Saturday, November 29, 2014

Let Earth Receive Her King

Tomorrow is the beginning of the season of Advent, which lasts through December 24 and is then followed by 12 days of Christmas. For this season, I have written a new book, Let Earth Receive Her King: Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God.

Christmas is about the birth of a King — and the coming of a kingdom!

Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” In ancient Rome, the adventus was a ceremony in honor of the emperor, welcoming him into the city. The Christian season of Advent is a time of watching and welcoming that focuses on the coming of Jesus, God’s Anointed King, into the world.

At Christmas, we celebrate the first coming of King Jesus, when He established the kingdom of God. But we also keep an eye toward the second coming, when He will return once again and the kingdom of God will fill all the earth. In the meantime, we live between the comings as the kingdom of God increases and multiplies.

In Let Earth Receive Her King, we will explore some of the ancient promises God made to Abraham, David and the Old Testament prophets. We will also consider how the hope of Israel and the salvation of the world began to be realized two thousand years ago as we look at the Christmas story in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and taste of the rich meaning of the Incarnation in the Gospel of John and the letters of Paul.

This book is now available at Amazon in paperback for $8.99 and Kindle for $2.99, and you can preview it here with Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.

Let us together prepare our hearts and increase our expectation about what God has done at Christmas, is doing now in this present time and will do next in the world through His kingdom — and His King, Jesus the Messiah.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Brother, the Sparrow

How lovely is Your tabernacle,
    O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, even faints
    For the courts of the Lord;
    My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
    And the swallow a nest for herself,
Where she may lay her young —
    Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
    My King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house;
    They will still be praising You. Selah
(Psalm 84:1-4)
For many years, my habit has been to pray through the book of Psalms each month. There are 150 psalms and 30 days (more or less) in a month, so it works out to through five psalms a day. On the first day of the month, I pray through Psalms 1-5, on the second day, I pray through 6-10 and so on. So, on the 17th of each month, I know I will be praying through Psalm 84. Today is November 17, which is my birthday.

My brother Gary was also born on November 17. See, I was born on his fourth birthday, which I’m sure is not quite what he was expecting as a present that year. It may seem little more than a curiosity that we were born on the same day four years apart, but for me it was always a special bond we shared, a way I saw myself in relation to him. I did not realize just how much I identified with that, however, until last November 17, which turned out to be our last birthday together.

“Did you know that today is our birthday?” I asked the nurse in the ICU, while Gary lay in a coma following a failed brain surgery to remove an aneurysm, and I explained that I was born on his fourth birthday. Although he was unconscious, Gary and I spent our last birthday together.

I’ve explained the connection I feel between the 17th of each month and Psalm 84, and the one I have with my brother and November 17. But now let me say something about the special connection between my brother Gary and Psalm 84, because that is where I look for him now.

Although I am not sure how, Psalm 84 became very significant for Gary in his later life. He identified particularly with the line that says, “Even the sparrow has found a home … even Your altars, O LORD of Hosts.” He wrote a song about this psalm and called it “I Will Be a Sparrow.” Psalm 84 was part of his wedding service when he married his sweetheart, Jan, just a few years ago. And it was, very appropriately, part of his memorial service last December.

From now on, whenever I pray this psalm, I am reminded of my brother Gary, because that is where I know I can find him now. He is in the line about the sparrow, and he has finally found his home. And I find him where it says, “Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they will still be praising You. Selah” (v. 4). Gary is experiencing the splendor of the Lord in ways I cannot imagine, and he is ever praising God.

I also find myself in this psalm, in relation to Gary. He is with those who have arrived; I am on the road, still on the journey, and experiencing my pilgrimage (and on some days I feel it more than on others). So there is a section in this psalm for me, too.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
    Whose heart is set on pilgrimage
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
    They make it a spring;
    The rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
    Each one appears before God in Zion.
(Psalm 84:5-7)
Yes, there is a valley of “weeping” (which is what Baca most likely means), and I have shed my tears. But it is a valley we pass through, not one in which we remain, and the tears somehow become a “wellspring” (one of my brother’s significant words) that yields a blessing

On this pilgrimage to God, we go from strength to strength, although sometimes it may feel like anything but strength. So each one on this journey shall appear before God in Zion. And there I will find my brother, the sparrow.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Assurance of “These Things”

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:13)
We must take good account of “these things,” the two words with which 1 John 5:13 begins because it is by means of them that John seeks to offer assurance about eternal life to those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a context that precedes, and “these things” connects us to that. The phrase, “that you may know,” is a purpose clause that connects us back to “these things,” which in turn connects us back to the preceding context.

