Good Friday Devotional: Words of Jesus on the Cross March 29, 2013Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Various.
Tags: 7 Words, Devotions, Good Friday Devotional, Prayer Vigil, Seven Words, Words of Jesus on the Cross
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Good Friday Prayer Vigil: This is the text of the devotional guide used for the prayer vigil we are practicing here at St. John’s (Burry’s) Church. I pray that it proves to be a blessing to you.
On the sixth hour of the day (about 12:00 PM), Jesus was crucified upon the Roman Cross on the hill called Golgotha — “The Skull.” And for three hours he hung upon the cross suffering not only physical death, but also the wrath of God upon his shoulders. The prophet Isaiah writes of this event saying of God:
“It was the pleasure of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief.” (Isaiah 53:10a),
and: “By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:11b),
and: “because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12b)
In death, the one who deserved no death redeemed us from the death that we all rightfully deserve. It is you and it is me that deserved to receive upon our shoulders the righteous wrath of God. It is you and it is me that have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Yet, Jesus, the God-and-Man savior, took our place. His work on the cross is the demonstration of God’s Love and his calling us to enjoy fellowship with him is the demonstration of God’s Grace. For it indeed is by grace that we have been saved — not by our own works lest any man should boast.
From the sixth hour to the ninth hour, as our Lord suffered upon the cross, the sun in the sky was darkened. This was no mere providential eclipse as some would imagine, but a miraculous and utter removal of the light from the people who had perpetrated such a tragic act upon the King of Glory. It was judgment…
As we reflect and pray over these next 3 hours, it is my hope that this short devotional aids your reflections and your prayer. During Jesus’ agony on the cross, there are seven sayings that Jesus is recorded as uttering. With that in mind, this devotional is broken into seven portions, each one reflecting on one of Jesus’ sayings. Along with each devotional reading is a prayer designed to aide your personal prayers as well as things for which to pray.
This devotional is meant to be a guide and an aid, not a set of shackles. Please feel free to pray as the Holy Spirit leads. Upon each half-hour mark, Pastor Win will introduce each new saying of Jesus. As you are praying, if you find yourself in need of further structure, I would encourage you to pray through the words of Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22.
“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided his garments by casting lots.”
As the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothing and as the crowds mocked all that was taking place, Jesus uttered these words of forgiveness. This is the purpose for which Jesus came — to bring forgiveness to a deeply rebellious people — to show us the meaning of grace. Even here, this is not forgiveness in light of repentance, but it is forgiveness while we were yet sinners shaking our angry fists at God in rebellion.
The word “forgive” is a legal term and refers to the total removal of debt for one’s crimes — in this context, the removal of one’s debt to God for having broken his law and for having reviled the Son of the Living God upon the cross. Indeed, they did not know the fullness of the wickedness they were committing. Yet beware, beloved, lest you judge the motives of others and not the darkness of your own soul. In those deep dark places where we allow sin to hide and take root, do we really recognize our part in placing Jesus upon that cross? Do we really treasure the grace that God offers in Christ? I think that the answer is often, “no.”
As we reflect on these words of Jesus, my prayer is that you look deep into your heart and examine your sins. Pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal to you those things that you have kept buried and hidden away from the world — even to the point of forgetting them yourself — and confess them to God and seek forgiveness. A broken and contrite heart is a sacrifice that God takes pleasure in. Bare your soul before God and ask him to show you the fullness of His grace and then fill you with that grace. Beloved it is because of you that Jesus was upon that cross. Your sins and my sins placed him there. Yet, even if you or I were the only one that God were to have elected as his own from eternity, the Son would have gladly died to redeem us. Praise the Lord that he has elected a multitude of brothers and sisters to be his own.
Yet, there is one more element that is tied inseparably to being forgiven. Because we have been forgiven we have a moral obligation to forgive others. One of the greatest stumbling blocks for many professing Christians is holding on to unforgiveness. Yet, Jesus clearly states that if we are unwilling to forgive others their debts against us, our heavenly Father will not forgive us our debts toward him (Matthew 6:14-15). That is a devastating pronouncement.
As you pray over this next half-hour, seek those things for which you need to be forgiven recognizing that by our sinful actions we are more like those mocking Jesus than like a follower. But also pray that your heart may be sensitive toward those from whom you have withheld forgiveness. Jesus forgave us in the midst of his agony, may we forgive others.
Heavenly Father, we have sinned against you in action, word, and thought. We have done those things that we ought not to have done and we have failed to do those things which we ought to have done. Worst of all, in knowing your forgiveness, we have failed to offer forgiveness to others. Forgive us and help us to forgive. Give us the faith to see the beauty of the glory of Christ and to live out each and every moment of our days in that glory. And may others see the beauty of Christ in our actions as well as in our words.
Father, we have no right to ask of you these things, yet we come to you in the boldness of faith in Jesus Christ. Do not give us these things because of who we are, but give us these things because we belong to your son and help us to live gratefully because of the grace that has been purchased for us — purchased at the cost of the death of your Son, Jesus. He, indeed, is our passover lamb, slain from before the foundation of the world, on behalf of our sin. Transform me according to your word and remake this sinful person that I am into the image of your Son, Jesus. Help me to forgive as your son forgave so that I may enjoy the fullness of your grace.
Forgiveness of our Sins
Reconciliation to take place in our community and in our church
For the strengthening of our families and of our relationships
For wisdom as to how you may make Christ known through your actions and through your words
“And he said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Paradise. The Bible begins and ends with paradise. After God created man, God set forth and cultivated a garden in which to raise up man and to fellowship with him. The Greek translation of the Old Testament renders the language of the Garden of Eden as “the Paradise of God.” Yet Adam and Eve chose to pursue a life of sin instead of a life of obedience. And, as a result of their sin, they were cast out from the Garden and no longer was it paradise that they had the privilege of living in, but from the ground came thorns and thistles and life was eked out by the sweat of the brow.
