Friday, November 13, 2015

Thoughts from Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is probably the most well known Psalm.  Since the Psalms are, for the most part, songs then Psalm 23 would be number one on the charts.  Most people even those who have not read the Bible are familiar with Psalm 23.  It is a beautiful Psalm of comfort which depicts God as a loving shepherd to his sheep and a gracious host to his guests.  I would just like to briefly share some of my thoughts on verse 1-3.  

1. The Good Shepherd (1)

Notice David says "The LORD is my shepherd."  The first question to ask: Is the LORD your shepherd?  The rest of the depends on the answer to this question.  If the LORD is not your shepherd then these truths that follow do not apply to you.  These are for the sheep.  Unlike David we can fast forward to the time of Jesus.  We get the full story and know what Jesus says in John 10.  The Good Shepherd is none other than the God-man, Jesus Christ.  Jesus, in John 10, says, "I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (11).  In order to be one of the LORD's sheep you must enter the fold through his terms.  Prior to his proclamation of being the Good Shepherd Jesus declared, "I am the door.  If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture" (9).  These are the same words Jesus would speak again in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through me."  Jesus is the Good Shepherd because he laid down his life for sheep who were being lead astray.  We were wondering in the wilderness while Jesus was on a sheep rescuing mission.  In him we "shall not want."  This is better translated "shall not lack."  The reason we shall not lack is because the shepherd will provide for all our needs.  

2. The Gracious Shepherd (2-3b

We have already seen that the shepherd provides to the point that we lacking nothing.  David is going to continue to show us the graciousness of our good shepherd.  Notice how the next four phrases in Psalm 23 have a pattern of the shepherd doing something on our behalf.  

  A. He makes me lie down in green pastures (2a)
This speaks of the peace brought to us by our shepherd.  Sheep did not rest much because of the anxiety of attack.  But with the shepherd in their presence the sheep are able to lie down in green pastures.  Green pastures also remind us that the lot on which the shepherd gives to his sheep is beautiful and well taken care of.  Remember what Jesus said in John 10:9, "I am the door.  If anyone enters by me, he will be saved (safe) and will go in and out and find pasture."  By the Good Shepherd's grace we find peace and pleasant pasture.  "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:1-2).
  B. He leads me beside still waters (2b)
Steve Lawson says, "This refers to waters that have been stilled, further expanding this peaceful scene.  Weary and worn sheep need a long, refreshing drink from the rapid streams.  But being instinctively afraid of running water, the shepherd must pick up a few large stones and dam up a place, causing the rushing stream to slow its current and create quiet waters.  Then the flock may drink with no fear.  God gives true, abiding peace to believers who abide in him and drink of his grace."  This reminds me of the peace Paul talks about in Philippians 4:7, "The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

  C. He restores my soul (3a)
When our soul is beaten by the cares of this world or we have failed to trust our Good Shepherd we read that the Good Shepherd comes and restores our soul.  Psalm 19:7 lets us know how the Shepherd restores our soul.  It isn't some magic wand waiving while calling out bippity boppity boo.  That does sound exciting but not real.  God tells us, "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul" (Ps. 19:7).  The way the soul is restored is through the hearing of God's word.  God has given us his Word for the purpose of knowing him.  Knowing him deeply brings restoration to our soul.  

  D. He leads me in paths of righteousness (3b)
Ultimately the path to perfect righteousness is through a relationship with the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  "For our sake, God the Father made God the Son, who knew no sin, to be sin, so that in Christ Jesus we might become the rightesouness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).  Perfect righteousness is a gift of God's grace through imputation.  But those who have been called by God as his chosen people are called to a life of holiness.  God is not only the One who graciously justifies us but he is the One who also leads us in the path of righteousness.  He gives a new heart that seeks to honor and glorify him with our lives.  His grace saves and sustains his sheep.  

3. The Glorious Shepherd (3c)

Why does God act so graciously to his people?  His grace stems from his love for his own name.  God delights in God therefore he is good to us.  Notice in Psalm 23, David writes at the end of verse 3 that he does all these good things for us "for His name sake."  We tend to think God does everything for us because ultimately he loves us.  God does love his sheep but he loves his own glory most.  We should be grateful that this is true of God.  Why?  If God did not delight in himself above everything or everyone else than God would cease to be God.  Whatever or whoever God glorified in more than himself would be God.  In order to be the good and gracious shepherd of his sheep he must be the supreme and glorious God who delights in himself. 

"Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD" (Ps. 25:7)!

"For your name's sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great" (Ps. 25:11). 

"Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.  Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name's sake" (Ps. 79:8-9)!

His glory equals our good.  

Grace upon grace,

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Cure is Christ

I have been privileged for years now to have an open door to preach the gospel at a local juvenile detention center.  Many times I have equated the good news of the gospel of Christ to a cancer patient who has learned their cancer is all gone.  The only reason this is good news is because of the bad news in which a person has discovered they have cancer.  Cancer is the bad news but the good news is being cleared of the cancer.  This is like the good news of the gospel which is only good news if we know the bad news about our sinful condition.  While using this illustration I must admit I have never interacted with someone on a regular basis who has cancer.  Recently that has become a reality in my life.  As I have interacted with this person I have seen how the comparisons to the gospel have become clearer.  

The bad news is bad news.  Cancer is real.  Cancer is deadly.  Sin is real and sin is deadly.  The Bible says, "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23).  We cannot deny these realities.  We tend to have a mindset that ignorance is bliss.  That is not the case when life and death are on the line.  Before a person is diagnosed with cancer life is normal.  Go to work, spend time with family, enjoy the weekend and so on.  Life is good.  But when the doctor calls and the diagnosis is not something we can place a band-aid over but rather a reality that something tragic now involves you, life changes.  What seems to be normal changes.  The bad news leaves us searching for a glimmer of good news.  Good news is the remedy or the cure to the bad news.

As time goes on and doctors appointments have occurred, I have been able to interact with this person who is trying to learn about this bad news.  Stay strong seems to be the best encouragement given out but staying strong doesn't change the reality.  What is needed is a remedy.  A cure.  A cure is what ultimately brings good news that overpowers the bad news.  The person who understands the bad news is always looking for a bit of good news.  Our sin condition is bad news.  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).  "Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned" (Rom. 5:12).  This sin disease is not just for certain people.  This disease has effected all of humanity.  This is bad news for the entire human race.  Sin is a rebellion against God.  As our Creator, he has told us how to live and what will be best for us.  Sinfully we have determined that God does not ultimately know what is best.  We have turned away from his gracious commands in order to run down our sinfully desired path.  The Bible describes us as sheep that have gone astray (1 Peter 2:25).  This is a painful truth about humanity.  It is bad news.

But unlike cancer a remedy is offered for the sin curse upon all humanity.  Cancer is potentially never gone.  You may be cleared of cancer but there is the potential of its return.  The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that our sins can be removed forever.  Christ is the cure.  He is the remedy.  The Bible says, "As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12).  How far is the east is from the west?  Infinite.  He removes our sins infinitely.  How are they gone?  They are gone because they have been placed on Christ when he was crucified in the place of sinners.  This is why Paul writes to the Corinthians, "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1-2).  Why Paul?  Lofty speech and wisdom without Christ crucified leaves people dead in their sins.  We, like Paul, need to make sure we proclaim the remedy.  

The remedy of the glorious Christ is offered to all who will repent of their sin and place their trust in Christ as Savior and Lord.  "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved" (Rom. 10:9-10).  This remedy comes at the cost of the Son of God dying undeservedly in our place.  This remedy is offered as a gift to all.  This gift is given to all who will repent and believe.  This gift is the cure all humanity needs.  It is more then a glimmer of hope offered to death ridden people.  It is the only hope of life offered to death ridden people.  My prayer is that you will see your sinful condition and place your trust in the all glorious Savior.

Grace upon grace,

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Protection and Freedom in our Refuge

Did you know the word refuge is mentioned forty-five times in the book of Psalms?  "Perserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge" (16:1).  "The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge" (18:2).  "The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed" (28:8).  "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him" (34:8)!  "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (46:1).  "For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy" (61:3).  "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man" (118:8).  "Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD!  I have fled to you for refuge" (143:9).  These are just a few of the passages that speak of God as being a refuge for those who trust in him.  

What makes the fact that God is our refuge such a big deal?

