No Condemnation

January 30, 2009 at 10:50 pm | Posted in Security and Assurance, Theology | Leave a comment

          Romans 8:1-5 Sometimes we Christians condemn ourselves for our sinful attitudes and actions, but the ability to recognize sin as sin comes from the Spirit of God.  Those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires, so they recognize what is in opposition to that.  Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what the sinful nature desires, therefore they don’t recognize it as in opposition to God, only as what they want.  When we see sin in ourselves, God is at work revealing sin to us.  Fortunately, and this is the part that is often hard to learn, there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus, so those sins we see do not condemn us, they should encourage us to live more in line with the Spirit who is revealing them to us.  Recognition of sin should encourage us to holiness not condemn us to guilt and shame!  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

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Two Profound Thoughts

January 28, 2009 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, God's Love, Security and Assurance, Theology | 1 Comment

Here are two profound thoughts – not my thoughts, but Paul’s thoughts as inspired by God!

Romans 5:8 These words are so common in Christian circles that we loose sight of just how profound they really are.  “God demonstrates his own love toward us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God loved us so much that he gave life for life.  That would not be so profound if our lives were worth something to God (so the meaning of verse 7).  But the point of the earlier chapters of this book called Romans is that our lives are worth nothing to God, apart from his creation and love.  God gave a life of inestimable value for lives that had almost no value at all.  We denied his creation of us, and we trashed our lives to the point where they were worthless; yet he still loved, and he still gave.  Our lives have value now only because of this fact; our lives are of inestimable value because of this fact!

So also the words of Romans 5:9-10 are common, and we miss how profound they are too.  “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”  It is natural to think that, if we have been justified by the judge, we shall not suffer the punishment that judge might dole out.  But that’s just it, the punishment we miss is the wrath of that same judge – the Judge of the Universe!  His wrath must be incredible wrath – the very epitome of the word, yet he justifies us, so we don’t experience it.  In fact, he poured that wrath out on his own Son!  Wow, when God demonstrates love, he demonstrates an incredible love!

 

Rebuilding the Temple

January 23, 2009 at 9:52 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

Matthew 27:39-40.  “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!  Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!’”  The people insulting Jesus while he hung on the cross chose his claim to be able to rebuild the temple in three days as a mocking point.  That is ironic, because he was doing exactly what they ridiculed him about not doing, yet they couldn’t see it.  They were short-sighted in the matter.  The apostles later recognized Jesus’ words about the rebuilding of the temple as a reference to his death and resurrection.  The temple of his body was being destroyed while Jesus was being insulted; the rebuilding process Jesus predicted had already begun.  They also ridiculed the idea that Jesus was the Son of God, telling him to prove it by coming down from the cross and saving himself.  Here again they missed the big picture.  Their challenge was based on their idea of what God should be like and what God’s Son should do.  Yet, the fact that he was God’s Son is what kept him on the cross.  God’s plan was being carried out in God’s way; from their human-centered vantage point, they couldn’t see it.

Today many criticize God because of their own short-sightedness.  They ask how God could let evil exist; they ask how come they have problems; they laugh at a “god” who could allow himself to die.  (Certainly the wisdom of the cross is foolishness to the world!)  All such questions are human-centered and short-sighted.  The critics think that a real God would make life easy for us here on earth (another reason why the prosperity false gospel is so popular).  God is God, he knows the whole picture.  We are temporal and human, so we do not.  Just like God was working through the cross in the very things he was mocked and for the eternal good of those who mocked him, so today, even in the areas of our lives we question, God is working for our eternal good and for his ultimate glory.

Inauguration Day Prayers

January 20, 2009 at 4:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

          Here is the prayer I published the day after Barak Obama was elected president.  I thought it worth running again today.  Below are two other articles well-worth the time to read.  The first is from a sermon by John Piper titled “Being Pro-Life Christians Under a Pro-Choice President.” Though given 16 years ago at the inauguration of Bill Clinton, it is relevant again today.   The second link is a prayer for our president offered by Albert Mohler.

John Piper’s message can be found here

Al Mohler’s prayer can be found here

Act Like Little Children!

