Tuesday, June 30, 2015

THE GREATNESS OF THE GRACE OF GOD



“Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the LORD, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father’s house, and give me a true token, and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.”  (Joshua 2:12-13)

A woman belonging to a cult believes that blood transfusions are sinful, so she refuses medical treatment and dies.  What killed her?  Not so much the disease, as rejecting the cure.  We all are born with a terminal disease called sin.  There is only one cure—Jesus.  The grace of God is a great and glorious thing!  We are mistaken to think that the Old Testament is about judgment and the New Testament is about grace.  There is judgment described in the New Testament—haven’t you read Revelation?  There is also grace in the Old Testament—we see it in Joshua 2. 

Rahab was a madam who ran a brothel (v.1-7).  There is no way to clean this up.  It was her sad condition.  How many men had she slept with?  She had developed a lucrative business, selling sex.  I believe she was like the subject of an old country song, “Looking for love in all the wrong places; looking for love in too many faces.”  I dare say, there was an emptiness in her life that Rahab was trying to fill.  To drink of the world, however, is to be always thirsty—it is like drinking from the ocean—the more you drink, the thirstier you become.  How many Rahabs are there in our world today!  We look down on them—“scandalous” we say of them—and fail to see a person that Christ died for—someone He wants to redeem.  That’s what grace is all about! 

God has a Divine appointment with Rahab (v.8-14).  The conviction of her sin plowed open her heart and the seed of truth was planted there.  The witness that she heard produced saving faith in her.  Scripture says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom.10:17).  We need to sow the Gospel seed wherever and whenever we can.  This is how people come to faith in Christ—even the Rahab’s!  She gives a personal testimony of her faith.  She acknowledges the true and living God—unlike the pagans she lived among.  She confesses Him and worships Him.  Saving faith bears fruit.  That is the evidence of repentance. 

Rahab would never be the same (v.15-24).  The scarlet cord speaks of the scarlet blood of Jesus Christ that stretches from Calvary to any who will receive Him.  You can’t reach God on the rocket of reason, or climb up on the ladder of logic.  You can get there on the railroad of redemption—the good old T & O—trust and obey!  The scarlet cord, Rahab dropped from her window was a guarantee she would escape judgment.  When the walls of Jericho fell, her house remained intact!  Her family would be saved also.  Rahab’s conversion was a powerful testimony.   We’ve got to be concerned that evangelism begins in our home. 

Rahab is a shining trophy of God’s grace.  Jesus came to save such sinners.  To the Rahabs and Roberts out there: you are not beyond the reach of salvation! 

Church, will we offer compassion or condemnation to the Rahabs?  Rahab is our co-worker, our neighbor, our family member.  Do we not believe in the power of the Gospel to turn sinners into saints?

 

Monday, June 29, 2015

A WORLD UPSIDE DOWN




(This is the manuscript I had prepared for my sermon yesterday in response to the legalization of same-sex marriage. It is what I would have said if I had an hour to preach. I had 20 minutes--that sermon as delivered should be posted in a day or two--if you prefer that format, and that length! You will get the core of it. God bless!--Pastor Dennis)

A WORLD UPSIDE DOWN
 
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!  (Isaiah 5:20)
 
When is a person not a person?  When they are a piece of property.  That is what the Supreme Court ruled in the Dred Scott decision in 1857.  Scott had sued to obtain his freedom.  Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that because Scott was simply considered the private property of his owners, that he was subject to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, prohibiting the taking of property from its owner "without due process."  Strike one!
 
When is a baby not a baby?  When it is a fetus.  The Supreme Court in its infamous Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 made abortion legal.  Since then 54.5 million babies have been brutally butchered—their mother’s womb meant to be a sanctuary turned into an execution chamber.  Strike two!
 
When is a marriage defined as between a man and woman not the only definition of marriage?  When the Supreme Court says it can also be a union of two of the same gender.  That was the irrational, unconstitutional decision rendered by 5 of the 9 justices on this past Friday.  Strike three!
 
Now in baseball, three strikes and you’re out.  Have we crossed the point of no return for America?  The final judgment will not be rendered by nine men and women robed in black, but by one Judge robed in white who sits on the throne in the Supreme Court of Heaven.  When will He say that America has gone too far?
 
Here is what I do know.  The inhumanity inflicted on a race of people whose only crime was to be born with darker skin led to their cries of pain reaching God’s ears.  America was plunged into Civil War, where on both North and South, the greatest loss of life occurred in any of our wars—620,000.  Lincoln said this in his second inaugural address, “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
 
Now since 1973, the blood of the little ones torn to pieces, burned to death with chemicals, their brains sucked out with vacuum hoses, and when sometimes still surviving the abortion procedure, only to be suffocated, having their spinal cord snipped with scissors, tossed into a toilet, discarded to whimper alone in a closet until they die.  Millions of little voices, crying out to God for vengeance!  The Creator who takes notice of a little sparrow fluttering to the ground and dying, surely knows each one of these babies made in His image and weeps for them.  Meanwhile His anger builds—How long, O Lord?
 
