Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Solemn Warnings Given in Love

On this New Year's eve, Charles Haddon Spurgeon's fervent beseeching to all who are not in Christ is well worth pondering.

"The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved."  (Jeremiah 8:20)

Not saved! Dear reader, is this your mournful plight? Warned of the judgment to come, bidden to escape for your life, and yet at this moment not saved! You know the way of salvation, you read it in the Bible, you hear it from the pulpit, it is explained to you by friends, and yet you neglect it, and therefore you are not saved. You will be without excuse when the Lord shall judge the quick and dead. The Holy Spirit has given more or less of blessing upon the word which has been preached in your hearing, and times of refreshing have come from the divine presence, and yet you are without Christ. All these hopeful seasons have come and gone-your summer and your harvest have past-and yet you are not saved. Years have followed one another into eternity, and your last year will soon be here: youth has gone, manhood is going, and yet you are not saved. Let me ask you-will you ever be saved? Is there any likelihood of it? Already the most propitious seasons have left you unsaved; will other occasions alter your condition? Means have failed with you-the best of means, used perseveringly and with the utmost affection-what more can be done for you? Affliction and prosperity have alike failed to impress you; tears and prayers and sermons have been wasted on your barren heart. Are not the probabilities dead against your ever being saved? Is it not more than likely that you will abide as you are till death for ever bars the door of hope? Do you recoil from the supposition? Yet it is a most reasonable one: he who is not washed in so many waters will in all probability go filthy to his end. The convenient time never has come, why should it ever come? It is logical to fear that it never will arrive, and that Felix like, you will find no convenient season till you are in hell. O bethink you of what that hell is, and of the dread probability that you will soon be cast into it!
Reader, suppose you should die unsaved, your doom no words can picture. Write out your dread estate in tears and blood, talk of it with groans and gnashing of teeth: you will be punished with everlasting destruction from the glory of the Lord, and from the glory of His power. A brother's voice would fain startle you into earnestness. O be wise, be wise in time, and ere another year begins, believe in Jesus, who is able to save to the uttermost. Consecrate these last hours to lonely thought, and if deep repentance be bred in you, it will be well; and if it lead to a humble faith in Jesus, it will be best of all. O see to it that this year pass not away, and you an unforgiven spirit. Let not the new year's midnight peals sound upon a joyless spirit! Now, NOW, NOW believe, and live.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Remaining True to the Lord

"So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.  But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.  The news about them reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.  Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.
And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch.
And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch," (Acts 11:19--26).

 With the death of Stephen came increased persecution of believers, compelling them to flee for safer regions.  This would seem to have spelled defeat for the faith...but God cannot be defeated!  He used the scattering to draw to Himself "...a large number..." (v. 21), and "...considerable numbers..." (v. 24).  In other words, the murder of Stephen was used by the living God to usher not only Jews but Gentiles into His kingdom... by the droves! 

Now, expectedly, Satan was not going to take all this lying down.  And, sly adversary that he is, he came up with a simple and effective way to try and squash the movement's momentum:  a label.  

By inciting unbelievers to tag the faithful with a negative term, "little Christ," several consequences ensued: (1)  believers experienced a higher profile, whether wanted or not; (2)  a label (like a symbol) quite often increases the solidarity of a group, thereby making the "us vs. them" perspective acceptable; and (3)  believers were forced to remain true to the Lord (by owning up to the name), or deny Him, when asked, "Are you a Christian?"  The very fact of having a label resulted in being forced to declare loyalty. 

When pondering passages such as this, II Timothy 3:12 comes to mind: "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."  As time hastens us toward the moment when the Lord Jesus returns for His own, Satan's opposition through persecution will increase.  We who are His must remain true to Him, if we would reign with Him, regardless of the enemy's opposition.   

Monday, December 23, 2013

Seldom Considered

"Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.  Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:  'A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.' " (Matthew 2:16-18)

From the time of Lucifer's rebellion and fall (including a third of the angelic host who went with him), there has been spiritual warfare in the unseen realms.  Satan and the demons are now opposed to any- and everything godly and good, related in any way to his archenemy, God.  Genesis 3:15 gives the first indication of the enmity specifically between the devil and the Redeemer.  "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel."  
Spoken to Satan, this curse upon him by God set the stage for the defeated angel's ongoing attempts to thwart the inevitable coming of the Promised One.  

Planned from the Pit, Herod's attempt to kill the predicted King was assuredly motivated by jealousy.  Proverbs 27:4 describes his intensity: "Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood, But who can stand before jealousy?"  His jealous rage, coupled with his unfettered authority, served perfectly the Satanic strategy for discovering and destroying the infant Messiah.  

Unable to pinpoint the exact location of the "usurper," he reasoned that a wholesale slaughter of all those males approximately His age and younger would surely result in His death.  Humanly speaking, there was no logical reason why such a plan wouldn't succeed.  Yet, as another king (Nebuchadnezzar) discovered centuries before, "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What have You done?' " [Daniel 4:35].  Thus, by means of a dream's warning, Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus were not in the vicinity of Herod's scorched earth edict.  

Still, we seldom consider the incredible cost in human life connected with the Christ's coming.  Heaven received the murdered babies whose lives were lost in this terrible attempt to locate the infant Lord, highlighting two truths:  (1) the incalculable depths of Satan's (and fallen man's) evil nature; and (2) the inscrutable ways of the sovereign living God.  As He forthrightly asserts, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD.  "For as the heavens are higher than the earth,  So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts," (Isaiah 55:8,9).  