Yet, while we lost the Paradise of God, by his work, Jesus earned that Paradise for us and has reserved a place for all of his elect — a mansion with many rooms wherein we will live in perfect fellowship with God himself as well as with each other. That is the paradise that is to come. In the meantime, when we lose our lives here on this earth, our spirits immediately go into the presence of God himself if we are believers and into judgment if we are unbelievers.
What is paradise? Paradise is not so much the beauty of the Garden nor is it the glory of Heaven. Paradise is the presence of God and the perfect fellowship that is found with him. Where Christ is, there too is paradise. There is no other place that I would rather be. Thus, for the thief on the cross, the significance of this statement weighs more on the “with me” than on the “in paradise.”
Who is this thief? We are not sure. The Greek word that describes him is probably better rendered as “insurrectionist,” which would explain the severity of his punishment. The cross was typically reserved by the Romans for those accused of political crimes and other punishments were rendered upon those who stole or cheated, etc… Beyond that we know that he professed Christ. That is it, he recognized his sin and asked Jesus to remember him in paradise — he refused to take part in the mockery of the others. And to those who call on Jesus in faith, God gives eternal life. It is not works — were it works, this man could never know salvation — it is the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Loved ones, spend some time asking yourself in whom your faith rests. Is it Jesus? Is it really Jesus? Sometimes we know the right things to say but the way we live our lives betrays our disbelief. May it be Jesus and Jesus alone upon whom you rest. What of your loved ones? Do they know Jesus as Lord and as Savior? How about your neighbors and coworkers? What of your friends? Let us spend time reflecting on the salvation of others and pray that the Holy Spirit would work in their lives in drawing them to Christ as well. For salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb who sits upon the throne.
Heavenly Father, we rejoice in the salvation that you have given us in Jesus Christ. We do not deserve this gift, but you have given us paradise in a relationship with him who is our savior. Help us never to take this gift for granted. Help us always to be humble and broken before you as was this man on the cross beside Jesus.
Because of what you have done, we are yours. We pray that you would use our lives well. May, all of our living breaths honor you and proclaim the good news that there is salvation offered in your Son. May others also see in us a joy that flows from that salvation that overcomes all of the hardships of living in this fallen world.
Yet, Father, there are many that I care about that do not know you. I pray for them. I pray that you would draw them to yourself and I pray that you will give me opportunities to speak truth lovingly into their lives. And, if it is your will, I pray that you will use my words and my life as a tool in your design to draw them to faith. There are also people in our community that do not have a relationship with you and these I pray for as well. May I be an instrument of your grace in their lives as well.
Salvation of Specific people you know
Spiritual maturity in Christians you know
God to bring revival in the church and in the community
God to draw people to faith in himself through the work and ministry of Burry’s Church
“When Jesus beheld his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing by, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.”
As Jesus steps in and takes our place under the wrath of God, here he has one of the disciples take his place in terms of the responsibility for caring for his mother. While the Gospels never tell us for sure which disciple Jesus is speaking to, tradition has consistently held that this is the Apostle John. The question is often asked as to why Jesus needed to hand over the care of his mother to John. Wouldn’t Mary naturally go to live with one of Jesus’ brothers or sisters? Wouldn’t the responsibility for caring for his mother fall to James, the next oldest child of Mary?
The Answer is, ‘yes,’ but none of these other brothers and sisters were, as of yet, believers. Likely they had gone about their own lives and trades and thought their oldest brother was a bit off-balanced. The care of a widow would fall to the Eldest son and Jesus cared well for his mom but in his death he wanted to ensure that she would be cared for. John accepted and fulfilled that role.
This also portrays a little more about the relationship between Jesus and John in that he would entrust his mother’s care to this friend. This would not be the kind of thing that one would casually do, but her care would only have been given to one who would care for her and who would also live long enough to provide for her throughout her natural life. It is interesting that it is John who does not die a martyr’s death. Responsibility for one’s parents…or in this case, responsibility for the parents of a friend, is something that is often neglected in our modern age. And that fact goes to our shame, not our credit.
Traditionally, though, this is meant to be a time where we reflect upon the relationships that we have with others. Where do we need to reconcile? With whom have we grown distant? How do we re-connect in a healthy way? And how can we use those relationships to further the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It is my conviction that churches grow because people in the church make friends with people in the community and then invite their friends to join them in worship. The question is whether or not we are looking at our relationships in this way. Take some time to pray for those relationships you do have and to pray about ways that you might use those relationships to point others to the salvation you have found in Jesus Christ, the Lord.
Heavenly Father, Lord of all People, you have called us out of the world and made us your Church — a people for your own possession. Yet, there are many people around us in our circle of relationships that do not know you or whose relationship with you does not shape the way they live.
Father, I pray that my own relationship with you would be visible to those with whom I interact on a regular basis. May they see something in me that is different than others that they interact with in the world. And May I be a faithful witness of you to them and be bold enough to invite them to join me for worship.
Father, I also pray that you engender other relationships in my life — new friends and new people that I might point toward you. Give me opportunities with those I meet on a daily basis at work, while shopping, or while working in my yard that will honor your name and point others toward you. We do not know the names of your elect. May we be faithful in telling all of your marvelous grace and may our church burst at the seams because we have built relationships that point others toward you through faith in your Son, Jesus.
Relationships, particularly those people with whom you are in relationship that do not know Jesus.
Faith in our community
“And around the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a great voice, saying ‘Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani!’ Which is, ‘My God, My God why have you forsaken me!’”
For many, these are the hardest words to hear Jesus say when upon the cross. It is here that Jesus is experiencing the fullness of alienation that sin brings into our lives. Scripture reminds us that we have a savior — a mediator in heaven — that knows our every sorrow. Here the one who will never leave or forsake us learns the fullness of what it means to be forsaken of God.
