“Is He good?”

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I was struck by a thought during a night of fitful, fretful worrying.

It wasn’t a new insight, or a brilliant observation–just an old truth that sometimes needs to be reapplied to my anxious mind.

As I lay in bed, tossing, turning, fretting over the tightness of my chest, the shallow breathing of my wife, the shadows obscuring my daughters across the hall through our two open doors, the creaks and groans of the house, and all the other things outside of my finite control, the question flashed like lightning in my head:

Is He good?

Of course, He is, I thought. God is good. I’d never say otherwise.

Is He kind?

Yes, He’s kind. He is the very definition of kind.

Do you trust Him to keep His promise to do good to you and your family?

I paused. He promised that He would work all things to bring about my good. He has never broken His promises, because God does not lie.

Can He keep His promises?

There’s nothing He can’t do. He does all He pleases.

Then why do you worry?

That’s the rub, isn’t it. I worry and fret over things I can’t control, because (at least momentarily) I am tempted to doubt that God is good, that God is kind, that God is omnipotent. I’m tempted to disbelieve that He will keep His promise to work all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose.

My sinful fretting is a feeble attempt to control the uncontrollable because (at least in that moment) I don’t really trust the One who is all-powerful.

The force of my will cannot heal illness or control the actions of any who would wish us harm. The strength of my worry cannot extend my life by even one hour.

But I serve a God who heals the sick, who turns the heart of man this way or that, who has the number of my days written in His book.

What’s more, this God that I serve? He loves me. He knows me. He cares for me. Because He is kind. He is good. And he is trustworthy.

Sometimes, I just need to remind myself what is true, and ask my soul why it’s so downcast.

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

2020: The Year the Lord Has Made.

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The end of December is usually a time of reflection on the past year—and after this year, many of us are perhaps a little skittish at the prospect. I have to admit, I have enjoyed and shared several “2020 is terrible” jokes and memes over the last several months. But a few weeks back, I was reminded of a verse I had memorized as a child:

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24

As I meditated on this verse, I was reminded that not only did the Lord make “this day,” but He indeed made this week, and month, and even this year. The Bible teaches that the Lord is sovereign over all of human history, seeing the end from the beginning, and nothing takes place outside of His will and divine plan. What’s more, for those of us who are in Christ, all things—ALL things—work together for our good, to shape us into the image of our Savior (Rom. 8:28-30). If all of this is true, then even a year like 2020, checkered as it seems with challenges and even disappointments, has played out as our Lord ordained it to.

This certainly does not mean that it was an easy year. In no way am I minimizing the hardship that 2020 has brought with it. In the last 12 months, most of us have known loss of one sort or another. Many of us have lost family members in death, faced difficult medical diagnoses, struggled with job loss or financial hardship, and wrestled with family conflict.

However, dear friends, the fact remains: this is the year that the Lord has made. And while this year has brought its particular challenges, it has also contained particular blessings.

Thankful

If you don’t mind, I’d like to share a few things I’m thankful for that happened during 2020.

  • My wife and I found out we are expecting our third little girl in early 2021, and couldn’t be happier.
  • I began working from home back in March and have been able to enjoy being with my family every day in a way I didn’t get to in previous years. As a result, my bond with my wife and daughters seems stronger than ever.
  • The number of readers on this little blog of mine have exploded this year, and as a result, I started my first “affiliate link” partnership with the kind folks over at Monk Manual, which has provided some extra income for our household.
  • God has opened other areas of provision that have come at just the right time to take care of unexpected bills.
  • Our church merged with a sister church a few weeks before the initial “shutdown” happened, and somehow we’ve emerged from this difficult season as a stronger body.
  • In addition to serving as an elder in my home church, I’ve had several opportunities to preach at other area churches while their pastors were away or had retired/relocated.

While it’s easy to be dour along with the rest of our culture at this “horrible year,” I would challenge you (and myself) to change how we think about and speak about the past year. Though the world would say there is little to consider good about 2020, that’s just not true. Despite it all, God has indeed been good to us—we just need to take the time to see it.

