Encouragement Posts

05/08/2020

Pondering Profound Peripety

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”” (Acts 9:1–6, NKJV)

          Peripety  is  a sudden and unexpected change of fortune or reverse of circumstances, particularly in a literary work.  The concept shows up time and again the in the bible.  Ruth was a Moabite (not part of God’s chosen people) and a widow. At the end of the book she is married, has a baby, and part of the lineage of the Messiah.  In the book of Esther, the gallows were intended for Mordecai, but it was Haman, the one who plotted Mordecai’s demise, that was hung from them.

          In the life of Jesus, the sick are made whole, the blind receive sight, and the dead are raised to life again. These are all sudden and unexpected changes in the circumstances in the lives of real people.

          Saul becoming Paul is one of the most profound in the Bible.  Saul was a hater of Christians.  A professional bounty hunter of sorts determined to round up the new sect of worshippers called Christians, imprison them, and ultimately wipe them out before they spread any further.

          And then Jesus appears to him on the road heading to Damascus.  Saul is blinded by the light and told to go to the city of Damascus and wait further instructions. There a man named Ananias comes to him, out of obedience to a vision from God, and ministers to Saul.

And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.” (Acts 9:17–18, NKJV)

          This is astonishing. The professional Christian killer believes, is indwelt with the Holy Spirit, and receives Christian baptism! The number one enemy of the early church is overcome by the love of God in Christ Jesus and becomes a Christian. Verses 15 and 16 tells us:

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”” (Acts 9:15–16, NKJV)

          Saul becomes a “chosen vessel” who will now be a missionary to the Gentiles.  Persecution is turned around. The ringleader of the oppression has become a powerful ally. Trouble is turned into opportunity.  Fear is turned into belief. Sorrow is turned to Joy. I could go on and on.

          Peripety is part and parcel of the narrative God wants to create in the lives of people. I will never forget what I saw last summer. As I noted in a previous devotional, I try to take in camp meeting at the Seaside Pavilion at Old Orchard Beach every summer.  Last summer, the Sunday night gathering afforded the opportunity to see the ministry of the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Centers.  Their rehab centers admit men and women whose lives have been wrecked by substance abuse. They take in people who are on their last legs.  One by one these centers  pluck souls from the hand of the deceiver.

          That night they had 120 men and women stand and sing as a choir. These were people whose lives have been turned around.  They sang: “There is power, power, wonder working power, in the blood of the Lamb.” They sang: “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” I must confess, my eyes were watery.  I was witnessing a radical and dynamic testimony of the change that is possible through Jesus Christ. I might call it peripety with clothes on!

          This type of gospel ministry is only possible when people obey the voice of God.  Jesus said go into all the world make disciples, baptize, and teach them to obey His commands.  The Lord said to Ananias: “Arise and go to the street called Straight and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul.”  And, as we have seen, He even uses circumstances such as persecution to move His church to action.

          It seems to me that Christians have no other choice but to obey. We must live to tell!

We’ve all heard it said

That actions speak louder than words

And love that is seen

Means much more than love that’s just heard

That’s the way that is was with our Savior

Whose life told the story of love

Someone was watching

Someone was listening

Dying to know what He knew so well

It helped them believe it

If they could just see it

That’s why Jesus lived to tell

Now this is my prayer

Lord, help me to live what I say

For so many times

I know that my actions betray

Let it be like it was with my Savior

Let my life tell His story of love

Cause someone is watching

Someone is listening

Dying to know what we know so well

It will help them believe it

If in us they see it

That’s why we must live…

CHORUS:

I will live to tell

Of the One who has rescued my heart

I will live to tell

Of the One who can bring a new start

Take my life and let it be

A reflection of You for the whole world to see

The God who is alive and well

I will live to tell

Someone is watching

Someone is listening

Could be your neighbor, your brother, your friend

It will help them believe it

If in you they see Him

So what will you do…. (Geoff Moore)

05/06/2020

The Light is Free

Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.” (Acts 8:13, NKJV)

And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”” (Acts 8:18–19, NKJV)

          “Half price is nice, but free is for me.” This is a funny little saying I learned from a friend many years ago. There is a bit of truth here.  If you are shopping for a certain item and you see it is half price (or the close derivative, Buy One Get One Free) you are apt to make a purchase.  But you are still parting ways with your hard-earned money. Getting the same thing free, well that may just make your day.

          We believe in the free and tender offer of the gospel. It is to be offered to all, freely, openly, and heartily.  It is a simple story with the content that contains the seed of salvation.  There is no amount of money that can purchase it.  There is no asset that can be battered with to obtain it.  We simply accept it, change our mind about our path, repent, and turn to Jesus.

          As Phillip continued his evangelistic work, he encountered a man steeped in the black magic arts. He was a sorcerer. He was involved in witchcraft.  His trickery was empowered by Satan.  Simon was his name and he heard the gospel and believed and was baptized.  He was also was mesmerized by the miracles Phillip performed. 

          Simon determined that He could buy the power of God.  Verse 19 indicates that he wanted to give Philip some money so he too could lay hands on people to be healed.  What was this motivation?  Was his conversion fake?  Was he simply exhibiting spiritual infancy and needed more time to be discipled? 

          Philip condemned Simon’s offer and commanded Simon to repent of such a notion. Simon begs of Philip to pray to the Lord that he would not fall under condemnation.  Did Simon wake up? Did he truly understand?  We do not know. Simon is a bit of an enigma. Was he a true convert? Was he only saying the right things to look like a Christian?

          Simon became associated with a practice in the early church called “Simony”. Simony is the act of buying forgiveness.  It is also the act of buying ecclesiastical power such as paying to become a church officer.  It is not a good thing.  It is a condemnable sin!  Simon’s name is forever etched into church history by his abominable act of trying to purchase the power of God.

          Giving something free is the prerogative of God.  He is a Master at giving to us the things we need for free.  From the air we breathe, to the vistas we view, to the new life found in Christ – all freely given of the Lord.  He doesn’t want your money for those things. He doesn’t want your money for His salvation.

          Simon charged people for the magic arts he performed.  It was a profit motivation that moved him to ask Phillip for the power of God.  The powers of darkness always devoid us of our resources. They promise answers and bring only  lies.

          I sometimes wonder of the free offer of the gospel is one of the stumbling blocks for people. We are so conditioned to pay for something of value. When it is free, we fall into the thinking, “you get what you pay for”.  Many seek the path of some sort of penance – offering up some personal sacrifice to earn favor with God. That is antithetical to the gospel.  But eternal life is a free gift.  Hallelujah!   

Paul spoke of it this way.

For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:5–10, NKJV)

          If Phillip never moved out of Jerusalem, he would never have encountered Simon the Sorcerer.  Darkness would have continued to be deployed in that city. But, the light of the gospel broke through.  To God be the Glory!

 There’s a call comes ringing o’er the restless wave, “Send the light! Send the light”

There are souls to rescue, there are souls to save,

Send the light!

Send the light!

Chorus:

Send the light, the blessed gospel light;

Let it shine from shore to shore!

Send the light the blessed gospel light;

Let it shine forevermore!

 We have heard the Macedonian call today,”Send the light! Send the light!”

And a golden off’ring at the cross we lay,

Send the light!

Send the light!

