Wednesday, March 31, 2010
My dear friend and brother in Christ Larry Voas said these words in a service yesterday at the retirement community where we minister.
Truer words of grace and mercy were never spoken.
"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us" (Titus 3:5).
"God... hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (II Timothy 1:8; 9).
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
"A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Galatians 2:16).
"If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness" (Romans 4:1-2).
The words "not" and "works" are inseparable companions concerning the redemptive purposes of God. We are saved by grace through faith unto good works, but not by them. Our Lord's works on our behalf are the justifying means of our salvation, and also the guarantor of preserving our relationship with Him.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (I Peter 1:3-5).
Our problem with sin was far too great for our own doings to avail on our behalf. The works of the Lord Jesus, however, are another matter altogether. A perfect lifetime qualified Him to be "a Lamb without blemish and without spot." A bloody death of shame, sorrow, agony, and forsakenness by God and man established Him as the only hope humanity has and the only hope humanity needs for forgiveness, salvation, and an eternity of peace, joy, and belovedness. His works are the issue. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else (I Peter 1:19).
"Not by works... not according to our works... not of works" - Larry was right, and faithfully declared the Gospel message of a grace and mercy based on the doings of Another on our behalf. Let us consider the blessed thought again: "One drop of Christ's blood is worth more than all the good works ever done in the history of man." Or as the Apostle Paul blessedly proclaimed...
"We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace."
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
"The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth... That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us" (John 1:14; I John 1:1-2).
In both his gospel and first epistle, the Apostle John emphasizes from the outset the centrality of the incarnation concerning God's purposes in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our salvation could not have been accomplished by merely a verbal word uttered from Heaven, even as declared by God Himself. The living Word had to be born upon the earth, and live a lifetime that ultimately resulted in the death that comes to all of this present world's citizens. Complete identification, excepting sin, was required of the Lord Jesus, and He perfectly fulfilled His redemptive role. "But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians 4:4-5).
The latter point leads to further consideration. "Excepting sin." The Lord Jesus never sinned in thought, attitude, word, or deed. He was "without sin." He was, however, "made to be sin for us". This seems to indicate that on the cross of Calvary, our Savior became the very essence of the wickedness that constitutes the character of this present domain. "The whole world lieth in wickedness." The Lord Jesus became what He was not so that the Father could pour out His wrath not only upon our Sinbearer, but upon sin itself (Hebrews 4:15; II Corinthians 5:21; I John 5:19).
Scripture never explains the process by which such a reconstitution of being could have happened. It is enough to simply know that it happened, and to bow our hearts and heads upon the consideration of "how deep were the waters crossed 'ere He found His sheep that was lost." Our Lord fulfilled an identification with us more complete than even the practice of sin would have involved. Indeed, it is one thing to sin. It is another "to be sin," especially when the nature of Christ's being was perfect spiritual and moral righteousness. The Lord Jesus "loved righteousness and hated iniquity" with that infinite love and hatred known only by God. What horror, therefore, took place in His holy being when the mystery of "made to be sin" enshrouded His heart and soul? (Hebrews 1:9; "How deep" reference from the hymn, "The Ninety and Nine").
My heart is stirred by the contemplation of such love. But not enough. Nor will it ever be. The waters of of our Lord's sorrow and pain were far deeper than we will ever know. We can all simply be sure that we are that one sheep whose redemption from sin led our Shepherd "to be sin." Let us make it personal. "For me He did this, for me. And forevermore I will be 'the righteousness of God in Him' because the Lord Jesus became that which every fiber of His holy Being revolted against" (II Corinthians 5:21). Yes, "how deep were the waters crossed..."
"Christ hath suffered for us."
(I Peter 4:1)
Monday, March 29, 2010
"Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For He hath put all things under His feet. But when He saith, all things are put under Him, it is manifest that He is excepted, which did put all things under Him. And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all" (I Corinthians 15:24-28).
A million devils could not thwart "then cometh the end," that is, the perfect fulfillment of God's eternal purposes. Our spiritual enemies, however, can tempt us to forget that we do not fight for victory, but rather from the victory of the cross, the empty tomb, and the occupied Heavenly throne. We fight also from the promise that "whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it" (Ecclesiastes 3:14). We can therefore rest in the assurance that our Lord is inexorably working to "make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Hebrews 13:21).