"Yes, Father, You indeed are beyond our understanding, try as we might to bring You down to our level.  May passages such as this deepen our submission to Your will, ways, and sovereignty.  While many question Your goodness, may You strengthen our resolve to boldly embrace Your every attribute, including Your inscrutability.  For, You are GOD, and there is no other.  All glory, honor, and praise be given to Your matchless Name!  
In the Name of Your Son,

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Things to Remember, Things to Forget, IV

"When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches,
For You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy," (Psalm 63:6,7).

There is just something about the nighttime... those hours from dusk to dawn when our thoughts go places we little imagined nor planned to travel.  It is the time when much spiritual warfare transpires, when our enemy seeks to assail our senses and accuse our conscience.  His minions of fear stalk the mind, trying to convince us that our God no longer loves, cares, or is near us.  Too, darkness seems to increase the future's bleakness, lending itself to fretting and anxious speculation.

David was susceptible to these nocturnal tendencies every bit as much as we are... yet he maintained a joy-filled heart, resting rather than fretful.  How so?
First, he developed the habit of musing upon God's Person, regardless.  Daylight or dark, he had early on set his heart to look heavenward.  This is made the more significant in the light of all that could have easily distracted him:  the responsibilities related to ruling an entire nation; constant and continual threats of enemies wanting to attack from without, as well as those trying from within to de-throne him; his own family, particularly his children, in a near-constant state of conflict and discord.  Yet, amid it all, his eye of adoration was fixed upon the greatest Love of his life.

Now he turns from the Person of God to the Provision He faithfully supplies.  "You have been my help." In so very many ways, David had received God's help.  Samuel's anointing was his first inkling that the God of Israel would be his life-long help, showing such grace in selecting him above his brothers.  And, of course, the encounter with Goliath that catapulted David to national attention was an unmistakable evidence of God's help, as He used David's conviction and skill to show Himself strong on Israel's behalf.  Each step along David's road of remembrance, he knew the enabling presence and provision of the living God.

Finally, he breaks out in joyful song as he thinks upon the Protection God has been to him.  During his shepherding days he had had life-threatening encounters with vicious animals (I Samuel 17:37), experiencing the LORD's deliverance.  Then there were the close calls of King Saul's vengeful attacks (I Samuel 18:11; 19:10) as he sought David's death.  Then, perhaps the unkindest cut of all, there was the traitorous plot of his own son, Absalom, to take his throne (II Samuel 15:1--6).  These reflections (and many more, no doubt) served to deepen his gratitude and strengthen his resolve to love and serve his praiseworthy LORD.

Are we making such meditation a serious priority?  Are we "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (as II Corinthians 10:5 exhorts)?  Are we maturing in discernment as to Satan's tactics and strategies, in order to recognize and combat them, especially in the night (I Corinthians 2:11)?  May God grant empowering grace to remember Him, reflect upon Him, and rejoice in Him, whether by day or by night.


Things to Remember, Things to Forget, III

"Remember O LORD, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses, For they have been from of old.  Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;  According to Your lovingkindness remember me, For Your goodness' sake, O LORD.  Good and upright is the LORD;  Therefore, He instructs sinners in the way," (Psalm 25:6--8).

Ever been in a meeting where you were able to listen to a really godly believer pour out his or her heart to the Lord?  It can be a worship service in itself.  Such a one seems to draw us all into the very presence of the King, filling us with a greater wonder and awe that He should love such unworthies so graciously.

Passages such as this are like that... we have the privilege of eavesdropping as David pours out his heart to the God of grace, to pardon him according to His infinite goodness.  He is not here worried that the omniscient God could actually forget something... rather, David is pleading pardon by highlighting God's attributes of compassion, lovingkindness, and goodness.  God loves for His children to pray His character as a basis for their requests, to pray His Word to Him in praise and supplication, reveling in His uprightness.  

Do we pray Scripture to the Lord?  Have we paid the price of memorizing His Word, thereby incorporating it into our praying?  Do we rejoice in His character, every attribute?  May we praise, plea, and petition in a manner worthy of our good God.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Things to Remember, Things to Forget II

"When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: 'Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses," (Nehemiah 4:14).

A godly leader is invaluable.  Perhaps his greatest contribution to those he leads is his intense awareness of how truly great is the living God.  He sees all circumstances in the light of God's omnipotence.  Consequently, what intimidates others he takes in stride.  As Jeremiah expressed it, "Ah, Lord GOD, Behold You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm!  Nothing is too difficult for You," (Jeremiah 32:17).  
Nehemiah had this same view of God.  His boldness bespoke his confidence in God's power and provision.  Note his two exhortations:  (1) Remember, and (2) Fight. 
(1) Recall, he says, Whose power we have to draw upon: the living God of all the earth. With His power on our behalf, we are certain to triumph.  
(2) He has provided the means for our defense--- use them!  Arm yourselves for the protection of family and home!   One is reminded of the shepherd boy, David, at this point.  Though living long after Nehemiah, his faith and use of means were the same.  He, too, overcame the intimidation of his fellow Israelites by focusing on the awesome might of the same living God Nehemiah served.  And, he, too, used the practical weapons of warfare to slay the enemy who threatened family and home. 

As I Timothy 5:8 affirms, providing for one's own family and home is part of keeping the faith, and acting as a believer.  This would include defense from attack and/or invasion in both the spiritual and physical realms.  As the godly leader is to employ all the weapons at his disposal for spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10--18 and II Corinthians 10:4,5) in order to protect his own from those forces, so he is to use physical force, if necessary, to shield and defend his loved ones from physical assault.  To fail in either is to provide less than godly leadership. 

Things to Remember, Things to Forget

Deuteronomy 8:2; 9:7  "You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not."  "Remember, do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD."