 Let us pray that grace may ev’rywhere abound, “Send the light! Send the light!”

And a Christ-like spirit ev’rywhere be found,

Send the light!

Send the light!

 Let us not grow weary in the work of love, “Send the light! Send the light!”

Let us gather jewels for a crown above,

Send the light!

Send the light!

05/05/2020

God Means it for Good

Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4, NKJV)

          One of the most intriguing stores in the Old Testament is the story of Joseph. It is so intriguing that a screen play was developed and became the Broadway hit “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. 

          To understand the life and message of Joseph we should read the book.  We must ask, “What is the narrative teaching us?”  The bible tells us.  The summary of the meaning of the life of Joseph comes from the lips of the man himself. 

But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20, NKJV)

          This is a reoccurring theme in the Bible. One we must keep in the forefront of our minds. The evil one determines harm toward us. Harm may come, but God can take even evil and harm and turn it around to accomplish good, yes even the salvation of many.

          Our next few devotions will look at that theme through the experience of the first Christians.  Acts 8:1 states: “and Saul was consenting unto his death.”  It was a reference to the previous chapter where Stephen, a leader in the early church, was captured and put to death by stoning.  Saul (later Paul) was there, approving of his execution.

          Then persecution against the Christians broke out in all of Jerusalem. And the early Christians fled the city and went into the regions of Judea and Samaria.  Godly men took the body of Stephen and buried him. Great sorrow was expressed over the loss of the faithful servant of Christ.   It was a dark time in the early history of the Church.

          We can look at things with our eyes and draw a conclusion.  But, without the help of our spiritual eyes we run the risk of drawing the wrong conclusion.  At face value it looked like Christianity was on the ropes.  Just one or two more knock out punches from Saul and his marauding men would stamp out this new religion called Christianity.   With our spiritual eyes we recall that way back in Genesis 50 a profound statement was made by a Godly man: “God meant it for good, to save many people”.

          Verse 4 tells us the good that  happened.  They were scattered.  This is not some hap hazard scattering like we might do with the residue from a wood fire. The word “scattered” carries with it the meaning of scattering seed that takes root and grows.  As the persecuted Christians scattered into the villages and towns of Judea and Samaria, they planted themselves. They proclaimed Christ crucified, risen, and coming again.  People believed their testimony. Villages were evangelized. Many came to faith in Jesus. 

          The adversary thought that Christianity was being stamped out. However, the attacks of Saul and his men were the impetus to get the church to leave the familiar confines of the city and take the message to the people “out there”.  It was God doing a good thing in the middle of an evil thing. The purpose was to save many people. 

          Radical change requires radical reaction.  Not haphazard reaction. Calculated and intentional reaction.  Persecution is one-way God re-deploys His church to fulfill the mission.  I suggest that pandemics and economic volatility may also be another way. 

          The Westminster Shorter Catechism askes the learner this question.

What is the chief end of man?”   Meaning: What is the point and purpose of the human life?

Answer: “To Glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

Our human purpose is  to abide and show forth God’s glory!  In everything we say, do, experience, and share. It is to Glorify God in all things.  How is that accomplished?  Jesus told us:

You will be witnesses to Me, in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8)

          Events outside the control of the church made this prophesy of Jesus come to pass.  Saul meant it for evil. God meant it for good.  The events in our times, even as they touch personally, may seem like they are a foreboding inevitability of decline and woe.  They may be to move us to that place where we boldly stand for Christ!  To glorify God as His witnesses to the great things He has done!

 Soldiers of our God, arise!

The day is drawing nearer;

Shake the slumber from your eyes,

The light is growing clearer.

Sit no longer idly by,

While the heedless millions die;

Lift the blood-stained banner high,

And take the field for Jesus.

Refrain:

Storm the forts of darkness, bring them down, bring them down!

Storm the forts of darkness, bring them down, bring them down!

Pull down the devil’s kingdom,

Where’er he holds dominion,

Storm the forts of darkness, bring them down.

Glory, honor to the Lamb,

Praise and power to the Lamb;

Glory, honor, praise and power,

Be forever to the Lamb.

 See the brazen hosts of hell,

Their art and pow’r employing;

More than human tongue can tell,

The blood-bought souls destroying.

Hark! from ruin’s ghastly road,

Victims groan beneath their load,

Forward, O ye sons of God,

And dare or die for Jesus.

 Warriors of the risen King,

Great army of salvation,

Spread His fame, His praises sing,

And conquer every nation.

Raise the glorious standard higher,

Work for vict’ry, never tire;

Forward march with blood and fire,

And win the world for Jesus.

05/02/3030

2 Kings 2:11 (NKJV)

In a whirlwind toward heaven

Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” (2 Kings 2:11, NKJV)

          The bible is full of supernatural events.  We serve a supernatural God. The supernatural events speak to His ability to suspend the natural and do the supernatural.  And that is simply what the word “supernatural” means.  It is when God suspends, temporarily, the normal and usual way things happen and does the extraordinary.

          Elijah went to heaven in a supernatural way.  So did Enoch.  It appears that Elijah’s departure was more stunning than Enoch’s, at least that is what we can gather from reading their individual accounts.  But, either way, they both were taken by God in a direct translation to heaven. Their bodies did not see death. 

          Why would God do that?  Well, this is where we have to be careful.  We don’t have biblical support to make too many conclusions. But, perhaps, it is to remind all the followers and warriors for Christ, that there is a place prepared for us. It is a reminder that God desires His people, called by His name, to be with Him, in close proximity.

          Here is an axiom of scripture: We are made for fellowship with God.  As the highest expression of His creative power and genius, human beings have the distinct ability to live in communion with our creator.  No other living organism has that ability. 

          In Genesis Adam and Eve walked with God.  Even after they fell and communion between God and all their offspring was damaged, there were those who walked with God. Enoch and Elijah are just two examples.  Could it be that they were translated directly to heaven without tasting physical death because God just wanted them near Him?  I choose to believe that is the case. God wanted His faithful saints to be right there in the throne room of heaven taking pleasure in their company.

          Dear reader, He wants YOU close to Him.  No matter what kind of mess you may have gotten yourself into. No matter if you can count over and over the times you have failed Him. Confess all that to Him. Receive the forgiveness won through the shed blood of Jesus. Renew the relationship. 

          The Old Testament closes with the prophetic promise that Elijah would return to earth before Jesus returns (Malachi 4:5-6). Elijah appeared with Moses at Jesus’ transfiguration. And, Revelation 11:3-12 indicates he may be one of the witnesses that comes to warn people before the Day of the Lord.  Maybe the Lord took him so he would have him at his disposal before the general resurrection of all the saints.

          Let us then be purposeful in our moment-by-moment living.  We are tools in the Master’s hand – bodies at the beacon call of our Savior.  And one day, we will gather with all the saints in the very presence of our Master for all eternity.

I’m pressing on the upward way,

New heights I’m gaining every day;

Still praying as I’m onward bound,

“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Refrain:

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,

By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,

A higher plane than I have found;

Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

My heart has no desire to stay

Where doubts arise and fears dismay;

Though some may dwell where those abound,

My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

I want to live above the world,

Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;

For faith has caught the joyful sound,

The song of saints on higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height

And catch a gleam of glory bright;

But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,

“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground. (Johnson Oatman Jr.)