To the degree we believe and submit ourselves to this truth will be the degree to which we rejoice in the journey to perfection on which we have embarked in Christ. Our personal faithfulness is also based on our confidence in God's faithfulness. Much remembrance and affirmation of His incessant working to conform us to the image of Christ will result in growing response in us, and actual conformity to our Lord. Indeed, the weary believer finds refreshing by seeing anew the truth that our dedication to God flows always from His dedication to us. He is relentless in His pursuit of our ultimate glorification, and of our devotion to Him and others in this day. Increasing realization of this grace will cause us to join Him in the pursuit, and to rejoice that "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds."
"And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it."
(I Thessalonians 5:23-24)
Friday, March 26, 2010
"Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
I suspect that the latter point was Lyte's true meaning. He desired not only the presence of God, but also the knowledge and awareness of it. We all understand such longing, especially when we are hurting. However, it is vital that we establish within our hearts and minds the doctrinal verity that the presence of our Lord does not come and go. This is not first a matter of experience, but of knowledge and faith. If we have been born again by trusting in the Lord Jesus, the presence of God is never more or less in one moment than in another. Certainly our awareness, experience, and application of such truth varies, and our response to the Lord has much to do with apprehending Him. The truth, however, never changes. When our Lord inhabits us, He comes to stay, through thick or thin. "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" He said, and never means never.
We conclude with the remembrance that the price of God's abiding presence was the forsakeness known by the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? (Matthew 27:46). To the degree He was abandoned by His Father for our sakes, we will for His sake never be abandoned. Such remembrance adds a devotional aspect to our doctrinal conviction, making our affirmation of His presence a matter not only of truth, but of grateful and devoted love. Indeed, our Savior embraced a loneliness beyond any emptiness of heart ever known, and He did so in order that we might never be alone. Believing that God is with us requites such sacrifice, especially in those times when "Abide With Me" may feel most appropriate. No disrespect intended toward Mr. Lyte, and I will keep singing his hymn with much joy and appreciation, but the truth of the matter is that, thanks to the Lord Jesus, the born again believer never has to make such a request.
"I am with you always, even unto to the end of the world."
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Another less famous minister was asked the same question. He paused before answering, and seemed uncomfortable with the question. Finally he said, "That I had a merciful and gracious God who was unceasingly and undeservedly kind to me."
I love the answer of the latter gentleman. He clearly desired to deflect attention away from himself, and unto the Lord who had forgiven his sins, changed his heart, and revealed His faithfulness in life and ministry time and again. Indeed, the gentleman emphasized God's faithfulness rather than his own, and the hearer's attention was directed toward the Lord of Heaven rather than the servant of earth.
As I write, I am mindful that the Apostle Paul wrote of himself near the end of his life: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing" (II Timothy 4:7-8). Perhaps, therefore, a time and a place exists for testimonies that mention personal faithfulness. However, we must remember that Paul was largely not famous in his day, but rather infamous. He was rejected and disrespected by many believers as being a deceiver and a false apostle. The truth of the matter was that he was "the apostle of the Gentiles," and the writer of much of the New Testament (Romans 11:13). The Holy Spirit inspired his words, and thus the affirmation of his faithfulness was actually the necessary confirmation by God that Paul was His chosen servant.
Rare, if ever, will be the time when such testimony of our own faithfulness is so required, and the Holy Spirit will doubtless lead us to instead proclaim the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus Christ. When I think of the testimonies mentioned above, one leads me to think of the man. The other leads me to think of the Lord. I opt for the latter, and believe that the Spirit of God most often leads us to the emphasis expressed by the Psalmist...
"Not unto us, o Lord, not unto us! But unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth's sake."
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Quarterback Greg Cook of the Cincinnati Bengals was expected by many in his generation to become the greatest at his position who would ever play the game. No less than the late Bill Walsh, considered as one of the greatest head coaches of all time, and Cook's QB coach while with the Bengals, believed this about Cook (recall that Walsh coached Joe Montana when you consider his opinion about Cook).
A shoulder injury quickly curtailed Cook's career, however, and he left the NFL without fulfilling his promise. I recently saw a documentary about him, and it was interesting to see his perspective in comparison to those who saw him play before the injury. "Tragic" was the adjective often used by his contemporaries, and to a person, they all bemoaned Cook's lost potential.
