Your True Home

June 2, 2017

I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (Ephesians 3:14b-15)

Two weeks ago while reflecting on Joel’s graduation and the bike ride to DC, I noted the frequent repetition of the word “home” during the ceremony in Chapel Hill: “Chapel Hill is home. You can always come home. This place is your home forever.”

What is the nature of a good home? In a good family we are loved and accepted. We indeed can always return home. Our family welcomes us and takes us in.  Nothing we do will get us kicked out of a good family.

But a family includes something more which the Apostle Paul brings out in Ephesians – something missed in the picture of “home” painted at the graduation:

In a good family, there is a father, and he has authority.

  • Yes, in a good family there is acceptance. And in a good family there is also loving authority.
  • Yes, we are never kicked out of a good family. But there is also discipline in that good family, for our good and the good of the family.

There cannot be a family, there cannot be a home without authority.

Indeed, the Apostle says that every family in heaven and on earth is “named” after that heavenly family with the heavenly Father. Every family – and especially every father – ideally should picture the love, watchcare, guidance, provision, and discipline of our heavenly family.

Our culture is reluctant to recognize such authority, in part because it has been distorted so often. Too many fathers check out, and just want peace and quiet in the house so they can relax. Others discipline harshly, or verbally and physically abuse their wives and children.

But do you see the Apostle Paul’s point? Such behavior on the part of fathers is evil not only because of the sin against family members; it is also wrong because God created fatherhood to display His character. Checked-out and abusive fathers sin against God by providing others a terrible picture, a distorted picture, of what God the Father is like.

Yet see how God provides for us the perfect picture of acceptance and authority in Jesus Christ. He accepts us: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). His sacrifice enables us to be part of His family – indeed, part of His Bride (Ephesians 5:25-32). He accepts us as we are – but praise God He loves us too much to leave us as we are. He sanctifies us. He cleanses us. He Himself presents us to Himself, “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Ephesians 5:27).

David concludes Psalm 23 with these words: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In Christ, we will be part of God’s loving family forever: Under His authority, loved beyond our imagining, enabled to see Him face to face and to enjoy Him forever. That indeed is our true home.

Commit Yourself to God Daily!

May 25, 2017

[In Sunday’s sermon, I quoted from Charles Spurgeon’s sermon #2644, preached June 25, 1882, on the idea of committing ourselves to God. Spurgeon spoke on three texts: Luke 23:46, Psalm 31:5, and Acts 7:59. Here is a longer excerpt from that sermon, before and after the passage I quoted. You can read Spurgeon’s sermon in its entirety at this link – Coty]

May God bring us into such a state of mind and heart that there shall be no struggling to keep our life, but a sweet willingness to let it be just as God would have it—a yielding up of everything into His hands, feeling sure that, in the world of spirits, our soul shall be quite safe in the Father’s hands. . . . When God calls us to die, it will be a sweet way of dying if we can, like our Lord, pass away with a text of Scripture upon our lips, with a personal God ready to receive us, with that God recognized distinctly as our Father and so die joyously, resigning our will entirely to the sweet will of the ever-blessed One. . . .

My second text is in the 31st Psalm, at the 5th verse. And it is evidently the passage which our Savior had in His mind: . . .  ”Into Your hands I commit my spirit: You have redeemed me, O Lord God of Truth.” It seems to me that THESE ARE WORDS TO BE USED IN LIFE, for this Psalm is not so much concerning the Believer’s death as concerning his life.

Is it not very amazing, dear Friends, that the words which Jesus uttered on the Cross you may still continue to use? You may catch up their echo and not only when you come to die, but tonight, tomorrow morning and as long as long as you are alive, you may still repeat the text the Master quoted, and say, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.” . . .