This is one of those passages that non-believers like to cite when trying to make the case that Jesus was not fully God. They say, “Look, God is separable, the Trinity must not be true!” This is not the place to launch into a defense of the two natures of Jesus and how these words reflect the agony of the human nature, not a separation in the divine nature. But it is a place to remind you that Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22:1 and of the significance of that psalm. For while the psalm begins with David expressing his agony and separation of God, we must be reminded of two things. First, though David is not experiencing the nearness to God that he would like, he still knows that God is there…always. Second, as this psalm progresses, it moves from the depths of despair to triumph, for God hears the cries of his people and will not hide his face from those he loves and even the most lowly child of God will be lifted up on heights of glory in God’s good timing.
You who know what it means to be abandoned by men and who know what it means to feel abandoned by God, take courage in these words. For though men may fail you, Jesus will never leave nor forsake you. And though you may walk through the valley of the shadow of death and feel the darkness of the hand of the wicked pressing down upon your life, God is still there in the darkness carefully guiding you with his staff and rod. Christian, he will not abandon you to the snares of the wicked one — and he himself entered into those snares to demonstrate that great truth. Though by the end of this day, Jesus’ body will be laid in a cold, dark grave, he would not remain in that grave, but would burst forth in glory on the third day. And he has promised that in the last day, you and I will also burst forth from the graves in resurrected bodies and dwelling eternally with Him in glory. Though we face dark times, let the weight of the glory of God tip the scales of despair in your life and give you hope. He is risen as he has said…and he will never leave you or forsake you nor will he abandon you to the grave.
During these thirty minutes, pray for those who are feeling lost and abandoned, those who have lost loved ones, and those who have been separated from loved ones by sin or failure. Ache for them. Yet ask the Lord to show you ways in which you may become ministers of grace into those people’s lives. How may your presence alongside of them be a tangible reminder to them that Jesus will never leave nor forsake them?
Heavenly Father, Father of the Fatherless and Comforter of all who come to you seeking rest from the affliction of this world. We confess to you that during times of distress we too have often felt that you were not there — that you had hidden your face behind the clouds and would never return to our lives. Yet, in your time, you showed yourself to us and brought us through the trials into your marvelous light.
Father, may we be people who remind others of the grace you show to your own. Give us discernment to know who in our lives is in need of reminding grace by our presence and mercies and then give us the strength to follow through and to minister to them. May your mercies follow us all the days of our lives and may we share those mercies as long as you give us breath to breathe — that the world may know that you have been good to your people and that you bid us to come and find rest in your presence.
Those who have been lost and abandoned
Believers in other parts of the world who face trials and persecution daily
Those in your life experiencing that abandonment and for specific ways that you may reach out to them
“After this, Jesus knowing that everything was already complete, in order to fulfill Scripture, said, ‘I thirst.’”
There are no accidents in the providence of God. John the Apostle is pointing out that Jesus’ crying out in thirst was not simply a cry of distress, but that this cry of distress was a fulfillment of prophesy. Psalm 22:14-18 is the primary passage to which John is referring. We have already spoken of Psalm 22 in terms of Jesus’ own cry from the cross, but here prophesy is coming to light. When David wrote that psalm, he speaks not only of thirst but of the utter weariness of being on the verge of death, he speaks of the evildoers circling around him who have pierced his hands and feet, and he speaks of those wicked who were dividing his clothes amongst themselves by casting lots. And In Psalm 69:21 we also find the prophesy that the people would give Jesus sour wine to drink — a kind of vinegar and water solution that Roman soldiers typically carried with them to drink (vinegar killed the bacteria that would make them sick).
When Peter is questioned on the day of Pentecost about what has transpired, he talks about the delivering up of Jesus according to the definite plan of God (Acts 2:23). There are no mistakes, questions, or accidents when it comes to God’s divine plan — even when it comes to little things — and even when it comes to the things that transpire in our lives. God who delivered up his Son in his own definite plan to redeem our lives is the same God who orders our lives in every way. He provides for the lily and the sparrow, how much more for those he loves.
As Jesus’ hours of agony are coming to a close on the cross, it is important for us to remember our Lord’s distress, distress that he undertook on our behalf. It is also important to remember those who are in distress in the world and in our community. Pray for them and pray that you might become a steward of mercy in their lives.
Heavenly Father, we come to you in our distress knowing that your Son endured horrible distress to the point of death on our behalf. May we lay before you our trials and our cares. And in doing so, may we never forget that we have a mediator who knows what it is that we have been going through and who lives to intercede for us in our times of need.
Yet, Father, let us not only look within. Show us those people in our lives who are hurting and in distress and show us how we may minister to them — if only with our presence. May we be willing to walk alongside of those who are hurting and to hurt alongside of them, sharing their pain, but always seeking strength in you. And when we are going through times of distress, may our lives be a model of reliance upon you to which others may look and then be drawn to you as a result. We thank you, Lord for all you have given us in your Son, Jesus, may we be faithful messengers of your Good News to a world in distress around us.
Those in distress
Soldiers, Policemen, Firefighters, Missionaries
Families and children in our midst
Those in distress that we know and how we may minister to them in specific ways
“And, calling out in a great voice, Jesus said, ‘Father, into your hand I entrust my Spirit.’ After he said this, he died.”
Only God himself has the right to give up or to take life. Jesus demonstrates his Godhead not by dying the slow death of asphyxiation that typically takes place upon the cross, but by faithfully completing the task that God had sent him to complete, by crying out in a loud voice, and by giving up his Spirit. The Roman soldier watching would proclaim, after witnessing this, “Surely this must have been the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39) It should be noted as well that Jesus again is looking back to the psalms, in this case quoting from Psalm 31:5.
The wages of sin is death. And Jesus loved us so greatly that he, who had never sinned, was willing go go unto death. The most wicked and evil event of all history was perpetrated on this afternoon — the Lord of Life was placed into the grave. What wondrous love is this, Oh, my soul, Oh my soul? What wondrous love is this, Oh my soul? What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of Bliss, to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul. To bear the dreadful curse for my soul…
Yet, even in Jesus’ death and entrance to the grave, there is hope for us. The grave did not keep Jesus and he has promised that it will not keep us. There are many people buried just outside the walls to the west side of our church — those graves are not permanent resting places. They are temporary. For when that day comes, when Jesus returns as he left us, those dead will rise from the grave — some to glory and others to eternal horror — but one day every single tombstone and marker will be overturned and those who are laid there will rise up and pronounce Christ as blessed — even those under judgment. Loved ones, we need not fear the grave for Christ has been there already and has sanctified the grave on our behalf. It cannot keep us. It is not permanent. We will rise again on the last day.
