Living as if we were already in heaven (Psalm 100)

When reading this psalm today, it struck me that it describes what life in heaven will be like.

We will shout triumphantly because of the victory that we have in Jesus. (1)

We will serve the Lord with gladness.

We will come before him with joyful songs. (2)

We will acknowledge and rejoice in the fact that we are his. (3)

We will enter his presence with thanksgiving and praise. We will bless his name. (4)

For he is good, his faithful love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (5)

What an awesome depiction of heaven!

But why wait for heaven? Why not live that way each and every day?

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God’s priests, God’s children (Psalm 99)

As I read today’s psalm, I thought about how amazing it is that we have the same kind of position with God that people like Moses, Aaron, and Samuel did. We are priests before him. When we call on him, he answers. He reveals himself to us, speaks to us, and teaches us his ways. Oh, we may not see him in a pillar of cloud, but we have something better. We have his Holy Spirit himself dwelling within us.  

When we fail, God is forgiving towards us, but he doesn’t ignore our sin. He deals with it. He brings discipline into our lives.

Most amazing of all, this exalted and holy God humbled himself and became a man, taking our sin upon himself at the cross. It is because of what Jesus did that we can stand before God as his priests and as his beloved children.

Those are pretty awesome things to think about.

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Hating evil, choosing to rejoice (Psalm 97)

Two verses caught my eyes this morning. They made me think of the attitudes of my heart.

O you who love the Lord, hate evil! (10)

It is impossible for those who truly love the Lord, to love evil. But how much do I hate it? How much do I hate the sin in my own life? Are there sins I embrace? Or maybe I don’t embrace them, but I make excuses for them.

Lord, help me to hate sin in my life.

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name! (12)

There is lots I could complain about in this world. But we are called to rejoice in the Lord. To give thanks to him. How much would my attitudes change if I chose to rejoice, if I chose to give thanks every day?

To rejoice in his salvation. To give thanks for his love. To rejoice in his goodness. To give thanks for the blessings he has given me.

Lord, help me to have a heart that rejoices each day. And give me a thankful heart.

I choose to rejoice in you today. And I choose to have a thankful heart.

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A reason to rejoice (Psalm 96)

Lord, I live in a dark world. I see moral decay around me. I see people living without hope.

But Lord, you have called me to rejoice. To sing to you a new song (1-2).

And why not?

After all, you saved me, forgiving my sin and giving me new life.

And now you have called me to proclaim your salvation from day to day. To declare your glory and your wondrous work of salvation to a people who are dying. (3)

Lord, they worship worthless idols that cannot save them. But we worship you. You are great and highly praised. You reign! And you are coming back to judge this world in righteousness and faithfulness. (4-5, 10, 13)

Lord, I look forward to that day.

But many people around me don’t know you. They don’t know your goodness. They don’t know your salvation.

Let them see your joy in me. And give me the opportunity and courage to proclaim your wondrous work of salvation to them.

In Jesus name, amen.

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A prayer to the Rock of my salvation (Psalm 95)

Lord, you are the Rock of my salvation. Just as the rock was struck at Massah and Meribah giving the people life-giving water, you were struck on the cross giving me eternal life (Exodus 17:1-7, I Corinthians 10:4, John 4:10-14, 7:37-39).

I rejoice in you, Lord, because you have triumphed over Satan, sin, and death! And I’m so grateful for the grace that you have given me. (1-2)

You are the great God, the King of all other “gods.” You are the Creator of all things. (3-5)

So Lord I bow down to you. I worship you. You are my God, my shepherd. I am your sheep. I am yours. (6-7)

Help me to always remember that, Lord. When trials come and I’m struggling, let me never question you, asking “Are you really with me?” (Exodus 17:7)

You’ve already proven your love and goodness to me. So help me to trust you. And no matter what happens to me, let me enter your rest, rejoicing in you today, and every day.

Thank you Lord for your goodness.

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The Lord reigns (Psalm 93)

The Lord reigns…
Your throne has been established
from the beginning;
you are from eternity. (1-2)

In a world filled with trouble and turmoil, those are heartening words.

The Lord reigns. He is in control.

He was in control from the very beginning.

For he himself existed before anything was ever created.

And when the flood waters of Covid or other problems arise, he’s not worried. He is greater and mightier than them all.

So in these troubled times, let us reflect on those truths.

Our God reigns.

OUR GOD REIGNS!!!

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Keeping perspective (Psalm 92)

The psalmist’s words really struck me this morning.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praise to your name, Most High,
to declare your faithful love in the morning
and your faithfulness at night… (1-2)

To be honest, these are things I need to do more often. 

Often times, the first thing I’m listening to in the morning is the news, which is not something that often puts me in a particularly worshipful mood. On the contrary, it can have a negative effect on my attitude right from the get-go. 

And his faithfulness is also not something I spend a lot of time reflecting on at night before I go to bed. 

How much would my attitudes be different throughout the day, if I started and ended each day rejoicing in his faithful love in the morning and reminding myself of his faithfulness to me at night. 

Something to think about…

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No fear (Psalm 91)

I don’t know about you, but this psalm has always seemed to promise too much, as if we’ll never have any problems if we just trust in God.

Obviously, Satan tried to misuse this psalm to tempt Jesus. “Hey, jump off the building and the angels will catch you. That’s what God promised, right?”

And some Christians today misuse it to say that Christians should never get sick or have problems.

But as I read this passage today, it made me think of the Israelites’ experience in Egypt. The Egyptians experienced a lot of the things the psalmist talked about as judgment from God. They experienced plague and pestilence. And of course they experienced terror at night as all their firstborn sons died.

On the other hand, the Lord protected all his people from experiencing that terrible judgment.

You see that pattern time and again in the Bible. The wicked are eventually judged, but God’s people are spared from God’s judgment (Ezekiel 9, 2 Peter 2:4-10, Revelation 7:1-3; 9:1-21)

In the same way, God will eventually judge this earth. But if we belong to him, if we have made him our refuge, putting our trust in him, we do not need to fear his judgment. As John put it,

God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. In this, love is made complete with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because as he is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears is not complete in love. (1 John 4:16-18)

So if bad things are happening to you, and you think it must be because God is punishing you, understand that God isn’t. Jesus already took your punishment on a cross 2000 years ago.

But not only do we not have to fear God’s judgment, we also don’t have to fear the enemy’s attacks on us.

In scripture, Satan is depicted as a serpent and a lion. (Genesis 3, 1 Peter 5:8)

I find it interesting that when Satan tempted Jesus, he quoted verses 11-12, and skipped verse 13,

You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the young lion and the serpent. (13)

Maybe it reminded him too much of what God told the serpent about the Savior who would come.

He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

Satan will strike us. But like the damage he did to Jesus, that damage will not be permanent. He can kill our bodies. But he cannot destroy our souls. And the day will come when we will rejoice and worship God because of it. (Revelation 7:9-17)

So let’s not fear God’s judgment nor Satan’s attacks. Rather, let us remember God’s promises to us:

Because he has his heart set on me,
I will deliver him;
I will protect him because he knows my name.
When he calls out to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble.
I will rescue him and give him honor.
I will satisfy him with a long life
and show him my salvation. (14-16)

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Reflecting on God’s Word (Psalm 90)

How often when we do our Bible reading do we just kind of speed through it, without reflecting on the words.

We read our passage for the day, and say, “‘Okay, I’ve done my Christian duty for the day.”

I will admit, there was a time in my life when that’s how I did my Bible reading.

But that’s not how Jesus’ apostles did it. They thought on those words. They reflected on them. They pondered them.

I think Peter was doing that with Psalm 90 when he wrote his second letter.

Take some time to read 2 Peter 3 in combination with this psalm.

Look at how Peter talks about the theme of God’s judgment that Moses sings about in this psalm. (Psalm 90:3-8)

Look at how Peter quotes Psalm 90. Think about how Peter responds to Moses’ prayer, “Return, Lord! How long must we suffer in this broken world?”  (Psalm 90:4, 13)

Why is it that God seems to be waiting so long? What is he waiting for?

According to Peter, how will the Lord answer Moses’ prayer in verses 14-17.

And until he returns, what does it mean to live wisely, in the fear of God? (Psalm 90:10-12)

All these things, Peter reflected on in his letter. Let’s take the time to do so too. Not just with today’s passage, but with every passage we read in the Bible.

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Our awesome Designer (Proverbs 20)

The hearing ear and the seeing eye—
the Lord made them both. (12)

This is probably one of those verses you read and think, “And…?

“Sure, the Lord made my eyes and ears. So what?”

But have you ever thought about how complicated a mechanism the eyes and ears are? Think about the eye. It has the ability to focus on things close and far away. It has the ability to adjust to light and dark. And all this connects to our brain so that we can process what our eye is looking at. With all our modern technology, scientists still haven’t figured out how to perfectly replicate what God has made.

The same kinds of things could be said about the ear.

Can we say what this world says? That this all came together by chance?

I can’t. I have to conclude there was an intelligent Designer.

I don’t know about you, but I think we worship a pretty awesome God.

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Mad at God? (Proverbs 19)

A person’s own foolishness leads him astray,
yet his heart rages against the Lord. (3)

How often do we make bad decisions, and then get mad at God when we get in trouble.

We act hastily without thinking, or worse, without praying. (2, 21)

We ignore God’s commands. (16, 27)

We easily lose our temper. (11)

Or we waste too much of our time. (15)

Solomon tells us,

The fear of the Lord leads to life,
and whoever has it rests satisfied. (23)

Let us always have hearts that are humble before God, not raging at him for our bad decisions, but quickly repenting and submitting to him and his Word.

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The road to reconciliation (Proverbs 18)

Sometimes, relationships get broken and there seems to be no road to reconciliation.

Solomon recognized this, saying,

An offended brother is harder to reach
than a fortified city,
and quarrels are like the bars of a fortress. (19)

If there is ever to be reconciliation, there’s one thing we need to learn: to listen to the other person.

Solomon said,

The one who gives an answer before he listens—
this is foolishness and disgrace for him. (13)

How often, when the other person is talking, do we use that time, not to listen, but to simply think about what we are going to say next?

I know I’ve been guilty of that.

This is not to say that we have to agree with everything the other person says. They may be the one in the wrong. But if we’re not even willing to listen to the other person, their walls will only get higher.

And the truth is, there are times when we are the one in the wrong.

That’s why Solomon said,

The first to state his case seems right
until another comes and cross-examines him. (17)

We may be fully convinced we are in the right. But if we take the time to actually listen to the other person, we just might find out we are the one in the wrong.

Obviously, reconciliation needs to be a two-way thing. But we can’t control how the other person responds. What we can control is our own actions. And if we are willing to humbly listen to the other person, it just may cause them to do the same, opening the door to reconciliation.

Lord, give me a humble heart. Even when I think I’m right, give me the humility to truly listen. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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In times of trials (Proverbs 17)

As I looked at today’s passage, two verses struck me.

A crucible for silver, and a smelter for gold,
and the Lord is the tester of hearts. (3)

Throughout scripture, it’s clear that God allows his people to go through trials. And one reason is to test their hearts. But why would he need to do that? Doesn’t he know our hearts already?

Of course he does. But often times we don’t. And through our trials, all our faults and weaknesses rise to the surface. On the other hand, sometimes through our trials, we come to realize that we are stronger than we had thought.

Either way, God’s purpose isn’t to destroy us, it is to make us more like Jesus.

But there is another important thing to remember: we don’t have to go through our trials alone.

Solomon wrote,

A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for a difficult time. (17)

God’s desire is that as we go through our trials, we support one another. So when you’re struggling, don’t feel ashamed to reach out to others for help. And when you see others struggling, be quick to reach out to help them.

More importantly though, remember that Jesus is a friend that loves us at all times. And he will be there for us in our most difficult times.

I think of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. When they were literally going through the fire, they were there to support each other. And Jesus himself walked through the fire with them. The result? They all came forth as gold.

And so will we.

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God’s loyalty and faithfulness (Proverbs 16)

Iniquity is atoned for by loyalty and faithfulness,
and one turns from evil by the fear of the Lord. (6)

That first line made me think, “By whose loyalty and faithfulness is our sin atoned for?”

Is it by ours?

We’re in bad shape if it is.

After all, how loyal is our love for God? And how faithful are we to him?

But it is because of God’s loyalty and faithfulness to us when we were disloyal and unfaithful to him that our sin is atoned for.

When we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

We were facing the Father’s wrath because of our sin and deserving of death. (14)

But by dying on the cross, Jesus appeased the Father’s wrath.

And now, when the Father sees us, his face lights up. And his favor toward us is like a cloud with spring rain. (15)

Through Jesus, we see God’s loyalty and faithfulness, or as John translates those words, we see God’s grace and truth. (John 1:17)

So let’s meditate on these things today. Meditate on God’s grace and truth. Meditate on his loyalty and faithfulness to us. Meditate on the favor we have received because of what Jesus did for us. And let us stand in awe of God and rejoice in his goodness to us.

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How God sees us (Proverbs 15)

As I was reading today’s passage, I was thinking about the kind of relationship we have with God.

Solomon wrote,

The eyes of the Lord are everywhere,
observing the wicked and the good. (3)

And again,

Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord—
how much more, human hearts. (11)

I think for a lot of people, those are kind of scary words. Our hearts, our lives are open books to God. We can hide nothing from him. He knows all the ugliness that is there and which we try so desperately to hide.

But because of Jesus, we don’t need to be afraid of God’s searching eyes. We welcome them. We rejoice in them. Why? Because we are God’s beloved children. Jesus has already paid the penalty for our sin on the cross.

We are not “the righteous” because we are perfect people. We are not “the righteous” because we are better than others. We are “the righteous” because the Father clothes us with Jesus’ righteousness.

And because of Jesus’ righteousness, the Father accepts us and delights in us. (8)

So with hearts filled with joy, let us pray with David,

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my concerns.
See if there is any offensive way in me;
lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24)

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Fearing the Lord (Proverbs 14)

The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
turning people away from the snares of death. (27)

As I read that this morning I couldn’t help but think of something similar Solomon said a chapter earlier.

A wise person’s instruction is a fountain of life,
turning people away from the snares of death. (13:14)

What does it mean to fear God? Part of what it means is to listen to his word and obey it.

How often, though, do we act as if we know better than God? We look at his word, and say, “I don’t agree with this. This way of thinking is outdated.”

But as Solomon said,

There is a way that seems right to a person,
but its end is the way to death. (14:12)

Satan is a dishonest witness. He is the father of lies. The world around us is buying his lies and is trying to get us to buy them too. But we can’t afford to listen to them when they speak contrary to God’s word.

Jesus, on the other hand, is a true and faithful witness. He never lies. More, his words of wisdom turn us away from the snares of death and give us life. (Proverbs 14:5, 25, Revelation 3:14)

In fact, it is because of his guilt offering offered on the cross for our sins, that we now are accepted by our Heavenly Father. (Leviticus 5:6; Proverbs 14:9)

So let us fear God, trusting and obeying him. And let us teach our children to do the same so that they may find strong confidence in him too. (14:26)

God is a fountain of life. Let us fear him and drink in his words of life every day.

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When vexed (Proverbs 12)

I like how the ESV puts verse 16 in today’s reading.

The vexation of a fool is known at once… (16)

To be honest, I was feeling a bit “vexed” at work today because of a lack of communication which has always been an issue, but which particularly surfaced in the last couple of days.

And that “vexation” snuck out into my words and actions.

I’m not saying I completely lost my temper or anything, but I think my frustration was pretty clear to my coworker.

Not ten minutes later, I was reading this verse and having a short conversation with God.

I had good reason to be vexed. But that didn’t make the way I expressed it right.

I wonder how often I act the “fool” when I’m frustrated. How quickly do I let it show on my face, or in a sigh, or in my words?

Lord, grant me patience, especially when I’m feeling frustrated. Let me not act the fool. Rather, let me be filled with grace, mercy, and patience…the very same grace, mercy, and patience you show me every day.

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Being refreshed (Proverbs 11)

…whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (25)

It’s very easy in these difficult times to become self-centered because of our own problems. We say, “I’m the one that needs to be refreshed.”

But often times that refreshment comes when we look outside of ourselves and bless others. By refreshing others, we ourselves feel refreshed.

And often times, what we give comes back to us. When we refresh others, they in turn refresh us.

But we must never forget that our main source of refreshment is found in God. If we are not refreshed by him, we will have little to give others. It is one major reason why it’s important to spend time with him every day.

Jesus did so. (Mark 1:35, 6:45-46)

How much more do we need to do so?

So two questions to think about today:

  1. Am I spending the time I need to be refreshed by God?
  2. Who does God want me to refresh today?
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How will they remember (Proverbs 10)

Lord, how will people remember me when I’m gone? (7)

Will they remember me as one who lived with integrity? (9)

Will they remember me as one whose lips were a fountain of life? As someone whose words were pure silver and fed many? (11, 20-21)

Will they remember me as a person of grace and mercy? (12)

Will they remember me as a person who followed your instruction and accepted your correction? (17)

Will they remember me as a person who feared you? (27)

Will they remember me as a person filled with hope and joy? (28)

That’s the type of person I want to be. To my wife. To my daughter. To my friends. To my coworkers. To all those around me.

How will they remember? I hope when they remember, they see you.

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Willing to be corrected (Proverbs 9)

The one who corrects a mocker
will bring abuse on himself;
the one who rebukes the wicked will get hurt.

Don’t rebuke a mocker, or he will hate you;
rebuke the wise, and he will love you.
Instruct the wise, and he will be wiser still;
teach the righteous, and he will learn more. (7-9)

It’s easy, I suppose, to look at these verses and merely think about other people’s stubbornness. But what about us?

Are we mockers who hate those who rebuke us?

Or are we people who are wise, loving those who rebuke us? Are we people who, when instructed, become wiser still, always learning more?

To be honest, I can be a very stubborn person. I can think of many times when someone said something to admonish me, and I ignored it, or thought, “That word doesn’t apply to me.”

It usually takes God speaking to me, saying, “Pay attention! That word was for you,” to break through my stubbornness.

Which brings up another point. As important it is to be open to the correction of others, it’s even more important to be open to correction from God.

And so Solomon says,

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (10)

Lord, let me always be open to your correction. Whether it comes through others you send to me, or through your Word, or through your Holy Spirit living in me, give me a heart that is soft and willing to change. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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More precious than silver (Proverbs 8)

Lord, your words are more precious than silver, gold, or any other jewel. (10-11)

Yours are the words of life. (35)

Yet it is so easy to live life by my own understanding. And so often when I do that, I miss what you say, and harm myself. (36)

Lord, I want to listen at your door every day. Help me to hear your voice. And teach me to think as you do. (9, 34)

In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Teaching our children (Proverbs 7)

As I read today’s passage, I couldn’t help thinking that Solomon was recalling what God had told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 11:18-19. Not only did Solomon treasure God’s word in his heart, he taught his son to do the same.

The question is, do we? God has given us the responsibility to teach his Word to our children. This isn’t the responsibility of their Sunday school teachers. And it isn’t the responsibility of their teachers at school.

The sad truth is, the morals our children are being taught at school may not always be in line with God’s teaching. When what their teachers and their friends teach them differs from what God teaches in his Word, do our children know the difference? That’s our responsibility. 

Let us not only treasure God’s word in our own hearts. Let us also teach our children to do so as well. 

