As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. (Psalm 42:1)
It is interesting that as we read Psalm 42, it is obvious that writer is going through some difficult situations. He makes statements like, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’ (v.3); “My soul is cast down within me” (v.6); and “I say to God, my rock: ‘Why have you forgotten me?’” (v.9). So what is the writer’s response to adversity? “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (vv.1-2). The psalmist longs to see God, to be with God, to be done with this crummy world and enter into the glorious presence of the living God. The psalmist does not fear death, he welcomes it, even looks forward to it. This is not to say that believers should go through life wanting to die and constantly entertaining thoughts of suicide. The true believer understands that this life is a blessing and all that God gives us in this life and in this world are the blessings of God and are to be appreciated and enjoyed. The believer understands we have been placed here with a purpose—to know God and enjoy him forever—and we have been placed here to do a job, to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. But the believer also knows that this life and this world is not worth clinging to. That no matter how good this life may be, the next life will be infinitely better. When this life ends and we enter into the glorious and unmitigated presence of Christ and find ourselves worshipping before his throne, we will experience more joy and peace and happiness than we ever thought possible and we will not miss any part of this world and this life and we certainly will not desire to return to this world even one bit. For believers, the best is yet to come.
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
It’s unfortunate that so often those who hold to and ascribe to the prosperity gospel use passages like Psalm 37:4 to teach that if you are faithful to God, he will give you whatever you want, whatever you ask for. “Delight yourself in the LORD,” place your faith in him, believe in Jesus, and then ask him for a Rolls Royce or mansion to live in or a private jet, and he will give it to you. But is that what Psalm 37:4 is teaching? What did David mean by this? First, here is what I don’t think he means. David does not mean that if a person has faith in God, he can simply name it and claim it, and get whatever his heart desires. There are just too many examples in the Bible of godly people not getting what they ask for from God. Jesus did not have the cup of God's wrath taken from him (Matt 26:39). Paul was not able to have the thorn in his flesh removed even though he pleaded with God three times to do so (2 Cor 12:7). Instead, David’s point is that if we delight ourselves in God, if we delight ourselves in the things of God, in knowing God, in serving God, in worshipping God, and in striving to be like Christ, then God will give us the desires of our heart. This is because when our heart’s greatest desire is to please God, to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, then God will not only place godly desires within us, but will grant us those desires as well. But when we delight ourselves in the things of this world, God will not give us the desires of our heart. As James puts it, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (4:3). If your heart’s desire is to please God, he will give you the desires of your heart.
The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives; for those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off. (Ps. 37:21-22)
One of the marks of conversion is generosity. We see this in the early church in Acts 4:32ff. where we are told that no one kept anything for themselves, but all had everything in common. They all shared with one another all their possessions. This happens among believers for two reasons. First, the Holy Spirit creates within believes a desire to carry out the second great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. This, of course, is the result of the indwelling presence of the Holy Sprit as love is the first fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). But there is a second reason generosity is and should be a defining characteristic of believers. That is, not only do we realize that everything we have comes from God, but we also realize that someday all that God has will belong to us. Psalm 37:21 says, “The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.” Why is the righteous generous? "For those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land,…” (v.22). Mature believers know and understand that when we give away our money, our resources, and our time, there is more where that came from. We know this and think this way because we understand that some day we will inherit the entire earth. Someday all that we see and enjoy around us will be ours for all eternity. Thus, when it comes to the giving of our finances or possessions or abilities and talents, it has been rightly said that God blesses us so that we might be a blessing to others. God blesses his people not so that we can hoard what God gives us, but so we might use it for his glory.
