God Knew Me When

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…’” (Genesis 1:26). Is there really anything left to be said? As Christians, I don’t suppose we should expect those who do not believe in God or the creation account to accept the authority of Genesis 1:26, but we should expect more from ourselves. Psalm 139 is a powerful passage of Scripture that speaks to the issue of human life. Specifically, verse 13 speaks of God’s involvement in the development of an unborn child. “In the beginning…” Humanity began because of God, and of all that He created, His creation of man was the crowning jewel. Because God created everything, including humans, everything belongs and is subject to Him. But of all that God created, His relationship to humans is a special one, as it is only human beings that bear His image.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” David recognized that God’s interest in him came even before he was born. Psalm 139:13 is certainly not the only verse of Scripture that recognizes the personhood of a fetus. David also wrote, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Luke records that John the Baptist, while still in his mother, Elizabeth’s womb, “leaped for joy” when Mary greeted her (Luke 1:44). God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).

God’s activities in our lives don’t just begin at birth. I know as Christians, most of us realize that, but consider where the abortion debate has gone in recent years. While there are certainly Christians who have spoken out and held firmly to God’s Word regarding this issue, others have not, allowing this debate to be parsed around the issue of rape or incest. Admittedly, these are difficult circumstances, but far more often, convenience is what dictates the decision to have an abortion. Since when does rape or incest change the authority and the truth of Genesis 1:26? It doesn’t. Just because a child is conceived in sin doesn’t change whether or not that child is made in the image of God. The unborn child deserves the same right to life as anyone else. Believe that God can bring about “good” even in those things that we’re incapable of seeing how anything “good” might come. God will bless our honoring Him on the matter of abortion. We just have to be willing to stand up and testify to the truth of His Word. If we as Christians refuse to, then who will? Our belief in the absolute authority of Scripture is a must. Not doing so only widens the divide between our will and God’s. For those who have thought or think differently on this matter, like all sin, God’s grace covers this one. Look to God’s Word for clarity, open your heart to His. His will is clear. And then ask yourself, “Do I want to be at odds with that”? I pray you’ll answer, “No”.

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Old to New

“…seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10)

Paul’s letters always contained both a theological and practical component to them. After correcting their misplaced theology about Christ, Paul dealt in a very practical manner with those in the church at Colossae. For some, the practices of their lives before they were saved were still present. Paul challenged them to bring these practices in line with their new identity in Christ.

As we prepare for the New Year and look forward to what lies ahead, I guess it’s only natural to think back on the one that’s ending. Doing so may bring joy, perhaps sadness, or maybe a little bit of both. I imagine it also comes with a certain amount of regret. There are always things we wish we had done and said that we didn’t, and things we did and said that we wish we hadn’t. The truth is, we are all sinners and from year to year, sin will be a constant companion. But in His grace and mercy, through Jesus, God has dealt with our sin.

The Christian life is a process, not a process in the sense that we are progressively being saved over time. We are saved the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian life is a process in the sense that over time, we become more and more like Christ. This is known as progressive sanctification.

In this life we will always be less than perfect, but we have a Savior who is perfect. And although our conformity to the image of Christ will not end until we go to be with the Lord, our guilt does. This doesn’t mean we are to make light of sin. Paul didn’t in writing to the Colossians or anyone else. All sin matters to God. He is a holy God and He calls us to be holy as well (1 Peter 1:15). But often is the case that instead of letting our failures of the past instruct us moving forward, we end up consumed with guilt. This is not God’s intention, as it denies the perfect sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Though we live the consequences of our sin, its penalty was paid at the cross.

So, when you look to this upcoming year, look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Thank Him for His forgiveness. Thank Him for His faithfulness. Thank Him for His grace. Thank Him for His mercy. Embrace all He has for your life. Realize that He’s more interested in your present and future than He is your past. But most of all, remember, there’s no one who loves you like He loves you.

That I May Gain Christ

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8)

The apostle Paul had plenty of reasons to have confidence in the flesh. He says as much, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6). Paul was going places. Having everything seemingly required for advancement, it’s no telling where his Jewish pedigree might have taken him. But everything had changed on that road to Damascus, and when we find Paul writing in Philippians, his priorities had long ago shifted. No longer was his chief concern on how to keep the law, but instead on proclaiming that righteousness came only by faith, that Christ fulfilled the laws demands on the cross.