Cook himself, however, did not view the matter in terms of tragedy. He expressed disappointment that his opportunity was curtailed, but more importantly, he expressed the faith that there was a reason for the path his life ended up taking. "God had a purpose" he said, and affirmed that he had lived his life in that confidence.
I have a friend who had a similar experience, and expresses the same faith. Darryl "Lectron" Williams was a world class high school running back, and made All-SEC in his freshman season. A knee injury shortened his career, and those of us who know Darryl wonder what he would have done had he been allowed to fulfill his potential. Like Cook, however, Darryl says, "God had a purpose." He did, and He does.
Such faith is not a crutch that helps people survive misfortune, but a launching pad that enables the faithful to soar into the heavens and beyond. In his inimitable and Holy Spirit-inspired expression, the Apostle Paul declared that the trusting believer in the Lord Jesus Christ discovers loss to be gain.
"But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord" (Philippians 3:7-8).
"Doubtless" exulted Paul of things lost that became prelude to "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." The Apostle knew how God-saturated and God-ordered his life was, and that sacrifices accompanied by confidence in Divine purpose always lead to a greater knowledge and experience of the very Person of God.
Rare is the person who cannot look back and see opportunities that either slipped away, or were forcibly snatched away. As Lot's wife, we can look back with longing and end up a paralyzed pillar of salt (Genesis 19:28). Or we can look ahead with faith, perhaps scarred a bit by our loss, but nevertheless filled with the same hope that thrilled Paul and Greg and Darryl. "God had a purpose." Yes He does, and He has a purpose in all our blessings and our challenges. That purpose is that we shall know Him in both gain and loss, and we shall discover that the hymnist wrote truly when he declared, "It Shall Be Worth It All When We See Jesus."
"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
Monday, March 22, 2010
"And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took Him even as He was in the ship. And there were also with Him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And He was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake Him, and say unto Him, Master, carest Thou not that we perish? And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And He said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?" (Mark 4:35-41).
The Lord Jesus slept because He knew that no wind and no sea could have capsized a ship whose journey began with His word, "Let us pass over unto the other side." The storms of our lives belong to our Lord, as the Psalmist declared, "Fire, and hail; snow, and vapor; stormy wind fulfilling His word" (Psalm 148:8). They cannot blow, they cannot bluster unless He gives them rein to do so. Sometimes they howl at us personally. Sometimes they threaten those whom we love. And sometimes the waves crash against nations and cultures. Whatever the case, it is good to think of our Lord as "asleep on a pillow."
Of course, God does not sleep in the sense of caring for us, or of His working all things after the counsel of His own will. "Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep" (Psalm 121:4). It is true, however, that the storms of our lives do not find the Lord Jesus with a furrowed brow, a rapidly beating heart, or hands wringing in frustration or desperation. No, in this sense, we do well to see Him sleeping like a baby, without a care in the world.
We shall pass over to the other side. "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). Our Savior is the author of our faith, and He is the finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). He knows that which has been in our lives, that which is, and that which shall be. He knows that He is everything we will ever need Him to be. Most importantly, He knows His own heart, which is filled with a love for us that "passeth knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19). No wind can capsize our ship. No wave can drown us. No storm can cause that we shall not pass over to the other side. The One who loves us more than life itself will see to that.
See your Savior, "asleep on a pillow." As long as the One to whom we have entrusted both time and eternity is not overwrought or overwhelmed with care, all will be well. In this hour, all is well for the trusting sons and daughters of God in Christ. Our Master has said, "Let us pass over to the other side." And so we shall.
"I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him."
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
Difficulty naturally presses us toward a focus on ourselves. "Why is this happening to me, and how am I going to solve my problem?" Conversely, the Holy Spirit supernaturally works in born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ to view tribulation as the basis for ministry to others. "Who will be blessed because I am going through this challenge, and discovering God to be our comfort and capacity to endure?"
The Bible challenges us to think about our lives in radically different terms than our human inclinations suggest. Love is the issue, that is, the love of God "shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5). Believers no longer exist for ourselves because love "seeketh not her own" (I Corinthians 13:5). We must therefore interpret both the blessings and the buffeting of life as God's working in us to enable ministry to others whereby the Lord Jesus Christ shines forth as the supply to every need. "It is for your consolation and salvation" affirmed the Apostle Paul. We must join him in the reorientation of our thinking from carnal self-centeredness to spiritual devotion to the glory of God and the needs of others.
