Monday, December 28, 2009

God is Great

I know that the Lord is great,
that our Lord is greater than all gods.
The Lord does whatever pleases Him,
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all their depths.
Psalm 135:5-6

The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the Lord.
Proverbs 16:33

God is in control. Doesn't it just make you feel safe to realize that?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Proverbs 11:6

The righteousness of the upright delivers them,
but the unfaithful are trapped by evil desires.

The righteousness of the upright is Jesus. That's why we can be sure of our deliverance.

Evil desires are a trap. Sin is a trap. Satan has the victory when people think they are safe from the penalties of sin and therefore feel free to pursue sin.

Jesus sets us free from Satan's power and from sin and from death.

God rest ye, merry gentlemen
("Be still and know that I am God"--Psalm 46:10)
Let nothing you dismay,
("But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people!'"--Luke 2:10)
Remember Christ our Savior
was born on Christmas Day,

(" 'Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord!' "--Luke 2:11)
to save us all from Satan's power
when we had gone astray,

("But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons."--Galatians 4:4-5; "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."--Romans 5:6)
O tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy!
O tidings of comfort and joy!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fear and Forgiveness

Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let Your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with You there is forgiveness;
therefore You are feared.

Psalm 130:1-4

"With You there is forgiveness; therefore You are feared."

What does that mean?

In our culture, forgiveness and fear are mutually exclusive, and fear of the Lord is something that people dodge, avoid and even deny.

So how do we make sense of a statement like this?

"With You there is forgiveness; therefore You are feared."

The first thing we need to realize is something we miss all the time: The Christian life is not all about us. It is all about God. It is not about what we get, but about what He has given. It is not about where we stand in relation to our eternal destiny, but about where we stand with relation to our eternal God.

Man-centered theology is so prevalent that we embrace it even as we decry it. We hear the terms "man-centered theology" and "God-centered theology" and we know that God-centered must be better than man-centered. We might even say something about this. But we are so immersed in the man-centered that we cannot even imagine what God-centered is.

This may seem like a tangent, but bear with me: I think Disney's "Little Mermaid" movie is among the worst movies ever made. (Thematically, I mean; it has very cute music, which is a very dangerous thing, indeed.) It has the most destructive message I have ever seen in a movie, but it typifies the American attitude, an attitude that has sadly pervaded the church.

Think about it: Ariel's father gives her good instruction on how to live and be safe. Ariel is dissatisfied with all that her loving father has offered her and must have more (ummm... doesn't this sound a little like Eve in the garden of Eden?). She has been sternly warned not to go above sea level onto land, warned for her own good, by her father who loves her and does not want anything bad to happen to her.

Ariel heedlessly seeks her own way, selling her most precious gift, her lovely voice, to the sea witch, so she can pursue her lover. Why? Because she wants to. She wants her own way, and she takes it, breaking rules and disobeying all the way.

In the end, she gets herself into a terrible, deathly predicament. And what happens? Her father Triton appears and nearly dies while fighting to save her life (which, I remind you, is in danger precisely because she disobeyed her father). And after he saves her and appears Disney-esquely alive after seeming to be dead? She says, "O Papa, I am so sorry I disobeyed you! Will you please forgive me and take me home to the kingdom?" Oh no. Oh, heavens, no!

In the end, King Triton apologizes to his daughter because he was a mean father and did not give her her way. And she gets her way, along with everything she had demanded all along, and everyone lives happily ever after. I was literally spitting mad the first time (possibly the only time) I watched this movie. I never let my children watch it, although I expect that they saw it somewhere.

Sadly, this warped morality is exactly how many people see God and the Christian life. They think the Old Testament Law is like King Triton's rules for his daughters, mean and unreasonable (though possibly meant for good at the time). We are like Ariel, longing for freedom from rules and regulations. Jesus came and died for our sins so that we can have what they call "Freedom in Christ," and thereafter we are free to sin, because we have been forgiven, and God, something like King Triton at the end of "The Little Mermaid," is sorry that He ever placed such a burden as Old Testament Law on us.  Did you see that?  In the last sentence?  The supposition is that God is sorry.

With a paradigm like this, it's no wonder we can't understand a verse like, "But with You there is forgiveness; therefore You are feared."