I imagine there were many spoils that went along with being such a prominent person in the Jewish community; power, prestige, opportunity and praise. But once changed by the gospel, what Paul once would have looked forward to and considered gain, he now counted as loss for the sake of knowing Christ. “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses himself?” (Luke 9:25) The gospel demands our allegiance. Ours is a call to follow Christ above all things. It may be hard given the spoils this world offers. It may be hard having to forgo power, prestige, opportunity and praise, but in the end, to forsake Christ for those things, or for that matter, anything, will never be worth it. Remember, Jesus is better!

When Jesus Moves In, Prejudice Can’t Stay

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14)

The gospel has implications. We should expect that it would, but we are a stubborn people, set in our ways, molded by our upbringing and influenced by our surroundings. It has always been that way. Acts 11:1-18 tells the story of when the apostle Peter defended his acceptance of the Gentiles. The Jews and Gentiles had long been at odds and some of his fellow Jews found it repulsive that Peter would associate with them. They had put up walls between themselves and the Gentiles, believing Gentiles must follow Jewish traditions to be accepted. We know the dislike went both ways. The Bible expresses clearly the unity that exist in Christ. Ephesians 2:14-16 makes the point that in Christ, the Jews and Gentiles are no longer two distinct people, but one.

Our encounter with Scripture should always lead to application in our lives. We must see the walls (the barriers) that exist in our day to day lives as it relates to others who are different than we are. One of those areas is undoubtedly race. It’s hard to deny the racial divide that exists in our nation. The truth is, to some degree prejudice exists in us all. Unfortunately, there are people on all sides who propagate it for both personal and political gain, making it even worse. Fortunately though, we have a God who is not like us. When God looks at us, He doesn’t see color, He sees people, people created in His image, people tainted by sin, and people equally in need of His mercy and grace. God accepts all who come in faith. Salvation is for anyone who believes in the name of Jesus. We would not only do well to see others as Christ sees them, but we would honor God in doing so, while at the same time, give testimony to His work in our lives.

Let us ask the Lord to tear down the walls of prejudice in our own lives. The simple truth is, the more we see of Jesus, the less we’ll see of color, and for that matter, any other thing that makes us different. In Christ we are one! Let our relationship with Jesus be the one that unites us. Let His voice drown out the voices of division, no matter where they come from. Let our lives be challenged by the gospel, and let our hearts be open to His refining work. We might not readily recognize it as such, but part of God’s grace is the Holy Spirit confronting us in the deepest recesses of our hearts and shining the light that exposes our sin. Let our prayer be that God would do that continually and convict us when we dare see anyone any other way than how He does. Let our prayer be like that of the psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Deathbed Conversions

“And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he [Jesus] said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:42-43)

Sometimes we hear of conversions at the end of a person’s life and question their validity. This is particularly the case when that person has done horrible things and are now facing the consequences of their actions. We think that perhaps they’re looking for sympathy for having to suffer those consequences, maybe even hoping with enough sympathy they may even avoid the ultimate consequence, death itself. I guess it’s hard to know for sure if to claim Christ in that moment was genuine or not. Quite frankly, I find myself a little skeptical when I hear stories like this. Perhaps I shouldn’t because the truth is, we have no idea what means God may use to save a soul. And the story of the thief on the cross, I believe, illustrates that very point.

The gospel of Luke gives us the greatest detail about the crucifixion of Jesus. It is also the only gospel account that specifically tells of His interaction with the thief that hung beside Him. Jesus was crucified between two criminals. As people passed by, they mocked and railed against Jesus. One of the criminals joined in “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). Jesus didn’t respond, but the other criminal rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41). He then turned to Jesus and said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus’ responded saying “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

What an amazing story of God’s grace. There’s so much we can learn from the story of the thief on the cross. The first is how gracious God is in spite of our sin. In the case of the thief on the cross, most likely, a lifetime of sin. Salvation for this man was Jesus’ gracious gift to him. It was free. His sins were forgiven because the One hanging next to him was bearing the penalty for it at that very moment. The second lesson is that we don’t have to have lived a perfect life to be saved. We can’t. For the thief on the cross, it was nothing more than a simple expression of faith at the end of his life. A final lesson from the story of the thief on the cross is that we should never give up on sharing the gospel. Just as God has ordained who will be saved, He has also ordained the means and the time of salvation. It was the reality of impending death that proved to be the event God used to save the thief on the cross. God’s timing is always perfect. Let’s not presume to know who is beyond His grace. Just be thankful that Christ has paid the penalty for your sin. Salvation doesn’t rest on a lifetime of goodness, but comes only by grace through faith in Christ. Let this be an encouragement to share that truth with those whose lives seem contrary to deserving the grace our God gives.