Then this Friday—legalizing perversion—shaking our fist in the face of God—that which grieves a Holy God is now celebrated.  The rainbow colors illumine the White House.  “A great victory for the United States,” the President exults.  Those rejoicing should read the story of Belshazzar’s party in Babylon documented in Daniel 5 to see how such pompous parties may end.  When Justice Anthony Kennedy and four others affixed their names to the majority opinion legalizing same sex marriage in the U.S. they may have signed America’s death certificate.  Listen to Isaiah’s warning, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”  (Isaiah 5:20)
 
The world is upside down.
 
How are we to respond?
 
1.  PRAYER FOR SPIRITUAL AWAKENING.  The  ills of America cannot be cured with elections, legislation or court decisions—that crowd is a contributor to the mess!  Someone correctly said that neither a donkey nor an elephant can save us—it takes a Lamb—the Lord Jesus is our only hope!  Unless there is a mighty move of God, America is going to fall.  2 Chronicles 7:14 is our Biblical imperative.  The great need is not in the culture, but in the church.  Sinners do what sinners do.  The world can only impact the culture as light and salt when we are distinctively different.  Instead the world has impacted the church.  Scripture warns, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet.4:17)  Revival or wrath—which one will descend from heaven?   Our problems are spiritual and require spiritual solutions.  If a spiritual awakening comes to America then a government transformation can come.  Without that there is no political answer.  What if spiritual awakening should sweep across America?  Before you scoff at that don’t forget nothing is too hard for the Lord!  Following I describe a political framework to build on the spiritual foundation.

2.  PARTICIPATE IN REAL CHANGE.  Christians are citizens of two kingdoms.  Too often we think that if we just elect the right President or a different senator or congressman that everything will change.  It has not and will not.  The faces of leadership change—the pendulum swings from one party to the next—but most go up to D.C. and sell their soul; they settle into the same old progressive nonsense.  Both parties propose government solutions—the Democrats want to micromanage every part of our lives, as well as tax and spend us into oblivion and the Republicans say different but then do the same thing, just slower.  The Supreme Court—not only on Friday, but two other outlandish decisions on Thursday—usurped authority and made laws contrary to their Constitutional role.  The Founders knew the federal government might one day become drunk with the abuses of power. The most important check to this power is Article V. Article V gives states the power to call a convention for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution.  By calling a convention of the states, we can stop the federal spending and debt spree, the power grabs of the federal courts, and other misuses of federal power. The current situation is precisely what the Founders feared, and they gave us a solution we have a duty to use.” (http://www.conventionofstates.com/)   An informed citizenry with a moral backbone could rebuild this one nation under God.  

What if neither occur?  What if there is no spiritual revival and no political reform?
 
3.  LET THE CHURCH BE THE CHURCH ANYWAY.  Whatever society does, we must do what Christ has commanded us to do—to preach the Gospel, calling sinners to repentance and offering forgiveness and salvation. Should America turn back to God, it would only be a reprieve from judgment.  According to Scripture the day of reckoning is coming.  Imagine that this world is the Titanic.  It has hit the iceberg called sin (that happened in Gen.3).  It is sinking and nothing can stop that.  Our task is to man the lifeboats and get as many on as we can.  It will not be an easy job.  People will hate us for telling the truth.  But we must never respond with hate.  The good folks in the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. showed us that—and love is a powerful.  Love does win!  God’s kid of love, that is. It is increasingly likely that persecution will come to the church.  Four of the Supreme Court justices spoke to the grave danger to religious liberty.  We will stand and speak the truth in love as long as we are able.
 
Here is what God has in mind:
 
See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.”  Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.  For our God is a consuming fire.  (Hebrews 12:25-29)
 
When the shaking comes, Your life must be founded on the solid rock—personal faith in Christ.
Only that will enable you to stand in the storm of God’s judgment.
 
This shaking will sift out the wheat from the chaff.  The church is filled with people who profess faith, but may not possess faith.  Easy-believism and cultural Christianity wither under the fire of persecution.
 
Because the world is upside down, genuine Christians will be described like this, “These who have turned the world upside down…” (Acts 17:6).  In reality the world is standing on its head and saying we are upside down!  Our desire is to put things right-side up!