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Looking for Jesus in the Old Testament (Proverbs 3)

One thing I always tend to do when I read the Old Testament is look for Jesus.

Why?

Because Jesus himself said he was there. (John 5:39, Luke 24:25-27)

And so whenever I see the combination of the words “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” (ESV), I always, always think of Jesus. Why? Because these words, which are used to describe God time and again in the Old Testament, are used to describe Jesus in the New Testament. Specifically, John takes those Hebrew words from the Old Testament and translates them “grace and truth” when he says,

for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)

What is God like? He is the God who is full of grace and truth. And he expressed that grace and truth in Jesus.

In today’s passage, Solomon says this,

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man. (3-4, ESV)

Steadfast love and faithfulness, grace and truth characterized Jesus’ life. And as a result, Luke tells us that he found favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52)

So this is my prayer for the day,

Father, as grace and truth characterized Jesus, let it characterize me. Let your grace and truth shine through me and touch my family, my friends, my coworkers, and everyone I come into contact with today. Lord Jesus, I want to be like you. In your name I pray, amen.

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Our attitude to God’s Word (Proverbs 2)

What is our attitude when we read the Bible?

Do we receive God’s word?

Or do we reject those words we don’t like.

Do we treasure up God’s commandments in our hearts?

Or do we throw them away as outdated?

Do we listen closely to God’s wisdom?

Or do we shut our ears to it?

Do we incline our hearts to understanding?

Or do we turn our hearts away from it?

Do we humbly call out to God for his insight?

Or are we indifferent to what he has to say?

Do we lift our voice to God, asking for help when we don’t understand his word?

Or are we silent in our ignorance?

Do we seek for it like silver?

Or do we glance over it like a copper penny?

Do we search for it like hidden treasure?

Or do we abandon it like yesterday’s trash.

God wants to give us his wisdom and understanding so that we can live a life of blessing.

The question is: “How much do we desire his wisdom and understanding?”

Lord, as I look at your word every day, open the eyes and ears of my heart. Help me to see, hear, and understand everything you want me to know. Remove from me a stubborn heart of stone. Give me instead a soft heart that is receptive to you and your word. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Speak to me (Proverbs 1)

O Lord, speak to me.

To fear you is the foundation of all knowledge. So let me never despise your wisdom and your discipline. (7)

Instead, when you discipline me, give me a humble spirit to receive that discipline. Give me a heart that responds to your warnings. And as I turn my face to you, pour your spirit on me and teach me your words. (23)

Give me understanding of the things I read in your Word so that I can understand what you’re saying to me. There’s so much I still don’t know. I desperately need your wisdom and guidance to live this life. (2-6)

So speak to me, Lord. Speak to me.

In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Why we have hope (Psalm 88)

Through the Bible in who knows how many days

This is probably the most depressing psalm in the Bible. And yet as I read it today, I saw something different: I saw Jesus.

This is not what is typically thought of as a Messianic Psalm. And of course, not all of it applies to Jesus. But much of it does, particularly on the cross.

I can easily imagine him singing this psalm in Gethsemane.

Lord, God of my salvation,
I cry out before you day and night.
May my prayer reach your presence;
listen to my cry. (1-2)

Then on the cross, abandoned by his friends, with death drawing near, and God’s full wrath falling upon him, Jesus could have easily lamented,

For I have had enough troubles,
and my life is near Sheol.
I am counted among those going down to the Pit…
Your wrath weighs heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You…

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His (Psalm 87)

In the Old Testament, God called the Jews to be his special people, and Jerusalem was called the city of God.

But this psalm looks to a future Jerusalem, a heavenly one. (Hebrews 12:22-23)

What had to be amazing to the Jews who read this psalm was that it points to a time when even the Jews’ greatest enemies would be counted among God’s people. People from Rahab, (i.e. Egypt), Babylon, and Philistia, would become God’s people. People from Tyre and Cush (i.e. Ethiopia) would also be counted among God’s people. God will say of them, “They are not outsiders. These people were actually born in my city. They are full-fledged citizens.” (5-6)

John writes about this in Revelation.

After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb! (Revelation 7:9-10)

So remember who you are.

Who are you?

You are his.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Japanese, American, Australian, Chinese, Korean, or whatever you may be. You were born again into the kingdom of God when you put your trust in Jesus.

Paul puts it this way,

(When you were ‘outsiders’), you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ…He came and proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So, then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household… (Ephesians 2:12-13, 17-19)

So let us always remember who we are and rejoice with all of God’s people, singing,

My whole source of joy is in you. (7)

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An undivided heart (Psalm 86)

Teach me your way, Lord,
and I will live by your truth.
Give me an undivided mind to fear your name.

I will praise you with all my heart, Lord my God,
and will honor your name forever.

For your faithful love for me is great,
and you rescue my life from the depths of Sheol. (11-13)

How often is my heart undivided?

How often is it distracted by my worries and anxieties?

How often is it pulled away by sin and the things of this world?

Lord, your faithful love for me is great. You have rescued my soul from death and hell.

Though I am unfaithful, you are always faithful to me.

So Lord, give me an undivided heart. Take each of my thoughts captive. Take all my worries, every sinful thought, all my affections, and bring them under your rule.

Let my whole heart be yours so that I may worship and honor you every day in everything I do.

In Jesus name, amen.

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The Answer to our cries (Psalm 85)

This psalm was possibly written after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon. As we see in Ezra and Nehemiah, however, they were still struggling with hardship after their return.

And so while the psalmist recognizes God’s mercy to them (1-3), nevertheless, he cries out to God,

“Return to us, God of our salvation, and abandon your displeasure with us.

Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger for all generations?

Will you not revive us again so that your people may rejoice in you?

Show us your faithful love, Lord, and give us your salvation.” (4-7)

So many questions born out of pain. And ultimately, all of them are answered in Jesus.

Because Jesus bore the Father’s wrath on the cross, God will not be angry with us forever. He will revive us again so that we may rejoice in him.

In Jesus, God shows us his faithful love and gives us salvation.

In Jesus, God declares peace to us. (Luke 2:14, Ephesians 2:17)

In Jesus, faithful love (or “grace”) and truth join together (John 1:14, 17)

In Jesus, righteousness and peace embrace. (Hebrews 6:20-7:3)

That’s the hope we have in times when God seems far and we start to doubt his love.

Jesus is our hope. So in these difficult times in which we sometimes doubt, in which we often cry out, let us cling to him as the anchor of our soul. (Hebrews 6:18-20)

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Because the Father looks on the face of Jesus (Psalm 84)

I truly love this psalm, and I could write many things on it, but today, here were the verses that struck me.

Lord God of Armies, hear my prayer;
listen, God of Jacob.

Consider our shield, God;
look on the face of your anointed one. (8-9)

In verse 9, the psalmist asks God to consider their shield, and to look on the face of their anointed one. Both “shield” and “anointed one” refer to the king at that time, but ultimately they look forward to Jesus Christ. (“Messiah” and “Christ,” by the way, both mean “anointed one,” that is, the one God anoints to be king.)

But anyway, has it ever occurred to you to wonder why God would hear our prayers? It’s certainly not because we deserve his favor. Rather, it’s because the Father considers our Shield. He looks on the face of his Anointed One. He looks at what Jesus did on the cross for us. And because of Jesus, he looks on us with favor.

It is because of Jesus, that we can enter the very presence of God.

It is because of Jesus, that we are able to pass through the valley of tears, going from strength to strength.

And it is because of Jesus that one day, we will be home with him.

So let us praise God each day for his glorious grace.

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Praying for a world hostile to God (Psalm 83)

We live in a world that is hostile to God. They hate the idea that they are under his rule and are answerable to him.

And so Asaph recognizes that though the nations surrounding Israel hated them and wanted to destroy them, the ultimate reason for their hatred of Israel was that they hated God first.

It is a truth that Jesus himself recognized and applied to himself and his disciples. (John 15:18-25)

The day will come, though, when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Philippians 2:10-11)

Some will do it in love and gratitude. Others will do it reluctantly and with hatred.

I think that’s what we see in this psalm.

All the world will one day recognize that God is sovereign over all, including them. (18)

Some in their shame, will be destroyed, and justly so because of their sin. And so our prayer is that for those who refuse to repent, God will bring justice. After all, a God who never brings justice is not a good God.

But more than that, we pray that in their shame, they would repent and seek God’s face. (16)

Why? Because God in his grace showed mercy to us too. And he desires that no one should perish. (Ezekiel 33:11; I Timothy 2:3-4)

So let us pray for this world that is hostile to God. Pray that they would seek his face, and in his grace find him.

May they know that you alone—whose name is the Lord—are the Most High over the whole earth. (18)

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Commanded to rejoice (Psalm 81)

Verses 4-5 were very interesting to me when I read it. In the first three verses, Asaph says things like, “sing aloud,” “shout for joy,” and “raise a song” to God.

Then he gives the reason in verses 4-5. It is a statute, a rule, a decree. One which God gave the Israelites after he rescued them from Egypt.

Why was it important to God that they did this? So that they would remember all he had done to save them. How he had lifted away their burdens, delivered them from slavery to Egypt, and led them through the desert to the promised land.

In the same way, God commands us to rejoice as well. Rejoice that he has lifted from us our burden of sin and set us free from Satan’s kingdom. Rejoice that he is always with us, leading us to his eternal kingdom.

Why is it so important for us to remember that? So that we will trust him, obey him, and open our mouths wide to his Word (verse 10, see also Ezekiel 3:1-3 and Jeremiah 15:16).

And as we do that, we find his blessing in our lives (16).

How much more would we trust and obey him if we would remember he loves us and desires to bless us.

And how much more would we remember that truth if we remembered what he did to save us and rejoiced in it?

That’s one reason why communion is important. It’s a time to remember and rejoice. I know in this time of pandemic, many churches haven’t been able to do that. I’m looking forward to remembering and rejoicing with all God’s people in that way again.

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The One who restores us. (Psalm 80)

Three times we see basically the same prayer repeated.

Restore us, God; make your face shine on us, so that we may be saved. (3)

Restore us, God of Armies; make your face shine on us, so that we may be saved. (7)

Restore us, Lord, God of Armies; make your face shine on us, so that we may be saved. (19)

Our only hope of salvation is found in God restoring us, turning our hearts to him.

And ultimately, that was accomplished on the cross where verse 17 was fulfilled. Jesus, the Son of Man, the one who sits at the Father’s right hand, suffered and died for our sin. The Father’s hand was on Jesus, strengthening him so that he might complete his mission. And now, because of Jesus’ work, the Father’s face shines on us. He turns our hearts toward himself. And he saves us.

Let us each day rejoice in this awesome grace we have received.

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Passing our faith on to the next generation (Psalm 78)

This passage is a challenging one for me as a parent, especially, the first seven verses.

Here are questions I’m asking myself.

How often do I tell my daughter all the wonderful things God has done in my life? (4)

How faithful am I to pass on to her the teachings God has given us in his Word? (5-6)

In my words and in my actions, do I teach her to put her confidence in God and obey him? (7)

Am I willing to share my failures with her so that she won’t make the same mistakes I have? (8)

Lord, help me to pass on these things to my daughter that she might know you, love you, and follow you.

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Though we don’t see him (Psalm 77)

Your way went through the sea
and your path through the vast water,
but your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (19-20)

Throughout the first part of this psalm, Asaph mourns at God’s silence in the midst of his troubles.

That’s what makes these last two verses so striking.

At the Red Sea, God made a way of deliverance for his people. And yet they couldn’t see him. His “footsteps were unseen.” (Exodus 14)

Nevertheless, he was leading them. He had not abandoned them.

There are times when God seems to have abandoned us. Times when he seems silent in our suffering.

But though we cannot see him, though we can’t see his ‘footsteps,’ he is leading us. He is making a way for us.

So let us wait in hope, singing,

God, your way is holy.
What god is great like God?
You are the God who works wonders…(13-14)

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The One who drank our cup of judgment. (Psalm 75)

God is the Judge:
He brings down one and exalts another.
For there is a cup in the Lord’s hand,
full of wine blended with spices, and he pours from it.
All the wicked of the earth will drink,
draining it to the dregs. (7-8)

As I read this passage, I think of Revelation 14, where it talks about a very similar theme: God’s judgment on the nations.

It uses the same imagery of God pouring out his cup of wrath on all those who rebel against him. (Revelation 14:9-11)

And that day is indeed coming.

But there was another day when God’s cup of wrath was poured out. It was poured out on a cross 2000 years ago. It was a cup that Jesus wanted to avoid, but one that Jesus drank for our sake. On the cross, he drank in the undiluted wrath of God. And because he did so, we no longer have to.

Instead, now we sing with the psalmist,

We give thanks to you, God;
we give thanks to you, for your name is near.
People tell about your wondrous works. (1)

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Though we fail Him (John 21)

As I read this passage this morning, this thought came to me.

How much did Peter feel the immensity of his sin? Of his failure? Of his betrayal?

And yet, as he stood there before Jesus, Jesus didn’t bash him. Jesus didn’t require a kind of penance from him.

Rather He asked as simple question.

“Peter do you love me?”

And as imperfect as Peter’s love was, Jesus accepted it.

Then He said, “Follow me.”

More, He commissioned Peter to do His work.

Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by guilt. We are struck by the immensity of our sins and failures.

And we wonder how in the world Jesus could ever accept us.

But Jesus asks us a simple question.

“Do you love me?”

And imperfect though our love  may be, He accepts it.

And He says, “Follow me.”

More, He entrusts us with the work of touching people who are just as broken as we are.

So let yourself feel the immensity of your sin.

But after that, let yourself feel the even greater immensity of his grace.

For though your sin may abound, God’s grace abounds far, far more. (Romans 5:20)

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Resetting our sights (Psalm 73)

It can be easy at times to lose perspective. To lose sight of what is true.

Three times, Asaph uses the word “indeed.”

Twice, Asaph uses it with correct perspective.

God is indeed good to Israel, to the pure in heart. (1)

And,

Indeed, you put [the wicked] in slippery places; you make them fall into ruin. (18)

But in between is another “indeed” that is hidden in the English translation.

Asaph says, “Indeed I purified my heart and washed my hands in innocence for nothing.” (13)

That is especially striking when you look at verse 1 where he said God is good to the pure in heart.

But in seeing the prosperity of the wicked, he lost perspective.

And in the process, he became bitter and foolish. (21-22)

How often does the same happen to us? Truth gets twisted because of what we see around us. Whether it’s the evil on society, or the troubles we have in our own lives.

The result?

We become bitter. We entertain foolish thoughts.

How do we regain perspective?

We find the answer in verse 17.

Reenter God’s sanctuary. Come into God’s presence and gaze upon him. Listen to him. Worship him.

Only then, will you start to see things rightly again.

You don’t need to go to church to do this. You are his sanctuary. He dwells in you. So wherever you are, quiet your heart before him and enter his presence. Put aside your smartphone. Turn off the internet and your TV. And come before him with an open Bible and an open heart.

As a start, try meditating on the final verses of this psalm from verses 21-28. Think on them. Pray them. And let God correct your perspective

God is indeed good…

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The King we place our hope in (Psalm 72)

I think we all long for good leaders.

Leaders that are just.

Leaders that help the helpless.

Leaders under whom the righteous prosper.

Solomon prayed to be such a leader in this psalm.

And while in some ways he was a good king, in others, he wasn’t. (1 Kings 11:4-8, 12:4).

Ultimately, Solomon’s prayer wasn’t fulfilled in himself or in any other king or leader. It will only be fulfilled when Jesus returns and sets up his kingdom.

On that day, he will “rule from sea to sea, and from the Euphrates to the ends of the earth.” (8)

All nations will be blessed by him and call him blessed, and the whole earth will be filled with his glory. (17, 19)

So if you read the news and are frustrated by our political leaders, pray for them.

But remember, our hope is not in them.

It is in God who “alone does wonders.” (18)

Jesus promises us,

I am coming soon. (Revelation 22:20)

So each day, let us look up to him in hope, praying,

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20b)

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When God allows hard times (Psalm 71)

You caused me to experience
many troubles and misfortunes… (20a)

That seems a little cruel doesn’t it?

God causes us to experience many troubles and misfortunes?

Yes he does.

This is not to say that God actively wields a bat against us.

Many times, the troubles and misfortunes we face are of our own making.

Sometimes, they are the results of others’ actions.

And other times, they are the result of living in a broken world.

God could, I suppose, actively intervene and keep those troubles and misfortunes from us. And by his grace, he sometimes does. I would dare say there are many troubles or misfortunes that God in his grace has protected us from that we are totally unaware of.

But he does allow us to experience troubles and misfortunes in our lives.

Why? Because God is cruel? Because he hates us?

No.

Rather, as David says,

…but you will revive me again. You will bring me up again, even from the depths of the earth. (20b)

Through our troubles, we learn to lean on him. (6)

We learn to hope in him. (14)

And as he raises us up, we learn that he is indeed good. (16-17)

We stand in awe of him and cry out with David,

 Your righteousness reaches the heightsGod, you who have done great things; God, who is like you? (19)

But as you go through your trials, remember one more thing. Jesus knows what it means to endure suffering too.

The writer of Hebrews says,

For in bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was entirely appropriate that God—for whom and through whom all things exist—should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings…[Jesus] had to be like his brothers and sisters in every way, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in matters pertaining to God, to make atonement, for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:10, 17)

Yes, God causes us to go through suffering. But he caused his Son to go through it first. And because of that, the writer of Hebrews can tell us,

For since he himself has suffered when he was tempted (or “tested”, the word is the same in Greek), [Jesus] is able to help those who are tempted (“tested”). (18)

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Day after day (Psalm 68)

Day after day he bears our burdens. (19)

I wonder how often we consider this.

How much does God do for us that we don’t even notice?

Instead, in the midst of our troubles, we think God has abandoned us.

But God never abandons us. Day after day, he bears our burdens.

And of course, on the cross, Jesus bore our greatest burden.

So in our darkest times, when the weight of the world seems to be crushing us, let us cry out with David,

Blessed be the Lord!
Day after day he bears our burdens;
God is our salvation. (19)

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As we face a new season (Psalm 67)

As we face new seasons in our lives, it is natural, I think, to pray for God’s blessing. And that’s what David prays for here, using the prayer of blessing found in Numbers 6:24-27.

I myself am facing a new season as I will start teaching in junior high schools for the first time in 7 years. So I pray for God’s blessing on me as I do that.

But let us remember that our prayers for blessing are not to be purely self-centered. Rather, we pray for God’s blessing,

that your way may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations. (67:2)

Our desire is that all people will see God’s hand on us, and desire that for themselves. We pray for the day when they too will fear and praise God, and know his salvation and blessing in their lives.

So as you face a new season in your life, don’t just pray for God’s blessing in your own life. Pray that through you, people may know God’s way and find his salvation in their lives.

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Receiving our salvation from the hand of God (Ephesians 6)

I found something interesting as I looked at this passage, specifically in verse 17. Paul says,

Take the helmet of salvation…

The word “take” there is an unusual one in that most times it is translated in the Bible “receive.” The picture is of a soldier receiving his helmet from his servant and putting it on.

It is important to remember that our salvation is not something we make, or work for, or earn. It is something we receive from the hand of God.

Many times Satan will direct arrows at our minds saying, “You’re not worthy of salvation.”

