Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28–29, ESV)
Yesterday as I held chapel with the teens I work with, we began to have a great discussion about God and the various character attributes he demonstrates in scripture. One of the guys shared that he was surprised at some of the stories he read about God. He had only heard about God's love and that God was merciful and kind and gracious. But as he read the Bible for himself, he saw things about God that revealed a different side of him altogether. The young man said that some of what he read about God was "kinda scary."
It's true. At times, God can be "kinda scary." Too often all we hear of God are tales of his love. But we enjoy those verses and we certainly do need to hear them. They are true. God is love (1 John 4:8). But that is not all that God is.
If I was describing an elephant to someone who had never seen one and I simply said: "It's a big grey animal with a trunk", would I be telling the truth? Sure. Would they have a very good mental image of the animal? No, not at all. I haven't told them how big it is. I haven't explained what a trunk is (and that's it's not the same as an automobile's trunk!). They know nothing of his floppy ears, his lumbering gait, his tree trunk legs or is disproportionate tail. My description as a big, grey animal was not inaccurate, only incomplete.
When we meditate upon God's love, we do a great thing. We speak of God as a loving God, we speak truth. But if we have nothing left to offer in our description of our Creator, we may leave people with a half-painted picture of him. We run the risk of giving people the idea that he's the kindly grandfather of Barney the purple dinosaur. But he's so much more than that.
When we run across the God of Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19, 20:18-21), the God who punishes sin (see Numbers 16, Romans 6:23, Acts 5:1-11), or the God who leaves people quaking in the boots after being in his presence (Isaiah 6:1-6); we are left with a God who is far more than a God of love. He is a God of justice, judgment and wrath. He is a God whose holiness demands that he punish sin. And since we're sinners, that means us.
But because he is so rich in mercy and his loving kindness is so great, he sent his Son Jesus to the earth so that Jesus could step in and receive that punishment for us. Not only did Jesus take our death sentence, but he destroyed death by rising from the dead. We told that all those who accept that gift by faith become part of God's family.
Is God "kinda scary"? Yep. But does that same God want you to crawl upon his lap and call him "daddy" (Romans 8:15)? He sure does. That's a pretty awesome God.
Length of days does not profit me
except the days are passed in Thy presence,
in Thy service, to Thy glory.
Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides,
sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour,
that I may not be one moment apart from Thee,
but may rely on Thy Spirit
to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire
to show forth Thy praise;
testify Thy love,
advance Thy kingdom.
I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with Thee, O Father as my harbour,
Thee, O Son, at my helm,
Thee O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.
Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to Thy calls,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.
Give me Thy grace to sanctify me,
Thy comforts to cheer,
Thy wisdom to teach,
Thy right hand to guide,
Thy counsel to instruct,
Thy law to judge,
Thy presence to stabilize.
May Thy fear by my awe,
Thy triumphs my joy.
- from Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett
As we creep towards 2012, the last few days of the year are often filled with reminiscing, introspection, and weight loss pledges. For some, a look back on 2011 floods the mind with great memories of family, friends and faith. Others, however, can't wait to replace the calendar. It was a year of struggles, pain and heartache. Most probably fall somewhere in the middle. There were days when we walked on sunshine and others when we sighed under the weight of life in this sin-sick world.
Whatever your experience was in 2011, the Bible offers hope for the future. Spend a moment and feast on these familiar verses:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28–31, ESV)
Now take a moment and read them again. Go ahead.
We have a God who never grows tired, never get's overloaded, never gets overwhelmed, never needs a vacation, never needs a break, and never gives up. He is there when we are at the end of our rope. When we're all out of strength, that's when he does his best work.
Whether our last year was forgettable or packed with treasured memories, we will need to fill our tank for what lies ahead. This passage says that even those who are full of vitality and strength will eventually "fall exhausted."
God is ready to give us the power of the eagle (ever watched Discovery Chanel?), the ability to fly no matter how turbulent the storm. The ability to run, no matter how long the race. He does not offer glassy seas, but he does promise his grace and wisdom to navigate them. The "can" when you say you can't.
