When Heaven Looked Away

And at about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Scripture records seven statements Jesus made from the cross. All of them speak volumes about the character of Christ. But of the seven, one of the most mind-blowing to me is Jesus’ statement recorded in Matthew 27:46, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” On the cross, God abandoned Jesus as He bore the wrath for sin. Isaiah 53:10 tells us that “it was the will of the LORD to crush him”. Wouldn’t it seem like God the Father might choose a way of salvation different than that? What Father would give His Son for undeserving sinners such as us? What Son would agree to submit to the Father’s will and die for those same people? But that’s what God willed and that’s what Jesus did.

Though it may seem confounding in many ways, the fact that Jesus willingly bore the weight of our sin teaches us a great deal. It teaches us about the holiness of God, the just judgment sin deserves and the payment it requires. It teaches us that our sin runs deep, but that God’s grace runs deeper.

There’s a worship song written and sung by Kari Jobe called Forever. In fact, the title of this devotion was taken from a portion the lyrics. The song’s flow takes the listener from the humiliation of Christ on the cross, to His defeat over sin and death, to the worship that will one day take place in heaven— from the crucifixion and resurrection account recorded in the Gospels to the worship described in Revelation. It’s a great song. We sing it from time to time at church. One of the things I’ve learned being in choir is that whenever there’s a break in our singing during a song, it’s there for a purpose. Its purpose is to allow time to reflect on what we have been singing and to respond accordingly. The times we have sung Forever at church, there has been such a time, a time to reflect on the words of this song and respond to all God has done on our behalf, to respond to the love He has shown us.

Thankfully, Jesus’ abandonment by the Father as He bore the wrath for sin was only temporary. When Jesus said “It is finished” it signified sin’s payment was complete (John 19:30). Three days later the stoned was rolled away from the tomb. Death had been defeated. Jesus was no longer in the grave. He now sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding on our behalf. What a great truth told in a song. The mercy and grace God has shown in order to save us is amazing. And that the Son would willingly pay the price to secure that salvation is a love unparalleled. Our only response, not just today, but one day in an even greater way, is for us to sing “Hallelujah”. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12).

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I Have Decided

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37-38)

I love music, all kinds of music. I especially love knowing the story behind songs because it gives me a fresh perspective and a greater appreciation for that particular song. In their book Living Among Lions, David and Jason Benham tell the story behind the hymn I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. If the title sounds familiar it might be because there’s a popular Christian song entitled Christ is Enough that borrows a portion of its lyrics from I Have Decided…. We sing this song at church and I listen to it often on iTunes. I’ve always appreciated the lyrics of this song, but until reading the Benham brothers book, I had never heard the story behind them.

The story behind I Have Decided to Follow Jesus began with a family of four who lived in the Indian province of Assam. They had professed faith in Christ and were subsequently baptized by a Welsh missionary in the 1880’s. As one might imagine, their profession brought about intense persecution. The leaders in their village arrested the family, demanding the father renounce Christ. He refused their demand saying, “I have decided to follow Jesus, and there is no turning back.” His two children were then killed right in front of him. He still refused to renounce Jesus saying, “The world can be behind me, but the cross is still before me.” Then they killed his wife. Still no renunciation. “Though no one is here to go with me, still I will follow Jesus” was his response. The village leaders then killed him. According to the Welsh missionary, when he returned to the village some time later, revival had broken out and he came to find out that those who had murdered the family had themselves come to faith in Christ. He passed this story along to a prominent Indian evangelist named Sandhu Sundar who then made this man’s dying words into a great hymn.

Scripture leaves no doubt as to where our allegiance as believers must lie−with Jesus. Jesus’ own words make that abundantly clear (Luke 14:25-33, Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 16:24-28). At first glance, the level of commitment these verses communicate might seem a bit unrealistic, but not only is it not unrealistic, this level of commitment is what’s expected. Our love and commitment to Christ must be unrivaled. Everything must take its place behind Jesus. And when it does, persecution may, and most likely will come. As disciples, we must be willing to count the cost. It’s not that we wish for the persecution, and it’s not that it will be anyway near as intense as this family underwent. It’s that in whatever form it comes, and however intense it may be, we focus on Christ and His promise to be with us in the midst of it. It was the Holy Spirit alone that enabled this father to not renounce Christ. It will be the Holy Spirit that will see you through whatever persecution results from your commitment to Christ as well.

So, are you willing to count the cost? Have you decided to follow Jesus? Have you resolved to not turn back? If not, grab hold of Jesus. If you have, just hang on. Trust that He is always with you, that His promises are true, that He is enough, and that yes, His grace is always sufficient. “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back. The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back, no turning back.”

