Archive for November, 2013

RENOVATE: Week 9

This week we shall consider an unbelievably sobering event taken out of the Book of Ezekiel from the November 23rd reading in our devotional Bible. God informs Ezekiel, “Son of man, behold, I am about to take from you the desire of your eyes with a blow; but you shall not mourn, and you shall not weep, and your tears shall not come.” (Ezekiel 24:16, NASB)

When God’s pronouncement came to pass, the people of Israel reacted with confusion and hostility after Ezekiel’s wife died (24:19). God instructed the prophet not to mourn; no lamenting, weeping or shedding of tears. Obviously, the people noticed Ezekiel’s lack of public grief. They asked him why he didn’t mourn openly over the loss of someone he had noticeably loved so deeply. This, of course, was the response God wanted. Ezekiel explained how his situation foreshadowed theirs. Because the Israelites had forsaken God, the temple (their symbol of national pride) would be destroyed. Naturally, they would want to grieve; yet, as exiles, would not be able to do so.

I cannot fathom such an unbearable assignment. Ezekiel was to function as a human object lesson at the time of the loss of his wife, “the desire of [his] eyes” (Ezekiel 24:16). One can sense the immense weight upon his soul by his cold, numb, and short proclamation, “…in the morning I did as I was commanded” (24:18). Sin had taken God’s people to such a depth, that only this; a picture of the most devastating pain, would get through to their callous hearts.

The temple, once a symbol of the greatness of a people and the centerpiece of the presence of a God who loved them so, would be decimated. Those who assumed that an object of such significance would always be present were gravely mistaken.

What does such a shocking and breathtaking scripture passage say to us today? Do we think of ourselves so highly that we assume things will always be the way they are at present; as if we deserve the things we hold so dear? Do we live our lives in such a way that we disregard the providential hand of God actively guiding and guarding us as we move throughout our days? Do we act as if God does not exist; as if we are the masters of our own universe while breathing the very air He provides without even giving a thought to the reality that eminent death would befall us were He to remove it? Have the things God provides taken precedence over the God who provides those things? Do we engage in activity we know we should not, assuming God’s discipline would never be applied to our lives?

The lesson is crystal clear; the Israelites saw their significance in the temple of their God and had lost the perspective that the “delight of their eyes” was actually supposed to be the God of that temple. Ease had caused them to drift away from the preeminent necessity of God and His truth and they had pursued other gods. Are we guilty of the same mistake? Have other “gods” taken pre-eminence in our eyes? Is our security in our relationships with others; jobs; bank accounts; social status; homes; cars; entertainment?

These words demand serious self-reflection. Are we placing ultimate confidence in something other than the grace and care of God? We must be reminded that God is the only true constant in the universe He has made.

In Christ,
Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 8

This week, I would like to explore a bit further the topic we dealt with in the previous devotion. As the basis of discussion, consider what Jesus’ brother James says in his letter taken from the November 21st reading in our devotional Bible.

But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18, NASB)

Biblical faith is a miraculous gift from God rooted in its object, Jesus Christ. It is the effective cause of justification (or the declaration by God of freedom from the penalty of sin for believers in Jesus’ substitutionary life, death, and resurrection on their behalf). Yet, not only are those believers declared righteous by faith; they must also live each day by faith, trusting God to lead them and help them as they pursue His righteousness. Therefore, stated differently, followers of Jesus are as dependent on God for the faith to obey as they are for the faith to believe. In fact, the two go hand in glove. Only those who are given the faith to believe will have the faith to obey. Thus, the demonstration of faith to obey reveals the presence of faith to believe.

We see this clearly in the epistle of James contending that “faith without works is dead.” What does he mean by this peculiar phrase? Are Christians in some way saved by personal effort plus Christ’s work of redemption? No. James is simply making the point that true faith for salvation will produce growth in righteousness (or the believer’s ongoing conformity to Christ), which displays itself outwardly as actions that fulfill God’s mandates. James makes the point that it is not enough to claim to believe in God. Even demons can say that. We are admonished by the earthly brother of the Savior that such a claim will be backed up by actions. He underscores this with the statement, “I will show you my faith by my works.” He is saying that the way he lives proves he has faith in God; false piety of unmoved concern and an empty familiarity with God’s existence is no saving faith at all.