The Choice to Rejoice

Psalm 118:24 affirms that the Lord has made this day, and then follows with the exhortation, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This is one of those reminders in Scripture that joy is not only a gift of God and a fruit of the Spirit, but it is also a choice. The psalmist calls to the faithful and encourages them to make the choice to rejoice and be glad in this day of the Lord’s making.

While this verse is written within a specific context (which we will examine shortly), it’s worthwhile to pause and consider: Are there times when I can make the decision to rejoice, in spite of my circumstances? Again, this does not imply a “Pollyanna” sort of naïve blindness to the difficulties of life. Scripture reminds us that Jesus Himself was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He is sympathetic with our weakness and our suffering.

Yet Paul also reminds us (from a Roman prison cell) in Philippians 4:4 to “rejoice in the Lord always—again, I will say, rejoice”! There don’t seem to be any exceptions in that word “always.” Rather, Paul gives—and repeats—this command. If these are commands from the Lord (and they are), then we will be enabled to obey them by the strength the Lord provides. Indeed, “the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Neh. 8:10). We can call on the Holy Spirit to help us obey this command and rejoice in what the Lord has done, no matter what circumstances we face.

Thus, when we consider this year that the Lord has made, friends, we can and should choose joy. By the grace of God, we should fight to rejoice and be glad in it. Why? Because the Lord made it, and He has used it and is using it for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28-29).

“His Steadfast Love Endures Forever”

One of the ways we can move toward joy is by recounting how the Lord has been faithful (as we just did earlier). This is clear in the first 18 verses of Psalm 118. The psalmist calls on God’s people to confess together the steadfast love of the Lord, and then recounts specific incidents in which God has shown Himself gracious.

The Lord is a rescuer (v. 5-6), a helper (v. 7), a refuge (v. 8-9), and our victory (v. 10-12). He will keep us from stumbling (v. 13), be our salvation (v. 14), and do valiantly for us (v. 15-16). Even in His discipline of us, He does not give us over to death (v. 18).

In verse 19, the psalmist asks the Lord to “open the gates of righteousness,” and this begins not only the section in which our key verse is found, but it points us to the greatest good that the Lord bestows on His people—a good that we have been celebrating in this Christmas season.

The fact is, there is nothing coming from us that is innately righteous. “There is none righteous; no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). On our own merits, even at our best, the “gates of righteousness” should be slammed shut in our faces. And yet, God has made a way for us to enter these righteous gates, through the work of His son Jesus, our Redeemer.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Do you recognize the language of verses 22-23?

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Ps. 118:22-23)

This passage would later be quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21 and Peter in I Peter 2—both describing the ministry of Jesus the Messiah! He was the “stone of stumbling and rock of offense” for those who would not believe, but the rock of salvation for all who would call on His name!

If you keep reading in Psalm 118, you’ll also find these words in verse 26: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” These were the very words spoken by the people during Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the end of His ministry.

Then, verse 27: “The Lord is God, and He made His light to shine upon us.” Or perhaps, as John would put it in his gospel: “In [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Psalm 118 ultimately points forward to the coming of God’s Messiah, the Deliverer who would bless His people and bring them joy and success, a living demonstration of the steadfast love of God. And the coming of that Messiah would be “the day that the Lord has made,” a day worthy of rejoicing!

And what happened when that day arrived? John again tells us: “…light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil…” (John 3:19). Jesus the Messiah stepped into human history, a miracle baby in a manger in a small village. He lived the perfect life of righteousness that God’s Law demands of mankind. He taught the true words of God, did miracles, healed disease, cast out demons, and brought light into our darkness. And the response of the people was to slander Him falsely and deliver Him up for torture and execution.

But even that day was the day that the Lord had made, for it was only through that dark day that our redemption would be accomplished! Because Jesus our Savior was crucified in the place of ruined sinners, He became our vicarious substitute, bearing the full weight of God’s wrath and justice against sin, so that we who believe in Him might be declared righteous before God, one day entering the righteous gates of the New Jerusalem, “dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne” (as the hymn goes).

The deliverance of God was made manifest on the darkest of days, a day we call “Good” Friday, because that unfathomable suffering brought us cleansing. It brought us hope. It brought us joy.

