April 30, 2013

Eternity is not far…

A busy mother of four often said, “Oh for the peace of the grave!” I like being busy, but that line crossed my mind this morning. I’ve papers to write and long articles to read for the course I’m taking, all due the end of this week. Also on the calendar are a baby shower, a funeral, a meeting, a doctor’s appointment, and finishing a book for book club, never mind the ordinary chores of daily life. I try to tell myself this is nothing compared to the schedule of the American president, but I don’t have his staff!

That mother was not serious in sighing, “Of for the peace of the grave,” nor am I, but it makes a nice lead into the devotional today. The topic is the nearness of heaven and I’m thinking how life can change from here to there, even in the blink of an eye.

Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:10)

Spurgeon, who wrote the devotional, is often prompted by verses that only suggest his topic. He starts with the idea of joyful angels, skips the part about repentance, and lands on the topic of those on earth not being as far from heaven as it might seem. He begins by saying Jesus Christ is nearer than anyone else we know.

I know that is true. Sometimes the sense of Jesus’ presence is all that keeps me going. Then Spurgeon jumps from that to say that heaven and earth are also close together, even like “two ships moored close to one another.” With a vivid word picture, he adds that only “one short plank of death” will enable me to step from one to the other.

I think immediately of two accidents in yesterday’s news. In one, five members of one family died instantly when their car was hit by another that sped through a red light. That short plank took them in a moment from this life to the next. In the other accident, the daughter of a friend is in hospital with life-threatening injuries after her car hit a light pole. One short plank indeed. Life can change so quickly.

My ship on earth continuously moves closer to mooring alongside that heavenly vessel. I’ve finished the business of yesterday, even though I feel intimidated at the log for today. I’ve had a full cargo and now an emptying. I’ve known battles, victories and sorrows. But that other ship, as Spurgeon describes, is “all golden, with its ensign flying and its sails all spread, fair as the angel’s wing.” It remains always beside me, always ready, so when the time comes, I can leap from this dark one to the deck of that happy one, a golden deck on which I will sail forever.

Two additional thoughts catch my attention. One is that all who have gone before me form a “cloud of witnesses” as I sail. While live my life here, they look down and observe. These are described in Hebrews 11 then Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…” Are they cheering? I hope so.

The other thought is of the angels. They rejoice when I repent, meaning they are also keeping an eye on me which is a great comfort. What else do these angels do? The Bible says they are mighty and quick to obey God’s commandments according to His Word — and they are my servants, sent to help me…

Are they (the angels) not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)

The bridge between the two ships is a dread for most, yet as the days go by, it helps me to remember that no one who has been redeemed through faith in Jesus Christ is very far from heaven. It could be hours or days or months before I step across that plank, but knowing it is such a quick, short bridge is actually a comfort. Even more, knowing that those on the other side are experiencing great joy and perfect peace is also a comfort. I’m not far from Jesus, and when I’ve weathered all the storms of life, I will anchor with Him and the saints of God within the port of everlasting peace.

April 29, 2013

Joy in heaven

When people talk about their deceased relatives watching down on them, I’ve thought this is a mere fanciful, wishful notion. However, I need to rethink my understanding.
Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:10)

This does not say my mother and father know what is going on here, but Jesus affirms that there is joy before the presence of God’s angels when I turn away from sin. Does that mean my parents also rejoice concerning positive changes in my spiritual life? If angels do, maybe they do also.

Spurgeon writes the devotional for today and suggests this verse is the answer to those times I feel like God does not hear me, that He is far away and I am here alone. Heaven is so much beyond this place, like a great chasm over which my thoughts and prayers cannot leap.

Yet the angels know and are delighted if one person (even me) turns from sin. Spurgeon says that the same great heart that beats in heaven beats on earth and even though the celestial is one and the terrestrial is another, this is only in appearance. I am not a stranger in a strange land shut off from my heavenly Father for even the angels know what goes on in my heart.