The living God never gives an unneeded command.  The apple of His eye, His covenant people were prone to forget... forget the purposes He had for the wilderness wandering, forget their disobedience and lack of faith that prompted His wrathful discipline.   In truth, the various observances, with their procedures and components (such as the elements in the Passover meal), were tools for remembrance, for the teaching of each succeeding generation.  

There is spiritual application here... as we know that a sure sign of sonship is the Father's discipline (Hebrews 12:5,6), it is inevitable that we who have been born again will have "wilderness" times.  Grievous though they are (v. 7), they are meant to (1) serve as proof that we are His, (2) provide a testing of our heart, and (3) produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  
During such times, we may lose the sense of His nearness... feel that our praying is unheard... come to wonder if, indeed, we are believers, after all.  What is so needed everyday becomes utterly critical in the times of His discipline: perspective.  He is moving us from walking by sight to walking by faith... He is widening our willingness to suffer and thank Him at the same time... in short, He is conforming us more and more into the image of His suffering Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ.  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Colossians 3:15

 "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful."

For the one who takes God seriously, peace is more than inner serenity.  It is the gauge by which we can discern sin's impact upon our soul and spirit.  What disturbs the peace He gives, is sin.  The differing levels of maturity evidenced in the body of Christ are due in large part to the degrees of determination believers have to guard this peace.  The greater the hatred of sin, the greater the determination, and the deeper the maturity.  

Being comfortable with conflict is death to peace. For, all sin involves conflict... inner, then relational.  We tend to focus on interpersonal tensions and often fail to see the source: disrupted peace with the Lord Jesus.  Is not the source of the friction among ourselves the broken fellowship we experience with our Lord?  Far too frequently we become so complacent with the sin we've become accustomed to, that we lose the sensing of His peace's disappearance.  A spiritual uneasiness sets in, and we wonder why our former joy and vitality have vanished.  

What is the answer?  Humbling ourselves, first under the mighty hand of our loving Lord, and then before any with whom we have ruptured relationships.  For, pride is the enemy of peace, used with great effect by the enemy who hates our souls... who intensely desires to destroy our peace, both with the Lord and with each other.  

'Father, You know far better than we the devastating consequences of pride's poison.  The enemy delights in subtly softening sin's deadly designs, by lulling us into complacency... Awaken, alert, alarm us, O God, to his strategies and schemes!  Increase our willingness to humble ourselves before You, and each other.  Be pleased to remind us that Your Name is at stake in our lives, with a blinded world needing so desperately to see believers living in personal and relational peace.  In Your blessed Son's Name I pray.  Amen.'

Friday, December 6, 2013

Unchanging, Unconditional

"... I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness...," (Jeremiah 31:3).
"For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed," (Malachi 3:6).

* I have loved you...

As it is that God is from everlasting to everlasting, so, too, is His electing love.  In eternity past, when He set His heart upon those whom He would save, it was with this timeless love.  Since He chose His own before time began, His determining their destiny is not dependent upon anything outside Himself (including their response)... it is unconditional (John 1:13).  This love is very humbling to human pride, which naturally wants to earn (and subsequently, deserve) acceptance with God.  Yet He will not share His glory with another.

*I have drawn you...

Thus, having loved His own from all eternity, in order to gain the greatest glory due His gracious Name, He intervened in time amid the forfeited lives of millions, and opened their hearts to realize His love and grace. His omnipotent Spirit calls, draws, regenerates, and converts this multitude no man can number.  Each is given salvation's faith in His impeccable timing. No works.  No merit.  Why?  Because anyone's salvation actually belongs to the LORD (Jonah 2:9).  Consequently, no one can boast of contributing to his salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9), as if he could share credit with the living God.

*I, the LORD, do not change...

For the Christian, this is perhaps the most precious of the Lord GOD's many attributes: He is immutable.   As He is now, He has always been, and will ever be.  Great comfort is here... especially in relation to salvation's security.  One of the enemy's most widespread lies in Christendom is the possibility of losing one's salvation.  No, the genuinely-regenerate individual has a relationship with the living God that was initiated by Him, procured by Him, and completed by Him.  The only way there could be the remotest possibility that one of His own could perish is if He could change.  And that cannot be, praise to His transcendent Name!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Joshua 1:1-9

"Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' servant, saying, 'Moses, My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel.  Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory.  No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life.  Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.  Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you;  do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.  This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous!  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.' "

God never speaks without purpose.  He never wastes a word.  Everything He said, Joshua needed to hear.
Interwoven throughout this passage are God's plan, purposes, and promises.   Knowing perfectly the heart of man, He knew that his new leader would struggle with the same enemies as we:  the world, the flesh, and the devil....leading to feelings of fear, inadequacy, and dismay. 

*His PLAN.  God has always had a special regard for the nation Israel.  For, whatever happens in time was ordained from eternity. His unchanging plan has been (and continues to be) to preserve Israel, evidenced by His unconditional promise(s) made to Abraham (Genesis 12).  Intrinsic to this goal is the land.  As He told Joshua, "...you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them."  To this very hour, there is ongoing disputation, conflict, and even bloodshed associated with the land.  The common assumption is that it's all about politics, or the military, or discrimination.  In truth, the issue is spiritual.  The one who hates God unspeakably, who fanned the fear in Joshua's heart, is the same one who is doing everything he can to destroy Israel and her land.  But God is not mocked... His plan cannot be thwarted... He has sworn it, it will be so.

