Four Things I Love About Jesus

Note: For a couple of months, I was preaching The Gospel of Mark in our Sunday Worship Service, then teaching Sunday School in the Gospels using The Gospel Project, and then teaching our Men’s Bible Study mid-week in The Gospel of John. Usually I am teaching from many different areas of the Bible. But rather than getting bored with Jesus, spending concentrated time in the Gospels has made me fall in love with Him deeper as I have had the privilege of looking to Jesus for hours each week. May a couple of things I have seen in a fresh way from gazing at Jesus, encourage you in your pursuit of looking to Jesus today (Hebrews 12:2)!
Jesus Name
1) His Unlimited Power
Jesus has power like no other. As I have watched him take 5 loaves and 2 fish and feed 20,000 people, I am reminded that He is the One who provides for my needs and the needs of my family and the needs of my church today. As I have watched him talk to a storm and have seen it obey him, I am reminded that even the weather answers to his command. As I have watched him deliver a man who under the possession of thousands of demons broke chains, cut himself, and lived in tombs–I am reminded of his sovereignty over even my spiritual enemies. As I have watched him speak to Lazarus’ stinking tomb, I am reminded that whenever Jesus goes toe to toe with death he always wins.

Did you catch that last part? He doesn’t just have the power to feed a multitude from a little boy’s lunch, he doesn’t just have the power to stop a storm with his voice, he doesn’t just have ultimate power over spiritual darkness, he actually has power over our greatest and final enemy, death itself. We literally have the antidote for death. His name is Jesus. His power is unlimited! 

2) His Unbounded Compassion
If Jesus were all power without compassion, he might not be worthy of worship. After all, Hitler had a lot of power, but he used it to destroy. But Jesus’ unlimited power is wed with his unlimited compassion. And how thankful I am that these two characteristics of Jesus will never be divorced from each other. I need an all-powerful Savior who can conquer Satan, and sin, and death. But I need an all-compassionate Savior who cares about my helpless situation and acts on my behalf.

The same Jesus who wept at Lazarus’ grave is the same Jesus who sees each of my tears. The same Jesus who raised a little girl from her death bed, is the same Jesus who moments earlier stopped in the middle of the road to seek out a suffering and shame-stricken woman. His compassion is unbounded!

3) His Unrestrained Truth
A true friend will tell you if you have broccoli in your teeth. “Friends” who tell us what we want to hear are a dime a dozen. But friends who care about us so much that they tell us what we need to hear are a rare jewel. We tend to remember the resolution to Jesus calming the storm with warm fuzzies. But after Jesus rebuked the wind (!) and spoke to the sea (!), he said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). It was an uncomfortable moment–but one the disciples never forgot–as the Creator looked them in the eyes with water dripping off his beard and asked them why they did not trust in him.

If we read all of Jesus’ words in the Gospels, not just the ones that we want to read, we will be confronted with truths like Hell that we need him to speak unreservedly about. I won’t trust my doctor if he doesn’t want to use the word cancer because it makes me uncomfortable. Jesus not only tells us the truth about our hearts and eternity and our need for him, he IS the truth (John 14:6). In a world of compromise, his truth is unrestrained!

4) His Unmatched Grace
Just as Jesus is both all-powerful and all-compassionate, only Jesus can be all grace and all truth at the same time. This is because this is who the living God is. This is because Jesus is God with skin on. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth (John 1:1, 14).” It is no accident that one of the few “calling stories” that the Gospel of Mark goes into detail about is Jesus calling Levi, a tax collector, to follow him. And then Jesus has a leisurely meal at Levi’s house along with many tax collectors and sinners. I am so thankful that Jesus eats with sinners. I remember this every time I come to the Table during the Lord’s Supper.

When a deaf and mute man was brought to Jesus, this man who had always been a spectacle was taken aside, one-on-one, so that he could understand Jesus’ simple sign language and read Jesus’ lips without distraction. The Savior who taught the multitudes showed grace to one man who needed it. This grace is yours today because this Jesus is yours today. Through Jesus’ cross and resurrection, you have the grace of forgiven sins, the grace of strength for today, and the grace of bright hope for tomorrow. His grace is unmatched!