A REAL DEAL



To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness….  (Isaiah 61:3b)

If an offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is.  Often, in our world, things are not as they seem—and the thing that appears to be a steal of a deal turns into highway robbery—for the purchaser.  The old clich├ęs hold true: “Buyer beware,” “You get what you pay for,” and “Read the fine print.” 

A number of years ago I was sucked into attending a timeshare presentation by the offer of a free meal.  That turned out to be the costliest meal I ever purchased!  By the time I listened to the pitch, marveled at how much money I would save on vacations in the long run, and signed the contract—thousands of dollars would be invested in something where the maintenance fees continued to climb each year and the availability of the week I wanted to spend was seldom unavailable.  Finally, I cut my losses and let it go.

This is not to say that there are not some real deals available in life.  Sometimes we run into bargains that are exactly that—and we are foolish not to take advantage of them.

Have I got a deal for you!  How would you like to make heaven and miss hell?  Would you like to trade in your sorrows for perpetual joy?  What about swapping death for eternal life?  How would you like to have God’s blessing rather than His cursing?  Now that is a real deal, and God has extended the invitation!  It is found in Isaiah 61.

God offers a message of deliverance instead of a message of doom (v.1-3).  Isaiah, like all the prophets, was faithful to God’s Word—confronting the people for their sin and proclaiming the dire consequences of their rebellion.  It was not a sermon they wanted to hear, but one they needed to hear.  Much of his message was bad news.  Yet, God wanted the people to know they could trade that in for good news—the best news!  The Lord Jesus would come and fulfill this prophecy (Luke 4:18ff) by delivering us from our sin, into His salvation!  All we must do is trust in Him!  Now that is a real deal!

God offers a word of hope rather than a word of hopelessness (v.4-9).  Eventually, the city of Jerusalem would fall—the Gentiles trampling over the fields and taking over the flocks.  Israel would pay a heavy price for violating the old covenant.  In grace, God would extend a new covenant, the land would be repossessed by them, and blessing would be restored.  Trade hopelessness for hope?  That’s a real deal!

God offers a promise of blessing instead of a place of barrenness (v.10-11).  The curse will be reversed.  Instead of a funeral dirge, there will be a wedding march.  Rather than dressing in black to mourn, the attire will be white for making merry.  The ground that was full of weeds and thorns will be supplanted by fertility and fruitfulness.  Eden blooms again.  We have yet to see it, but God promises it is coming in a brand new age!  You can have this as your inheritance too!  Exchange your way for God’s will.  Turn from the miserable path of sin to the wondrous road to heaven!  It is the deal of a lifetime!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

THE WORD OF GOD IN THE WORSHIP OF GOD



My lips shall utter praise,
For You teach me Your statutes.  (Psalm 119:171)

The psalmist makes the connection between his inspiration for the worship of God and his instruction in the Word of God.  They are inseparable.  This is why the pulpit stands at the center of our place of worship.  In the center of the pulpit, a Bible is placed, and the preacher centers himself behind it.  This is because the Word of God is central to our worship.  The preaching of God’s Word is at the very heart of all we believe and directs how we behave.  We do not gather to entertain the saints, but to expound the Scriptures.  We are not in the business of providing a show, but proclaiming a Savior.  There are three reasons suggested in these closing verses of Psalm 119.

The Word is central in our worship because it has PERPETUAL RELEVANCE (v.89-112).  We do not have to make the Word of God relevant; it is relevant!  It is as timeless as God is.  God has not changed—He has the same character.  Man has not changed—he has the same nature.  God’s expectation and provision have not changed.  Thus, the Scripture is relevant to every time, every culture, and every situation.  Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven.”  (v.89).

The Word of God is central in our worship, also, because it brings POWERFUL RESULTS (v.113-136).  Spurgeon said that God’s Word did not have to be defended.  You don’t have to defend a lion, you just let it loose!  There is power in the Word—with power God spoke and creation came into existence.  There is still power in the Word!  Rather than the church having to defend the Word of God because of its weakness, we find that the Word of God defends us because of its power!  You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word.”  (v.114).  I recognize there is a place for apologetics that can be helpful to those seeking faith or needing a shoring up of their faith, but “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom.10:17)

Another reason that the Word of God is central in our worship is it demands PERSONAL RESPONSE (v.137-176).  We will fall upon the Rock of Truth and experience brokenness in repentance or the Rock of Truth will fall upon us and crush us in judgment.  Jesus said that the words which He has spoken will judge us at the last day (John 12:48).  Thus, the exposition of the Word as its meaning is unfolded, leads to the application of the Word in its message for the hearer, and culminates in a decision—to submit to the truth or reject it.  Neutrality is not an option.  The sermon is not for mere information as in a lecture, or even inspiration as in a speech, but is for transformation since it is a sermon.  God is not making suggestions; He is issuing commands.  LORD, I hope for Your salvation, And I do Your commandments.”  (v.166).

