Relevant All the Way Through

“For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your head” (Obadiah 15) 

One of the things I love about a study bible is that it helps me understand the context of the book I’m reading. I really needed it this morning as my daily reading took me to Obadiah. Let’s face it, some books of the Bible are easier to understand than others, and quite frankly, easier to find. Obadiah is only twenty-one verses long and if you weren’t specifically looking for it, you might pass right by it. However, whether it’s a long book or a short book, often read and studied or not, Old Testament or New, all of Scripture is God’s Word and therefore profitable to us. And as I studied Obadiah this morning, I realized how relevant a message it has for Christians today.

The primary themes of Obadiah are God’s just judgment against His enemies and His faithfulness and mercy towards His people. The exact date of Obadiah’s prophesy is difficult to determine, but it concerns imminent judgment on Edom, Israel’s longtime enemy, for their part in a military assault on Jerusalem. Obadiah’s reference to “the day of the LORD” is of the day when God will bring judgment to His enemies and blessing and salvation to His people.

Sometimes we shy away from certain parts of Scripture because of a lack of familiarity or a perception that they’re not relevant for today. This is where a study bible can be useful in helping our understanding. Through Obadiah, God pronounced judgment on Edom for the evil they perpetrated against Israel, but at the same time reassured Israel of His faithfulness in spite of their circumstances. God is always faithful to His people. In times when it may appear that evil has an upper hand and living out our faith in Christ is difficult, we must remember, God is sovereign and His justice will reign. My study bible expresses it this way, “It is the righteous purpose of God, not the evil of men that determines history”. Though our faith may sometimes be weak, our God is not. He is always at work for us and we can trust Him in all things and under all circumstances.

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Do Not Be Moved

“[Let no one] be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3)

In his book Desiring God, John Piper uses an analogy of a camera to help explain the idea in which God sees our suffering. He says that on one hand, God uses a narrow lens in which He looks and grieves with us as we undergo suffering. This is often the only lens you and I see through. But according to Piper, God also uses another lens, a wide-angle lens in which He sees beyond the immediate situation. This is the lens that sees what has occurred before and what will result from this moment, ultimately working for our good and God’s glory. This “good” may be realized in our lives as God works out the circumstances, or it may only be realized in death.

Paul knew about suffering. It was a topic he wrote about in almost all of his letters. He knew its purpose and the importance of teaching that purpose to others. He also demonstrated the proper response to it. Through his suffering, Paul knew his strength came from the Lord. Jesus was Paul’s reason for living. To see Him magnified was his passion. But Paul also knew that to die was gain (Philippians 1:21). As he wrote his final words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he was comforted knowing he had fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. He also knew what awaited him—a crown of righteousness. That was worth everything Paul had endured in his life and it will be worth everything suffering may cost you in your life as well.

So how do we respond in times of suffering? We trust God. He is sovereign. We allow His Word and His Spirit to penetrate our shaken and shattered lives. We live each day in view of eternity knowing that no amount of suffering can compare to glory (Romans 8:18). And we trust that His grace is sufficient to see us through (2 Corinthians 12:9).

What God Does With Our Sin

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14)

Addressing the issue of sin is a vital part of the gospel presentation. It might be an unwelcome issue to tread on sometimes, but it’s necessary. Sin is what separates us from God. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death”. Fortunately, the back half of that verse says, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. The grace God gives in salvation covers every sin. However, it is often the case that we want to believe differently, that somehow there’s some sin that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross didn’t cover. That is not the testimony of Scripture:

  • God throws our sin into the sea (Micah 7:19)
  • God treads our sin underfoot (Micah 7:19)
  • God throws our sin behind His back (Isaiah 38:17)
  • God blots out our sin (Isaiah 43:25)
  • God forgets our sin (Hebrews 8:12)
  • God removes our sin (Psalm 103:12)
  • God covers our sin (Romans 4:7-8)
  • God takes away our sin (John 1:29)
  • God cancels the debt of our sin (Colossians 2:13-14)
  • God washes our sin (Isaiah 1:18)
  • God forgives our sin (1 John 1:9)

The great message of the Bible is that on the cross, Jesus paid, not for just part of your sin, but for all of it. When He cried out from the cross “It is finished” He meant that it really was finished. Salvation rests on God’s grace alone. So respond today by resting in that grace. Live the freedom the cross provides knowing your sins have been paid in full!

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).

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.

Teach Me Your Way, O LORD

“Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11)

I love the stories of God’s grace in the lives of the people in the Bible. I especially love the lessons that Scripture has to teach us about King David, a man after God’s own heart, yet a man who sinned greatly. David sinned on the biggest of stages and suffered heart wrenching consequences for those sins. 1&2 Samuel tells the story of David’s life, and his writings in the Psalms tell of his emotions at those various stages. Psalm 86 is a prime example of such a psalm. David was in trouble. There were people seeking to take his life, “O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seek my life.” (v.14). There’s no doubt that David brought some of his problems on himself. He found himself calling on God for mercy often. And though he sometimes stumbled, David’s heart was faithful to seek instruction from the Lord on how to better walk in truth.

I believe one of the reasons David’s stories are so loved is that they bear a resemblance to our own lives as Christians. Just as David did, we slip, slide and stumble through this life. David’s wide ranging emotions are much like ours. And you can see them clearly as they flow freely from his pen in the psalms. In his devotional Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon writes that the reason David’s psalms are so universally loved is that “no matter our frame of mind, whether ecstasy or depression, David has exactly described our emotions”. He goes on to say that David “was an able master of the human heart because he had been tutored in the best of all schools—the school of heartfelt personal experience”.

The Christian life will always have its ups and downs. Our emotions will sometimes run wild and there will always be choices for us to make along the way—a choice to obey God’s way, or a choice to seek our own way. Which way will we choose? “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name”. That was David’s cry and God was merciful to hear that cry. Let that be our cry as well.

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).