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Heb. 2:17)
Throughout Church history there have been those who question the full humanity of Christ (Docetism), believing that if Jesus was fully God, then he could not have been fully human. The argument goes that Jesus was human merely on the outside but fully God on the inside. In other words, Jesus was God wrapped in a human body. However, the author of Hebrews makes clear that not only is this view of Christ's humanity false, but that it was necessary for Jesus to be fully human--inside and out. In v.14 he states, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Since Jesus came to save sinner who are flesh and blood, he himself also had to be flesh and blood. And since came to redeem the “offspring of Abraham…he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Jesus had to made like humans "in every respect," physically, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. This is because since it was a human who brought sin into the world and rebelled against God, then it had to be a human who would offer himself up for the sins of humanity. It was not a bull or a goat who rebelled against God. It was a human; thus, a human--someone who was fully human--had to undo what man had ruined.
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)
When we talk about how salvation works and how it is that God brings sinners into a saving relationship with himself, one of the most insightful passages in scripture is 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” So first, we are told that in our unbelieving state, we are completely blind to the image and glory of Christ. The question then is how is it that we somehow come to not only see Christ but to want to know Christ, to follow him and worship him? Scripture continues, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Paul references the creation narrative back in Genesis 1 where God simply speaks light into existence and then says in similar fashion, at the right moment in history, God spoke to our dead and darkened hearts and said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. Suddenly, we saw and understood the gospel of Christ and desired to worship him. This is what makes God’s grace sovereign and so amazing! Today let us praise and worship God for all he has done for us.
Let all the earth fear the LORD;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
God is to be praised and worshipped not for what he has done and the way he blesses us and enriches our lives, but simply for who he is--God. Even if God does nothing good for us, even if our lives are racked with pain and suffering and misery, God is still to be worshipped and praised. Job understood this well when he said, after all his property had been destroyed and his children had all been tragically killed, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed [praised] be the name of the LORD" (1:21). Why does Job respond this way? How is this possible? Though the psalms had not yet been written at the time of Job’s life, he instinctively understood what the psalmist put into words in Psalm 33:6-9, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” All the earth should fear God and all the inhabitants of the world should stand in awe of him simply because he spoke into existence all there is by the power of his word. God simply willed the universe into being. God is to be worshipped and praised and obeyed because he is God…and we are not.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:13-14)
When does life begin? It’s the age-old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? When does a clump of cells inside the uterus become a living human being? When does an embryo or a fetus become a “person”? Some say when the fetus can survive outside the womb on his own. Others say when the fetus develops self-awareness. Still others will say when it looks like a person. By these standards, however, there are many mentally and physically disabled individuals who would not be considered “persons” nor “human.” However, the psalmist says to God, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (139:13-16). Every embryonic baby, no matter how tiny, is the work of God’s hands, the labor of God knitting together every individual so that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” And if there is any doubt about when God thinks an embryo becomes a person made in his image, we need look no further than Genesis 9:6, Exodus 20:13, and 21:22-25. In Genesis 9:6 God commands capital punishment for murder. In Exodus 20:13, the sixth commandment forbids murder. And in Exodus 21:22-25 God commands that if a man strikes a pregnant woman so that she miscarries, that man is to be put to death for murder. In the mind of God, human life begins at conception. But why talk about such a sensitive topic in a Daily Thoughts post? To remind you that life beings at conception, that all human life is valuable to God, and that you were fearfully and wonderfully made. God carefully knit you together in your mother’s womb and, from the moment of conception, you had and have infinite value in the eyes of God. He knows your name.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. (Psalm 42:1)
It is interesting that as we read Psalm 42, it is obvious that that writer is going through some difficult situations. He makes statements like, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’ (v.3); “My soul is cast down within me” (v.6); and “I say to God, my rock: ‘Why have you forgotten me?’” (v.9). So what is the writer’s response to adversity? “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (vv.1-2). The psalmist longs to see God, to be with God, to be done with this crummy world and enter into the glorious presence of the living God. The psalmist does not fear death, he welcomes it, even looks forward to it. This is not to say that believers should go through life wanting to die and constantly entertaining thoughts of suicide. The true believer understands that this is life is a blessing and all that God gives us in this life and in this world are the blessings of God and are to be appreciated and enjoyed. The believer understands we have been placed here with a purpose—to know God and enjoy him forever—and we have been placed here to do a job, to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. But the believer also knows that this life and this world is not worth clinging to. That no matter how good this life may be, the next life will be infinitely better. When this life ends and we enter into the glorious and unmitigated presence of Christ and find ourselves worshipping before his throne, we will experience more joy and peace and happiness than we ever though possible and we will not miss any part of this world and this life and we certainly will not desire to return to this world even one bit. For believers, the best is yet to come.