The catch? The offer is to those who wait upon him. To those who rely, not upon their own resources, but upon his. He will come through. He has never once failed and he's not about to start.
One of the greatest worship songs ever sung:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46–55, ESV)
It was the overflow of the overwhelming joy she felt when she received news that the long-awaited Messiah would be formed by God in her womb. This Christmas season, may we sing like Mary, may we lift praise to God from the depths of our hearts for we have received mercy and we celebrate the great Savior of mankind, Jesus Christ.
I recently watched this powerful and moving video about the story of Christmas. I showed it in chapel yesterday and have watched it with my own family. It is certain to bless you.
Everyone has special holiday traditions to share with their family. It may not be a bad idea to throw this video into the mix.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2, ESV)
Bethlehem wasn't a big, flashy town. It wasn't especially important or strategic to military campaigns. But it is a place never forgotten in all the hubbub of human history. Why? Because it is the birthplace of the most controversial figure of all time.
Even though it was a small, insignificant place, the Old Testament prophet Micah predicted that a great ruler would come from this place. Because the prophesy was from God, it came true. Micah was right. Greatness sprung forth from obscurity. The mother was a young teenager. The father made furniture for a living. Nobody knew who they were. No wealth, no pedigree, no credentials. They were recipients of God's favor.
God receives considerable glory when he does much with so little. In sending the Son of God to earth, He brought forth greatness from that which seemed so insignificant. Does your life feel a little like Bethlehem? Not flashy, not important? The get ready for God to show up. He kind of likes small towns.
I really don't mind shopping. It's not a hobby or favorite past time, but I tolerate it -- as long as I have a list. If I don't have a focused set of objectives when I hit the mall, I can quickly become frustrated. And if I have not, prior to commencing the endeavor, inscribed my list on paper or some digital device, they will quickly be forgotten. When I shop, likely the item needed most, something that I simply had to purchase in order to ensure my family's survival, will slip my mind. That's usually just the way it is.
Shopping endeavors aren't the only occasions for forgetfulness. Today God reminded me through the book of James to ask for wisdom.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5–6, ESV)
I think that's a prayer that we can easily forget to pray. We set our lives on cruise control, managing one decision to the next, fretting the difficult ones and flippantly rolling through the "easy" ones. But God whispers to us, "There's wisdom for that." He wants us to ask him, but only when we do it in faith, truly believing that he will deliver as promised.
But what exactly is wisdom and how do you know if you have it? It's a bit of a slippery word so we might need a little help. In his classic work, Knowing God, J.I. Packer defines wisdom in this way:
“Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it. Wisdom is, in fact, the practical side of moral goodness. As such, it is found in its fullness only in God. He alone is naturally and entirely and invariable wise.”
When we ask in faith, God the all-wise gives us the ability to see and choose that which corresponds with his highest goals for us as his children. I don't know about you, but that's something I really want!
I need booster shots of God's wisdom all throughout my day -- child-rearing issues, resolving conflict, impossible financial decisions, understanding what to say when someone's hurting -- the need is almost bottomless. I imagine you could use a little (or tons) as well. Don't forget to ask him!
I though this was a very thoughtful obervation by Tony Reinke:
For Dickens, Christmas is a reminder that we are all Scrooges, self-centered ungrateful nobs who yet have some hope of appeasing God through our personal reform.
For Handel, Christmas reminds us that we are all sinners, we are “in Adam,” and for that we are helpless to stop God’s righteous judgment towards our sin. Yet there is One who has paid the price to quench God’s wrath on our behalf.
In both A Christmas Carol and Messiah, our warm tranquil Hallmark Christmas sentimentality gets blasted by cold reality. Death is coming for us all, and the grave is approaching quickly.
Dickens wants people to die in peace.
Handel wants people to get raised from the dead.
Dickens’ hope is rooted in the future – in the finished work of moral reform necessary in our lives.
Handel’s hope is rooted in the past — the full and complete work of Christ on our behalf. Dickens’ message is “do.” Handel’s message is “done.”
Dickens’ work is good for what it is, a seasonal, warmhearted morality tale. For that I find it agreeable and commendable.