*His PURPOSES.  Behind His plan are His purposes... which answer the question, "Why?"  Why Israel...why Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob... why Moses...why Joshua..?  Why no other nation on earth given the amazing promises THAT nation has been given?
The primary answer: Because He was pleased to do so.  He Himself is His own best reason!  We love to have every answer to every query neatly explained with no loose ends.  But HE is greater than all questions. HE is the ultimate Answer.  We experience much churning and inner turmoil which ceases when we settle the matter that HE is GOD.  Thoroughly embraced, there is rest and peace for the soul in which He is sovereign.
A corollary answer:  the Jewish race was His Son's earthly lineage.  From Noah's son, Shem, (from which the term Semites originated) all the way through to the Lord Jesus (and beyond), God has purposed to preserve Israel, the apple of His eye.
In the early part of His ministry, the Lord Jesus set out this priority:  "These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them, saying, 'Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,' " (Matthew 10:5,6).  The apostle Paul echoed the Lord's emphasis: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to every one who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek," (Romans 1:16).  This, then, is God's heart.  To have on our heart what is on His, we must purpose to pray (Psalm 122:6) and proclaim His Son's salvation to His people.

*His PROMISES.  Vows, oaths, and promises are only as valid as the one making them.  When the all-powerful, all-knowing sovereign and living God commits Himself, His Name is at stake, and it will come to pass (Numbers 23:19).  In this passage, apparently Joshua was susceptible to feelings of being forsaken, particularly in the light of the daunting task before him.  Why this assumption?  Notice the repetition of God's promised presence:  "Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you." (v.5)  "Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." (v. 9)  
Also promised to Joshua is the land: "Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you..." (v. 3)  "...you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them" (v. 6)
Finally, based on His promised presence are His commands to be strong and courageous... three times He so orders Joshua (and our God never repeats Himself for no reason).  The repeated admonitions would no doubt come back to Joshua's mind when needed most.  We, too, need those brief & bold commands...for, we also are given to fear, dismay, and intimidation.
What is the tool God gave Joshua (and us, as well)? Meditation upon the Word.  It is when we muse upon God's truth, asking Him to apply it to our heart with a willing spirit, that He nourishes our inner man.  May He deepen our desire for Him, His Word, and our willingness to pay the price in self-discipline, meditating consistently upon His encouraging faithfulness.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hebrews 12:2

Up against it? (me, too)

(a) Stare at circumstances
(b) Gaze at God

Which will we choose?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Matthew 6:7,8

"And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.  Therefore do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him."

In revealing truth on prayer, the Lord Jesus' main thrust focused on purity of inner motivation in contrast to prideful, outward attempts to impress.  "Meaningless repetition" was very much a part of pagan ritual, as efforts to persuade unwilling gods involved lengthy praying and religious cajoling.  A pertinent illustration is found in the episode of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, (I Kings 18:26, 28, 29).   "Then they (the pagan prophets) took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning to noon saying, 'O Baal, hear us.'  But there was no voice and no one answered.  And they leaped about the altar which they made.  So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them.  When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention."
It is human nature to wonder about God, to try to communicate with Him.  And it seems right to bombard the Deity with as many words as possible, preferably said over and over again (i.e., the Roman Catholic rosary).  The inherent danger is a disconnect between what is said and what is heart-driven.  To make matters worse, we have this blind spot: the totally illogical assumption that we can somehow fool Him.  Yet Scripture is clear: "...all things are open and laid bare before the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do," (Hebrews 4:13).  Therefore, there is no real possibility of impressing the One who knows our frame, who is mindful that we are but dust.  Let our words genuinely reflect our heart, regardless.  He knows....and that's enough.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"When All Around My Soul Gives 'Way..."

"Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though  the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds' feet, And makes me walk on my high places," (Habakkuk 3:17--19).

The more extreme our circumstances, the more we need passages such as this.  For one whose livelihood and sustenance depended upon the land, verse 17 describes the direst of situations.  Crops and cattle were the mainstays, the non-negotiables, in much of Israel's life and culture.  If the supply of either, or both, failed to produce, the already-strapped farmer would be intolerably impoverished.
A similar situation in America was the dust bowl days of The Great Depression era... not only was the economy horrific, then the weather seemed to side with the financial onslaught to further decimate the country.  As in Habakkuk's day, small farms seemed hardest hit.  Thousands throughout Oklahoma and surrounding states gave it up, left land worked for a lifetime, and went West in hopes of starting over in a better place.
During such times, perspective is utterly crucial.  People can do without many things...but hope isn't one of them.  AND, hope is only as valid as the object upon which it is placed.  Habakkuk determined that his hope would be placed in the LORD God of heaven and earth.  Note how he declares it:  "I will exult..." and "I will rejoice..."  These are expressions of the will, regardless of feelings.  Emotions are not to be trusted in such times of adverse circumstances, for our hearts are fickle, to say the least (Jeremiah 17:9).  
So... overwhelmed by situations, tempted to give in to the urge to fear, what are we to do?  Like Habakkuk, we are to focus on the LORD God as our strength (v. 19).  Only His invigorating power can encourage our hearts, when all else fails.  May we prepare now for such times to come!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Daily Returning to Our First Love, Eagerly!

"In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice;  In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch," (Psalm 5:3).

For David, prayer was not a ritual.  It was a breathed-out passion... a heart-driven delight.  He eagerly watched... from enjoyment, not drudgery.  His eagerness stemmed from confidence that God would meet with him, and would communicate with him.  Do we have the same eagerness...the same confidence..?  

Why the morning...?  To keep a schedule?  To check off requests in a notebook?  Because it was the earliest he could seek fellowship with his heart's Love. Because the night hours are often fraught with fears, unbidden dreams, and spiritual disturbances.  The morning meeting with the living God restored David's perspective, calmed his spirit, cleansed his conscience.  In the simple silence and solitude he became, indeed, a man after God's own heart.  
So for us, as well.  As we are meditating upon the memorized Word, the Holy Spirit takes our thoughts from ourselves, shifts them to where they belong-- upon the One Who deserves our every thought and eager focus.  Having our undivided attention, God reveals both Himself and His truth.  He speaks peace to our inner storms, assurance to our frettings, and courage to face the unseen day.  