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; (Heb. 10:5)
None of the sacrifices offered throughout the Old Testament could ever take away sins. They were never designed to take away sins. The author of Hebrews makes that clear when he writes just a few verses later “every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (v.11). All the sacrifices in the Old Testament were designed to remind the people of their sinfulness and to point them toward their need for a genuine savior, someone who could truly deliver them from the bondage of sin, Satan, and death. Thus, we are told in Hebrews 10:5 that when Christ came into the world, he said to God the Father, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me.” Christ took on human flesh. He took on a human body and came to earth and did for us what no animal could ever do and what no mere human could ever do. He lived the perfect life of obedience to the Law of God, which God’s justice demands, so that those who place faith in Christ would be credited with his righteousness. And then he died on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of those who place faith in Christ. Thus, salvation is simply a matter of trusting and believing in all that Christ has done for us. Christ gets all the glory for our salvation. We get none.
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (Psalm 32:1)
Guilt can have paralyzing effects when we know we’ve done wrong and our conscience is burdened. And one of the greatest and most devastating mistakes we can make is to try and suppress our conscience and bury our guilt. We try and shake it off or explain it away. Often saying things to ourselves like, ‘Maybe I was mean to that person and should not have said the things I said, but they deserved it. They had it coming’ or ‘I should not be looking at this internet pornography but if my wife gave me more attention, I would not be forced into this’ or ‘yes, I should not have committed that sin but no one is perfect; we all sin; it’s not a big deal.’ Over time, as we continue to not deal honestly with our sin, not own up to it, acknowledge it and confess it, it will begin to eat away at our soul. Unconfessed sin is like a beautiful delicious red apple that has a worm inside and is being eaten away and rotting from the inside out. It is not noticeable to the outside world or even to yourself until it is too late. For this reason David writes, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Ps. 32:1-4). When David kept silent regarding his sin, his “bones wasted away.” His strength was dried up. He groaned inwardly all day long. So what does he do about it? “I acknowledged my sin to you [O Lord], and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (v.5). This is why David begins this psalm by saying, “Blessed [happy] is the one whose transgression is forgiven.” If you want happiness in life, start by owning up to your sins, every one of them, and then confessing them each to God.