But we can say to him boldly, “That’s right. But God has given it to me by his grace. Jesus took on the form of a servant, went to the cross, and paid for my sin. And now by his hand, I have received my salvation.”

Let us always rejoice in that truth, and stand firm in it as we face our Accuser.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say, The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have now come, because the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been thrown down. (Revelation 12:10)

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Because we are (Ephesians 5)

Paul’s words strike me. 

Because you are beloved children of God, imitate your Daddy.

Because you are saints, stay away from sexual sin, greed, and impure words. 

Because you are children of light, live that way. 

Notice what Paul doesn’t say.

He doesn’t say, “If you want God to love you and make you his child, imitate him.” 

Nor does he say, “If you want to become a saint, stay away from sexual sin, greed, and impure words.” 

Nor does he say, “Become children of light.”

Rather, we are already beloved children of God.

We are already saints. 

We are already children of light. 

All Paul is saying is, “Live up to your identity.” 

Because you are a beloved child of God, because you are a saint, because you are a child of light, live that way.

And when we fail, know that the grace of God is there to pick us up. 

But remember, we don’t need to strive to become children of God, saints, or children of light. 

By his grace, we are already these things. 

And so by his grace, let us live that way each day. 

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Why we cannot follow this world (Ephesians 4)

We live in a time when we as Christians are urged to follow the thinking of the world, particularly when it comes to moral issues. We are urged to compromise on what the Bible teaches and to get on “the right side of history.” 

But that is something we dare not do. 

Why? 

Look at how Paul describes this world. 

Their thoughts are futile. (17)

They have hearts hardened and calloused against God.

Because of that, their understanding has become darkened and they are excluded from the life of God. (18-19)

They are deceived by their own desires. They actually think that what is evil in God’s sight is good. They actually celebrate what God calls evil. The result? Their lives have become corrupted and they are headed for destruction. (22)

And so Paul charges us: “Don’t be like them.”

Rather, we must put off their way of thinking and put on our new self, “one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.” (24)

So when you are tempted to bend the teaching of Scripture to match the teaching of this world, remind yourself of the true situation of the people of this world.  

Pray for them.

Be light to them.

But do not be like them. 

Rather be like our Savior, who loves us and gave his life on a cross so that we might find true life.

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Never good enough? (Ephesians 3)

How Paul saw himself is really interesting to me. 

We often hear how important it is to have a healthy self-esteem. 

But think about how Paul saw himself. 

In I Corinthians 15:9, he called himself “the least of all the apostles.” 

In verse 8 of today’s passage, he goes beyond that, calling him the “least of all  the saints” (that is, the least of all God’s people).  

In 1 Timothy 1:15, he goes even further, calling himself “the worst of all sinners.” 

Note that Paul doesn’t say, “I was the least of all the apostles and the saints” or “I was the worst of all sinners.” He says, “I am the least. I am the worst.” 

I can imagine many people today telling Paul, “Don’t say that about yourself! You need to have a positive self-esteem!” 

And yet, it was that attitude that caused Paul to stand so amazed at the grace he had received. Every day, he looked at that grace and wondered at it. Every time he thought about it, it brought tears to his eyes. 

He wondered at the free access he had to his heavenly Father. 

He wondered at the privilege he had to share the gospel with others. 

And he rejoiced. 

Do you feel you’re never good enough as a Christian? 

It’s true. You aren’t. Neither am I.

But don’t be ashamed of it. 

Rather let your unworthiness cause you to turn your eyes to God’s grace and rejoice at what you have received: Forgiveness. Free access to God. Opportunities to touch people for him. And an eternal inheritance. 

I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (17-19)

 

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God’s kind intention (Ephesians 1)

As I was reading today’s passage, one word caught my attention. In Greek, it’s the word, “eudokia.” It’s found in verses 5 and 9, and is translated “good pleasure” in the CSB and “kind intention” in the NASB.

The idea behind it is that God has a good purpose for us. And behind that purpose are God’s kind intentions toward us. It pleases God greatly to do good to us.

Have you ever thought about that? God loves to do good to us. It gives him pleasure to do so.

And that’s the reason for all the spiritual blessings God gives us in Christ.

In his love, he chose us before the creation of this world to be holy and blameless.

He predestined us and adopted us as his children.

In Jesus, he has lavished his grace upon us, pouring it into our lives.

Through Jesus’ blood, we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.

In him, we have a heavenly inheritance.

Why? Because God has kind intentions toward us. Because it gives him pleasure to do so.

So whatever struggles you may be going through today, remember that.

Look to the cross. Remember the grace you have been given. And remind yourself:

“God has kind intentions toward me.”

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A heart of gratitude (Colossians 3)

I know I wrote about having a thankful heart on Monday, but to Paul, this seems to be an important theme. And if he thinks it’s important, so should we. 

How important is thankfulness to Paul? So important that he talks about it three times in three verses. 

And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (15-17)

If we have grateful hearts, it leads to peace in the church. After all, if our hearts are full of thanksgiving, particularly at the grace we have received from God, there isn’t much room for complaining about others for their failings.

If we have grateful hearts, Christ’s words come naturally flowing out of our lips in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

If we have grateful hearts, it shows not only in our singing, but in every word that we say and everything that we do. Our whole life becomes a sacrifice of praise to God, as we seek to please the one who loved us and saved us. 

May our hearts always be characterized by gratitude towards God. 

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With thanksgiving (Philippians 4)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

…The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (4-7)

“With.”

A tiny little word, but one that made me think this morning.

When, we’re feeling anxious, prayers and petitions come pouring out of our mouths quite readily.

Paul doesn’t say this shouldn’t be the case. Quite the contrary. He tells us to present our all our requests to God through prayers and petitions.

But he adds that one little word. Two, really.

“With thanksgiving.”

Along with our prayers and petitions should also come words of thanksgiving.

It all goes back to verse 4.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Even when we’re feeling anxious, rejoice! Give thanks.

Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in his goodness. Rejoice in his grace. Rejoice in the forgiveness we have through the cross. Rejoice in the fact that God now accepts us as his beloved children.

If I were to paraphrase verse 6, it would be this way:

“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, not forgetting thanksgiving, but rejoicing in Him and his goodness, present your requests to God.”

And as we do, in the midst of our anxieties and trials, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (7)

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Christ took hold of me (Philippians 3)

Christ took hold of me.

The Messiah took hold of me. 

Think about those words for a minute. 

For the Jews, the Christ, the Messiah was to be this Savior, this King, to restore all Israel. 

I doubt that Paul as he grew up ever thought he would say, “The Messiah took hold of me.” 

That would be too personal. No way did Paul ever think the Messiah would have that personal a relationship with him. 

But that’s what happened on the Damascus road. At a time when Paul hated Jesus, when he was trying to destroy Christ’s church, Jesus grabbed a hold of him and turned his world upside-down.

And now, Paul’s whole life was centered around Christ. Look at how many times he refers to Christ in just 5 verses from verses 7-11. I count ten times. 

In what way did Jesus grab hold of your life? Do you stand in wonder of it as Paul did? 

It is that wonder that caused Paul to pursue Jesus as he did, to strive to take hold of Jesus and Jesus’ plan for him. 

Honestly, I don’t think on it enough. And perhaps that’s why I don’t pursue him nearly as much as I should. 

Think about it: “Christ took hold of me.” 

 

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Working out our own salvation (Philippians 2)

It can be easy sometimes to criticize other Christians. I know I do.

Sometimes we look at the people we disciple or the people in our church. Sometimes we look at Christians in the news. We see the things they do, and we get angry or frustrated with them.

But Paul says,

…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)

Paul doesn’t tell us to work out other people’s salvation. He tells us to work out our own. And we are to do so with fear and trembling. Why?

Because if we are honest with ourselves, the only reason we can stand before God is because of his grace. That should cause us to tremble before God, in fear and thanksgiving. Fear, because we know that we deserve nothing but judgment from him. Thanksgiving because he instead shows us grace.

And as we tremble before God’s grace, it makes us that much more inclined to show grace and patience to the Christians around us.

So rather than criticizing other Christians, let us look at ourselves. Tremble in fear. Tremble in gratitude.

And know that in us and the Christians around us, God is working in us to will and to act according to his good purpose. None of us are complete or perfect yet. But as Paul said in chapter 1,

I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (1:6)

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A prayer for those facing a new season (Philippians 1)

Here in Japan, spring is a new season for people in more than one way. April is not only a turning of the weather, but a time when students start a new school year and people start new jobs or change jobs. 

For me personally, I’m facing change as well.  

After having worked at the same high school for seven years, I will start working at three junior high schools come this April. A big change to be sure. 

And so as I read Philippians 1, Paul’s prayer touched my heart. 

It’s a prayer I pray for myself as I head into this new season, 

And for those of you who are heading into a new season of life, I pray for you as well, especially those of you facing big decisions. 

And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you may approve the things that are superior and may be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. (9-11)

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Remembering grace (Titus 3)

In these volatile times we live in, times of cancel culture, times of twitter wars, times of people talking past each other at best, screaming at each at worst, it can be easy to respond to the people of this world by fighting fire with fire.

But Paul told Titus to remind the believers,

to slander no one, to avoid fighting, and to be kind, always showing gentleness to all people. (2)

Why?

For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another. (3)

In other words, we were once just like them.

But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  He poured out his Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior so that, having been justified by his grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life. (4-7)

It is so important to remember God’s grace to us. Just as he poured out grace and mercy upon us, we are to do so to the people around us, in hope that they may one day repent and become heirs of eternal life along with us.

And so rather than tearing into people, we are to be dispensers of God’s grace. No less than three times in this chapter, Paul tells us we are to devote ourselves to good works (1, 8, 14).

Specifically in verse 14, he says,

Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works for pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful.

God has called us to be fruitful in our faith, touching those who are hurting. Slandering, fighting, and tearing others down is not being fruitful. In Paul’s words, such things are “unprofitable and worthless.” (9)

Is fighting for truth important? Absolutely. But truth alone will not win a person over. They need to see the love of Christ in us as well. And the best way to do that is to reach out to them where they have pressing needs.

Grace and truth came through Jesus. (John 1:14, 17).

Grace and truth should flow through us as well.

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Shaped by hope (Titus 2)

As Christians, our lives are to be shaped by hope.

Have you ever considered that?

The apostles did.

For them, hope was not some airy-fairy thing of no practical import to our lives.

Rather, hope itself shaped how they lived.

John talked about it in his first letter. He said,

We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure. (I John 3:2-3)

And here in this letter, Paul essentially says the same thing to Titus.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (11-14, ESV)

What is it that motivates us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives? What motivates us to be zealous for good works? Hope. Hope that one day Jesus will return and all things will be made new. Hope that one day all evil will be wiped out, and that we will become like the one who loves us and redeemed us, choosing us to be his own people.

And unlike a lot of things we “hope for” in life, this hope is certain.

How often do you reflect on the hope we have in Christ? How much does it shape how you think and live each day?

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My life verses (2 Timothy 4)

As a teacher, I consider 2 Timothy 3:16-4:8 to be my life verses.

In particular, I constantly feel the weight of Paul’s words in verses 1-5 of chapter 4. 

One day I will stand before God and before Jesus Christ to be judged. Not concerning my salvation, but my faithfulness in doing my ministry. 

Was I faithful in preaching his word faithfully? In a world where people are turning aside from truth and are choosing teachers who will only tell them what they want to hear, did I preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27) or did I only teach the “easy things,” the things people like to hear? Did I teach it whether it was “convenient” to do so or not? Whether people liked what God said or not? 

Those questions have shaped my entire teaching ministry.

One thing that blogging through the whole Bible (the original intent of this blog and which was completed in 2016) forced me to do, was to make sure I didn’t avoid the “difficult” issues and the “difficult” passages. To make sure God’s people know all that he has said. Hopefully, I achieved that.

Have I been completely faithful in doing this throughout my teaching ministry? I can look at times when I probably wasn’t. I can’t do anything about that. All I can do is to control what I do from here on out. 

The thing is though, we all have the responsibility of bringing the Word of God to the people around us. We will stand before God some day and answer to him for what we told people and what we didn’t tell them. 

And so I repeat the words of Paul to you. 

I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and teaching. (1-2)

 

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Holding to truth (2 Timothy 3)

We live in, as Paul would put it, “hard times.” (1)

We live in times when more and more people try to substitute God’s truth with their own version of it. 

The result is not good to say the least. (2-5)

Even worse, the time will come when people will persecute us if we don’t accept “their truth.” The pressure for us to accept “truth” contrary to God’s truth will be immense. 

In America, Christians are already facing that pressure, especially concerning LGBTQ+ issues. Some Christians are already buckling under that pressure. Just today, I read in the news of one Christian adoption agency that did just that. 

But as Paul said, though the people around us lie and are themselves deceived, we are to hold to the truth, God’s truth that we have received. 

God’s words are breathed out of his very mouth and bring salvation and life. 

The “truth” this world is proclaiming brings death. 

But remember that those holding to these lies are not our enemies. They are people that Christ died for. And so let’s be sure to take to heart the words we read yesterday. 

The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2:24-26)

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Reflecting on God’s word (2 Timothy 2)

One of the dangers of making our Bible reading a mere “habit” is that we rush the reading, and then promptly forget what we read. We think, “Well, I’ve fulfilled my Christian duty for the day.” 

I will admit it is tempting for me to just skim over a passage, thinking, “I know this passage already. There’s nothing new here for me to learn.”

But Paul told Timothy, 

Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (7)

Consider. Think on. Reflect on. 

And all the while praying, “Lord give me understanding. What are you trying to say to me today?” 

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been blessed because I pushed aside the temptation to simply skim over a passage and instead took the time to reflect on it. 

So let’s make a practice of doing that, starting today. Resist the temptation to simply rush through your Bible reading today. There are a lot of treasures in today’s passage if you’ll just reflect on it. 

Take time to read and reread. Think on what is written. And give God the opportunity to speak to you.

Let anyone who has ears to hear listen to what the Spirit says…(Revelation 2:29)

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Entering God’s rest (Exodus 31)

Tell the Israelites: You must observe my Sabbaths, for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, so that you will know that I am the LORD who consecrates you. Observe the Sabbath, for it is holy to you. Whoever profanes it must be put to death. If anyone does work on it, that person must be cut off from his people. (13-14)

The penalties for breaking the Sabbath were stiff according to God’s law. Why?

The major reason was that it was a constant reminder to the people that they belonged to God. That he had consecrated them for himself. Another word for “consecrated” is “sanctified.” Both words have the idea of being made pure and set apart for God.

But what strikes me is that God tells them, “I am the one who consecrates you. I am the one that purifies you. I am the one that sets you apart for myself. It’s not what you do that makes you holy in my sight. It’s what I do.”

The writer of Hebrews carries that idea over to us as believers. He talks about another Sabbath rest, the one that the Old Testament Sabbath and the “rest” that came from entering the Promised Land pointed to. (Joshua 21:44, Hebrews 4:1-11)

Just as God made the original creation by his own power and invited his people to join in his rest, Jesus has made us new creations by his own work on the cross and invites us to join in his rest. We no longer try to establish our own righteousness (Romans 10:3). Rather we rest in what Jesus has done for us. He’s the one who consecrates us and makes us holy in his sight through his work on the cross, not us.

Anyone then, who tries to establish his own righteousness, breaking the Sabbath rest established by Jesus, is cut off from God’s people and suffers eternal death.

So let us heed the words of the author of Hebrews.

Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. For the person who has entered his rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from his. Let us, then, make every effort to enter that rest… (Hebrews 4:9-11)

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The wonder of forgiveness and grace (Psalm 65)

God’s forgiveness and grace never cease to amaze me.

It apparently never ceased to amaze David either.

He said,

Iniquities overwhelm me;
only you can atone for our rebellions.

I wonder if David was thinking of his own sins of adultery and murder as he wrote this. 

The guilt we feel because of our sins can be overwhelming. So can the consequences we reap from them. 

There is nothing we can do to “make up” for our sins. Nothing we can do to atone for them. But through Jesus, God does. And he forgives our sin. 

Not only that, God chooses us as his children and he draws us close to himself. He gives us blessings that we do not deserve. 

And so David says,

How happy is the one you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!

We will be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple.

You answer us in righteousness,
with awe-inspiring works,
God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the distant seas. (4-5)

That’s the wonder of forgiveness and grace. Let us reflect on and rejoice in that grace each day.

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You are my God (Psalm 63)

This morning, I was reflecting on David’s words, “You are my God.” 

What did he mean by that? 

Ultimately, I think it comes down to this. He was saying, “I have seen your steadfast love in my life.”

Despite all his troubles, despite being on the run in the wilderness as he wrote this psalm, he could say, “I have seen your steadfast love in my life.” 

It’s one thing to say, “I believe in God.” 

Or to say, “God’s power and glory are breathtaking.” 

It’s another thing to be able to look back on your life, and say, “I have actually seen God’s steadfast love in my life.”

To really be able to look at points in your life and be able to say, “God showed his steadfast love to me in this way, in this way, and in that way.” 

It is through those experiences that we say with confidence, “God is my God! And I am his.” 

And it’s because of that confidence, we “follow hard” after God. (8)

We thirst for more of him in our lives. (1)

We lift up our hands in praise to him. (3-4)

And our hearts turn to him even as we go to sleep at night. (6)

So let us take some time and meditate on those words, “You are my God.” 

In what ways has God shown steadfast love to you? What times in your life can you point to? 

 

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Things to meditate on (Psalm 62)

Just looking at this Psalm, here were some observations I made this morning.

In verses 1-2, David simply states as fact,

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. (ESV)

But in verses 5-6, he is exhorting and reminding himself,

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken. (ESV)

There are times we simply have to remind ourselves and exhort ourselves to believe what we know is true.

In verse 2, he says, “I shall not be greatly shaken,” almost sounding as if he’s saying, “I may wobble a bit at times, but I will not fall.”

But in verse 6, he exhorts himself, “I will not be shaken at all.”

In verses 1 and 5, he talks about waiting for God silently.

In verse 8, he talks about pouring out our hearts to him.

We need both in prayer. We see David pouring out his heart in verses 3-4, complaining about his enemies.

But in verse 7-8, he confidently waits in silence before God.

In verses 1 and 5, “salvation” and “hope” are used as synonyms. Our hope, our salvation, is from God alone.

Finally, two things to meditate on that bring the whole psalm together.

  1. Power belongs to God.
  2. God is a God of steadfast love.

God is not a God who is loving toward us but powerless to help us.

Neither is he a God who is powerful but doesn’t care two cents for us.

Rather he is a God who is powerful to save.

And he is a God whose faithful love caused him to send his Son for us.

Even if you forget everything else, let’s meditate on those two truths today.

 

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Made to see hard things (Psalm 60)

You have made your people see hard things;
you have given us wine to drink that made us stagger. (3, ESV)

Those words struck me today. Sometimes God does make his people see hard things, things that make us stagger.

I’ve seen my father go blind in an accident. Years later, I saw his life fading away in a hospital.

I have seen the company I work at go bankrupt forcing me into unemployment for nine months.

I have seen friends die before their time. 

And of course, we have all seen the effects of Covid-19. 

And yet David says, 

You have set up a banner for those who fear you,
that they may flee to it from the bow. (4, ESV)

Those words remind me of Exodus 17:15, where Moses called the Lord Himself, “Our Banner!”