04/30/2020

He did according to the Word of the Lord

And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.”” (1 Kings 17:1, NKJV)

          Elijah is Enoch’s prophetic twin.  The most striking similarity we have previously stated.  He was captured away in a whirlwind to heaven.  Like Enoch he was translated into heaven once he had done what God wanted him to do. 

          There are more similarities.  1 Kings 17:1 simply states: “And Elijah the Tishbite.”  He comes from out of nowhere.  We get no background as to his beginnings, no insight into his biography up to that point.  It has a familiar ring, like the words about Enoch that simply stated that “he walked with God” and then disappeared because God took Him.

          Elijah and Enoch had similar ministries. They were prophets for God.  They were calling people back to faith in the one true God. 

          Elijah’s name means “My God is Jehovah”.  It sums up His ministry. He was a defender of true religion. His specialty was to speak against the prophets of Baal and the bankrupt religion they peddled. 

          Baal was a false god of fertility. Fertility had more to do with crops and livestock than what we think of today. Baal was thought to be experienced in thunderstorms and rain.  For an agrarian people, hedging your bet that you will have a bumper crop and expanded livestock meant that slipping in some Baal worship was acceptable, if not entirely prudent. 

          Elijah’s first assignment was to say unto Ahab (King of Israel) that there would be no rain upon the land.  A strong rebuke and reminder that it was God who brought rain, as well as preventing it from falling.  Baal had nothing to do with it. 

          As a prophet for God, Elijah would experience God empowered boldness.  In 1 Kings 18 he challenges the prophets of Baal to a showdown. In mocking derision, he shames them after their flagrantly foolish religious display as they offer their sacrifices on the altar and Baal never shows up.  He then built his own altar, offered sacrifice, and prayed. God revealed His power through a pillar of fire that came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice. In fear the false prophets fell on their face before God.  Elijah had them captured and put to death for their wickedness.

          As a human, Elijah fell victim to a common frailty, discouragement. Immediately after the amazing event at Mt. Carmel, he ran away, because the evil Queen Jezebel declared he should die for his destruction of the false prophets of Baal. 

          Remember the verse from a recent devotion.

For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4, NKJV)

          People like  Elijah are so instructive for us living here on the same planet, at this very moment.  We believe for great change. We believe God can make a way, where there seems to be no way.  But we are not sure if it will happen for us.  We are not sure that God’s glory will be manifested right now, before our very eyes. The temptations to give into the world around us grow stronger. Outside voices beckon us to listen to them and not God. 

          What was written before hand were accounts of real people ministering for the Lord in real time.  We get the benefit of the entire biography of someone like Elijah.  We can learn from his triumphs and his mistakes.  And through the patience and comfort of learning the history, we don’t have to repeat the same mistakes.  We can allow the power of God to trust Him for the victory.

          It is being impressed on me daily how relevant true believers are at such a time as this.  People are trusting in science.  They are trusting in officials. They are trusting in their politics. They are trusting in what they think they know to be best.  And I wonder if God will continue to strip those things away more and more until we have nothing left to look to but God.  The same God that trounced the false god Baal.

          We are the people of this time. To declare Christ crucified, Christ risen, and Christ coming again.  The world needs Christians that will stand boldly on these triune truths.

          The bible simply says of Elijah, “He did according unto the word of the Lord”. We are no less than he.  We have no other option but to do the same.

What shall I render to my God

For all his mercy’s store?

I’ll take the gifts he hath bestowed

And humbly ask for more.

The sacred cup of saving grace

I will with thanks receive,

And all his promises embrace

And to his glory live.

My vows I will to his great name

Before his people pay,

And all I have, and all I am,

Upon his altar lay.

Thy hands created me, thy hands

From sin have set me free;

The mercy that hath loosed my bands

Hath bound me fast to thee.

The God of all-redeeming grace,

My God, I will proclaim,

Offer the sacrifice of praise,

And call upon his name. (Charles Wesley)

04/29/2020

A Prophet on His way to Heaven

And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” (Genesis 5:24, NKJV)

By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” (Hebrews 11:5, NKJV)

          One might ask:  What did Enoch do while he walked with God?  He lived 365 years. Ample time to be about the Father’s business.

          In the book of Jude, we read:

Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”” (Jude 14–15, NKJV)

          The book of Jude was written so Christians would recognize false teachers and those that would seek to harm the church.  Ungodliness is a constant threat to biblical Christianity.  There is a 4000-year spread between Enoch and the book of Jude. Yet, it was Enoch that was prophesying about the great apostacy that would come before the flood and at the end of time.

          So, what was Jude doing as he walked with God?  He was prophesying against the evil in his generation.  He was a prophet of God, warning people to repent and turn to the living God for salvation. 

          If you study the chronologies of the bible and interesting parallel emerges between Enoch and Elijah.  We know that they both did not taste death but were translated directly to Glory. There is something more.  

          Elijah was  a prophet of judgement as we shall see in coming days.  The interesting chronological parallel is that Enoch was prophesying about half-way between Adam and Abraham. Elijah was a prophet half-way between Abraham and Christ.  When spiritual conditions are at their worst God inserts His mouthpieces to proclaim judgement unless people repent. God does this at just the right time and place.

          As Enoch walked with God, he proclaimed judgement and repentance.   This had to have been a difficult walk.  People don’t like to be told they are sinners.  But sinners we all are. And calling sinners to repentance has been the mission of those that walk with God. 

          I wonder sometimes if we have lost the fine art of balancing law and gospel.  We must constantly remind ourselves that there is no salvation in the law.  Keeping the “big 10” is no going to save you.  On the contrary, it should crush you. It should expose us all for the frauds we are.  When it does, the gospel comes in sweet as honey.  The gospel gives life and through the inner working of the Holy Spirit washes us clean from all our disobedience to the law.  Moreover, it creates a new desire inside us to keep the law with willing hearts. 

          Did anyone listen to Enoch?  We don’t know, the bible does not tell us.  We do know that a couple of generations later Noah, also a preacher of righteousness, was instructed to build and ark.  The general populous did not repent. Judgement came. All but Noah and his family perished.

          Nevertheless, those who walk with God still preach law and gospel.  We are never charged with the response.  We are charged with the message.  Thanks be to God that He is responsible for the response!  And by His grace He brings people into His kingdom of light and life.

 Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,

snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;

weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,

tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.

Refrain:

Rescue the perishing,

care for the dying;

Jesus is merciful,

Jesus will save.

 Though they are slighting Him, still He is waiting,

waiting the penitent child to receive;

plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently,

He will forgive if they only believe.

 Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,

feelings lie buried that grace can restore;

touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,

chords that are broken will vibrate once more.

 Rescue the perishing, duty demands it;

Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;

back to the narrow way patiently win them,

tell the poor wanderer a Savior has died.       (Fanny Crosby) 

04/27/2020

His Eyes are on You

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”” (1 Peter 3:12, NKJV)

          The phrase “the eyes of the Lord” appears 21 times in the NKJV of the bible.  The phrase is an anthropomorphism. That fifty-cent word simply means attributing human traits to something. The First Person of the Holy Trinity, God, is a  Spirit (John 4:24), He does not have a body like us. Yet He comes down to our level of understanding and speaks in terms we can relate to.  One of those is His eyes that view everything happening on this planet.

