Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Last Resort is the Only Hope

LORD, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I do not get involved with things
too great or too difficult for me.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself
like a little weaned child with its mother;
I am like a little child.
(Psalm 131:1-2, HCSB)
David comes before God like a little child. He is not trying to figure out everything — or anything. He has weaned himself away from all that. He is coming simply to be with God, to sit calmly and quietly with Him. He has come to the place in his life where that is more than enough for him.

That is how we each must come before God, like little children. Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). It is a position of utter dependence. Just as a little child is helpless apart from his parents, we must realize that we are completely helpless apart from God alone.

The pervading delusion is that we have any viable option beside God. That was the lie the serpent sold Adam and Eve. God had already created them in His own image, and to be like Him (Genesis 1:26-27). But the devil conjured up an “alternative” before their eyes: If they would take the forbidden fruit for themselves, they would be gods in their own right. So they “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).

They thought they had options, but came to realize, to their great sorrow, that what they had chosen led them only to emptiness and despair.

After years of wantonness and waste, and a life of exercising his “options,” St. Augustine came to this profound conclusion, recorded in his Confessions: “God, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in You.” He had come now to the last resort and discovered, joyfully, that it was his only hope, and more than enough.

David, king of Israel, calmed and quieted his heart from all other matters apart from God. His heart and his eyes are no longer full of himself; his hand does not reach for things that did no belong to him. He is satisfied in God alone, and from that place of quietness and contentment, he gives this wise counsel to his people:
Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
both now and forever.
(Psalm 131:3)
The joyful discovery in life is that your last resort is the only hope you will ever need. Put your hope in the LORD, both now and forever.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Enlarge Your Expectation

I am Yahweh your God,
Who brought you up from the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.
(Psalm 81:10 HCSB)
What is your expectation, your anticipation, your hope? Is it set on God? In this verse, God declares who He is, what He has done and what He will do.

I am Yahweh your God. This is who He is. Yahweh is the name by which He reveals Himself in covenant with His people. It is the name by which He promises to always take care of us and show us every kindness. It is the name of His favor toward us.

Who brought you up from the land of Egypt. This is what He has done. The great salvation event of the Old Testament was when He delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt. The phrase “brought you up” translates a Hebrew verb which refers to ascent. God not only brought them out, He brought them up into a higher way of life, the land of promise He gave to their fathers. He also graciously cut covenant with them whereby He they would be His people and He would be their God. As great as this salvation was, though, it was but a foreshadow of the ultimate act of deliverance and redemption. In the New Testament, Jesus, whose name in Hebrew is Yeshua (“Yahweh saves”) purchased salvation, not just for Israel but for all the world. He instituted a new covenant for us in His blood (Luke 22:20).

Open your mouth wide and I will fill it. This is what God will do. It is the promise of provision and satisfaction. “Bless the LORD,” David says, “who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:1, 5). In the New Testament, Paul encourages us with the promise that “God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). This is not just enough but more than enough.

What is your expectation? Is it big? Remember the widow in 2 Kings 4. She was deeply in debt and her creditors were about to makes bondservants of her sons. She went to the prophet of God, Elisha, for help. “What do you have in the house?” he asked. She said, “Just a jar of oil.” He directed her to go and borrow as many vessels as she could, shut herself up in her house and begin pouring out the little jar of oil into all the other vessels. So that is what she did. When she filled the last vessel, and there were no more, the oil stopped. It was a miracle of multiplication that was as large as her expectation. If she had expected only a little, and borrowed only a few jars, that would have been all she would have received. But her expectation was large and she received enough oil to completely pay all her debt. In fact, she had more than enough—she and her sons were able to live on what was leftover. God made His grace abound.

Paul tells us that God is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or thing, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20). So enlarge your expectation, open your mouth wide, and God will fill it with good things.

How large is your expectation and in whom is your trust?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reward Now, in This Time

Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?”