He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. (Matthew 28:6)
If you attended Passion Week services or have been following Passion Week celebrations online or otherwise, then this past week has been a mix of emotions of joy and sorrow. Sorrow as we reflected upon the difficult week our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ suffered through and experienced during his last days on earth. Maundy-Thursday, the night on which Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, but also the night on which he prayed in great anguish in the garden of Gethsemane, sweating great drops of blood, knowing what await him, knowing that in a few short hours he would experience one of the most cruel and tormenting means of death ever devised my man. Then on Good Friday, along with the rest of Christendom, we reflected on the day in which Christ suffered and died. In hindsight, we recognize that the cross of Christ was a glorious event, but at the time it would have been a heart-wrenching, tear-jerking, confusing event for his disciples. To watch the person they loved so dearly, the person who had brought them so much hope and joy and peace, die on a cross would have been very difficult and confusing. But today we celebrate the fact that his death was not the end of the story. Rather, it was the beginning of the end for death, sin, and Satan. This was the day, two-thousand years ago, in which “death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54-55). On this day Christ conquered the grave for all those for whom he died, for all those who place faith in him alone for their salvation. Today is a day of celebration and praise for all Christ has done for his people! He has risen indeed!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2)
Living in a fallen world can be incredibly difficult. Life does not always go the way we want or would hope. We lose loved ones to death far too soon. Couples struggle with infertility. Babies are miscarried. Single adults struggle with loneliness. We are diagnosed with terminal diseases. We suffer debilitating injuries. We experience financial ruin. We are betrayed by our spouse, abused by those we trusted, abandoned by those we depended on. In a world like this, how do we avoid spiraling into a deep dark place? In Isaiah 43:1 God says, “Fear not, for [here is the reason we should not fear] I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” For those who have placed faith in Christ, we belong to God. God is on our side. Therefore, He goes on to say, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” If God was willing to send his son into the world to die on the cross for those who place faith in Christ, to redeem us to himself, then surely he will not abandon us. But notice that God does not say he will direct us around the deep waters or around the raging rivers or around the fire, but rather “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” God will never abandon us nor forsake us. Though often the things we go through may not make sense to us, they make sense to God and he is there guiding, leading, caring, and comforting. Why? Then he adds, “For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (v.3). Because God is our God and our Savior, we can trust him. We can depend on him. We can lean on him.
And it was the third hour when they crucified him. (Mark 15:25)
Today Christians around the world celebrate Good Friday. This is the day on which Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on a Roman cross two-thousand years ago. But why call it Good Friday? Jesus was completely innocent not only of the crimes he was accused of, but of any crime or any sin. Jesus was without sin. Thus, if this is the day on which the greatest miscarriage of justice was ever carried out, the greatest evil was ever committed, then why call it good? Because it was good for sinners. The Bible tells us we are all sinful, that we have all transgressed the Laws of God (Rom 3:23). As a result, we all deserve to perish eternally. We all deserve death, eternal death in hell because “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). No one forces us to sin. We all choose to sin and rebel against God. If God were to send every person who has ever lived straight to hell for all eternity, he would be completely just in doing so because that is what we all deserve. Yet for some amazing reason we are told that “God showed his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:). Though we are all sinners, though we live our lives in open rebellion against God, he still loved us, and he demonstrated his love for humanity by sending his perfect son into the world to die for sinners--to die on our behalf. If the “wages of sin is death” and Christ had no sin, then why did he die? “He died for us.” He died on our behalf. He absorbed the wrath of God that should have come upon us. He died in our place as our substitute, as a substation for those who place faith in Christ and believe he died on the cross to pay for their sins. The scriptures tell us that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom. 10:9-10). Thus, Good Friday is about remembering that from the greatest act of evil ever committed came the greatest good ever offered to humanity.
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." (Lk. 22:19-20)
