Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What Wondrous Love is This, O My Soul!

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.
Psalm 31:7-8

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O 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!

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down
Beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free
I’ll sing His love for me,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O 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!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Grace of God in Times of Great Need

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” And there was a prophetess, Anna . . . and coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:34-36, 38)

Excerpt from “The Good News of Great Joy for All People” – 2010-12-26
As Mary is pondering the “sword” that will “pierce” her “soul” for the cause of the fulfilled promise of God - Luke introduces a second person into our text for today, whose name is “Anna.” Anna was a woman of at least 84 years of age; she was married for seven years before her husband died, and lived the rest of her life in the temple as a widow: "She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” Now Anna was in the temple for the same reason Simeon was. She was “worshiping with fasting and in prayer” while waiting for the Messiah, the Savior to come. And we read that “coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Yet, the deeper reason of why Anna is in this story at this point is revealed by looking at the meaning of Anna’s name. “Anna” means “grace.” Just after Simeon told Mary a “sword” will “pierce” her “soul” for the purpose of fulfilling God’s promise - God sends Anna (“grace”) into her life to thank God for the fulfillment of His promise. Anna (“grace”) could do so because Anna had endured the heart-piercing experience of the loss of her own husband by running to God and clinging to Him with a life of service and devotion. Mary would need the full extent of God’s grace in the days, months and years ahead; God’s grace would be with her, just as Anna (“grace”) had always been in the temple. As with Anna, God’s grace is always with us when we full commit our lives to Him. "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

The Good News of Great Joy: God is For Us

. . . there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

Excerpt from “The Good News of Great Joy for All People” – 2010-12-24
Consider for a moment that you’re God (which a lot of us consider quite often) and you want to announce to the world the most stunning, amazing, incredible, joyous news ever; an event which will literally change the course of history – the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Saviour of the world, the One for whom the nation of Israel has been waiting and hoping and praying for – for thousands of years, the One for whom all of fallen humanity has been waiting, hoping and praying for since the first sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden. He has finally come! Who do you announce it to? Surely not to shepherds! Some years ago when Princess Diana’s sons Harry and William were born, they didn’t send a messenger down to the docks to break the news first to the longshoremen; they didn’t issue personal invitations to the cab drivers of London to come visit Diana and her new baby in Windsor castle. No, I’m sure any announcements that were sent out were printed in gold leaf - and hand delivered to political leaders and foreign heads of state.

Yet God announced the greatest and most important news in all of history to a bunch of religious and social outcasts of ill repute, who were considered to be unclean and unworthy by human standards. But God does not live by or work according to human standards; He sees people much differently than we do. By choosing these lowly, unworthy shepherds to be the very first to receive the “good news” of Christ’s birth, God was sovereignly and providentially demonstrating that Jesus was not going to be the Saviour of only the political and social and religious elite – the kings and governors, popes and priests – but that Jesus would be the Saviour of all kinds of people - regardless of race, or intelligence, or education, or wealth, or profession, or political power, or social standing, or any of the other standards human beings judge by. God offers His love and mercy and grace to “all people” who will trust in Jesus and surrender their lives to Jesus as Lord and Saviour. This is - “good news.”

Saturday, December 25, 2010

You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger . . .

from Worldmag

Good People All, This Christmas Time

Wexford Carol

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved son
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day
In Bethlehem upon that morn,
There was a blessed Messiah born

The night before that happy tide
The noble Virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town
But mark right well what came to pass
From every door repelled, alas
As was foretold, their refuge all
Was but a humble ox’s stall

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep
To whom God’s angel did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear
Arise and go, the angels said
To Bethlehem, be not afraid
For there you’ll find, this happy morn
A princely babe, sweet Jesus, born

With thankful heart and joyful mind
The shepherds went the babe to find
And as God’s angel had foretold
They did our Saviour Christ behold
Within a manger he was laid
And by his side a virgin maid
Attending on the Lord of Life
Who came on earth to end all strife

There were three wise men from afar
Directed by a glorious star
And on they wandered night and day
Until they came where Jesus lay
And when they came unto that place
Where our beloved Messiah lay
They humbly cast them at his feet
With gifts of gold and incense sweet.

from JT

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength – Anthony Griffith

“Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

During this Christmas season I have been focusing on the theme of the joy that comes in knowing Jesus. Anthony Griffith is a Christian comedian who exemplifies that kind of joy. The first video is a clip from one of his stand up routines; the second the testimony of his joy in the Lord.