We hear God’s Word—perpetually relevant to us.  We can expect that it will bring powerful results.  The critical matter is our personal response to it, as we hear it, study it, and apply it.   Let every pastor know that he is accountable for proclaiming it clearly and courageously.  We must feed the sheep or fail in our service.  We will answer to God.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

THE SWAN SONG OF MOSES



So Moses came with Joshua the son of Nun and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people.  (Deuteronomy 32:44)

There was an old belief that a swan was mute until it came time for it to die—and then it would burst into a beautiful song.  From the fable comes the expression, “swan song,” speaking of a final deed or declaration a person performs.  In Deuteronomy 32, you have the swan song of Moses.  His journey through life is ending.  Death looms and eternity beckons, and so he has some final words to share with the people of God.  This is a hymn of heritage—the lyrics of legacy.  Wouldn’t it have been something to hear the old man, now one hundred and twenty years of age burst into song?

The first stanza focuses on the glory and greatness of God (v.1-4).  The intent of the song is to instruct the people in theology.  The music God wants is about more than a melody (we do not know this one)—it is about the message.  Too often, what we sing in churches today majors on style and not substance—meant to inspire rather than inform.  Our emotions ought to be moved when we consider God’s greatness, whether expressed in, “How Great Thou Art,” or the contemporary, “How Great Is Our God.”  Still, it is the text and not the tune that should stir us.

The second stanza contrasts the faithfulness of God with the unfaithfulness of Israel (v.5-6).  God had been the solid Rock—the God of truth—just and righteous.  His people had been compromising, corrupt, and crooked.  A loving Father had cared for them, yet they were disobedient children—ungrateful and unholy.  The music of the church leads us to consider our God, but also to confront our sin, and bring us to repentance.

The third stanza (v.7-14) extols the grace of God in choosing Israel.  God sought them out and selected them from all the nations to be His.  He kept them as the very apple of His eye and carried them on His wings as the eagle bears its young.  From a family of nomads tending sheep in the desert, then enslaved in Egypt, God multiplied them, delivered them, and made them a great nation.  The intent of Christian music, likewise, is to express a testimony of thanksgiving to God and His amazing grace.

Stanza four (v.15-18) portrays the ingratitude of the people—like a well-fed beast, rather than submitting to the Master’s will, they kicked back at Him.  They forgot God and embraced pagan idols.  I think of the lyrics of, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which remind us how prone we are to wander despite all the blessing flowing from God.

The remainder of the song warns of the judgment that results from stubborn sin (v.19-35).  It had been the portion of their fathers, it would be theirs if they followed the same folly, and, sadly, it would predict the future of the Jews.  Yet, the intent is not to destroy but to discipline them.  It will achieve the results (v.36-43).  The second advent of Christ will bring the salvation of the nation.  May our songs ever point to the hope we have in Jesus!  This song was to be taught to the people of God (v.44-47).  It is the swan song of Moses (v.48-52).  Let us never forget the truth imprinted on our soul by the music of the church!

Friday, June 26, 2015

PRAYING WITH POWER



In this manner, therefore, pray….  (Matthew 6:9a)

God designed you with a skeleton.  We are more than a skeleton, of course, but the skeleton gives shape and strength to us.  So, the model prayer Jesus gave is not the end all to praying, but His teaching is meant to give strength and structure to our supplication.  Jesus assumes we will pray—as naturally as a child breathing and crying out to his parents—but is concerned about the motive and manner of our praying.  Perhaps this acrostic will help us grasp our Lord’s teaching and lead to praying with power.

P stands for PRAISE (Matt.6:5-6).  Prayer is not for the praise of man, but for the praise of God.  It is to glorify His name and not ours (Matt.6:9).  The focus is not self-centered, but God-centered.  Thus, prayer should begin with a God focus and offering worship.

R stands for REPENTANCE (Matt.6:12, 14-25).  A proper perspective on the glory of God brings a clear comprehension of who we are—sinners in need of forgiveness..  The channel must be clear, if the grace we need is to flow in.  Thus, the psalmist said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”  (Ps.66:18).  We experience forgiveness, however, in the measure we are willing to forgive others.

A stands for APPRECIATION (Matt.6:9).  We have such a loving Heavenly Father.  Too often we race into His presence as though He were a cosmic Santa Claus with our wish list of goodies, when we ought to spend time first expressing appreciation for all He has already done.  This is to show reverence—to hallow His name.