He is the one we run to. He is the one we rally to when are afraid and struggling. And he is the one who brings us salvation. 

Suffering and hard times are a part of life. But those times are never in vain for those who love God and who are called according to his purpose. Rather, as Paul said, 

…affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

That love was proven to us on the cross (Romans 5:6-8). So in these times, let us rally to the cross, remembering that Jesus is no longer hanging there, but has conquered death itself. And because of him, we will ultimately find victory! (12)

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Encouraging and exhorting one another (Hebrews 3)

Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception. (12-13)

I was just thinking today how important it is, especially in these times, to encourage and exhort each other as Christians. 

We live in times when moral decay is spreading like gangrene throughout society, and it is easy for we ourselves to start hardening our hearts to what God says about sin. All you have to do is look at TV programs nowadays and see what is being pushed into our faces as “normal sexual behavior,” whether it is heterosexual or homosexual. The same can be said for the things the media and society around us call “being on the right side of history.” 

But just as dangerous, Christians can look at society and start to lose hope that God is truly in control. 

Either way, our faith in God begins to dissipate. 

And so the writer of Hebrews tells us to “encourage each other daily…so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.”

One of the most important exhortations we can give each other is found in verse 15.

Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.

The problem with a lot of us, is not that we don’t hear his voice. It’s that we harden our hearts to it. And the more we harden our hearts to his voice, the more difficult it becomes to hear it. 

So one of the things we need to encourage each other to do the most is to soak ourselves in God’s truth, and when God speaks to our heart, to not make excuses or to whine or moan as the Israelites did in the desert, but to soften our hearts to him and listen.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, let us make it a point each day to exhort and encourage each other in this way. 

Who can you encourage and exhort today? 

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This I know (Psalm 56)

This I know: God is for me. (9)

For whatever reason, those words resonated with me. 

“This I know.” 

There is no doubt in my mind.

“God is for me.”

GOD is for me. The Almighty God, the Creator of this universe, my Father, He is for me.

God IS for me. It’s not that he used to be for me, but has now cast me aside. He is for me now. 

God is FOR me. He encourages me. He strengthens me. He picks me up when I fall.

God is for ME. Not just for the super-Christians I know. For me. For me who often fails. For me who often sins. 

How can I be so certain of this?

He did not even spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. (Romans 8:32)

Because of what Jesus has done, I have been rescued from death and now walk before God in the light of life. (13)

He knows my wanderings into sin. He knows all the struggles I go through in life. 

He puts my tears in a bottle. 

He has recorded them all. 

But one day, 

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

Because of him, I have hope.

He is on my side. 

This I know.

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Three choices (Psalm 52)

David wrote this concerning Doeg, whose actions led to the murder of God’s priests. (I Samuel 22:6-23)

How do we respond when we see the evil that people do in the world? I think we can see the answer in David’s words.

  1. Choose to trust in God’s faithful love toward us. That no matter what happens to us, nothing can separate us from it. (Romans 8:35-39)
  2. Choose to give thanks to him. Thank him that justice will ultimately come. But also remembering to thank him for all that he has done for us in the past, and all that he is doing for us now.
  3. Choose to wait for him, putting our hope in God. He will execute justice in his time. And he will make all things right.

In doing so, we become that olive tree planted in the house of God. What is an olive tree like? It lives long, provides food, and through its oil brings light and healing. In the same way, we will be people that endure through the hardest of times, and at the same time provide, light, healing, and spiritual food to a hurting world.

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If you are willing… (Psalm 51)

David had committed an unspeakable sin. He had murdered a man and taken his wife. 

In light of that, verse 7 really is quite stunning. 

Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. (7)

Here David compares his sin with leprosy, something that in that time was incurable and ostracized a person from the presence of God (that is, he could not approach the tabernacle/temple) as well as his community. (Leviticus 13:45-46, 14:1-32 and especially verses 6-7, Numbers 5:3-4)

And yet he says with utter confidence, “You can make me clean.”

It reminds me of something a leper once said to Jesus. 

With the same confidence that David had, he said to Jesus, 

Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. (Matthew 8:2)

Jesus’ response? 

I am willing; be made clean. (Matthew 8:3)

Because of the cross, no matter how terrible our sin, no matter how great our guilt, Jesus can cleanse us. All we have to do is humble ourselves and ask. 

And he will make us clean. 

 

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Thinking on God’s love (Psalm 48)

As I read this psalm this morning, it was verse 9 that arrested my attention. 

We have thought on your steadfast love, O God… (ESV)

How often do we take the time to stop and think on, contemplate, and mediate on God’s steadfast love for us? 

We often say, “God loves me.” But how often do we reflect on the myriad ways God has shown his love in our own lives? 

There was a song I used to sing in church.

Think about his love.
Think about his goodness.
Think about his grace that brought us through.

For as high as the heavens above,
So great is the measure of our Father’s love.
Great is the measure of our Father’s love.

Can I encourage you to do something? Don’t just skim past these words and go on with your day.

Stop.

Think on these things.

In what ways has God shown his faithful love to me? 

In what ways has God showed his goodness to me?

Through what trials has God’s grace brought me through? 

And as we meditate on these things, let’s not just keep them to ourselves. 

Let us instead tell the future generations, our children and all those who come after us,

This God, our God forever and ever—
he will always lead us. (14)

 

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Remembering to praise our King (Psalm 47)

We live in a world now where it is so easy to get caught in our worries and complaints. 

It is especially in these times that we need to remember to worship God. 

That is, in fact, the point of our this whole psalm. 

Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with a jubilant cry. (1)

And,

Sing praise to God, sing praise;
sing praise to our King, sing praise! (6)

That’s four calls to praise God in just one verse. 

Why should we, though? Why praise God? 

For the Lord, the Most High, is awe-inspiring,
a great King over the whole earth. (2)

And again,

…for God is King of the whole earth.
God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on his holy throne. (7-8)

When we focus on our problems, we lose perspective. Our problems seem like immovable mountains. 

But when worship God and remember who he is, we regain our perspective. And we remember, “He is the King! And he is in control.” 

So let us get our eyes off our problems and on to God. And if we do, all our problems will seem but mere shadows in the light of him. 

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Because we have hope (1 Timothy 4)

In times like these, it can be easy to get tired of remaining faithful to God and living a godly life.

It is easy to let our consciences get seared (2), and to start giving into sin.

And according to Paul, the Spirit explicitly says some will depart from the faith. (1)

But we have a hope that this world does not have. Our God is alive. And he has not only saved us from our sin, but one day, Jesus will return and make all things new. (10)

This is not just a hope. It is a certainty.

So let us not get weary of doing right. Rather, let us train ourselves in godliness (7), specifically in our speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. (12)

And let us not neglect our gifts in these times, but instead use them to bless each other, and to touch this world that desperately needs Jesus.

We have hope! Let us live each day in that hope.

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Living as God’s people (1 Timothy 3)

But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

A thought for the day: We the church have been established by God to be the pillar and foundation of truth in a world where truth has been grossly distorted. But if we don’t live godly lives, who will listen to us?

By God’s grace and strength, let us live lives pleasing to him each day so that his light may shine through us and touch the people around us.

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Praying for our leaders (1 Timothy 2)

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior… (1-3)

How often do we pray for our political leaders? That’s what Paul calls us to do. What’s more, he says it is pleasing in God’s sight when we do so. 

Note two things. 

Paul doesn’t merely say, “Pray about our leaders.” 

Nor does he say, “Complain about and curse our leaders in your prayers.” 

He says “Pray for them.” 

If your leaders are godly and you like them, that’s easy to do. 

If they aren’t and you don’t, it’s a lot more difficult. 

The interesting thing is this, and it’s my second point: 

Paul wrote this when Nero was Caesar. And whatever you think of Trump or Biden, Nero was a million times worse than either of them. If you doubt me, just look at the history books. 

And yet, Paul said, “Pray for him.” 

How do we pray for ungodly leaders? 

  1. Pray for their salvation. For God “wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (4)
  2. Pray for wisdom in leading the country. They are mere people. Their position does not suddenly endow them with perfect wisdom in dealing with Covid or the myriad problems our country faces.
  3. Pray for courage to do what is right. That is especially hard when the direction of their party is going against them. 
  4. Pray for God’s restraint. At some point, God will take off all restraints on people’s evil, and then judgment will come. Pray that God in his grace and mercy keeps the restraints in place for as long as possible. (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, Romans 1:24-32)

Finally, a word: “More praying. Less arguing.” 

As James said, “People’s anger does not lead to the righteous life God wants us to live.” (James 1:20)

It takes away from our witness when we’re hostile to unbelievers. And when we’re fighting with each other, we lose sight of what God is calling us to do in this world: to bring his salvation to people who are lost and dying. 

So let us put aside all our anger and arguments, and lift up holy hands together, praying for and working for the salvation of our nation. (8)

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The grace of God (Genesis 32-33)

I was just reading this passage this morning, and these were the thoughts that came to mind as I did so.

I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant…You have said, ‘I will cause you to prosper. (32:10-12)

Jacob said this as an heir of God’s promise to Abraham. But how much more can we say this of ourselves as Abraham’s spiritual heirs by faith? None of us are worthy of God’s kindness and faithfulness to us. And yet by his grace God is determined to do good to us. (Romans 8:28-32)

For he thought, “I want to appease Esau with the gift that is going ahead of me. After that, I can face him, and perhaps he will forgive me.” (32:20)

Despite God’s grace, how often do we think of God as Jacob thought of Esau? How often do we feel we need to do something to appease him? And even after attempting to do so, we still harbor some doubt on whether he will forgive us?

As with Esau, however, God needs no appeasing. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross, he is already appeased. And he already thinks favorably toward us.

But Jacob said, “No, please! If I have found favor with you, take this gift from me. For indeed, I have seen your face, and it is like seeing God’s face, since you have accepted me. Please take my present that was brought to you, because God has been gracious to me and I have everything I need.” So Jacob urged him until he accepted. (33:10-11)

At this point, Jacob realized that Esau had already forgiven him. And so now his attempt at a bribe turns into a gift arising from a grateful heart. And so with us. All we give to God is no longer to win his favor, but comes from a heart of gratitude for his grace and the fact that in Jesus, we have everything we need.

Each day, let us rest in this incredible, indescribable grace of God. And worship.

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Our Savior. Our hope. (I Timothy 1)

Who do we look to for help in these difficult times? Where do go for hope?

In America, we have a new president, and I see a lot of people putting their hope in him.

In the New York Times, it talks about increasing numbers of people turning to psychics.

But to Paul, the answer is simple.

God our Savior. Jesus Christ our hope. (1)

Everything and anything else is a shaky foundation.

Politicians will fail us. Psychics will deceive us. The best-intentioned and most powerful of people are powerless to save us.

Only in God is there salvation. Only in Jesus Christ is there hope.

So let us trust in him not only for eternal life. Let us trust him in everything. And worship him.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (17)

 

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Our reputation (Philemon)

As I reflected on Paul’s words concerning Philemon, I couldn’t help but think about myself.

Paul wrote,

I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love for all the saints and the faith that you have in the Lord Jesus. (4-5)

and again,

For I have great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother. (7)

I don’t know about you, but I would like that to be my reputation among believers. That I would be known for the faith I have in Jesus. That I would be known for my love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. That they would be refreshed by me, receiving great joy and encouragement from my love.

That’s the reputation I would like to have. That’s how I would like to be remembered when God takes me home.

I’ve got a long way to go to be the Christian I should be. But by God’s grace I will get there.

And by God’s grace, so will you.

So let us draw near to Jesus each day, striving to become more like the One whose love and grace toward us is immeasurable and beyond all words.

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Keep on keeping on (2 Thessalonians 3)

In these difficult times, Paul’s words really struck me.

But as for you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing good. (13)

In these times of pandemic, in these times of of fear and anger because of all the evil we see around us, it is easy to just get tired. To get tired of doing what’s right. To get tired of doing good, serving the Lord and ministering to others. To instead become self-centered and idle.

That’s the temptation the Thessalonians faced in the midst of persecution.

But Paul says, “Don’t get weary. Keep on keeping on.”

The key to being able to do this?

May the Lord direct your hearts to God’s love and Christ’s endurance. (5)

Ultimately it’s God’s grace and his faithfulness that allows us to keep on keeping on.

That’s one reason why it’s important to pray for each other in these times.

We pray that the Lord will direct our hearts to God’s faithful love to us. A love that Christ proved by enduring far more than we ever have by going to the cross.

But when we are tired and struggling, it is so easy to lose sight of these things.

So let’s intentionally take the time to encourage each other, reminding each other of God’s faithfulness, and praying for each other as Paul did.

And for you, I pray as well.

May the Lord of peace himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with all of you…The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. (16-18)

 

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A prayer (2 Thesalonians 1:11-12)

Father, I pray that you will make me worthy of your calling.

By your power fulfill my every desire to do good and my work produced by faith.

I pray this so that the name of the Lord Jesus will be glorified by me, and me by him.

I pray this not according to my own worthiness and goodness. Rather, I pray this according to your grace, Father, and the grace of the Lord Jesus.

And I pray this not only for myself, but for your church, especially in these trying times, so that this world that is hurting and dying may know you.

I love you.

I pray all this in Jesus name,

Amen.

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Guarding our hearts and minds (I Thessalonians 5)

Faith, hope, and love. That combination is probably most prominently found in I Corinthians 13.

But we also find it here in this passage, in the context of guarding our hearts and minds.

Paul wrote,

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (8, ESV)

It’s interesting that Paul talks about the breastplate of faith and love here. In Ephesians, he talks about the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14).

Why the change? Perhaps two things. First, our righteousness before God is based not on our works, but on our faith. And second, our righteousness is expressed in love toward God and others. 

As I mentioned earlier this week, we live in troubled times. And if we are to guard our hearts, we cannot afford to lose our faith in God. Faith that he is good. Faith that he is in control. Faith that he loves us. 

And if we are to guard our hearts and not become angry and bitter at all the evil we see around us, if we are to instead make a difference in this world that is dying because of sin, we need to choose to actively love those that Jesus died for (15).

But it’s important to also put on the hope of our salvation as our helmet to guard our minds. This doesn’t simply mean rejoicing that we have been saved from our sin. It means rejoicing in the knowledge that Jesus will come again, and that all that is wrong in the world will be made right. When we see all the evil in the world, we too often forget that. 

Only by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation will we find ourselves able to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” (16-18)

So in these troubled times, I pray that you put on faith, hope, and love, and in so doing, guard your hearts and minds. 

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it…The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (23-24, 28)

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Guarding our hearts in turbulent times (Psalm 4)

I don’t think there is any doubt that we live in turbulent times.

And if there is one thing that can overwhelm us in such times, it’s anger. I see a lot of anger around me. I see it on social media. I see it from social commentators, both Christian and non-Christian, liberal and conservative.

With all this anger around us, it can be very easy to get swept right along with it and become angry people ourselves. I know I struggle not to give in to it.

Closely associated with that anger is fear. Fear of the future. Fear of what may happen in our country. Fear of what might happen to us. And I believe it is that fear that drives much of our anger.

David knew both feelings. He was being attacked and slandered by his enemies. He knew what it meant to be afraid and angry. And so he cried out to God,

Answer me when I call,
God, who vindicates me.,
You freed me from affliction;
be gracious to me and hear my prayer. (1)

To his enemies, he said,

How long, exalted ones, will my honor be insulted?
How long will you love what is worthless
and pursue a lie? (2)

And all around him, people were saying,

“Who can show us anything good?” (6)

But in the midst of all the anger and fear surrounding him and within himself, he said,

Be angry and do not sin;
reflect in your heart while on your bed and be silent. Selah
Offer sacrifices in righteousness,
and trust in the Lord. (4-5)

The word “anger” has the idea of great agitation, and usually is translated “fear” in the Bible, although anger is certainly another possible translation.

But whatever the source of our agitation, we are to guard our hearts and not sin. Rather, we should take the time, especially at the end of the day, to reflect in our hearts and be silent before God. To make sure our hearts are right before him. And to once again, reorient our hearts to him, putting our trust in him.

The people all around us are filled with fear and anger, and are often controlled by these things. But we are not to be this way. If we let ourselves be dominated by our fear and anger, we are no different from them, and no light will shine out through us.

And this is a world that desperately needs to see that light, especially now.

So while this world gives in to fear and anger, let us turn to the Lord, trusting him. Only then will we know his joy in the midst of the turmoil. And only then, will we be able to say with David,

I will both lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, Lord, make me live in safety. (8)

The God of peace be with you in these troubled times.

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Not burdensome (1 John 5)

For a lot of people, when they say, “I love God,” it’s primarily an emotional thing. It’s a feeling of “I feel close to God,” or “I feel God’s love in my life.”

But love for God is not just some ishy-squishy feeling we have for God. Rather, John tells us this:

For this is what love for God is: to keep his commands. (3)

Do you truly love God? If you do, you show it by keeping his commands.

“But that sounds so legalistic,” you might say.

It only sounds that way if you think that God’s commands are a burden. If you think that God is trying to steal all your joy in life. If you think that God is standing with a bat ready to bash you when you fail.

But John says,

And his commands are not a burden, because everyone who has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. (3b-4)

No, God’s commands are not a burden. Why not?

Because of our faith. We trust God. We trust that God loves us. We trust that God desires our best. And we know that even when we fail, God doesn’t bash us. Rather, he picks us up in love, and keeps walking with us. We don’t have to try to keep his commands in our own strength. Instead, each day, he leads and guides us in his love.

More than that, we know the victory has already been won. Jesus paid the price for our sin on the cross. And one day he will return and make all things we new. He will make us new, and we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

That’s our hope. That’s why we love him. And that’s why his commands are not a burden. At least, they shouldn’t be.

How about you? Are God’s commands burdensome to you? Or a joy?

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When our hearts condemn us (I John 3)

A lot of us struggle with the truth we find in verse 1.

See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are! (1)

Why do we struggle with it? We struggle because we feel we aren’t truly worthy of his love. We see words like,

Everyone who remains in him does not sin;, everyone who sins has not seen him or known him. (6)

and,

Everyone who has been born of God does not sin. (9)

and we say to ourselves, “But I do sin. Does that mean I’m not really a Christian?”

But as I said yesterday, John is not saying that Christians never sin. Rather, they have a changed heart which desires to be like the Savior who loves them. They long for the day when we will see him face to face. And because of that, they no longer pursue sin, but holiness (2-3).

But in the meantime, there are times we sin. And it is so easy to condemn ourselves. To say we are not worthy of God’s love. Satan of course will throw those accusations against us. But sometimes our own hearts will too.

And so John says,

 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (20, NIV)

God see our failures. But God also sees our hearts. After Peter denied Jesus three times, his heart condemned him. But Jesus was greater than his heart. He knew that Peter truly loved him. (John 21)

In the same way, when your heart condemns you, rest assured, Jesus knows your heart. If your conscience is pierced because of your sin, and yet you love Jesus and desire to be like him, he knows. And he extends his grace to you. Every morning, his mercies to you are new. Though we are not always faithful, great is his faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:22-23, 2 Timothy 2:13).

Let us rest each day in his grace and his faithfulness to us.

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Truths we hold (1 John 1-2)

We live in a world that holds on to a lot of partial truths.

But as Christians we can’t do that. We need to hold to the whole truth.