Whatever may be distressing us in the present moment becomes a different reality altogether if it be true that God has determined or allowed our challenge to make possible ministry to others. It is true, and we properly interpret and confront trouble only when we view it in the context of our Lord's love revealed in us. He wastes nothing in our lives, and great joy awaits us as we realize that His way is now our way. "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Love is the issue, the love of Christ first revealed to us, but now revealed in and through us.
"For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you."
(II Corinthians 4:11-12)
Thursday, March 18, 2010
"They shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die... They carried the ark of God in a new cart out of the house of Abinadab: and Uzza and Ahio drove the cart... And when they came unto the threshingfloor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzza, and He smote him, because he put his hand to the ark: and there he died before God" (Numbers 4:15; I Chronicles 13:9-10).
Much of life is hands on. God has given to us the human faculties that are meant to be used in a passionate and applied way that fulfills our responsibilities to Him and to others. We recognize always that He "giveth to us life and breath and all things," and all is done from the basis of "Without Me, ye can do nothing" (Acts 17:25; John 15:5). Nevertheless we go forth to meet life in the recognition that our heart, mind, and members must be engaged according to the dynamic so often affirmed in the New Testament: "Christ liveth in me... we live through Him" (Galatians 2:20; I John 4:9).
Conversely, some of life is hands off. Our Heavenly Father orchestrates or allows circumstances, situations, and conditions that clearly mandate the keeping of our hands off His ark, as it were. We will be tempted to manipulate, to coerce, and to finagle our own solutions and answers. Our intentions may be noble, well-meaning, and seemingly graced with the best intentions. However, deep within our hearts, we will know. We will know that if we could hear the voice of God audibly, it would sound and resound with the certain refrain, "Keep your hands off My ark."
This is a very personal matter, and we do well to often pray for wisdom to discern hands on, hands off. As of old, the issue can be one of life and death. Again, a great portion of our life requires active involvement and engagement whereby we do not wait for God to do for us that which He has empowered us to do for ourselves. Some things, however, are strictly reserved for His domain and dominion. May our Lord lead us to know the difference, driving the cart as required, but keeping our hands off its holy content, as commanded.
"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure."
"Help me, O LORD my God: O save me according to Thy mercy: that they may know that this is Thy hand; that Thou, LORD, hast done it."
"And when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, and all the vessels of the sanctuary, as the camp is to set forward; after that, the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation."
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
"Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32).
Forever will not be long enough to fully understand the blessing of God forgiving us, nor to fully express our loving thanksgiving to Him. However, since "it is more blessed to give than to receive," being enabled to forgive others as God has forgiven us is an even greater blessing (Acts 20:35). Our Heavenly Father's intends that "we shall be like Him" in character, disposition, inclination, and thus, in His love for mercy. He alone can reveal such goodness within us, and empower us to walk even as we have received (I John 3:2; Colossians 2:6).
Born again believers are in the process of being "conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29). A primary feature of such grace is that we are "vessels of mercy" (Romans 9:23). This constitutes us as both the forgiven and as forgivers. We may not always feel the effects of the fact. Our thought patterns may not always flow with the current of mercy. And our actions may not always coincide with the truth that mercy is now our delight because we are the sons and daughters of He who "delighteth in mercy" (Micah 7:18). However, it is always true that this is who we are, and it is always the truest desire of our Christ-inhabited spiritual being (Romans 7:22). "Ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of Christ dwell in you" (Romans 8:9).
Forgiving as God forgives is not of human origin. "Without Me, ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). It is, however, meant to be of human expression. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:13). We must believe that we are the vessels of mercy God declares us to be, and we must remember that vessels do not contain their content for their own benefit. "Love... seeketh not her own" (I Corinthians 13:5). Mercy received is meant to be mercy distributed. In a fallen world, we shall have much opportunity to walk in the blessing of "freely ye have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8). It is our delight to do so, and may no contrary thought, emotion, or appearance hinder us from the "more blessed" glory of forgiving as we have been forgiven.
"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
Many years later, I still think that. It is often very difficult to understand the nature and extent of our Lord's doings, and I suspect we're often wrong when we think we have figured it out. His ways are not our ways, and one thing about God's doings of which I am completely certain: there is always more to the picture than meets the eye.
