Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holding on to Confident Rejoicing

Christ [is] a Son over His own house, who house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:6)
The author of Hebrews is writing to a group of people who were up against severe persecution. As Jewish believers in Christ, they were getting it from two sides — from Jewish leaders who had rejected Christ and from the Romans who, oddly enough, view Christians as atheists because they did not worship Caesar and bow to the Roman pantheon. It was tough for them, no question about it.

In the midst of that, the author of Hebrews encourages/exhorts them to hold on to their faith in Jesus the Messiah because He is the Anointed One who fulfills all the promises God has made. Moses was faithful as a servant in the house God was building, and certainly to be greatly honored (Hebrews 3:2, 5). But Jesus is faithful as the Son of the house. The house is all those who believe the promises of God and receive His Anointed Son.

There is a great confidence we can have in that. The Greek work for “confidence” means courage, boldness, outspokenness. It speaks of the right of access we have before God. That is why the author says in the next chapter, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). The Greek word for “boldly” in 4:16 is the same as the word “confidence” in 3:6.

Under Moses, the people of God were afraid to approach God. In Jesus, we can come boldly before God:
For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.”And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24)
That is the confidence we have now because of Jesus Christ, the confidence the author of Hebrews encourages us to hold onto. It is that faith which can see us through great difficulty.

The word for “rejoicing” means to glory in, boast in or brag about. It is the same root word Paul uses when he says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). See, this boasting is not about who we are and what we have done — there’s nothing to brag about there and certainly no reason to have confidence. No, the boasting Hebrews speaks of is about Jesus Christ, what He has done for us and the boldness we can now have in Him.

How do we hold on to this confidence and rejoicing and manifest the household of God in turbulent times? There are a number of keys the author of Hebrews gives us which will be of great help to us (you can search these out in the book of Hebrews), but it all comes down to this, found in Hebrews 3:1. “Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus Christ.” It is only as we keep our focus on Him that we are able to continue walking in the victory He has won for us. (See The Table of Considering Him)

Yes, things may be getting difficult for you right now, but hold to your confidence and boasting in Jesus Christ and you will make it through.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Don’t Blame God for Calamity

I form the light and create darkness,
I make peace and create calamity;
I, the LORD, do all these things.
(Isaiah 45:7)
Though it is not always clear in our English Bibles, there is a difference between what God perpetrates and what He merely permits. Concerning this verse, Walter Kaiser notes that physical calamity in the world is a matter of what God permits.
Thus, according to the Hebrew way of speaking, which ignores secondary causation in a way Western thought would never do, whatever God permits may be directly attributed to him, often without noting that secondary and sinful parties were the immediate causes of the disaster.
The evil spoken of in this text and similar passages (such as Jer 18:11; Lam 3:38 and Amos 3:6) refers to natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil is seen in a volcanic eruption, plague, earthquake and destructive fire. It is God who must allow (and that is the proper term) these calamities to come...
Augustine taught that evil is not a substance. It is, as it were, a byproduct of our freedom, and especially of our sin. The effects of that sin did not fall solely on the world of humans. Its debilitating effects hit the whole natural world as well...
What we can be sure of, however, is the fact that God is never, ever, the originator and author of evil. It would be contrary to his whole nature and being as consistently revealed in Scripture. (Walter C. Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible, p. 306 s.v. Isaiah 45:7, emphasis mine)
God certainly allows many natural calamities to befall people as a consequence of sin in the world but that does not make him the perpetrator or author of those things.

Given the nature of the Hebrew way of speaking, which often blurs the distinction between what is committed by God and what He merely allows, it is a very tricky proposition to build a doctrine on this and similar Scriptures which makes God the executor of calamities in the world. They are not things God does to us, and we can resist them by prayer and faith without violating the sovereignty of God, for God is not the one to blame for them.

God's promise for His people is, “I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). How much more this is true for us under the New Covenant, in which all the wrath of God toward sin was poured out fully on Jesus Christ at the cross.

God’s plan for you is not calamity but for a future and a hope, and it is found in Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Blessing Your Grandchildren

But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting
On those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
To such as keep His covenant,
And to those who remember His commandments to do them.
(Psalm 103:17-18)
Your relationship with God can be a wonderful blessing to your grandchildren. When you know the Lord and honor Him, you are leaving a legacy that will greatly benefit them if they are willing to receive it.