The rational side of faith would never suggest that God doesn’t understand, but when I’m overcome with doubt or troubled by sorrows, trials and temptations, I might feel as if God is out of sight and not listening. Spurgeon uses this verse to remind me that God sees, hears, and knows all things. He is not asleep or uncaring. Faith and prayer can motivate Him to stay or move, to wait or act. My name is engraved on His hands and heart. He thought of me before He made the world and thinks of me still.

My brother is there too, the One who became flesh and blood for me. This is the Son of God who is eternal, equal with the Father and who was born, lived, died and rose again, and is now ascended to the right hand of the Father to rule and to intercede for me, an adopted child of His Father — our Father. He remembers me every hour. My sighs are His sighs, my groans are His groans, and my joy is His joy.

There is joy before the angels because they are in the presence of Jesus who is joyful when sinners, myself included, come to their senses and turn from sin to Him. Those angels see and feel and know His joy. They jump up and down in delight as Jesus is filled with delight at our repentance.

Repentance makes my heart full of the joy of Jesus too. This is the same joy that makes the angels laugh, so maybe, just maybe (and I’m not going to write a book about it), my mother and father are smiling when I recognize sin in my life and turn from it to love and serve Jesus Christ.

April 28, 2013


If asked what things God would reward, I might think of big accomplishments, such as souls won, disciples taught, churches planted and enriched, a list of headline items. However, these choices make me feel as if I’ve not “done much” for the Lord. The older I get, the more pressure this value system puts on my conscience.

However, today’s devotional kicks that list and my lament right out of the playing field. It begins with this verse from a parable Jesus used to describe the characteristics of the kingdom of heaven…

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:21)

Jesus says that the test of life is not a long list of banner items, but faithfulness with what I’ve been given. The devotional writer says that this is like Jesus to do this. He took obscure and lowly people to build a kingdom, and also obscure and lowly virtues to build character. His choices are not because of obscurity but because they are within the range of everyone.

Being faithful is not dazzling. It seldom catches attention (which my list might do) and will never make the evening news or be included in most obituaries. But it does require other character traits, like courage. In the parable, one man buried his talent. His excuse for not being faithful with what he’d been given was fear and even a false idea of the master’s reward system.

Faithful courage is needed in great adventures and on the battlefields of life, but it is also needed for quiet and steady obedience in the ordinary stuff. Faithfulness means doing things when I don’t feel like doing them. It means keeping on, getting to the task at hand even through headache and heartache. Faithfulness is not about those rare and high moments. It is doing what God asks of me in ordinary, common daily life.

Faithfulness is also striving to think, say and do right against those daily temptations to forget it, make my own plans, do my own thing, or just run the other way. Faithfulness is obedience in the common stuff, diligence to apply faith as a practical reason for every event and challenge, including those that no one will ever see or know about.

Faithfulness means remembering and living out the courage that moved Jesus to continued obedience. It took courage to come down from heaven to a sin-filled earth where He had no place to lay His head. It took courage to resist the Devil’s offer of the kingdoms of the world, and to scorn worldly pleasure. It took courage to live laborious days and set out for Jerusalem where the cross and a crown of thorns was waiting. Jesus was faithful to the Father’s voice and He offers me the same challenge.

When I read this verse, the words of the master stood out as words that I want to hear from Jesus. I want Him to say to me, “Well done” for I realize that while the kingdom could be a location, it is more about a state of being, a relationship to my King. And this wonderful Master rewards faithfulness for simple obedience, not for a long list of large, checked off accomplishments.

His reward includes more responsibility, but the greater reward is joy… His joy, an eternal joy that He shares with everyone who faithfully obeys whatever He asks. 

April 27, 2013

Grace means death to sin as well as new life in Christ

David prayed, “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great” (Psalm 25:11). The great preacher, Jonathan Edwards rightly says that Christ will not refuse to save the greatest sinners who come to God for mercy and pardon, for this is His work.

Jesus did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Edwards says that the more sinful the person, the more the need of Christ, yet God does not grade sin. If you sin at all, you are a sinner. Piling it up may make me and other people more miserable, but in God’s mind, once I step over the line, I need Christ to save me.