Incidentally, there is much confusion over James’ assertion that “a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone (2:24).” The Apostle Paul seems to disagree, saying that works play no role in salvation (Gal. 2:16). However, Paul is simply saying that nothing a follower of Jesus does contributes to salvation; it is only by the faith God provides. But when He gives faith and an individual is saved, there will be evidence of it; which is James’ point.

Paul declares, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Col. 2:6, NASB). Trust in God is a requirement not just for the new birth but for joyful growth in your Christian life.

If you are a Jesus follower, think back over your life in Christ. What motivates you now that had no significance in your pre-Jesus existence? What things do you actually do now because of your faith in Christ? What things do you not do that you used to? In what areas of your life has Christ called you to an even deeper obedience? Are you resisting obedience to Christ in some areas? Remember, not only are you saved by faith; you also obey by faith!

In Christ,
Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 7

From the November 14th reading in our devotional Bible, ponder what the writer of Hebrews says about faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, NASB) He continues, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” (Hebrews 11:3, NASB) Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he instructs us, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6, NASB)

When we truly contemplate our very existence, we come to understand that the underlying principle of all life, whether acknowledged or not, is faith. We all live by it. Even the most vehement atheist (one who would deny any possibility of the supernatural; seeing only natural, material causes at the base of reality) lives by faith. Such a person may not call it faith, yet they exercise it in science, elevators they step onto, cars they drive, planes they fly on, restaurants they eat in, individuals they “trust,” doctors they visit, the list goes on ad infinitum. Again, we all do.

A deeper reflection on the subject will reveal a vast difference between general “faith” and a faith that leads to ultimate meaning in the discovery of being “alive.” What makes the difference? It is not found in the exercise of “faith” itself; but in the object of that faith.

Consider for a moment, since we are approaching Thanksgiving, a massive feast prepared by Martha Stewart or your humble author (…who is doing well when he doesn’t burn a hamburger patty on the grill!); to whom would you prefer to put your “faith in” to cook your savory holiday meal (…not to mention the possibility of contracting a food-borne illness!)? You might “believe in me” with the utmost sincerity. However, I can assure you that to do so would be unwise. Very quickly it becomes crystal clear that the issue is not so much the exercise of faith, but its object; and in this we are only dealing with one meal! Apply the principle to every facet of your daily living.

The majority of life consists of “things not seen.” Not even the assurance that we will be here tomorrow can be known. So many questions, so much fear; how is one able to stand in the midst of such a tempest? While many things may remain elusive, the Bible presents a God who was willing to condescend to us by putting on flesh, dwelling in and being tempted by a fallen and sinful world He Himself living without sin, dying in our place as punishment for our sin, buried in a grave with that sin and everything that accompanies it (especially death), and rising again to defeat sin and death in victory. The Apostle John, in his gospel, calls Him the Word who was with God and was God in the beginning. Here in Hebrews, we are told God prepared the universe through the “Word” of His command by things that were not visible. Then we are advised that without faith… in what? …an object of unprecedented stability; far greater than any circumstance that might come our way, far wiser than our ability to reason and decipher pathways of living we might trod, far more engaged in the moments of our days than a blind and pitiless atom driven existence, far more loving as a concerned Father than an unknowable fate, One who we are told orchestrates the end from the beginning for His ultimate glory and toward our good. How is such a “faith” exercised? It must first be understood that “He is” and then that those who know Him reap the benefits that correspond to that relationship. Without faith in this most fundamental aspect of the universe in which we reside, it is impossible to please (meaning to arrest the wrath that abides on us because of our willful disobedience regarding His directives) the One who spoke everything into existence; the One who is the very object of our faith; the One who reigns supremely above and beyond the creation He has made; the One who the writer of Hebrews calls “the author and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:2, NASB)

Many years ago I came across a concise definition for Biblical faith and whenever I am plagued with doubt, I find it extremely helpful. “Faith is the ability to hear the music of the future and the courage to dance to it in the present.” (author unknown) When we consider the Word of God and we trust it, even though its outcome may not be presently visible; nevertheless, we live as if it were, then we are engaging in the practice of Biblical faith.