"O Father, deepen our desire for You..., to meet with You, daily, and to become people after Your own heart.  In Your Son's Name...Amen."

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Challenge that is Prayer

"Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find;  knock, and it shall be opened to you.  For, everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks it shall be opened.  Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone?"  Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?  If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!"    --- Matthew 7:7--11

"These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.  And this is the confidence that we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him."   I John 5:13, 14

How gracious of the Father's Spirit to inspire the writers of Scripture in making such amazing prayer promises! And, in the light of such promises (and many more than these), is it not troubling that many believers consider their prayer life their most difficult challenge of the Christian walk...?

At least three aspects of prayer are worth pondering, in order to pinpoint possible pitfalls to an enriching prayer life.  Attention needs to be paid to: (1) Expectations; (2) Timing; and (3) Who God is.  

(1)  Expectations.  "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it."  "Ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done."  Some believers read such statements (out of context, without comparing them with passages such as I John 5:13, 14) and assume God is obligated to answer every request with a resounding "Yes."  Such assumptions lead to disappointment, disillusionment, and certainly dismay.  As a result, many question God's goodness, as well as His willingness to answer our requests... leading some to impugn His character, while others quietly give in to the assumption that God won't answer anyway, so why try?  Thus, their prayer lives become a drudge or non-existent.  This suits Satan's purposes perfectly, since he knows better than we the power that God wields in response to His people's prayer.  

(2)  Timing.  Persevering is not one of our favorite indoor sports.  "Keeping-on-keeping-on" doesn't please our flesh (as do quick and obvious answers we often see on televised church services)... much of our tendency to give up in praying stems from:  (a) misunderstanding prayer's purposes; (b) underestimating our enemies' opposition; (c) forgetting the faithfulness of God.  

First, the primary purpose of prayer is to know and glorify God.  Learning Him, loving Him, longing for His will and way... these are at the heart of theocentric (God-centered) prayer.  Our asking, seeking, knocking are commanded out-workings of the basic love relationship that is already established in yearning for Him, simply for Who He is.  If the roots of knowing Him are sunk deeply into our soul's soil, then trusting Him, regardless, will produce lasting fruit of making Him known to others (Psalm 9:10).    
Secondly, we tend to think that prayer should be easy.  Prayer promises are presented in many pulpits as spiritual MasterCards, by which we get what we want, how we want it, delivered promptly to our doorstep.  What is often overlooked are the three implacable foes who oppose all godly endeavors: the devil, the world system, and our flesh.  The two "outer" enemies have an "inside" man, through whom they wield much persuasive power.  Only as we walk by the Spirit have we hope to defeat these ever-present enemies who hate our soul.  And they especially hate prayer, knowing better than we the spiritual forces moved by it (Daniel 10).  In our own strength we fail continually (John 15:5c)... tending to give out, give in, and give up.  
Thirdly, when we stop praying, we've lost sight of the faithfulness of the living God.  This is why self-sermons are so critical... to rehearse the truth to ourselves, recalling the times He has unmistakably answered in the past, meditating on the truth that He never changes, and so encourage ourselves that He will answer yet.  

(3)  Who God is.  His character is at the absolute heart of prayer.  Musing upon His attributes, slowly, praising deliberately, lovingly, adoringly the sovereign LORD of the universe... this is what He loves, and what He blesses.  In so doing, our spirit is softened (countering the hardening effect of sin's deceitfulness [Hebrews 13:3c]), our sensitivity to His Spirit is heightened, and our willingness to obey His instructions is deepened.  And obedience bears the fruit of Christ-likeness. Being usable, He uses us.  He is glorified, and we develop ever-increasing yieldedness.  Best of all?  He is pleased (II Corinthians 5:9)... our life's purpose fulfilled.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dying a Glorifying Death

"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His godly ones," (Psalm 116:15).

"For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's," (Romans 14:7,8).

"For, to me to live is Christ and to die is gain," (Philippians 1:21)

"We may glorify God in death by being ready for it when it comes... by patiently enduring its pains... by testifying to others of the comfort and support which we find in the grace of Christ" (Bishop Ryle)

For one who has been authentically changed by the Lord Jesus, genuinely regenerated by the Holy Spirit of God, living for Christ for the rest of his days is an ongoing determination.  And to consistently live as light and salt for the time on this earth that the Lord shall ordain, is to walk in a manner worthy of His calling.  

Still, there is not only living well... there is also dying well.  Taking God seriously involves not only yearning for a life well-lived, but a death in which He is glorified, too.  J.C. Ryle's points are well taken:

(a) "being ready for it when it comes..." 

Peter admonished believers, "...be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you..." (II Peter 1:10).  Readiness for death is strongly connected with assurance of salvation.  A settled conviction of one's eternal security, evidenced by the Holy Spirit's witness (Romans 8:16), the accepting & appraising the things of the Spirit (I Corinthians 2:14), manifesting His fruit (Galatians 5:22, 23), [particularly self-control (v. 24)], as well as ongoing vitality from the Word (Luke 8:15), are crucial for dealing with death's dread.  

Also foundational is unshakable submission to God's supreme sovereignty. The longer we linger in meditating upon our Father as omnipotent Monarch of the universe, deepening our submission to His reign and will, the less death will cause dismay.  Recently, a Dad whose family is well-taught in the doctrine of God's sovereignty, told me that when his son's truck hit a slick spot earlier that same day, causing it to overturn 2 1/2 times, his son said to him later, "I just thought, 'This is it.  This is it.'," with a calm that came from having already submitted to whatever the Lord would bring into his life...even death. His life was spared...to give testimony to the Lord's sustaining grace.  