All Things in His Hands

“He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding” (Daniel 2:21)

I love politics. I especially love it around the time of major national elections. I must admit though that I sometimes think I pin my hopes for the future on who wins. Sure, there are consequences that result from the outcome of elections, but at the end of the day, there are much greater things at stake. This doesn’t mean that as Christians we are not to participate in the political process. We are. In fact, the Bible speaks directly about how the Christian community is to engage with government. It also speaks to the appropriate role of government (Romans 13:1-7). Too often, neither the government nor us as Christians live up to that role.

The primary theme of the book of Daniel is God’s sovereignty over history. God’s sovereignty is, in fact, made clear throughout the Bible. Government was instituted by God. As such, just as all things do, government and those who hold high office in it, do so only at His will. The struggles that exist today within governments will one day end with the LORD’s reign. His reign will be the last.

Recognition of God’s sovereignty over all things should never be mistaken as a call for passivity on the part of Christians. We are to be active in the political process and we should always let God’s will expressed in His Word guide our decisions. We can take great comfort, however, in knowing that our hope for the future is not determined by which political party control Congress. It does not lie in a President Obama, a President Trump, Sanders or Clinton. Our hope is found only in a Savior named Jesus Christ and our eternal futures are tied only to what we believe about Him. In this and all political seasons, I need to trust that truth more. Our God is sovereign, our God is faithful and for those who love Him, He works ALL things together for our good, and most importantly, for His glory. Lord, let that penetrate our souls in a greater way.

Cornerstone

“therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: Whoever believes will not be in haste’” (Isaiah 28:16)

The New Year always seems to be an appropriate time to reassess the past and perhaps reorder our priorities. It just seems the right time to consider necessary changes as we move forward into the future. The first Sunday of the New Year, our pastor taught from the beginning verses of Isaiah 41. I’m not sure whether the passage was chosen specifically for the first Sunday, but it was certainly an appropriate one. In his sermon, he encouraged us to know and experience both the greatness of God and His presence in our lives. One of the primary passages in the text was Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”. In this same service we sang several songs whose themes aligned with what was taught. One of the songs was Cornerstone, a remake of an old hymn written in 1834, known today as “The Solid Rock”. The song has an updated chorus that was written and recorded by several members of the worship group Hillsong, and was born out of a mass shooting that took place in Norway in 2011. In an interview about what inspired the song, one of the co-writers indicated that circumstances such as this shooting are reminders that when everything appears to be shaken and nothing seems to make sense, we really need to put our faith in Jesus, the Cornerstone.

In ancient building practices, a cornerstone was the large stone that served as the foundation for the entire structure. It was a special piece that needed to be perfectly set. In a figurative sense, a cornerstone is the thing we build our life around. It is what we value the most. It is what we prioritize. It is what we say “no” to other things for because we have said “yes” to it, and of course, it is what we stand on in times of uncertainty. When speaking about the Lord, we find the image of a stone or rock used in both the Old and New Testaments. The point of Isaiah 28:16 is that God has established a sure foundation for His people, a sure foundation that the Old Testament points to and the New Testament reveals. This sure foundation is Jesus Christ. Peter referred to Christ as a “living stone” as He is both the source and giver of eternal life. Those who trusted in Him he called “living stones” (1 Peter 2:4-5). For those who rejected His Word, Jesus became a stone of stumbling (1 Peter 2:8). He is a stone of stumbling for those who reject Him today.

As years pass, the pace at which they go seems only to increase. That begs the question, not because it’s the New Year, but because the answer has eternal consequences. Is Christ your cornerstone? Have you put your trust in Him? Is He your priority? Is He the “rock” upon which you stand? Maybe this is the year to make some changes and put Jesus in His rightful place. In this New Year, why not try standing on the solid rock of Christ, because the truth is, all other ground really is just sinking sand.