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!

The God of Peace and the Peace of God

Deep disappointment, alienation, pride, and disagreement occur in relationships, but the God of peace is glorified with reconciliation.

Today’s Reading

Song of Solomon 4-5; Second Corinthians 13

Selected Verses

 I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.  Song of Solomon 5:6

Finally, brothers,  rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Second Corinthians 13:11

Reflections

Romantic love has its ups and downs, and Solomon paints that picture in his Song. Anyone who has ever been in love can relate to this: the exhilaration of the first glimpse of the one who steals your heart completely (4:9) and the agony of possible loss of that relationship forever (5:6). With all the benefits and risks involved, we feel these are risks worth taking, because God said on the sixth day of creation, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). So, most of us pursue a lifelong, loving relationship with a mate. Alas, it can be elusive.  When found, it is never without difficulties and setbacks. But it is pleasing to the God of love to find it, and to nurture it.

In the Church, Christians are called to live in love demonstrating true discipleship through a level of sacrificial love faintly reflecting that of Jesus Christ (John 13:34, 35). The Corinthian church of Paul’s day had plenty of challenges. They were divided.  Phony “super apostles” drew them away from the true faith. They were tolerant of gross sin in their midst. All this was unacceptable, but not fatal, to the fellowship. Paul instructed them in the two letters, which we still have, as to how to overcome these problems and be restored to a life of peace together. This is what God calls them to.

Think about it

All of us, believers, need one another in the context of the local church. We are called out to be His body and to work together for His glory. He is not glorified when sin is overlooked and tolerated and when there is division and competition that negates the message of reconciliation with God. That reconciliation with Him is the foundation for our reconciliation with one another. For us who are married in Christ, we also are called to model, on a human level, the relationship of Christ and His Church. The same commands and promises Paul gave the church in Corinth apply to us who are married. Seek to be such that the God of peace and the peace of God are always with you.

Unstoppable Love

Love overcomes any obstacle and pays whatever price necessary for the beloved. Unstoppable is the love that Christ has for His Church.

Today’s Reading

Song of Solomon 1-3; Second Corinthians 12

Selected Verses

 The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes,
leaping over the mountains,
bounding over the hills.  Song of Solomon 2:8

I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.   Second Corinthians 12:15

Reflections

Over the centuries, Bible scholars have sought allegorical interpretations of the Song of Solomon attempting to minimize the obvious sensual language here. Yet today evangelical scholars hold widely that the poem speaks of the beauty of sexual love between a man and woman in the context of marriage. While sex has been and is abused by humanity the world over, when experienced within the boundaries set by God’s law, it is honorable and God-glorifying (Hebrews 13:4).   Paul’s comparison of the relationship of Christ and the Church to that of the relationship between a husband and wife does not denigrate the former relationship, but, rather, ennobles the latter (Ephesians 5:22-33).

The poem poignantly describes the intense desire between a man and a woman in love. This attraction is not degraded or sinful but exalted and celebrated. The beloved revels in hearing her lover’s voice. Her joy is palpable as she anticipates his arrival. He leaps over mountains and bounds over hills to get to her. Clearly, his love is unstoppable.

Paul is jealous for the Corinthian congregation as she seems to be on the verge of being seduced away from a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” by “super-apostles” (Second Corinthians 11:2-5). He has been making his case against these usurpers showing his own devotion to the Lord and to them. Though Paul is merely a messenger of Christ, he loves the Church on behalf of Christ. He loves whom the Lord loves, His elect people. So in showing that his ministry is authentic and reliable, he enumerates how he has paid and will pay a price to serve them in the gospel. “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls,” he tells them. His love, like Jesus’, is unstoppable.

Think about it

Are you married?  Consider how well your marriage reflects the godly love and commitment of Christ to the Church. Can you say to your spouse, “I am glad to spend and be spent for your soul?”  Whether you are a married or a single believer, think about the price Christ paid for your soul because of His unstoppable love for you.