That is to say, . . . let us cheerfully entrust our souls to God and feel that they are quite safe in His hands. Our spirit is the noblest part of our being; our body is only the husk, our spirit is the living kernel, so let us put it into God’s keeping. Some of you have never yet done that, so I invite you to do it now. It is the act of faith which saves the soul, that act which a man performs when he says, “I trust myself to God as He reveals Himself in Christ Jesus. I cannot keep myself, but He can keep me and, by the precious blood of Christ He can cleanse me. So I just take my spirit and give it over into the great Father’s hands.” You never really live till you do that! All that comes before that act of full surrender is death! But when you have once trusted Christ, then you have truly begun to live. And every day, as long as you live, take care that you repeat this process and cheerfully leave yourselves in God’s hands without any reserve. That is to say, give yourself up to God—your body, to be healthy or to be sick, to be long-lived or to be suddenly cut off. Your soul and spirit, give them, also, up to God, to be made happy or to be made sad, just as He pleases. Give Your whole self up to Him and say to Him, “My Father, make me rich or make me poor, give me sight or make me blind. Let me have all my senses or take them away. Make me famous or leave me to be obscure. I give myself up to You—into Your hands I commit my spirit. I will no longer exercise my own choice, but You shall choose My inheritance for me. My times are in Your hands.”

Now, dear children of God, are you always doing this? Have you ever done it? I am afraid that there are some, even among Christ’s professing followers, who kick against God’s will and even when they say to God, “Your will be done,” they spoil it by adding, in their own mind, “and my will, too.” . . .  Let us each one pray this prayer every day, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.” . . .

Notice, dear Friends, that our second text has these words at the end of it—”You have redeemed me, O Lord God of Truth.” Is not that a good reason for giving yourself up entirely to God? Christ has redeemed you and, therefore, you belong to Him. If I am a redeemed man and I ask God to take care of me, I am but asking the King to take care of one of His own jewels—a jewel that cost Him the blood of His heart!

And I may still more especially expect that He will do so, because of the title which is here given to Him—”You have redeemed me, O Lord God of Truth.” Would He be the God of Truth if He began with redemption and ended with destruction—if He began by giving His Son to die for us and then kept back other mercies which we daily need to bring us to Heaven? No, the gift of His Son is the pledge that He will save His people from their sins and bring them home to Glory—and He will do it. So, every day, go to Him with this declaration, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.” No, not only every day, but all through the day! . . .

David said to the Lord, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.” But let me beg you to add that word which our Lord inserted—”Father.” . . . That is a sweet way of living every day—committing everything to our Heavenly Father’s hands, for those hands can do His child no unkindness.

 

Reflections on a Graduation and a Bike Ride

May 18, 2017

Last weekend our youngest child, Joel, graduated from UNC Chapel Hill. During those four years of college, Joel and thousands of his classmates worked hard at their academics, spurred each other on to excel, developed deep friendships, and grew to love their university. Indeed, the graduation ceremony emphasized again and again: “Chapel Hill is home. You can always come home. This place is your home forever.”

Speakers exhorted the new graduates to be true to themselves, forging their own path, not allowing others to define them; to continue to practice and develop critical thinking in order to live a good, moral life; and to continue to pursue higher learning, for in that way they will find fulfillment. Indeed, when acting like this, we were told, there is no limit to the good they can do.

Prior to graduation weekend, I participated in the 2017 Law Enforcement Bike Ride to DC, an annual ride from Charlotte covering about 500 miles in four days, to honor law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. During those four days, more than a hundred cyclists worked together, persevering through the long miles and the cold, wet weather. Many placed a picture of a deceased officer they knew personally on the rear of their saddle. A support crew accompanied us and served us faithfully; churches and volunteer fire departments opened their doors to warm us and feed us. Like Joel’s classmates, we all – riders and support crew – developed a strong sense of camaraderie, and rejoiced to accomplish a challenging task together.

I delight in Joel’s hard work and fine education, as well as in the privilege of biking last week with so many dedicated riders. Joel grew and changed in positive ways through his four years at UNC Chapel Hill; those four days of riding had an impact on me. Praise God for such opportunities to stretch ourselves, to step out to accomplish something difficult, and to be able to carry it through to the end.