The suffering of our Savior was the day of our deliverance. Let us also rejoice and be glad in that day!

Look Back in Gratitude, Look Forward In Hope

The year 2020 is coming to a close, friends. Admittedly, it did not follow any of our plans or hopes for what would transpire. But nevertheless, this was the year that the Lord has made. Let us choose to rejoice and be glad in it—glad in what the Lord has done among us, glad in what the Lord has taught us, glad in how the Lord has shown Himself always faithful, and glad in the knowledge that we have hope because the Lord ordained the darkest of days 2000 years ago as the day of our salvation, for all who repent and believe on Jesus Christ.

Happy New Year! Be blessed this day, and rejoice, my friends! Rejoice!

“Thus the Lord has done for me…”

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[I meant to get this posted last week ahead of Christmas day, but I think it still applies. So, here’s something to mull over as we enter the new year.]

The Christmas story has deep roots in the Old Testament. The “seed” of the Woman, Eve, whom God promised would crush the work of the Serpent, was promised to come through the lineage of Abraham the patriarch and David the king. The promised descendant would be Himself a King forever, with an eternal inheritance. Through the house of Abraham and the lineage of David, the glory of God would be proclaimed to all the earth, and all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. This “seed,” this king, would be God’s messiah, His anointed one.

And so, prophet after prophet, century after century, the people of God waited for this sign, this Seed, to be revealed, bringing their deliverance with Him. Curiously, the last prophecy by the last prophet of the Old Testament wasn’t about the Messiah, but about His herald, a forerunner who would prepare the way for Him. After the prophet Malachi’s last word, there was silence for 4 centuries. No new word from the Lord. No new proclamations to the people of Israel. Just waiting.

Expecting.

My friend Edhiel, a native Spanish-speaker, made a beautiful observation after lunch one time:

“There is something beautiful about how you describe a pregnant woman in English. You say she’s ‘expecting.’ In Spanish, we don’t use that word in this way. But I just love that idea of expecting. The husband and wife prepare a place for the child, pick out the name and the colors of the room and the toys and everything. They are looking forward to when the baby arrives…That’s how I want to be with the next year. My expectations are high that I will grow closer to God and know more of His goodness. That’s how I want to live.”

Isn’t that awesome? The idea of “expecting.” And it reminded me of the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were faithful followers of Yahweh. Zechariah was a priest from the family of Aaron in the tribe of Levi, and his wife was also of the priestly tribe. Luke’s account described them as “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” By all accounts, you would assume this faithful couple to be blessed and highly favored by God.

And yet, God had decided, in His purposes, not to give them children. Remember, this is a day in which children were considered the greatest legacy one could have, and to be childless was to bear the reproach of the community (and perhaps, some thought, the curse of God). In such a time and culture in which children were considered the greatest legacy one could have, Zechariah and Elizabeth had none. A faithful minister, a faithful wife, an empty home, a barren womb. And though this disappointment could easily become bitterness–and for a time, it may have, we don’t know–what Scripture records is that Zechariah and Elizabeth remained steadfast, even as the years passed and the idea of ever having children became a lost cause.

Even when they had passed their child-bearing years and still had no offspring, this faithful couple continued to trust God. Then, one day, as Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter the temple and burn incense, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him that his prayer has been answered.

Which prayer of Zechariah’s was the angel referring to? Deliverance from Rome? The coming of the Messiah? A child (which at this point was practically an impossibility)?  The answer turned out to be all three.

Days of Elijah

Consider the message of Gabriel to the past-his-fathering-prime Zechariah:

And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Luke 1:11-17

Gabriel’s announcement is first that Zechariah and Elizabeth will finally have a child, a son on whom God’s favor and Spirit will rest. The angel includes an allusion to Malachi 4:5-6, the last prophecy given to God’s people before the four-century silence–a prophecy of “Elijah the prophet” being sent ahead of his Lord to prepare the way for Him.

The expectations of a faithful minister and his wife–for their Savior, for their deliverance, for their own household–all bound up in this unexpected birth announcement. The announcement of the “second Elijah” meant that the promises of God for the redemption of man were finally coming to fruition, and the faithful couple with an empty crib were going to be part of that story.