Y stands for YIELDEDNESS (Matt.6:7, 10).  Powerful praying is not a result of our twisting God’s arm—wearing down His resistance by our persistent whining.  We do not come to demand our will be done in heaven, but to determine God’s will for us that is to be done on earth.  The advancement of His kingdom and the accomplishment of His will are paramount for ourselves and for others as we pray.  Yielding to God yields results!

I stands for INTERCESSION (Matt.6:9, 11-13).  Note the pronouns, “our” and “us.”  Too frequently, our praying uses “I” and “me.”  The ministry of intercession targets our fellowman and their needs.  God has made us priests, and the duty of a priest is to bring man’s request before God and bring God’s response to man’s need.

N stands for NEEDS (Matt.6:8, 11).  We should not conclude that it is wrong to ask for our needs to be met.  What God requires is to have them in the proper place.  In sharing our needs, we are acknowledging our humble reliance on God—and that is a good thing!  Our prayer is for the need and not for our greed, however.  Ask for bread, not steaks! 

G stands for GUIDANCE (Matt.6:13).  If we follow our Commander, He will lead us to victory.  We are no match for the Evil One, but he cannot stand before God!  Marching to triumph over temptation begins by kneeling in prayer.  There the issue is settled.  This is praying in power.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

THE WAY OF THE WICKED



But the wicked are like the troubled sea,
When it cannot rest,
Whose waters cast up mire and dirt. 
“There is no peace,”
Says my God, “for the wicked.”  (Isaiah 57:20-21)

We have seen the restless sea.  Swept by storms, the tide surges, the waves build to a crescendo and crash upon the shore.  Flotsam rides the tides and jetsam litters the beach.  As far as the eye can observe, the ocean is a boiling cauldron, whipped by the winds.  Such is the description of the wicked man’s soul.  His thoughts are cluttered with debris and his heart churns like the waves.  Peace eludes him—tossing and turning on his bed, rising to pace the floor—to and fro, ebb and flow—to find some meaning in life.  He reaches out to seize it as it drifts by, only to have it swept away by the next wave.  This inner turmoil characterizes the sinner.  It is the way of the wicked.  A shot of whiskey, a hit of weed, a sexual tryst, a stock market trade—something, anything to numb the pain and mask the disillusionment—with such efforts only adding to the mire and dirt within.

It isn’t that the righteous are immune from struggle (Isa.57:1-2).  They too know sickness and sorrow.  Death will come to all.  The difference—that the wicked ignore—is that when the righteous dies, he is at rest.  His ship sails through the storm tossed waters of this world, but he has an anchor of hope, and ultimately reaches the haven of heaven.  The godly close their eyes in the darkness of death, and then open them in the light of glory!  They exhale one last feeble breath and with the next inhale celestial air!  The heart slows and then stops, only to begin racing with joy again as the beauties of eternity are unveiled!  The wicked are insensitive to all that—consumed with their own problems.  Little do they know that the sorrows of this life are but a prelude of the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth to come.

The way of the wicked is the way of worshipping gods of their own design (Isa.57:3-9).  It is sorcery and harlotry—an orgy of futility (v.10-14).  Only weariness is found in the pursuit of worldliness.  There is no hope available in false gods—idols who cannot respond for they have no life.  Their only, “power,” is to make the worshipper weak.

There is a way to find peace—and that is to trust in God (v.13), to remove the impediment of iniquity (v.14), in contrition and condescension to seek the Lord (v.15).  The repentant soul can experience revival.  God knows we are sinners and has made provision for forgiveness (v.16).  The pain from our problems is sent by a loving God as goads designed to prod the stubborn ox and move him where his master wills (v.17-18).  It is in the pigpen that the prodigal may come to his senses and return to the Father.

We stand at the helm.  We may chart a course for the peace of mind that comes from peace with God (v.19).  The other way is to sail into the perfect storm and sink to our doom (v.20-21).  No peace now—and no peace for eternity—this is the way of the wicked.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

BLESSING OR CURSING?



“Therefore keep the words of this covenant, and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do.”  (Deuteronomy 29:9)

There are fundamental moral laws.  Keeping them brings blessing and transgressing them brings cursing.  It is a matter of life and death. 

A man might say, “I don’t agree with the law of gravity.”  He then climbs atop a skyscraper and says, “I am free to choose.  I reject this law that cramps my style.”  When he steps out into the air, he has made a choice; he is not free, however, concerning the consequences of his choice.  The decision will not be a good one.  That illustration of the physical laws that govern the universe is likewise a reality in the spiritual dimension of moral law.

