Archive for December, 2016
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
Failure and defeat humbles. All David has known is victory after victory. As often occurs when a person has known only success, arrogance and pride leads the person to think their prosperity is deserved; that they have done it themselves, and worst still, that God is a quaint belief but certainly not needed. Yet now, in the midst of tragic loss, David is viewing life from another perspective. He is humbled by the reality of his sin, and it has had a purifying effect — crying out to God for renewal and the joy of his salvation. This is the prayer God longs to hear and answer.
“For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him” (Matthew 21:32).
Teaching and reaching the established religious community was always a challenge for Jesus. Institutional religion breeds comfort, satisfaction, arrogance, and the rejection of any idea threatening the status quo. Because of their privileged and advantaged positions, they are never in the wrong; they would never have a reason to apologize; they are never remorseful. Thus, the challenge of them ever coming to a place of brokenness and repentance. The changing of the mind first requires a change of heart. Therefore, when a heart is unchangeable, the revolutionary idea of the gospel doesn’t have a chance. Entrenched religion ultimately becomes your burial.
“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
Perhaps you have secretly wondered if God is able to do what we ask. The declaration of scripture is an emphatic “Yes.” Yet, Paul introduces a far more significant addendum regarding our understanding of how God answers prayer — He is able to do more than we ask or think. And not only is God able to do more, but the use of the super-superlative adverb indicates that he is able to do far more abundantly beyond our asking. The faithfulness of God to our prayers cannot be measured against the way we asked him in the moment, but rather, it is to be seen more fully in the eternal when we no longer see through a glass darkly. Until that time, we pray unceasingly and faithfully, knowing that he answers all of our prayers to his greater glory.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
When invited to speak in prisons, someone inevitably asks if it makes me nervous doing so. My response is, “I am no more nervous speaking to these prisoners than the ones I speak to every Sunday.” Whether it’s a sin, a burden, a condition, an attitude, or the past, everyone is held captive by something that restrains and keeps them from embracing fully the life that is to be experienced in Christ Jesus. The gospel is the key that opens the door to liberation and freedom. The tragedy is that many have become comfortable in the jail cell and have a greater fear of what lies outside the walls they have built for themselves.
“Those who err in mind will know the truth, and those who criticize will accept instruction” (Isaiah 29:24).
Since days of old there have been among the people of God those who allow other voices and competing authorities to replace sound doctrine and biblical understanding. It is a cultural conditioning that accommodates sin as an expression of toleration, or under the guise of God’s love. Like the hound that yelps when a rock is thrown into a pack of dogs, critical voices are those that rise when struck by the conviction of God’s indicting and enlightening word. Nonetheless, the prophet sees the day when even these will find themselves the beneficiaries of God’s ceaseless mercy as they finally accept his instruction. It is a timeless reminder that the most loving thing we do isn’t to accommodate sin, but to be steadfast in the faithful instruction of God’s word.
“And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29).
From the earliest age, much of our self-perception is formed by the conversations around the family table. We hear the stories of who we are, from where we came, and the expectations of representing that heritage. The Kingdom of God, however, draws together a people from every direction and lineage and seats us together at a common table. It is at this table alone that we come to discover who we really and finally are.
“The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine” (Isaiah 25:6).
Stories and parables, along with figures of speech such as hyperbole, irony, metaphor, simile, paradox, personification, understatement, euphemism, and analogy, were utilized by Jesus to proclaim essentially one message — the Kingdom of God has come. That the Kingdom of God has come carries implications for both here and the hereafter; it is both now and not yet. The message of Christ’s birth is an invitation to step into the vastness of God’s full and final plan; to embrace a perspective that lives beyond the momentary dramas and disappointments of the present condition. We need not dwell in a peasant pantry when a rich banquet is set before us.
“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Romans 8:22).
The gospel is done no service when the Lord Jesus is held hostage to a sentimental manger. A newborn that is unable to speak and asks nothing of you can be celebrated by anyone that enjoys family gatherings, ornaments, presents, and annual church attendance. It is an entirely different matter, however, to live in the daily pursuit of the resurrected and exalted Christ; whose heralding voice beckons, “Come, follow me.” It is this kind of discipleship alone that transforms the world.
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
Is the promise of the Lord’s coming sufficient for you as it was for John? Constantly demanding one’s way, unceasing laments over “first world” problems, and frustration that God isn’t leaving up to your expectations are but the most obvious expressions of someone’s unwillingness to say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” No, John’s declaration is based upon a willingness to wait for the fuller portfolio of God’s work to be completed. It does not sit and wait for closure and resolution on every matter, but rather, it marches forth through the sorrows, wounds, and pains of this present condition. Even so, Lord Jesus, come.
“But the centurion said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed’” (Matthew 8:8).
It wasn’t his goodness, patriotism, or the compassion displayed toward his servant. The only thing that made the Roman centurion worthy of the Lord’s lofty tribute was his overwhelming sense of unworthiness. Jesus’ reaction was that he had not found such great faith with anyone in Israel (v.10). Ouch! It’s a reminder that self-satisfied, institutional, cultural religion never finds commendation from the Lord…only condemnation.