to collectively determine that syllable reduction would be to the benefit of all mankind.  Emails, letters, articles, and of course blogs would be considerably shorter and therefore much more bearable.  Political speeches would be over and forgotten sooner.  And, those extremely verbose text messages people can’t seem to stop sending would be reduced by at least 30%, by my estimation. (Just imagine how much sooner I would have finished this paragraph.)

I’m suggesting a grassroots movement toward a syllabification revolt.  Any word containing more than two syllables must be reduced by a factor of 1 or 2.  Such a small step could have huge results.  Mississippi would become Mispi.  Celebration could be simply bration.  Even the word syllable could be transformed to sylble.  The passage of time and pop culture have already given birth to this sort of verbal metamorphosis–pardon me, morphis.  President has given way to Prez, and vice-president is now veep.  The possibilities are truly endless.  As I see it the transmation would be cause for great bration.

What’s next? The extermination of the emoji.

Psalm 73 and the trouble with wrong thinking!

Psalm 73 is not typically listed alongside those traditionally regarded as the penitential psalms. When we think of psalms of repentance, we usually bring to mind Psalm 51 or perhaps Psalm 38.  Even so, in this song, Asaph expresses deep regret for his sin. His are not sins of adultery, violence, or actions of blatant disobedience; but rather, Asaph’s transgressions involve wrong thinking–sins of resentfulness toward God.

He begins by proclaiming the truth of God’s goodness toward the pure in heart. But then he confesses his envy for the wicked. He imagines that this life contains no trials nor tribulations for those who give no care to holiness; their pride continues unchecked, and they mock God and those who fear Him.

They say, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.” (Psalm 73:11–12)

Not only does his error extend to the wicked, but he also attributes his despair to his own pursuit of godliness, lamenting that such pursuits are useless.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure And washed my hands in innocence; For I have been stricken all day long And chastened every morning,” (Psalm 73:13–14).

As Charles Spurgeon so aptly puts it, “Poor Asaph! He questions the value of holiness when its wages are paid in the coin of affliction.”[1]

Thankfully, revealed truth sheds its light on the defect in his thinking, and he recognizes his foolishness.

When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome in my sight; Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end,” (Psalm 73:16–17).

He sees that the riches of the wicked will not save them from the destruction that awaits them. It’s not their riches that condemn them–it is their disregard for the ways of the Lord.   They will awaken from the fleeting dreams of this life to the realities of eternity.

Envy of the wicked is a temptation that relentlessly haunts and badgers us as we navigate our way through a lost and fallen world. Asaph’s struggle is not unique. We look around and see a system that rewards corruption, where a devotion to God is mocked and scorned. How do we guard ourselves from coveting the prosperity of the wicked?  The answer is right patterns of thought—right thinking.

Just like Asaph, God’s truth must return us to this kind of thinking. The word of God is the key that unlocks the door of repentance, and repentance begins with a change in our thinking. Specifically, a change in our thoughts, or view, of God. When Isaiah experienced a first-person encounter with the majesty of God, he was stricken with an overwhelming realization of his own wickedness. He saw God in the heights of His holiness, and himself as a lowly creature among lowly creatures, (Isaiah 6:1-5).

Everything we do or say, sinful or righteous, begins with a thought. This is why Paul consistently admonishes us to seize control of our thought life. Read Romans 12:1-2, or Colossians 3:1-2 and notice that Paul emphasizes right thinking as essential to living a transformed life.

Unfortunately, we can be so easy on ourselves in regards to our thought life. We live under the illusion that our thoughts are secret. But the plain truth is that God sees every thought, whether wicked or honorable. So, as we daily confess our sins , let us not neglect to repent of those thoughts that command our hands, our feet, and our tongues.

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NASB95)

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. The Treasury of David: Psalms 56-87. Vol. 3. London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers. Print.

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken

On two occasions Jesus drew a line in the sand for His disciples by telling them that true followers of His “take up their cross and follow Him.”  To understand this phrase we must forget the notion of the cross as a modern day icon of the Christian faith.  To a first century Jew living in that region, the cross signified a criminal’s death at the hands of a pagan foreign power.  To take up one’s own cross is to lift up the means of our own violent execution, place it on our back, and carry it to the place of our death.  With this challenge, Jesus is saying, “What awaits me is death. It will be gruesome and bloody. Are you with me?”

“Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken” is an early 19th century hymn written by the Scottish pastor, Henry F. Lyte, whose own father abandoned him at an early age.  It speaks of the cost, the realities, and the blessed hope of discipleship.  When we sing this song, we are saying that we have accepted all that the cross means.  We have left the pleasures and trappings of this world and embraced the persecution, the suffering, and all that being a follower of Christ entails.  We are saying, with Paul, “I am crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” (Galatians 2:20).

Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow Thee. Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my all shall be.

Perish every fond ambition, All I’ve sought or hoped or known. Yet how rich is my condition! God and Heaven are still mine own.

Taking up my cross involves sacrifice, self-denial, and humility. It also involves being fully aware that my depravity renders me deserving of the sentence that Christ received on my behalf. Because of His sacrifice, I owe Him everything. In giving up everything, I gain more than I can imagine.

For now, however, we live in world that is hostile to the gospel, passionately hates God and His Son, and subjects those who claim Him as king to constant persecution. And, Jesus said it would be like this.  All through His instructions in Matthew 10, Jesus tells His apostles that they will be hated because of Him.  He reiterated this to them in the upper room just prior to His arrest.

Let the world despise and leave me, They have left my Savior, too. Human hearts and looks deceive me; Thou art not, like them, untrue.

And while Thou shalt smile upon me, God of wisdom, love and might, Foes may hate and friends disown me, Show Thy face and all is bright.

Neither the condition of the world, nor the circumstances we face can diminish the joy we have in Christ. Friends will leave us, family will disappoint us, and wealth will fade away. Nevertheless, God’s wisdom, love and might will sustain us and envelope us in the joy Christ intended just prior to His own death (John 15:11).

At the moment before His arrest, Jesus admonished His disciples to remain close to Him in light of the many trials and persecutions they would face for the remainder of their time on earth. Any fame they would achieve would bring scorn, pain, and death.  Just like those men, we are called to live in surrender to the cause of Christ. Still, we know that come what may, the joy of the Lord will sustain us and He will be our refuge and strength.

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure! Come, disaster, scorn and pain! In Thy service, pain is pleasure; With Thy favor, loss is gain.

I have called Thee, Abba, Father; I have set my heart on Thee: Storms may howl, and clouds may gather, All must work for good to me.

Our greatest desire is to be counted among those whose lives are marked by our service to the Kingdom of Christ. We long to hear Him say, “Well done,” (Matt. 25:14-30).

The suffering of a woman in labor is known to be one of the most painful experiences a human can endure; but, at the moment she hold this precious treasure, the pain becomes an irrelevant memory. Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to childbirth for this very reason. The pain we endure in service and hope will be a distance memory when fully united with Him in glory.

Haste then on from grace to glory, Armed by faith, and winged by prayer, Heaven’s eternal day’s before thee, God’s own hand shall guide thee there.

Soon shall close thy earthly mission, Swift shall pass thy pilgrim days; Hope soon change to glad fruition, Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

Our days on this earth will soon pass and we will suddenly and joyfully be in the presence of our Lord and Savior. The hope that is in us will come to full knowledge and glory. We will then see the things we cannot even imagine now, and we will spend eternity learning more and more about our infinite God.

Here, we sing of things we know to be true—not because we have experienced them with our physical senses, but because the Spirit has revealed these things to us through God’s holy Word. As we sing, may we be mindful of our singular cause and the reason for our celebration.  We live, we struggle, and we endure all for the glory of His name.

 

Psalm 64

“When words are made as sharp as possible by wit and malice, they have a frightful keenness of penetration,” William S. Plumer, Studies in the Book of Psalms.

Everyone knows the playground rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Unfortunately, as even a child knows, words are not the problem. The problem is the tongue behind the words, and the heart behind the tongue.  With carefully chosen words reputations can be damaged, relationships broken, and hearts embittered.  The damage caused by the skillful use of the tongue can endure through generations.

“…who have sharpened their tongue like a sword. They aimed bitter speech as their arrow, to shoot from concealment at the blameless; suddenly they shoot at him, and do not fear,” (Psalm 64:3–4).

In this psalm we see, once again, that God is for those who rely, not on their own schemes to prevail, but rather, on their faith that the Lord will be their defender.  For there are those who seek our destruction. There are those who set themselves up as our enemy devising and executing plans to bring about our ruin. They may even be convinced of the righteousness of their cause. Here in this song, David models a God honoring response, which is simply pray and trust. The battle is God’s to wage.

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy. Hide me from the secret counsel of evildoers, from the tumult of those who do iniquity,” (Psalm 64:1–2).

When facing the threat of those who seek to harm us, our prayer needs to be “Hear my voice”, “Preserve my life”, and “Hide me from evil.” Then, we are to trust that God will do what He has promised–that He will instill fear into the hearts of men. This may not happen when we want it to, or when we think it should.  We must trust Him in that, as well. In this, God will be glorified–when His people are content to find refuge in Him.

Then all men will fear, and they will declare the work of God, and will consider what He has done. The righteous man will be glad in the Lord and will take refuge in Him; and all the upright in heart will glory.” (Psalm 64:9–10).