And so as we read 1 John, it’s important to hold all truth together.

What are these truths.

  1. You can’t walk in darkness and claim to be a Christian. Put another way, you can’t live in unrepentant sin and say you are a Christian. To do so, John says, makes you a liar (1:6). Rather a true Christian is marked by a love for God and a love for others.
  2. That said, all Christians sin (1:8, 10). No Christian is perfect. And no Christian loves God or people perfectly.
  3. When we sin, Jesus intercedes for us before the Father. On the cross, Jesus took all of the Father’s wrath for our sins upon himself (2:1-2). And because of that, we have peace with God.

What happens when we fail to hold these truths together? We either fall into a life of licentiousness, or we fall into depression that we don’t measure up as Christians.

Let’s run from both extremes. Rather, let us do these two things:

  1. Live in the light. Make loving God and loving others your top priorities. And when you fall, don’t hide your sin. Bring it before God with a heart of repentance.
  2. Walk in grace. When you fall, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t run in shame from God. Instead, run to him, knowing Jesus himself is interceding for you.

 

 

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When God seems distant (Psalm 42-43)

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so I long for you, God.
I thirst for God, the living God. (41:1-2)

Many times when we see these verses, we think of it as, “God I already have this close relationship with you, but I want to draw even closer.”

But as you look at these two psalms, that’s not what David was saying. Far from feeling close to God, he felt distant from God.

“When can I meet with God? I remember those days leading worship in the temple. But now I feel overwhelmed by the waves of life. Why have you forgotten me, Lord?” (42:2-4, 6, 9)

But again and again in these two psalms we see David speaking to his own heart.

Why, my soul, are you so dejected?
Why are you in such turmoil?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him,
my Savior and my God. (42:5,11; 43:5)

Why would he repeat these words three times? Because despite his faith, he still struggled with his emotions.

Jesus’ disciples knew what that was like. Like David, they were being overwhelmed by the waves. And though Jesus was in the boat with them, he was sleeping, as if he didn’t care.

And they cried out, “Teacher! Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” (Mark 4:38)

After Jesus calmed the storm, he asked them,

Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

Our emotions can be strong. They can threaten to overwhelm us. But in our times of fear, depression, and discouragement, let us choose to put our hope in God. Let us choose to believe him. And let us choose to praise him.

After all, two thousand years ago he came to this earth and proved on a cross he is worthy of that trust.

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Why Jesus came (Psalm 40)

Here in Japan, it is Christmas Eve, and though Psalm 40 is not often (if ever) thought of as a “Christmas psalm,” it does give us the reason for Christmas.

We find it in verses 6-8.

You do not delight in sacrifice and offering;
you open my ears to listen.
You do not ask for a whole burnt offering or a sin offering.
Then I said, “See, I have come;
in the scroll it is written about me.
I delight to do your will, my God,
and your instruction is deep within me.” (6-8)

Though David speaks these words, the author of Hebrews sees its ultimate fulfillment in Christ (Hebrews 10:5-9). David was merely saying, “You don’t just want sacrifices and offerings from me, you want my whole life.”

But when Jesus said them, he was saying, “The reason this world needs a Savior is that all the sacrifices and offerings people can offer cannot wash away their sins.”

Then Jesus tells the Father, “I have come to do your will.” 

And so Jesus came to this earth as a little baby. Throughout his life, he did his Father’s will, never falling into sin. Then on the cross, he followed his Father’s will by dying to take the punishment for our sin. 

That’s the meaning of Christmas. 

So with David, let us proclaim God’s faithfulness and salvation to this world, declaring to them his grace and his truth found in Jesus. (9-10)

And with David, let us cry out in praise,

The LORD is great! (16)

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In the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4-7)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (4-7, ESV)

Sometimes we wonder why God allows so much pain, suffering, and evil in this world. Ever since sin came into the world, humans have been under these things, and the words of that old carol resonate with us.

And in despair I bowed my head.
“There is no peace on earth.” I said.
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

But in the “fullness of time,” at just the right time, God sent his Son.

His Son was born of a woman. He became human as we are. The pain, suffering, and evil we face every day, Jesus himself faced.

The law of God that we were unable to keep and were condemned by, Jesus lived under perfectly. And then he went to the cross, taking upon himself the curse the law demanded, not for his own sin, but for ours. (Galatians 3:13-14)

And by taking that curse upon himself, he purchased us for God, not to be his slaves, but to be his sons and daughters.

Now for those of us who have put our trust in him, the right Jesus had to call God, “Abba, Father,” has become ours. We are heirs of God now, and coheirs with Christ.

And in the fullness of time, Jesus will come again. On that day, he will indeed be “Immanuel, God with us.” We will be his people, and he will be our God. And when we see him, he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, “and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away.” (Revelation 21:2-4)

No, God is not slow in keeping his promises. For as that old carol concludes,

God is not dead, nor does he sleep.
The wrong shall fail; the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.

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Our light, our hope (Isaiah 59-60)

As we fast approach December 25th, I hope to write a few meditations on Christmas this week.

I was recently reading Isaiah 59-60, admittedly not the first passage most people go to when thinking about Christmas.

But it does go to the very heart of what Christmas is all about.

Isaiah wrote,

Indeed, the Lord’s arm is not too weak to save,
and his ear is not too deaf to hear.
But your iniquities are separating you
from your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not listen. (59:1-2)

We live in a world now where people take sin very lightly. They scoff at the idea that they could have possibly offended a righteous God.

But in times of trouble, they cry out to God, and when he is silent, they wonder why he doesn’t seem to hear. As a result, many start to doubt his very existence. And yet they fail to see that their sin has separated them from him.

Isaiah writes,

For our transgressions have multiplied before you,
and our sins testify against us.
For our transgressions are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
transgression and deception against the Lord,
turning away from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt,
conceiving and uttering lying words from the heart. (59:12-13)

Notice here who is the primary one offended. It is not the people around us that we have hurt. It is God. Isaiah prays, “Our transgressions have multiplied against you, Lord. Our transgression and deception is against our Lord.”

And then Isaiah gives the ultimate definition of sin: turning away from our God, revolting against him.

The result of our rebellion? A broken world filled with broken people. What was God’s response?

He saw that there was no man—
he was amazed that there was no one interceding…(59:16a)

But God did not simply wonder at the terrible situation. Since no one was interceding, he himself interceded.

so his own arm brought salvation,
and his own righteousness supported him.
He put on righteousness as body armor,
and a helmet of salvation on his head…

“The Redeemer will come to Zion,
and to those in Jacob who turn from transgression.” (59:16b-17)

And that is what Christmas is all about. The Redeemer has come bringing us salvation from our sins. But more than that, the day is coming when he will return, judging this world and bringing the justice we all long for. And on that day, all will fear the Lord, every knee bowing, and every tongue confessing Jesus Christ is Lord. (59:17b-19)

So God tells us,

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord shines over you.
For look, darkness will cover the earth,
and total darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will shine over you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to your shining brightness. (60:1-3)

God never promised us a life that is always happy and free from trouble. Even now, we see darkness covering this earth. We see it in the Corona virus. We see it in violence. We see it in broken families. We see it in broken lives.

But our light, Jesus, has come. And he shines over us and through us.

This Christmas, may Jesus shine through us, that all who see us may come to him who is our light, and find the hope of salvation we have in him.

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Our hope (Psalm 33)

The Lord frustrates the counsel of the nations;
he thwarts the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
the plans of his heart from generation to generation. (10-11)

This is our hope.

When Herod tried to kill Jesus, his plans were frustrated.

The Jews and Romans crucified Jesus but couldn’t keep him in the grave.

And through the centuries, all of Satan’s attempts to destroy the church have failed.

It is the Lord’s plans that have stood through the centuries.

And when Jesus returns, we will see his salvation.

We wait for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.
For our hearts rejoice in him
because we trust in his holy name.
May your faithful love rest on us, Lord,
for we put our hope in you. (20-22)

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The blessedness of forgiveness (Psalm 32)

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity…(1-2, ESV)

When was the last time you thought of the blessedness of forgiveness? I mean really thought about it?

David knew that blessedness after his sin with Bathsheba. The weight of his sin was crushing him. But in His mercy, God forgave him. (2 Samuel 11-12)

Peter knew that blessedness after denying Jesus 3 times. He bore incredible guilt for what he had done. But with one conversation, that guilt was wiped away. (John 21)

The woman caught in adultery knew that blessedness. She should have died for her sin. Instead, she found mercy. (John 8:1-11)

Why is it that we so often fail to marvel at the blessedness of forgiveness?

Perhaps it is because we take our sin so lightly now. We don’t think our sins are so bad.

Or perhaps it’s because we are so overwhelmed by feelings of guilt that we feel there can be no forgiveness for us.

Both extremes are wrong.

Remember the cross. Remember the suffering Jesus went through because of our sin. Not just the “major” ones. Every sin. For even the “smallest” sin, even the sin we take lightly would have sent us to hell.

Remember the cross. God doesn’t just pardon us because he’s a nice guy. He pardons us because his Son paid a terrible price for us. And when he died, he said, “It is finished! Your debt of sin is paid in full!”

Now because of Jesus’ work, there can be forgiveness for even the worst of our sins. There is no sin that is unforgivable if we repent.

Look to the cross.

Marvel at the grace we have been given.

And sing with David,

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity…(1-2)

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God’s favor for a lifetime (Psalm 30)

I was just meditating on David’s words in verse 9 today.

He said,

What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the pit? (ESV)

For David, there was no profit.

But hundreds of years later on the cross, the answer to that question was quite different.

Through Jesus’ death, there was great profit: our salvation.

And because of his death and resurrection, our mourning is turned into dancing. God’s anger was shown but for a moment on the cross, but now his favor toward us lasts a lifetime.

So this Christmas season, let us sing out in praise with Paul.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)

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When God nudges our hearts (Psalm 27:8)

I have always loved Psalm 27. But one verse in particular spoke to me.

My heart says this about you:
“Seek his face.”
Lord, I will seek your face. (8)

There are times in life when we are simply exhausted, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

We know in our hearts that it is especially in those times that we need to seek God.

We know because God himself nudges our hearts, and says “Seek my face.” 

And so our heart whispers to us, “Seek his face.”

But often times, we instead say, “I’m too tired now. Maybe tomorrow.”

The next day comes and nothing changes.

Our heart again whispers to us, “Seek his face. He is the one you need.”

But we again make excuses. “I’m too busy. I’ve got this to do. And that to do.”

And as the days pass, we fall deeper and deeper into darkness.

Let us not ignore God’s gentle nudgings, 

Instead, let your answer tonight be, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”

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Because Jesus went before us (Psalm 24)

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart. (3-4)

If you think about it, those are weighty words.

Who, after all, has completely clean hands before the Lord? Who has never done a sinful thing?

And who has a perfectly pure heart before the Lord? Who has never struggled with wrong thoughts and wrong motives?

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?

By those standards: no one.

Only one person ever perfectly fulfilled those requirements: Jesus.

He then went to the cross to pay the price for our sins. Upon doing so, he ascended to heaven, entered the holy temple there with his own blood. And because he went before us, the author of Hebrews writes,

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus—he has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through his flesh)—and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23)

No, none of us are worthy to ascend the mountain of the Lord. None of  us are worthy to stand in his holy place.

But because of Jesus, we receive blessing from the Lord. And the greatest blessing, is that the God our salvation clothes us with Christ’s righteousness. (Psalm 24:5)

So with full confidence, let us draw near to him!

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His name is Yahweh (Psalm 23)

In the Bible, we find that God’s name is Yahweh. (Exodus 3:15)

Unfortunately, most translations obscure that name by translating it as “LORD” in all capital letters. But whenever you see “LORD” in your Bibles, know that it is the divine name “Yahweh.”

But many times, other words are added to that name, and we see even more clearly what kind of God he is.

In Psalm 23, we find that God is “Yahweh Raah,” Yahweh, our shepherd.

But in our times of need, we also find that he is “Yahweh Yireh” (Genesis 22:13-14), Yahweh, our provider. (Psalm 23:1)

When we are lost and hurting, he is “Yahweh Rapha” (Exodus 15:26), Yahweh, our healer. (Psalm 23:3)

When Satan accuses us, God is “Yahweh Tsidkenu” (Jeremiah 23:6), Yahweh, our righteousness. (Psalm 23:3)

In our darkest times when we are fearful, he is “Yahweh Shalom” (Judges 6:24), Yahweh, our peace.

In those times, he is also “Yahweh Shammah” (Ezekiel 48:35), Yahweh, ever-present. (Psalm 23:4)

And in the face of our enemies, he is “Yahweh Nissi” (Exodus 17:8-15), Yahweh, our banner. (Psalm 23:5)

So as we face different situations in our lives, let us never forget who God is. He is our shepherd, but he is much more than that. He is also our provider, healer, righteousness, our peace, our ever-present one, and our banner.

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If you love Jesus…(John 21)

As I read Jesus’ words to Peter, they really hit home today.

Do you love me? Then feed my lambs. (15)

Do you love me? Then shepherd my sheep. (16)

Do you love me? Then feed my sheep. (17)

Love for Jesus is more than investing in your relationship with him.

It’s caring for the people that God has put in your care.

That starts in the home. If you’re a husband, that means feeding and shepherding your wife.

If you’re a father or mother, that means feeding and shepherding your children.

Obviously pastors are in a special position to care for the people in their church.

But if you’re a small group leader, you have that responsibility too.

If you’re a Sunday school teacher or ministry leader, you have that responsibility too.

If you have ever led a friend to Jesus, you have that responsibility too.

A single pastor can only do so much. We are called to minister to others. To feed Jesus’ sheep. To shepherd them.

It’s easy in this Covid season to focus only on ourselves.

But what Jesus told Peter, he tells all of us.

“Do you love me?

Then feed my lambs.

Shepherd my sheep.

Feed my sheep.”

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Believe! (John 20)

Do not be unbelieving, but believing. (27, NASB)

Jesus’ words to Thomas resonated with me this morning. They echo Jesus’ earlier words to the disciples the night before his crucifixion.

Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. (John 14:1)

In a world filled with trouble, we have hope. We have hope because of the resurrection.

Peter talks about that hope we have.

Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (I Peter 1:3-5)

As I said a few days ago, the world is not our home. We have something far greater awaiting us.

For that reason, Peter said,

You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials that the proven character of your faith—more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:6-7)

That’s the hope we cling to.

But we need choose to believe.

To a large degree, after the resurrection, it was easy for Thomas to believe. After all, he saw the risen Lord with his own eyes and was able to touch Jesus’ hands and his side.

But Jesus told him,

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. (John 20:29)

Peter would later remember these words and say this to people like us who had never seen Jesus with their own eyes.

Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

Are you troubled by all that is going on in the world? Are you struggling with personal trials? Remember the resurrection. Remember the hope we have in Jesus. Trust the Father. Trust Jesus.

Do not be unbelieving, but believing.

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A reason to be thankful (Psalm 100)

Sadly, here in Japan, people don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. But with this being the fourth Thursday of November (in Japan, anyway), I thought it would be good to remember the things we ought to be thankful for, especially in a year where it seems that there has been precious little to be thankful for.

The Psalmist wrote,

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and bless his name. (4)

Why? What reason does he give?

For the Lord is good, and his faithful love endures forever;
his faithfulness, through all generations. (5)

“The Lord is good.”

It’s easy to say that in good times. But how about in the bad times?

Why can we say the Lord is good? Ultimately, we look to the cross. For it was there that God proved his faithful love to us.

While we were still sinners, when we had no inkling of even drawing near to him, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

From Adam who sinned in the garden, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with all their failings, to the people of Israel who repeatedly failed to trust God, to all the Christians throughout the centuries, God has proved his faithfulness again and again.

He did so to a people who have not always served him with gladness and who have not always acknowledged him as God in their lives. And yet, though we have at times been faithless, he has always been faithful. (2 Timothy 2:13)

And he will continue to be.

Now that’s a reason to be thankful.

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Who we trust. (Or why we can have peace). (John 14, 16)

I’ve been meditating on the words of Jesus from these passages over the past few days. Particularly the first few verses of John 14.

Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. (14:1)

There’s a lot to be troubled about in this world. Covid-19 to be sure. The moral direction of society. The departure of many people from the truth of God’s word to “everyone doing what is right in their own eyes.”

And yet Jesus says, “Don’t let yourself be troubled.”

What is the basis of this command?

“Believe in God. Believe also in me.”

Though Covid-19 runs rampant, trust God. He has a plan in all this.

Though things go from bad to worse in society, trust Jesus. He has already won the victory on the cross.

Jesus doesn’t say to trust our politicians or judges. He doesn’t say to trust our political or judicial systems. All of these are flawed, imperfect, stained by sin.

Nor does he say to just believe that somehow, someway society will get better.

Instead he reminds us that this world is not our home. That he is preparing a better world. A better society. Not based on human wisdom or effort. But based on what Jesus did on the cross. And the day will come when he returns, he judges this world, and he makes all things new.

That’s our hope. And that’s why we can have peace.

And so Jesus says,

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful. (14:27)

And again,

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world. (16:33)

So in this troubled world, let us rest confidently in our Lord.

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Because Jesus went before us (John 13)

This morning, I was meditating on verse 36, where Jesus told his disciples,

Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow later.

Where was it that Jesus was going? And why couldn’t the disciples follow him at that time?

The answer, of course, was the cross. And the reason his disciples couldn’t follow him at that time was because no one, not they nor any other person, could ever pay the price for sin that Jesus paid when he died on the cross for us.

But because Jesus went before us, we now have a pathway to the Father.

As we walk down that path, we may be called to suffer for Christ’s sake (I Peter 2:21). Peter and the other disciples certainly had to. But we do so not to earn our salvation. Rather we do so out of joy because our salvation has already been bought. And the day will come when we will follow Jesus into glory.

That is why the writer of Hebrews could say,

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner, because he has become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:19-20)

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The fragrance of worship (John 12)

Last Sunday, I was speaking in my church about being a living sacrifice. One of the things I pointed out was that in the Old Testament, when sacrifices were made to God, they were described as a pleasing aroma to him. In the same way, all our thoughts, all our words, all our actions are to be a pleasing aroma to God. That’s what a living sacrifice is.

Here in this passage, we see an example of this. Mary poured out perfume on Jesus’ feet and its fragrance filled the room. I think it’s safe to say that her action was a pleasing aroma of worship to God.

Contrast that with Judas, who though he claimed to care for the poor, nevertheless thought only of himself. As Paul would have put it, Judas’ “love” was filled with hypocrisy (Romans 12:9). As such, it was a stench before God, and that stench filled the room as much as Mary’s perfume did.

Let us not be like Judas, but like Mary. May our thoughts, our words, our actions, and our very lives be a pleasing aroma that rises up to God and fills this entire world.

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Running to Jesus (John 11)

We don’t always understand why God does the things he does.

Martha and Mary certainly didn’t. Several days before, they had sent word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was sick. But Jesus deliberately delayed in coming.

What would you do?

Many people would turn their backs on Jesus, bitter and angry.

But Martha and Mary went to him. In Mary’s case, she “rose quickly” and went to him.

They were upset. They were confused. But they still went to Jesus. And in doing so, they found out that he truly is faithful.

How about you? When you are angry and confused by what God does, do you turn from him? Or do you run to him?

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Because our time is short (John 9)

Jesus knew his time was short. His ministry only lasted three years. And so he made the most of his time.

