Humble Hearts

July 28, 2008 at 8:40 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

Luke 16-18.  I am impressed by the heart attitudes addressed in this section of Luke’s gospel.  The rich man was too wealthy and self-sufficient to help the poor Lazarus, and his brothers too stubborn to listen to Moses and the prophets.  Ten lepers were cured and nine did not show gratitude.  The judge was too haughty to listen to the case of the widow.  The Pharisee was too proud to admit his sin, while the tax collector readily admitted his.  The rich young man couldn’t let go of his possessions.  The crowd thought Jesus had no time for a blind beggar.  Pride, pride, pride.  I stand convicted of my own self-righteousness as I read these words.  Yet there is also the contrast represented in these pages:  If your brother sins against you seven times and repents, forgive him seven times.  We should have the attitude of the worthy servant who works hard then replies, “I have only done my duty.”  One leper did demonstrate his gratitude by returning to Jesus and praised God.  The tax collector went away from his prayers justified, because of his humble confession.  In this section Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me . . . for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  And finally, Zacchaeus proved to be a true son of Abraham by his humble actions.  Lord, help me to have the humble servant heart demonstrated by the people on the second half of this list.

Bert

July 24, 2008 at 4:21 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Last week Bert Nelson was in a horse-riding accident.  She broke her neck in two places, her back in two or three places, her pelvis, every rib on her right side and some on the left.  She is in constant pain.  I’ve visited her a few times in the hospital.  There have been a few occasions in my life when I’ve visited people offering encouragement to them but come away more encouraged by them.  Visiting Bert has been one of those experiences.  She talks consistently of God’s purpose in everything and that this accident is no different.  She knows God has a reason for it that is to his greater purpose.  Her prayer, each time I’ve seen her is for some family members who do not know Jesus.  She wants me to pray that those people will see Jesus so clearly in her life through this accident that they too will come to know him personally.  Wow!  She is an amazing lady, and I could only hope that I might have the same attitude if something similar would happen to me.  I know my own self-centeredness all too well, but hers is a life all about God!

Broken Cisterns and Stubborn Hearts

July 15, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

“They did not obey or incline their ears, but walked in their own counsel and in the stubbornness of their evil hearts and went backwards and not forward.” (Jeremiah 7:24)  What a scary thought!  When I stubbornly go my own way in life, I move spiritually backwards.  Jeremiah gives numerous reminders of this stubborn heart idea throughout the early chapters of his book.  In addition to constant reminders of rebellion and backsliding, he specifically mentions stubborn hearts in seven places (3:17; 5:23; 9:14; 11:8; 13:10; 16:12; and 18:12).

In addition to these blatant words, Jeremiah gives a powerful illustration about broken cisterns to help us understand.  Many of the streams in Israel were seasonal, so there were only a couple of ways to get water during the dry season in Jeremiah’s day: one was to have a fresh spring or well nearby, another was to collect rain during the wet season and store it in a cistern – a large hole in the ground lined with clay to make it water proof.  Spring water was fresh and cold, described as living water; cistern water was stale and warm, and the deeper into the dry season one went, the more stale it became.  When a cistern had cracks in the clay lining, it would leak, and a family or community could run out of water before the next rainy season began.  God compares those who seek life in their own way as catching water and storing it in broken cisterns – something that ultimately doesn’t satisfy.  The sad part is those people have fresh “living water” readily available, but they refuse to use it!  “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (2:13)

I wonder how often I stubbornly go my own way and try to find meaning to life in my own devices.  When I do, I am a thirsty man seeking water in the wrong places while denying that fresh water is readily available.  Jesus is the true “Living Water,” and all meaning in life must be found in him.