(b) "patiently enduring its pains"  

The world is given to complaining, stemming from pride.  "How could this happen to me?" "What'd I do to deserve this?"  The assumption is: I'm too good a person for this to happen! 
For the Christian, however, submission to the Lord Jesus' sovereignty produces needed humility for not only accepting adversity, but actually thanking Him for allowing it in his/her life.  Pained by a messenger of Satan to torment him, the apostle Paul implored the Lord three times for its removal. Protracted pain is an especially difficult burden to bear. Instead, he was told, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness," (II Corinthians 12:9). Upon receiving this refusal, Paul said, "...I am well content.." (v.10). Contentment characterizes a heart at rest with the Lord's providential provision.  For such a one it matters not what He gives or withholds... He is enough.  
Such patient enduring of pain prior to death shows forth from a life previously lived in like manner.  May we practice the commands of I Thessalonians 5:16-18: "Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks..." in preparation for daily strengthening as well as for death's approaching hour.

(c) "testifying to others of the comfort and support which we find in the grace of Christ" 

"Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.  Let the redeemed of the LORD say so," (Psalm 107:1,2a).  

The goodness of God is a constant source of consternation for this world of cynicism and unbelief.  It is seen as naive nonsense to refuse to question, (and complain against) the character of God, if He even exists.  Thus, the dread of death is the ultimate fear, causing lost folk to hope against hope that all will be well on the other side of the grave.  To die distinctively, then, is to not only endure well, but to verbally attribute the comfort and support we experience to our gracious Savior and Lord.  In that monumentally-important hour, may we be like "the good man, (who) out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good," (Luke 6:45)...breathing out our last in tribute to the One who breathed out His last for us.  

"Oh Father, be pleased to prepare our hearts now for that time when we come into Your eternal presence forever.  Counter the spirit of fear that permeates this world with contemplations of the next.  Cause us to dwell often in our hearts upon the Lord Jesus' precious promise: "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you, for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also."  To Your glory, Father, to Your glory may our deaths be, as well as our lives.  In the Lord Jesus' Name, Amen."


Monday, October 14, 2013

John 6:38--40

"For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.  This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."

v. 38  For the Lord Jesus, the will of His Father was supreme.  He said that He "must be about His Father's business" when only a lad, an expressed awareness of His Sonship and mission.   During in His ministry He said, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work."  Uppermost in His priority system was the desiring, delighting in, and doing of the will of the One who sent Him.  Everything He thought, said, left unsaid, and did were in perfect submission to the Father's will.  In the last days of His time on the earth, He prayed, "I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do," (John 17:4).  Only God personified could have done such a thing.

v.39  A second aspect of His being sent by the Father related to those whom the Father had given Him for salvation.  Such salvation was "according to His own purpose and grace...granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity," (II Timothy 1:9).  Therefore, this transaction did not occur in time (as some have taught), but before there was time, in the triune counsel of the Godhead.  The Father marked out (the essence of the term "elect") and set His heart upon ("predestined") those whom He sovereignly determined to save.  These He gave to the Son, Who would come to earth for the purpose of giving eternal life to this multitude (John 17:3).  How?  By taking their place on the cross, enduring the Father's judgment against sin, shedding His atoning blood (Lev. 17:11) that they would then receive no condemnation (Romans 8:1).  

v. 40  In so doing, the Lord Jesus utterly insured the salvation (eternal life) of all whom the Father had given Him in eternity past.  The proof of His deity, the assurance that His promises are all true, and the validation of all His claims were epitomized in His rising from the dead.  And, as Paul asserts clearly in the 15th chapter of I Corinthians, the Lord Jesus' resurrection is the guarantee of the raising of the ones given Him by the Father.  Comforting, too, that this raising of the elect is not to be assigned to an angel, or accomplished by some other celestial being, but the Lord Jesus Himself will raise His own on the last day!  And thus, we shall always be with the Lord, praise to His gracious Name!  

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Salvation is God's sovereign work.  As J.B. Moody put it, "God does not save a man because he is a sinner, for if so He must save all men, for all are sinners.  Nor because he comes to Christ, for no man can come except the Father draw him; nor because he repents, for God gives repentance unto life; nor because he believes, for no one can believe except it were given him from above;  nor yet because he holds out faithful to the end, for we are kept by the power of God.  It is not because of baptism, for many are saved without it, and many are lost with it.  It is not because of regeneration, for that would make the new birth a practical duty.  It is not because of morality, for the moralist is the hardest to reach, and many of the most immoral are saved-- the ground of distinguishing grace is the Sovereignty of God:  Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

John 21:1-5

"After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and He manifested Himself in this way.  There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana of Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of His disciples.  Simon Peter said to them, 'I am going fishing.'  They said to him, 'We will come with you.'  They went out, and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.
But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus therefore said to them, 'Children, you do not have any fish, do you?'  They answered Him, 'No.' "

Amazing days, those that followed the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, when He taught needed lessons that (1) He is sovereign; (2) He is sufficient; and (3) He is to be taken seriously.