God knows no generational barrier. He is eternal and His mercy is everlasting. The Hebrew word for “mercy” is hesed, which can also be translated as “steadfast love” and “faithful love.” It speaks of covenant, the commitment the Lord has made to His people to love them forever. It is for you, your children, your grandchildren.

God has always worked through families. When Adam and Eve disconnected from the life of God in the Garden of Eden, He promised them a Seed who would trample the serpent on their behalf and restore them (Genesis 3:15). When the earth was destroyed by the Flood, God made covenant with Noah and all his descendants (Genesis 9:9). God called Abraham out of the house of idolatry and promised him an heir from whom a mighty nation would arise to bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3). This covenant was confirmed to Isaac, then to Jacob. Jacob prophesied it over his children, especially to Judah. David arose from the line of Judah and received promise from God that his descendant would rule and reign on his throne forever. Generations later, it was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God whose mother was of the house of David.

In the reign of King Jesus, God continues to work through families. When Paul and Silas were jailed at Philippi for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ but were miraculously released by an earthquake, their jailer fell to his knees begging, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30-31). The jailer’s decision to receive the Lord Jesus brought divine salvation within reach of his household. They all believed and received this great legacy. The Bible records, “And immediately he and all his family were baptized … and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household” (Acts 16:33-34).

Proverbs says that “a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children” (Proverbs 13:22). There it is speaking of a physical inheritance, but it is true in the natural because it is first true in the spiritual. Whether we realize it or not, we all leave an inheritance, whether good or bad, to our children and grandchildren. When we walk in the awe of the Lord, to love, trust and serve Him alone, we leave a legacy of divine blessing for them. The word of promise, the message of the gospel, comes very close to them and if they are willing to believe it, they will live in the reality of it.

In the branches of my family tree, I have discovered generations of godly men and women who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and were saved. Generations later, here am I, of their house and walking in relationship with the same Jesus in whom they entrusted their lives. From their faith, through the convergence of many family lines, I can trace a path that led me to faith in Jesus at a very early age.

Many people do not have that kind of heritage but the good news of the gospel is that, in Jesus Christ, they can leave that kind of legacy. There was a time when my family lines did not know anything of the grace of God in Christ. But then there were some who heard the message and dared to trust Him — and I have reaped the benefit of their faith. In the same way, you might be the first in your line who has received the Lord Jesus, but it can be a blessing to a thousand generations.
Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments. (Deuteronomy 7:9)
Your relationship with God will be a legacy for your children, your grandchildren and generations to come.

Monday, November 17, 2008

No Recession in God’s Provision

The LORD is my Shepherd;
I shall not want.
(Psalm 23:1)
When we look to the Lord our Shepherd, we will not lack or be in want for anything. No recession there.

Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
Who delights greatly in His commandments …
Wealth and riches will be in his house.
(Psalm 112:1, 3)
No recession there, either, when we live in awe of God and delight in His commandments.
The LORD give you increase more and more,
You and your children.
(Psalm 115:14)
God has increase for us, and that is the opposite of recession. That goes for our children, too.
Honor the LORD with your possessions,
And with the firstfruits of all your increase;
So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine.
(Proverbs 3:9-10)
That certainly doesn’t sound like recession. God gives us increase, we honor Him with it. That brings forth even more increase — plenty and abundance.
“Bring all the tithes in the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And try Me now in this,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it.
And I will rebuke the devourer for you sakes.”
(Malachi 3:10-11)
Recession is a devourer. When we give God charge of our finances, He rebukes the devourer for our sakes.
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
Always having all sufficiency in all things, and abundance for every good work. Certainly no recession there.
And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
God has increase, provision and abundance for His people and it is far greater than any recession the world has to offer. So keep giving, sowing, investing and doing what God has called you to do. You will have more than enough.

There is no recession in God’s provision. Never has been, never will be.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Table of Considering Him

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus. (Hebrews 3:1)
In Hebrew 3, the author compares the Lord Jesus to Moses. Moses was the “apostle” of the Old Testament. The Law and the pattern for the Tabernacle were given through him. As John notes, “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14). The Lord Jesus is the Apostle of the New Covenant. Not only the Apostle, but also the High Priest, for as the author of Hebrews later tells us, “He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). Indeed, He is the sacrifice on which that covenant is based, as He declared at the Last Supper: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20).