          We might use the phrase, “I’m keeping my eye on you!” in a corrective or even threatening way.  If a young one is being naughty, we inform them “I’m keeping my eye on you!”  Perhaps those in law enforcement notice some potential criminal activity and they will warn the suspect, “I’m keeping my eye on you.”

          The Bible uses the phrase to speak of God beholding both good and evil.  It is positive in that the righteous are being viewed favorably, the wicked unfavorably.  (Proverbs 15:3).

          If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have received the favorable look of God.  He saw your dire need for a redeemer. He came to us in human form (the second person of the Trinity) to give us everlasting life and hope. 

One Hymn writer expressed it this way:

Amazing Grace shall always be my song of praise

For it was grace that brought me liberty

I do not know just why He ever came to love me so

He looked beyond my faults and saw my need

And I shall forever lift mine eyes to Calvary

To view the cross where Jesus died for me

How marvelous the grace that caught my falling soul

He looked beyond my faults and saw my need

I shall forever lift mine eyes to Calvary

To view the cross where Jesus died for me

How marvelous the grace that caught my falling soul

He looked beyond my faults and saw my needs  (Dottie Rambo)

          God has His eyes on you because you are of great value! You experience that value in His Amazing Grace.  Some struggle with personal worth and wonder if they are loved by God.  I have an objective answer. It transcends your feelings of subjectivity. Look to Calvary! There the bleeding and dying Son of God died for you! This is what love is!  And this love declares your value!

Jesus Said:

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29–31, NKJV)

          Humans value the things of earth. It always has been the case.  Whenever you have two people meet you have the makings of an economy – the exchange of goods and services. Somewhere along the line the parties involved determine  the value of exchange. In Jesus’ example He uses sparrows, which were considered the smallest of all creatures and could be acquired at two-for-a-penny.

          When God’s eyes are on you, He knows exactly how many hairs are on your head.  With all bald jokes aside, the point is well taken. A hair is small and most of us have and uncountable number, much like counting sand by the seaside.

          Do not fear. You are more valuable then they.  God is keeping His eye on you because you are worth noting. You are worth caring for. You are worth Him dying for, to ensure your eternity will be with Him in the glories of heaven one day.

          Meanwhile, we walk a daily path.  Yet, we never walk alone.  God watches over us.  He has given us the Holy Spirt to be present with us.  One day He will send Jesus to catch us all away like a groom taking away his bride.

Why should I feel discouraged?

Why should the shadows come?

Why should my heart be lonely

and long for heaven and home,

when Jesus is my portion?

My constant friend is he:

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me;

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me.

Refrain:

I sing because I’m happy, (I’m happy)

I sing because I’m free, (I’m free)

for his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,”

his tender word I hear,

and resting on his goodness,

I lose my doubts and fears;

though by the path he leadeth

but one step I may see:

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me;

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me. [Refrain]

Whenever I am tempted,

whenever clouds arise,

when song gives place to sighing,

when hope within me dies,

I draw the closer to him;

from care he sets me free:

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me;

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me. [Refrain]

04/23/2020

Be Strong and of Good Courage

Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7, NKJV)

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”” (Joshua 1:9, NKJV)

          At Christmas time I never miss the opportunity to watch “A Christmas Carol”. In fact, I own several different screen adaptations. My favorite is: “A Muppet Christmas Carol”. (I suppose that reveals my level of movie sophistication.)

          The book opens with: “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” In the Muppet version, the character Gonzo acts as narrator and speaks those words to the camera. His sidekick, Rizzo the rat, declares: “It’s a good beginning. It’s creepy and kind of spooky.”

          Charles Dickens had a way of surprising  the reader – right from the start. Those “creepy words”  set the stage for the whole story as we find out that Marley was wicked and died in his wickedness. Scrooge, his surviving partner, is equally wicked. It is Marley’s ghost that comes to warn Scrooge in an effort to change his destiny. The opening lines get us thinking: Scrooge’s partner is gone, what is going to happen now?

          Change is the main theme of the book. Scrooge is offered the opportunity to change through the persuasion of several spirits. However, his choosing to change was entirely up to him.

          In the beginning of Joshua it says: “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, it came to pass that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying:” (Joshua 1:1)  Permit me to paraphrase the opening of Joshua: “Moses was dead, to begin with.”   Moses has passed from the scene. What is going to happen now?

          We soon find out God has a succession plan already in mind. Joshua is going to take up the role of leader. He is going to pick up where Moses left off. God speaks to Him words of comfort and strength needed in the middle of change.

          Change can happen slowly over time. I think of the automobile. A hundred and twenty years later it is  pretty much and engine, transmission, 4 wheels and some sort of seat. But our mobile forefathers would never had imagined satellite radio, airbags, and antilock brakes. Those developed gradually over time.

          Change can also happen abruptly. That is what we are facing right now. The reality of a pandemic is changing us, like it or not. Life will be lived differently for quite some time. We have yet to discover what new things will be permanent.

          Church life is going to change. The way we minister to the greater community is going to change. Will we reject it? Or, will we see new opportunities right before our very eyes?

          Change requires that we adapt. But God’s people do not adapt in a vacuum. We are not left alone to muddle through somehow. Quite the contrary, we are called to be leading in the midst of change. It is a call to be courageous and fearless. 

          There were many changes ahead for God’s people in 1451 BC. They were at the end of their 40 years of living in the desert of Sinai and were about to embark on a God ordained resettlement of the “promised land”. It would be hard fought. It would be full of danger. Daily life would change. But God promised Joshua and the covenant people of God “The Lord is with you wherever you go!”

          One of Jesus’ names is Immanuel. Which means “God with Us”. One of the deeply heartfelt theological truths that Christians need to accept and believe is that God does not abandon His own. His presence is constant. His guidance is sure. His predestinating purpose secure.

          Christian, change is happening whether you like it or not. You have a choice: Try and navigate it through your own wisdom and strength, or rest in the promise of God that He is in the middle of all that is going on and has a perfect plan.

          The hymn writer John Sammis (1887) captures this truth well:

When we walk with the Lord

in the light of his word,

what a glory he sheds on our way!

While we do his good will,

he abides with us still,

and with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain:

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear,

not a sorrow we share,

but our toil he doth richly repay;

not a grief or a loss,

not a frown or a cross,

but is blest if we trust and obey.

But we never can prove

the delights of his love

until all on the altar we lay;

for the favor he shows,

for the joy he bestows,

are for them who will trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet

we will sit at his feet,

or we’ll walk by his side in the way;

what he says we will do,

where he sends we will go;

never fear, only trust and obey.

04/22/2020

Great is Thy Faithfulness

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21–23, KJV)

          Things in this life can change in a moment. I was personally reminded of this recently. As touching our physical body, one moment we can feel fine. The next moment we can be full of pain and wonder what is going on inside our body.

          The same can be true of our spiritual person (called the “soul” in the bible). We can sense a closeness with God. A string of days can go by where we are experiencing a strong communion with our Heavenly Father. We are rising from glory unto glory. And then circumstances change (like a health crisis or economic crisis) and we feel worry, anxiety, and fear start to nip away at our sense of peace, safety, and soulful bliss.