Both experiences point to eternal realities revealed in Scripture. God made us for something larger than ourselves individually. He created us to accomplish His tasks together. He made us for Himself, so that together we would be His intimate family – so that we would be truly at home with Him forever.

As humans made in the image of God, we long for that home. We long for that sense of belonging, that sense of accomplishment, that sense of camaraderie in working together for a vitally important task. Throughout our lives, we experience pointers to that real home, that real sense of purpose, that real camaraderie. But these pointers are most helpful and valuable to us only if we look through them to see the much greater reality they signify. Our home forever is not our alma mater; our great accomplishment is not persevering through challenges to fulfill an earthly academic or physical goal. Our home is with God, through union with Christ, with all the redeemed from every tribe and tongue and nation. Our great accomplishment is to disciple all these people groups, and then to worship our King with them in word and deed forever and ever, never ceasing to increase our delight in Him.

Along the way, we may need to forge our own path if others are leading us away from God; but we also need to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus. We would do well to develop critical thinking skills and to apply them to help us understand better both Scripture and the world around us;  but critical thinking in service of our fallen desires will lead to the opposite of the good life. Higher learning subject to God’s revealed truth can help many to understand that truth in a deeper way; but when not subject to God, such learning easily puffs us up, and God opposes the proud. We can forge our own paths, think critically, and achieve the highest standard of learning – and yet do great evil in the world.

So pursue tasks you love; word hard together with Christians and non-Christians in education, in sports, in service. Enjoy the sense of common purpose, the joint accomplishment of a difficult task. But remember to look through the sign to the signified reality. God invites us to participate in the greatest accomplishment of all time; He welcomes us into the only eternally, perfectly loving family; He grants us the greatest joy and fulfillment imaginable. Don’t focus on pursuing the sign and then miss out on the reality.

 

What a Gospel!

May 4, 2017

Consider what Peter says about the recipients of his first letter:

He writes to those chosen “in accordance with the foreknowledge of God, through the setting apart [for God] of the [Holy] Spirit, unto obedience to Jesus Christ and [unto] sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2, own translation).

If you are in Christ, how did you get there? “In accordance with the foreknowledge of God.” That is, God the Father knew it and planned it long ago. He orchestrated all that happened in history – from the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to the migrations of your ancestors and the meeting of your parents – to bring it about. And He orchestrated all that happened in your life to bring it about – from your siblings, friends, and schools to your encounters with believers and the Word. You are in Christ “in accordance with the foreknowledge of God.”

And you are in Christ “through the setting apart for God of the Holy Spirit.” That is, at exactly the right time, when all had been prepared, including your hearing the Word of Truth, the Gospel, the Holy Spirit picked you out of the mass of humanity headed for destruction, setting you apart for God. He opened your eyes to the hopelessness of the path you were on, to the empty promises of sin, to the beauty of Jesus, and to the joy of following Him. He surgically removed your heart of stone and transplanted a new heart of flesh. By His grace, you joyfully chose to repent of your sin, to take up your cross, and to follow Jesus. And that same Spirit continues to conform you to the image of Jesus.

What was the purpose of all this work by God the Father and God the Holy Spirit? It is all “unto obedience to Jesus Christ.” That is, all this took place so that you could glorify God by obeying all that Jesus commands, just as He obeyed all the Father commands. So our obedience is not optional, an extra add-on that might be good to do if we are saved, but is not essential. No! We are saved “unto obedience”! Our obedience is of central importance.