So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matthew 19:28-30)
Some people believe that this passage is all about the next life and the rewards Jesus has there for His followers. But a closer look at this passage and its counterparts clearly shows that He is speaking of this present life. For example, in the parallel passage, Mark 10:29-30, Jesus states that the hundredfold return is “now in this time." Since it is about now and this time, it is temporal reward. Jesus also adds, “with persecutions,” which is another indication that this is not for the eternal state, since there will be no suffering or persecution for the saints in glory (praise be to God!). It is only afterwards that, in Mark’s account, Jesus speaks of the eternal state: “And in the age to come, eternal life.” Both temporal reward (“this life”) and eternal life (“in the age to come”) are in view.

The way to receive the temporal reward is not by seeking after it, but by seeking after the eternal one. It comes for those who give up house, brothers, etc., “for My sake and the gospel’s.” The consideration of temporal rewards as well as eternal ones is not wrong — we are promised both — but they must be kept in proper focus and given proper priority. If we seek after the temporal rewards, we will miss out on eternal rewards; but if we seek after eternal things, we will be well-compensated for whatever we leave behind for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. It is as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

One of the important things to notice in Jesus’ response to Peter’s question is that, not only will those who leave all for His sake and the gospel’s receive a hundredfold return, but they will also inherit eternal life. That is exactly what the rich young man had earlier come seeking (Matthew 19:16). However, he was so attached to the things of this life that he did not understand the value of eternal life. If he persisted in trying to hold on to his many possessions, he would eventually lose them anyway. Ironically, it was Peter and the other disciples who, having left all to follow Jesus, would be amply compensated in this life, and inherit eternal life in the age to come (notice that eternal life is an inheritance — a gift — not a reward).

Jesus ended with, “But many who are first will be last; and the last first” (Matthew 19:30). How ironic for the rich young man! He tried to be first by keeping what he had; he would be last and lose everything. On the other hand, the disciples, though they might have considered themselves the least and the last, would end up the first-place winners. They gave up everything for Jesus, but would receive back so much more than they could have imagined.

The world tries to win by being first and holding on to what you have. Jesus’ way is by loving, giving and serving. All who leave all for His sake and the gospel’s will come out the winners, not only in the next life, but also in this one.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Table of Divine Forgetting

I, even I, am He who blots our your transgression for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.
(Isaiah 43:25)
This is a matter of covenant. “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31). It is a new covenant, and not like the old one He made with Israel, “Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers … My covenant which they broke” (v. 32). The old covenant depended upon human behavior and was broken because of Israel’s disobedience. The new covenant is different:
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. (vv. 33-34)
The new covenant is a better one based on better promises (Hebrews 8:6). It is not a law engraved on tables of stone but one implanted in the heart. In this covenant, we can each know God personally and intimately. It is a covenant in which God not only forgives all our iniquity, but also forgets them — He remembers them no more. What He forgives, He forgets, and no longer responds to us according to sin. He does away with it.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:10-12)

He will again have compassion on us,
And will subdue our iniquities.
You will cast all our sins
Into the depths of the sea.
(Micah 7:19)
God’s forgiveness does not mean that our sin is overlooked, but that it has been dealt with. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, but He did deal with Jesus according to our sins. Jesus lifted them from us and carried them far away. This happened at the cross, where He suffered the cost of our iniquity in our place. There He “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us” and has “taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). He was prosecuted in our place, and the judgment that stood against us because of sin was wiped out and taken out of the way. Gone and forgotten.

When we come to the Table of the Lord, Jesus has no recollection of our sin. He does not rub our noses in the wrongs we have done: “See what put Me on the cross and caused Me to shed My blood.” It does not figure into His thinking. No, His Table is the Table of Divine Forgetting. There we see only Him, and ourselves in Him, and He sees only us, clean and righteous in Him.

As we approach the Table of the Lord, there may be many things that trouble us, and a great awareness of sins we have committed. Confess them to the Lord. That is, agree with Him that they are wrong and ought not to be in our lives. The promise is that He is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Not just forgiven, but also cleansed of it all. Forgotten.

The Table of the Lord is also a place where we learn to forgive and forget those things that have been done against us by others. This is not an option, but a requirement, as the Lord Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that our Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). This may seem a hard thing for many, but if we are in Jesus, and He is in us, then if He can forget, we also can forget.

It is important to forget those things that are behind, whether sins we have committed or wrongs done against us, so that we may move forward into the destiny God has for us. Paul said, “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

The Table of the Lord is the Table of Divine Forgetting.