Security and Assurance

July 13, 2008 at 7:21 pm | Posted in Questions for Pastor Glenn, Security and Assurance, Theology | Leave a comment

I am often asked questions about security and assurance:  How can I be sure that I am saved?  I have done some awful things, can I really be forgiven?  Though I know God has saved me, will I do something to lose my salvation?  The answer to these questions always comes down to one matter, whether a person is trusting self or God.  Are you willing to take God at his word?  God says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved;” “he who believes in the Son has eternal life;” “whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  I could go on and on, but the point is God has already spoken on this matter, and nothing can change it.  If you struggle with thoughts of this nature, memorize John 3:16 and 1 John 5:11-13, and constantly remind yourself of what God says.  If you trust in Jesus, you are saved.

The last of the questions above deserves special treatment, because many believe that they can be saved today, even have assurance of it, but lose that salvation tomorrow.  There are many reasons why this is not true, but the first and simplest answer is the tenses in the Bible.  First, God has justified those who trust in Jesus.  That means the Judge of the World has declared them innocent.  Justification is not a future event but a present reality.  God has already done it!  (Romans 5:1, 9)  Redemption is also a present reality; God has already redeemed those who trust in Jesus.  That means he has purchased their lives for himself; he has already paid the price and it is a done deal.  God delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption” (Colossians 1:13-14.  See also Romans 3:23-24)  The same could be said of reconciliation with God; of forgiveness; of regeneration; all of these are done deals.

Second, eternal life is also a present reality and not just a future promise.  Notice that, “he who believes the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36)  “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son, he who has the Son has the life.  …  These things I have written to you who believe in the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”  (1 John 5:11-13)  Here’s the key question:  Is it possible to have eternal life today but not have it tomorrow?  If so, it wasn’t really eternal life.

There is a man in the church where I grew up who has been trying to convince the people there of an Arminian theology.  When I returned one time, he took up the conversation with me (actually another person put us together with the purpose of addressing the issue).  After he had presented his case for why a person can lose his salvation.  I said, “John, the difference between you and me is that you are trusting yourself to hold on to Jesus.  I am trusting Jesus to hold on to me.”   Though he hasn’t yet changed his theology, that comment caught him off guard and he had no response.  Ultimately, the one who believes an Arminian theology trusts himself to hold his salvation rather than trusting God to hold him.  Are you fully trusting Jesus to hold on to you, or are you somehow subtly trusting yourself?

Isaiah’s Thoughts on Heaven

July 9, 2008 at 10:13 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Eschatology | 1 Comment

Isaiah 65-66.  I was pondering heaven in my Bible reading this morning.  We have so many misconceptions about it.  The popular notions have heaven as a place where we can do all the pleasures we missed on earth – where we can live lives similar to what we have here, only happier.  Of course, Jesus dismissed that notion in Matthew 22:23  I don’t claim to know much about the subject, as I’ve never studied it in detail, but here are some thoughts I gleaned from the last two chapters of Isaiah this morning.  The section starts out with the words, “See, I will create a new heaven and a new earth.”  Though many things in this section are couched in symbolic terms, here are the thoughts that stood out to me this morning.

            First, heaven is only for God’s people.  There is much in the last two chapters of Isaiah telling of the destruction of those who do not know God.  “They have chosen their own ways, and they delight in their abominations; so I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring on them what they dread.”  “His fury will be shown to his foes.” (66:3f, 14)  But the good things promised are for his people;“so will be the days of my people.”   It’s about those “who are humble and contrite in spirit and who tremble at my word.”

            Second, though heaven is only for God’s people, his people will come from every nation on earth.  “I am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages.”  (66:18, see also verse 20)  The Jews thought only they were God’s people; some denominations and churches think only they are God’s people; some Americans think only they are God’s people; etc, etc.  People who think that underestimate the grace of God and overestimate their own righteousness.