The Sniffable Christian

Christians are called to shoulder a heavy responsibility, one that even the Apostle Paul found daunting. Did you know you emit a distinct fragrance?

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 17-18; Second Corinthians 2

Selected Verses

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and the Lord tests hearts.  Proverbs 17:3

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,  to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?   Second Corinthians 2:14-16

Reflections

One of the themes in Proverbs is the dichotomy between fools and wise people, between the faithful and the slothful, between those who receive instruction and those who are wise in their own eyes. While it is not always evident to the observer the true state of another person’s heart, God is able to test hearts and He does. Precious metal is purified by fire. The hearts of people are tested by God. So God’s judgment will never be unjust. He is a Judge who truly has all the information. [See Romans 2:15-16]

Paul bares his thoughts and feelings about his ministry. He finds it painful to confront people on hard issues and when he does, he does it because he loves them. This does not mean that the responses he gets are always positive. He gets strong reactions to his mere presence because wherever he goes God “through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”

That fragrance will be either the scent of life or the stench of death depending on the heart condition of the one doing the sniffing. So God who tests hearts uses His people to reveal the state of hearts. This is not the only way God tests hearts, but it is certainly one way. And Paul exclaims, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

Think about it

Indeed, who wants to carry such a burden? Who wants to be the person who, when entering the room, causes the crowd to either flee from him or flock to him? But that is the role of the believer and, if we are such, we should assume this role with humility and submission.

No, we are not sufficient for these things. But it is not us. It is Christ in us. He “always leads us in triumphal procession.” Trust Him. Follow Him. Expect to be sniffed.

By the way, if you find Christians abhorrent, be forewarned. You are probably perishing. May God give you grace to repent, believe, and find life in Him.

Denial? No! Hope? Yes!

Denial of reality is a common problem for us when life grows unbearable. The Bible never hides the truth about pain or the hope which we have in Christ.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 82-84; Romans 8:19-39

Selected Verses

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.  Psalm 84:11

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?   Romans 8:32

Reflections

We, humans, are known for denying reality under certain circumstances.  As a little boy I could put on a tough face after a nasty fall on the playground with my buddies watching.  “I’m OK!” I could claim loudly while grimacing inwardly.  [That would not be the case if my mom was nearby to comfort.]

The God of the Bible never encourages our denial of reality. While the psalms are filled with laments, the Psalmist never loses hope.  He finds his complete fulfillment in God.  Nothing but God’s presence delights him.  There he sings for joy (Psalm 84:2).  One day in the courts of the Lord is better than a thousand anywhere else.  Being a doorkeeper for the Lord is better than being in prominence in the “tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10).

In the same way, Paul in his letter to the Romans doesn’t downplay the reality of pain and suffering in this world.  We groan as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  To help us, we have hope that gives us patience.  We have the Holy Spirit to help us pray and to intercede for us.  God promises that all things work together for good and that He has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son.  We are called, justified, and glorified by God.

Think about it

We can be confident that all this is true because if God has given us His Son, and He has, He will certainly give us every other necessary thing with Him. God promises that those who are in Christ Jesus will never lack any good thing.

If you are in Christ, you know what the Psalmist and the Apostle Paul are saying.  Your heart longs to be with the Lord.  This world is not your final destination.  Nothing here totally satisfies you.  You are a citizen of heaven and you want to be home (Philippians 3:20-21).  But you are not home. Not yet.  Your way may be difficult, but the victory is sure.  You are more than a conqueror “through Him who loved us.”  Be filled with hope because our God is the God of hope (Romans 15:13).

When the Prosperity Gospel Goes Bankrupt

The prosperity gospel teaches “Believe in Jesus and you will have health and wealth.” But many of us find this isn’t true. What then?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 73-74; Romans 5

Selected Verses

 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.   Psalm 73:25-26

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings.  Romans 5:1-3

Reflections

As Psalm 73 opens, the writer is not satisfied at all—not in God, not with life.  He lays out a common complaint. “Why do the unrighteous prosper while good people suffer?” His observation is accurate in many cases.  You’d think the opposite would always hold. But keep reading.  The Psalm gives us two answers to that question.