Today is Maundy-Thursday. But what does that mean anyway? For years as a young believer I would think to myself, ‘What a strange phrase—Monday-Thursday.’ ‘Huh? Monday through Thursday? Is that what they mean by Monday-Thursday?’ Maundy is a word derived from the Latin meaning ‘mandate.’ Thus, Maundy-Thursday is the day in which Christians celebrate the day on which Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper. In some churches it is also the day on which Christ commanded the disciples to wash each other’s feet. Thus, in some churches they practice foot washing as part of the Maundy-Thursday observance. However, regardless of your tradition, all recognize it as the day on which Christ and his disciples celebrated the Passover meal on the night before his crucifixion. What an interesting and somber night that must have been. With the sound of bleating lambs in the background, with the image of lambs being slaughtered at the temple, and with a tone of sorrow in his voice, Jesus says to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk. 22:15). Jesus, the Lamb of God, is preparing to become the one true sacrificial lamb for the sins of his people. Then he takes a piece of unleavened bread and holds it up and says, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” He then holds up a cup of wine and says, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus was communicating to them that just as there was a covenant established with Israel in the wilderness after God delivered them out of bondage via the blood of a lamb, so also Jesus was about to establish a new covenant with God’s people who would be truly delivered from the bondage of sin, Satan, and death via the blood of the Lamb. Maundy-Thursday is the day on which we remember that sacrifice and the new covenant community established through Christ.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Heb. 1:1-2)
I will never forget watching Ben Stein interviewing atheist and scientist Richard Dawkins. At one point in the interview Stein asks Dawkins, “What if you died and suddenly found yourself standing before God and realizing that he does exist? What would you say to him?” Dawkins replied, “I would say to him, ‘Why did you go to such great lengths to conceal yourself?’” What an astounding response in light of the overwhelming evidence God has provided for us and the fact that God did come down and speak to us and reveal himself to humanity directly. As the author or Hebrews states, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,…” After thousands of years of God sending prophets to speak to his people and point them back to himself, to no avail, he sends his only begotten son to speak directly to humanity. And how do they respond to this? They crucify him. Thus, even when God has taken the direct approach, humans refuse to believe. This is because, as scripture testifies, the unbelieving mind is hostile toward God. It hates God and wants nothing to do with God (Rom 8:7-8). Nevertheless, for those of us who do believe, we can take great comfort in knowing that God has spoken directly to us through his Son, and his words are written down for us in the pages of holy scripture. God has not concealed himself, but has gone above and beyond to make himself clearly known so that he might be fully known.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5)
David was a man keenly familiar with suffering. Very few have suffered as much as David did. True, some of his suffering was the result of his own mistakes, but then that only makes the suffering that much worse. He was a man familiar with being hunted down and hated by someone he admired and supported (King Saul). He was familiar with the death of his own infant son. He was familiar with the unbelievable pain of having one son murder another of his sons. He was familiar with having a son betray him and then try and strip the throne away from him. Yet through it all David managed to write songs like Psalm 30 where he says, “Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name” (v.4). How was David able to write such songs and sing such praises in the midst of so much suffering and pain in this world and in this life? The next two lines says it all. “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Whatever difficulty God is bringing us through, it is only for a moment. If you are one of God’s people, if you are trusting and resting alone in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for your eternal security and, therefore, are in covenant relationship with God, then “his favor is for a lifetime.” And all the trials and tribulations this world has to offer is only “for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” For those who are in Christ, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is always getting brighter and brighter. As Paul accurately wrote, someone else very familiar with suffering, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Tim. 2:10)
Being in ministry can at times be exhausting. Whether you are a pastor of a church, a Sunday school teacher, a ministry leader, a deacon, a church secretary, or the one who directs traffic in the parking lot at church week after week, there are those moments when we can become weary and begin to wonder if any of it even matters, when we begin to think this feels like a thankless job. We can begin to lose the motivation to keep going. The apostle Paul, of course, was no stranger to being exhausted and was no stranger to the trials and difficulties of ministry. Thus, we see him in 2 Timothy, very likely at the end of his life and at the end of his ministry, and he writes to young Timothy who is shepherding the church in Ephesus, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal” (2 Tim 2:8). Paul wants Timothy to stay focused on Jesus Christ and the gospel of Christ no matter what happens and no matter what happens to Paul, though he is bound in chains. But then he quickly adds, “But the word of God is not bound! Therefore, [because God’s word is not bound, cannot be constrained, cannot be prevented from fulfilling the purpose for which it is intended] I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Everything Paul does and has done and continues to do is “for the sake of the elect.” For God’s people, the bride of Christ. Because of Paul’s love for Christ, he loves Christ’s bride just as much and so is willing to “endure everything” for her, to suffer everything for her. There is the motivation to keep going in ministry. If you are in ministry, whether it be a large ministry or a small one, I encourage you as Paul did Timothy to stay focused on “Jesus Christ, risen from the dead” and be willing to “endure everything for the sake of [his] elect.”