So he told his disciples,

We must do the works of him who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. (4-5)

Here Jesus refers his life here on earth as day, and his death on the cross as night. And he said, “As long as I am here, I am the light of the world.”

As God’s Son, Jesus was uniquely the light of the world. He revealed God as no one ever had before him and no one ever will until he returns.

But as God’s children, we are to take Jesus’ attitude. Jesus said we too are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14-16)

And as long as we have breath, we are to join in God’s work.

By God’s grace, let us do so, and be light to a world lost in darkness.

As Paul said,

Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time,, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

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Never cast aside (John 8:29)

The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:29)

When I read these words, my first reaction was, “I wish I could say what Jesus did. I wish I could say I always do what pleases the Father.”

But the truth is, I often fall. I sin.

Recently, I often find myself questioning my motives. I question my thoughts, my words, my actions. “Are these things pleasing to you, God?”

And sometimes, I just don’t know.

But the amazing thing is I can say the same thing that Jesus did. The Father is still with me. He has not left me alone. But I can say that not because I always do what pleases the Father. Because many times I don’t.

I can say it because Jesus paid the price for all my sins on the cross. And each day, I stand in his grace.

As Paul once wrote,

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)

Let us hold on to that truth today, and every day.

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A reason to rejoice (Romans 11:33-36)

I think for almost all Americans, their eyes are on this presidential election. I have to admit, it’s been hard for me not to keep an eye on what’s been going on. And honestly, I worry about the direction of our country. And though I have been telling myself, “God is in control,” my anxieties tell me that my heart still struggles with that reality.

But as I read Romans this morning, Paul’s words were a real encouragement to me.

Oh, the depth of the riches
and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments
and untraceable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
And who has ever given to God,
that he should be repaid?,
For from him and through him
and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 3:33-36)

I remember wondering four years ago why God would allow Trump to win the presidency. I’m sure there are many Christians that still wonder that. 

But here’s the thing: I may not be able to understand God’s judgments. I may not be able to trace out the way he thinks. 

But the truth is, I don’t have to. God has been running this world for thousands of years. And he knows what he’s doing. 

In his day, Habakkuk couldn’t figure out why in the world God would let the Babylonians conquer Israel even though Babylon was more godless than Israel. (Habakkuk 1:13)

But Habakkuk learned that God’s ways, although inscrutable at times, are ultimately good, right, and just.

God didn’t need Habakkuk’s advice on how to do things. And he certainly doesn’t need mine. 

And so I choose to trust him. Whether Biden wins or Trump wins, whether the Republicans keep the Senate or lose it, God’s plans will not be frustrated. 

And that’s good enough for me. 

In many ways, Daniel’s words reflect Paul’s.

May the name of God
be praised forever and ever,
for wisdom and power belong to him.
He changes the times and seasons;
he removes kings and establishes kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those
who have understanding.
He reveals the deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and light dwells with him. (Daniel 2:20-22)

And even Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged,

For his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom is from generation to generation.
All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing,
and he does what he wants with the army of heaven
and the inhabitants of the earth.
There is no one who can block his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)

So let us turn our eyes to God, worshiping him as he alone deserves. 

To him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)

 

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Entering into the Father’s work (John 4)

This is the famous story of Jesus encountering the Samaritan woman.

At that time, Jesus told the disciples,

My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (34)

Jesus then called them to join in the work that the Father started. He noted that other people had already been participating in the Father’s work, and then he told his disciples,

Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor. (38, ESV)

Those words struck me as I read them. The Father has been doing his work for thousands of years. Millions of people have already labored doing his work. Now we are called to enter that labor too.

How do we do that? Through our testimony (39). And through sharing the words of our Lord (41).

So let us lift up our eyes, see the harvest, and join in with our Father’s work.

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A new identity (John 1:42)

When Jesus saw him, he said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated “Peter”). (John 1:42)

When Jesus sees us and calls us, he gives us a new name and identity, as he did with Peter. (See also Revelation 2:17)

But often times, we don’t live up to that new name and identity. Peter certainly didn’t. He was hardly a “Rock” that was steady and stable in his faith.

Yet Jesus sees beyond what we are now to what we will be. And the reason he can confidently call us by our new name is because he is the one working change in our lives. And what he starts, he will complete. (Philippians 1:6)

Do you feel like you’re not the Christian you should be? Don’t focus on yourself and your failings. Focus on Jesus. And remember, what he has started, he will complete.

 

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The Word (John 1)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1, 14)

As many of us know, when John talks about the Word, he’s referring to Jesus. He was with God in the beginning. And he is God himself. But why did John refer to Jesus as “the Word”? 

There are various theories, but here are some thoughts. 

In Psalm 33:6, the Psalmist says this,

The heavens were made by the word of the LORD,
and all the stars, by the breath of his mouth.

John also echoes this idea in verse 3. 

All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. (3)

Many times in the Old Testament, we see the Word of the Lord coming to the prophets revealing God and his message to the people. (Isaiah 38:4, Jeremiah 1:4 for example). 

John also talks about this in verse 18. 

No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him. (18)

The Psalmist further talks about how God sends his Word to bring healing and salvation.

He sent his word and healed them;
he rescued them from their traps. (Psalm 107:20)

And Isaiah talks about the power of the Word that he sends. 

For just as rain and snow fall from heaven
and do not return there
without saturating the earth
and making it germinate and sprout,
and providing seed to sow
and food to eat,
so my word that comes from my mouth
will not return to me empty,
but it will accomplish what I please
and will prosper in what I send it to do. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

And so John essentially says, “This Word who created all, who reveals the Father, who heals and saves, who accomplishes all of God’s purposes, he became flesh and dwelt among us.”

So take some time and meditate on these things. Meditate on who Jesus is. And worship him. 

Come, let us adore him!
Christ the Lord.

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Our King, our Savior, our Intercessor (Psalm 20-21)

In a lot of ways, Psalms 20-21 are connected. In Psalm 20, you see the king asking for God’s help. In Psalm 21, you see the king praising God for the help he was given.

Obviously, David was thinking of his own experience as he wrote these songs.

But in them we can also see Jesus in whom these words were ultimately fulfilled.

By raising Jesus from the dead and giving him life eternal (21:4), we see that the Father remembered and accepted the sacrifice Jesus gave on the cross. (20:3)

The Father has crowned him as King, and conferred on him majesty and splendor. (21:5)

And when Christ returns, he will rule over all. (21:8-12)

But one thing that strikes me is this word:

You have given him his heart’s desire
and have not denied the request of his lips. (21:2)

This matches with the earlier prayer found in Psalm 20.

May he give you what your heart desires
and fulfill your whole purpose. (20:4)

One of the wonderful truths that we have as Christians is that Jesus as our high priest intercedes for us. And when he prays for us, the Father always answers yes.

He answered yes concerning our salvation. And he will answer yes to Jesus when he prays for us in our struggles as Christians. (Hebrews 7:25-26)

So as the writer of Hebrews says,

Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

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A prayer for holiness (Psalm 19)

How do we respond to God’s word?

In this passage, we see both his unspoken word in creation, and his spoken word in the scripture.

Do we wonder at his unspoken word, the heavens he created? Do we marvel at his greatness and power? Do our hearts overflow with thanksgiving and worship? Or do we simply take it all for granted?

When we look at his written word, what is our response? Do we rejoice in it, seeing it as life-giving words? Does it make our heart glad and our eyes light up to see the truth in it? Do we desire it more than gold? Is it sweeter to us than honey? Or is it a burden, a weight that drags us down?

Ultimately, our response to God’s word in creation and scripture should be one of worship. It should be a strong desire for holiness, a desire to be like our God who loves us.

And that’s what we see in David’s prayer at the end. May it be our prayer too.

Who perceives his unintentional sins?
Cleanse me from my hidden faults.

Moreover, keep your servant from willful sins;
do not let them rule me.

Then I will be blameless
and cleansed from blatant rebellion.

May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. (12-14)

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Heart searching (Psalm 15)

I’ve been doing some heart searching the last several days, reflecting on my attitudes, my words, my actions.

I suppose that’s why verses 1-2 really struck me today.

Lord, who can dwell in our tent?
Who can live on your holy mountain?

The one who lives blamelessly,
practices righteousness,
and acknowledges the truth in his heart.

I always try to do right, think right, speak right. But I don’t always live up to that standard.

As Paul said, even when my conscience is clear, it doesn’t mean that my heart is completely right. (I Corinthians 4:4)

What’s my point?

We live each day by the grace of God. We strive to become more like him. We strive to be holy. But at the end of the day, we live by his grace.

And the good news is, his mercy is new every morning. Great is his faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

And when Satan or even our conscience accuses us? God is greater than our hearts. He knows all things. He knows our failings. But he also knows our our love for him, and our desire to be more like him. (I John 3:19-20).

He knows where we are as people. But he also knows what we will be. Peter found that out. (John 21:15-19).

So whenever we feel unworthy to dwell in his tent, to live on his holy mountain, let us go to Jesus and rest in his love and grace.

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The war over words (Psalm 12)

As I read this psalm, I can’t help but think about the war over words that is going on in our culture.

For many in our culture, they say,

Through our tongues we have power;
our lips are our own–who can be our master? (4)

And that is how they live. They transform culture through their tongues, all the while denying their rightful Lord.

We now live in a culture where “marriage” no longer necessarily means the joining of a man and woman before God.

We live in a culture where you can talk about there being a hundred different genders instead of two.

We live in a culture where a person can insist on being called “they” instead of “he” or “she.”

We live in a culture where abortion can be redefined as “reproductive health care.”

We live in a culture where “racism” no longer simply means having animus towards a person of another race. Now you need to possess “power” to be a racist, which means in America that a black person could never be racist. And though you’ve always respected people of other races, you can still be called one if you refuse to capitulate to to all the claims of woke culture.

Words are being redefined left and right to change the narrative in our culture.

In contrast, David says,

The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in an earthen furnace, purified seven times. (6)

Unlike us, God doesn’t change. What he says, he holds to. And one day he will judge us all by those words. And all our attempts to change language will fall apart.

Or as the apostle Paul put it,

Let God be true, even though everyone is a liar, as it is written:
That you may be justified in your words and triumph when you judge. (Romans 3:4)

Let us not accept the redefinition of terms promulgated by our culture. Let us rather hold to the pure words of our God.

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The heart of the wicked (Psalm 10)

So often, when we think of wicked people, we think merely of their actions. But what truly makes people wicked is their hearts. Even more than their actions, a person’s heart defines whether they are wicked or not.

What is the attitude of the wicked person?

1. They curse or despise the Lord in their hearts (3). For some people they are openly hostile to God. For others, they simply don’t think he’s that important.

2. In their pride, they deny his existence. And even if some do acknowledge his existence, they refuse to seek him. (4)

3. They deny any accountablity to God. (11, 13)

All these are wicked attitudes in the sight of God. And he will judge people who hold them.

So often, we look at the people around us and think, “They are so nice. How could God possibly judge them?” And so we do not think it is necessary to share the gospel with them.

But how many of them hold these wicked attitudes in their heart? Let us not fool ourselves concerning their hearts and let us not allow them to deceive themselves either.

As Jeremiah said,

The heart is more deceitful than anything else,
and incurable—who can understand it?
I, the Lord, examine the mind,
I test the heart,
to give to each according to his way,
according to what his actions deserve. (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

Let’s share the gospel with them, that they may repent, be healed, and find true life in Jesus Christ.

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Who am I? (Psalm 8)

When I observe your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you set in place,
what is a human being that you remember him,
a son of man that you look after him? (3-4)

This coming Sunday, I will be giving a message from Psalm 1. And one of the things I will note in that message is that when the psalmist says God knows us, he does not simply mean that God knows we exist. The psalmist means that God actually loves and cares for us.

How often do we wonder at that truth? The infinite God who created this vast universe…thinks about you. Let that be your meditation today. Take the time to stop, be quiet, and reflect:

This infinite God who created this vast universe…thinks about me.

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Though we may sorrow (Psalm 5)

Life is not always easy. David himself knew this and wrote many songs of lament, including this one.

But though we sorrow in the midst of a broken world, here are some things to remember.

1. Who God is. Namely, who God is to us. He is our God. And he is our King (2). What does that mean practically? It means we are to honor him. And we are to obey. Christians nowadays like to think of God as Father or Friend. And he is those things. But in the midst of our complaints, let us not forget he is also our God and King. And he is worthy of our honor and obedience.

2. God’s character. Sometimes, we look at the evil around us, and we start to question God’s character. We wonder if he is truly good. But remember that though he may sometimes seem “slow” when it comes to dealing with evil, he will ultimately bring justice (2 Peter 3:8-10). And on that day, all will know the truth of David’s words.

“you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil cannot dwell with you.” (4)

No matter what evil we may see around us, let us never grow cynical about God’s character.

3. We too come before God only by his grace (7). We may get angry at the evil people around us, but let us remember with humility that without God’s grace, we’d be under God’s judgment as well.

4. Our need for God’s leading and his help to do what’s right, Especially when we’re in the midst of adversity. So with David, let’s pray,

Lord, lead me in your righteousness
because of my adversaries (or problems, as the case may be);
make your way straight before me. (8)

Finally, let us choose to rejoice and boast in our Lord (11). It is so easy to fall into a spirit of complaining when troubles come. Let us rather choose to take refuge in our God, and rejoice in him. It will amaze you how much your perspective will change and how much smaller your problems will seem in the light of God’s greatness. 

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My Glory (Psalm 3)

This is one of my favorite psalms, and I’ve probably read it hundreds of times, but today, I was thinking about one thing David said.

He said, “God, you are my glory.”

What does that mean: “God is my glory”?

What do we glory in? Many people glory in their physical beauty. Many others glory in their position or accomplishments. These are the things they boast about. These are the things they feel give them personal worth.

But for David, God was his glory. Perhaps that truth hit home at the time when he was exiled from Jerusalem, with his own son Absalom trying to kill him. All his “glory” had been stripped from him: his kingdom, his position as king, all gone. Only one thing remained: God. When everything else was gone, God was his glory. David no longer boasted in his position or his accomplishments. His self-worth no longer came from these things. His self-worth came from one thing: His relationship with the God who loved him.

And so David said, “God, you are my glory.”

Paul said something similar hundreds of years later.

But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

So as God told Jeremiah,

The wise person should not boast in his wisdom;
the strong should not boast in his strength;
the wealthy should not boast in his wealth.

But the one who boasts should boast in this:
that he understands and knows me… (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

What is your glory?

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Who we walk with (Psalm 1)

How happy is the one who does not
walk in the advice of the wicked
or stand in the pathway with sinners
or sit in the company of mockers!

Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night. (1-2)

I wonder if the psalmist had Deuteronomy 6:6-7 as he penned those words. Moses had told the Israelites,

These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (6-7)

Who do we walk with?

Who do we stand and chat with?

Who do we sit in fellowship with?

Most importantly, what is the foundation of our conversations? Are our beliefs, our thoughts, and our actions grounded in God’s words? Or are they coming from our culture? Are they coming from the opinions of the people around us?

Let’s choose to ground our thoughts in God’s words, making his thoughts our own, and basing our every decision and action on what he has said.

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Keeping a right heart (Psalm 37)

One thing God seems to constantly be reminding me is to keep a right heart before him.

So words like these always strike me:

Do not be agitated by evildoers;
do not envy those who do wrong. (1-2)

I don’t typically have a problem envying those who do wrong. But agitation? Try anger. Especially when I see the evil rampant in society and the corruption in government.

But time and again, God reminds me,

for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. (James 1:20)

Instead, when I see evil that would lead me to anger,

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. (1-2, ESV)

In short, don’t worry about the evil others in society may be doing. Keep trusting God, keeping being faithful to him, and do the good he has asked you to do.

More,

Take delight in the Lord… (4)

If we make the Lord our joy, all other things that would normally anger or agitate us will pale in comparison.

And so God tells me,

Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for him;
do not be agitated by one who prospers in his way,
by the person who carries out evil plans.

Refrain from anger and give up your rage;
do not be agitated—it can only bring harm.

For evildoers will be destroyed,
but those who put their hope in the Lord
will inherit the land (7-9)

Instead of getting all worked up at the evil that I see, be still. Wait for him. If I let myself get angry, it will only lead me into sin.

And then there are these words:

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom;
his tongue speaks what is just.

The instruction of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not falter. (30-31)

It’s kind of hard to utter words of wisdom and justice when my heart is ruled by anger. And so I want my heart to be reigned by God’s word. More, I want each word I speak to be bathed in his grace and truth.

That’s hard to do in these times. But that’s what God is telling me. What is God telling you?

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At all times (Psalm 34)

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips. (1)

How much would our lives be different if we lived this way?

How much would our attitudes in life be different if God’s praise was always on our lips?

How small would our problems seem if we remembered how big our God is?

And how much power would we know in our lives if we would spend less time complaining about the state of the world to each other, and instead proclaimed God’s name and exalted him together to this world? (3)

We have a message that can bring hope to this world.

We have a message that can bring life to this world.

But we can easily forget that message ourselves if we lose a heart of worship.

I know I can.

So take some time today to worship today. Think of things you can thank God for. More than that, take time to worship him for who he is.

And each day, let us live by David’s words.

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips. (1)

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A prayer for the church (Romans 15)

One of the things that I do daily is pray for the church. Not just the one I go to, but for God’s church in this world. In particular, I pray for God’s church in Japan (where I live), and God’s church in the States (where I am a citizen).

Perhaps that’s why Paul’s prayer for the church in Rome really stood out to me today.

Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice. (5-6)

In chapters 14-15, Paul admonishes the church to strive for unity, and then wraps up his admonishment with that prayer.

In many ways, it echoes our Lord’s prayer for the church.

I pray not only for these (disciples), but also for those who believe in me through their word. May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

As I look in the world today, there is a lot of division in the church. We see division inside individual churches, and division between churches. But Paul’s prayer and Jesus’ prayer was that we would be one. That we would glorify God with one mind and one voice.

Only then will we see this dying world be saved.

So let us welcome each other in love as Christ did with us. (7)

Let us build each other up, looking out for each other’s good. (2)

Let us instruct each other in God’s word. (14)

Let us strive together in prayer. (30)

And let us live in harmony with one another, glorifying God with one mind and one voice. (5-6)

That was Paul’s and Jesus’ prayer for the church in this dying world. Let’s make it ours as well.

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What we pursue (Romans 15)

We’re living in a time when it is easy to criticize our fellow believers, especially when it comes to issues like politics and social justice.

I think that’s why Paul’s words really strike me.

So then, let us pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. (19)

Paul was talking to a church divided by personal convictions and judgmental attitudes. Their reasons were different from ours to be sure. As a result, so are some of the practical applications we draw from Paul’s words. But despite the difference in issues, the results were equally devastating: people in the church tearing each other apart.

So Paul says, “Pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.”

Does this mean we avoid all discussions on politics and social issues? No. I think these things need to be discussed.

What I am saying is we need a lot more listening to each other and far less judging of each other and each other’s motives.

Remember that you are not your brother’s or sister’s Lord. Jesus is. All of us will stand before God’s judgment seat. All of us will give an account of ourselves to God. God may very well have some words of rebuke for us on that day. But ultimately, we will stand because God is able to make us stand. (4, 7-12)

We all stand by God’s grace. We would do well to remember that.

