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Archive for April, 2009

“Therefore say to the children of Israel:  I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.”  Exodus 6:6

I have heard it said that the Old Testament contains many types and shadows of Christ and the New Covenant.  I always rejoice to come across an Old Testament passage that foretells the New Covenant.  This verse tells us 3 things that the Lord will do for His people:

I will bring you our from under the burden of the Egyptians
I will rescue you from their bondage
I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments

As I read the verse above, it was thrilling to see in it a picture of salvation.

The burden that He brings us out from under is the weight of guilt upon our conscience.  Even those who never think of God, if they are honest, have moments late at night when all is silent when they feel the weight of guilt upon their souls.  The guilt of their sins.  There is a “knowing” that God has put into man through his conscience.  What great efforts men will go to in order to silence this conscience, until it becomes a faint whisper.  Yet Jesus offers to lift this burden of guilt from us.

The bondage He rescues us from is our bondage to sin, self and the world.  Everyone has a different variety of bondage, but all are equally wicked and opposed to God.   Our hardened hearts will tell us that we are not so bad as ___________ (insert name of wicked person here).  And thus we justify ourselves and feel satisfied to remain selfish, sinful and sensual.  Yet Jesus offers a life free from the pursuit of these things.  A life that is focused on an infinitely more glorious pursuit.

The redemption that He provides is forgiveness and righteousness through Jesus Christ.  Oh may the Lord deliver us from thinking that we are good enough.  Never, never, never, no matter how nice, benevolent and selfless I am, can I ever earn heaven based on my own merit.  There does not exist enough human goodness in the entire universe to allow even one of us admittance into heaven.  But praise God, He has made provision for this as well.  Jesus Christ, the perfect One, died for my sin, thus providing forgiveness.  And now I live in the righteousness of His perfect life.

The God who delivered Israel out of Egypt is still a God of deliverance.  And it is a mighty deliverance!!

 

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“And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!”  And they cried out for fear.”  Matthew 14:26

Most of us have some ideas of who God is before we actually come to know Him.  Most of those ideas are wrong and we have to unlearn them.  After becoming a Christian, the remainder of life is a never-ending quest to know Him as He actually is, and to fellowship with Him.  Learning His ways is the adventure of a lifetime.

Now let us return to our verse…..the disciples are in the boat in the midst of stormy seas.  They left Jesus on the shore so they can’t even approach Him to calm the weather.  Imagine their panic as the wind begins to toss the boat to and fro.  All their rowing was in vain as they strained against the storm.

Into this scenario, Jesus comes walking to them on the water. But they didn’t recognize Him.   Of course, standing on top of the water is probably the last place they expected to see Him.  But why not expect Him there?

One of the greatest challenges in my walk with God is being overwhelmed with the pressure and demands of life and losing my focus on God in the details of life.  Often I have lamented the precious moments I have lost with Him because my mind was overly occupied with other things and I missed the moment of His coming.

How many times have I missed Him walking on the water because I’ve been busy rowing?  Or worrying?  Or complaining?  For all the good their rowing did, the disciples’ time would have been better spent looking off into the distance for His coming. 

Mine too.

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No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. Matthew 9:16-17

 

The unshrunk cloth results in a tear, the unaged wine results in a spill. In both cases, something new is added to something old and the results were destructive. That which is new (the new covenant) must be put into that which is new (the new heart, born again by the Spirit).

We live in an age obsessed with self-improvement. We want to put a patch here or there, and just fix up what we already have. “Sure, I’ll take some of that salvation”, and the gospel that is poured in, we cannot contain because we have not been made new by the Spirit. Our self serving religion cracks, the wine spills and the skins are destroyed.

New wine must be put into new wineskins. The gospel is not another self improvement method, adding Jesus to Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura as another good teacher that can help us learn how to live right. We don’t need to be fixed, we need to be made new.

It seems to me that there are only two religions in the world – law and grace. For those under law, whatever form of it they choose to follow, the work never ends. Endless patching needs to be done, which never fails to lead to more tears to be patched. But for those of us who have received grace, we have been made new totally apart from our own efforts.

Grace. What good news!

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About a week before Easter, while making the short trip to visit my parents, I passed by a small church.  The signs outside churches always catch my attention.  I guess because sometimes you run across one that has a thought provoking message.  The sign outside this particular church read as follows:

“For a warm fuzzy feeling, try us.”

No – I’m not joking.

It made me angry.

Is this why we are to look to Jesus?  For a warm fuzzy feeling?  Is that what church is about?  Sometimes I wonder if we just really don’t understand that it’s not all about us and our satisfaction and comfort.  Sometimes God makes me very uncomfortable.  Having our sinful hearts exposed in the presence of a holy God shouldn’t evoke anything remotely resembling warm or fuzzy.

To give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they were referring to the feeling of knowing that you are reconciled to God.  But to call that a warm fuzzy feeling is a gross understatement.  It is the deepest source of abiding joy and peace that is available to man.

Maybe I am being fault-finding.  I guess the predominance of so much fluff in our churches has made me extra sensitive to this sort of thing.  I cannot get away from the feeling that things are not as they should be in our churches.

Oh God, please restore the fear of the Lord to Your church in America and a deep reverence for Your holiness.

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As I continue to study through Philippians I find that there are several repeated themes.  Today I found emptying.