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2)
Many Christians struggle with knowing God’s will for their lives. I have heard many Christians say they are praying for God to make clear to them what they should do. Do I move here or move there? Do I take this job or that job? Do I marry this person or not marry this person? And the list goes on and on and is endless. How can we know God’s will for our lives? In once sense, it’s not that difficult. But in another sense, it is that difficult. The key is understanding the words of Paul in Romans 12:1-2. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” In these two verses Paul tells us what we should do in v.2, but tells us why we should do it in v.1. In v.1 he essentially says that in light of God’s mercies, the mercies he just outlined in chapter 1-11 regarding God’s amazing and sovereign grace in our lives, in light of all that, in light of all that God has done for us, we should “present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” But how do we do that and why? By not being ‘conformed to this world but being transformed by the renewal of our minds.’ It all starts with renewing our minds by immersing it in God’s word and engaging in corporate worship. But here’s the result—"that by testing you may discern what is the will of God.” Thus, the more we are transformed in the renewal of our minds, the more we learn to think like Christ, the more we will be able to discern God’s will for our lives.
And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matt. 21:9)
Today we celebrate Palm Sunday. This is the day we traditionally celebrate the event of Christ riding into Jerusalem, five days before Passover. What is so interesting about this event is that here we have the crowd shouting and waving palm branches and laying down their cloaks so that the donkey Jesus is riding on could walk across them. The crowd is shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" And yet, in just five short days that same crowd will be yelling, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” How can this be? How is that possible? Verse 10 says it all, “And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’” While they thought they knew who Jesus was, they really did not. What they knew about Jesus was that here was a man who had healed the sick, multiplied bread and fish, calmed a storm, and raised the dead back to life. Surely this would be the one who would overthrow the occupying Roman army and establish an independent Israel. What they did not know was that their king had come to them not to deliver them from political or military bondage, but to deliver them from the bondage of sin, Satan, and death. Jesus had come to bring them true freedom. Thus, on the one hand they knew who Jesus was—"Hosanna to the Son of David! —but on the other hand they did not know who Jesus was. In the end, they crucified Christ because, although he was the king they needed, he was not the king they wanted. Let us be careful not to do the same.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Col. 3:1)
There is this idea out there that someone can be saved and on their way to heaven and not live the Christian life. Since salvation is by faith alone then living a transformed life is simply unnecessary. Yet in Colossians chapter 3, Paul writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (vv.1-3). Notice: “If then you have been raised with Christ…” If these things are true, if you have truly placed faith in Christ, if you have truly been given new life in Christ, then “seek the things that are above.” Then to be sure Paul is not misunderstood, he then goes on to say that those who have been raised with Christ should put to death their old way of life and their old way of thinking: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, which is idolatry, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, and lying (vv.5-10). And they should then “put on”—because if you take something off, then it only makes sense to put something on in its place—compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving each other as the Lord has forgiven you, and love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (vv.12-14). From v.1 to v.17 of Colossians 3, scripture makes clear that to be raised with Christ means to put off the old self and to put on the new self.