If you have been bored with Jesus recently, maybe it’s time to read the Gospels with fresh eyes again. May you be in awe of Jesus. More than that, may you be in love with him.  

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Gaze Upon the LORD Even When You Feel Like You Will Be “Eaten”

Paul David Tripp recently helped me to keep my focus where it should be during the storms of life, firmly on the LORD of glory, as I listened to a sermon from Psalm 27.  I think Psalm 27 will help you too.  Here are 4 practices we need to do daily.
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1) Gaze
It appears that David wrote Psalm 27 either when he was in a cave hiding for his life from King Saul, or running for his life during his son Absalom’s grab at the kingdom.  When David wrote, “When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh…” (Ps. 27:2a), he literally may have had an army encamping against him (Ps. 27:3a).  It can’t get much more dire than your enemies breathing down your neck, like hungry wild dogs who want to eat your flesh.

What would you ask for if you could ask the LORD for anything if you were in a similar situation?  Maybe for weapons?  If you were honest, maybe for a bomb that would wipe your enemies out, or for the situation to simply change radically–like being beamed right out of the problem to another location?  Listen to what David asks for: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple.” (Ps. 27:4)

2) Remember
 When we gaze upon the beauty of the LORD, we are not only reminded of who God is, but also who we are.  We have a new identity as His child.  The LORD is not just “light” and “salvation,” He is my light and my salvation!  Because of this personal truth, David can exclaim, “Of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1)

3) Rest
Resting in the LORD is not a passive activity, but a vigorous spiritual activity.  We can rest because we continue in the fight of faith.  This gives our hearts rest and hope: “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.” (Ps. 27:3)

4) Act
After gazing upon the beauty of the LORD, remembering who He is and thus who we are as His children, and resting in Him, we can then act with great hope and courage when the time comes: “…be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Ps. 27:14)

This One of glorious beauty has been connected to you by faith.  Because of Christ, we can be confident and hopeful even when we feel like we will be “eaten”!

HT: These main points are from a wonderful message by Paul David Tripp given at the Desiring God 2014 Conference for Pastors, “Living the Gospel That You Preach.”  You can listen to it for free here.

Do You See Election as an Act of God’s Eternal Love?

Believer, you may have had times of great struggle or confusion in your theological understanding of election.  Even those of us who have long held to a reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation will often admit that although we think there is great clarity in God’s Word regarding election, there is also great mystery in this doctrine.

diff-lighthouse-waveBut brother or sister in Christ, I hope that there are times in your pursuit of the Lord and your understanding of Him and His Word that you throw out all of your objections and cling to this doctrine as a beloved anchor for your soul.  I am not suggesting that you should not continue to study and think hard about great sections of Scripture like Ephesians 1:3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

What I am saying, though, is that Scripture does not present election as a great conundrum but rather as a great comfort.

When you feel as if the earth has given way under your feet, you no longer question God’s ways but you cling to Him and His promises with all that you have.  This is strongly implied in Romans 8:28-31.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.  What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, doesn’t answer, “What then shall we say to these things?” by questioning God’s unconditional decrees and purposes.  Rather, Paul sees God’s sovereign election mixed right in with God’s sovereign goodness:  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35)  The answer is a resounding “nothing” (Romans 8:39)!

He who chose those He would save in eternity past is intimately involved in every detail of their lives today, and will continue to be until He brings His bride to glory.  When I read, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:4b-5), my heart no longer questions my Lord and my God.  But my heart rejoices in my Savior’s eternal love, a love that loved me long before I loved Him.  That is security.

“And in Despair I Bowed My Head: ‘There is No Peace on Earth,’ I Said”?

picture 16Last Sunday night, just two days after the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy in which 27 people were murdered including 20 six to seven year olds, our church had a Christmas program.  As a ladies’ choir sang, “And in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, For hate is strong and mocks the song, Of peace on earth, good will to men,” it suddenly grew exceptionally quiet.  I think that everybody who was listening to the words was thinking of the families and children in Connecticut.  Many Christians have been struggling with seeing the depth of this evil and reconciling it with their view of God.