The first, and most obvious, answer is that though the present life may be comfortable for them the end of the wicked is ruin, destruction, and terrors (vs.17-19).   In light of this, the Psalmist’s complaint turns into a confession of his ignorance and brutishness toward God (vs. 21-22).

Second, the righteous clings to the hope of a good final end, unfazed by the suffering of his present life.  He has the Lord with Him and enjoys God’s guidance.  The godly anticipate the glory to come (vs. 23, 24). God is all he desires, all he needs. He has everything in Him. Why complain and compare?

Paul in Romans 5 expands this thought as he describes the relationship which the justified sinner has with God. That new relationship is one of peace, grace, joy, and hope all through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Are there sufferings? Yes! But even sufferings are a cause for joy, because they serve to build endurance, character, and hope. How is this possible? Because of the love God has “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (vs. 5).

Think about it

Even for us who know Christ, envy of the wicked and complaints about our lot in life will crop up from time to time in our hearts.  Don’t let them take root and flourish. Instead find joy in the hope of coming glory and be satisfied in God alone. As pastor and author Dr. John Piper, famously says “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” We will not learn to be satisfied in Him without a good portion of suffering after the prosperity gospel has gone bankrupt.

 

Praise and Faith When All Seems Lost

Praise of God and growth in faith build on each other. Praise builds faith and faith fuels praise even when all seems lost.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 70-72; Romans 4

Selected Verses

My lips will shout for joy,
when I sing praises to you;
my soul also, which you have redeemed.  Psalm 71:23

No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”

Romans 4:20-22

Reflections

Much of the content of the Psalms is praise to God. But this praise is not isolated from the realities of life, the struggles, and the seemingly hopeless dilemmas that can come to the believer. In the midst of it all, the Psalmist frequently lifts up his voice in praise for deliverance experienced or expected.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, shows that the greatest dilemma of all is the problem of our sin before a holy God. No one is righteous. Not one. [Romans 1:18-3:20]. Yet, God manifested His righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ who shed His blood for the redemption of all who believe in Him.

Paul anticipates a question about the role of Abraham in all of this and carefully lays out the case showing that Abraham himself was justified by faith not by the law of circumcision or any other law. Abraham believed that God would fulfill His promises to make him the father of many nations despite his and Sarah’s advanced age, and that faith was counted to him as righteousness. In what might be considered an aside, Paul says, Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.”

Think about it

How can you cultivate faith especially in what appears to be a hopeless situation? Learn the lesson from Abraham. Try giving glory to God. Give glory to Him for what He has done in the past. Praise Him for what He is doing now. Give glory to Him for His wisdom in answering prayers according to His purposes and timing. Perhaps you will see the fulfillment of your prayers, but, if not, God will be glorified and your focus will be where it should be, on Him not on your problem.

Sunless Days and Starless Nights

How can you tell your faith is unshaken in a storm with sunless days and starless nights?  Today’s reading gives a means to test the quality of your faith.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 50-52; Acts 27:1-25

Selected Verses

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.  Psalm 50:14-15

For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.” So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.  Acts  27:23-25

Reflections

The Psalmist makes a powerful statement about God.  He is the rightful owner of all people and all things, so we belong to Him and He deserves our thankful worship no matter how bleak our circumstances. God needs nothing from us.  He lacks nothing because all things are already His. Humans may insult Him with their puny offerings given in an attitude of pride or duty.  What does God want?  “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,” says the Scripture.

Paul in his eventful voyage on a prison ship to Rome becomes the real leader despite his lowly status as a prisoner.  His initial advice to winter over at Fair Havens was unheeded but was later proven to have been wise.  As the ship is driven by a storm, the angel of God appears to Paul giving him a promise of deliverance.  Paul identifies God as the One to whom he belongs and the One whom he worships. In the midst of a storm, which blocked out the sun and the stars day after day, Paul was clear on who God is and who he was before Him. “I belong to Him and I worship Him,” Paul says.