(1) He communicated His sovereignty in the very revealing of Himself to selected followers.  As Chrysostom put it, "His body after the resurrection was only visible by a distinct act of His will.  From that time the disciples did not, as before, see Jesus, but He appeared unto them.  It is not for nothing that the language is changed.  Henceforth, He was to be recognized not by the flesh, but by the spirit; not by human faculties, but by Divine perceptions: His disciples were to walk by faith, and not by sight."
This is reminiscent of Mary's encounter at the tomb... "...she turned around, and beheld Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus," (John 20:14).  In speaking her name, the Lord simultaneously opened her spiritual eyes to recognize Him.  
On a similar occasion, seven miles from Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus approached two disciples on the road to Emmaus, as they discussed the recent happenings in Jerusalem.  As Luke records it (Luke 24), "their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him," (v. 16).  In the process of breaking bread with them, "...their eyes were opened and they recognized Him..." As sovereign Lord of life and death, He decided when they would be able to grasp Who He was, and the nature of His glorified body (at that moment "He vanished from their sight").  
Note, too, that He did not manifest Himself indiscriminately.  He did not go back to Pilate, for instance, show him His wounds and declare, "THIS is truth."  He didn't go to the emperor in Rome to declare His rightful reign and rule over all.  No, in absolute sync with His Father's sovereign will, He appeared only to His own, at times most fitting, and in a manner having the greatest impact. 

(2) In revealing Himself on multiple occasions following His resurrection, He assured & reminded His followers that He was, is, and ever will be sufficient.  He had protected, provided for, and shielded His apostles for some three years... all the while predicting His leaving (such as the lengthy discourse in the upper room [John 14]), accompanied by promises of provision.  Yet His death was so devastating, followed by three days and three nights of seeming abandonment, that His men were on the brink of total despair and resignation.  Apparently, Peter's solution was to return to his prior livelihood (v.3).  If Jesus wasn't going to provide as before, maybe it was time to get back to what he knew best: fishing.  The others didn't have a better plan, so they decided to go, as well.  
In these verses, through verse 14, the Lord demonstrates vividly that He will never leave nor forsake them (or us).  First, He appears to them, which was a gracious condescension to their need to see Him, physically.  Secondly, He causes them to recognize that it is Him (v. 7).  Thirdly, He produces a substantial breakfast (v. 9), which He apparently created, as He had done for the multitudes (John 6:1-13).  Throughout this scenario, the Lord Jesus is demonstrating His sufficiency, encouraging them to believe Him for their future needs.
(3) There is within our passage also a needed word of warning... an ongoing caution to take our Lord and His calling seriously.  
These were skilled and experienced fishermen, who knew that nighttime was best for fishing on this lake (cf. Luke 5:5)...yet, despite all their "tricks of the trade" they caught nothing.  This was a lesson from the Lord, that there was to be no going back from their call nor their commitment (Matthew 4:19,20).  As John MacArthur observes, "they had failed to reckon sufficiently with Jesus' plan for their lives, and His ability to supernaturally hinder their efforts.  It is as if He said, 'Do anything else, and I will see to it that you fail!' "
Oh, that we would increase in sensitivity, becoming "the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil," (Hebrews 5:14).  The previous verse gives the key to how this is accomplished: we must become "accustomed to the word of righteousness."  As our minds, hearts, and spirits are soaked in the Truth of Scripture's righteousness, we will mature in understanding the Spirit's urgings and impedings.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dealing With The Enemy

"So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD.  And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows his burial place to this day."  (Deuteronomy 34:5,6)

"But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!' "  (Jude 9)

Because, at one point, Moses struck the rock (from which water gushed forth), rather than speaking to it as God had instructed, he was not allowed to enter the promised land.  Instead, the LORD allowed Moses to view the land He had promised to Israel from the top of Mt. Nebo.  Shortly thereafter, Moses died, and God tended to the arrangements Himself.  Through Jude's account, we learn that God apparently sent the archangel Michael to procure Moses' body for burial.  However, Satan had other plans.  It seems that he had undisclosed purposes for the body.  Perhaps he intended to produce Moses's body to become an object of idolatrous worship, and thereby cause Israel to stumble.

Whatever his motive, there ensued a dispute between these two powerful angels over the body of Moses.  And, rather than deal with the devil directly, Michael called upon the Creator to rebuke him.  It was a moment when even the highest of unfallen angels circumspectly recognized the fury and power of God's most potent enemy.  

How much more, then, should we take into account the strength of the forces opposing us in the spiritual world... as John MacArthur aptly observes, "This is the supreme illustration of how Christians are to deal with Satan and demons.  Believers are not to address them, but rather to seek the Lord's intervening power against them," (The MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1956).  Our greatest position of strength is in submitting to God (James 4:7), while clothed in the provided armor (Ephesians 6:10-18).  

May our faithful Father grant discernment, our senses trained in godliness, as well as our sword of the Spirit honed for quoting Scripture in the face of temptation.


Monday, August 19, 2013

II Corinthians 12:9

"And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you.  For My power is perfected in weakness."  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

