Archive for April 2015

Ezekiel: When We Ruin God’s Reputation

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Ezekiel 36:16-21

God called Israel to be His own special people. He had set them up as a “light to the nations”, to be a living example of God’s people. He longed for the whole world to see them and understand what a great and loving God He was.

Instead, Israel’s sin had “profaned His holy name” among the nations (Ezekiel 36:20). They had given God a bad reputation. They had shamed Him. Their sinful ways and their public idolatry had given Him a bad name among nations who knew nothing else about Him but what they saw in their neighbor, Israel.

Their sinfulness finally forced God to punish them in a very public way. He handed them over to their enemies and sent them into exile – the northern kingdom of Israel around 722 B.C., and the southern kingdom of Judah in 586 B.C. Of course, by this forced discipline, the Jews had made God’s reputation even worse. Their failure made God appear cruel and impossible.

But God’s deep, burning love never gives up on His gracious purpose. He loved both His covenant people, Israel, and all the other nations who had been given a negative opinion of Him. So what did He do? He announced that He would act dramatically, in a brand new way:

“It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name…Then the nations will know that I am the Lord…when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.” (Ezekiel 36:22-23, NASB)

His people had failed to show the world how holy and loving He is. So would God withdraw His blessings, His presence, and His salvation from His undeserving people? No. God’s overall purpose is always driving toward salvation, never away from it. He would make His salvation even greater and more gracious.

The Christ of Pentecost

from A Christ-centered Year

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NIV)

On Pentecost, Jesus pours out the Promise of the Father,
baptizing every believer in the Holy Spirit of God.

The Holy Spirit is the life of God in motion.
He is the wind of God, the breath of God, the power of God.
In the Old Testament, the gift of the Spirit was limited.
It was given only to specific individuals
for specific times and specific tasks.

But Messiah came filled with the Spirit from birth, in unlimited measure.
The Holy Spirit of God conceived Jesus,
testified to who He was, and
empowered Him throughout His life.
Jesus lived in the Spirit, spoke in the Spirit,
did the mighty works of God in the Spirit, and
died and rose in the Spirit.

Then, as the culmination of His ministry, after returning to the Father,
Jesus poured out this Spirit on all believers,
not for a specific task or season, but completely and forever.

The Spirit is the life of the Father and Son—
their presence and power dwelling among and within all believers.
What an incredible Gift!

And the Gift arrived just as Jesus had promised,
accompanied by undeniable sights and sounds.
This dramatic event proved that Jesus was Christ and Lord,
that He had died according to the scriptures,
had risen according to the scriptures, and
now He reigned at the right hand of God Almighty.

On Pentecost, Jesus poured out the Promise of the Father,
immersing His people in the  living, loving Spirit of Almighty God.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Pentecost Hymn
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

A Mother’s Love

Proverbs 31:10-31

Our Creator shows His love for us most clearly and completely through Jesus Christ:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. (Hebrews 1:1-3, NIV)

But the Creator also shows His love for us through all He has made. Mothers are certainly one of His most beautiful and most tender creations. His life comes to us, then is sustained in us, by a human mother’s love.

Mother is our entrance into this life, our cradle, our comfort, our care-giver, our blanket of love, and our protection in the most helpless stage of our lives. No wonder God uses the warm image of a mother’s love to express His own compassionate, unselfish, all-encompassing care for us:

As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you. (Isaiah 66:13, NRSV)

Can a mother forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.
(Isaiah 49:15-16a, NRSV) 

Because mothers play a special part in His care for us, He bestows special honors on the faithful mother. She has expressed His love in a most compelling way. Read Proverbs 31:10-31.

Thank You, Lord, for the precious gift of our mother! Help us to express our deep gratitude to her and to You, now and all year long.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Far Above Riches
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Isaiah 6: The Prophet’s Response

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Isaiah 6:5-8

At the sight of God’s overwhelming holiness, what is Isaiah’s immediate, instinctive reaction?

“Woe is me, for I am ruined!” (v.5). Isaiah is overcome with shame, dead, and despair. He pronounces doom on himself. Seeing and experiencing God’s holiness and awesome reality, he is gripped by the uncleanness and unworthiness, not just of himself but of his entire people. Having seen God, he has truly seen himself for the first time, and the reality is gut-wrenching.

This one realization will color Isaiah’s entire ministry. The greatness of God and the sinfulness of people are no longer vague, abstract concepts. They flow from a deep, burning, unforgettable memory.

