Amazing grace, indeed!

God controls history including every large and small event, every good and bad situation. Those who trust Him can rest that His grace will get us home.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 7-9; Galatians 4

Selected Verses

 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.  Isaiah 9:6-7

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!” Galatians 4:4-6

Reflections

King Ahaz was in a tizzy.  He saw Israel joining with Syria against his kingdom, Judah.  God sent Isaiah to him to reassure him that all would be well, that, in fact, Israel and Syria were the ones who would go down.  Ahaz resisted the message and even turned down the offer of a God-sent sign.  Isaiah gave him a sign from God anyway, and what a sign!  The sign was “the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”- God with us (7:14).

The sign had an immediate fulfillment, but it also pointed ultimately to the Incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary.  He would be Immanuel in every sense of the word.  While the immediate fulfillment of the sign of the birth of a son to Ahaz would show assurance of deliverance of a short term military threat, the ultimate fulfillment would bring deliverance from the guilt and curse of all those under the law.  But not only that, this Son and Redeemer would bring adoption as sons of God, who would send His Spirit into the hearts of His people.  Spirit-possessing sons would cry out “Abba, Father” and not live in fear of any army or any future legal process resulting in their conviction and sentencing.

Think about it

Let this truth sink deep in your heart.  God sent His Son, a sign of His grace for guilty sinners.  Amazing grace, indeed!

A Serving of Grace with a Dose of Reality

When God gives us a dose of reality it includes not only a clear look at our own hearts but also at His.  There we see mercy and grace for every need.

Today’s reading

Deuteronomy 31-32; Luke 1:1-23

Selected Verses

For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death!  Deuteronomy 31:27

And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.  Luke 1:20

Reflections

The Bible never sugar coats the reality of fallen human nature.  People, even God’s people, are not viewed through rose colored glasses but rather are shown to be sinners who never seem to learn from their mistakes and have a hard time believing God’s plain and clear word.

Moses had reassured the Israelites that God would be with them as they entered the Promised Land, but he also told them that he knew their hearts.  They would forsake the Lord and go after other gods.  Moses knew that they already showed this tendency during his lifetime and they would not improve after his death.

Of course all that Moses predicted came true.  The people abandoned their Lord to worship other gods.  Nevertheless, God showed enormous mercy and grace to them in the midst of all their failures and rebellion.

We come to the incident with Zechariah, the elderly childless priest who was assigned the duty of entering the Holy of Holies in the temple.  He was greeted by the angel Gabriel.  It must have been a terrifying moment.  The announcement that he and Elizabeth would have a son had to be beyond startling.  Yet Zechariah dared to question the truthfulness of the angel’s words.  He showed shameless disbelief and was struck dumb for his obtuseness.  The Lord disciplined him but still blessed him in his old age with an outstanding son, John the Baptist.

Think about it

Throughout the Scriptures, God  gives His people a dose of reality, but He also shows His mercy, grace, and patience toward us.  He will not abandon those He has chosen for Himself.  He is faithful, although we show stubbornness and unbelief far too often.

Praise God for never leaving or forsaking us redeemed sinners.  How desperately we need a huge serving of grace with a dose of reality!

 

God’s Grace for Every Battle and Failure

Despite God’s promises and Christ’s warnings, our failure can be big. But bigger still is His grace toward us frightened and guilty sheep.

Today’s reading

Deuteronomy 20-22; Mark 14:26-50

Selected Verses

And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, “Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.”  Deuteronomy 20:2-4

And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’  But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”  Mark 14:27-28

Reflections

Moses instructed the people of Israel about the proper sense of confidence in the Lord as they prepared to go into the Promised Land and face entrenched enemies. He did not tell them that they were the greatest army ever fielded nor that their enemies were a bunch of wimps. He promised that the Lord their God would go with them to fight for them and to give them the victory.

Jesus’ disciples also faced a daunting enemy, those opponents of the Lord who had conspired together to arrest Him and put Him to death. Jesus forewarned the disciples that they would fall away. He said their desertion would fulfill Scripture. They objected.  Peter asserted that they would die with Jesus. All gave a hearty “amen.”

Of course, these were empty promises. But Jesus also pointed them beyond their failure – to His resurrection,  He would meet them in Galilee.

Think about it

The key to remaining faithful under extreme pressure is to focus on God, His presence, His power, and His faithfulness.  He will be with us in the worst of trials. He will never leave us or forsake us. We may waver. We may fall away, like the disciples. But He will never fail us. He is gracious to His fearful sheep.