          Change is something common among humans, those of us bound here on this earth. There is no change with God. Hymnwriter Thomas Chisholm expressed it this way:  

Great is Thy faithfulness
O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not
Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been
Thou forever will be

            God does not change because change does not impact God. He is not affected by “change” in the way we are. If He were, He would cease to be God for change is something bound up in what He has created. He is outside His creation and has a steady grasp on everything going on in the universe, which includes your life this very moment.

          Thomas Chisholm got the title for his hymn from Lamentations 3:23. The book of Lamentations never tells us who the author is. Ancient Jewish scholars believed it was penned by Jeremiah.

          We do know that it was written around 586BC. The summer of that year was horrible and terrifying for the Jewish people. They were warned by prophets that if they continued to sin and disobey God, they would be judged. Judgement would come at the hands of a wicked nation. That nation was Babylon led by King Nebuchadnezzar. Babylon laid siege on the kingdom of Judah three times. The summer of 586BC was the last. His armies leveled the city. Thousand of Jews died, those that lived were taken prisoner and carted off to Babylon.

          Lamentations is a poetic morning for the tremendous loss the Jewish people had faced. It laments their disobedience and the horrible situation they faced.

          Yet, in chapter 3 we read these words: “This I recall to mind, Therefore I have hope.”    It the midst of calamity all around him, Jeremiah stops and thinks on the character of God. Reflecting on who God is changes a person’s perspective. It realigns our thinking with reality as God sees it.

          1)It is by God’s mercies that we are not consumed.

  • God did not eliminate the Jewish people entirely.
    • God shows mercy because He had promised the Jewish people that they would be His people, to display His glory, to be the people the Messiah would come from.

          2)His compassion never fails!

  • This highlights God’s feelings of love and pity for those in need.
    • Firstly, our need for forgiveness and restoration.
    • Additionally, all our needs spiritual and physical for every moment of every day.

          The motto of New Covenant Baptist church is: “People of Christ – Message of Hope”. That is not meant to be some clever “churchy” marketing slogan. It is meant to convey what we as a local body of believers are  aiming at.

          Christ brings hope into any and every situation! This is an undeniable truth! People that are blood bought possessions of Jesus Christ are recipients of hope that will never disappoint. And that possession becomes our mission. To, be the ones that spread that hope during change where true hope is scarce.

          Great is thy Faithfulness, O God my Father! It is an anthem that declares: All must be well! The 19th century British hymnwriter Mary Bowley Peters (1813-1856) expressed the amazing truth of God’s faithfulness exactly that way.

Through the love of God our Saviour,

all will be well.

Free and changeless is his favour,

all, all is well.

Precious is the blood that healed us,

perfect is the grace that sealed us,

strong the hand stretched forth to shield us,

all must be well.

Though we pass through tribulation,

all will be well.

Ours is such a full salvation,

all, all is well.

Happy, still in God confiding,

fruitful, if in Christ abiding,

holy, through the Spirit’s guiding,

all must be well.

We expect a bright tomorrow,

all will be well.

Faith can sing through days of sorrow,

‘All, all is well.’

On our Father’s love relying,

Jesus every need supplying,

in our living, in our dying,

all must be well.

04/21/2020

The Comfort of Resurrection – Part 3

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11, NKJV)

          When traveling we generally want to know our destination. This is true of our “ultimate” destination as well.

          “Where am I headed?”  Is a particularly good question. And we need a definitive answer. Christianity provides that answer.       

          With this devotion we come to the end of our tour with Puritan William Perkins. His final observation is also the 3rd comfort the believer receives in the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. He comments:

          Third, the resurrection of Christ discloses the church’s resurrection. He that raised Christ from the dead “shall also quicken your mortal bodies” (Rom. 8:11). This is why Christ is called the firstfruits of the dead (1 Cor. 15:20). His resurrection is a pledge and assurance of the resurrection of the church. He is the head of His church; therefore, all His members must follow after Christ in their time. The godly rise by the power of Christ their Redeemer, who raises them up so that they may be partakers of the benefits of His death (Heb. 3:14)—to enjoy both in body and soul the kingdom of heaven that He has so dearly bought for them. The godly rise as Christ by the virtue of Christ’s own resurrection. They rise, as He did, unto eternal glory.

          In the Old Testament God gave His people 7 feasts that they were to observe throughout the year. There were 3 in the Spring that ran close together. First, was Passover which celebrated God’s deliverance of the Hebrew first born males as He judged Pharaoh and all of Egypt.

          The second began on the night following Passover, it was called Unleavened Bread. Unleavened bread was eaten over a period of 7 days. Leaven is a symbol for sin. So, eating unleavened bread symbolized a holy walk.

          Jesus perfectly fulfills the foreshadowing of these 2 feasts. Christ was crucified as our Passover Lamb, taking away sin once and for all. He is also the living bread that came down from heaven. Jesus even used the main ingredient in bread, wheat, as an image of Himself, (unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground…John 12:24). Jesus was buried on Unleavened Bread.

          The 3rd feast is First Fruits. It follows on the Sunday immediately following Unleavened Bread. This feast involved taking a portion of the first crops of their spring planting and present them to the Lord. It was an act of faith believing that the Lord would bless them with a bountiful crop at harvest time.

          Jesus was raised on First Fruits. That is why Paul proclaims.

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20, NKJV)

And

But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” (1 Corinthians 15:23, NKJV)

          Jesus’ resurrection pointed to a “first fruit” of what was to follow for all who declare Him Savior and Lord. Every believer will one day be the promised harvest of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Jesus’ resurrection guarantees that.

          One might see this is the crowning jewel of the entire doctrine of the Resurrection! It demands celebration. Every day! It motivates our worship. It strengthens our resolve to live for Christ. It assures us that we know the final destination.

          This is truth that cannot be kept under cover. It drives us to proclamation. It is the basis for what the bible teaches about comfort.

          “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4, NKJV)

          As we receive this ultimate comfort, know that it can become comfort for anybody. Find that “anybody” and comfort them with the Resurrection of Christ.

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,

sing his mercy and his grace;

in the mansions bright and blessed

he’ll prepare for us a place.

Refrain:

When we all get to heaven,

what a day of rejoicing that will be!

When we all see Jesus

we’ll sing and shout the victory.

While we walk the pilgrim pathway

clouds will overspread the sky,

but when traveling days are over,

not a shadow, not a sigh.

Let us then be true and faithful,

trusting, serving every day;

just one glimpse of Him in glory

will the toils of life repay.

04/20/2020

The Comfort of Resurrection – Part 2

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,” (Romans 6:4–5, NKJV)

          Change is a constant in this world. There is an old proverb that says: “You cannot stand in the same river twice.”  You might find the exact spot but, change has occurred. The water is new. The riverbed had shifted. Time has moved on.

          Some folks declare they “need a change.”  The assumption is that some sort of change is need and it would be essentially good. Not all change is good. A person could take up new sins and it would be a change. But it is not for the better.

          Christ’s resurrection brought about a real change. Forgiveness of sins is an amazing change. A new life to live through the power of the Holy Spirit is a good change. The new power to live a life pleasing to God is a change. That good change in a believer’s life is given the name “sanctification”.