Enoch walked with God . . .

Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. (Genesis 5:24)

An Afghan man walks on the street as the sun sets in southern Afghanistan.
Photo by Marko Djurica (REUTERS) from The Big Picture.

The Presence of Jesus Turns Fear into Joy

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." (Luke 2:10)

Excerpt from “The Joyful Presence of God” – 2010-12-19
The night Jesus was born some shepherds who were not far from the stable where Mary and Joseph were staying, found themselves face to face with an angel, who said to them: “Fear not.” In the first chapter of Luke we read of an angel saying the same to Zechariah and Mary (verses 13 and 30). I’m sure we all would experience some degree of fear if suddenly the darkness of night was filled with glorious light and we were confronted with supernatural being - as in the words of J. Vernon McGee: “When the supernatural touches the natural it always creates fear.” The truth is any sinner here on earth would fear the presence of a holy God. Even as Christians we will fear because while we may be saved, we are not yet fully sanctified. When faced with God we will fear because we still have sin in our hearts and lives, Hebrews 10:31 tells us: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

But even though it would natural for fallen sinners to fear the presence of a Holy God, God sends word this morning that we are to, “Fear not!” In Hebrews 2:14-15 we read that Jesus came into the world and went to the cross for us so “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery." In Christ we no longer need fear death – nor do we need fear anything that might happen to us in our journey through life on earth. Jesus said: "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart (“Fear not!”); I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The message of Christmas is that Immanuel (“God with us”) has come – and we need not fear death or anything in life because God is sovereign over all things, and His presence is “with us” and within us in the person of Jesus Christ. The Word of God proclaims this truth: "Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will help you; I will strengthen you; I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness . . . Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall wear . . . Cast all your anxieties on God because he cares for you . . . The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life: of whom shall I be afraid? . . . The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?"

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” We need not fear because Jesus came to replace fear with joy. Faith in Christ is about joy. This is more than just the joy of being rescued from the deadly consequences of our sin – but even more so about an abundant joy we can know through a deep, intimate relationship with God in Christ. Jesus said: "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11). This doesn’t mean that everything in life will be joyful, but rather that in the face of struggle, trial and suffering – and even death – we can know a joy in God through Christ is superintends any struggle or trial or suffering or death we are facing. This is what the apostle Paul meant when he told the Philippians and Thessalonians to "Rejoice always, and again I will say rejoice." Always? Yes, always! Even with tears of grief and pain; "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing," Paul would say (2 Corinthians 6:10).

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Prayer for Senior Adults

Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.
Isaiah 46:4

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Immanuel: God is Always With Us

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23)

Excerpt from “The Fulfilled Promise of God” – 2010-12-12
A story is told a grandfather found his grandson jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When little Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up with his little chubby hands and said, "Out, Grampa, out." It was only natural for the grandfather to reach down to lift him out of his predicament, but as he did the mother of the child stepped in and said: "No, Johnnie, you are being punished--so you must stay in." The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and little hands reached deep into his heart. But the mother’s firmness in correcting her son could not be taken lightly. But the grandfather found a way to help his grandson. He could not take the little boy out of the playpen, and so he climbed in with him. That is what God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, did for us at the cross. That is the meaning of Christmas. In leaving heaven for earth God climbed into our punishment for sin “with us.” The Bible says: "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us." C. S. Lewis put it this way: “God became man to enable men to become the sons of God.”

Yet, God was not just “with us” the few years that Jesus walked on this earth. On the night just before he was arrested and nailed to the cross Jesus made the following promise to those who would follow him: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever . . . whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you" (John 14:16-17). God also fulfilled the promise - as God breathed His life-giving Spirit into us at creation, and as He breathed His Holy Spirit into Mary so she would conceive Jesus, so Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into God’s people at Pentecost. Jesus is still “with us” because the Bible tells us that after he was crucified, died, rose from the dead and then ascended into heaven, he sent his Holy Spirit to live within us. God, in Jesus Christ, came to be “with us” by the power the Holy Spirit – and God, in Jesus Christ, is now within us by the presence of the Holy Spirit. What this means is that God is “with us” as this very moment and “with us” forever, because Jesus is “with us” at this very moment and “with us” forever – because the Holy Spirit is within us at this very moment and within us forever.