So as we discuss these important issues, remember that ultimately we are not trying to win an argument. We’re trying to build each other up. And by God’s grace, as we talk, search his Word, and pray with one another, we will reach his truth and his perspective together.

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Our response to troubled times (Romans 12)

I truly love this passage. I could probably write 12 sermons based on it if not more. 🙂

But in these troubled times, the scripture that stood out to me was verse 12.

 Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.

Rejoice in hope. The people around us don’t have a lot of hope. And because of that, they easily get angry and cynical when they look at the world around them. But as Christians, we should never be that way. Why not? Because we have a hope that this world does not have. We have hope that these troubles will not last forever. And we have hope that Jesus will come back and make all things right. So let us remember that, and choose to rejoice in that hope.

Be patient in affliction. Again, sometimes our trials seem never-ending. Covid-19 certainly seems that way. But because of the hope we have, let us keep our eyes focused on Him who is our hope and wait for his deliverance patiently with quietness and confidence. (Psalm 33 :20-21, Isaiah 30:15-18)

Finally, be persistent in prayer. Pray for our leaders, especially. But also pray for those who are hurting around us and need Jesus. (I Timothy 2:1-6)

More let us be a light to them in this darkened world.

 Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.

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Creating our own standard of righteousness (Romans 10)

Verse 3 stood out to me today.

…they are ignorant of the righteousness of God and attempted to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness.

Paul here is talking about Jews who had rejected Jesus as Messiah and his atoning work on the cross which makes us righteous in God’s eyes. Instead, they tried to be justified by their own works.

Many people are like that today. They reject Jesus and try to find their own path to God.

But there is another sense in which people try to establish their own form of righteousness.

We see it in the book of Judges.

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever seemed right to him. (Judges 21:25)

How many people are like that today? They reject God is king and simply do whatever seems is right to them.

Some of them are merely ignorant of God’s righteousness. But as Paul noted in Romans 1, many people actively suppress it. (Romans 1:18)

They call what God calls evil, “good.” Look at the list in Romans 1:22-31. I’m sure you agree that most of the things in that list is evil. But are there any in there that make you think, “That’s not so bad?” Or even, “That’s not sin at all”?

If there is anything in those lists you say, “That’s not so bad” or “That’s not sin at all,” you are suppressing God’s righteousness and establishing your own.

You may have “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” (Romans 10:2)

So let us not conform to the pattern of this world, but instead be transformed by the renewing of our mind through the Word of God.” (Romans 12:2)

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Though we may not all understand all the whys (Romans 8)


When authors in the New Testament quote the Old Testament, it’s always a good idea to read the original passage. In verse 36, Paul quotes from Psalm 44.

Psalm 44 is kind of a depressing psalm. It starts out by talking about God’s faithfulness and goodness, but suddenly changes to asking why they were suffering defeat against their enemies.

Unlike many psalms where the psalmist confess their sins, in Psalm 44, there seems to be no sin to confess. Rather, despite their faithfulness to God, the Israelites were struggling, leading them to say,

Because of you we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. (Psalm 44:22)

The psalm ends by asking God why he was sleeping, and asking him to rise up and help them.

Sometimes we feel the same way. We feel abandoned by God. But are we? Are we doomed to defeat? Not according to Paul.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)

As Paul pointed out, God showed his love for us by predestining us, calling us, justifying us, and glorifying us (29-30). And in order to accomplish all this, he sent his Son to die for us. So Paul says,

What, then, are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything? (31-32)

And that’s why we can conclude,

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (38-39)

Like the psalmist, we may not understand the whys in our lives. We may not understand until heaven. Actually, by the time we get there, we may not even care anymore. But in the meantime, let us hold on to these precious promises of God. And remember: he is faithful.

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What struggle with sin means. What it doesn’t mean. (Romans 7)

All of us struggle with sin. And many of us feel that we must be bad Christians because of that struggle.

But struggling with sin doesn’t make you a bad Christian.

If that were true, you would have to say Paul was a bad Christian. (15-19)

What struggling with sin means is that you now have the Holy Spirit in your heart pointing out your sin and giving you a hatred for it.

Before we became Christians, many times we didn’t recognize our own sin, and even if we did, we were in love with it.

But when we became Christians, the Holy Spirit started the process of transforming our minds, helping us see sin as the evil thing it is while at the same time giving us a desire to do what is right.

More than that, if we ask him, he gives us the power to do what is right.

That’s something the law couldn’t. The law could point out our sin. But it couldn’t give us the desire or the power to do right. That’s the difference between living by the Spirit and living by the law. (6)

So I don’t worry so much about the Christian who struggles with sin. If you hate your sin, and led by the Spirit, keep taking the next step the Spirit gives you, you’ll be fine.

It’s the person who claims to be a Christian and yet loves their sin that I worry about.

What next step is God showing you?

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my concerns.
See if there is any offensive way in me;
lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24)

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Walking in the newness of life (Romans 6)

Just meditating today on verse 4 where Paul says,

Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life.

Prior to the cross, there was a certain heaviness that Jesus carried with him, the knowledge that a day of reckoning was coming. That he would be put on a cross, bearing our sin and shame. And while he rejoiced in serving his Father, nevertheless, that heaviness remained reaching its peak at Gethsemane (Luke 12:50, John 12:27; Luke 22:42-44).

But when he rose from the dead, all that burden was lifted from him. Our sins that he came to die for were now paid for, and now he was free to live for the glory of his Father with complete joy.

It is the same with us. Prior to becoming Christians, we carried the weight of our sin with all its shame and the certainty of judgment hanging over us.

But when we were baptized into Jesus, his death became ours. All our punishment was transferred to him. All our shame was transferred to him.

And as with Jesus, we have now been raised to new life. We no longer carry the burden of ours sins, the shame it brings, and the fear of judgment. Our sins have been completely paid for.

Now we are free to live for the glory of our Father with complete joy. So let us live each day in that joy

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A reason to rejoice (Romans 5:1-11)

I’m currently in the process of translating all my posts on Hebrews into Japanese, so as I read today’s passage, I saw a link between this chapter and Hebrews 10 that I had never seen before.

Paul says,

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (1-2)

The writer of Hebrews says something very similar in chapter ten of his letter.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus— he has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through his flesh)— and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

The idea in both passages are the same. Through Jesus, we now have free access to God. We no longer have to stand in fear of God. Rather, we now have peace with him, standing in his grace.

In the Old Testament days, God manifested his glory in the tabernacle, particularly in a room called the Most Holy Place. For this reason, only the high priest could come into that room, and he could only come in once a year. For him, to stand in the presence of God’s glory was an awesome thing, but also a fearsome thing. The Israelites themselves feared drawing anywhere near to God and his glory (Exodus 20:18-21), and God himself warned against it (Exodus 19:11-12; 20-22).

But through his death, Jesus tore down the barrier between us and God. We no longer need to be fearful as stand in the presence of God’s glory. Rather, we can stand boldly by grace in his presence and rejoice in that glory.

The question is, do we truly understand the grace on which we stand? Do we grasp it to the point that we understand the sufferings we go through are not punishments from God? Do we instead have hope in our sufferings?

What is the basis of our hope? The peace we have with God.

When we were still God’s enemies, Christ died for us. He didn’t wait for us to make ourselves good before he died for us. When we were still hostile toward him, he died for us.

And if Jesus did that for us while we are his enemies, how can we now think he has turned against us and is punishing us when we are his friends?

Rather, the same God who loved and saved us when we were his enemies, now pours out his love and mercy on us as his friends.

So whatever trials you may be facing, remember: we are at peace with God. Jesus made that peace possible 2000 years ago on a cross.

Let us now rest in that peace.

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Though our world seems to be falling down around us (Psalm 46)

God is our refuge and strength,
a helper who is always found
in times of trouble.
Therefore we will not be afraid,,,(1-2)

How often do we face situations in our lives where we are afraid? We’re afraid because life seems crazy and out of control. Or as the psalmist puts it,

the earth trembles
and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas,,,
its water roars and foams
and the mountains quake with its turmoil. (2b-3)

Do you ever feel like the world is like that? Do you ever feel your life is like that?

But the psalmist says in the midst of all the chaos, “We will not be afraid.”

Not because we are strong enough to handle it all. But because we have someone who is far greater than our problems, a Helper who is always found in times of trouble. And it is because of Him, not because of how strong we are in ourselves, but because of Him, that we will not be afraid.

The psalmist continues,

There is a river—
its streams delight the city of God,
the holy dwelling place of the Most High.
God is within her; she will not be toppled.
God will help her when the morning dawns. (4-5)

The psalmist speaks here of Jerusalem, but it strikes me that as Christians, we ourselves are now the holy dwelling of the Most High.

God dwells within us, and streams of Living Water, the Holy Spirit himself flows within us to refresh and strengthen us. (John 7:38-39)

And because of this, we will not be toppled no matter what happens. God will help us. As Jeremiah wrote,

his mercies never end.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:22-23)

So often we struggle against our circumstances as if God has left us to flail around on our own. But God says, “Stop fighting. Stop striving. Be still. Know that I am God.” (10)

So let us exalt him in our lives, as all the earth someday will. (11)

And remember,

The LORD of Armies is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold. (11)

 

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God’s man (or woman) in the storm (Acts 27)

We are living in a time right now filled with much anger and fear.

What kind of people are we in this time?

Are we ourselves controlled by anger and fear?

Paul himself was in such a situation.

People saw the storm and were in a panic, thinking they were going to die.

Some people were probably angry at those in charge for not foreseeing the storm.

As a result, there was probably utter chaos all over the boat.

And in the midst of it all stood Paul.

He brought wisdom to the situation. He brought peace. He brought encouragement.

Most importantly, he brought God’s presence.

Are we doing the same in this storm of Covid 19? Are we doing the same in the midst of political turmoil, police brutality, and riots?

What are we bringing into the storm?

 

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Why Jesus saved us (Acts 26)

“For what purpose did Jesus save me?”

Have you ever thought about that?

Is it just to go to heaven someday? Is it just so that we can have a happy life here on earth?

I think we find the answer in Jesus’ words to Paul.

He said,

For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen and will see of me…I am sending you to them to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (16-18)

Jesus saved us that we might become his servants and his witnesses who share his gospel with others and tell them what God has done in our lives. He sends us so that their eyes may be opened, that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. He sends us that they too may receive forgiveness of sins and the inheritance we ourselves have received from God.

Some like Festus will call us crazy. Some like Herod will harden their hearts. But others will become Christians too.

Paul said concerning Jesus’ command, “I was not disobedient.”

By God’s grace, may we all be able to say the same.

 

 

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A prayer (Acts 22)

And he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the words from his mouth, since you will be a witness for him to all people of what you have seen and heard. (14-15)

Lord, you have chosen me for yourself. (Ephesians 1:3-14).

In these troubled times, I look forward to the day when you return, and I will see you face to face. (I Corinthians 13:12, 1 John 3:2)

Now, let me hear your voice each day so that I may know your will. (Isaiah 30:20-21, Romans 12:2)

And let me be your witness in this dying world. (Acts 1:8, 2 Corinthians 5:13-21).

In Jesus name,

Amen.

 

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If we love the truth… (Acts 21)

It’s been hard to read Acts recently concerning the riots that seemed to follow Paul, and not think about the riots going on in the States right now.

Obviously, we’re talking about two very different kinds of situations bringing about the riots, but there are some things that are the same.

A couple of weeks ago, a riot in Chicago was started because there were reports that an unarmed 15-year-old boy was shot by the police. It turned out that the “victim” was actually a 20-year-old armed young man who had been shooting at the police.

Now as I write, there are reports and video of a man being shot by the police while entering his car. At this point, details are kind of sketchy, particularly on why the police felt it necessary to shoot. There is no doubt that as things stand, things look bad. And if indeed facts match appearances, the officers should be held accountable and prosecuted.

The result of this incident was yet another riot. But I will repeat once more, we still don’t have all the facts.

What’s my point?

Let’s look at what happened in the riot that took place in Acts 21.

First, the cause.

For they (the Jews) had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. (29)

This was a serious matter to the Jews. Clear warnings were were written on signs in the temple area that any Gentiles that went beyond the “Court of the Gentiles” were subject to death.

The Jews saw Paul walking along with a Gentile in Jerusalem and automatically assumed that Paul had brought him into the restricted area. Thus, the riot.

The whole city was stirred up, and the people rushed together…word went up to the commander of the regiment that all Jerusalem was in chaos. (30-31)

Sound familiar?

He (the commander) asked who he (Paul) was and what he had done. Some in the crowd were shouting one thing and some another. Since he was not able to get reliable information because of the uproar. (33-34)

I look at what’s going on in the States, and this is what I see. Lots of confusion. Lots of emotion. Very little reliable information.

Our Lord said this,

Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment. (John 7:24)

There will be plenty of time to condemn these officers once all the facts come out. But let us not simply make assumptions based on appearances.

It was that kind of reaction which caused the unjustified riot in Chicago. To be frank, I don’t think riots are ever justified. There are better ways to deal with injustice.

As followers of Jesus Christ, if we love the love truth, let us not just join in with the crowd  in their anger, condemning people based on mere appearances. Rather, let us make all our judgments based on truth. Our Lord demands no less.

 

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Active listening? Passive listening? (Acts 17)

What is your attitude when you hear a message at church, read a Christian book, or listen to a Christian podcast?

The Bereans showed us what our attitude should be.

The people here were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, since they received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (11)

What did they do?

  1. They listened eagerly. They wanted to hear from God.
  2. They examined the Scriptures for themselves to see if what the speakers were saying was true.

Do we do the same?

When we read or hear God’s word, do we come with a spirit of expectation that God will speak? And are our hearts, minds, and bodies prepared to hear from him? Or are we tired or distracted by other things?

Do we merely accept what the speakers or authors we listen to or read say? Or do we carefully compare what they say to what the Bible says?

Even more importantly, do we make his word a daily part of our lives?

When God speaks to our hearts through his word, do we put it into practice, or do we quickly forget it all? (Quick! Try to remember what last Sunday’s message was about!)

What is your attitude when it comes to God’s word?

Don’t get me wrong. My purpose is not to make you feel guilty by all of this. The good news is that even when we fail in these things, God is there to pick us up. It is because we often fail, that Jesus died for us.

But it would be good for us to remember the words of Jesus.

Therefore take care how you listen. For whoever has, more will be given to him; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him. (Luke 8:18)

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People are listening (Acts 16)

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. (25)

In reading this story, we often think about Paul and Silas’ reaction to being thrown into prison wrongfully.

But today I was thinking about the prisoners’ reactions to Paul and Silas.

They were listening.

In troubled times, people are listening to us. What are they hearing?

They are so used to hearing people complaining about the government, complaining about their circumstances, and worrying about the future.

Are they hearing the same from us? Or are they hearing something different?

The prisoners and the jailer heard something different from Paul and Silas. And because of that, they were willing to listen when Paul and Silas had something to say, especially concerning the gospel. Would these people have been so willing to listen if Paul and Silas had been complaining about the unfairness of the world and how terrible life was?

Recently I’ve been thinking about my needing to be careful about what I post on social media and also about the things I say to my non-Christian coworkers. I don’t want to sound like this world.

What are people hearing from you?

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The Holy Spirit (Acts 13)

Depending on the church you go to, it can be kind of rare to hear much about the Holy Spirit. We often talk about the Father and the Son and how we interact with them, but not much about the Holy Spirit.

But the Spirit himself is God as well, and we definitely interact with him too.

We see this in the first few verses of this chapter.

the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (2)

Notice a few things here.

  1. The Holy Spirit speaks. Not the Father. Not the Son. The Holy Spirit speaks.
  2. The Holy Spirit says, “Set apart for me.” Not, “Set apart for the Father.” Not, “Set apart for Jesus.” But “Set apart for me.”
  3. The Holy Spirit says, “for the work to which I have called them.” Not for the work the Father or the Son called them. But for the work the Holy Spirit called them.

What do we learn from this?

  1. The Spirit has personality. He is not just some kind of impersonal force.
  2. As God, he calls us for his purposes.

So don’t ignore the Holy Spirit in your prayers. Ask him to fill you and empower you as he did Paul and the other disciples. (9, 52)

And say to him, “Here am I. Send me.”

 

 

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Receiving feedback (Acts 11)

In last Sunday’s message, my pastor talked about the importance of receiving feedback from God and others.

As we look at today’s story, the Christians in Jerusalem thought Peter needed their feedback, criticizing him for entering the home of a Gentile. But actually, they were the ones who needed the feedback, as God was teaching them the need to share the gospel with all people.

What was their response? First silence, as they thought about what Peter had said. And then,

they glorified God, saying, “So then, God has given repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles.” (18)

Their response reminded me of a different story.

In Mark 3, Jesus challenged the Pharisees’ way of thinking concerning the Sabbath.

Their response?

They were silent too. But theirs was a different kind of silence. They hardened their hearts, and in doing so, they both angered and grieved Jesus. (Mark 3:1-6)

How about you? What is your response to feedback? Does Jesus rejoice at our response, or does he grieve at our hardness of heart?

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No pity parties (Acts 8)

If there was anyone who had a “right” to throw a pity party, it was the Christians in Acts chapter 8.

After the murder of Stephen, the Christians in Jerusalem were persecuted, being dragged off to prison, and in some cases even being executed.

As a result, they fled, scattering across the Roman empire. What did they do as they scattered? Throw pity parties, feeling sorry for themselves?

No.

So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the word. (4)

The result? Many people entered God’s kingdom, finding the joy that only comes from Jesus. (8, 39)

In these troubled times, it’s easy to throw pity parties for ourselves. But as God’s people, we need to look outside of ourselves and our own problems to a world that is dying in their sin.

How about you? Where is your focus?

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Mega-power, mega-grace (Acts 4)

In a world filled with all kinds of problems right now, the response of the early church to their troubles is really worth noting. What did they do?

  1. They went to their Christian friends (23). They shared their problems with them. We aren’t meant to make it through this life in our own strength. We are to lean on each other and support one another.
  2. Together with their friends, they lifted their voices together to God (24a). While it’s great to have the support of Christian friends, that is not enough. As friends we are to point each other to God, and approach his throne together.
  3. They remembered who God is (24b, 27-28). That he is the Lord who is sovereign over everything. That he is the one who created all things with just a word. And he does whatever his hand and his will predestined before time began. Nothing is out of his control.
  4. They prayed for strength to do what God had told them to do.

The result? The Holy Spirit fell upon them, and they were filled with great power and grace in their time of trouble. (31, 33)

The word for “great” in both cases is the Greek word “megas,” where we get our word “mega” from. In short, they received not just power and grace from God, but “mega-power” and “mega-grace.”

In these times, don’t we all need more of both?

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God’s plans. Our part. (Acts 1)

When the disciples asked Jesus when he would restore the kingdom of Israel, Jesus answered them,

It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. (7)

I don’t suppose a lot of people nowadays are asking when Jesus will restore the kingdom of Israel.

Probably the big question on a lot of people’s minds is when this whole Covid thing will come to an end.

But I suspect Jesus’ answer to us wouldn’t be much different from his answer to his disciples. “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”

There is comfort in those words. God, by his own authority, has decided exactly how long this time will last. And when he says, “cease,” it will cease.