God made a covenant with Israel.  He promised them blessing as a nation, if they would obey His laws.  Furthermore, He gave them warning that disobedience would bring disaster.  God had demonstrated His grace.  How faithful He had been in bringing them into liberty—their deliverance from the bondage of Egypt!  The Lord had provided for them in the desert and preserved them from their enemies.  His sovereign choice was to prosperity them as a people.  The implications of their response would have far-ranging implications.  God was establishing them in the land, but with the sobering caution that to turn from Him was to choose discipline.  His love would not let them go.  They were His people.  Yet, that would not mean they could presume upon His grace.  Choices have consequences, so they must choose wisely.  Sadly, Israel has often chosen folly, has suffered greatly, is currently in peril, and the worst is still to come.  All this is not to obliterate them, but to overcome their sinfulness until they make another willful choice—repentance.

This should speak to the covenant people called Christians today.  God chastens those whom He loves.  We are recipients of amazing grace and mercy—and God will not revoke those.  Even when we fail Him, He will be faithful.  His faithfulness also includes the fire of refining—to purge the dross from our lives.

There is a national application as well.  Israel was given a land and liberty—free to choose as a people to be governed by God.  If they chose to give themselves to gods of their own fashioning—rejecting the Lord’s moral laws for the degraded passions of paganism, then God would make a choice too—and the consequences would be severe.  America seems oblivious to God’s goodness in the past.  Today we are codifying wickedness.  Perversion is paraded and filth is flaunted.  We are biting the hand that feeds us.  As the folly of such choices becomes evident in multiplying disaster, perhaps we too will fall on our knees and cry out to God.  He has been, is, and forever will be the Hope of a nation.

 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

FIRST STEPS




Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.  (Matthew 3:13)

Walking into the waters of baptism no more turns you into a Christian than walking into a bakery makes you into a cake.  That does not mean it is unimportant.  You cannot fully follow Christ, unless you follow Him into the water of baptism.  When you give your life to follow Christ, it is a new start.  You are born again.  Then, just as a baby grows and learns to walk by taking its first steps, the new believer is to take their first steps in following Christ—and that is into the water of baptism.

This means IDENTIFICATION (v.13).  A crowd gathered to be baptized by John—scandalous sinners who were confessing their sin, seeking forgiveness, and a new life.  There stands Jesus right in the midst of them—though He had no sin.  Yet, He was identifying Himself with those He came to save.  Jesus is the friend of sinners—and aren’t you glad!  Jesus identified Himself with us in baptism, and now we can identify ourselves with Him likewise.  We are following His pattern.  Baptism is a public testimony of our union with Him.  It marks us out as His follower.  Would we be ashamed of Jesus?  He will be of us then!  Don’t be ashamed!

Baptism is also about SUBMISSION (v.14-15).  John protests when his Cousin comes to be baptized.  Jesus, however, insists—otherwise He would not have remained sinless for failing to do what He ought.  Likewise, following Christ in baptism is a first step of obedience in the Christian life.  It is a token of our willingness to be obedient in every other dimension.  You don’t have to be saved to be baptized, but why would you be saved and not be baptized?

Baptism pictures CRUCIFIXION (v.16).  He came up out of the water, because He had been lowered into the water—like being lowered into a grave.  He surely thought of His death and burial.  Paul said, “We are buried with Christ in baptism...crucified with Him.”  (Rom.6:4, 6)  We are to die to our old life.  Baptism testifies to that death to sin and self.

Baptism also portrays RESURRECTION (v.16).  Jesus came up out of the water, just like rising from the dead.  We don’t just die to the old life; we are raised to walk in a new way.   Baptism is also a means of publicly proclaiming our hope—though we die, we will live again.  The new believer preaches the Gospel through the act of baptism.

Baptism communicates IMPARTATION (v.16b).  Jesus—fully God came to live as wholly man.  Thus, He showed us how to live—empowered by the Holy Spirit imparted to us.  The baptism of the Spirit—impartation of Christ’s life—is expressed through our immersion into the water.

Baptism brings COMMENDATION (v.17).  His task would not be easy.  It was a constant war with Satan, bringing an agonizing death—but, ultimately, victory!  These encouraging words were spoken at the commencement of His ministry—then repeated near its conclusion.  Baptism is meant to encourage the saints.  We all need that!

If you have decided to follow Jesus, then take the first steps into the water.  Take the plunge!

Monday, June 22, 2015

A BOOK LIKE NO OTHER



Blessed are the undefiled in the way,
Who walk in the law of the LORD!  (Psalm 119:1)

The Bible is a Book like no other.  There are other books that are inspiring, but no other book is inspired like this Book—for God is the source, as well as the subject, of its message.  No other book has affected history like His story contained in its pages.  To read and heed the Scripture is to have the blessing of God in this world and in the world to come.

