Friday, January 20, 2017

Is God scary?

"So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:31)

I’ve often said that the Lord God is the only one who can love and comfort me — and at the same time give me a swift kick in the backside! In this verse, the people walked in fear of Him, but also in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I don’t like His correction, but have learned that He does love me and wants me to be a better person, so I do not cower in fear before Him.

Some people think that to fear God is merely to be in awe of Him in the same way we are in awe of the Grand Canyon, or a mighty waterfall, forgetting that getting too close to either would bring disaster.

Others might consider God their best bud and relate to Him accordingly in casual conversations without any awe attached. Jesus is called a friend of sinners, yet the Bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. This fear is a deep and profound reverence and respect. It is knowing the power of God for good but also knowing that it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands . . .

“For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:30–31)  . . . . Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28–29)

Yet even those verses are not intended to make God’s people walk around terrified that God will strike us with lightning whenever we step out of line. For me, I am totally aware of the wrath that I deserve, but also the grace that I have received. I’m not to forget His grace, or that He loves me, or take either for granted, nor am I to think that I must earn His favor or work hard to keep it. I cannot do either.

What God’s grace does is change my attitude toward Him. I realize He has saved me for Himself and loves me with an everlasting love. How can I call God my ‘buddy’ without also realizing He is my Savior and the Lord of my life? I belong to Him. He is not my genie in a bottle that I run to only when I need something, but the One I acknowledge has all the power. I do not have the right or the wisdom to tell Him how to run this world, nor to complain about the way He is doing it. He is God and rightly so . . .

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)

Proverbs says many times that fools despise wisdom and hate knowledge, but those who are wise fear God and walk with Him in reverence and awe.

Jesus, I certainly fall short in what the world calls wisdom, yet I also worship You. After many false choices and silliness, I finally understand that You alone are worthy. You created all things, but You also gave me a new heart. With the joy of that new life, I praise Your Holy Name.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Nothing to worry about . . .

When the disciples realized that Jesus would soon leave them, He said to them,

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me . . . . I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:1; 18–20)

“Let not” tells me that it is possible to be bound up in troubling issues that should be met by faith, not by an anxious and worried heart — and I have a choice in that matter!

Peter wrote, “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. (1 Peter 5:6–7)

“Humble yourselves” tells me that pride can be the source of a troubled heart. Instead of letting the circumstances of life put me in fear, I’m to trust the Lord. I also have a choice in that issue!

Job is a good example. When the calamities started in his life . . .

“Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:20–22)

Grumbling is a sin. When I whine, I’m showing an attitude that I think God does not know what He is doing; that I know better than God how my world and the world in general should be managed.

Of course unbelief is at the root of worry, anxiety and fear. Jesus points to His Father who cares for me and if I believe what He says, how can I fret?

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25–33)

That root of unbelief can produce spouts of covetous, envy, and self-pity. It isn’t easy to be content when blessings seem to be withheld, but contentment can be learned. Paul said, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)

I learn how to be content by several methods. One is being thankful for what I have. As someone said, if I don’t know what to be thankful for, I just need to take my pulse.

Another method remembering life is short and ‘more and bigger’ is not necessarily better — for me or anyone else. Letting God renew my mind as I read and study His word. He changes my values. God’s values are eternal and I can focus on that rather than the stuff that does not last.

Another application is self-denial that gets involved doing things for others out of my love for God. This is far more important and helpful than self-pity. Besides, freedom from a fearful and anxious heart is far better than anything I could selfishly desire and do for myself.

Jesus, You have blessed me beyond all expectations. I have all I need here and all I need in order to spend eternity with You. You have taught me how to be content and the value of self-denial. You have also given me many opportunities to deny myself and serve others with joy. Thank You!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Great Exchange

What I could not ever do, God did! He traded every wrong that I’ve ever thought, said, and done plus the sinfulness that is in me for everything righteous that Jesus thinks, says, and does and even the righteousness that is the very soul of Him. He bore my junk at the Cross — and the moment that I believed, God imputed Christ’s glory to me.

I read and reread the following verses carefully. I’ve known them more than forty-five years, but today this is as profound as if I’d never read it — Jesus died in my place that I might have His life . . .

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12–21)

Anyone who tries to be righteous without this great exchange cannot do it. The essence of the gospel is in this incredible substitution and in no way dependent upon anything I can do. Salvation is the Lord’s doing and this great and unmatched gift of eternal life, all the blessings of grace in this life and all the blessedness of eternal glory are freely bestowed on every believing sinner only because the Lord Jesus Christ is our Substitute, exchanging my great need for His great riches.

How could I earn or merit everlasting salvation? I fall short of His righteousness. However, Jesus earned it for me. The Bible even says that my salvation is God’s reward to His Son for His saving work, and in Him God looks at me as justified, perfectly obedient. The penalty of the law against sin is satisfied by ‘divine imputation’ — Jesus was made sin for me and took that penalty. In the same way God imputed my sin on Him, He imputed His righteousness on me and the reward of that righteousness is eternal glory.

Jesus, this life is so short, and my life seems so small and insignificant. Yet You gave me Your life and in that incredible exchange, You changed everything. I am in awe, precious Savior, hope of earth and joy of heaven. Thank You.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Eternal Freedom

God who revealed Himself as the “I AM” sent Moses to His people in bondage. He commanded Pharaoh, “Let my people go.”

God who revealed Himself in human flesh sent Jesus the Son to a world in bondage. When He was arrested to be put to death, He commanded His captors, “I told you that I am He. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” (John 18:8)

This reveals two amazing truths. One is that even as He faced torture and death, His great love moved Him to think more about His followers than Himself. The following verses give a few examples of bad things that could happen to me, yet God would still love me . . .