As Christ Loved the Church

IMG_1078 (3)“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25) 

Today, Karen and I celebrate 25 years of marriage. I first met Karen in high school. She was a junior and I was a senior. We dated for a few months before going our separate ways. Who would’ve known that 10 years later we would be married? I can say with certainty that at the point in which we were married, both personally and in marriage, I had a different set of priorities than I do now. It’s not that those priorities were necessarily bad. They just weren’t the best because they weren’t centered on a relationship with Christ. In fact, I didn’t have a saving relationship with Christ and for a long time my priorities remained elsewhere. It is impossible for a man to lead his family in the way God would have him when his own life is not centered on Jesus Christ. Thankfully, in God’s perfect timing and only by His grace, our marriage has a different center. My prayer is that it will always remain that way.

There’s no human covenant more important than the covenant of marriage. It is also a covenant in need of an extra measure of God’s grace. Outside of grace that comes in salvation, I don’t know where it’s needed more. This is true for several of reasons: First, marriage is constantly under attack because of what it pictures. The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:32 that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Secondly, marriage is made more difficult due to the closeness of the relationship. Is there anyone more uniquely qualified to point out your faults than your spouse? I doubt it! No matter where any of us may be in our walk with Christ, marriage is tough. It’s not tough because it’s marriage, it’s tough because marriage involves two imperfect people prone to sin. As humans, we often take God’s Word and remind others what they should be doing, all the while ignoring what God may be speaking to us about. I believe this tendency is even greater when it comes to our spouses. Husbands, God’s command is clear. Our wives needs, as He defines them are to be our goal. We are to love her sacrificially, just as Christ loved the church. This command is not conditional on her response.

I know it’s impossible to love Karen, my bride, as Christ loves His. But that doesn’t lessen His expectation that I do so. Therefore, it shouldn’t lessen mine. This means I’m left to rely on God’s strength instead of my own, because in my own I will fail. I have failed. For any marriage to be as God designed it to be requires that our relationship with Him be the one we treasure most. A relationship with Christ has the power to change all others.

I’m thankful for God’s grace for my past failures in loving Karen as He would have me love her. I know I’ll need more grace along the way. I thank God for Karen. The years have gone fast. Like all marriages, ours has been far from perfect, but I am so thankful she’s my wife. After 25 years, she’s more beautiful than ever. I can’t imagine life without her and wouldn’t want to try. Happy anniversary sweetie! I love you!

Obedience from the Heart

“But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17)

Part of the Apostle Paul’s ministry was to ensure believers had a proper perspective about the gospel of grace. There were converts to the Christian faith that held on to the Law, believing salvation required something more than the blood of Christ. On the other hand, there were some who thought the gospel Paul preached (the gospel of grace) meant that obedience was optional. Paul addressed both of these issues in Romans. In Romans 7, he addressed those who thought they needed to add to what Christ had done on the cross. In Romans 6, he addressed those who thought grace was a license to sin. Before Christ we were all slaves to sin, but with Christ in us, we are now slaves to righteousness, committed to a new lifestyle that grace produces and the Holy Spirit enables.

Obedience to God’s will is our “thank you” for His grace. It’s not how we earn salvation or make God love us more, it’s a genuine desire of the heart that results from salvation. Though we never obey perfectly, obedience to the will of God should be our greatest goal. God’s will is laid out in His Word. It’s through the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit speaks it into our lives. The Bible doesn’t hide the fact that we still sin, but it also doesn’t hide the truth that the essence of genuine belief is a pattern of life that desires to obey God in all things. Let us seek God in His Word each day. And let us pray that His will would always be our hearts desire.

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”.

Gracious and Seasoned with Salt

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6) 

It’s no secret as to how Christians are to engage an unbelieving world. Having received grace, grace should always be the manner in which we approach anyone with the good news of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul was a staunch defender of the gospel. As a result, he had plenty of opposition. There were many false teachers who tried to corrupt, even in very subtle ways, the true gospel. Not falling prey to this false teaching was a primary emphasis of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. His desire was for them to “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and to walk in a manner worthy of the call of Christ (Colossians 1:9-10). Ultimately, Paul’s goal was for them to know that to be accepted by God, all they needed was Christ.

Our goal in Christian ministry should always be to have people run to Christ, not from Him. Christians are to be the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). How we approach and engage an unbelieving world matters. It’s not that we have to deviate from the truth of the gospel or lessen the discussion around the issue of sin. Sin is what separates us from God, and no matter how much our culture might try to redefine it, sin is what God says it is. But as we do engage, we must first and foremost extend to others the grace God extended to us. You and I can’t know what someone else may going through or what may be causing their resistance to the gospel. We are simply called to lovingly share the message of Jesus. We’re to meet people where they are and interact with them in a way that would commend the gospel to them. We’re to be a vessel that God uses to draw people to Himself.

Always remember, those around you are watching. Do they know your story? Do they see Christ in you? You never know where people might be at a particular time. And you never know if your actions in a moment will be what God uses to extend His saving arms to those in need of His grace. That’s why you must make sure to always let your speech be gracious and seasoned with salt.

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.