Psalm 119 is at the heart of this best of books.  It is no accident that in this Divine library of 66 books, that this longest chapter in the Bible extols the veracity and virtue of the Word of God.

The Bible is the best of books in the direction it furnishes (v.1-8).  Throughout these opening verses, the writer stresses how our walk in life is directed by the Word of God.  The Psalm begins with this:

Blessed are the undefiled in the way,
Who walk in the law of the LORD!  (v.1)
 
God’s Word gives us solid footing for our steps.  The world’s constantly shifting opinions and philosophies are quicksand, but God’s truth marks out a stable path for us to navigate safely our journey from earth to heaven.  The Scriptures are a roadmap to guide us home.

The Bible is the best of books in the delight it brings (v.9-24).  The author of this Psalm does not come to God’s Word with an attitude of obligation, but a spirit of anticipation.  He doesn’t see reading the text as a mere duty, but as a delight.  For instance, he exults:

I will delight myself in Your statutes;
I will not forget Your word.  (v.16)
 
The Word of God is a fountain of joy from whence flows rivers of pleasure.

The Bible is the best of books in the dedication it inspires (v.25-40).  Being devoted to grasp the meaning of Scripture will cause that message to grasp us and bring out devotion to obey it.  For example:

Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law;
Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.  (v.34)
 
Our culture has moved away from objective truth to subjective experience.  The church has been impacted by this, and too often prefers entertainment in songs rather than exposition of Scripture.  They want a little pop psychology with a verse or two of Scripture thrown in—a sermonette that produces Christianettes. 

David Wells speaks to this troublesome trend by noting: “Sustaining orthodoxy and framing Christian belief in doctrinal terms requires habits of reflection and judgment that are simply out of place in our culture and increasingly disappearing from evangelicalism as well.” 

Devotion to studying and meditating deeply on the truth of the text will lead to dedication and submission to those truths—and a shallow, superficial understanding will yield that kind of faith, as well—if it is any faith at all.

I am far from being all God wants me to be.  There has been come progress, however, in that direction.  Without question, the most significant factor in my spiritual growth has been a consistent pattern of daily study of God’s Word.  There is no substitute for the proper nutrition of feeding your soul on the best of books.

 

 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

WHAT A SAVIOR!



He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  (Isaiah 53:3a)

The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is surely one of the most remarkable prophecies in Scripture.  If I had no other reason to believe the Bible is the Word of God, all I would need is this chapter and I would be convinced of its Divine authorship.  Around seven hundred years before the events, Isaiah will describe Christ’s crucifixion as though he is standing at the foot of the cross.  Prophetically, he was!

How Jesus is described is shocking—from a human standpoint, it is unbelievable (v.1).  He grew up as a tender plant—a root out of dry ground (v.2a), with nothing extraordinary about His physical features (v.2b).  Jesus looked like the average Jewish man of His day.  This was not the kind of Messiah that Israel was looking for, and so they scoffed at the possibility (v.3).  Their sinful hearts led them to despise Him, and most in our time do as well.

Not only was His physical appearance shocking, the degree of His suffering was remarkable also (v.4-6).  No one ever suffered like Jesus.  His suffering was not for His own sins, but for ours.  He willingly paid the sin debt that we owed and could never pay!  Oh, how He loves us!  People scorned him as He was dying, as though He were cursed for His own crimes against heaven, when it was for theirs—and for ours—that He became a curse for us.

His suffering was indescribable, and His silence was incomprehensible (v.7-9).  He does not ask for an attorney, though it was His right.  He does not protest the illegal nature of that trial although everything about it was wrong.  He does not defend Himself.  He could have summoned Heaven’s armies with a word, but He is silent as a Lamb led to slaughter.

Sealed in a sepulcher of stone, it would appear that His cause was lost—and with His death, the death of hope.  God’s ways are not man’s ways, however.  It would be through the sacrifice of His life, that He would fulfill the success of His mission.  He would look down the corridor of time and see all His seed—His spiritual progeny (v.10-11).  His cause is vindicated and His claims validated by His resurrection.  He died, but He would not stay dead!

Jesus was not the victim; He was the Victor (v.12).  To the victor goes the spoils.  He has conquered death, hell, and the grave.  He arose in triumph and ascended in glory—then He took of His treasure and poured out spiritual gifts to His church.  One day He will return, and just as He fulfilled every prophecy concerning His first advent, He will fulfill every one pertaining to His second advent. 

Christ has changed the course of history and eternity.  He has changed my life.  He can change yours!  He made salvation possible; now we can receive it by trusting Him.