Why does Isaiah focus on his lips as being unclean? Why not his thoughts or his hands? We’re not told, but consider these passages from the New Testament:

  • The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell…No one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. (James 3:6-8, NASB)
  • In Matthew 15, Jesus said that what comes out of our mouth comes from our heart. Our lips are a sure sign of what’s in our heart (vv.10-11, 17-20).

God responds to Isaiah through one of His seraphim. He flies to Isaiah with a burning coal from the altar. When it touches Isaiah’s lips, his sin is taken away and forgiven.

God’s cleansing can take an unclean, self-condemned sinner and make him worthy, not only of standing in the holy presence of God, but of serving as His messenger, carrying God’s holy Word in his mouth. When Isaiah hears that God needs someone to go and speak for Him, Isaiah responds enthusiastically, “Here am I. Send me!” Having seen God and experienced His deliverance, He wants to go and share His message.

Our holy God doesn’t push us away in our neediness. He draws us near. He cleanses, calls, and uses us.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: The Fear of God
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

The Ascended Christ

from A Christ-centered Year

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. (Ephesians 1:20-21, NRSV)

On Ascension Day, Jesus is at the Father’s right hand,
reigning as Sovereign Lord and King.

His work is completed.
The perfect human life has been lived.
The Sacrifice has been offered and accepted.
Atonement has been made.
Humanity and holiness are rejoined.
Sin and death are conquered.
Peace reigns.
Life reigns.
Love reigns forever.

Jesus is once again where He belongs:
in the bosom of the Father,
on the seat of power and honor,
bathed in eternal glory.

He is soon to signal His heavenly arrival by
lavishly pouring out God’s own Spirit
on every child of God.

In the meantime, two angels have made His departure
a promise of His return:

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11, NASB)

Listen and sing:
Hymn: The Glorified Christ
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

 

Enjoying Christ

I am the vine; you are the branches.
 If a man remains in me and I in him,
 he will bear much fruit;
apart from me you can do nothing.
(John 15:5, NIV)

My ministry. My “mission.” I get so focused on my work that it becomes my preoccupation and my goal in life.

But Lord, You kindly check me at this point. Do I really want to do anything more than to live in fellowship with You, to be conscious of Your presence? No, Lord, I don’t. I want nothing more than You.

All my fruitfulness is in You. I don’t need to get caught up in achievements or milestones. I can relax from the pressure to succeed. Moment by moment all the wisdom, all the working is Yours, my Lord.

I want to simply enjoy You and my journey with You, remaining open to Your leadership. Thank You, Lord!  Thank You for Your personal love to me.

Jesus, You love me. How else could I respond but to love You every moment?

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Fruitful in You
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Psalm 99: How Does Holy God Respond to Sin?

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Psalm 99:8; Exodus 33:18-20; 34:5-7

When Psalm 99 says that God was “a forgiving God to them, and yet an avenger of their evil deeds” (v.8, NASB), it is affirming what God repeatedly emphasizes about Himself. He gladly, eagerly, lovingly forgives the sins of those who confess and turn away from their sin. But in His holiness, He will not simply overlook sin. God punishes those who do wrong.

Joshua warned the children of Israel about this when they chose to renew their covenant with God. Read Joshua 24:15-21.

When Moses asked God that he might know Him better, God revealed Himself both visually and verbally. As He passed by Moses, this is how He summarized Himself:

“The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” (Exodus 34:6-7, NASB)

Many in the world today think that because God is loving, He won’t punish us. Sometimes they even suggest that if God is so forgiving, why doesn’t He just forgive what we do, without all the demanding and threatening? They want a God who will let them continue to live as they please.

But remember what sin is:

  1. Sin is a deadly disease. Our loving God cannot simply ignore it. It separates His loved ones from their only source of life and peace. God will completely cure all those who allow Him.
  1. Sin is relational. It is a broken relationship with the Living God, and He longs to restore that relationship. But like any relationship, our relationship with God has two sides. God cannot repair our relationship with Him unless we are willing and participate. Unless the relationship is repaired, forgiving past sins does no good. It’s like taking an antidote for a deadly poison, then continuing to drink a big cup of that poison for every meal. The antidote is useless. The deadly danger is still flowing through our system until we turn away from its cause.