So we are chosen in accordance with the foreknowledge of God, through the setting apart for God of the Holy Spirit, unto obedience to Jesus Christ. Wonderful! But there’s a problem. You know what it is. In this life, our obedience is always imperfect. Chosen and saved for the purpose of obedience, we fail to live up to our purpose. We sin. We rebel. Yet God, having orchestrated all things to bring about our salvation, has dealt with this problem too. Peter says we are chosen and saved not only unto obedience but also “unto sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ.” God chose us not only to glorify all persons of the Trinity through our initial salvation, but also to glorify Himself through our being sprinkled, cleansed, covered time and again with the forgiveness that only comes through Christ’s death. In Christ, our disobedience doesn’t lead to our being excluded from Him – because God chooses us “unto sprinkling with the blood”.

Ponder that last paragraph. Realize: By the grace of God we fulfill our purpose even when we fail to live up to our purpose. Obedience is central – we are saved in order to obey! And our failure to obey is covered – Jesus’ blood is sufficient!

What grace! What mercy! What a Gospel!

A Prayer to the Sovereign Lord

April 21, 2017

Recall that Hannah, the mother of Samuel, suffered deep distress and provocation because of her inability to conceive (1 Samuel 1:1-11). Consider these words that she prayed after God granted her heartfelt plea, giving her a son whom she then handed over to the Lord:

The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world. (1 Samuel 2:6-8)

Pray with me in response:

O Lord, You are sovereign over all things: Over life and death, over poverty and prosperity, over success and failure. You give us a grant of life and breath and time and resources to be used for Your glory – and You take those away from us when so doing is for Your glory. We acknowledge You as our rightful Sovereign, agreeing with Scripture that You not only have a right to do as You please, but that all You do is good and wise. We ourselves deserve not one iota of all the gifts you give – not even one sip of water or one breath of air. Indeed, we confess that we only deserve Your wrath and judgment.

Throughout our lives You have given us good gift after good gift, and we have failed to thank You for so many. We confess that rather than thank You we have acted as if we deserve them or earned them. So we now say wholeheartedly, Thank You, O gracious and generous Father, for Your ample provision, poured into our overflowing cup.

Yet those obviously good gifts are the ones that most easily produce thankful hearts in us. So now we say further: When you remove any blessing from us – whether health or resources or friends or status or life itself – we know that then too You are doing good. When you lift up someone else to a position higher than our own, we acknowledge that You do right. When we suffer physical or emotional pain, we agree with Your apostle that our deepest afflictions, seen through the lens of eternity, are light and momentary, and always work in us an eternal weight of glory that far surpasses the pain (2 Corinthians 4:17).

We know that all Your goodness to us, however it is expressed, comes about only because of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Savior, the Lord Jesus. We know that His once-and-for-all sacrifice is the only way we gain access to Your presence, the only basis for Your giving us what we don’t deserve. So we bask in what we in no way merit: Your steadfast, everlasting love for us in Christ.

Thank You that both Your provision and Your removal of blessings are part of Your wise governing of the world that will bring about the culmination of all things – the creation of a new heavens and new earth, the summing up of all things in Christ, the salvation of those from every tribe and tongue and nation, the perfection of His glorious Bride, the Church, and the wiping of every tear from our eyes. How we long for this final day! Come, Lord Jesus!

 

God Is Faithful To His Promises

April 7, 2017

“Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45).

Think of the promises God had made to the house of Israel – including those made before Israel existed!

  • God promised that Abraham’s descendants would inherit the land of Canaan (Genesis 13:14-17).
  • God promised Abraham that He would bring his descendants out of slavery with great possessions (Genesis 15:13-14).
  • Hundreds of years later, God promised that He would use Moses to rescue the people from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 3:7-10).
  • God promised that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not let Israel go, even after Moses conducted miracles (Exodus 4:21).
  • Yet God promised eventually Pharaoh would drive the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 6:1).
  • God promised that He would not just bring the people out of Egypt, but that He would bring them to Himself (Exodus 6:6-8).
  • God promised plague after plague after plague on the Egyptians – and they all came about (Exodus 7 to 10).
  • God promised that the firstborn in every house in Egypt would die, but not in the houses of the Israelites (Exodus 11:4-7).
  • God promised that the Israelites would walk across the Red Sea on dry land, but the Egyptians would drown (Exodus 14:13-18).
  • God promised that He would provide meat and bread to the people in the desert (Exodus 16:11-12).