Nothing that happened to Paul could diminish his convictions about the reality of God’s existence and of His personal care for him. When trials increased his praise and thanksgiving did too.

Think about it

How can you tell your faith is unshaken in the storm?  Check the level of your thanksgiving.  Be sure your praise of God is on the rise.  God is pleased with a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  Nothing is more glorifying to Him than genuine praise and thanks especially on sunless days and starless nights.  Besides that, it also proves your faith is firm.

God Will be Exalted

God rules over the whole earth. He is with His people at all times and no matter what overtakes them.  Ultimately, He will be exalted by all.

Today’s reading

Psalms 44-46; Acts 25

Selected Verses

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Psalm 46:10-11

To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well.  If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.”  Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” Acts 25:10-12

Reflections

Psalm 46 reminds us that whether there is chaos in the cosmos or bloodbaths on the battlefields, God still rules over all things.  The believer is told not to fear but to be quiet and focus on the Lord who is over all the madness of men and the disintegration of the physical world. Nothing can stop Him, nor thwart His will, nor sever His people from Him.

Paul must have had a firm grasp on this truth as he was passed from one jurisdiction to another: from the Jews, to the Roman tribune, from Felix to Festus and from Festus to Agrippa and later to Caesar.  The arrested Apostle had stated his position, “not guilty.”  The charges weren’t sticking, but he was still in custody as a favor to the Jews.  He sought to maintain a clear conscience (Acts 24:16) and clearly stated that he would accept any sentence which was just, even death.  Festus shows confusion and ambivalence, offering to let Paul be tried in Jerusalem.  Paul appeals to Caesar.  The charges against him are not clear much less proven.  But Paul remains steady, trusting that God is using his testimony to the gospel in this setting before governors and kings for His glory.

Think about it

Do not be intimidated by the apparent powers of this world’s political systems.  God still rules.  Do not panic if it seems like the world may blow apart through some natural catastrophe.  In the midst of these kinds of crises, God shows His power and sovereignty.  Be still.  Trust Him.  He will be glorified.

God’s Providential Care

God’s people suffer, sometimes justly and sometimes unjustly. Either way, they trust in Him to deliver them for further service or to take them to glory.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 38-40; Acts 23:12-35

Selected Verses

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who delight in my hurt!
Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”    Psalm 40:13-15

So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris.   Acts 23:31

Reflections

The Psalmist endured much pain partly from his own sin and partly from the severe oppression that was mounted against him unjustly.  There is a difference between suffering due to our own sin and suffering due to being God’s servant.  [See First Peter 2:18-25].  But it is often not easy to separate our suffering into such neat, clean categories.  The Psalmist was suffering and in these laments he mixes the two causes and appeals to the Lord for forgiveness and deliverance.  Unlike Job, he recognizes some responsibility for what he is having to endure but also cries out for relief from those who plot against him unjustly (Psalm 38:3-4,11-12, 17-20; 40:12).

The events of Paul’s life show the power of God working providentially to preserve him from unjust suffering and for further service.   Forty men conspire to kill him. His nephew overhears the plot and reports it to Paul.  Paul wisely asks the centurion to take his nephew to the tribune.  The tribune takes immediate action and  rescues Paul  whom he then sends to the governor for trial, and, let us add, to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Imagine how the conspirators were completely “put to shame and disappointed altogether”!

Think about it

Most of us do not suffer such opposition as Paul did, but we do suffer in smaller ways.  Do you know that He watches over you?  Do you know that while you may feel that your iniquities are more than the hairs of your head (40:12) God’s care for you is such that He has the hairs of your head numbered and your iniquities covered by the blood of Christ (Luke 12:4-7; 24:44-47)?  Trust His providential care.  No one can thwart His plan for you. No, not even yourself.