          William Perkins notes a second comfort for the believer brought about by Christ’s resurrection:

“The resurrection of Christ is the notable means by which God works sanctification (Romans 6:4-5; 1 Peter 1:3). As Christ by the power of His Godhead free His manhood from death and from the guild of our sins, so does Christ free the believer from the corruption of nature in which he lies dead – all so that he may live unto God (Romans 14:8).

          Humans can accomplish a lot in their own power of the will. We can determine to do something and then make that something happen. We can resolutely deny something we like (e.g. food) and change the size of our body. We can start a new exercise regimen and improve the strength of our muscles. However, even the new change will eventually change. That which is lost can be gained, that which is gained can be lost.

          We need more than rugged determinism to affect spiritual change in our lives. God knew that. Included in the powerful resurrection of Jesus Christ is the power for the converted to live a life of ever-increasing obedience to the revealed will of God. Power over sin, is not a mere potentiality in the life of the believer. It is at our disposal, moment by moment, day by day. We can change our trajectory to more and more Godliness.

          Sanctification is subsequent to justification. This is  a proper distinction. Justification is our salvation. Solidified through the work of Christ for you,  you are set apart unto God. That is your foundation for sanctification. Sanctification means “set apart.”  The Holy Spirit then empowers us to die to ourselves and live for God. To live set apart for His purpose.

          This is a cooperative effort between the Holy Spirit and our spirit. Certainly, we can opt not to cooperate in the ongoing process of sanctification. But how foolish we are to become obstinate Christians regarding our sanctification. God singularly desires that we become more like Him. Shouldn’t that be the highest aim for anyone purchased by the precious blood of Jesus?

          Jesus gave us the picture of discipleship. Discipleship is just another word that touches our sanctification. Jesus said:

When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34, NKJV)

          Denying ourselves is principal to our sanctification.

          Disciples must learn to deny themselves, to say no to self and its demands. Self-denial begins with the recognition that our problems in life result from consulting our own will, going our own way, and living for our own ends. Christ must show us that to be self-centered and self-serving is self-destructive. (Reformation Heritage Study bible, Pg. 1430)

          Taking up or cross is particular to our sanctification.

          Disciples must learn to take up their crosses. Note the possessive pronoun. The cross indicated in this imperative is not Christ’s cross but ours, the cross appointed for each of us to bear. None of us could do what Christ did for us when He went to the cross and died for our sins. Our duty is to submit to God’s will for our lives as Christ did, even if the burden is heavy, the way is hard, and the end is death. (Reformation Heritage Study Bible, Pg. 1430)

                William Perkins noted that Christ frees the believer from their corrupt nature. And what a freedom this is! We are free to do what God instructs! We are free to live a live that He will bless! Moreover, a life that will bless God and point people to His amazing love in Christ Jesus!

          The Psalmist’s declaration is ours in Christ:

Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory.” (Psalm 73:23–24, NKJV)

I heard an old, old story,

How a Savior came from glory,

How He gave His life on Calvary

To save a wretch like me;

I heard about His groaning,

Then I repented of my sins;

And won the victory.

O victory in Jesus,

My Savior, forever.

He sought me and bought me

With His redeeming blood;

He loved me ere I knew Him,

And all my love is due Him,

He plunged me to victory,

Beneath the cleansing flood

04/17/2020

The Comfort of Resurrection – Part 1

Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” (Romans 4:23–25, NKJV)

          Puritans have gotten a bad rap. Caricatures of them in literature, movies, and memes usually paints them as bunch of unforgiving, harsh, dour, kill-joys. That is the way of stereotypes, it often pushes to the extreme and loses touch with reality.

          I have taken to rediscover the writings of the Puritans. I have found them to be deep theological thinkers. But, for them, theology is always intended to move us to a deeper walk with our God. For a true Puritan, theology is life. They viewed everything through the lens of the triune God. The study of God is a passion that creates passion in the heart of the believer. In this vein, William Perkins shines. He offers up three comforts for the believer that are bestowed on us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let us consider the first.

          Christ’s resurrection effects the justification of all who believe in Him (Romans 4:25). Indeed, life was the very wage He was sent to earn (Isaiah 32:17); therefore, having been reconciled by His death, we shall much more be saved by His life (Romans 5:10).

          Justification is the judicial decree of God to declare us righteous on account of Jesus’ work on the cross and glorious resurrection. There is one word in that sentence that is critical to our understanding of justification. It is the word “declare.”  Protestant theology rests on that word.

          If you study the Roman Catholic definition of justification you will see the word “declare” replaced with “made”. This is not a subtle nuance. Catholicism still believes that sanctification and justification are two sides of the same coin. One must achieve righteousness to be declared justified. One must work toward being made righteous. Inevitably, works become a factor in knowing whether you are a child of God or not.

          Perkins gets the comfort found in justification right. It lines up with Paul’s teaching in Romans 4. Jesus was raised for our justification. His work on the cross to atone for our sins was accepted by the Father. The proof is in His glorious resurrection. Death and resurrection become the completed circle for our being declared righteous by God.

          It is all of grace, not of works, we cannot boast about ourselves.

Romans teaches:

For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:10, NKJV)

2 Corinthians teaches:

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NKJV)

          What comfort! My hope of heaven is not based on my performance. My assurance of salvation is not based on my good intentions that sometimes are acted on and other times are not. The Love of God toward me is not diminished when I sin. The power of Jesus’ resurrection gives me a positive declaration that I am God’s child, He will never forsake His own.

          Sometimes our doctrine of justification gets maligned because people say it gives a license to sin. If you can’t sin your way out, then why would you bother to live a holy life. That is sheer nonsense. On the contrary, knowing that my future rests secure in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, I am motivated to live a life pleasing to Him. I am no longer under the burden of thinking one sin will end it all for me. With that burden lifted (at Calvary), I am free to willingly obey and proclaim the joy of knowing Christ through a Godly life.

          Justification is the free gift of God to all who believe in Jesus Christ as the only Savior, finding in Him all things necessary for their salvation. It asks nothing from us but faith, it extends to every sin except the sin of unbelief, and it depends entirely upon who Christ is and what He has done, and on nothing at all in us. (from Reformation Heritage study bible, pg. 1692.)   

          Do you know someone who needs to know about the kind of justification Jesus offers? This is a power packed message of deliverance! Get the message to them! ASAP! For the comfort they will receive is unlike anything they could ever experience in this life.

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood!
To every believer the promise of God;
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice!
Come to the Father, through Jesus the Son:
Give Him the glory! Great things He has done!

04/16/2020

The Character of the Resurrection

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:4–6, NKJV)

          Currently shopping has been pretty much been relegated to the essentials of food and certain non-food items that  keep the house running.  If we want to shop for items such as clothes, home furnishings, books,  or even transportation we must do it on-line or wait until things open up again.  The past-time of “shopping” as a fun way to get out of the house and go on a search for that “something” is on hold for now. 

          When I shop, I’m looking for characteristics of that “something.”  I suspect you do as well.  We have things like color, size, construction, quality, and affordability as characteristic categories. These categories change depending on the item we are looking to purchase. For instance, if I’m looking for an automobile, I have in mind red, sporty, peppy, economical, and long lasting.