We could go on and on. God promised direction in their travels, defeat of enemies, parting of yet more waters – and all came about.

The people had doubted and murmured; the enemies had been strong and powerful. But God fulfilled every promise – despite the enemy, despite the people’s lack of faith.

So, what about you? Do you trust God to fulfill His promises? And do you recognize the greatness of those promises? Here are a few on which to meditate:

  • Jesus will return with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30).
  • He will reign over an eternal Kingdom of righteousness and peace (Isaiah 9:6-7).
  • Jesus will destroy Satan and his minions (Revelation 20:10).
  • God will complete the good work He has begun in you (Philippians 1:6).
  • Indeed, we will be like Him (1 John 3:2).
  • God will bring to Himself through faith in Jesus those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 7:9-10).
  • Throughout this life, He will watch over you and guide you, and then bring you to Himself forever (Psalm 23:6).
  • He will work all things together for your good and His glory (Romans 8:28).
  • God will so work that at the Name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to God’s glory (Philippians 2:10-11).
  • God will wipe every tear from your eyes, having ended death and mourning and crying and pain (Revelation 21:6).
  • God will rejoice over us, His people, with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17).
  • By the blood of Jesus, you are declared fully righteous; He will remember your sins no more (Romans 3:21-25, Hebrews 10:11-18).

He has sworn by Himself that this is so – and it is impossible for God to lie! So hold fast to the confession of your hope without wavering (Hebrews 6:13-19); stand firm on His level ground, not sliding down into unbelief (Psalm 26); eagerly anticipate the fulfillment of every promise. For He is the faithful God, who keeps His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands (Deuteronomy 7:9).

 

Watch and Pray

March 31, 2017

How important is prayer? How important is watchfulness – for ourselves and for one another?

Travel with me to Gethsemane, the night our Lord will be betrayed. He is sorrowful and troubled. He asks His closest friends, Peter, James, and John, to come to the garden with Him, and to sit while He prays. He is in deep need. He wants their presence, their prayers. Yet after a while, He returns and finds them sleeping. He asks:

“Could you not watch one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37b-38)

The hour has come. The betrayer is at hand. Both Jesus and His disciples are about to undergo severe trials. And yet Peter, James, and John neglect to watch and pray.

Jesus knows they want to stay awake, to remain with Him, to intercede for Him: “The spirit is willing.”

Their flesh, however, is weak. They are exhausted. They lack focus. Rather than spur each other on to watchfulness, they become silent; their eyelids droop; and they sleep.

In noting that their flesh is weak, Jesus is not providing them with an excuse. Quite the opposite. Because their flesh is weak, they must call upon God to help them fight temptation. They must help one another to remain watchful.

What about us? Our flesh is weak, just like the disciples. And we have the same enemy assaulting us, tempting us, lying to us, deceiving us. Furthermore, just like the disciples, we must have more than a willing spirit; our statement, “Yes, Jesus, I will follow You!” is not sufficient for us to truly follow Him, to avoid temptation, and to live to God’s glory.

Given our weak flesh, given the power of our enemy, what must we do?

We must do what Peter, James, and John did not do that momentous night: We must keep alert; we must rouse one another; we must be aware of our weaknesses and Satan’s wiles.

And that means we must pray. The road set before is challenging and dangerous. We cannot travel it individually by our power. Indeed, we cannot travel it together by our human power. Yet just as Jesus instructs His disciples, all Scripture instructs us: Pray without ceasing. Depend on God. Call out to Him in the day of trouble – for yourself and for your brother and sisters. He is the God of all comfort; He is the God of all might; He is the Father of mercies. So pray for watchfulness and strength; pray for eyes to see reality as it is; pray for one another in this battle; pray for God’s Kingdom to come, His will to be done; pray against the schemes and power of the devil.