January 20, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

Matthew 18-20  For the past few days, I have been trying to put together some related thoughts from this section of Matthew.  It begins with Jesus teaching that we should be like children, then, it seems to me, that many of the passages that follow are lessons about that theme.  “He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said:  ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:2-4)

First, children are important to God.  There are a few stories that follow which demonstrate that idea.  First is the story of the lost sheep.  The one lost sheep is so important to the shepherd that he leaves the other ninety-nine to find that one.  In Matthew’s version (different from Luke’s more famous telling – probably told in a different setting), the story ends with this lesson:  “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (18:14)  Also in this context is the story of the disciples rebuking the parents who tried to bring their children to Jesus so he could touch them and pray for them.  This was, in their minds, an effort to protect Jesus’ time and ministry, yet Jesus corrected them with his famous saying:  “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (19:14)

Second, little children are forgiving.  If you watch children playing, you’ll see they can get mad at each other, yet a few minutes later they forget the offense and are playing again.  We adults tend to hold the offense much longer.  There are some stories of forgiveness in the sections that follow Jesus’ command to become like little children.  Peter’s question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (18:21-22)  Peter thought he was being generous; Jesus told him that real forgiveness doesn’t keep score.  That’s just like children.  Peter’s question is followed immediately by Jesus’ story of the unforgiving slave.  This story demonstrates that those who have received God’s forgiveness (as children!) will extend that forgiveness to others.

Third, little children are generous.  They learn the lessons of sharing more easily than adults.  Chapter 19 (verses 16-22 – immediately after “Let the little children come to me!”) tells of a rich young man who wouldn’t follow Jesus because he held t00 tightly to his temporal wealth.  He came asking what he must do to obtain eternal life, but went away sad because he couldn’t let go.  The story of the workers in the vineyard, where the ones hired late in the day received the same pay as those hired earlier, demonstrates not only God’s generosity but also our hard-heartedness toward it.

Finally, children know their low position in life.  They know they are needy and that others must meet their needs.  This is demonstrated by the stories of chapter 20.  The workers in the vineyard thought they deserved more, even though they were paid the agreed-upon salary.  Next, James and John wanted the highest positions in God’s kingdom.  Jesus used that incident to teach the disciples a lesson in humility.  He said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” (20:26)  The chapter ends with the story of two blind men who called for Jesus to heal them.  Though the crowd tried to quiet them, “they shouted all the louder, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us.’”  They recognized their need and Jesus’ ability to meet it.  Jesus responded to their cries showing again how important the lowly are to him.

I had to be reminded this weekend of how I hold on to things I am passionate about.  I wasn’t acting like a little child, in the good sense of the word.  Let’s be like little children, holding loosely to offenses and temporal things and humbly recognizing our low position and our utter dependence on Jesus.

Our Reward Is Jesus

January 13, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Eschatology, It's All About God | Leave a comment

Psalm 17:14-15.  Those who claim the OT doesn’t teach an afterlife simply don’t read it close enough.  This passage seems pretty clear to me.  (Though admittedly, I don’t know how much my translation is affected by NT thought.  It would be interesting to see a Jewish translation of this and other such Psalms.)  David prays against his enemies, and one of the lines is “By your hand save me from such people, LORD, from those of this world whose reward is this life.”  The clear implication is that there is a reward beyond this life.  Now with just that said, some Jews might claim that reward is a legacy, but the next verse overrules that interpretation: “As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.”  The only possible understanding of that is an afterlife in God’s presence.  Those who love God can look forward to all eternity with him.  Even the OT saints recognized that to be their reward.

            P.S.  Another thought on this passage is that we should have the same perspective about the afterlife as David.  So often, in our Christian circles anyway, heaven is expressed in terms of what we get, what we want, etc., but heaven should be expressed in terms of seeing Jesus.  Our attitude should be “when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.”  Heaven is not about us; heaven is about Jesus.  When I teach the book of Revelation, I show how Jesus is the focus of the book.  Since much of John’s vision is what takes place in heaven, this truth can be seen in that book also.  Never are the resurrected saints the focus/purpose in heaven.  Jesus is always the focus, and he deserves all the praise that can be given.  Our reward is not gold crowns and not jewels in those crowns; our reward is not mansions aligning gold streets; our reward is not even seeing the saints that have gone before us, though that may happen.  Our reward is Jesus!