Many times when we think of a refuge we think of being protected.  This is true.  Thinking back to the time of Joshua, God had appointed cities of refuge for "the manslayer who had struck any person without intent or unknowingly" (Joshua 20:3a).  The person who struck and killed another man without intent or even knowing he had done such a thing was able to flee to these cities of refuge for protection.  "They shall be for you a refuge from the avenger of blood" (Josh. 20:3b).  The person was not allowed to enter a city of refuge before going on trial before the elders of the city.  Once the elders determined that the man had not purposefully committed the crime he would be allowed access to the city for protection.  The manslayer was to stay in the city of refuge "until he had stood before the congregation for judgment or until the death of him who is high priest at the time" (Josh. 20:6).  These cities of refuge were a place of protection and safety.  No person could enter the city to avenge the blood of the loved one who had been killed.  

No doubt this the picture of God as being a refuge is an accurate description of God's protection over his people.  But I think that only halfway captures the picture of a refuge.  Not only was a person protected in a city of refuge but they were also free.  Outside the city of refuge a manslayer was always living with the reality that the avenger of blood (family member) could avenge his blood.  He would never be truly free outside the city of refuge.  While inside the city he did not have to look over his shoulder or stay awake in the night wondering if the avenger of blood would attack.  He was free inside the city of refuge.  

Our God is a God in whom we can take refuge.  Salvation is the truth of trusting or being hidden in Christ.  We trust that his death and resurrection is how the Father's wrath is removed and our sin is forgiven.  We believe we are covered in his perfect righteousness.  In Christ we are both protected from the sting of death and free from sin's domion.  "Kiss the Son, lest he be angrey, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. 'Blessed are all who take refuge in him'" (Ps. 2:12).

Grace upon grace,

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

God's Electing Grace

Recently I was reminded of a great verse from the book of Judges.  In Judges 2:1, it says, "Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim.  And he said, 'I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers.  I said, "I will never break my covenant with you."  I can't help reading this verse without thinking about God's work in saving and sanctifying his sinning saints.  

Israel was by no means the "good" nation.  Israel was as rebellious as every other nation.  Many times they did things that seemed unthinkable right after God had demostrated his power in supernatural ways.  An example is here in Judges 2 when God had given them the land he promised many years ago.  God told them to "make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their alters.  BUT you have not obeyed my voice" (2:2).  Or we could talk about the golden calf incident in Exodus 32.  There the Israelites make a golden calf out of their jewelry turning their praise from God to this calf saying, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt" (Ex. 32:4)!  Or Israel's complaining about having nothing to eat after God made bread rain down from heaven.  Israel was not the "good" nation.  So what made them so special?

Nothing made Israel special in and of themselves.  Rather God made them special because of his chosing of them to be his nation.  We see in Israel God's electing love.  In Judges 2:1 we read, "Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal."  What does Gilgal have to do with anything?  Back in Joshua 5:9 we find out Gilgal is a pretty important reference.  "And the LORD said to Joshua, 'Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.' And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day."  Gilgal means "to roll."  Gilgal is where God had covenanted with Israel to roll away the reproach of Egypt.  Egypt was a place of slavery and oppression yet God in his kindness brought his people out of the reproach of Egypt.  

The angel of the LORD then graciously reminds them again of his grace in leading them out of Egypt.  "I brought you up from Egypt."  Egypt was bigger and stronger then Israel.  The people of Israel would have never been able to overcome the Egyptian oppression in their own strength.  When I think of the way the natural man is under the dominion of sin I can reflect back to the power and strength of the Egyptians over the Israelites.  Most of us miss this connection because we think we have pretty good control over our sin.  We minimize it.  We don't find it offensive to God because we don't see very many sin issues.  Left to ourselves we are powerless against sin's dominion.  Paul tells us in Romans 8:7-8, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God."  When he uses the word "cannot" he is speaking of an inability to do something.  Those in the flesh cannot please God, they cannot submit to God's law.  They are powerless to obey God.  This is exactly the same situation the Israelites faced while under the Egyptians tyranny.  

Yet God in his kindness chose to rescue the Israelites.  This did not happen because Israel was great but because God is great.  "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Deut. 7:7-8).  God rescues his people.