What, then, are the “these things” of which John is speaking? They are the things John has written about in his letter up to this point — from 1 John 1:1 all the way up to 5:12. What are the things he wrote about? For one thing, he wrote about light, and walking in the light: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7).

He wrote about not loving the world: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:15-16).

He wrote about a lifestyle of righteousness: “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God …” (1 John 3:10). Along with that, he wrote about the imperative of loving one another, not only in word but also in deed: “... nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:10-11). He continues on this theme of love quite extensively:
Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us (1 John 3:15-24)

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
He also writes about faith in Christ — it is one of the two commandments John says that God has given us:
And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (1 John 3:23-24)
Notice that it is not just in keeping the commandment to believe in Christ that we know that God abides in us, but it is also in keeping the commandment of loving one another that we have the assurance of God abiding in us.

First John 5:13 was not written in a vacuum but in a context — “these things” — and the context is about walking in light, living in righteousness and loving one another. These offer assurance that our faith in Christ is real and that eternal life — the divine life of God — really is at work in us.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Random Thoughts

Some thoughts culled from my random file. About faith, love, life and relationship with God. Some have occurred to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Some are aphoristic and avuncular. Many have been tweets on Twitter and updates on Facebook. For your understanding and edification — or your money cheerfully refunded.
  • The gospel is, first, the public announcement that the kingdom of God has come into the world — and that Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, is God’s Anointed King. Then it is the personal call to participate in that kingdom through faith in King Jesus.
  • The gospel in five seconds: The kingdom of God has come into the world and Jesus Christ is King over all. Come trust Him with your life and follow Him.
  • When you are able to let something go, it has become your servant, not your master.
  • With regard to man in relationship with God, repentance means to turn to God, or return to God.
  • Justification, in the context of biblical covenant, means that one is counted as fit for fellowship; in regard to man in relation to God, it is the verdict of righteousness — i.e., that one is right with God, in right relationship with Him.
  • Love is giving yourself to another without reserve.
  • The Christian faith is not about a God who created the world out of loneliness. It is about Three Persons who created the world out of the overflow of love they have for each other — and they desire to catch us up into their fellowship.
  • An assumption is something that can be made without thinking. Some assumptions may be reasonable. Others are not. Assumptions often function as faith for some people. Some aspects of faith may be based on reason, but the Christian faith is ultimately based on revelation, and everything must be rethought in light of it. And that takes a lifetime.
  • I trust God to be continually at work in me, so how l “measure up” is now His problem.
  • Faith pleases God and love fulfills the commandments. So whatever is of faith and expresses love is good ... and will measure up.
  • Christ is not only the light we see, but the light by which we can see everything else properly. So our lives as Christians cannot be compartmentalized. We cannot speak of the Christian life as if we also have some other life we can live in addition to or instead of our life in Christ.
  • We want to be faithful, but I think we can get too focused on our own faithfulness — as if it were indeed our own and not the faithfulness of God at work in us — and then we get discouraged. But if we focus on the faithfulness of God, we become like what we behold ... and there is no discouragement in that.
  • The apostle Paul said, “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” In the meantime, His glory starts poking through in our lives.
  • Quit trying to justify your existence. It is God who created and loves us, Jesus the Messiah who redeems us and the Holy Spirit who transforms us.
  • There is a difference between becoming a Christian and becoming Christian. One may take a moment, the other takes a lifetime.
More random thoughts …

Monday, November 10, 2014

Not in the Strength of the Horse

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
The LORD delights in those who fear him,
    who put their hope in his unfailing love.
(Psalm 147:10-11 NIV)
God is not impressed with our strength. He is not wowed by our wit, not captivated by our wisdom, not enthralled by our abilities. Don’t put your hope in them, for God finds nothing satisfying in our dependence upon them. He shows no favor for that but for something much different.