Promises, Promises

Today, it’s not hard to find people making promises on God’s behalf, tossing out “prophetic words” over the coming year like so many Mardi Gras beads. We should be extremely careful not to put words in God’s mouth, or assign promises to Him that He has not made to us directly.

But I wanted to bring up this part of the Christmas story to encourage you that God is faithful to keep His promises to you. They may not come to pass in the way we expect or the timing we desire, but He is always faithful and He is always on time. The past year has been challenging in numerous ways, but through it all, God has still remained faithful. If you are a follower of Jesus, I hope you can see that and hold on to that truth.

If you do not follow Jesus, then I invite you to think about your life: what, if anything, has been sure and certain this year? In what do you have your hope? Because I’m here to tell you that trusting in anything outside of Jesus Christ is like building a house on so many fistfuls of sand that slip away with a gust of wind. If you do not “build your house” on the firm foundation of Jesus and His words, the final storm of God’s judgment will come and blow and beat upon your house, and great will be the fall of it. Your only hope, your only peace, can be found by turning away from your sin and selfish rebellion and trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice to give you peace and right standing with God.

This is a promise you can know for certain God will keep: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is the promise of Christmas! The baby in the manger one day became the Savior on the cross, dying like a criminal in the place of sinners like you and me, to rescue us from the wrath and judgment we deserve for our sin and offering us forgiveness and grace, and then rising from the dead in victory over death itself. If we turn to Jesus in humility and repentance, He will in no way cast us out. We can be redeemed, made new, born again with a living hope and the promise of eternal life in Heaven with Jesus.

For all who know Jesus, who have tasted this forgiveness and mercy, it should have been a merry Christmas indeed, and we can look forward to a happy, joyful, blessed new year!

Grace and peace to all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen!

Why is it called “Good Friday”? [Reposted]

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[Originally posted in 2015 and revised slightly]

Why is it called Good Friday?
Because He who knew no sin became sin for us instead of
Casting the first stone. The Stone that the builders rejected
Was the stone of stumbling, the rock of offense.
They were offended who saw Him, and hid their faces,
As He was despised and rejected, acquainted with grief.
The One who would not break the bruised reed or quench
The smoldering wick was crushed according to the
Pleasure of His Father, and to that Divine Plan
The Prince of Peace bowed His holy head.

Why is it called Good Friday?
Because we who are like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us turning to our own way, doing what is right
In our own eyes, asking “Did God really say…?”
And though those who practice such things deserve death,
The great mercy of the Holy God was made manifest in
The flesh of the Incarnate Word, who tabernacled among us.
We beheld His glory, yet men loved darkness rather than light,
Because their unspeakable deeds were evil.  Into our darkness
Strode the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd of our souls
Who calls His sheep and they know His voice and come to Him,
From death to life, stumbling into light
Like Lazarus walking out of the grave, wrapped in cloths.

Why is it called Good Friday?
Because the Just Judge became the Justifier of our souls
By laying on the Righteous One the iniquity of us all
And pouring out His wrath upon the Son of Man—the wrath
That has been stored up against every wicked deed committed by
The wayward people of God—the shame of Noah, the murderous
Rage of Moses, the adultery of David, the pride of Solomon,
The hatred of Jonah, the betrayal of Peter, the bloodlust of Paul,
And even my own selfish weakness and craven man-pleasing.
Because of all these things, the holy wrath of God was poured out
Upon the perfect Christ, who did not turn away from the cup
That He was sent to drink, but received it all, down to the bitter dregs.

Why is it called Good Friday?
Without it, we would all be dead men, whose only hope is to eat and
Drink and be merry, all the days of our meaningless lives, before facing
The inevitable end and the terror of judgment.
But because He who is the Resurrection and the Life
Submitted Himself to shame and death in our stead,
And three days later, returned in victory over sin,
Having utterly defeated the greatest enemies of men.
Because He who died to save sinners was raised from the dead,
I now have hope that I will be raised up to be with Him on the last day.
Without the darkness of Friday, there would be no Easter dawn.
Without the just judgment against sin, there would be no justification.
Without the appeasing of divine wrath, there would be no eternal peace.