          The character of a thing is important. We’re in the middle of a tour of  the aspects of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. William Perkins (1558-1602) is our tour guide through this introspective.  He lists four significant characteristics of Christ’s Resurrection.

First, He rose as a public person, standing in place of His people not only in death but also in resurrection. Consequently, when Christ rose the whole church rose in Him (Eph. 2:6).

Second, Christ by His own power raised Himself from the dead (John 2:19; 10:18). This demonstrated that He was not only man but also true God. Further, this exhibited Christ’s power to raise also His church from death to life.

Third, Christ rose again with an earthquake. This was to prove that He had lost no power by death, that He still remained the absolute Lord of heaven and earth, before whom the earth still trembled.

Fourth, Christ’s death and resurrection were accompanied by other wonders as well. For example, Matthew 27:52–53 declares that graves were opened and that many were raised. This occurred in order that the church might know that there is a renewing and quickening virtue in the resurrection of Christ, whereby He is able to raise those who are dead in sin to newness of life. This signifies the order of it all: Christ arose, then the saints after Him; thus, He is the firstborn of the dead, with many to follow Him in rising (Col. 1:18).

          If you take away any of these characteristics, you rob the resurrection of its power, even to the point of diminishing the work of Christ for our salvation.

          For instance, the account in Matthew’s gospel (chapter 27:52-53) of graves opened and many raised from the dead is not simply some “side story.”   It must have been shocking for those alive to see those who had been dead raised again! It happened so that  Jesus could demonstrate immediately what  His resurrection accomplished. He gave a foreshadowing of the general resurrection of all people on that faithful day when He returns. 

          I am reminded time and time again that God’s ways are higher ways.  Much higher than either yours our mine.  When we see someone plan and execute an event and it all goes well we might say to them “you thought of everything.”  How much more did our Heavenly father not only think, but execute everything according to His higher plan!   His perfection in resurrecting Christ surpasses anything we could have ever imagined.

          Toward the end of John’s gospel, just after Jesus’ revelation to Thomas and before Jesus meets His disciples by the seashore, he records this.

          “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30–31, NKJV)

          Did you catch that?  Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples. Things John did not record.  Jesus entire life on earth was one miracle after another.  All culminating in the greatest miracle of all – His own resurrection.

          He did it to bring Glory to God.  We are the beneficiaries.  For in His work we obtain everlasting life – by believing Jesus is the Christ. 

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood!
To every believer the promise of God;
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice!
Come to the Father, through Jesus the Son:
Give Him the glory! Great things He has done!

04/15/2020

Jesus our living High Priest

And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.” (Hebrews 10:11–13, NKJV)

          We have covered 2 of the necessary reasons for Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  William Perkins gives a 3rd and final reason: Christ’s resurrection confirmed that His priestly work consisted of two parts. One was to make satisfaction for sin by sacrificing Himself on the cross. The other was to apply the virtue of this sacrifice to every believer. Therefore, Christ rose to perform this second part of His priesthood for His people.

          Many are familiar with the “faith chapter” found in Hebrews. It begins with the familiar words: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  That shows up at chapter 11, there are 10 chapters before that.  Many of those chapters seem rather cryptic to the average bible reader.  There is so much talk about priests, and the animal sacrifice system of the Old Testament, that I fear many just skip over that to get to the chapter on faith.

          I hear a lot of people talk on the internet and TV about how their  “faith” is helping them through this time of difficulty in our country.  It seems that saying you are a person of “faith” is almost hip and trendy.  If I could, I would like to query them as to what they mean when they say they have faith.  What is the faith they are referring to?  Faith in what?

          From a biblical Christian perspective, there is no faith to have until it is given to us by God.  And what God offers for us to have faith in is the forgiveness of sins.  Any “faith” system that does not offer the forgiveness of sins is useless. 

          Several weeks ago, our music ministry team shared an arrangement of a song made popular by the late Jonny Cash – “The old account was settled long ago”. One of the verses states:

Well the Old Account was large and growin’ everyday
I was always sinnin’ and I never tried to pray
But when I looked ahead and saw such pain and woe
Well I thought I’d better get it settled, so I settled it long ago

Long ago, yes long ago (I settled it all)
I said the Old Account was settled long ago
And my record’s clear today, he done washed my sins away
And the Old Account was settled long ago 

            Every human being has an account. Every sinful deed has been recorded.  In the Old Testament (or, the Older Covenant) God revealed the seriousness of sin. An animal had to lose its life to atone for the sin of a human.  This all seems so cruel and downright gross.  Yes, it is!  For sin is ugly!  Yet, this method was only temporary. It pointed to something greater to come.

          Our text says that the priest would be there daily, offering these sacrifices. They would be done daily because they only covered the sins of that moment. Once the worshipper left and sinned, they were left with unforgiven sin once again. 

          But, “this Man, (Jesus) after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.”  Jesus was the final necessary sacrifice.  He stood in the office of Priest. Unlike the Old Testament priests, He offered not an animal, but Himself as the sacrifice. 

          It says the “sat down at the right hand of God”.  This refers to Jesus’ place at this very moment. He had to be resurrected so as to apply His atonement that brings forgiveness.   Sitting down meant the work was done. There was nothing more to be done or added.  In verse 10 it states:  — “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ ONCE FOR ALL.” 

          Toward the back half of chapter 10 (before the beloved “faith chapter”) the writer in Hebrews seems to get enthusiastic about this “once for all” work of Christ.   

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:19–23, NKJV)

          Let us, draw near to God with a true heart.  A clean conscience. Made fit for immediate communication in the very presence of God. Bring it all to Him. The resurrected Christ is there all the time.  What kind of joy is this? The joy of knowing our Jesus paid it all!

Worthy is the Lamb

Seated on the throne

Crown You now with many crowns

You reign victorious

High and lifted up

Jesus Son of God

The Darling of Heaven crucified

Worthy is the Lamb

04/14/2020

The Grave Could Not Hold Him

Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” (Romans 1:1–4, NKJV)

        The resurrection of Jesus Christ is necessary to Christianity.  No resurrection of Jesus – no Christianity. Therefore, it is fitting that we look at this truth from every possible biblical angle.  The more we study the resurrection,  the sweeter the truth  is to the Christian believer.

          In speaking of the necessity of Christ’s resurrection, the Puritan William Perkins makes a second observation: Christ’s resurrection was demanded by virtue of His divine nature as the Son of God. He is the Author of life itself; for this reason, it was neither fitting nor possible for Him to be overcome by death.  Thus, it was imperative that Christ rise from death to life.

          We need to remind ourselves who it was that died on the cross. It was Jesus the Christ.  And Jesus was unique among any human that has ever lived or ever will live.  He is God in the flesh.   The God-Man Jesus Christ is who died on that cross for our sins.  It was the Author of life who gave His life.

          It should not take us by surprise that when Jesus was resurrected miraculous phenomenon happened.  Matthew records:

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” (Matthew 28:1–6, NKJV)

          Earthquake, an angel, a massive stone rolled away: These are signs and wonders only God produces.  It was an attestation to the power of God to give life. For God holds the keys to both death and life. 