In this psalm, the writer celebrates the fact that God has gathered the exiles back from captivity and has rebuilt Jerusalem.
The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
    He gathers together the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
    And binds up their wounds.
(vv. 2-3)
But how is it that they were led off into captivity and exile in this first place? It was because they had turned away from the Lord by turning to the gods of the surrounding nations. And when the Assyrians became a threat to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, instead of turning back to the Lord and putting their hope in Him, they made alliances with the Syrians and Egyptians. They looked to the “strength of the horse” and the “legs of the warrior” to deliver them. But it was in vain, for they were carried off into captivity anyway.

A little over a century later, the Southern Kingdom of Judah likewise looked to an alliance with Egypt against Babylon. They, too, were carried off into captivity and the city of Jerusalem, including the Jewish temple, was destroyed. They were completely helpless.

But now God was rebuilding the temple, rebuilding the city, rebuilding the people. In the next verses, the psalm writer further exalts the Lord for this and then draws an important contrast between those whom He helps and those He does not.
Great is our Lord, and mighty in power;
    His understanding is infinite.
The LORD lifts up the humble;
    He casts the wicked down to the ground.
(vv. 5-6)
The humble are the poor, the afflicted, the weak — the helpless. They must depend on someone else, they must depend on God. Those are the ones God lifts up. In another psalm, “He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap, that He may seat him with princes — with the princes of His people” (Psalm 113:7-8).

The wicked are those who do what is evil. They do not trust in God but help themselves to whatever they want. They are proud, arrogant and boastful. These are the ones God casts down, and it happens before they know it. Between the humble and the wicked, God leaves no middle ground.
More praises follow in verses 7-9, and then the writer comes to the center point of the psalm: God has no pleasure in the “strength of the horse,” He takes no delight in the “legs of the warrior.” What is it that pleases Him then?
The LORD delights in those who fear him,
    Who put their hope in his unfailing love.
This is about those who are oriented toward the Lord. They live in the “fear of the LORD,” which is not dread or terror — at least not for those who are in proper alignment with Him — but is a relationship of love, trust and obedience to Him (see What is the Fear of the LORD?). In the Hebrew parallelism that structures this verse, fearing the Lord is seen as putting one’s hope in His unfailing love.

The Hebrew word for “unfailing love” is chesed, which is the faithful love and mercy God has promised to show to His people. The word for “hope” is about waiting in expectation. Putting your hope in the love of God is living in anticipation of it. To put a sharper point on it, to hope in the steadfast love of the Lord is to put your trust Him. Together with the fear of the Lord, what that psalm writer describes here is all about faith in the Lord. This faith is never merely a mental assent to propositions by or about Him but it entails a personal engagement with Him in mutual relationship. To fear the Lord and trust in His love means that He is our God and we are His people, that we are on His side, and He is on ours.

This relationship of faith and trust gets God’s attention. He delights in those who look to Him and will show Himself strong on their behalf. Look not to the “strength of the horse” or the “legs of the warrior” — whatever those may represent in your life — but live in awe of the Lord and set your hope on His love for you.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

I Don’t Know Anything

This week I have been thinking about the 1951 Alistair Sim classic version of Dickens’, A Christmas Carol. In particular, I have thought about the scene where Scrooge makes it to Christmas morning, having encountered the three Christmas spirits in the night. He is giddy and sing-songy, and in his elation he confesses to his housekeeper, Mrs. Dilber, this newly realized truth: “I don't know anything. I never did know anything; but now I know that I don't know anything.”

As I approach my 59th birthday (November 17), I am understanding that sentiment more and more each day. How very little I know. I don't know anything! And what a terrible burden is lifted off with that confession — the burden of thinking that I actually know anything (or that I even have to know anything).

The gospel does speak of a certain kind of knowledge. Not the knowledge of facts and figures or concepts or principles, but the knowledge of God the Father through Jesus the Son. It is the intimate knowing of someone else that comes through relationship with that person. It is the deepest, most intense kind of knowledge. And ultimately, it is the only knowledge that matters. “This is eternal life,” Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Knowing Christ is knowing life itself.

In his wonderful pastoral prayer in Ephesians 1, Paul prays for those who believe in Jesus, that the Father would give us wisdom and revelation so that we may know Him — essentially that we may know Him more and more. Truth is personal, which is to say, it is a Person. Jesus said, “I am … the Truth” (John 14:6). To know Him is to know all that is needed.

So, here I stand now, not knowing anything, before the God who knows everything. He cares not that I know nothing but He bathes me in His love. And now I am free to learn everything. What a wonderful relief as I journey into the next seasons of my life.