RESPONDING TO LOVE



What shall I render to the LORD
For all His benefits toward me?  (Psalm 116:12)

This Old Testament truth finds its New Testament parallel in 1 John 5:19, “We love Him for He first loved us.”  Love given so abundantly by God, ought to be reciprocated by us.  Throughout this Psalm, we encounter that theme.

I love the LORD, because He has heard
My voice and my supplications. 
Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.  (v.1-2)

The sacred songwriter found himself in a desperate state (v.3), with no hope except in God—but He found God to be more than enough!  Crying out to Him, he received grace and mercy, dispatched to him from God (v.4-6).  Grace took one arm, mercy the other, and lifted him up, leading him out of his peril.  It was such bountiful blessing (v.7)!  Now, with his soul once troubled, finding rest, he reflects upon the goodness of God.

For You have delivered my soul from death,
My eyes from tears,
And my feet from falling.  (v.8)

God delivered his soul, dried his sobs, and directed his steps.  Faith had brought him the victory (v.9-11).  It wasn’t a lot of faith, but it was enough, for not the measure of faith, but the object of faith is the key.  In fact, when he felt men had abandoned him, he spoke hastily in the bitterness of his soul.  People do fail us.  They do not always stand by us.  God, however, can be utterly trusted.  He may not answer the prayer the way we expect or when we want, but His love directs Him to always do the best—even, when we don’t understand.

What shall I render to the LORD
For all His benefits toward me? 
 I will take up the cup of salvation,
And call upon the name of the LORD. 
 I will pay my vows to the LORD
Now in the presence of all His people.  (v.12-14)

This is how to respond to love: experience satisfaction in drinking deeply of God’s salvation; express supplication in calling continually on God’s name; exhibit service in willing work for God’s cause. 

When God delivers us from death, He extends our time on earth for His purposes.  Then, when life is over, He calls us to an even greater glory (v.15).  The deliverance from death will ultimately yield to the deliverance in death—to heaven, where His love will be known exponentially!  Until then, we will serve Him, worship Him, and gather with His people to sing of His love (v.16-19)!  Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine—and the best is yet to come!

How will you respond to the love of God today?

Friday, June 19, 2015

THE HAPPINESS OF HEAVEN

 


Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.  (Revelation 21:1a)

What is your address?  On the mail I receive, it says, “5 Owlwood Drive, Candler, N.C.”  Even though I reside there, it is not my home.  That’s a temporary address.  My real home is on Hallelujah Boulevard, New Jerusalem, Heaven.  The old Gospel song puts it:

This world is not my home
I'm just a-passing through
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue.

The angels beckon me
From heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home
In this world anymore.  (Jim Reeves)

The reality is that we will all spend eternity somewhere.  John has just warned of the horror of hell in Revelation 20, and now in chapter 21, he shares the happiness of heaven.

It is a place that is prepared (v.1-2).  Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you…” (John 14:2b).  John uses that word here to describe the Holy City as a bride prepared for her husband.  The old creation was marred by sin—Satan has soiled the heavens that are and man has spoiled the earth that is.  God promises to make all things new!  As a bride dressed in white, the New Jerusalem will be spotless.  Unstained by even one sin, Satan and all who followed him—fallen angels and fallen men—will have been consigned to the lake of fire.  Here comes the Bride!  I long to hear that Wedding March begin to play!

It is a place that is presented (v.3-8).   John twice says, “I heard,” and twice we are told, “Behold!”  This is a grand presentation!  This old sinful world is full of groans, but the new stainless world will be full of glory!  In the course of my ministry, I have stood too many times in a hospital room or hospice unit and heard someone struggling to live, their body wracked with pain, each breath a labor and lament.  I have often gathered with grieving families in funeral parlors and graveyards and heard their sobs of sorrow.  On the authority of the Word of God, there is coming a day when that will be, “no more...no more…” as “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes….”  Hell will be the only place in the universe where there will be weeping.  Heaven will bring boundless laughter!

It is a place that is paradise (v.9-23).  It is not just the absence of sin’s pain, but also the presence of salvation’s pleasure that marks eternity for the saints.  Our eternal home is a place of breathtaking beauty and incomparable wonder.  John does the best he can to describe what he saw, using the highest vocabulary he had, but I tell you heaven is all that—and so much more!  The best thing is that Jesus will be there.  The glory of God will fill the place and we will bask in the light of the Risen Lamb.  We will see Him crowned with glory who once was crowned with thorns.  The hands once pinned to a cross will reach out and embrace us with perfect love!  O glorious day!

It is a place populated (v.24-27).  The best of places is populated by the best of people.  It is a gated community.  Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life are permitted entrance.  Is your name written there?  Make sure today!