It is this Jesus whom we are called to “consider.” The Greek word speaks of a fixed attention to Him. It is not a passing thought or acknowledgment but a sustained focus. In Him, we are made “holy brethren” (to be holy means to be set apart for God’s will and desire). In Him, we are partakers of the “heavenly calling.” For we were born, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). We belong to Him.

He is called the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. The Greek noun comes from the verb homologeo, which means to speak the “same word.” It is a word of agreement. In this case, it is about agreeing with God about Jesus Christ. Everything He has promised is fulfilled for us in Christ, who is the mediator of the new and better covenant we have with God.

At the Table of the Lord, we focus all our attention on the Lord Jesus, His body and blood given for us, and with it, all the blessing and promise of God. We confess Him, that He is our Lord, our salvation, our resurrection and our life. In Him, we are made holy and called brothers. In Him, we partake of the heavenly calling, which speaks of divine initiative and living life on a new and higher basis — the reality of heaven becomes ours.

Come to the Table of the Lord and consider, in a sustained and sustaining way, the Apostle and High Priest whom we confess as our own.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Your Identity, Position and Possession in Christ

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)
We are very used to leaning on our own understanding, particularly when difficulties arise. It is how the world has discipled us very patiently for so many years. When we do not have a vital relationship with God, it is all we know. But in Jesus Christ, we are called to a new discipleship, to understand and live in a radically different way. It comes out of our new identity, our new position, and our new possession in Him.

Who we are in Jesus Christ.
We are now children of God. We are no longer orphans, for He has not given us “the spirit of bondage again to fear,” but “the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:15). As His children, we are made partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Where we are in Jesus Christ.
We are now seated with Christ in the heavenlies, at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:20-21; 2:6), the place of ruling and reigning.

What we have in Jesus Christ.
Jesus has given us the authority of His name:
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do , that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14:12-14)
Jesus has also given us the power of the Holy Spirit, just as He promised the disciples: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me” (Acts 1:8). We have been given the testimony of who Jesus is, all His aspects, and why He came. It is not just the testimony of words, but also of power. “For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed … in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (Romans 15:18-19).

In the uncertainty of these times, do not let your heart be troubled by falling back on your own understanding. You believe in God, believe also in Jesus and who you are, where you are seated and what you have been given in Him.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pouting and Whining, or Patiently Waiting?

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.
Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
both now and forever.
(Psalm 133 HCSB)
Weaning is the difference between pouting and whining, and patiently waiting. It is not needing to understand everything or getting involved with things that are beyond us. It is not complaining when things don’t go the way we think they ought.

Weaning is very different. It is about calming and quieting oneself. God will not do it for us; we must do it ourselves—it is part of coming to maturity. It is a matter of faith—trusting God—without which we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).

In the natural, little children wean away from their mother’s breast. They get less agitated and begin the process of learning patience, trusting that their hunger pangs will be satisfied and their basic needs met.

Many people move past those early forms of weaning; others do not. You can tell them when you see them; they are the ones who whine, complain, mutter and mope about everything. They have not learned patience. The do not calm and quiet themselves. They have not learned how to wean.

Unfortunately, there are even Christians who have not weaned themselves concerning a great many things. They are forever complaining to God. “Well, I don’t understand why God doesn’t do this?” and “Why doesn’t God something about that?” and “How could God let this happen?” They do not exercise self-control. Self-control is in them. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), who is in them, but they do not yield themselves to the Spirit and allow Him to bring forth that fruit. When they complain, they are not really trusting God (faith is another fruit of the Spirit).

Because they are not quieting and calming themselves by trusting in God, they are full of fear about everything. What they experience with their senses becomes more real to them than the promise and provision of God. They are controlled by their circumstances and full of anxiety. “God has not given us a spirit of fear,” the Bible says, “but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). The Greek word for “sound mind” actually means “discipline” or “self-control.” In other words, God has given us the ability to quiet and calm ourselves, to wean ourselves.

David learned how to wean himself from a proud heart and haughty eye. When things didn’t go his way, in fact, when things went seriously against him, he learned how to encourage himself in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6; see How to Encourage Yourself in the LORD for more on this). When the nations were against him, the word he received from the Lord was, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

Having learned the lessons of calming and quieting himself before God, his protector and provider, David gives us this advice: “Put your hope in the LORD, both now and forever.” The Hebrew word for “hope” is not tentative, but certain. It speaks of a positive expectation, even a joyful anticipation. It is a word of faith.