That’s why it’s called Good Friday.
Jesus the Messiah, the Eternally-Begotten God-in-Flesh,
Came and died and was raised again, so that 
All who turn from sin and trust in Him would live.

The Good News that comes from the Good News. [Reposted]

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[Reposted from 2015 and revised slightly]

Yesterday, I talked about the bad news that comes before the Good News: that God’s wrath will one day be poured out against all sin and unrighteousness of mankind; that religious practice is useless at taking away our sin or giving us sufficient good standing before a holy God; and that every one of us stands guilty of breaking God’s commands and failing to worship Him as we ought.

But then I also said that, for those of us who embrace these truths and come to Jesus in complete desperation and dependence, we are made into new people.

The Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is good news for sinners who confess that they need a Savior.

So how is the Good News especially good for those of us who believe in Jesus?

Here are 4 ways Christians can rejoice in the Good News:

1. God loved us before we were good.

Our natural instinct is that we must earn God’s favor by doing good works, and that our good works will give us merit in God’s eyes. But the Gospel says that before we were sinners, Christ Jesus died for us—not for righteous people, not even for good people, but for filthy, rotten, rebellious, worthless, sinful people (which are the only kind of people that exist, truth be told). It wasn’t our good works that captured God’s attention or earned his affection. God chose to rescue sinners who didn’t deserve to be rescued, and sent Jesus the Son to live as a perfect, righteous man, to die in the place of unrighteous people, and then to rise again victorious over our great enemies, sin and death. God demonstrated His love by rescuing us. So now we who love God do so precisely because He loved us first.

What does this mean for you, Christian? God initiated a relationship with you while you were still in your sins. He rescued you and adopted you as His child. So now, do you think your sin is going to separate you from that love? Do you think the work of Christ is so limited that your sins as a Christian will undo what Jesus has done? By no means! If you have sinned, repent and be restored to right relationship with your Father, because we are called to obey God; but know that those who have truly come to Jesus will never be cast out, and those who repent will be forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness.

2. Jesus saves children of wrath by grace through faith — not by their works.

Remember, you were spiritually dead in your transgressions and sins. You were not weak, you were not wounded–you were spiritually dead. D-E-A-D, dead. You were opposed to God, destined for destruction, facing His righteous wrath. But God who is rich in mercy made us alive together in Christ, the text says. God’s mercy initiated this relationship, and He saved us by grace through faith. Remember, grace means we received something we didn’t deserve–and that is the only sensible way we can view the love of God.

We are not saved by our works–remember? Our best deeds are still stained by sin! How could we, who were spiritually dead and unable to produce any true righteousness of our own, ever bring about our own salvation? We can’t! Instead, it is the gracious gift of God, received through faith–a faith that shows us to be the spiritual children of Abraham, the man of faith. Abraham believed God’s promise that through his line would come blessing to the entire world, and when Abraham believed, it was credited to him as righteousness. We then who believe the promise that God will save those who call upon the name of the Lord, that faith opens the door to our redemption. And even that faith is a gift from God, not a work from us! How could it be anything else? How can spiritual corpses believe, unless God enables them to do so?

What does that mean for you, Christian? We are accepted by God because of what Jesus did, not because of what we do. We receive Jesus’ righteousness, credited to our bankrupt account, by putting our faith in Him as our Savior and our Substitute and our Risen King. The works you do are done as a tribute to God’s mercy, not a payment to appease Him. The sacrifice of Christ was not loan consolidation, to give you a lower and more manageable monthly payment of good works; it was complete debt forgiveness, as the impossible amount you owed was stamped “PAID IN FULL” in red letters. We receive that amazing grace by faith.

3. Jesus saves us from the condemnation of the Law.

Throughout the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul is trying to address confusion that has been introduced to the believers in Galatia. There were some (called Judaizers) who convinced the believers that, once they became followers of Jesus, they had to become fully Jewish as well, following all the customs and rituals of the Jews and the Jewish Law. Paul tells the people in no uncertain terms that this is not only folly, it’s spiritual suicide. He asks them why, since they received Jesus by grace, they must now continue in Him by following rituals and legal standards?