Yet, as you pray, pray for those who are in their last days, closing in on death. We know not the day nor the hour, but we know who holds our days in his hands. Let us commit ourselves to offering mercies to those who are dying and grace to those who are grieving their immanent demise. Here we stand together in need of mercy, let us be quick to show the mercy of Christ to those who will soon be laid out in those temporary holding cells that we call the grave.
Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God of the living, and God of our Fathers, may you be praised every time we open our mouths to speak and every time we draw breath. May your glory radiate from our lives and in our days. You have removed from us every obstacle that sin has brought into our lives and in grace you have drawn us into your presence. Help us to live like it. Help us to sacrifice for others knowing the sacrifice that was made for us. Help us to serve those who are the least in our midst so that they may know of your greatness. Help us also to minister to those who are dying in our community. Help us to show them grace as we have received grace. Help us to direct those dying to place their spirits into the hands of the one who is the judge of all spirits and help us to teach them of the grace of Jesus Christ. Change us, Oh God, from the selfish men and women we tend to be, into those who serve selflessly. Not for our praise, but so that you may be praised in us.
Those who are dying
Those who are spiritually dead, though their bodies have life.
“And when he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, ‘It is Finished.” And he laid over his head and gave up his spirit.”
It is Finished. That is all that needs to be said. The work of Jesus in terms of taking Judgment upon his head on our behalf is finished — once and for all time. No more sacrifices ever need to be made (hence God’s destruction of the Temple and, in time, the placement of a Muslim Mosque on the spot of the Temple mount so that never again would a temple stand in its place. It is finished.
Yet, the resurrection will not take place until Sunday. As you leave, reflect upon the grief and sorrow of the disciples as they saw their Lord and Master die. Reflect upon the agony of his mother and the disciple whom Jesus loved. Reflect upon the agony of Peter, who had just the night before denied his Lord three times. Reflect upon your own sin and the penalty that Jesus paid for you to be delivered from that sin. Triumph will find its culmination on Sunday, but here upon the cross where Jesus died, my sins and your sins were paid for in full. It is finished…
The Sleep of the Beloved August 12, 2011Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Various.
Tags: an end to nightmares, anxiety, beloved, Christ, Christian, Fear, God, God's sovereignty, Grace, Mercy, nightmares, Prayer, Rest, Sleep, true rest, trust in God, Truth
“It is vain for you to get up early and go late to your dwelling,
Eating the bread of toil;
For he gives to his beloved sleep.”
It may be granted up front that there is some discussion as to how to interpret the last line of this verse. Commonly it is rendered as I have done so here, but some would argue that it ought to be rendered, “for he provides for his beloved during their sleep.” Though the nuances of the psalm are changed within that translation, the essential meaning of the text remains the same. God provides for the needs of his beloved — and he does so in an abundantly wonderful way.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus speaks in much the same way. It is expected that the pagans will lay awake worrying all night, working long and thankless hours to provide bread for their families. Their idols are false creations of their own hands and imaginations. What benefit can a chunk of wood give me apart from helping to heat the house when I burn it in the fireplace? If I create something with my own hands, it contains no power to do anything but sit there. It has no life. One can draw no hope or assurance from such things.
But we worship a true and living God — one from whom we can draw assurances. He lives and is the God of the living (Matthew 22:32; Luke 20:38) and not of the dead; he gives us new life (1 Peter 1:3) and he gives us that life abundantly (John 10:10). And thus Jesus says to us, “why do you sit home and worry about what may or may not happen this week or even tomorrow?” Do we forget whom we serve? Our worry seems to betray that we do, yet to the beloved, God gives rest and peaceful dreams at night.
How often my dreams have been haunted by the cares of countless anxieties—anxieties that are projected in nightmarish ways. Yet, in prayer, there is rest for the soul. How often there has been tossing and turning rather than restful slumber; again, trust in God’s provision, believer, and you will find that rest will come. There is no need to fear what may transpire; our God is sovereign over all events (Ephesians 1:11) and has promised to work them all out for our good (Romans 8:28). What comfort there is in those divine promises to us! What rest we can find in that context!
For the believer, rest means more than sleep during the evening hours. Rest also includes rest from one’s enemies—the greatest of which are the spiritual powers of wickedness that roam this world like a roaring lion. They may roar, but we are held secure in the hands of our loving Savior (John 10:28-29); of what shall we fear? No, we are loved of God and true love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).
Loved ones, sleep well and dream well of the glory of our God. He will provide for your needs because he loves you (Matthew 6:31-34); the pagans eat the bread of their sweat and toil—enjoy the restful sleep that your Father provides.
Living Coram Deo February 25, 2010Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Various.
Tags: before the face of God, being whole, christianity is not irrelevant, Coram Deo, doubters, faith leaves us changed, Genesis 17:1, hypocrisy, Life Coram Deo, Living before God, living our faith, spiritual wholeness, unbelievers
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“And it came to pass when Abram was a son of ninety and nine years, Yahweh appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am Ed-Shaddai; walk before me and be whole.”
“Walk before me and be whole.” What an amazing statement that God makes to Abram. Being whole is what people want and yearn for in life. Some people try and find this “fulfillment” in climbing mountains and taking other risks and some try and find the fulfillment in gratifying the flesh. God is plainly stating to Abram that if he wants to find this kind of fulfillment, it comes through walking faithfully with God. There is no other way to be satisfied or to be made whole—everything else may thrill for a moment, but it will leave you wanting and craving for something that is real. Life is like being lost in the desert. What we need is water if we are not going to die. The things that this world offers are little better than a mirage and sand in one’s mouth cannot quench one’s thirst. Christ is an oasis of living water and a place to eternally rest your soul. There really is no comparison between the two.