Regarding the Lord Jesus, we read that He “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”  Philippians 2:7

Later in the same chapter the apostle Paul tells the Philippians “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.”

That phrase “poured out” reminded me of emptied.  Here, as in many other letters of Paul, we see him following the example of Christ.  Jesus emptied himself for us, so Paul is willing to be emptied, poured out, for the Philippians.

By nature we don’t like to be empty.  We like to be full.  And not all fullness is wrong.  We should be full of love, full of mercy, full of joy.  But in all our fullness, we should be seeking to empty it on others.  Rather than being content in a comfortable, leisurely life, wouldn’t it be more Christlike to seek to serve and give? 

Are we willing to be emptied for others that Jesus might be glorified in their lives?   Are we willing to take the time necessary to invest in the lives of others to see Christ formed in them?

Paul thought of that day when he would stand before Christ, and it was important to him that he be able to present the churches without blemish, as his labor of love for Christ.  Paul said that he would gladly pour out his life that the Philippians might be presented as a pleasing offering on that day. 

My prayer is that we likewise would be willing to be poured out for Jesus and for others.

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Supremely precious

(John Fawcett, “Christ Precious”)

“Yes, He is very precious to you who believe!”  1 Peter 2:7

If Christ is truly precious to us–we shall prefer Him above every other object; He will have the chief place in our affections. The love which a Christian has to his Savior, penetrates and possesses his heart. This distinguishes it from the pretended love of hypocrites, which is only in word, or in some external actions, while their hearts are full of sinful self-love; so that it may be said of them, “This people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.”

We may possibly delight in some objects of an inferior nature, as they contribute to our health, our ease, or our comfort. Our homes, our food, and our other temporal enjoyments are dear to us, because they minister to our comfort and convenience in the present life. But true love for Christ, does not allow any other object to hold the chief place in the heart. This chief place is for Jesus, whom we ought to love with supreme ardor. The choicest affections of our souls ought to be supremely fixed upon Him.

As it is impossible for any man to love an unknown object–so it cannot be expected that Christ should be supremely precious unto us, unless we know Him to be excellent and desirable, beyond whatever may be compared with Him. We shall not esteem Him above all things–if we have not elevated views of His transcendent worth. Our esteem of Him rises in proportion to the knowledge we have of Him. Godly men therefore ardently desire to increase in the knowledge of Him–that their affections may be more intensely fixed upon Him.

That love, which has but created things for its object, is degrading to the soul. It is a cleaving to that which can neither give happiness to our souls, nor repose to our minds. For to love any object ardently, is to seek our felicity in it, and to expect that it will answer our desires. It is to call upon it to fill that deep void which we feel in ourselves, and to imagine that it is capable of giving us the satisfaction we seek. It is to regard it as the resource of all our needs, the remedy of all the troubles which oppress us, and the source of all our happiness. Now, as it is God alone in whom we can find all these advantages, it is a debasing of the soul, it is idolatry to seek them in created objects! “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ!” Philippians 3:8

If Christ is truly precious to us–we shall be induced to devote our souls and our bodies, our talents, our abilities and our faculties–as a living sacrifice to Him. To contemplate His adorable perfections will be our highest joy. We shall be ready to obey Him–in opposition to all the threats and the solicitations of men. We shall rely upon Him, though all outward appearances seem to be against us. We shall rejoice in Him, though we have nothing else to comfort us. If we enjoy health and plenty, friends and reputation, the Lord is still the object of our earnest desires and our supreme delight. “Whom have I in heaven but you? There is none upon earth that I desire besides you! As the deer pants for the water-brooks, so longs my soul after you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God!”

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“Therefore, do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.”  Hebrews 10:35

The writer of Hebrews has spent the first 10 chapters extolling the greatness of Christ as High Priest and the eternal sufficiency of His sacrifice for sin.  He contrasts that with the Jewish sacrificial system instituted by God through Moses, which required repeated sacrifices, year after year.  

I have tried to imagine what it would be like to have one day during the year when atonement was made for sins, and the rest of the year to feel the burden of them on my conscience.  What a heavy weight that must have been.  But here we read that Christ has “perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (10:14).  His work on Calvary was a complete work, and at the very moment of my salvation, I stand perfect (through Christ) before God.  Even though there are many, many things that God will change in me from that day until the day of my death, I can “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having my heart sprinkled from an evil conscience…” (10:22).

I have never before grasped the impact such a reality would have had upon the Jewish people who turned to Christ.  No more waiting for the Day of Atonement when only the high priest could go into the holy of holies.  Now they lived in the freedom of the Day of Atonement everyday.

This was a tremendously important thing for the Jewish Christians to understand, and especially as they were experiencing persecution for their faith, as the later part of chapter 10 seems to indicate.

It must have been difficult for the early Jewish Christians to have been ostracized and excluded from the religious community that they had grown up with and that had been such an important part of their lives.  Now they were excluded, hated and persecuted.  It would have been tempting for them to try to incorporate Christ into their Judaism. 

But as the writer of Hebrews exhorts them to endure, he does so by reminding them of the wonderfully complete work of their new High Priest and the better things they have in Jesus Christ.

How thrilling to realize that the work has been done.  So we can have confidence in the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ, forever completed on Calvary.

It is finished.

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