Like so many of us, the Galatians believed the lie that they still had to live up to a specific code in order to maintain their relationship with God, and if they didn’t, they would once again be under condemnation. On the contrary, Paul writes, Jesus came to be the curse-bearer, hung on a tree to take the curse of sin upon his own shoulders and off the back of those who would believe in Him.

Do you hear what Paul is saying here, Christian? You who were once fully and completely guilty according to the Law, you have been justified by Christ. You have been declared “not guilty” by God the righteous Judge, on account of Jesus, who bore the due penalty of your sin and paid it in full. Nothing more is owed against that debt, and the condemnation you once faced does not threaten you any longer.

4. The Holy Spirit empowers us to live out our new identity and obey our new Lord.

Let’s take a look at that Romans 8 passage again. If we are now in Christ, we are no longer condemned under the Law. Because of what Christ as done for us, we can now walk in the Spirit rather than according to our flesh, our old sinful nature. This means we are able to walk according to the will and commands of God, rather than being driven by our own natural desires and compulsions. We are now able to please God in how we live, because it’s His Spirit at work in us, remaking us into the image of Jesus.

Not only do we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who lovingly convicts us of sin and reminds us of the truth of the Scriptures, but that Spirit is also a reminder and a guarantee of our hope of resurrection. As Jesus was raised bodily, so we will be raised bodily on the last day. On top of all this, the Spirit Himself confirms that we are God’s children. He gives us a spirit of sonship, so that we may call the God of the Universe, the Judge whom we once had feared, “Our Father.” We are no longer slaves to sin, bound to obey its desires. We are children of God, rescued from bondage, carrying the hope of resurrection with Christ, and given the Holy Spirit as a reminder of our inheritance with Jesus.

Hear this, Christian: We have been given the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin to bring about repentance and enable us to walk in a way that pleases our Father. We are no longer slaves to our sins, chained to our old way of life. He whom the Son sets free is free indeed. Walk in freedom, by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within you, so that you may walk as children of light.

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There you have it. Four reasons why the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, is exceedingly good news.

If you are not a believer in Jesus, I must tell you that these glorious truths do not apply to you. As it now stands, nothing will shield you from the righteous wrath of God against your sins. I am not being arrogant, friend; I’m telling you only what the Bible tells you. There is yet time to repent of (that is, to turn from) your life of sin and self-service, and to look to Jesus the risen Son of God and believe on Him–believing that He is who He said He is and did what He said He did. You don’t have another moment promised to you. Don’t presume upon the patience of God. Think on these things. If you want to discuss it more, feel free to email me (the4thdave at gmail dot com) or comment below.

If you are a believer in Jesus, however, then these and many more promises are yours in Christ. As we make our way through (what is called by many) “Holy Week,” the week in which we commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus, I encourage you to think on these things as well. Consider that the Crucifixion and Resurrection are signs to you of the love God had for you before you knew Him, and the grace He extended to you so that you may now call Him Father. My hope is that these truths will help you sing a little louder this Sunday.

The Bad News that comes before the Good News. [Reposted]

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[Reposted from 2015 and slightly revised]

About 5 years ago, at lunch after church, a friend invited me to sit with her and another girl. They asked if I could take a few minutes and explain what it meant to be “saved.” The only place I could think to start would be answering the question, “Saved from what?”

That conversation and others like it have affirmed in my mind the vital importance of helping non-believers understand the Bad News.

No, that’s not a typo; I’m very serious. If people do not seriously consider the Bad News, then the Good News (that’s what “Gospel” means) won’t mean what it should. Without the Bad News, the Good News won’t seem as good or as compelling.

Bad News for People Who Like Good News

So what is the Bad News?

1. The Creator and Judge of the universe is storing up righteous wrath against His rebellious creation.

No one likes talking about the wrath of God. Everybody’s on board for the love and mercy and grace of God, but the wrath of God is the theological equivalent of a long record scratch in any conversation. However, the Bible doesn’t shy away from it.