When theologians speak of walking before God, they refer to this as the doctrine of living Coram Deo (before God). In other words, what this doctrine seeks to articulate is that as believers, everything we do, we do before the face of God; nothing is done in isolation. On one level, the concept is fairly easy to grasp, but on another level, it is extremely difficult to live out. All too often, Christians live and act one way in the presence of their pastor or in the presence of other Christians and then live an entirely different way when no one else is looking—or when no other Christians are looking. Yet, given that God is omnipresent and omniscient, God sees and knows all we do. If we are honestly living for His glory and honor, then we must be intentional living as ones convicted of that knowledge.
Sometimes we wonder as Christians why our society rejects what we believe as true. A large part of the reason that they reject what we believe to be true is because they don’t see us living it out. They see believers talking one way and living another and thus conclude that Christianity is bunk and irrelevant to live “in the real world.” Sadly, if Christianity really were what many professing Christians live out, then their observations are correct. Christianity is not a list of rules and going to Church on Sundays nor is it a cross that we wear around our neck or a point by which we can “tap into the truckload of blessings that God has waiting for us in heaven,” as if God were a senile old grandfather just waiting to dote on his ungrateful spawn.
God is the transcendent God of creation who has spoken all things that are into existence and who has chosen to come into relationship with his people through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus Christ. An encounter with the living God is not one that can be contained in a 60 minute or a 90 minute block of time scheduled on the calendar, but this encounter will not leave you unchanged. An encounter with the living God consumes you and consumes every inch of your life from church to the grave and it will leave you different than you started. It is this kind of change that the world is looking for in our lives and just does not see. Loved ones, they want to know that the walk we are on is real, and we are not doing a very good job of living that out. My prayer for you is that you ask the Holy Spirit to consume your life; make your Christianity real in your business ventures as well as in your Sunday School class. Show the world that Christianity is not only True, but that it is relevant as well, and then pray that through an encounter with Him that you will never be left unchanged. May people see something within your life that is Holy and true and is wholly unearthly in origin and then see what happens to your witness.
Thou art the King of mercy and of grace,
Reigning omnipotent in every place;
So come, O King, and our whole being sway;
Shine on us with the light of Thy pure day.
Glory, Unity, and the Christian Testimony January 15, 2010Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Various.
Tags: 2 Corinthians 4:17, Anticipation, C.S. Lewis, casual Christianity, doxa, Glory, John 17:22, kabod, kavod, our response to God's glory, Testimony, the weight of glory, unity, unity amongst believers
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“Also, the glory that you have given me, I have given them, in order that they may be one just as we are one.”
Again we find Jesus using the language unity amongst believers, this time, though, in connection with Christ’s glory. In essence, what Jesus is stating is that he has given to believers his glory so that believers may be united as one. Another way of saying this is that as we apprehend the glory of Christ, it ought to bind us together as one body—that Christ’s glory ought to bring unity to true believers, not division. And, one might go as far as to argue that as we divide and fight with one another, what we are betraying is that we have not apprehended the glory of God. Again, this does not mean that Christians are to have spiritual fellowship with false religion, but it does mean that denominations are sometimes guilty of so narrowing their understanding of Christianity to the point that anyone outside of their specific interpretation of non-essentials is considered highly suspect.
But what is it about the glory of Christ that ought to draw us together with other Christians? To begin with, what is the glory of Christ? The Greek word for glory is do/xa (doxa), which is the word we get “doxology” from. This word refers to the magnificence of or splendor of a person. The Hebrew word for this is dOwbD;k (kabod), and it also captures the idea of something that is weighty in its significance. Thus, when the Apostle Paul speaks of the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17), he is reflecting on this idea of the weightiness and significance of what we will become. C.S. Lewis also relates this concept in his work, The Great Divorce, where the heavenly people are substantial and weighty and the people from Hell are described as ghosts or phantasms, no longer having any substance of their own.
Though humans are sometimes referred to as glorious, God’s glory is infinitely greater than the glory that men might earn or be given. In fact, the glory due to God is so much greater than what we can conceive that even our best efforts to rightly honor our God on our own strength are doomed to utter failure. And thus, as God’s glory is much greater than man’s glory, the weightiness of that glory is so infinitely great that we ought to be both overwhelmed and smothered by it when in His presence. When the saints of old witnessed the glory of God, their response was to be humbled and bow in worship—yet, how casually we tend to come before God and how arrogantly we present ourselves before Him. How, when we come to him in prayer, we have lost any sense of His transcendence and his glory. There is a certain electricity that is in the air as children anticipate seeing the first snow of the season or as they go to bed on Christmas eve, anticipating what will be under the tree the following morning; we ought to have this same “electric” anticipation as we prepare to go before our Lord in prayer or before we come into his presence for corporate worship. It is as if we almost don’t expect to be confronted by the glory of the Almighty God of the universe.
A good novel can compel us to keep reading long after we ought to have put it down and either gone to bed or go to do another project. Why is it that so often Christians agonize over the idea of even reading a chapter of the Bible a day? And why is it that so many Christians are not riveted by the text, but are put to sleep by it? It is almost as if they do not expect to find the glory of the transcendent God revealed on the Bible’s pages. Yet, beloved, that is exactly what God does on the pages of scriptures! He reveals to us Christ! He shows us his mighty redemptive work as well as his remarkable grace to a rebellious people—people who again have experienced the glory of God and have chosen to ignore it to worship idols of their own creation. To those who deserve wrath (like us), God has shown grace. And not only that (as if that is quantifiable in human terms!), God has taught us in his word how we can best enjoy Him and how we can best enjoy life in this world. What a wonderful book we have been given—one through which we can apprehend the invisible God and know our role in His creation as bearers of His image. There is no human work that can pale in comparison.