          There was never a doubt that Jesus would rise again from the grave.  Jesus’ own prophecies time and time again contained the phraseology (paraphrase) “the son of man will be taken by men, crucified, and on the third day rise again.”  He was not offering one possible futuristic outcome.  It was impossible for Jesus not to rise again from the grave after He atoned for our sins.   So, He would state the future as a fact.  That it happened “just as He said” only impresses the truth even deeper into our hearts and minds.  Jesus is God, He died, and then came forth from the grave alive!

          This no mere theological triviality.  For the only hope we have of one day experiencing  a resurrection unto life is for God to give it to us.   And the guarantee that it will happen, (not just can happen), is that God Himself will be the one that bestows it to all those who have trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior in this life. 

          The Bible says:

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”” (1 Corinthians 15:53–54, NKJV)

          The day the Author of life swallows up death in victory will be the same day He gives His children resurrected bodies.  The taste of death will never again be near us. It is as good as done, even though it lies ahead in the future.  Because the one who makes the promise cannot lie, cannot fail, and will give us what is necessary to be fit for heaven.  Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

          I am reminded of a song we sing at NCBC.   

“What a Beautiful Name it Is”:  the “bridge” contains these words.

Death could not hold You
The veil tore before You
You silence the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring
The praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again

You have no rival
You have no equal
Now and forever God You reign
Yours is the kingdom
Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names

          Resurrection Sunday is not meant to be a “one time” remembrance on the annual calendar.  Every day brings us one day closer to our own resurrection.  Everyday can be a celebration of life everlasting.  Celebrate that today!

04/13/2020

Now Christ is Risen from the Dead

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20, NKJV)

          Over the next several daily devotionals we are going to consider the many aspects of Christ’s resurrection.  A Puritan named William Perkins will be our guide.   Puritans thought deeply about the things of God. They left a legacy of passionate Christian theology and practice. 

          In considering the impact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, William Perkins, noted that there are three points to be expressed: First, the necessity of the resurrection; Second, the significant characteristics of the resurrection; and Third, the uses of the resurrection for comforting the child of God. These three areas will be our theological expedition in the next few days.  Let us consider the first – the necessity of the resurrection.

          Perkins notes that the resurrection was necessary for three reasons. The first reason will be our topic today. His resurrection evidenced a complete victory over death. For believers, the resurrection confirms that Christ’s whole obedience was a work both of perfect satisfaction, destroying death, and of a meritorious nature, earning life.

          In First Corinthians chapter 15 Paul teaches:

1 Corinthians 15:45–47 (NKJV)

45And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

46However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.

47The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.

          Paul speaks of the first Adam and the last Adam.   In verse 22 of the same chapter he declares “For as in Adam all die”.  The entire human race is a “son of Adam”.  His disobedience brought us a scourge. It is the scourge of death.

          Jesus is the “second Adam”.  He accomplished what the first Adam could not.  Perfect obedience. Destruction of death. 

          Perkins point out as well that Jesus not only destroyed death but by His resurrection, He also earned for us life. When Jesus declared I have come to give life and that more abundantly (John 10:10), He wasn’t just offering a better life in this present existence.  Yes, He does give us a renewed life in the here and now, but that is just a foretaste of glory divine. 

          When Jesus rose from the grave death was defeated, and life, real genuine life, as God intended it to be lived, is secured as well. 

          Sometimes people confuse resurrection with being raised from the dead.  Lazarus was raised from the dead, but he was not resurrected.  To be raised from the dead is to simply have life reintroduced to the same body.  Lazarus did indeed come forth from the grave. But it was still his same body.  And one day Lazarus died a second time.

          Resurrection is an entirely new reality that we have never experienced.  It is life experienced in an entirely new level.  For it will be in sinless perfection.  Won for us through Jesus shed blood and resurrection from the grave.  All our senses will be operating at peak efficiency. Our physical bodies will be strong and disease free.  Our wills will be conformed to the worship of God and Him only.  Everything we would our hand to will prosper.

          Many of us can think of a happy place.  It’s kind of a silly maybe even trite saying; “happy place”.  But what we are trying to convey is that there are places we like to go that bring joy into our being. 

          Maybe your happy place is a mountain top.  A walk on the sands of an oceanside. Perhaps a walk in a quiet wooded forest.  It might even be a special nook in your house with ample time to take in  a good book.  Whatever it is, you call it your happy place because it invigorates you body and soul, it brings joy, and it provides you with a rest from everything else.

          Take that experience and multiply it by 100,000 times.  That will only begin to relate how you will experience life all the time forever and ever – all because of the resurrection of Christ. 

          Paul summarizes his grand chapter 15 of his first letter to the Corinthians in this way:

1 Corinthians 15:58 (NKJV)

58Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

          A fitting ending to a chapter concerning resurrection.  The very empowerment of day to day becomes the blessed hope of a glorious resurrection.

04/09/2020

(Note: This will be the final devotion for Holy Week.  Next devotion installment will be Monday, April 13.)

He Loved them to the End

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” (John 13:1, NKJV)

          In John chapter 13 Jesus is gathered with His disciples for one last meal before He goes to the cross.

          It is Thursday evening.  During Holy Week we call it “Maundy Thursday”.  Maundy means “Mandate”.  Jesus gave His disciples a mandate to love one another. He had spent 3 years with them. Literally doing life together. Living, eating, working, teaching, preaching, and healing. Now, before He went to the cross, he had one more thing to show them. 

          Luke informs us that during the last supper, even after he instituted holy communion, there was a dispute among them as to which would be considered the greatest among them. They had learned so much. Yet, still had much to learn.  

          None of them were fully ready for the events that would transpire in the life of their master in the hours that lay ahead.  In the course of several hours, one would betray him. One would deny him. All would desert him.

Nevertheless,  in the opening verse of John 13 we read these words:  having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

          He loved them to the end. Which can mean He loved them all the way to the cross.  It can also mean that He loved them all the way to the end of time.  Or, simply, that He loved them to the uttermost.  He loved His disciples as far as God’s love can go.  

          And this love is not exclusive to the 12 men He spent his life with.  It includes all. It included us here, living at this moment in time. All the whosoever’s of the world!

          At a poignant moment of the Passover meal, Jesus would show them love.  This is what love is.  This is where it all begins.  Love is found in a person.  A person like no other.  The veritable God-Man Jesus the Christ. It is seen in the actions of a person. The actions of Jesus – the one who loves to the very end.  

John wrote is his first Letter:

1 John 4:9–10 (NKJV)

In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

In the face of such love, such wonderous love, we are also introduced to this command:

1 John 4:11: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

          As Jesus disciples finished dinner as part of the Passover celebration Jesus  stood up, laid aside his outer garments, took a towel, wrapped it around his waist, took a basin, poured water in it, and approached each disciple to wash their feet. It was the job the servant of the house performed  – cleaning off the dirt that clung to sandal shorn feet.  

          In this act Jesus reveals what love looks like. It was an object lesson. True love looks like complete abandonment of our pride, position, prestige, and perceived status.  It sets aside ourselves, and loves someone else.

          This is what Jesus would do on that first Good Friday. Love took Him to Calvary. Love kept Him at Calvary.  Love completed the work of redemption at Calvary.  Nothing, but the Love of God in Christ Jesus would suffice to make it possible for us to be forgiven, be given peace with God, and a hope for all eternity with Him.

          The appropriate response to such love is given in Hebrews chapter 12:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2, NKJV)

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