What scary trial do you face now? Are you confident of His presence? If you have failed to trust Him do you know that He welcomes back His frightened sheep and defeated children? Paul wrote to Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1).   Be confident in Him. In Christ, there is grace to face your toughest battles and grace to cover your greatest failures.

 

Who Would Begrudge Grace?

Who would begrudge grace? Doesn’t everyone sing “Amazing Grace” with much gusto? Apparently not, as Jesus demonstrates in an alarming parable.

Today’s reading

Exodus 19-21; Matthew 20:1-16

Selected Verses

Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. Exodus 21:1

 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?  Matthew 20:15

Reflections

In today’s reading in Exodus, God gives His law to Moses for Israel.  This law includes moral, political, and ceremonial aspects.  Can you find any indication of grace in this law system?  Yes, but it can be easily overlooked.  The ceremonial law established  a priesthood and offerings for sin, to atone for the breaking of the law. It points to a need for a permanent offering for sin.  It anticipates the grace of God that would be revealed in Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, the tone of the law sounds like justice, equity, and being responsible to do what is right.  The political or civil law designated proper responsibilities for restitution to injured parties, ethical treatment of slaves, and so forth.  It is easy for those under law to get a mentality of doing what is specified and no more.  The minimum required tends to become the maximum rendered.

As John 1:17 tells us, “…the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Accordingly, Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard show how God pours His grace out on some.  The master of the house paid the early workers their due but the later arriving workers got the same amount.  The former complained about the disparity.  They show they do not understand nor accept the graciousness of the master.

The law was given to show us our sin (Romans 3:19-20), but, having seen it, we are called to seek God who deals with His children with grace, giving what we have not earned nor deserved.

Think about it

Who would begrudge grace? Those who see themselves as righteous, not needing grace.  Resentment toward God for His grace toward others indicates never having received His grace.  Be warned.  Seek the God of grace who in Jesus Christ, His Son, kept the law perfectly and made an offering for sin that covers all who turn to Him in faith and repentance.

Hopeful but not Presumptuous

Today’s reading:

Hosea 12:1- Joel 2:27

My Selection:

I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.  (Joel 2:25)

This quotation from the prophet Joel exudes the greatness of God’s grace and power.  He sent an invasion of locusts on His people, but He also promised that in the end He would restore to them the losses of that devastation.   God is able to replace what we lost through the consequences of our sin.  It’s never too late to come to the Lord.  We are never beyond His power to save.

A Warning against Two Dangers

Grace and mercy should not lead us to a presumptuous attitude toward God’s commands to holiness.  We must not say, “My sin doesn’t matter.  God can restore the years that the locust has eaten.”  I recently asked the students in my Sunday school class, “which is liable to be more dangerous to your spiritual life: presumption or hopelessness?”  After some discussion, the consensus seemed to be “both are dangerous.”

Beware of hopelessness and of presumption. Both are dangerous to our walk with the Lord.

[For more reflections on today’s reading, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

[Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.]

 

 

The Blessing of God’s People

Today’s reading: Numbers 4:34-6:27

One of my joys as a pastor is to give this benediction to God’s people. Those who understand it’s meaning (i.e. that it is not a prayer during which we traditionally bow our heads and close our eyes) stand looking with expectancy for God’s blessing through His Word and by His Spirit.

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.  Numbers 6:24-26

[For more reflections on these passages see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

God’s Presence, Consistent Character, and Success

Today’s reading: Genesis 39:1-41:36

Joseph is an exemplary figure when it comes to steadiness in the midst of trials and prosperity. His circumstances fluctuated wildly from extreme prosperity to desperate straits. He went from being his father’s favorite to being in danger of death at the hands of his brothers. He was a slave, a trusted servant of Potiphar, a prisoner, and the second to Pharaoh of Egypt.

Through all of that he did not waiver in his faithfulness to the Lord. He is to be admired, but, certainly, it was God who gave him grace and strength to endure and, in the end, to serve as the deliverer of his family from famine and possible death.

I often ask myself, “which is harder to endure, want or plenty, failures or victories? In which circumstance am I most severely tested and tempted to be unfaithful to the Lord?” It always seems to me that having plenty is more dangerous than having little.

How about you? Are you more susceptible to temptation in times of prosperity or in times of need?