Not surprisingly, the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” were born out of personal tragedy and national mourning.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the famous American poet, lost his second wife Fanny in 1861 (his first wife died in 1835) through a horrible burning accident.  She was using sealing wax to preserve the locks of their little girls’ hair that she had just cut when her dress caught on fire.  She ran into the room where Longfellow was and when a throw rug that he used failed to put out the fire, he put out the flames using his own body and was badly burnt as well.  Fanny died the next day and Longfellow was too injured to be able to attend the funeral.  At the same time, the Civil War was raging and two years after the death of his wife Longfellow received news that his son, a Union soldier, was severely wounded.

Asaph who wrote Psalm 73 struggled with similar feelings of despair in seeing evil and experiencing deep personal suffering.  Instead of writing, “in despair I bowed my head,” he wrote, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped,” (Psalm 73:2) as he tried to reconcile the evil in the world with his view of God.

But I am so glad that Asaph did not end the Psalm with those words.  He explained, “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (Psalm 73:16-17)  When he went to worship and to focus on what is true about God, then he could exclaim, “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.” (Psalm 73:23-24)

Longellow did not end his poem in despair either:  “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;’  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.”  Our hope is not that there will never be another tragedy on this sin-riddled earth, but our hope is in the longing of Advent.  Not only did Christ come as a baby, but He also will return to earth as our victorious King.  Every wrong will fail and true righteousness will prevail.

Tragedies like Newtown should make us weep as Christians.  It should also make us pine with hope for the day when “‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’  And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'” (Revelation 21:4-5)

For a moving video of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” with Civil War pictures, click here.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” Words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Is Your Hope in the Government?

George Lawson, a fellow graduate of The Master’s Seminary, reminds us Who our hope is in as the elections draw near.  You can find the entire article here:  Reliable Source Reveals November’s Election is Already Fixed.  Lawson’s closing lines realign our focus:  “But don’t place your hope in a ballot box or lose your hope in a ballot box either.  The election has already been fixed and a reliable source reveals that God wins!”

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… The next president of the United States will not be determined by hanging chads and dimples on the ballots in Florida.  It won’t even be decided by the elite electoral college (regardless of what you may have heard).  A reliable source reveals that this year’s election has already been fixed.

What is this reliable source?  — the Bible.  And no, I am not advocating some secret code contained in Scripture.  I’m sure if you rearranged the letters in some verse in the book of Revelation, you could spell Mitt Romney, Barack Obama or Cap’n Crunch!  No, the Bible does not reveal who the next president will be, but it does reveal that the outcome has already been fixed by a sovereign God.

Psalm 115:3 says it this way, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”

Psalm 103:19 adds this thought, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all.”

And then we learn this in the book of Daniel…

“The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes, And sets over it the lowliest of men” (Daniel 4:17)

God’s sovereignty, or unopposed rule, will be the true deciding factor in November’s election, just as God decided who would govern the ancient kingdoms in the Near East.

In the book of Daniel, the Jewish people in captivity were encouraged to place their hope, not in their rulers, but in the God who ruled over their rulers.  And that’s not to say that their rulers were godly (I’m sure that Nebuchadnezzar would not receive the nomination in any party).  Rather, Daniel encouraged the Jewish people who were in captivity, by reminding them that the powers that exist will not have the final say, God will…

…Now all of this is not to say, you should not exercise your right to vote. Get informed, get involved and get in line to vote for the candidate that best represents biblical values.  But don’t place your hope in a ballot box or lose your hope in a ballot box either.  The election has already been fixed and a reliable source reveals that God wins!

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[HT: George Lawson]

Waiting on the LORD

Isaiah 40:28-31 has been a favorite Bible passage of mine since college when I was challenged by a friend to memorize it.  However, I had no idea how instrumental it would be in my life until about a year later, when I broke my leg while studying in Israel.  I couldn’t leave the country yet!  We had methodically been studying the biblical sites and we had not yet been to most of the sites Jesus had been closely associated with.  The Lord used quoting Isaiah 40:28-31 to get me over ancient ruins on crutches that spring: “Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not become weary or tired.  His understanding is inscrutable.  He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.  Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

Isaiah wrote these words (in advance, as a prophet of God) to God’s people in captivity in Babylon.  As they were in exile, they began to wonder about the goodness and faithfulness of God and whether or not He would keep His promises.  Isaiah told them to do two things to have strength from God: to meditate on Him (v. 28), and to wait on Him (v. 31).  What does it mean though to wait on the Lord?