            Third, heaven is marked by joy and comfort.  The words rejoice, joy, delight are repeated numerous times in this section.  Comfort is mentioned many times also, and that comfort is often tied to joy.  For example 65:18-19 says “Be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.  I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and crying will be heard in it no more”   (See also 66:10-13)

            Finally, heaven is all about God – about his glory and his praise.  Notice that the joy in heaven is the joy of God, and the comfort of heaven is comfort from God.  “This is what he LORD says, ‘I will extend peace to her like a river and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream. . . .  As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.’” (66:12-13)  “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people.”  (65:19)  The reason heaven has people of all nations is so that those who have not heard of God’s fame and glory will proclaim his glory among the nations.  “They will come and see my glory.” (66:18-19)  We usually present heaven in terms of what we will get out of it, what it will be like for us, typical of human-centered religion.  But heaven should be presented as the ultimate revelation to us of the glory of God.  Even heaven is God-focused and God-centered.  “Let the LORD be glorified that we may see your joy!”

Vacation Ponderings on the Sovereign God of Isaiah

July 3, 2008 at 7:45 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, False teaching, Theology | Leave a comment

Isaiah 40-46.  We are vacationing at a small secluded oasis in the middle of the Wyoming dessert – a beautiful little spot called Ayres Natural Bridge.  I have always loved these chapters of Isaiah and pondered them during the quiet mornings of our stay here.  I am impressed by the God-centeredness of this section: They tell of the glory of God in comparison with idols and with people; they often remind us that God is God and there is no other; they tell of the sinfulness of men, and of God’s grace in spite of our sinfulness.

 I have three observations to share from my ponderings.  The first is how often God tells his people, “Do not fear.”  I was impressed by the reasons for the command, which are always related to God’s sovereignty and grace.  The famous verse in this regard is 41:10, “Do not fear for I am with you; do not anxious look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you; surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  I wonder how many people who quote that verse know the context is God’s sovereign choice of his people.  But there is also “I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’”  “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”  “Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.”  (notice again the context is God’s calling).  If we trust in a sovereign God, there is nothing to be afraid of; if we are his people, we have nothing to fear.

The next two observations from this section are theological in nature.  First is the idea that God is beyond time, not bound by it like we are.  In fact what impresses me here is that God’s freedom from time boundaries uniquely identifies him as God.  No other has that freedom.  In comparison with the idols, God says, “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” (42:9)  And in taunting the idols, He says, “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen.  Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome.  Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds so we may know that you are gods.” (41:22-23)  Even more telling are two passages where God seems to say, there is no one else like me, who can tell the future: “Who then is like me?  Let them proclaim it.  Let them declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come – yes, let them foretell what will come.” (44:7)  “Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past?  Was it not I, the LORD?  And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.” (45:21)  There has been a movement amongst evangelicals in recent years (even in my own denomination) called “open theism.”  Open theism presents a god who doesn’t know all that will happen in the future, such as some actions and decision of people.  Though thoughts of such a god may be comforting when people do evil things to us, that god is not the God of the Bible.  According to Isaiah’s high view of God, that theology follows a false god, an idol of human invention.

            My second theological thought on this passage comes from one line that jumped out at me in a long section dealing with idols.  The idol maker shapes his idol “in human form, human form in all its glory, that it may dwell in a shrine.”  (44:13)  I laughed when I read this, because I’d been marking the passages in this section that make reference to God’s glory, yet when it comes to man-made gods, the best we can invent is one after our own image!  We instinctively know that we are the highest of God’s creation (or we arrogantly think we are the highest form of evolution!), so when we make a god, we fashion it after ourselves – glorified men with human strengths magnified.  Such were the idols of Isaiah’s day; such were the gods of the Greeks and Romans; so also are the false gods worshiped today.  Problem is, they have human weaknesses as well. The god of easy believism is a god who, like us, doesn’t take sin seriously; the god of prosperity is a god who, like us, focuses on the present life rather than the eternal; the god of open theism is a god who, like us, is bound by time; the same could be said of the Mormon god – he, like us, is bound by time and space.  “I am the LORD; that is my name!  I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols!” (Isaiah 42:8f)  I want to worship, follow and teach the true God, who, unlike me, is not bound by time and space; who, unlike me, is holy and sovereign; who, unlike me, lives in the present and the eternal.

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