Next we see God's purpose in bringing them out of Egypt: "And brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers."  Romans 8:30 says, "And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."  The same truth is being taught to us here with the Israelites in Judges 2:1, "I brought you up from Egypt" is a picture of God justifying his people and "brought you into the land that I swore to give to your father" is a picture of God glorifying his people.  When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt it was a guarentee that they would make it to the Promised Land.  In spite of Israel's sin, God made a promise he had to keep, therefore Israel made it to Canaan.  "Those whom he justified he also glorified."  If you are trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation, God promises glorification.  It was a done deal when you were justified by his grace.  The reason this is true has nothing to do with us but rather God's electing grace.

Notice what God says next in Judges 2:1, "I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you'."  This statement is what guarentees our glorification.  Once being justified the process of sanctification begins in the life of the believer until death.  This is a responsibility of the believer to submit to God's commands found in his Word.  We are to be holy as our heavenly Father in heaven is holy.  This is the aim of every follower of Christ.  This is an impossibility left to ourselvs but by God's covenant keeping grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a change takes place in the life of redeemed sinners.  From sinner to saint truly is a supernatural work brought about by the covenant keeping God.  Though we act like Israel by hanging on to idols, God keeps pursuing and changing us.  

When the angel of the LORD came to the people of Israel, he came from Gilgal to Bochim.  I already spoke about the significance of Gilgal but is there any significance with Bochim?  Judges 2:4 tells us, "As soon as the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept."  The angel had pointed out the fact that Israel was not willing to drive away their idols.  Israel was to break down the alters where false gods were worshipped yet they disobeyed. The people see their sin and begin to wept.  "And they called the name of that place Bochim" (5).  Bochim means "weepers."  Israel was shown grace at Gilgal and was also shown grace at Bochim.  Grace rolled away their reproach and made them weep over their sin. 

"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God's] own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy" (1 Peter 2:9-10).  As God's chosen people may we remember his saving grace.  May we remove the idols in our lives that hold us back from the greater joy found in knowing Christ more and more.  May we weep over our sin then return back to the cross knowing our sin is removed because of Christ.  May we proclaim this great message of Christ to the world through our mouth and life.  

Grace upon grace,

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Grace Changes People

In Romans 6 Paul asks one of the best questions in the entire Bible.  After hammering home the distinctions between the first Adam and the second Adam (Christ) he knows his listeners are going to struggle with the idea of grace.  He knows grace is so radical it will cause people to ask, "Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound" (Rom. 6:1)?  When salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is taught I think most of us struggle with this response.  But Paul really helps us out by taking us to the reality of what happens in salvation.  He chops away at the mindset that grace allows us to sin by asking a simple yet profound question: "How can we who died to sin still live in it" (6:2)?  

Grace is not cheap.  Grace comes at the price of the Father sending his Son into the world for the very purpose of dying for those chosen before the foundation of the world for salvation.  Jesus comes on a rescue mission that not one of us deserve.  He came to seek and save the lost.  He was perfectly fine in heaven fellowshipping with his Father and the Holy Spirit.  Yet because of his love he comes to dwell among those whom he created and who would crucify him on a cross like they would a criminal. In Romans 5, Paul has been driving this point home: "For while we were weak...Christ died for the ungodly.  God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Rom. 5:6,8,10).  Paul knows grace will melt a hard heart.  He knows God's love will in turn cause sinners to turn and love him.  

Grace changes people.  Grace changes sinners to saints.  It changes enemies to friends.  It changes the unreconciled to the reconciled.  Grace produces change!  This change is why Paul is confident to preach grace and grace alone.  He knows when grace is preached, God will work.  When God works, people die to sin and are changed.  He knows God makes people alive to him and dead to sin.  "How can we who died to sin still live it?"  We can't because of grace.

Grace upon grace,

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Creation and Commands

The other night I went outside to accomplish the mundane task of wheeling our trash can to the street in order for the city to come wisk our trash away to a magical landfill.  When I arrived to the edge of the driveway and turned to go back inside, my eyes caught the bright reflection of the moon.  It was shining bright, illuminating the sky.  Stars were spread across the sky as clear as could be.  What had started as a mundane trip to the edge of the driveway turned into a glorious spectacle of God's handiwork.  The verse that came to mind as I looked at the sky was Psalm 19:1, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork."  The sky was declaring and proclaiming the awesomeness of the Creator.  It was a beautiful sight.  