The word wait in Hebrew is crucial to understand.  Much like the Spanish word esperanza, it has a dual meaning that we don’t usually associate with the word wait in English.  It means not only our traditional sense of “waiting” as in, “I am waiting for this bus to arrive,” but it also carries the idea of hope.  Context tells which direction the meaning slants towards.  I have been a rider on public transit in the Los Angeles Metro area for almost 3 years now, and let me tell you, when somebody is waiting for the bus here, they are waiting in both senses of the term!  “I am waiting for the bus,” and “I am hoping for the bus to arrive soon.”

What is all-important is what our hope is in.  I have very little hope in the Metro transit system, but I have an infinite hope in the God of the universe!  That is why Isaiah told them to both meditate on God and wait on Him.

Why does God want us to actively wait on Him?  There are many reasons, but here are three:

  • It makes us seek Him.
  • It reminds us the timing is His, not ours.
  • It makes us trust Him.

What are you waiting on the LORD for?  He has given us many sure promises.  I hope that you will wait like the Psalmist: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.  Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.” (Ps. 27:14)

The LORD Reigns

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I was on Jury Duty recently and as I was waiting in the Jury Room to be called up or not called up to court, I thought about how at that moment the government had so much sovereignty over my life.  Whether or not they called my name would determine if I would go to work the next day or back to the courthouse.  If I was assigned (I was), it could be a quick 2 day trial or my life could have to revolve around a trial for months (after all, I live in L.A. County).

I think God’s sovereignty is sometimes hard for us to understand as American Christians because we don’t have any clear examples of “absolute” authority such as was so common during the time the Bible was written.  The government’s “power” to make me come in to Jury Duty and to decide what would happen with the next few weeks of my life, or to force me to pay taxes, is about the extent of my personal involvement with the government’s sovereignty.  I used to wrestle quite a bit with God’s sovereignty.  Although I accepted it, as God is clearly displayed and explained as sovereign again and again and again in God’s Word, and although I wanted to understand it, it sometimes made me question my understanding of God.  My understanding of God needed to be questioned and expanded. 

I remember reading a quote by Jonathan Edwards that exclaimed, “…Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God…” (quoted in Desiring God, p. 38, by John Piper).  I could tell by the way Edwards worded it that he rejoiced in this attribute of God.  I had a hard time saying this the same way, much like the struggle that Habakkuk had at the beginning of his prophecy, before he waited on the LORD .  I think it was because I wanted to rejoice in God’s sovereignty, but all of the theological and practical “problems” were getting tangled up in my mind.  Praise God that I can now agree with Jonathan Edwards in the rest of his quote: “And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, in respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense…I have often since had not only a conviction but a delightful conviction.  The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet.  Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.  But my first conviction was not so…” (quoted in Desiring God, p. 38, by John Piper).   

The Lord has been teaching me this doctrine again and again over the last 15 years as I have studied the Bible and constantly been confronted with God’s absolute sovereignty and also as I have seen it lived out in my own life, family, and ministry with others.  I love God’s sovereignty now.  I love to exclaim with the Psalmist, “The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Psalm 97:1)  I am prepared to accept and deal as biblically as I can with any confusion that may cause (more posts on that in the future, in particular regarding “Sickness” and “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God”).  The fact that the LORD reigns is actually the greatest comfort now during times of trial rather than a question mark.  It is a sweet doctrine to be embraced rather than to be feared.  One thing that has helped me in my understanding of and rejoicing in God’s sovereignty is knowing that His sovereignty is always exercised in a way that corresponds with His other attributes, such as His love, mercy, compassion, justice, etc.  A favorite way that I like to express this truth is that “God is both sovereign and good.”

There is a sense in which, when God is seen as sovereign, He is seen more clearly as God than with any other attribute.  Everything else is created, but only God is the ruler of the universe.  That is why so many of the Psalms (the “worship book” of the Bible) call attention to God’s greatness and sovereignty, because reflecting on this aspect of His character inspires worship.  I remember hearing R.C. Sproul teach pastors that if they hide an aspect of God’s character from their people then they are guilty of veiling the glory of God. May we as God’s people never be declared guilty on that count!