Yet, how often our actions betray our hearts. We act as if God’s glory is nothing more than a flickering light that hardly offers any illumination in the darkness of the world in which we live. And if we do not go with an expectation that God will reveal his glory to us in his word or in his worship, why should he reveal himself? Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing…” (John 20:29), what poor straights we are in. And, Jesus here in this prayer is saying, “May the glory that I give to my disciples be such that brings them in unity with one another and demonstrates to the world that I am God.” If we don’t grasp the weightiness of God’s glory in a real and tangible way—such a way that drives us to our knees in prayer, worship, and the study of God’s word—then how will we ever cease to bicker over the non-essential things that separate us? And similarly, if our Christian testimony to the world is tied to our unity, should we be surprised that the non-believers are so hostile towards Christian witness? Loved ones, let us evaluate first our own hearts and then our hearts amongst other believers, and ask ourselves, is the glory of God binding us in union with fellow believers and is our apprehension of God’s glory attracting others to the faith? It ought to be.
The Unity of the Church January 04, 2010Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Various.
Tags: changing the culture, christian unity, church as a body, churches working together, denominations working together, ecumenical, ecumenicity, essentials and non-essentials, unity
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“in order that they all may be one just as you, Father, are in me, and I also in you, in order that they might be in us—so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Jesus’ statement is a devastating critique of the Christian church today when you really take it seriously. In a nutshell, what he is saying here is that his desire is that we (the Church) be one with one another just as he is one with the Father and (and here is where it hits close to home) that our unity is at least one of the ways that the world will know that Jesus is the Son of God. In other words, if we wonder why the church today has such a weak witness in the world around us, the implication is that at least part of our weakness is that we are so fragmented and have a tendency to fight amongst ourselves rather than working together.
One of the rules of thumb for good business practice is to staff to your weakness. In other words, find the things that you are poor in and hire or promote someone to do those things. Some managers find this to be an intimidating practice simply because if applied well, this will cause you to hire a number of people who are more competent than you are in some specific areas. Yet, if you don’t follow this principle, then you will tend to perpetuate the problems or weaknesses that you have at least within the organization and be more concerned with your own reputation than with the health of the company.
Churches can be like that as well, not only in terms of internal leadership, but also in terms of how they interact with other churches in the community. Rather than churches focusing on the kinds of things they are good at, so often what happens is that every church tries to do what the other churches are doing—it as if they are worried about losing their “marketshare”…as if we were in competition with one another. If we, as churches, were really concerned with the great commission, we would not worry that more people were going to the Christian fellowship down the street, so long as disciples are being made for the kingdom of God. If one congregation is particularly good at mercy ministries, let them pursue that and let the other churches in the area facilitate that work as the congregation in question needs—both with finances and with people. If another congregation is good with youth ministry, let the other churches facilitate. If a church has a particularly good teacher at the helm, again, let the churches be united and facilitate that ministry. We are not able to be everything to everyone if we stand alone, but we can be if we stand united together.
But what of ecumenicity? Isn’t this what the ecumenical movement tried to accomplish and isn’t it fraught with compromise and error? Yes. In its best senses, this kind of thing is what the ecumenical movement sought to accomplish, yet within that fellowship, it was felt that everyone must believe the same thing and ignore differences. What I am suggesting is the model Paul presents as the church as the body which has many parts. The liver does not do the same thing as the kidney does, yet they work together to keep the whole of the body healthy without losing their distinctive nature—in other words, the kidney does not represent itself as being the same as the liver—they remain distinct, yet cooperate toward the end of keeping the body healthy. Ecumenicity tends to lead toward churches ignoring their differences and granting people to believe pretty much whatever they want to believe.
Cooperation between churches does not mean compromising the truth nor does it mean compromising the theological distinctives that shape the difference between Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists (etc…). There must be certain non-negotiable principles drawn from scripture (the Godhead of Christ, the dual nature of Christ, the authority of scripture, etc…). At the same time, there are going to be some things that we find we can disagree upon passionately, but since they are non-essentials of the faith, we also find that we can have passionate disagreements yet remain in fellowship with one another.
How do we accomplish that in our churches and communities? It starts with humility and a willingness to cast off the self-seeking attitude that many congregations have. One must learn to gauge success not on the basis of numbers in church on Sunday or of a bank account balance that a church might have in savings, but in terms of whether or not they are doing what God has called them to do—and whether or not they are being, what Christ wishes them to be—united as one.
Beloved, let us look seriously at our lives and at our churches and ask the question—based on this statement that Jesus makes, is our witness in the community one that reflects that Jesus is the Son of God or is our witness one that suggests that the church is an organization in competition with other churches for tithing dollars.
Praying for the Church (John 17:20) December 30, 2009Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Various.
Tags: Love, Prayer, revival, sacrificial love, unity
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“Yet, I am not asking for these alone, but also for those who will believe in me through their words.”
It is funny how sometimes we take things said to others in the Bible and freely apply them to ourselves irrespective of the context. For example, God spoke these words to the prophet, Jeremiah:
“Even before I formed you in the womb, I knew you;
Even before you had come out of the womb, I had made you holy.
I committed you as a prophet to the nations.”
Now, while it is certainly true that some of this can be applied to us as we recognize God’s ordination of all things according to his own purposes (Ephesians 1:11) and given God’s omniscience, there is nothing that God does not know, this statement was made specifically to Jeremiah, not universally to all people. In turn, it is not proper to simply claim the text as our own without qualifying these things. There are other texts that we sometimes do the same thing with and similarly go back and forth debating on whether or not something can legitimately be applied to us in our lives. Yet, Jesus graciously removes any confusion from us as to this question—he plainly says that this prayer is not only for the Apostles that he has surrounding him, but it is also for all who will come to faith through the preaching of the Gospel through them. Friends, that is speaking of you and of me—all of us who trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and have done so through the revelation of God’s word and the proclamation of the Gospel—he is speaking of us in this prayer! And these final verses, in particular, will reveal our Lord’s heart for his church.
And what are the themes of this final section of his prayer—what petition is on our Lord’s heart first and foremost? He prays for unity amongst believers and love as he has loved. Ouch. How far we have strayed as a church from those two petitions of our Lord. How greatly we allow sin to cause division and we allow our lack of love to cause us to be self-centered and prideful both individually and corporately.