Edwards also says that the ingenious plan of salvation is to glorify the grace of God. He adds that the greater the guilt of any sinner, the more glorious and wonderful is the grace shown in that sinner’s pardon. While Jesus did say that those who are forgiven much will love Him more than those who are forgiven little (Luke 7:47–48), this raises another question. Does the abounding grace of God mean that we can sin as much as we like? After all, He will forgive, and the more He forgives, the more His grace is glorified? Isn’t that what God wants?

Paul must have heard this question many times. I know I have. I’m glad that grace is abundant and free when it comes to confessing sin, but when it comes to committing sin, that abundance is not supposed to be a license. Paul explains why…

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:1–7)

The principle here is that genuine salvation involves identification with Christ. In Him, I died to sin. This was declared in baptism and demonstrated in a changed attitude toward sin. That is, I might be able to do anything I want to, but my want-to’s have changed. Jesus gave me a new life, a new nature that does not want to be enslaved to sin or defeated by it.

This does not mean I am never tempted or never fail. It does mean that sin does not have the same grip or influence. I can say no, whether temptation comes in great appeal or subtle suggestions. Salvation’s plan means victory is here, but also not yet fully here. That is, I can win the battle, but am still in the battle, a person thrown into the arena with that roaring lion who wishes to devour me. God equips me with spiritual weapons to win the war, but I must fight it. In the fighting, I learn to appreciate and rely on grace. I cannot win unless I do.

This has been a week in the lion’s den. As to spiritual warfare, I’ve learned more deeply that only by the grace of God can I battle the enemy’s lies and fiery accusations and temptations. Those outside would not see this battle unless I offered details, but it is real and just as dangerous as a war with guns and knives.
Fighting sin and Satan reveals and exalts God’s grace as much or even more than repeated forgiveness. Sinning is easy. Asking forgiveness is a sure thing. However, resisting sin is far more difficult and relying on grace rather than “I can handle this” is a deeper challenge.

Being a Christian is seldom a walk in the park. God gives peace and joy, but at the same time I am being stalked. My spiritual enemy appeals to my flesh and tries to convince me that sin is okay… after all, Christ died for it… trying to make me forget that I died to it also…

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Like salvation and forgiveness, living a crucified life is by grace also.

April 26, 2013

Walk in the Light

At times, I’ve said, “I’ll never do that again,” only to do it again. At times, I’ve felt that my load of sin and guilt is so great that God could never forgive all of that. Which is worse? Repeating the same sin over and over or having multiple sins? Either one may have been behind David’s prayer,
For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. (Psalm 25:11)

He didn’t make the same rash vows that I’ve made. He didn’t give up in despair that his great guilt was too great as I’ve sometimes done. He went to God for forgiveness. God said this sinner was also “a man after God’s own heart.” He teaches an important lesson to me or anyone who becomes overwhelmed with our human inability to win victory over sin, either a specific sin or the abundance of sin.

The lesson is to keep heading toward God and the Light He has revealed in His Word and through His Son, Jesus Christ. God forgives sinners. It is not because we deserve it. The repetition and sheer quantity of sins committed prove that. Nor does He forgive because there is something in sinners that God sees as precious. He forgives because the price has been paid. His wrath for sin has been poured out and received, paid for at the cross.

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain,
but He washed it white as snow.

Not only did the cross make forgiveness possible, it also makes cleansing possible, not just the little sins but also the great ones and the repeated ones. Cleansing means purged and purified. It means removal and freedom, victory over those repeated sins and victory over the great load of guilt that seems too great to be forgiven. For God, no sin is beyond His forgiving or cleansing power.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

God is just. He is the supreme Governor and Judge of the world who requires the punishment of sin. The sufferings of Christ fully satisfied justice. He cried from the cross, “It is finished” — at that time a statement that was written across the paper of a debt that was paid. Christ did it. He paid for the sins I’ve committed, repeated, heaped up and moaned over. In the sufferings of Christ, all sin was punished and justice was fully answered.

Again, the lesson of David is walking in the Light God has given me. All the sin of those who go to His Light seeking mercy is forgiven. Our need to be guilt-free is satisfied. God is true and says this is true. We are forgiven and cleansed; “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This is Light from God and the Light that I need to walk in — this day and every day.