NOTE: Your thoughtful comments and respectful criticisms are welcome below. Please allow a day or two for approval to see your reply on line.

[For more reflections on today’s passage see the January 15 reading in Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

Selfish or Selfless?

Today’s reading: Genesis 19:30-22:24

Anyone who thinks that people are basically good will find the Bible to show otherwise. The lives portrayed in Scripture are full of conflict. Abraham has tensions with Abimelech. Lot fathers two sons by his conniving daughters. Those sons are the patriarchs of tribes that would be hostile to Israel. There is conflict between Ishmael and Isaac.

What’s the problem?

The heart is the problem. Just as we can see in the lives of Lot’s daughters, merely changing our surroundings does not solve our heart problems, our pride, lust, impatience, and all the rest. We need much more than a fresh start in Zoar, we need new hearts.

What is the solution?

As Abraham said to Isaac, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering…” And He has. God tested Abraham to the limit, but, at the last moment, provided a ram for the offering. God spared Isaac but He did not spare His own Son as an offering, so great was His love for His people and for His own holiness (Romans 8:32). Through the offering of His Son all who believe in Him are given new hearts and reconciled to God.

This is the path to salvation and the solution to the perpetual conflict in human existence.

NOTE: Your thoughtful comments and respectful criticisms are welcome below. Please allow a day or two for approval to see your reply on line.

[For more reflections on today’s passage see the January 7 reading in Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

 

Covering for Sin

Today’s reading: Genesis 9:18-12:9

Now we come to the incident of Noah’s drunkenness and his sons’ reactions to it.  Here is a poignant lesson in our need and our responsibility. We need mercy and covering for our sin.  We are responsible  to show mercy to others and minimize their sin and failures. I find this challenging, but, by God’s grace, I want to be faithful as I have opportunity to apply this truth.

From Noah the lineage is carefully traced from his three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  Following Shem’s descendants we come to one Terah and his son Abram, (later to be called Abraham.).  We learn that God called  Abram with these words:

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3

This is one of the pivotal passages in all the Bible and we will refer to it again in the course of our reading. God called a pagan man and made a covenant with him. The rest of the Old Testament records the unfolding of that covenant.

Meanwhile, look out for the sinner who has fallen drunk and naked in the way. He (or she) needs covering.

NOTE: Your thoughtful comments and respectful criticisms are welcome below. Please allow a day or two for approval to see your reply on line.

[For more reflections on today’s passage see the January 4 reading in Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days]

 

Lethal Sin

Without God’s grace to repent, we are prone to hold on to sin till it kills us.

Today’s reading: Jonah 1-4; Revelation 9

And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”                                                         Jonah 4:8b-9

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.             Revelation 9:20-21

Unbelief, like all kinds of other sin, is hard to let go. Many learn this the hard way.

Jonah was sent the city of Nineveh, a city so evil that God decided to bring judgment on it. But first, He decreed that they should have one last chance to repent. So he chose Jonah to go. We all know the story. Jonah went in another direction, was intercepted by the big fish, and learned that God could stop him anywhere. Then Jonah, like Nineveh, got a second chance to obey God. This time he obeyed, sort of. Jonah proclaimed God’s message to the city. Lo and behold, they repented, God relented and spared them.

Jonah was so angry he wanted to die. He appreciated what God had done for him, sparing him from a watery grave inside a fish. But now, he hated God’s mercy toward Nineveh, that wicked city. He wanted to die, but God mercifully discussed the matter with him. Jonah got yet a third chance to get it right. We are left to wonder if he did.

In Revelation 9, we find God’s judgment upon the earth after the fifth angel’s trumpet. Conditions were such that people were seeking death but for a different reason than Jonah. They sought death because they could not see any escape from the wrath of God. They had no hope. But they could not die, at least, not all of them. Did the survivors repent and call out for mercy, like the Ninevites before them? No! They persisted in their unbelief, their idolatry and demon worship.

Why do some, under severe judgment, repent while others grow more hardened in rebellion against God? The answer is that God grants repentance to some and not to others. It is not a function of the severity of the trial or the eloquence of the preacher (Jonah was a reluctant preacher, at best). The different is the sovereign work of God in the hearts of the hearers or sufferers. Here the Ninevites were wiser and more receptive than the fifth trumpet generation. Observe and learn from these examples: negative and positive. Without grace to repent, sin is lethal.