Loved ones, we are making a mess of this in many ways and we need to repent of our sins in this area especially. Yet, simply saying, “I’m sorry” is not enough if we are going to be faithful, we also need to change our ways and work to restore that which has been broken. Now, that being said, am I suggesting that we throw away the truth of the Gospel and just embrace everyone regardless of what they believe and of what they have compromised? No, that is not quite it, for Jesus is speaking of those who will believe in him because of the word of the Apostles—the Scriptures. We cannot throw away the authority and Truth of the Bible and retain any semblance of Christianity. That being said, I believe that the key is to concentrate on living out the sacrificial love that Christ modeled. I think that if we begin to get the love part right, the unity part will follow in a way that honors the Father. Yet, that is still a tall order. For before we can actually love those around us, we have to start loving God more than we love ourselves. When this happens, you are ready to love sacrificially and serve with your whole being—holding nothing back as Jesus held nothing back. A small group of believers, ones willing to do just this, turned the world on its head—what would happen if the church got with the same program? I believe that God would bring genuine revival once again.
We praise Thee, O God!
For the Son of Thy love,
For Jesus Who died,
And is now gone above.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Revive us again.
Sent into the World as Christ was sent into the World December 29, 2009Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Various.
Tags: advancing the Gospel, being a church, demolishing strongholds, doing church, Gospel, Great Commission, John, John 17:18-19, living sacrifice, living sacrifices, sanctification, sanctify, the church, the church in the world, turning the world on its head
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“Just as you sent me into the world, I also send them into the world, and for them, I sanctify myself in order that they also might be sanctified in Truth.”
This statement that Christ makes is very simple to understand, but very difficult to apply and live out because of the ramifications that it means for those of us who are believers. “Just as,” Jesus says, the Father sends the Son, so the Son sends the believers. The simplest way to understand this is to see this as a call for us to evangelize the world. Yet, there is much more to what Jesus is teaching, for we must ask in what way did Christ enter into the world? In turn, how are we to live out being sent in the same way?
Jesus came into the world in humility for the purpose not only of showing the people the Truth, but also to die—to be a sacrifice, holy and true, for sinful people. Thus, Jesus sanctified himself so that he would be prepared to be a sacrifice for his people. Thus, if we are to also be sent into the world as Christ was sent into the world, we need to be prepared to be sacrifices for the gospel, not living for ourselves or for selfish gain, but living humbly for the glory of God and to call others to Christ. Thus, Paul calls us to become “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1-2), being wholly committed to the sacrifice taking place (the Old Testament animal sacrifices kept nothing back, but were wholly committed to the altar—so too was Jesus, so too are we to be!). Wealth, reputation, status, and privilege should not only be seen as God’s blessing to us, but also be seen as a tool toward advancing the end of the Gospel, not simply to make ourselves comfortable.
So, as you look at your life, how is it that you will sacrifice all for the Gospel? What are the things that are holding you back from being sent into the world as Christ was sent into the world? And how are you sanctifying yourself so that you can be a faithful and true living sacrifice to the glory of God? These are dangerous questions for most of us to ask, because if we ask these questions honestly, God will call us to change in one way, shape, or form. In addition, if we seek to live this out, God will call us to step outside of our comfort zones and stretch—but stretch to what end? Think of things this way, Jesus called 12 Apostles (11 originals plus Paul) and those twelve men—wholly committed to the Gospel and to being led by the Holy Spirit—turned the world on its head. Think of what God might do if confessing Christians today would be willing to be wholly committed to the claims of Christ that are upon them. We would stop just “doing church,” but we would demolish the strongholds of this culture and turn this world on its head once again to the glory of Jesus Christ. The church has largely embraced the devil’s temptation of comfort and has largely become impotent; let us see what would happen if we embrace Jesus’ prayer for us instead—the world, and our own lives, will never be the same.
Sanctify them in the Truth (John 17:17) December 24, 2009Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Various.
Tags: Bible, Calvin, God's Law and the Christian, God's Word, hagios, holy, holy to the Lord, John 17:17, Qadosh, qodesh layahweh, qodesh leadonai, sanctification, sanctify them, Scripture, Ten Commandments, third use of the Law, use of the law
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“Sanctify them in the Truth; Your Word is Truth.”
What a powerful statement! Jesus lays out two great truths for us in this little statement…first, that it is by the means of the Truth that we should be sanctified and that the Word of God (Scripture) is Truth. Yet, we need to lay out some definitions here to make sure we understand the depth of this statement.
The first question we really need to ask is what does the word “sanctify” mean. In Greek, the term sanctify is the word, aJgia/zw (hagiazw), which is related to the term a¢gioß (hagios), meaning “holy” or “set apart for sacred use.” The Hebrew equivalent to this term is vwødDq (qadosh); God regularly sets apart his people (Leviticus 19:2, 20:26), his priests (Leviticus 21:8), and implements or items of worship (Leviticus 27:30,32) as hÎwhyÅl v®døq (qodesh layahweh)—“Holy to the Lord.” Thus, getting back to aJgia/zw (hagiazw), sanctification is the process by which God makes us holy as He is holy. It is a process by which he refines us as by fire (1 Peter 1:6-7), scraping off the dross and refining us for his work here in this world and to be ultimately purified as we are prepared to enter into his eternal presence in glory.
Thus, if we are sanctified in Truth and the scriptures are the revelation of God’s word, then how are we sanctified in the Bible? To begin with, let us state up front that the efforts of man in this area avail him nothing if not indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is not talking here about those who do not have new life, but he is talking about the born-again believer in Jesus Christ. Also, it should be noted that Jesus did speak many other words and do many other things than are recorded in the Bible (John 21:25), so some would argue that the Bible is not synonymous with God’s Word. While there is some truth to that claim, it is clear that the Bible is the only revelation of God that has been written down and preserved for us through the ages (through the superintending of the Holy Spirit). Certainly, there are many texts that claim divine or apostolic authorship as well as prophetic authorship, but these texts have clearly been shown to be much later additions, written under pseudonyms, and are not inspired by the Holy Spirit. It has become popular in this age to drag out these texts and create false theologies based on them, but such is the work of false teachers whose condemnation was designated and written about long ago (Jude 4). Look to the fruit of such teachers (Matthew 7:15-20) and who pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny Jesus Christ (Jude 4 again). The second century church fathers refuted them when they were writing, we should heed their warnings and not stumble into the errors of these charlatans.