The story the Bible tells is that God created the universe and everything in it, including mankind. However, our first parents rebelled against God’s rightful authority, choosing to disobey His command and be their own gods. Because of that, every one of their descendants has been born with the natural bent toward rebellion against God. All of us desire to sin, and all of us willfully commit sin. We not only sin deliberately (sins of commission), but we also fail to do what God has commanded and give Him the honor and glory He deserves (sins of omission). We deny the plain truth of the God who made us and give our worship to created things. All the evil and suffering of the world is the fruit of humanity’s sin. And because God is a just Judge, He must punish lawbreakers. So His great wrath is being saved up for the last day against all wickedness and law-breaking.

You may think, “Come on, Dave, is one little sin that serious?” Well, James the brother of Jesus writes that anyone who keeps the whole law of God yet fails in one small piece is still considered a lawbreaker, as if he had broken all of it (James 2:8-11). In the Old Testament and the New Testament, the people of God are told to be holy as God is holy, perfect as God is perfect. A perfectly righteous and just God cannot turn a blind eye to sin. It must be punished.

That’s pretty bad news—but it gets worse.

2. Religious practices and good behavior won’t take wrath away.

If you grew up religious or moral, you may feel pretty good about yourself, compared to the rest of humanity. You see the evil and cruelty of mankind reported on the nightly news and think, “I’m glad I’m not like those people.” Well…the Bible says differently. Even the people of Israel, who were given the Mosaic Law and the prophets and the writings of Scripture were still guilty of breaking that law over and over. Those outside the people of Israel didn’t have the written law, but they had the law of the conscience—God’s law written on their hearts. Yet our consciences cannot keep us on the narrow path; we make excuses for our behavior, or find ways to justify what our consciences and God’s Word clearly call sin. If you grew up in church like I did, you might try to convince yourself that exterior righteous deeds are sufficient to please God, but your righteous works will do nothing to take away the stain of your sins. Even your righteous deeds are like filthy rags.

“But surely, Dave, there are good people in the world, even outside of your narrow religious belief system. You can’t pin all this on them. What about the noble Muslims and devout Hindus and God-fearing orthodox Jews and good, moral people of no faith at all? Are you saying that all of them are going to Hell?”

Fair question. Okay, let’s check what the Bible says. *looks* Uh-oh…

3. Everybody’s guilty.

Everybody. Every single one of us. We’re all lawbreakers before God. Even the tiniest infraction makes us guilty, and if we’re being really honest, we know that we’ve done much, much more than that. What the Bible actually teaches is that none of us are “basically good, deep down.” We are in fact by our very nature “children of wrath.” What the Law of God, revealed in the Bible, has done is show us the depth of our sin and our rebellion against God.

Despite all that, you may still consider yourself a good person. Okay, do you mind if we test that?

  • Have you ever told a lie? What do you call someone who tells lies? (A liar)
  • Have you ever taken anything that doesn’t belong to you, no matter the value? What do you call someone who takes things? (A thief)
  • Have you ever looked with lustful intention on another person who is not your spouse? Jesus said that one who looks with lust has committed adultery in their heart.
  • Have you ever used God’s name flippantly as a curse or exclamation? That’s called blasphemy.

How are you doing? Still a good person? Or, if you’re like me, have you admitted that you’ve been a liar, thief, adulterer (in heart, if nothing else), and blasphemer?

Let’s be gut-level-honest, you and I: If that’s all true, how can we honestly claim to be “good” people?

And if God is a just judge who punishes sin, do we really expect Him to just “be a pal” and overlook our many sins?

At this point, reader, we have a choice:

If we reject what Scripture has said about our true nature and standing before God, then let us go on with our lives. Let’s eat, drink, and be merry. But keep this in mind: on the last day, we all will give an account before the God of the Universe, the One who judges justly. If we decide to stand on our own merit in the face of that Judge, we will receive the full measure of justice. Considering we have already demonstrated that we are lawbreakers, how do you think that will go?

However, if we accept what Scripture says about our true nature and standing before God, we must admit that each of us are by nature sinners and deserving of God’s wrath against our rebellion. And for those of us who recognize the Bad News that we are facing a divine wrath we have earned…there is also Good News.