Jesus promised us it would be so. In Matthew 28:18-20 we read that Jesus said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus Christ is “Immanuel” is “God . . . always . . . with us” – the fulfilled promise of God.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Faithful Providence of God over Our Fallen Sinful Nature

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1)

Excerpt from “The Faithful Providence of God” – 2010-12-05
The very first thing we should notice in this family tree is the emphasis Matthew puts on one person: “Jesus Christ.” This book is not about Matthew, it’s not about Paul or Peter or John or any of the other apostles, or anybody else we read about in the Old or New Testament. It’s about Jesus. All of history is about his-story. Everything that has happened in the past, what takes place today, and what is yet to come, is about God and His plan to send a Savior into the world to rescue us from our sin and restore us back to God – so that all the world would give our most sovereign and supreme and preeminent God the glory that is due Him. God’s faithful providence does so regardless of who we are and what we do.

The reality of all of this is – you and I are here today because God has providentially ordained it be so. The Bible tells us that God created each one of us in His image for the purpose of His glory – which means we all were created to reflect and reveal who God is in all that we say and do. Yet sin has shattered God’s image in us and continues to selfishly divert our hearts and lives away from God and away from His created purposes and plans. That is why Jesus came into the world. By the work of the cross our sins are forgiven, and by the reality of the resurrection we are set free from our selfishness to truly enjoy the fullness of the beauty and power and love and grace and truth of God in all that He is.

You and I are providentially here today because the hunger, the deepest yearning of our hearts is for God – which is a hunger and yearning that has been with us before creation itself. Ephesians 1:3-4: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him." You and I are also providentially here today not only because He has chosen us but also because God has providentially empowered us beyond our sinful nature by His sovereign grace to surrender our hearts and lives to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Ephesians 2:8-10: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

Jesus said: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44). By His faithful providence God has been drawing sinful, fallen people to the purpose and plan of His will from the beginning of time - and through all generations of faithful, flawed, and forgotten sinners up to this very moment. It is God who works in our hearts, both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure, not the flawed hands and hearts of fallen, sinful human beings.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Good News of Great Joy: God's Joy is With Us

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." (Luke 2:10)

Excerpt from “The Good News of Great Joy for All People” – 2010-12-03
The “good news of great joy” is that God has come into the world in human form of Jesus to live with us so we might know the joy of His presence on earth. The Bible tells us that Jesus would be known as “Immanuel” which means: “God with us" (Matthew 1:23). God came to earth in the human form of Jesus to experience life as we know it. He worked, walked and talked; he was hungry and tired; he cried and he laughed; he loved and was loved; he was hated and forgave; he struggled, experienced pain, and died. Jesus knows our experience; he knows how we feel; he has been where we are today. He is with us through hard struggles; he travels with us on the bumpy, painful, dangerous roads. And he promises he will always be with us: “I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).

The “good news of great joy” is that God has sent a Savior into our lives to rescue us and redeem us from our sin so we might know the joy of being restored back to God. The Bible tells us that in the beginning we were created by God in the image of God for a relationship with God. But God’s image in us became warped and our relationship with God was fractured when we sinfully choose to rebel against God and go our own way. Jesus came to pay the price and absorb the consequences of our rebellion so we might once again be restored the relationship with God we were created for. God, in being holy, must punish rebellion with eternal death - and so Jesus went to the cross and took our punishment so we might know eternal life rather than eternal death. This is “good news of great joy.”

The “good news of great joy” is that God sent Jesus to bring joy “to all people.” What “to all people” means is that the “good news of great joy” is for anyone and everyone who opens their hearts and surrenders their lives to Jesus. Jesus came to be with us and Jesus gave us his life for us – so that you and I and “all people” who give their hearts and lives to him will know the “good news of great joy.” In John 15:11 Jesus said: "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full."