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.