Our Puerto Rico

September 28th, 2017

I read about Puerto Rico this morning. The island in shambles after hurricane Maria. The people desperate for water. Supplies available, but how to get them to the people who need them? No electricity a widespread problem, with some places potentially without power for the next month. Communication difficult or impossible. A crisis.

Thinking on such a crisis this morning, the thought came to me… we have just as big a crisis in the United States as they have in Puerto Rico, but the big problem many have is they don’t know they are in the crisis. The water of God’s word is available to them, but they are not drinking it. The power of God is ready to save them, but they aren’t asking for it. Communication with God is broken. Men and women are perishing daily without a Savior. Some were told that they were in danger. Others perhaps were not. Some pray to a Maria who cannot save while others are totally or willfully oblivious to their danger. And a bigger hurricane of God’s righteous indignation is coming. If we were to look on the spiritual state of the United States, it would look worse than hurricane-torn Puerto Rico. What a crisis!

Eclipse… light triumphs

August 21st, 2017

Today’s eclipse reminds me of other periods of darkness in this world’s history. God’s judgment on Egypt was seen through a period of darkness over all the land of Egypt for three days. This earth is a land of the shadow of death, a place where sin abounds, destined for judgment. It was into this same world that Christ, the Light of the world, came, illuminating and revealing God to men. Through death, He endured the judgment of God, where in three monumental hours, a physical darkness covered the whole land, silently declaring that the weight of the sin of the whole world was being placed upon the holy Lamb of God. But Christ came out of that darkness victorious; the way into God’s presence was opened and the temple veil rent; and out of death He rose gloriously triumphant on the third day, then to seat Himself at the right hand of the throne of God. Light has triumphed over darkness, and that same gospel light shines into the hearts of people today to bring salvation to all who put their faith in the One who went through that darkness for them.

*****

And the LORD said unto Moses, “Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.” And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days (Exodus 10:21-22)

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is, being interpreted, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” …And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the [spirit]. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the [spirit], he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:33-39)

Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.” Pilate said unto them, “Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.” So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch. In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. (Matt 27:62-28:6)

Binding and Loosing

April 23rd, 2017

I’m enjoying some thoughts from a Greek Grammar by William Mounce called “Basics of Biblical Greek” (Zondervan 2003). A quote in that work is as follows…

“In some translations of Matthew 18:18, it sounds like Jesus promised His disciples that whatever they bound on earth would be bound in heaven, and whatever they loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven. In other words, they had the power to bind and loose, and Heaven (i.e. God) would simply back up their decrees. But the matter is not quite so simple; the actions described in heaven are future perfect passives-which could be translated “will have already been bound in heaven… will have already been loosed in heaven.” In other words, the heavenly decree confirming the earthly one is based on a prior verdict.

This is the language of the law court. Jewish legal issues were normally decided in Jesus’ day by elders in the synagogue community (later by rabbis). Many Jewish people believed that the authority of Heaven stood behind the earthly judges when they decided cases based on a correct understanding of God’s law. (This process came to be called “binding and loosing.”) Jesus’ contemporaries often envisioned God’s justice in terms of a heavenly court; by obeying God’s law, the earthly court simply ratified the decrees of the heavenly court. In Matthew 18:15-20, Christians who follow the careful procedures of verses 15-17 may be assured that they will act on the authority of God’s court when they decide cases.

Just as we struggle to affirm absolutes in a relativist culture, Christians today sometimes wonder how to exercise discipline lovingly against a sinning member of the church. In this text, Jesus provides an answer: when the person refuses to turn from sin after repeated loving confrontation, the church by disciplining the person simply recognizes the spiritual reality that is already true in God’s sight.

– Craig S. Keener

The Word Became Flesh

February 15th, 2017

I’m enjoying some thoughts from a Greek Grammar by William Mounce called “Basics of Biblical Greek” (Zondervan 2003). A quote in that work is as follows. Sit back and take it in… and worship.

A casual first-century reader of the fourth gospel’s prologue (John 1:1-18) would have little difficulty understanding John’s description of the Logos (Word). As a concept it was simple enough. Logos was the intelligible law of things. The Logos of God was God’s transcendent rationality that gave the universe order and purpose. A Hellenized Jew would quickly reach for a volume of wisdom literature explaining that God’s wisdom, His word (or logos), provided the universe with its form and coherence. As such the Logos of God was foreign to human ways, above us and distant from us, guiding us from afar.

John 1:14, on the other hand, would make any such reader pause in stunned silence. “And the Word became flesh (sarx) and dwelt among us.” Sarx is the earthly sphere, the arena of human decisions and emotions, human history, and human sinfulness (cf. John 1:13; 3:6; 17:2, etc.). John 1:14 contains the risk, the scandal, and the gospel of the Christian faith: the Logos became sarx. The center of God’s life and thought entered the depths of our world and took up its form, its sarx, its flesh, in order to be known by us and to save us.