So what do we do in the meantime? Remember our mission.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (8)

It is so easy to become self-centered in these times. To get wrapped up in our own worries and concerns. But God call us to look outward to a dying world. And by the power of his Holy Spirit, to be his witnesses and make a difference.

So let us be praying, “Holy Spirit, fill me with your power. Help me to be your witness to those around me. And Father, may your kingdom come in their lives as I touch them.”

 

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Strengthened in our trials (Luke 22)

This past Sunday, I gave a message at church on 2 Corinthians 1. In that passage, I pointed out that God does sometimes give us more than we can bear…in our own strength. And he does that so that we learn to rely on him. As we do so, he imparts courage and strength to us.

We see that here in Jesus’ life. He told his disciples, “Pray that you may not fall into temptation.” (40)

I mentioned in my message that the words for “trial” and “temptation” are basically the same word in Greek.

And we see in the very next verse Jesus praying that he himself would not have to be tested.

But then he said, “nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (42)

Just as God allows trials into our lives, he allowed Jesus to go through the greatest trial a human ever endured: the cross.

But as God did with Paul, God did with his Son. He imparted courage and strength to Jesus so that he could endure the cross. (43)

That’s why the writer of Hebrews could say,

During [Jesus’] earthly life, he offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was the Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. After he was perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, and he was declared by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:7-10)

It is also why the writer could also say,

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

So when we are going through trials, let us look to Jesus. He understands what it means to go through trials that are too much for us. And as our high priest, he will pray for us, strengthen us, and encourage us.

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Until our Lord comes back (Luke 19)

Engage in business until I come back. (13)

Those were the words of the master in Jesus’ parable.

But those are Jesus’ words to us.

What business are we to engage in? Our own?

No, we are to engage in our Lord’s business.

What’s our Lord’s business?

We see it in verse 10.

For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost. (10)

There are so many people of whom Jesus would say,

If you knew this day what would bring peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. (42)

So many people in this age hate Jesus and say of him,

We don’t want this man to rule over us. (14)

But as our Lord’s ambassadors, we are to engage in his business pleading with people,

Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

God has committed the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:19)

So until our Lord returns, let us not be careful not to simply engage in our own business, but let us also go about doing our Lord’s business as well.

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The grace by which we live (Luke 17)

As I read this passage, it reminds me of the importance of remembering the grace by which we live.

We see it first in Jesus’ talk concerning forgiveness. Jesus makes it crystal clear: when a person repents, you must forgive. (4)

To which his disciples replied, “Lord increase our faith.” (5)

In other words, “We can’t do it. We’re not strong enough spiritually.”

But Jesus replied,

If you have faith the size of a mustard seed…you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. (6)

The reality is, we only need only the tiniest amount of faith to do what God calls us to do, even forgive. Why? Because of who we are putting our faith in. By his grace, he empowers us to do what he asks. He doesn’t just tell us what to do and then stand back to see whether we’ll succeed or not. Instead, if we come to him saying, “I choose to trust you. I choose to believe you are good. I choose to believe you want my best,” and we take the smallest step of faith to obey, by his grace, he will move mountains, even the mountains of bitterness and unforgiveness in our lives.

But again, remembering the grace we have received is the key to forgiveness.

In choosing to forgive, it is that same grace which causes us to say, “We are unworthy servants; we’ve only done our duty.”

Like the prodigal son, we are unworthy even to be God’s servants. Rather, what we deserve is to be punished for all our sins. So when we forgive others, we are only doing what we should in light of all God has forgiven us. It is our duty. And the more we remember the grace we’ve received though we are unworthy of God’s forgiveness, the easier it will be for us to forgive others when they hurt us.

But there’s one more thing in this chapter that points to our need to remember grace. When the ten lepers were healed, only one came back to thank Jesus. An important part of remembering grace is having a heart filled with gratitude. How often, though, do we just take God’s grace for granted? Or worse, we actually come to think we deserve it because of “all we’ve done for him?”

Let us cast aside that way of thinking. Rather, let us instead always have an attitude of gratitude, remembering the grace we’ve received and continue to receive every day. If we do so, not only will we be able to forgive, but mountains will start to move in our lives as we take the steps of faith God has called us to take.

 

 

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Justifying ourselves (Luke 16)

In the world we live in today, these words of Jesus truly stand out.

You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

We as humans can make so many excuses for our sins. And the people of this world may accept those excuses and even praise and celebrate our sins.

But God knows our hearts. He knows the guilt that many feel for their sins. He knows the guilt that others have buried so deeply that they no longer feel it. And while this world may even celebrate certain sins in this world, they are still abominations in God’s sight.

The question is, what do we do with the sins in our heart? Are we making excuses? Are we working hard to bury our feelings of guilt?

We can fool others into thinking we’re doing right. We can fool others. But we’re not fooling God.

Let us not sear our consciences by making excuses (I Timothy 4:2). Instead let us confess them before God and in his grace and his strength, deal with them.

As John said,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)

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A missing message (Luke 13:1-5)

In the States, we are living in troubled times.

One can’t avoid the stories of violence and racism rampant in our society.

Stories of police brutality. Stories of looting and rioting. Stories of murder.

One side decries systemic problems. The other side decries the multiple problems in the black community.

What would Jesus say to all this?

I think we get a pretty good idea from this passage.

Some people had brought up the latest news story to Jesus. The governor of Judea Pontius Pilate had murdered some Jews mingling their blood with their own sacrifices.

What kind of reaction did they expect from Jesus?

One would have thought that their reaction would be, “Say something against the systemic injustice in this nation! Criticize Pilate!”

Strangely enough, though, it seems from Jesus’ answer that those who brought the news were thinking, “Man, these Jews must have been pretty bad to deserve such a death.”

Jesus refused to criticize those men, at least directly. On the other hand, he also didn’t criticize Pilate, calling for social justice.

What did he say?

Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all the other Galileans because they suffered these things? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well. (2-3)

He then brought up another tragic news story, a tower seemingly randomly falling on a bunch of other Jews, killing them all. And he said of them,

…do you think they were more sinful than all the other people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well. (4)

What was Jesus doing with those words? He was getting people to get their eyes off the sin of others and onto themselves.

What would he say in today’s situation?

I think he would say something like this.

“Do you think Derek Chauvin is more sinful than all others in America because he is being put on trial for murder? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will be judged in a much higher court than even Chauvin is in.

“Do you think that George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks were more sinful than all the other people living in Minneapolis and Atlanta? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.

“Do you think those who are looting, rioting, and killing are more sinful than all other Americans? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you too will be judged.

“Do you think those in the black community are more sinful than all other Americans? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you too will be judged.

“Do you think those in the white community are more sinful than all other Americans? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you too will be judged.”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think by any means that Jesus was disregarding the sins of Pilate or those who were killed in those tragedies 2000 years ago. Nor does he disregard the sins of Floyd, Brooks, Chauvin, or all those who are looting, rioting, and killing. He doesn’t disregard the sins of the black community, the white community, the Asian community, or any other community. One day, they will all stand before his judgment seat to be judged.

But so must we.

And if we have not repented, we will all perish.

As the apostle Paul put it,

There is no one righteous, not even one.
There is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away;
all alike have become worthless.
There is no one who does what is good,
not even one.
Their throat is an open grave;
they deceive with their tongues.
Vipers’ venom is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and wretchedness are in their paths,
and the path of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. For no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law. (Romans 3:10-20)

So before you decry the sins of the black community or the white community, before you decry the sins of the people around you, look at yourself. For unless you repent, you yourself will perish. The only hope you and I have is in Jesus.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)

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What a disciple looks like (Luke 11:1-4)

Luke 11:2-4 is often called the Lord’s prayer.

More accurately, it’s called the disciple’s prayer.

Jesus has called us to make disciples of all nations. But what does a disciple look like?

I think this prayer shows us.

  1. Disciples recognize God as their loving Father. They are not afraid of him. They understand in their heart of hearts that God loves and accepts them, and because of that they joyfully and confidently draw near to him.
  2. Disciples honor their Father’s name. By the way they think. By the way they speak. By the way they act.
  3. The kingdom of God is their top priority, even above their own needs. And their desire is that all the world would honor God as they do.
  4. Disciples are dependent on their Father, both for their physical needs and spiritual protection. Linked with this is an utter trust in their Father.
  5. Disciples realize their need for God’s mercy and grace every day. And because of that, they extend that mercy and grace to the people around them.

Is this you? And is this the kind of people we’re raising in our families, our churches, and our small groups?

By God’s grace may we all become true disciples of Christ. And may we make this prayer truly our own.

 

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What God desires (Luke 10:38-41)

Years ago, I read a book called “Shadow of the Almighty” which recorded many of the thoughts of a missionary named Jim Elliot. It was probably one of the most influential books I have ever read in my life and has shaped my thinking in so many ways over the years. As I read today’s passage about Mary and Martha, I thought once again of something that Elliot said that impacted me then and impacts me to this day.

How well I see now that He is wanting to do something in me! So many missionaries, intent on doing something, forget that His main work is to make something of them, not just to do a work by their stiff and bungling fingers.

In short, God is not so interested in what I can do. He is interested in me.

So often we forget that. We think we have to impress him by what we do. But while certainly God desires to work through us, let us never forget that he is more interested in us than what he can do through us.

And so I pray with Elliot,

Teach me, Lord Jesus, to live simply and love purely, like a child, and to know that You are unchanged in Your attitudes and actions toward me.

 

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Sent out to proclaim and to heal (Luke 9)

The tragedy in the States continues. I just read of an 8-year old girl that was shot in Atlanta in the same neighborhood where Rayshard Brooks was killed. 75 shootings have occurred in Atlanta in the last few weeks, and killings in cities across the United States are up dramatically. And as in Atlanta, this is not police shootings we’re talking about.

As the Atlanta mayor said, “We’re fighting the enemy within when we are shooting each other up in our streets.”

Or as a famous cartoonist once put it, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

And it’s not just the black community that is hurting in all this. It’s this entire world that is hurting.

What do we do?

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. (1-2, ESV)

We may not have the same power to heal sicknesses that the apostles had.

But we do have the same power and authority over the satanic powers in this world.

And we are called to proclaim God’s kingdom and to bring healing to those whose lives  are broken by sin.

We are living in a broken world. It’s broken because people have rejected their King. And so to proclaim God’s kingdom is to bring people back to their King. Because only when people submit to their King can true healing begin. Racial healing. Marital and family healing. Emotional and spiritual healing. The healing of our communities, cities, and our nations.

We are sent to proclaim and heal. Let’s get to work.

 

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The more we minister (Luke 5)

Today verses 15-16 struck me.

But the news about [Jesus] spread even more, and large crowds would come together to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.

Every day, Jesus touched the lives of thousands of people. But the more time he spent ministering, the more time he needed time with his Father.

If Jesus needed that time, how much more do we?

If we are not filled with the love, wisdom, and peace of God, how can we then minister to others?

If we are tired mentally and spiritually, eventually we will burn out.

So let’s not neglect our time with God. Especially if we are ministering to people, let’s be sure to spend our own time with God.

Recently, I’ve been thinking I need to wrap up my day with prayer and being quiet before the Lord myself.

Remember: The more you minister, the more time you need with God.

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Our message (Luke 4)

I ended last week by talking about the real problem in society and the only true solution.The real problem in society is not systemic racism or injustice, but sin in the hearts of individuals. Unless you deal with the sin in the hearts of individuals, all the reform of the world’s systems will not make any substantial change.

And so our message needs to be the message Jesus gave.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me
to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (18-19)

Jesus then said,

Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled. (21)

What kind of good news was Jesus preaching? What kind of release was he proclaiming? What kind of sight was he restoring? What kind of oppression was he dealing with? In what way was he proclaiming the Lord’s favor?

Was he talking about all the problems we see in society?

No. Jesus dealt with none of the societal problems of his day when it came to the oppression the Jews were facing from the Romans during his three-year ministry. Neither did the apostles after they took over his ministry.

Instead, he was talking about release for the spiritual prisoners, restoration of their spiritual sight (although he did restore physical sight too), and freedom from their spiritual oppression. When he talked about God’s favor, he meant God showering down his grace upon us so that our sins may be forgiven and that we might receive new life, a life restored from the brokenness of sin.

That’s the message of hope we proclaim.

Am I saying then that we just let our society fall apart around us? That we don’t care when we see injustice around us? No. Get involved in your community. Get involved in politics. At the very least, vote. Let your voice be heard.

But never forget your primary mission: to proclaim his gospel. If any other message is exchanged for it, no matter how good the cause, we will eventually lose sight of our true mission.

What message are you proclaiming?

 

 

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The real problem, the real solution (Luke 3)

In the States, we hear the terms “systemic racism” or  “systemic injustice” being thrown around left and right. And even within the church, people debate how systemic these problems really are.

As I read Luke chapter 3 today, however, it seems crystal clear where the real problem lies and what the real solution is.

John the Baptist came onto the scene in Israel and made an instant impact.

What was he pointing to in his preaching? Systemic racism and oppression against the Jews? Systemic injustice in Rome?

No. He pointed to individuals and their sin, and he called them to repent.

And John was not one to mince his words.

Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. (7-8)

John wasn’t speaking to the Roman government. Nor was he speaking primarily to those in power among the Jews. He was talking to the people.

What did he preach?

  1. God’s wrath is coming upon you because of your sin.
  2. Repent, not just in your words, but in your actions.

Even for those in the corrupt “system,” the tax collectors and the soldiers, John did not call on them to reform the system, much as the system needed reform. He called on them to repent as individuals. To change their own actions.

But this is a lost message in many churches.

We no longer preach sin, no less accountability for it.

No doubt there are problems in the system. And there is no doubt that there is some degree of oppression in them, although I would argue there is a lot less of it than there was 50 years ago. Does that mean we then stop working for reform? Of course not.

But all the reform of the world’s systems will never solve the true problem: the human heart.

Let’s assume for a moment that all racism is completely eradicated from the system. Will that then eliminate all of society’s problems?

No. Because sin will still reign in the hearts of people.

You already see that in the hearts of many who are calling for reform. They aren’t calling for justice as defined by the Bible. Their concept of sin is so far from the concept as found in the Bible, that we’ll end up in Sodom and Gomorrah if we follow them to their logical conclusion.

True God-honoring societal change will not come from systemic reform, especially as it is defined by many of the current “reformers.”

It will only come when we start calling individuals to repent of their sin.We need to tell them what sin is. We need to tell them what the ultimate consequences of their sin are. And we need to tell them what God has done to rescue us from this problem. And if we fail to do that, if we instead make systemic reform our “gospel,” we will have failed in the commission God has given us. (See Ezekiel 33 and Acts 20:21, 24-27).

The gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel that God loves us and desires to save us has no meaning apart from the concept of sin and repentance.

After all, if people cannot even recognize their own sin, what are they being saved from? Racial oppression? Poverty? Disease?

All these are important, but they are secondary to the primary problem of the human race: their own personal sin.

Make no mistake, though. The world does not want to hear that message. For all their cries for justice, they want nothing to do with God’s justice. They want nothing to do with hearing about their own personal sin and their accountability to God for that sin.

Just look at John the Baptist. Herod sinned by marrying his brother’s wife. And when John rebuked him for this one sin (although there were apparently others as well), Herod imprisoned him, and eventually executed him.

We the church will be persecuted if we preach sin. But we can’t be faithful to our call unless we do.

Question: when will we not only call for people in the system to repent, but for people among the “reformers” to repent? There are Christian leaders who rightfully call for systemic reform. But where are those same leaders when it comes to calling for repentance among the “reformers?”

When we see injustice, let’s fight against it. If you want to march or sign petitions for it, great. If you want to post your opinions on social media, fine.

But more importantly, let’s start with the individuals we know and start preaching repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). Because only when the hearts of individuals change will we see true societal change.

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Doing our Father’s work (Luke 2:41-49)

As I looked at the story of the adolescent Jesus, his words to his parents struck me.

Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” (49)

Jesus probably isn’t saying here, “I needed to be here in the temple to worship my Father.”

Actually, in the Greek, the word “house” is not even there. It literally says, “Didn’t you know it was necessary for me to be in the …. of my Father.”

Obviously, he was in the temple, so the word “house” gets put in there by translators. But in the KJV and the footnotes of most translations, it says, “it was necessary for me to be doing my Father’s business.”

And that was probably Jesus’s ultimate meaning: “I need to be involved with the things my Father is doing.”

As God’s children, so do we. That doesn’t necessarily mean we need to be serving at the church every day. It does mean that wherever we are, we need to see what God is doing around us. Whenever we touch people with his love, that’s doing ministry. That’s getting involved with our Father’s business.

How about you? Are you involved with your Father’s business?

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James and social media (James 1:19-20)

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” (19-20)

When I read these words, I thought about our uses of social media.

Recently throughout the world, but especially in the U.S., we’ve been hearing a lot of horrific news. And when we read these things, or we read people’s opinions on these things, it’s easy to get angry and think, “I’ve got to respond to this on social media!”

But when we use social media, we should heed James’s words. Do we know all the facts? And where is our anger coming from? Is our anger accomplishing God’s righteousness?

For that matter, are our words and our anger actually accomplishing anything at all?

Before posting things on SNS, we should think about such things.

That includes me, by the way.

We should also think about these things when it comes to email. Sometimes we receive emails that make us angry, and we need to think very carefully about how we respond. 99.9999% of the time, email is not the way to respond. Rather, we should talk to that person directly.

So when it comes to social media and email, let’s be careful.

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Though we live in crazy times (Matthew 28)

I don’t know about you, but when I look at what’s going on in the world, and particularly in the United States, it seems this world is going mad.

But I took heart from the last few verses of this chapter.

Jesus said,

All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. (18)

People sometimes abuse their power. Others try to tear down power structures.

But ultimately, all authority has been given to Jesus. He still rules, and no one can ever strip him of his power.

Jesus final words also bring me comfort.

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (20)

Sometimes, it’s hard to see Jesus through the eyes of faith. But just because our faith falters at times and we can’t seem to find him doesn’t mean he has abandoned us. He promised to be with us until the end of time. And he will keep that promise.

So what does this mean for us? Do we just relax then in the comfort of God’s love?

No. We do what Jesus told us to do.

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. (19-20)

We’re living in a broken world, and there’s a lot of work to do.

Let’s get to it.

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When love grows cold (Matthew 24)

In talking about the last days, Jesus says something pretty chilling.

Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. (12)

The scary thing is, he says this of those who profess to be God’s people.

When it says lawlessness will multiply, I wonder exactly what that means.

Does it mean that lawlessness will multiply in the world to such an extent that some among God’s people will start to despair. They lose faith that God is good and their cynicism towards him and others turns their love cold?

Or does it mean that they themselves will be swept into lawlessness, rejecting God’s word  and living for themselves, thus turning their love for God and others cold?

I don’t know. But either way, we need to guard our hearts.

Guard your hearts against sin. Don’t let yourself slip into sin by making excuses for it. When you harden your heart by making excuses for your sin, your love for God and others will inevitably grow cold.

And when you see the evil around you and everything looks beyond hope, don’t lose your faith in God. Keep believing he is good. Know in your heart that the day is coming when Jesus will return and make all things right.

Jesus promises us,

…the one who endures to the end will be saved. (13)

So remember your hope.

This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (14)

The evil we see in this world will not last forever. So by God’s grace, let us endure with hearts overflowing with his love, and proclaiming his gospel to this dying world.

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