But Handel’s work comprehends the scope of the hope-giving and guilt-freeing meaning of Christmas. For that I find eternal comfort, and hope for my ongoing battle against my inner self-centered, thankless Scrooge.
You can read the entire article here.
Yesterday's victories simply won't cut it for today's adversities.
One of the most exciting adventures in the Bible is story of Elijah on Mt. Carmel. The story can be found in 1 Kings 18. In those days, Israel was ruled by a very wicked king, Ahab and his even more wicked wife, Jezebel. They had raised the bar on what it meant to be an idol-worshipper and had spread their empty religion throughout the land. King Ahab was confronted and boldly challenged by God's courageous prophet, Elijah (v. 17-19). The challenge was to see whose God/god could reign fire down from heaven and incinerate the sacrifice on top of the alter. Well, in a contest between the one, true God and a host of non-gods, you can imagine who won (v. 20-40). Not only did Ahab mope away back to his hag-queen, but Elijah also routed the 450 false prophets before they could get away (v. 40). God's hand truly was on Elijah (v. 46). What a story! What a victory!
It would be great if the story ended there, but it doesn't. Ahab when home and whined to his beldame. It a fierce rage she got word to Elijah that she was going to take him out (19:1-3). Rather than boldly confronting this wicked woman like he had her husband, he flees into the wilderness, collapses beneath a broom tree and in a desperate cry of depressed anguish, he asks God to take his life (19:4). You cannot help but be stunned! Is this the same guy from chapter 18? The man who challenged and then slaughtered 450 prophets of Baal? The same man who saw his omnipotent, miracle-working God show up just days before?
This story reminded me that each day has its own set of battles; it's own unique challenges and trials. One day the assault may come from an inward temptation to sin. The next day it may be a phone call from a loved one or a doctor. The next, a wayward child or a impossible coworker. We may have triumphed mightily yesterday but the grace that was given yesterday is not the same that I will need today. And the victory I received yesterday is not the same as the victory I am looking forward to today.
We need to remember to receive from God's pantry of grace a fresh helping to face what may come across our path on today's journey. Lamentations 3:22-23 reminds us that his mercies are new each and every day. He offers us all the spiritual strength we need. It's ours for the taking. Each day I need to renew my dependence upon his Holy Spirit. Each day I need a fresh helping of his Word. And each day I need to drink deeply of the refreshing river of his grace.
I love the end of the story in 1 Kings 19. God tenderly comes to Elijah in the midst of his self-absorbed misery and gently reminds Elijah that the Almighty is still in control. Grace for the day. He did just as he promised.
“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night,” (Psalm 92:1–2, ESV)
Some (most?) of us like to start our day with a steaming cup of coffee. For some, the day begins with exercise, the morning news, or a disturbing alarm clock (occasionally disguised as a child catapulting onto your stomach while you are still getting that REM sleep). These are pretty normal routines for pretty normal Americans.
But as I read Psalm 92 today, I was reminded of the part worship should play in my morning (and evening routines). This Psalm was written specifically for the Sabbath, the day when the Israelites were to stop, rest and reflect on what God had done for them. In our culture, such a quiet break from life seems almost laughable, even on Sunday's when we scramble off to morning worship. But as the psalm writer stops to reflect upon God's great works (v. 4-5) he realizes that it is good to start the day off declaring God's steadfast love and then closing the day with a declaration of God's faithfulness. The Hebrew word translated "declare" means to bring to light, to announce or to tell forth. When we declare God's love and faithfulness we are turning the spotlight upon God's glorious ways. We lift them up to God as worship and we proclaim them to others as witness. Not only is God honored by this, but others will be spiritually refreshed.
By stopping to hone in on his steadfast love in the morning you are reminded that no matter what the day holds, he will pour out the unceasing floodgates of his love upon you. And by ending the day with his faithfulness you deliberately reflect upon how he compassionately stayed by your side through each step of your day and that he cannot but do the same tomorrow.
Far better than a cup of Starbucks these daily bookends will refresh your spirit and undoubtedly bless those around you.