Have you learned to wean yourself, to calm and quiet yourself before the Lord, to be still and know that He is God? Are you pouting and whining about the circumstances of your life, or are you patiently waiting. Put your trust in God. Believe His Word, stand on His promises, expect His goodness to come through for you, both now and forever.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Whatever Happens, Please Remain Seated

God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us … made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-6)
Every believer in Jesus Christ has been made alive together with Him, raised up together with Him, and seated together with Him in the heavenlies. Notice carefully that this is not something that has yet to happen; it is an accomplished fact. It is not a future hope, but a present reality.

Where is Jesus seated? Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:20-22. God raised Jesus and seated Him “at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is name, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet.”

Jesus has been seated at the right hand of the Father. It is a throne, a place of ruling and reigning. He is seated far above all principality, power, might and dominion, and every name that can be named. This is a statement about His authority. All has been placed under His feet.

That is where Jesus is seated. In Ephesians 2:6, Paul tells us that we are seated there with Him — in that same place of ruling and reigning! We are not merely “above the fray.” We have authority over it. It is the authority of prayer in the name of Jesus and faith in the Word of God.

We are fully authorized agents of God’s kingdom, given charge by our Lord and High King to pray, “Kingdom of God, come. Will of God, be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Do not be shaken by the turmoil of these days. You are a representative of the kingdom of God — indeed, of the King Himself. You have the authority to bring things on earth into line with the plan of God and the purpose of heaven, just as Jesus taught us to pray.

Your place is on the throne of heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever happens, please remain seated.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Time to Speak Up for the Voiceless

Speak up for those who have no voice,
for the justice of all who are dispossessed.

Speak up, judge righteously,
and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.
(Proverbs 31:8-9 HCSB)
It is time to “speak up,” to “open your mouth,” as the NKJV puts it, for those who have no voice, for those who are dispossessed, for the oppressed and needy. Today in America, there are none more helpless, oppressed and needy than the millions of preborn infants who are being aborted.

It is time for us to judge righteously and to choose righteous judges — judges who will do what is right.

This election season, the choice before us is quite clear. How morally misguided and confused does one have to be to suppose that a baby would ever be a punishment? The Bible says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD” (Psalm 127:3). To ever view them as anything less is misanthropic.

How morally bankrupt does one have to be to say that it is “above his pay grade” to determine when life begins and then proceed to advocate for the destruction of preborn through abortion? It would be like a hunter who thinks he sees a deer rustling in the woods, but suspects that it could possibly be a human being — and goes ahead and shoots anyway! It is morally irresponsible.

And what can be said for the same man who supports killing an infant who somehow survives and abortion. There is no doubt that life had begun for such a little one and to advocate for his destruction is nothing short of evil.

This candidate does not judge righteously, but evilly, and his legacy will be evil as he selects judges with same morally warped standards.

It is time to stand up and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. The slaughter of millions of innocents is quite sufficient cause to vote against one who is so callously for their destruction.

Let your voice be heard.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

There is Always a Choice

How happy is the man
who does not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path of sinners,
or join a group of mockers!
Instead, his delight is in the LORD’s instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night.
He is like a tree planted beside streams of water
that bears its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
(Psalm 1:1-3 HCSB)
We always have a choice about which direction we will go: Whether we will follow the advice of the wicked, take the path of sinners and join the mockers—or instead, delight in the instruction of the Lord and meditate continually on it.

It is the difference between the way of the world and the way of the Word. The world has a wisdom to impart, but it is a way of envy and self-seeking and leads to confusion and every kind of evil (James 3:15-16). It is, in a word, demonic.

But the wisdom of the Word is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and hypocrisy. It is the wisdom that comes from heaven, and is encompassed in the instruction of the Lord. This wisdom will always lead to good results. It says,
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He shall direct your path.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
and strength to your bones.
(Proverbs 3:5-8)
The one who trusts in the Lord with all his heart and acknowledges Him in all things will be firmly established and well supplied, like a tree planted beside streams of water. He will have abundance in the season of bearing fruit and will prosper in everything he does. However, things will not work out so well for those who follow the way of the world.
The wicked are not like this;
instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment,
and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.
(Psalm 1:4-6 HCSB)
There is always a choice of which way we will honor, even in this election season. Trust in the Lord and meditate on His instruction. Acknowledge Him with your vote, and He will show you where to cast it. His way is greater than that of either of the candidates, and far more powerful and productive of righteousness and prosperity.