Our Heavenly Father operates from the basis of perfect knowledge and foreknowledge. "His understanding is infinite... Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" (Psalm 147:5; Acts 15:18). We understand and interpret God's operation from the basis of imperfect knowledge, and no foreknowledge whatsoever. Our Lord gives us glimpses of of His ways in Scripture, glimpses so bright as to nearly blind us at times with awe and wonder. He also frequently astounds us in a personal sense as winding paths that once seemed to lead to nowhere end up in the most blessed somewheres. Still, believers overly certain of what God is doing in their lives are likely headed toward major surprises, and more seriously, to major letdowns.
God's trusting children in Christ operate on a "need to know" basis, as it were, and we don't need to know much in the specific sense of our Lord's doings in our lives. We rather need to trust and obey God in the matter at hand, and in the present moment. A heart committed to this faithfulness will find that "the path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Proverbs 4:18). One day we may know better what our Lord was doing at various times during our earthly sojourn, and we will be amazed at how much our lives teemed with His dynamic and all-encompassing involvement. Presently, however, this moment and this day command our attention to the matter at hand. Keeping our hearts in the moment of faith and obedience shines the brightest light on our path, and what God is doing will more consistently become what we are doing.
"Jesus answered them, My Father worketh, and I work."
Friday, March 12, 2010
"The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5).
The great commands of Scripture that call us to love God and others are only possible when the great Commander dwells within us. His presence becomes actual when we trust in the Lord Jesus. "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba Father" (Galatians 4:6). It becomes manifested by us as we believe in Christ's dynamic presence, and as we submit ourselves and our bodies to God for His glory.
The believer does not need any special outpouring of grace or enabling to love. He rather needs to know that the love of God is present in the person of the Holy Spirit with a lavish abundance. We may not feel it, and it is actually impossible for our emotions to fully experience and manifest the love that indwells our spirits. In the past we may not always have acted like we are vessels of the unselfish nature of God. Since our new birth, however, it has always been true that His love is "shed abroad" in our hearts. We must therefore act on the fact of God's presence within us, loving Him and others by confidence in the truth of love's presence, and submission to how God purposes to reveal it by us.
The love of God gave to us the love of God. Indeed, it is one thing, a most blessed thing, to be loved by our Lord. It another thing, and an even more blessed thing, to know that we are loving Him and others by the living and dynamic presence of His love as it moves in and through us. "It is more blessed to give than to receive" declared the Lord Jesus, and in this day and forevermore, the born again believer is the temple of God's self-giving (Acts 20:35). Knowing, believing, and submitting ourselves to this truth enables the fulfillment of our potential to love by the actual presence of "the love of God... shed abroad in our hearts."
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."
(II Timothy 1:7)
Thursday, March 11, 2010
As the world trends downward, born again believers must do the same.
"Be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" (I Peter 5:5).
Our need for grace is profound in times such as these, and lowliness of heart and mind is God's requirement for providing it. The yoke of the Lord Jesus Christ ever steers us toward the sensibility that ruled His earthly life - "I am meek and lowly in heart" - and our consistent reception of grace is based on our consistent humbling of ourselves before God and man (Matthew 11:29). Our ministry of grace to others is also based on the character and way of the Lord Jesus becoming our character and way by the Holy Spirit's working within us.
This day will offer many opportunities for such humility. The path is not easy, and our flesh resists the attitudes and actions of lowliness motivated by genuine godliness. A dying world, however, must see the Lord Jesus walking in us, and our brothers and sisters in Christ also need the grace we receive and then dispense in words, attitudes and deeds of self sacrifice. The way upward for believers is always downward, and we most experience the glory of Heaven when we willingly kneel to the dust of earth for the glory of God and the blessing of others.
"Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves."
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
As our Lord spoke us into existence, He knew that He would have to bleed to redeem our existence. The Lord Jesus Christ is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). In His perfect foreknowledge and infinite understanding, the cross stands as an eternal reality in the heart of God. We have no frame of reference for such a sensibility, or for the love that motivates it. "From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God" (Psalm 90:2). The cross and the Lamb slain form a vast portion of this "everlasting to everlasting" nature of the Divine, bringing the mind and heart of man to its knees in awe and adoration.