Let's get something straight. Freedom in Christ does not mean freedom to sin. It means freedom from sin. It means that, because God sends His own Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of His children and empower them, we can live lives free from sin. Originally, in our fallen flesh, we had no power to live righteously.  However, after Jesus died for us and sent His Holy Spirit to live with us, to comfort, counsel and empower us, we do have the power, through Him, to live righteously. If you do not believe me, please read Romans 6. Yes, the whole chapter. I am not for pulling one verse or phrase out of context. Read Romans 6, because it teaches exactly what I am trying to say here, but it has the advantage of being the word of God.

And if you understand this, then you can start to understand what it means that "...with You there is forgiveness; therefore You are feared."

"With You there is forgiveness" puts the focus on God as the great Forgiver. The focus is not on the fact that we have escaped an unpleasant consequence. Grace doesn't mean God looking down and saying, "Awwww. I'll let you into heaven anyway, because I am Love and you are a cute little human." No! It is about God totally blasting away the stronghold of sin and hurling Satan into the depths so that we can be free forever. (See Revelation 12:10-12. Really, please read it.) God is mighty and full of grace and love and truth. He is the only one who can forgive us, because all of our sins are ultimately only against Him (see Psalm 51:4).

"Therefore You are feared" means, at the simplest level, that the forgiven one has been able to grasp something of the magnitude of what God has done and what this says about God, about who He is and the extent of His power and His might as well as His grace and His love.

I think corollary to grasping the extent of God's love comes a heartfelt love and appreciation that expresses itself in the desire to be pleasing to our God and Savior who has done such magnificent wonders for us. Who gave His own life for us.  And along with this deep desire to please God, because He is so unutterably wonderful, comes a fear of displeasing Him, a real fear. If we can begin to grasp how worthy God is of our lives being a living sacrifice for him (see Romans 12, yes the whole chapter), we fear letting Him down. This is not a paralyzing fear, because 2 Peter 1:3 tells us that His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. Rather, it is a fear that drives us to the source of our righteousness and makes us utterly dependent on Him.  Being utterly dependent on our Lord is a very safe dependence to have, because He will never leave us nor forsake us. He promises, and He always keeps His promises.

Back to Psalm 51 (I mentioned it earlier, you should read that, too), the Psalmist cries out: "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me." Now, I do not think that God threatens to take His Holy Spirit away, but He does warn us that continual sin will grieve the Holy Spirit and quench our ability to utilize His power. (See Ephesians 4:29-32 and 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22). So although God will not take back our salvation from us, we should live with a certain amount of fear at the effects that sin can have on our lives and particularly what sin can do to our relationship with Him.

We should indeed fear displeasing our great Forgiver and damaging our close fellowship with Him. Without Him, who can stand? Without Him where is hope? He is everything to us, and we need to apprehend the truth and live accordingly.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Who is Jesus?

There is a child in our Sunday school class who does not believe that Jesus is God.

He is a bright child, and very active and verbal. He has also been afflicted with a serious case of brash, youthful arrogance. I am not sure how to handle him. I do not want to humiliate him. However, I do not believe that it is right to allow him to declare, in front of the other children, "Jesus wasn't really the same as God. My dad says there's no way Jesus could actually be God."

Because God is wonderful, He has been leading me to verses that clearly proclaim the divinity of Christ.

Romans 9:5
[the Israelites'] are the patriarchs, and from them are traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

For years I have been teaching that the Old Testament is about the nation of Israel, because they are the ancestors of Jesus. And only today I noticed that what I have been teaching is clearly and simply explained in this one specific verse. Glory to God! The nation of Israel is specially blessed because they are the ancestors of God. Jesus is God!

Isaiah 9:6
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.

The child, the baby, the son of Mary is our Mighty God. The Bible says so. Jesus is God!

Titus 2:13
... while we wait for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is our Savior. Jesus is our God. It doesn't get much clearer than this.

Acts 20:28
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers
[Paul said to the Ephesian elders]. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood.

Whose blood paid for the church? God's own blood. That's what it says. I am not making this up. Jesus was the one who shed His blood, and this is the blood that bought the church, God's blood. Jesus is God.

John 1:1-3, 14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made, without Him nothing was made that has been made... The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Word was God, it says, and then the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That's Jesus. Jesus is the one who became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus, who is God, became flesh and lived with humans on earth. I didn't even highlight the fact that this passage also states that the Word is the one who created the heavens and the earth, and Genesis 1:1 specifically states that "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Jesus is God.