This affirmation about logos and sarx is the very heart of our faith. God has not abandoned us. No lowliness, no misery, no sinfulness is beyond God’s comprehension and reach. He came among us, embraced our world of sarx in His incarnation, and loved us. It is easy enough to say that God loves the world (John 3:16). But to say that God loves me, in my frailty and my faithlessness–that He loves sarx–this is another matter. This is the mystery and the power of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

– Gary M. Burge

Scattered thoughts

January 7th, 2017

Scattered musings of the morning…

God reveals Himself to those who need Him. If we don’t see God working in our lives and revealing Himself to us, perhaps it is because we do not need Him…

“Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). Often times assemblies with which we are associated are small in number. But God is great in using small things to accomplish great results, to His glory.

The way in which we conduct our meetings does not appeal to the natural mind, but it should appeal to the spiritual, biblical mind. Do I have a spiritual or self-centered mind? Do I seek heavenly things over earthly (Col 3:1-2)? Am I dead to this world (Col 3:3)? Is Christ my life (Col 3:4)? Does the Word of Christ dwell in me richly (Col 3:16)? Am I marked by thanksgiving (Col 3:17)? Do I live for the commendation of the Lord over the praise of men (Col 3:23)?

Quote from Voice of the Martyrs magazine (Dec 2016): “When people persecute me or talk about me badly, I don’t feel sorry for myself. I always feel sorry for them.”

A Burnt Offering

December 3rd, 2016

There were two categories of offerings for which God gave instructions to His people in the Old Testament in Leviticus chapters 1-3 and 4-6. One type was offerings for sin. When an Israelite took their sin or trespass offering to the priest, they were essentially saying, “I deserve to die, but this lamb is going to die in my place.” The other type of offering was for a sweet savor to God and was not related to specific acts of sin. I believe this second type of offering was in view when God asked Abraham to offer up His only son to God as a burnt offering (though the Mosaic covenant had not yet been given). It appeals to me that the burnt offering, being an offering of free will, was also an expression of identification with the animal that was to die. The offerer laid his hands on the offering, identifying himself with it. In Leviticus 1:4 we learn that the burnt offering was for atonement– that God might accept the offerer– but it seems to me that this offering was deeper than a simple acknowledgment of a wrong action. This was not now an acknowledgment that I deserve to die, but rather was a willing laying down of one’s own life before God in consecration, acknowledging the LORD’s worth and worthiness, while at the same time acknowledging the offerer’s own unworthiness and inability to serve God acceptably in his own strength. As the lamb of the burnt offering died, the offerer said not now, “I deserve to die,” but rather, “LORD, I give myself as a consecrated offering to Thee. In myself I cannot please Thee, but through this offering, accept my heart and life as I lay it down for Thee to use” (Romans 12:1).

God asked Abraham to give back to Him the most precious possession that he had– his own son. The miracle child. The one God had said would be the heir through whom God would bless the whole world. But now God was asking Abraham to offer him. Would not this destroy the promises? God had said specifically, “Through Isaac your descendants shall be named” (Gen. 21:12). But Abraham and Isaac were walking up a mountain, and Isaac was asking, “Father, where is the lamb?” Abraham, like Job, refused to charge God and become angry with God for requiring the return of that which He had given. Instead of being angry at God for negating His own miracle, Abraham believed God and trusted Him for another miracle. The same God who could bring life out of death at his son’s entry into this world was the God who could bring life out of death at his son’s exit from this world (Hebrews 11:19).

There on that mountain, with knife in hand, it must have felt like he was about to take his own life. His own son was on the altar, and surely Abraham would have chosen to give his own life rather than his son’s. And essentially, that is what happened on Mount Moriah (Gen. 22). It was the climax of Abraham’s song to God… “Take my life and let it be,  Consecrated, LORD, to Thee.” Abraham put the Giver before the gift and the Blesser before the blessing. God did provide for Himself a lamb that day, but He also provided the Lamb of God, His own beloved Son, as a blessing that flowed and continues to flow out to the whole world. A blessing that flowed from the faith of one man who was willing to trust God and die to himself. A burnt offering.