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  . . . For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35–39)

Nothing can stop Jesus from loving me. Even as He was nailed to the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them . . . .”

The second truth about “Let my people go” is framed in these words . . .

“This is a beautiful picture of our great Substitute in his work of redemption. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, but the condition is this: those sheep for whom he died must therefore go free.” (Donald Fortner)

Just as Moses led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, Jesus brought His people out of the slavery of sin, the bondage of Satan, and out from under the curse of the law. On the basis of the ransom that He paid with His life, He said, ‘Let these people live; I have paid the price.’
“The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (is) for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith . . . .” (Romans 3:22–25)
Jesus, because of You and Your great love I will never experience the wrath of God, never know the judgment that I deserve. Because of You, the enemy no longer has a hold on me. Because of You, my sin is forgiven, cast into the sea, removed as far as the east is from the west. Because of You, I am delivered from bondage. As You said in John 8:36, “If the Son sets (me) free, (I) am free indeed!” My Lord and God, thank You for Your incredible love.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Two funerals this week

Saturday’s funeral started at 1:30. We were there more than four hours. It was a celebration of life, but also a sorrow. The man who had gone to be with Jesus had been a pastor, but also a remarkable husband, father, and friend. He will be missed. His family and friends wept and will weep in their sorrow.

Tuesday’s funeral will honor another beloved man whose public service and winning personality built a great respect in our community. There will be tears there also, and tears in the weeks to come. He will also be missed.

A few important verses touch my heart as I think about death and funerals. How great are the promises of God and how timely He is in bringing them to His people when we need to read them . . .

“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

Another passage also impresses me. There isn’t space here for all of 2 Corinthians 4, but it is a reminder that the trials and sorrows of this life are nothing compared to the wonders that are to come. I personalize this section that blesses me today . . . 

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in my heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But I have this treasure in a jar of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to me. I am afflicted . . . but not destroyed . . . carrying in my body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in my body . . . given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in my mortal flesh . . . all for the sake of others . . . as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So I do not lose heart. Though my outer self is wasting away, my inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for me an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as I look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:1–18)

In this life on this earth, I weep over sin, loss, affliction, but after death and into eternity there will be no more tears. I could be deeply sorrowful over the regrets of life, but God will not allow any tears to dim my vision of His Son! He will remove all pain and grief and my reward will be perfectly satisfying. I will see Jesus!

Heaven is being with Christ and becoming like Him, loving Him perfectly, serving Him forever, worshiping Him without sin, enjoying Him and all that He is — and all that He is will be mine. No weeping, no sorrow, only eternal joy.

Jesus, what a comfort that even though some will not be there and no one deserves to be there, there will be a great multitude which no man can number. All who are washed in Your blood and clothed in Your righteousness will be there. All who trust You alone as Lord and Savior will be there — and none will ever be sad or shed tears again. You hugged me today!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

God’s Awesome Redemptive Power

A skeptic challenged a child who believes in Jesus. The little girl told him that Jesus said no one could snatch a Christian out of His Father’s hand. The skeptic retorted, “But what if you jump out?” She replied, “But I cannot; I am one of His fingers!”

For me, assurance of salvation sometimes wavered when I took my eyes off Jesus and evaluated my status with God by my performance, but that little girl is correct; our salvation is secure. Who we are is not about our performance or anything else but the solid promises of God. It is as Jesus said . . .

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27–29)

Today’s devotional reading offers seven reasons why the sheep who have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ will never perish. I must add one more to that list: eternal life is eternal. If it only lasted as long as I behaved myself, then I didn’t have eternal life in the first place!

Besides that, another obvious reality is this: if God says I will never perish, this is God talking. He will keep this promise; otherwise none of His promises could be believed.
This leads to the second reason; keeping His promises is vital to who He is. He made a covenant, declared His purposes in saving souls for Himself, and declared that Jesus Christ would do it. If that did not happen, His plans would be frustrated. If that could happen, then evil and human folly would be stronger that Almighty God.

Third, what Christ purchased with His blood belongs to Him. Otherwise His redemptive work would be worthless. Why bear our iniquities in a crushing grief if it would not accomplish what He wanted it to do? 

“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:10–11)

On the same line, the grace that justifies believers is irreversible — or it makes no sense at all. How can God say “You are forgiven because of my Son” and then turn around and say, ‘sorry, it didn’t work out’? Grace is either based on the character of God, or it is nonsense that has no foundation.

That grace is never defeated. As Paul wrote, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

God is not God if He cannot finish what He started. And by the way, the starting was not based on my performance so how can the finish depend on what I do, or fail to do? My life is in His hands. What He wants from me, His grace will produce!

The next reason is that Jesus Christ lives forever to intercede for me. If I fall away, it would mean that God the Father stopped answering the prayers of God the Son. That is unthinkable. My eternal salvation is secured because Jesus is my eternal intercessor . . .

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)

The last reason listed (although there are more) is that God has sealed me and every believer until the day of redemption. Can any human activity break that seal? Not even the power of Satan is strong enough to separate me from the love of God! I am secure in Jesus Christ.

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13–14)

Jesus, You died to set me free; You live to keep me that way. The Holy Spirit is Your ‘down-payment’ to insure I will possess an eternal inheritance, one given to me now and that cannot be taken away, given back, changed, or ruined. All of this is true because You are the Savior. I cannot and never have been able to save myself. Because of the awful power of sin, even the desire to be saved is from You. This means that from beginning until the glory of eternity where there is no end, I am Yours — now and forevermore. I praise Your holy name and rejoice in the security of Your awesome redemptive power.