In the verse prior to this, Paul speaks of the thorn in his flesh, a messenger from Satan, concerning which he entreated the Lord three times that it might be removed.  Although answered with a "No", Paul was heeded and heard.  For, the Lord spoke to him.
We could easily miss a needed word here.  Many in our world balk at the thought that God could, can, or does communicate with any one.  The logic runs: "since I haven't heard His voice, He must not speak to anyone."  In a recent conversation I had with just such an individual, the gist of her perspective was -- "if I heard a voice in my head I would question my sanity."  And while I'm not insisting that the Lord speaks audibly these days (although He can certainly do as He sovereignly pleases)... He does most definitely speak to His children, as promised.
In the familiar 10th chapter of John, where the Lord Jesus pictures His relationship to believers employing Shepherd-to-sheep imagery, He promises speaking to His own:  "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice..." (v. 16); and again, some time later as He encountered opposition from the Jewish leaders, He asserted, "...you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me," (vv. 26, 27).
Coupled with this is Paul's teaching related to signs of sonship through the Holy Spirit, in Romans 8:  "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God," (v. 16).  Apparently, through the Bible and through prayer, the Lord's Spirit assures His elect that they are His own, and need to continuously listen for His voice (Isaiah 55:2, 3a; Luke 10:39).
Now, what the Lord said to Paul wasn't the response he desired, but the promise he received was precious, indeed.  First, His grace is promised.  Grace is the undeserved, unearned favor that God sovereignly shows toward those upon whom He set His heart from all eternity.  Hence, grace is an unconditional attitude of love by which He has committed Himself to the eternal salvation and security of His elect ones.  Grace also has an enabling element... His grace empowers, imparting the ability we as His children constantly need in living out the Christian life of sanctification.  We were saved by His unmerited favor and power, and we are kept by such grace, as well.  
Secondly, grace's sufficiency is pledged.  The Greek present tense translated "is sufficient" infers an ongoing process.  The gracious Lord assured the tormented Paul that His empowerment, His grace, was not a one-time offer.  Thus, his faithful Father warmed Paul's exhausted heart by promising ongoing, fathomless, unceasing grace.  And since a promise is only as good as the one who makes it, every promise made by the omnipotent, immutable Creator of the universe CANNOT fail!  Note:  worry is not disguised doubt...it's unbelief.  We sin by worry in the face of circumstances, but how can we do so in the face of God's promises?  To worry is to impugn His character, cast doubt upon His faithfulness, and tell a watching world that He isn't completely trustworthy.
May we ponder His constancy by reflecting on the ways He has shown Himself strong on our behalf, and then refuse the encumbrance of fear & the sin of worry that so easily entangles us.  
Thirdly, His paradoxical principle is put forth: power perfected in weakness.  Paul's natural tendency (as is ours) was to be strong, self-sufficient, capable.  Instead, he found himself abused, ridiculed, and feeling forced to defend his apostolic credentials.  The thorn was the Lord's tool for highlighting Paul's dependence upon Himself, in order that His enabling grace would be most evident in Paul's life.  When thinking of God's power being manifest through weakness, Samson comes to mind.  Paintings consistently portray him as a "hunk", rivaling any muscle builder we can name... yet, it actually seems more probable that his physique was fairly average.  Consider: if he had been a rippling mass of muscles killing thousands with only the jawbone of a donkey, who would get the credit..?  Yet when done by a man of average build, observers wouldn't say, "Wow, that Samson is amazing!", but rather, "Wow, Samson's GOD is amazing!"  
So our lives are to be likewise lived in such a way that attention is drawn to our God, rather than to us.  We'll then find Him faithful, He'll gain the credit & glory, and a watching world will sense the difference He makes.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Oh, That We Would Grow in Grace!

To appreciate and embrace the grace of God, one must first focus on two things: (1) the holiness of God, and (2) the heinousness of sin.  Underestimating either one will lead to a warped and weakened apprehension of grace.  Embracing both will lead to a greater gratitude for the God of grace, and giving Him the worship He so richly deserves!

The holiness of God.  Isaiah writes, "In the year of King Uzziah's death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.  Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called out to the another and said,
    Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts,
    The whole earth is full of His glory."  (6:1-3).
Of all the attributes of God mentioned in Scripture, only His holiness is repeated three times, as here.  He is never said to be "love, love, love" or "gracious, gracious, gracious"... yet His holiness is highlighted beyond all else.  This characteristic, then, permeates all others, so that His love is distinguished as a holy love... His anger is a holy wrath... His goodness is a holy goodness... Too, as with every attribute of the infinite God, His is an infinite holiness.  His innate standard is perfection, unattainable by mankind, and His judgment against sin is death.  A consuming fire, is our God... righteous and upright in His perfections, hating sin to a level we cannot conceive.  Nothing is hidden from His gaze, the Creator with Whom all must have to do (Hebrews 4:13).  Again, the greater, higher, and loftier awareness we have of Who He is in His utter holiness and hatred of sin, the greater will be our gratitude for grace.

The heinousness of sin.  To say that we are comfortable with sin is to understate the obvious.  This familiarity explains much as to why it is so difficult to comprehend (and reverence) God's holiness.  Born into this sin-cursed world with a sin nature, as accustomed to sin's prevalence as the air we breathe, inundated with its perspective, priorities, and pressure by the world system, we struggle to grasp its seriousness, its deadliness, its fatal consequences. On a planet whose system downplays sin's reality, whose lost inhabitants are spiritually blind to its presence, and whose lives are lived with sinful glee, we often absorb this atmosphere, gradually falling into an unconscious apathy to sin's dominance around us.   Thus, we can lose sight of God's perspective on sin, His holy perspective...  When this occurs, it is time to return to the cross.  There we see most graphically the living God's hatred of sin, as He poured out His holy wrath onto His beloved Son (who had become sin that we might be the righteousness of God, in Him), II Corinthians 5:21.  To meditate upon the agonies, both physical and spiritual, of the Son of God as He endured the terrible tree, is to find afresh the oft-hidden true nature of sin.  It is a terrible thing.  We are to hate it, for we are to hate what our God hates, and love what He loves.  And the closer our walk with holy God, the greater will be our detesting of sin in all its forms.  

Grace.  Only now are we able to embrace sovereign grace.  In a holiness and love we cannot comprehend (but definitely adore), God took the initiative to spare a people from nations all over the globe, by setting His heart upon them from all eternity.  In so doing, He precluded any claims any one of them might have that they contributed in any way to this gracious act. Had He not done so, no one would have been spared.  His hatred of sin would have seen to that.  Yet He showed immeasurable condescension and grace, as He sent His only Son to live the required sinless life, to die as a Substitute for those He had set His heart upon, and having His Holy Spirit apply the sparing to their lives in His sovereign timing.  Such an un-coerced plan of loving grace, when truly embraced, leads to humility, life-long thanksgiving, and ongoing obedience.