Self-worth

October 22nd, 2016

God created a masterpiece. He made the first man and the first woman in all their perfection and beauty. But mankind chose to rebel against their Creator, and God’s masterpiece was ruined. Since that day, every person born into the world is born incapable of truly pleasing God. Like a master’s painting all covered with graffiti or a sculptor’s work shattered to bits, we have been ruined by sin. Yet God in infinite grace stepped in. He didn’t gather up all His creation and throw it away. Instead, He sent the Master, the Almighty Sculptor to this world to save the marred masterpiece from eternal ruin. Here, the Creator was marred more than any man. He was nailed to a tree, and suffered beneath the wrath of Almighty God, taking our punishment in order for our sin stains to be erased. It is when we acknowledge our lost and ruined state that the grace of God reaches down and says, “Fear not, I have redeemed you, you are Mine.” Placing our faith in the One who took our place, and dying to our own self-righteousness and self-worth, we fall at the foot of the cross and rest in the worth of our Lord and Savior– and there find acceptance before God. Our acceptance is in God’s Beloved One. Our right to be in God’s display room of grace called heaven is the One who came to earth to take away all our stains and transform the shattered figure into a totally new creation.

Could we say that Jesus Christ came from heaven’s glory to die for us because we were so special, so precious, so valuable that He had to die and pay such a tremendous price for our salvation? Did our worth demand His coming? Is the price that He paid equal to the value of the thing purchased? No, it cannot be! To say such a thing actually exults us and minimizes the worth of that precious blood. It also would ignore our wretched condition before God–we did not deserve such love. To say that our worth was the reason for His sacrifice would be to minimize the wondrous grace of our God. The greatness of the price does not show our worth, but rather demonstrates the depth of how ruined we had become. It also reveals the righteous requirement of a holy God that had to be met before He could accept us. The Lord Jesus was separated from a holy God while paying for our sin. He suffered as we deserved to suffer. The price He paid demonstrated the awesome holiness of our God and at the same time God’s infinite, selfless love.

God’s way is not to choose to love worthy objects, but rather, unworthy objects. He does not help us to save ourselves, but rather chooses to save the helpless. In so doing, He engenders thankful worshipers rather than boastful braggers. God’s love does not exult its object, but rather demonstrates the glory of His character; the character of God’s love is that it is not dependent upon the recipient but rather upon who He is.

Think of it. When God saves, He places the Spirit of His Son within us. He shares His life with us, and enables us to live in Him, by His power, enjoying His love. He makes us heirs of eternal riches in His Son. He binds us inseparably with the greatest Lover in the universe. He gives us worth. He makes us into a radiant painting that is far more beautiful than the first, that radiates His glory. We become a vessel that He can fill and use, something of value to Him, that brings Him delight. We find our true purpose in life as we walk with Him and get to know Him more intimately. A vessel is valuable because of the substance it holds. Without the contents, it has nothing to boast in. Even so, Christ in us makes all the difference.

How precious to know that God’s love does not depend upon our performance or self-worth. If that were the case, we would have to continually be trying to measure up to His (unreachable) standard, hoping that He would still love us. God’s love is an eternal love. To be eternal, it must depend upon God Himself rather than upon the recipient. When we respond to that love in worship and appreciation, that brings immense pleasure to our heavenly Father.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? …I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 38-39 NKJV).

Do we have worth in Christ? Resoundingly, yes! What is Christ’s worth to God? God has united us with His Son, and our worth is in Him. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? ” (Romans 8:32 NKJV). 

“But you are a chosen generation… His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NKJV).

I think our focus really needs to turn from considering self-worth to considering that Christ is everything, and I am in Christ. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which 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 NKJV)

Scriptural references: (hover over reference to read the verse)
Romans 5:18; 8:8; John 3:16; Isaiah 52:14; 53:6; 43:1; Luke 18:13; Ephesians 1:6; 2:8-9; Romans 5:6-8; Isaiah 43:25; Galatians 4:6; Philippians 1:20-21;  Romans 8:17; Ephesians 1:11-14; 2 Timothy 2:21; Also consider: John 1:27; Luke 15:21

To Clarify: This article is not meant to minimize the fact that God has created mankind in His own image and that God values life. Genesis 9:6 shows us that it is a serious thing to take the life of another human being: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man” (NKJV).  Life is from God and belongs to God, and to kill one who is made in the image of God is a very serious offense. Matthew 10:29 reminds us that God even cares about the death of a sparrow (though not created in Him image) and lovingly provides for His creation. There is a difference, I believe, between (1) the fact that mankind has been ruined and rendered useless by sin to the point of enmity against God and is therefore unworthy of God’s blessing and (2) the fact that we were made by God, belong to God (in the aspect of creation), and still have something of his image upon us, though it is severely marred by sin. We are a soul that will exist eternally, a soul with feelings and emotions which the heart of God longs to win to Himself (Luke 13:34). The human spirit, when made alive, has the capability of interacting with and appreciating his Creator, and in that aspect, there is a potential value to God found in each individual born into this world.