            P.P.S.  Twice now I thought I was done writing only to have a further thought on this matter.  If we will be satisfied in the afterlife with Jesus alone, if he alone is our reward there, then we should be satisfied with Jesus alone here.  I always look to many other things for satisfaction, but only he should be our joy, our fullness, our satisfaction, our life.  “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My strength and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 72:23)  “I said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’” (Psalm 16:3)

Real Security in a Bear Market

January 7, 2009 at 10:32 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts | 1 Comment

Matthew 6:19-34.  In yesterday’s mail we received year-end statements from both of our retirement accounts.  That was a double dose of bad news!  Altogether, our accounts, which have traditionally done as well or better than the overall market, lost 40% of their value in 2008.  When I mentioned that to Cathy, she responded, “Good thing our security is in the Lord!”  That was a great response – one that we all need to hear in this bear-market economy.  It is appropriate (and Providential!) that I read these verses from the Sermon on the Mount this morning after getting those statements yesterday.  “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth . . .  But accumulate treasures in heaven . . .  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink.  . . .  Look at the birds in the sky:  They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Aren’t you more valuable than they are?”  “Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.” 

I hope that the market will rebound in 2009, but even if it doesn’t, my hope and security is in the Lord.  I will seek his kingdom and his righteousness.  May you prosper in 2009, first and foremost in the eternal things of God’s kingdom.

The Virgin Birth and Biblical Authority

January 6, 2009 at 9:41 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, English Bible Translations, Theology | Leave a comment

For my devotions this year I will be reading through the New Testament twice.  The first time through I am reading the NET Bible.  This translation was developed as a digital Bible from the outset, as it was designed to be a freely-available on-line English Bible.  You can find it at www.bible.org/netbible/index.htm   The translators included thousands of footnotes, which are a great wealth of information for translation and study.

Matthew 1:18-25.  There are many who would discount the virgin birth of Jesus as myth added to the story later.  These pundits will point to the famous virgin passage in Isaiah and remind us that the Hebrew word translated as virgin could mean any young woman, not necessarily a sexual virgin.  But that argument ignores the New Testament evidence from Luke and Matthew.  This passage in the very beginning of Matthew not only supports the virgin birth, but actually emphasizes it.  Notice how often Matthew makes note of it:  1) The very first thing we learn about Mary’s pregnancy is that it happened “before they came together.”   2) In fact, she was “found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.”  3) Joseph “intended to divorce her”  for the very reason that he knew he wasn’t the father of this mysterious baby.  4) However, the angel told him in a dream that the child conceived in Mary “was from the Holy Spirit.”   5) This all happened to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, “The virgin will conceive and bear a son.”   Matthew’s quotation of the prophecy contains the Greek word which can only mean a sexual virgin, and he applies it to this particular situation for that reason.  6) Even after they were married, Joseph “did not have marital relations with”  Mary until after the child was born.  And finally, 7) Matthew makes it clear in the genealogy that Joseph is the adopted father of Jesus when he says Jacob was “the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born.” (v16)  “Whom” in this verse is the feminine form of the word, so there is no confusion as to Matthew’s meaning.

Matthew clearly teaches the virgin birth and does so emphatically.  The debate over whether Jesus was virgin-born is not a matter of what the Bible says; it is a matter of whether one believes the Bible or not.  It is not a matter of biblical interpretation, but one of biblical authority.  Those who teach the virgin birth as myth simply choose not to believe the clear meaning of the text.

Delight in God’s Word

January 1, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Psalm 119.  I had the first few days of this week off and read part of this chapter during those days.  Here are some prayers that I marked for the upcoming year.  These are especially good for a teaching pastor.  “O that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!” (v5)  “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.” (v14)  “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.  Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” (36-37)  “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.” (72)  I hope to have that kind of delight in God’s Word during the coming year!  It is too easy for me to get caught up with temporal things instead of the eternal.  But deep inside I want to delight in (and invest in!) the eternal.  God’s Word is one of the few eternal things in this life.  Help me, like the psalmist to do just that.

        The old Catechism asked, “What is the chief end of man?”  And the answer was, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  The first part of that formula I can understand, the second is more difficult.  Yet here the old poem talks about exactly that: delighting in the things of God.  May you delight in God’s Word in 2009.  May it be your passion, your desire, the thing more precious than silver or gold.  That’s what we need more of in an economic downturn!

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