A Bible scholar of the last century wrote, “The essence of the road of the righteous is this: it is a road too difficult to walk without the companionship and friendship of God.” This God stands ready to strengthen and confort you, to enable you to build up and comfort others, to cause you to watch and pray effectively. Know that your flesh is weak. So don’t be content with a spirit which is merely willing. Cry out for the resources only God can give you to be able to watch and pray and encourage and persevere.

 

 

Humble Yourself Before God!

February 3, 2017

Those of you following the Bible Unity Reading Plan recently read these words that God says to Pharaoh through Moses and Aaron: “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” (Exodus 10:3)

Indeed, that is God’s question to every man. You would think that we humans – weak, sinful creatures that we are – would easily humble ourselves before the One who fashioned the universe, before the One who is holy, holy, holy, before the One who offers us grace and mercy and eternal joy through Jesus Christ though we deserve His wrath. But not so. From the Garden of Eden until today, we humans have found humbling ourselves before God to be a great challenge.

So as an encouragement to humble yourself, listen to these Scriptures. Let them dwell in you richly. He saves a humble people. Make sure you are among them.

Psalm 18:25-27 (from this coming Sunday’s sermon text):   With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.  For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.

Psalm 25:8-14 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.  He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.  All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.  For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.  Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.  His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land.  The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.

Psalm 147:5-11  Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.  The LORD lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground.  Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre!  He covers the heavens with clouds; he prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills.  He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry.  His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,  but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.

Psalm 149:3-4  Let [the children of Zion] praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!  For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.

Proverbs 3:33-34   The LORD’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous.  Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.

Proverbs 15:33   The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.

Proverbs 22:4  The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life.

Isaiah 66:1-2  Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?  All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

Zephaniah 3:11-12   ”On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.  But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD.

Luke 1:46-55 [Mary is a model of humility for all of us.]  And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;  for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;  he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;  he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

John 13:3-5   Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Philippians 2:3   Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Colossians 3:12-17   Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,  bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Ephesians 4:1-3   I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

James 4:4-10  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?  But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

1 Peter 5:5b-7  Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

 (All emphases are added).

Christian Responsibility and the Inauguration

January 20, 2017

At noon today Donald Trump took the oath of office and became president of the United States. Barack Obama greeted and applauded the new president. Among those present were past presidents Carter, Clinton, and Bush. Each of those past presidents opposed the candidacy of Donald Trump; all honored his inauguration.

Forty years ago, I came to understand how unusual and how precious that is.

In November 1976, Jimmy Carter defeated incumbent Gerald Ford in a close election (Ford would have won had he received about 11,000 additional votes in Ohio and 15,000 additional votes in Mississippi). Two months later, I traveled to western Kenya to teach secondary school. My students were particularly interested in the recent inauguration. After one of my first classes, a group stayed afterwards to discuss American politics. They asked me:

“Why did Gerald Ford leave office?”

That seemed a strange question. I replied, matter-of-factly, “Because he lost the election.”

“Yes, we know he lost the election. But why did he leave office?”

That is: Why did the man holding the most powerful office in the world, the commander in chief of the most powerful military in the world, voluntarily step down from power rather than wielding that power to remain in office?

Kenya, a scant thirteen years after independence, had never experienced a change of presidents. There was no history of peaceful transition of power among presidents in Kenya – or anywhere else in Africa. Indeed, there was little faith in Kenya’s constitution, little of the faith on display at the Capitol today: The faith in the democratic system of government. We Americans have more faith in Democracy than we have in our preferred parties and candidates. We believe that even if our preferred candidate loses, even if the winner advocates ideas we abhor, we should not try to subvert the election process. We believe we are better off fighting back in the next election.

My Kenyan students didn’t understand that; they did not realize that had Ford tried to remain in power despite the election results, 99 percent of those who voted for him would have opposed him.