Please read this slowly and worshipfully...
Colossians 1:15-20
He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.
For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.

Jesus is God.

There are other supporting scriptures that you can read on your own:
John 10:30
John 14:9
Philippians 2:5-11
Colossians 2:9
Hebrews 1 (the whole chapter, but particularly verses 8-9)

Jesus is God. If you don't believe the Bible, or if you do not believe in God, this means nothing. But if you accept the Bible as God's Word, you cannot deny that Jesus is God in flesh, "God incarnate" as the old theology states.

1 John 4 speaks of testing the spirits. Whether a spirit is true and good or false and wicked hinges on one thing: what does it do with Jesus? The Spirit of God in someone "acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh... but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God." Acknowledging Jesus means understanding who He is, that He is God, not just agreeing that he was a guy like any of the rest of us, a guy who just happened to be born in the year that changed BC to AD.

I think I am going to need to have a serious talk with this child. If you read this, please pray for me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Fallen leaves remind me that the earth is in a constant state of flux. Although God, in grace, grants us the gift of beauty in the nature with which He surrounds us, nature is not constant, except in its constancy of cycles. Night follows day. Winter follows summer. Harvest follows planting. Death follows birth.

I sometimes become discouraged at the suffering that God uses to refine us, because this, too, seems to be a constant. There is virtually no growth without pain, no change without loss, no improvement without discipline. Sometimes this truth makes me feel tired. I am a lazy person.

Last year I spent much time in Job and then in 1 and 2 Peter. These books of the Bible teach a lot about suffering. I should be strengthened and built up; I know God promises to stay with us, helping us, holding us up, carrying us through. He is our shield and the lifter of our heads. Such a baby I am... I don't want my head to need lifting.

Lately, God has brought me to the Psalms in the 120's. Psalm 121 is one of my all time favorites. It was such a comfort to read it the other day. You should read it, too, if you need a word of encouragement. But, today I am going to write about Psalm 125, verse by verse.

Psalm 125:1
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

We will endure forever if we trust in the Lord. We will not be shaken. Our eternal destiny is secure as long as our trust is in the Lord. It's going to be all right.

Psalm 125:2
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore.

I just love that imagery. God is there, as solid and steadfast as the mountains around Jerusalem, surrounding us and protecting us. He will even outlast the mountains of Jerusalem when the earth comes to an end. He will remain forevermore, our shield and protector.

Psalm 125:3
The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.

This is a little harder to understand. I think the key is where it says that the scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous. This means that God has a territory reserved for His people where evil cannot reign, where we will be utterly safe from any evil influence, and where His perfect justice is absolute. One of the things that astounds me most about the idea of heaven is this: I will not even be tempted to sin anymore; there will be no more battle with the sin nature. I think this verse supports that.

Psalm 125:4
Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart.

Once I was reading the Psalms and I became very disheartened at the promises and blessings on the righteous. My own sins and daily failings keep me well aware that I am not righteous, blameless or pure. I remember thinking, "That would be great, if it only applied to me... but clearly, I am not righteous." One day, while I was reading a Psalm and thinking this negative and self-incriminating thought, God's voice broke through in my mind and He told me, "You have the righteousness of my Son. It is in Him that these promises apply to you. I have imputed my Son's own perfect righteousness to you, through grace, so that you may indeed be counted among the righteous." (You can find proof of this truth in Romans 3:22, 5:17, 10:4, and especially 2 Corinthians 5:21.) It was a most wonderful and glorious day when God brought this truth home to me. I had heard it many times, but on that day, He spoke to my heart and I understood. When the Psalmist asks the Lord to do good to the righteous, he really is asking the Lord to do good to me.

Psalm 125:5
But those who turn to crooked ways the Lord will banish with the evildoers.
Peace be upon Israel.

OK, I know we aren't supposed to gloat. But I think this means that everyone who enjoys hurting us and forever refuses to be sorry will be banished by God from the presence of His children, and peace will reign.

Yes, "peace be upon Israel" means peace to the children of God, and that means those of us who believe, putting our faith in him. Galatians 3:29 tells us: "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Abraham was the father of Israel (Israel the nation... he was grandfather of Jacob who was renamed "Israel"). If we are Abraham's seed, then we count as the children of the promise, the chosen ones of God.

I don't know about you, but I needed this lift today. God is surrounding us like a range of mountains, keeping us safe, and blessing us with peace.

Merry Christmas!