As we move, then, back to the Bible—God’s revealed word and the source of all Truth, then how is it that the Bible is a tool in our sanctification? John Calvin made the argument that there are three purposes to the moral law as it is contained in scripture—the first was simply to set before us a moral code so that we can live together in society without killing one another. Simply spoken, how different our world would be if every human being on our planet lived by those ten basic commandments! Secondly, the Ten Commandments are designed to teach us our inability to live a holy life before the Lord. The simple fact is that try as we may, we cannot keep the commandments of God and thus as we survey the world around us, it is filled with idolatry, crime, adultery, greed, lust, etc… Thus, the law teaches us we need a savior to redeem us from our wicked state. Then finally comes the third use of the Law, which is as a tool of sanctification (what Jesus is talking about here) not for all mankind, but for the believer. As we seek to live according to the Moral Law of God out of a desire to honor our Redeemer and God, we grow more and more like the one who fulfilled that law for us, Jesus Christ.
Jesus said that if we love him, we will demonstrate that love in obedience to his commands (John 14:15). In addition, in the great commission, Jesus commands the Apostles to go out and make disciples. What are the marks of a true disciple? First, they have been baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But, secondly, they have been taught to obey “all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Thus, we can infer that it is not just the Moral Law that believers are to seek to obey, but all of God’s word as he lays it out before us. This is not to suggest that we are to obey all of the sacramental laws of the Old Testament, Jesus has fulfilled them for us once and for all time (Hebrews 10:10) nor is it to mean that the civil laws of the Old Testament are to be applied as they were applied in the Old Testament—Jesus himself forgave sins punishable by death (John 8:11)—such laws were given for a people who were structured into a Theocratic kingdom, now we are a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9) and thus have a priestly function while living within the nations of others (just as the Levites did in Israel and just as Abraham did while living as an alien in Canaan). We can certainly glean some moral principles from these case laws in the Old Testament, but their application is a moral guide and not civil law.
The heart at what Jesus is getting at, though, is that we must be taking God’s word and applying it to every area of our lives if we are to grow like him. How do we do this, though, if we are not immersing ourselves in our Bibles and studying it—recognizing it as Truth? What does it say about our hearts if we go to the Bible, yet it does not change us? In Christ we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), being changed—transformed even—into the image of Christ through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2)—and how is that renewal to take place? It takes place through the application of God’s word to every area of our lives—indeed, as our Lord prayed, we are sanctified according to his Word. Christian, pursue that end.
We are Marked by God’s Word (John 17:14) December 02, 2009Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Various.
Tags: God's Word, hatred of the world, Inerrancy of the Bible, John 17:14, lover of God, lover of man, lover of world, Scripture, the world hates believers
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“I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they are not of the world as I am not of the world.”
We are used to hearing the language of the world hating us because we are not of the world; what is sad is that all too often, the world does not hate us because we have allowed ourselves to become friends with the world and to compromise who we are—or at least who we are supposed to be. Too often there is little that distinguishes the life of a professing Christian from the life of a non-Christian either in speech or in action. How rarely we live intentionally with respect to our faith and in doing so, it makes things more comfortable with respect to the world. But as Peter wrote, when we don’t build on our faith (hence attracting opposition), we become so nearsighted that we stumble around as much as a blind person does (2 Peter 1:9) and the world cannot tell us apart.
Note too, the connection between receiving the Word of God and becoming citizens of heaven (also see Philippians 3:20). One of the things that distinguishes the Christian from members of any other organization is that God has given Christians his Word—the Scriptures. So long as we hold on to that book and so long as we treat that book as the divine and authoritative word of God, the world will not ever come close to being our friend, but instead will hate us.
How sad it is, though, that so many Christians, for the love of this world, are quick to compromise this wonderful Word that sets us apart! They compromise the truth about Christ’s deity, they compromise the truth about God’s creative work, they compromise the truth about the exclusivity of Christianity, they compromise the truth about abortion, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, and the list goes on and on and on. Do you see what we have allowed the church to do? Jesus said that it is because we have His Word, the world will hate us.
What is it about that Word that makes it so dangerous to the world? The bottom line is that because God is the author of his Word, which makes the Scriptures true, infallible, inerrant, and absolute. The world does not like being told that it is wrong—let alone that it is condemned to judgment because it clings to its sin and does not submit to the authority of God Almighty.
The mind of fallen man prefers a god of its own design, one that makes no claims or demands, one that is more like a cuddly friend to get you through a dark night than like an almighty God. They like the image of a doddering old man who is too senile to remember sins and wrongs but who is able to bestow good gifts. They want a tame god—one that is safe. The Bible shatters their illusions and presents not a safe god of man’s design, but a God who demands obedience and submission from his followers. The God of the Bible is anything but tame and senile, but he is ferocious and vibrant—active not only in the life of his own, but in the lives of those who has forsaken him, using them for his own purposes. The Bible does not present God as existing to serve man, but on the contrary, the Bible presents man as existing to serve God. The world cannot stand this—it hates the Bible, it hates what the Bible tells their conscience about their created god, and it hates those who hold to the Bible as true and right.
Oh, loved ones, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are marked by this book we call the Bible. Do not be ashamed of this even though it will bring you enmity from the world. Rejoice in this book, because it is the very Word of Life (Philippians 2:16). In this book, God reveals himself to us in all of his majesty. Those who love the darkness have chosen to live in the darkness, but you who have professed to hold to the light—do not forsake the Word which is light for the love of the shadowy realms of this world.