I have often considered how I would answer the question, "If you could only say one thing about God, what would it be?" While I don't like the question itself, and believe it to be impossible to answer, I would likely state the above if I had to respond. From everlasting to everlasting, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have know that creation would lead to the Incarnation, which would lead to the cross of sorrow, pain, forsakenness and death. Our Lord created us nevertheless, and loves us nevertheless despite the cost our existence meant for Him, and means for Him. A Being of perfect joy and fulfillment became a "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" for our sakes, and "was made to be sin for us" (Isaiah 53:3; II Corinthians 5:21). Yes, if I had to answer the question, this would be my response. There is a cross in the heart of God from everlasting to everlasting, and it is there for you and for me.
"God spoke, and the world was created.
He speaks, it continues to be.
The majesty of the mountains reveals His glory.
The power of His might is in the sea
But to save our souls, and to make us whole,
Our Lord had to bleed."
"Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain."
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
"Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?" (John 11:26).
The skeptic who reads our Lord's promise that born again believers will never face death might say, "Aha! You all die as do the rest of us! Your so-called Lord was wrong!"
If we could speak to those Christians who have passed through physical death, however, they would decisively affirm their Savior's promise.
"Death? You can call it that, if you like. However, when I finally - and blessedly - left the earth, my spirit experienced life beyond anything I had ever known. I saw our Lord in His risen glory, and I entered His direct presence, to be with Him forevermore. I didn't die. I lived!"
"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (I Corinthians 15:55).
The Lord Jesus trampled death's sting and the grave's victory under His nail-scarred feet as He exited the tomb in victory. "Having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Colossians 2:15). Because the Lord Jesus died, believers will never die in the most important sense. We are "alive unto God" in the spirit, wherein we are united with the Spirit of God (Romans 6:11; I Corinthians 6:17). The demise of our earthly members and faculties is little more than the setting aside of a hindrance that clouds our full view of God's glory. "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank my God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 7:24).
We shall never die if we have entrusted our life to the Prince of life. We will rather live forevermore in His life. "Believest thou this?" Yes we do, even as our departed brothers and sisters in Christ would affirm. "I didn't die. I lived!"
"Because I live, ye shall live also."
"Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (I Corinthians 15:51-53).
Monday, March 8, 2010
The sands of the world continually shift under our feet, and regardless of how stable a foundation we attempt to establish, life brings to us uncertainty. "The world passeth away" (I John 2:17).
Against this backdrop, the written Word of God presents to us the living Word of God as the only truly stable reality in our lives. "Thou are the same" declares Scripture of the Lord Jesus Christ, and furthermore proclaims of the Savior, "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 3:11). There is therefore solid ground in our lives, but we must determine to walk upon it if we are to experience the peace of heart promised by our Lord's eternal stability.
This journey upon an unchanging path requires the renouncing of trust in anything or anyone of whom it cannot be said, "Thou art the same." This includes everything and everybody. In principle, this sounds right and reasonable, and deep in the hearts of God's trusting children, we know it is true. However, the world, the devil, and the flesh (including our own flesh) war against the affirmation of the Lord Jesus as our only firm footing. There is no greater challenge in life than to genuinely heed the mandate of Solomon: "Trust in the Lord will all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). Our "own understanding" processes claims of security from many imposters, and left to itself will seek to navigate the paths of life on the most obviously shaky foundations.
"The Lord is my rock... in whom I will trust" (Psalm 18:2). David's confession must be our confession. We must walk upon the same path of "Thou art the same" upon which our brother of old walked. There is no other safe footing. No other human being can be this for us. No place or circumstance or condition can be expected to forever remain the same. And no foundation laid by our own hands and devices offers to us "the way of holiness" paved by the perfect faithfulness of the Lord Jesus (Isaiah 35:8). Yes, let all other ground shift and move under our feet as "the world passeth away." If our hearts are grounded and founded upon the solid rock of "Thou art the same," and "the Lord is my rock," we shall be at peace. There is no other firm footing, and we need no other.
"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it."
Friday, March 5, 2010
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
The first thirty years of His life were lived in such obscurity that His own brethren did not believe in Him (John 7:5). While sometimes thronged during His ministry by masses of people (who largely sought Him for His miracles), those who actually followed Him closely and consistently were few. By the time of His death, even those had forsaken Him. Our Lord, the Creator and King of the universe, "made Himself of no reputation" during His earthly sojourn, and fulfilled His calling in such a manner that had He not risen from the dead, the pages of history would likely bear no mention of His name.