So, two exhortations:

First: No matter whom you supported in the primaries or the general election, no matter whether you think Donald Trump is a great hope for our country or a great danger, thank God that you live in a country where such peaceful transitions take place. Thank God that past presidents of both parties publicly welcomed the new president. Thank God for His mercy in allowing this country to continue these democratic traditions despite our many sins and failures.

Second: Remember these words of the Apostle Paul, quoted today at the inauguration by Franklin Graham:

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:1-6a).

Paul urges us to pray for those in high positions of civil authority. Why? So that instead of having life and livelihood threatened daily by government officials or marauding bands, we might live peaceful lives of witness to the truth of our Lord Jesus, proclaiming His redemption and living out His love.

Remember: Paul wrote these words when Nero was emperor of Rome. He prayed for the emperor and commanded others to pray for the emperor not out of political support, but out of Christian obligation.

So regardless of your politics, pray for President Trump. Pray for the Vice President, for cabinet officials, for others of high position. Pray for wisdom. Pray for repentance. Pray for humility. Pray for peace in our land and effectiveness in bringing peace around the world.

And pray that in this peace, the Gospel might go forth as a testimony to all nations, so that the end may then come (Matthew 24:14), and our Lord might return, ushering in His eternal Kingdom of righteousness and peace – the ultimate, once-and-for-all transition of power. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

 

Do Our Actions Please God?

January 6, 2017

How can you please God?

Can you please Him by working on His behalf?

We often think: If we would just witness more (or more effectively); if we would just give more to the church, or attend services more regularly, or pray more, or help the poor more diligently then God would be pleased with us.

Is that right?

Consider what Jesus said to His disciples after interacting with the Samaritan woman, telling her He was the longed-for Messiah: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).

Jesus has quoted Deuteronomy previously, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus loves the word of His Father. He delights to do His will. He finds sustenance and satisfaction and fulfillment in accomplishing the Father’s plan. So, in this particular case, He found joy and sustenance from seeing this woman whose life was a wreck come to saving faith as He shared the Good News of the coming of the promised Christ.

So Jesus found joy in following God. Surely we too should find joy in following Him.

But what about the flip side of that truth? Does our activity, our accomplishment, our obedience please God?

We have to be careful here. Scripture makes some subtle but vital distinctions in this area. Consider, for example, Psalm 147:10-11:

His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.

We never impress God. However strong we may be, however great our accomplishments might appear, God doesn’t jump up and down, saying, “Awesome! I’m so happy you did that! Do it again! Show me what you can do!”

Instead, what gives God pleasure? He rejoices in our dependence on Him, in our acknowledgment of His power and authority, in our trusting in His love for us and commitment to us.

Furthermore, consider 1 Thessalonians 4:3: “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” That is, God’s will is for you to be made holy. For you to be set apart for Him. For you to be like Him, like Christ.

So putting these biblical thoughts together: We, like Jesus, delight to do God’s will and to accomplish His work. But God’s work and God’s will include not only actions on our part, but also our becoming like Jesus: Having patience, love, kindness, devotion, endurance, gentleness, piety, and self-control. So He desires us to become like Jesus – and for us to help others to become like Jesus. That never happens through our own strength, through our own will-power, through “the strength of a horse” or “the legs of a man.” No. That only happens as we devour His Word, as we depend on His grace, as we submit to His wisdom, as we rejoice in His love. Activity in and of itself does not honor Him. Becoming Christlike and acting Christlike honor Him.

So, no, in and of itself working on God’s behalf does not please Him. He takes no delight in my puny strength, my puny abilities, my puny accomplishments.

But God takes great joy in our fulfilling His purposes for us – as we become more like Jesus inside and outside, in thoughts and attitudes as well as in words and deeds.

So by all means witness – out of the overflow of your joy in Christ. Give generously – knowing all you have is a grant from God to be used for His glory. Worship corporately – in spirit and in truth. Help the poor – with the compassion of Christ for the glory of Christ. Become like Jesus – and act like Him. This is how you can please God.

 

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