Lately I have been looking at Psalm 19 so it was fresh on my mind.  I am not normally a big nature guy but I have been trying to be more observant to the beautiful handiwork of my God.  I realize the things of nature shout out that our God is big, beautiful, and creative.  Nature shows God's glory and he should be worshipped because of it.  That is what the Psalmist is communicating in the first section of Psalm 19.  Verse one is not the only verse in the chapter talking about God's revelation of himself through creation.  "Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge...Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.  In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man, runs its course with joy.  Its rising is from the end of the heavens... and there is nothing hidden from its heat" (2-6).  All people have seen his creation therefore all of us know God exist.  "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19-20).  The Psalmist along with Paul is telling us that creation screams God exists!  His general revelation about himself through creation is a grace to all.

But the Psalmist doesn't stop with simply God's general relevation but proceeds to speak about God's special revelation in the Scriptures.  He uses terms like "The law of the LORD", "the testimony of the LORD", "the precepts of the LORD", "the commandment of the LORD" and "the rules of the LORD" to describe God's word to us. Many times when we read words like "law", "commandment" or "rules" they come across in a negative connotation.  But we must remember of few things about God's intentions.  Remember in Genesis 1-2 when God spoke everything into existance he then said "It is good. It is very good."  Adam and Eve and creation were glorious.  No flaws, no groanings because there was no sin. God also knew what would be the greatest detriment to all mankind so he gave Adam and Eve one command or law or rule: You may eat from anywhere in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The reason: If you eat of that tree you will die.  Pretty simple and straightforward.  God gave a command for the good of Adam and Eve not as a restriction to their joy.  The restriction of their joy came when, in Genesis 3, they disobeyed God and sinned against him.  Spiritual death and broken fellowship with God was now the curse passed down to the rest of humanity.  When the Psalmist uses these terms to describe God's word we shouldn't have a mind that drifts toward restriction but freedom.  

Notice the freedom statements that follow the descriptions of God's word: "reviving the soul", "making wise the simple", "rejoicing the heart", "enlightening the eyes" and "enduring forever."  Such a drag.  Not really.  Reviving, wisdom, rejoicing, enlightening and enduring are words that sound so good they almost seem unrealistic.  Maybe I could use the word supernatural.  This is what God's word does for us through the Holy Spirit.  God's word is for our greatest joy not a ball and chain.  I get the argument from the world's perspective because God's word is restricting them from what they love the most: sin.  But as followers of Christ we need to wake up to the reality that God is for our greatest good not a life of boredom.  He has revealed himself through his word in order for us to know the One for whom we were created to worship and find joy.  In verse 10 the Psalmist gives us a greater taste when he says, "More to be desired are [God's rules] than gold, even much fine gold."  Gold is a precious, valuable commodity in our world yet the Psalmist says God's rules are greater than gold.  His commands are better than a great career, grades, sports, sex, money, comfort and you fill in the blank with whatever may be keeping you from obeying Christ and his commands.  

The Psalmist then gives us two motivations for obedience to God's commands:

1.  Warning
2.  Reward

Notice verse 11, "Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward."  God is so kind to us that he gives us his commands to warn us.  He wants what is best for us.  As our Creater he knows what we will enjoy but also what will ruin us.  His commands are those warning signs telling us, "Don't do it because I love you and know this will be for your destruction."  Heed his warnings.  

He also promises a reward for keeping his commands.  Rewards are a good thing.  Maybe as a kid you were rewarded with an allowance for doing the things you were told to do.  You weren't earning your parents favor or love. Rather they were teaching about life and how to be someone who should contribute in a positive manner in society through responsibilities in the house.  In keeping God's commands we are not earning his favor.  His favor is given through trusting in Christ's finished work on the cross.  Rather, in keeping his commands, he is giving us greater glimpses of his goodness.  The reward is seeing more of God and his goodness! 

General revelation and special revelation give us a picture of our great God.  May we aim to please him in all we do.  May we pray with the Psalmist, "Keep back your servant also from preumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!  Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer" (Ps. 19:13-14).

Grace upon grace,