"Walk, even as He walked" (I John 2:6). Or, in terms of our present consideration, we must swim, even as He swam. A little fish in a little pond. All believers are called to be little fish, and few are called to swim in lakes, rivers, and oceans. Our generation vividly confirms this point as ambition leads many Christians to seek fame, power, and fortune in the name of Christ, and media technology presents much opportunity to jump out of the pond, as it were, into larger bodies of water. Most drown therein, or are eaten by predators when they foolishly forget that we are to swim as did our Master. The legacy of our time on earth must be one of quality rather than quantity. Were we able to love the relatively few with whom we actually lived our lives in such a manner that the Lord Jesus was increased in their hearts and minds, and we were decreased? (John 3:30). Or did we miss the faces because our focus was on the crowds?
The day approaches when the Lord Jesus will reveal the truth about such matters, and His searching will not address "how many?," or "how big?," or "how much?" "How well?" This will be the question of that day when an ounce of gold will be revealed as of infinitely more value than vast portions of wood, hay, and stubble. The former will remain. The latter will burn. The Lord Jesus showed us this way of "How well?," and He reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords because He did. As was He, we are little fish who swim best and most safely in the little ponds where God has placed us. May He grant grace that we see the faces of those with whom we share our pond, and most of all, may their hearts be intimately and well known because we have devoted ourselves to them.
"Thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things."
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
(Thanks to my dear brother and friend Richard B. for inspiration on this one.)
A friend of mine raised an interesting question yesterday. Why was the Lord Jesus Christ transfigured?
"And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with Him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While He yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid" (Matthew 17:1-7).
In the transfiguration, the inward glory of the Lord Jesus shined forth in a manifested way. I would suspect that a number of good reasons could be offered as to why this took place. Primary in my mind, however, is the fact just before the transfiguration, the Savior had begun to tell His disciples about the cross that He would soon bear for their sakes.
"From that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee" (Matthew 16:21-22).
Peter and the other disciples were deeply disturbed by the notion of their beloved Master suffering and dying. Furthermore, the Jews believed that the Messiah would come to rule rather than be rejected and killed. In both personal and doctrinal terms, a suffering Savior did not fit into the disciples' intellectual concepts or emotional sensibilities. Therefore, the transfiguration confirmed to the three primary disciples - Peter, James, and John - that Jesus was the Christ, and that His coming suffering and death was not in contradiction with who He was. This would be vitally important for all Jewish believers, many of whom would frequently be tempted to return to the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) when the church began to be persecuted (the theme of the book of Hebrews).
There is a powerful implication for us in this blessed truth. Namely, the Lord Jesus will often not fit into our intellectual concepts and emotional sensibilities. God's way in our lives is often bewildering, and every believer will at some point (or points) be tempted to question, "Lord, if You love me, how can You have allowed this to happen to me?" The Lord Jesus Himself cried out on the cross of Calvary, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46). Thus, the sons and daughters of God must be prepared for grievous challenge by seeing the greatness of our Savior. He must be transfigured before us, that is, His hidden glory must shine forth upon us and within us.
Such splendor is revealed to us by three primary means, the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the church of God. We read of the glory of the Lord Jesus in the Scriptures, and are amazed to discover how wonderful is our Savior. We see His glory as the Holy Spirit works in our lives and reveals Christ in ways that others may perhaps not see, but which shine for to us in unmistakable scenes of majesty. And our brothers and sisters often become the open portals through whom our risen Lord is displayed so beautifully that the mount of Transfiguration is rivaled in glory. Thereby the Word, the Spirit, and the church prepare us to survive and even thrive when the trials of life seem to challenge the reality of God's benevolent providence.
One day we shall see the Lord Jesus in the unhindered brightness of His glory. "We shall see Him as He is" (I John 3:2). Until that time, His glory will sometimes seem so veiled that we may be tempted to wonder if it exists at all. It does, and journeys into our own mounts of transfiguration as directed by our Heavenly Father will enable us to also to walk through the dark valleys as we share in fellowship of Christ's sufferings (Philippians 3:10).
"Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?"