I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I know the One who does!

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 6

Today I will reflect on two almost indistinguishable verses taken from chapters 49 and 50 of Jeremiah found in this week’s reading.  The first, from Jeremiah 49:19, is in regard to Edom.  The second is referring to Babylon and is found in Jeremiah 50:44. Both read, “Behold, one will come up like a lion from the thickets of the Jordan against a perennially watered pasture (in reference to Edom’s land/Babylon’s land); for in an instant I shall make him (Edom/Babylon) run away from it, and whoever is chosen I shall appoint over it. For who is like Me, and who will summon Me into court? And who then is the shepherd who can stand against Me?” (NASB, emphasis mine)

Thinking even more broadly than these verses, consider what has been stated in their context from Jeremiah chapter 39:1 through chapter 52:16 (the Old Testament readings from November 1st through November 7th in our devotional Bible). The act of God’s sovereign judgments on nations is absolutely stunning. His declarations of destruction at the hand of other nations, who in turn receive their own pronouncements of demise is dreadfully breathtaking! One peruses such writing with an initial perception that God is the puppeteer and the nations themselves marionettes on a string. Certainly the verses chosen for this devotion would seem to support this perception, especially when scanning the words in reference to God, “I shall appoint” nations that leave their land and kings that conquer said land. Is this fair? Can God hold people accountable for something He seems to be directing? Who can resist His will? Are the individuals in these nations actually responsible for their wrong behavior against God’s wishes when He seems to be pulling the strings?

Perplexing questions no doubt, but before we “summon Him into court;” let us be cautious. It is unequivocally true that God reigns supreme over His universe or else He could not be God. Nevertheless, a deeper evaluation of this concept can lead to some eye-opening discoveries. The key to unlocking the mystery is found in a proper understanding of the nature of humanity and the Nature of God. Because the mind of man was corrupted in sin by the fall, which is recorded in Genesis; mankind is forever putting himself in the place of God. He assumes qualities that do not belong to him and demands fairness out of arrogance. Make no mistake; because of sin, fairness leads humanity to assured destruction, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3:23, NASB). There is only one Creator and one creation, of which mankind is a part. God is just and, as a Righteous Judge, He does see that fairness is applied to humanity, yet within that devastating conclusion He also interposes mercy.

Inside the great mystery of God’s sovereignty remains the potential operation of the will of men and women. A sound study of the nations mentioned by the Prophet Jeremiah will yield that they were simply acting out of their own desires and not being coerced by an external power. For example, consider God’s words of warning relating to the Israelites in Jeremiah 42 and following. Through the prophet, He explicitly forbids their flight to Egypt; yet in their arrogance of preference, they nonetheless go to their own destruction and that of the Egyptians. The big picture accomplishes God’s ultimate purpose somehow allowing the free, wrong choices of a people to operate underneath His supreme will. God exercises discipline in order to shape humanity, lead them to His mercy, and exemplify His eternal glory.

“What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.” (Rom. 9:22-24, NASB) In addition to that, The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1 that God has clearly made Himself seen in all that He has made, therefore mankind is without excuse to reject Him. Yet, in an act of His mercy some do conform to His will and, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, are put back rightly into a standing reflecting mankind before the fall.

Are you and I nothing more than a puppet on a string? Or could it be that the string is the result of sin and in the grace and mercy of a Loving Creator, it can be removed by a Remarkable Savior resulting in our freedom to love the Giver of Life rather than envying His eternal position; harmonizing with His perfect will. With that in mind, while many things in life may now seem incomprehensible and tragic, the follower of such a God can rest in His ultimate, sovereign plan.

In Christ,

Pastor Rob