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:8)
In the opening verses of the book of Galatians, Paul uses such strong language when rebuking the Galatian Christians because he understands what is at stake. When tinkering with the gospel, people’s lives hang in the balance. People’s eternal destiny is on the line. Paul feels so strongly about this that he says to the believers in Galatia, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9). Paul is literally calling down a curse upon anyone who would dare preach a gospel message other than the one true gospel. And what is that one true gospel? That salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, apart from any works or Law-keeping whatsoever. He makes this clear in Galatians 2:16 that a “person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ,…because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Paul is so dogmatic about this point that he will later say that all who desire to or attempt to be justified before God based on Law-keeping “are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4). That is strong language! To attempt to add some work or some form of Law-keeping to faith is to be “severed from Christ.” This is because to think some sort of work is necessary on our part for salvation is to think that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was not enough. It is it to imply that something more needs to be added to what Christ has already done.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" (Gal. 3:13)
One of the greatest dangers that has crept into evangelical churches is legalism. It is subtle but it is there. Where we see this most clearly is how often Christians say they don’t really need more theology or doctrine in the sermon. What they need are sermons on how to fix their marriage, how to fix their children or how to manage their time more wisely. They want more practical sermons and less theological sermons. In other words, what they want is more law. They want a list of do’s and don’ts, a list of check boxes to tick off as they go through life. But what they really need is more gospel because, as Paul tells us in Romans 3:10, “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” All who rely on the works of the Law are under a curse because the Law can’t save us. The Law can’t fix us. The Law can’t put us back together. The only thing the Law can do is tell us we’re broken and point us toward a savior. Hence, Paul goes on to say, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (vv.13-14). But who is Abraham and what is this blessing Paul is speaking of? Without theology those questions cannot be answered. Thus, what we need is to know God more and to know him rightly. And what we need is to know more about this Jesus who “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” What we need is more theology (the study of God, who he is and what he has done); we need more gospel, and we need less of the law.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)
So often it can be easy to think our faith would be so much stronger had we lived during the time of the disciples, had we seen Jesus himself in person and witnessed all the miracles he performed. Yet seeing is not always believing, just look at Judas. He was there. He saw. He did not believe. Thus, Peter tells us we should not be envious of those who were with Jesus during his earthly ministry, those who saw him and touched him. In 2 Peter 1:17-18, Peter recounts how he was with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration and how he heard the voice of God the Father saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” But then he quickly states that we, living in the 21st century, have something even more certain than that. We have “the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, the Word of God is to be trusted more and is more reliable than our experiences or emotions. Experiences can be deceiving. Emotions can be misleading. But God’s word remains true and trustworthy and steadfast. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8).
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)
What is prayer? Over the years I have heard so many different definitions of prayer, it is almost dizzying. Some of these definitions come dangerously close to heresy. I once had a Christian tell me that “prayer is bending the arm of God.” Wow! If I can bend God’s arm, why should I pray to him? And what if someone else with more faith than me is trying to bend God’s arm in the opposite direction? What then? With this kind of view of God and this kind of understanding of prayer, it would be easy to begin feeling sorry for God, imagining his poor arm twisted up like a pretzel from Christians bending it in every direction. And if it were true that Christians can bend the arm of God in whatever direction they desire so long as they have enough faith, then who really is God? Him or us? Who is really in control? No, prayer is not bending God’s arm. Then what is prayer? And what does John mean when he writes, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” The key is “if we ask anything according to his will…” Does that then mean that prayer is just a guessing game and has no real power? Not at all. It means that like Elijah who prayed for fire from heaven (1 Kng 18:37-38), and like the disciples who prayed for Peter’s release from prison and it happened (Acts 12:5-12), when we walk by the Spirit and when our minds have been so transformed by God’s word, we are able to discern God’s will, our prayers will instinctively be in line with God's will and thus will be answered (Rom 12:2; Gal 5:16). The more we are transformed into the image and character of Christ, the more our prayers will be answered.
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11)
What is it that makes God’s love for us so amazing? The amazingness of God’s love can only be appreciated when we understand it in light of our depravity and utter sinfulness. So often I hear people say that we may not be perfect, but God looks at the heart. Yes, but Jesus says in Matthew 5 that those who are unjustifiably angry with their neighbor commit murder in their hearts (vv.21-26). Those who lust after another person commit adultery in their hearts (vv.27-30). In other words, our hearts have committed sins our hands have not gotten around to yet. And then we are told that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9 NKJ). The idea that God sees into our hearts is not comforting, but frightening. It’s for this reason that John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Why would God send his son into the world to die on the cross for such wicked sinners as ourselves? It’s a mystery that only God knows. This is what makes God’s love so amazing, that he would love such unlovable creatures. Thus, in light of this we are encouraged that “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” If God is willing to love us, despite all our sins and flaws, should we not be willing to love each other and be forgiving and patient with one another? Of course we should.
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