Psalm 99: The Lord Reigns

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Psalm 99

Remember that our God is holy, separate, and apart from us in two senses:

  • He is transcendent. He is an almighty, all-wise spirit being who is “wholly other” than this physical universe He has created. He is above us and our world in character, quality, and authority.
  • He is pure. He is separate from us morally, totally untainted by our sinfulness. He is perfect, above all weakness and impurity.

These two aspects of God’s holiness are brought together in Psalm 99. It pictures God as King – not just a king, or even a great king, but as the sovereign King over all the earth. He is transcendent: both the earth and all its peoples tremble in His presence (v.1).

His throne is above the cherubim (v.1). The immediate image is perhaps the mercy seat, the lid of the ark of the covenant, which was in the Holy of Holies in the temple. It was in “Zion,” a poetic name for the temple mount, considered God’s dwelling place on earth. But the image is actually more vast than that. Cherubim were winged creatures that suggest the power and mobility of God. Our transcendent God’s throne is not an earthly one, but is the mighty, winged creatures of heaven itself.

He is not a local god or a national god, but the sovereign God, king over all the earth. All peoples of every nation are called to worship Him.

He is exalted above all the peoples (v.2). He is high and lifted up, and our only logical response to His greatness is to exalt Him and worship Him (vv.5, 9). We worship at His footstool (v.5), for how could we but humble ourselves before such a magnificent Being?

Consider this: How do you respond to God day by day? How could you respond to Him in a way more appropriate to who He is? One of the keys to stability through life’s ups and downs is to remember who He is. On days when you are prone to anxiety, how could you remind yourself about the sovereign love, wisdom, and power of the God you trust?

Rest

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

Father, I’ve turned everywhere else.
I’ve sought relaxation instead of rest.
I’ve substituted comfort for peace.
The shell of security I’ve tried to build
only weighs me down with anxiety.

I hear Your words of love:

In quietness and trust is your strength. (Isaiah 30:15, NIV)

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29, NIV)

And God of fervent love,
passionately jealous for my best good,
I turn to You now.

What if I could truly know You—
not just know about You,
but know You?

What if by simple trust I could realize
Your personal presence with me,
moment by moment?

If in that presence I could know
Your gentleness,
Your power,
Your faithfulness,
Your love?

If trust could become
a personal relationship between us,
not an abstract concept?

What if I could simply know You,
and know You always with me?

Would Your rest then reign in me?
Would it fill my mind, my emotions,
and the desires of my heart?

Would it put me at peace with the past,
at peace with the present,
and eagerly anticipating a glorious future in You?

Would it reconcile me to myself,
to each person in my life, and
to You?

Could I go to bed in it,
get up in it,
work, have fun, and face adversity in it
without getting it wrinkled?

Would I then share Your deep peace—
that wholeness and harmony
You enjoy within Yourself,
that is found in You alone?

Come to me…and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

Father, I want to know You.
I want to rest in Your presence.
I come to You now.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: Psalm of Trust
Recording
Printed Music & Lyrics

Holiness

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

At times “holiness” has seemed an unattractive word to me – rigid and unfriendly. How could I be “holy” and still live freely and naturally? How could I ever relax and be myself?

At times “holiness” has been a theological word. The Bible convinces me that God wants us to live a holy life and has made that life available to us. But when I’ve listened to theological teaching and compared it to the Bible, I don’t always hear the same things. “Holiness” has involved some theological struggle for me.

And at times “holiness” has been a frustrating word. What Bible verse is more intimidating than this one? “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.” (1 Peter 1:15, NASB). Any who have tried to discipline themselves into a holy life have known plenty of frustration.

But “holiness” has changed for me over the years. It’s not unattractive or frustrating. As I’ve begun to know Christ better and enjoy Him as a living Friend, I find I don’t want to interrupt that relationship. It means too much to me. I’ve experienced the difference He makes in me, and I want to be led by Him and molded by Him alone. I like myself better when He is shaping me.

Holiness has become a living relationship with Jesus as a personal being. It is the freedom of being guided and formed completely by Him. Do you know how exciting that is after years of struggling with my own weakness?

I’m not perfect. The more I know Him, the more I realize I fall short. But when I do, it’s because I’ve not prayed and depended on Him. When I don’t look to Him, I grow self-centered, and my thoughts and actions reflect it.

But forgiveness is immediately available. And when I trust Him, He responds to me and helps me respond to Him. He changes my feelings and reactions toward Him and toward those around me.

That makes me love and trust Him and desire His constant working in me all the more. Our relationship keeps growing. Praise to You, Lord!

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