Good News for Sinners who Need Good News

What is that Good News? Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to save sinners. God the Son stepped into time and space and chose to be born as a human being for the specific purpose of paying our debt. He lived the perfect life you and I couldn’t, by completely obeying God’s Law, and then died as a sacrifice in our place to pay for our sins. The wrath we deserve was poured out on Him for our sake. The justice of God was satisfied, and the mercy of God was revealed, in the cross of Jesus.

And then, 3 days later, Jesus rose again from the dead, defeating death itself, demonstrating that His sacrifice satisfies the righteous demands of God’s Law, and forever declaring that He is Lord of all creation.

Friend, if you know you are a sinner, and you have never turned from your sinful rebellion, confessed that you need God’s forgiveness, and believed in Jesus who died and was raised for your sake, today is the day. There is no time to waste.

My email address is the4thdave at gmail dot com. If you want to talk about this, shoot me a message.

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Tomorrow, we’ll revisit the Good News that comes from the Good News! See you then!

Feeling the sting.

landscape photography of dried trees on snow covered ground
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

My grandfather died last Thursday. He was buried yesterday.

He was almost 90, ravaged for the last several years by Parkinson’s. Over the years, he has been losing the ability to communicate clearly, to understand, to care for himself. And in the end, his final decline was sudden and heart-breaking.

He was a good man, a godly man. He was a strong Christian, an ordained minister, and a faithful husband, father, grandfather, and church member. He loved and poured himself out for children; he taught school for more than 2 decades and taught Sunday School for longer than that. He would drive around the neighborhood every Sunday morning for years, picking up kids in the station wagon to bring over so that he and my grandmother could teach them Bible stories and songs, give them snacks, help them do little art and craft projects, and let them know that they are loved by God. I can’t imagine how many hundreds or even thousands of young lives my grandparents touched over the decades.

My grandfather’s hope in life and death was firmly and securely in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as his Savior. And now, my grandfather is enjoying the presence of his Lord, without pain or disease, without the encumbrances and restraints of mortality and frailty.

I miss him.

For almost my entire life, I’ve lived a thousand miles away from my grandparents, so I don’t have the “every Sunday” or “every holiday” memories with extended family that others do. But I have some very clear and very warm memories over the years of time spent with my grandparents. My favorite was how he used to give the biggest, tightest bear hugs. He wasn’t muscular, but he was as wiry and tough in physicality as he was tender and warm in spirit.

He had a playful sense of humor, which was often incredibly dry and subtle. He told good jokes. (That’s one of the things I love about my dad, as well: how he almost can’t contain himself when he tells a joke.) And I remember my grandfather’s laugh after telling a joke: silent, mouth open, bobbing up and down slightly.

(One of my touchstone “embarrassing” memories was when I misunderstood a joke he made and he had to explain himself; I was 10 and he probably forgot it immediately, but for some reason, that one memory sticks with me–one of those silly moments I cringe about from time to time, just to myself. I don’t know why that one memory sticks, but there you go.)

There is so much more to say about him, so many more memories to share. But that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m sharing this for two very simple reasons this afternoon:

First, I wanted to emphasize that my family is mourning this week, but we don’t mourn as those who have no hope. It’s not some vague, “we-hope-we-see-you-again” wish, either. When my grandfather’s body was laid to rest in the ground yesterday morning, my family was planting him there with the full knowledge that one day, that very ground will break apart and his physical body will be resurrected and restored to life, when Jesus comes back to call His people to Himself. Our hope–our only hope–is found in Jesus alone: in His sacrificial death to pay the penalty for our sins, in His glorious resurrection to give us the promise that we too will be raised up to life. If you are afraid of death, or unsure of what happens next, I’d be happy to talk to you about the hope you’re missing. Please, please ask.

Second, I want to encourage you: reach out to the family members you haven’t talked to recently, especially the older ones. When I first heard that my grandfather passed away, what hit me most was a very palpable and deep regret that I didn’t keep in close contact over the last few years. He wouldn’t have the chance to hold my daughter as an infant or toddler. While I “knew” that he wouldn’t be around forever (at least in this life), I kept putting off regular phone calls and emails. I got busy with the “urgent” things in my immediate vision. Whenever I would be reminded that I haven’t talked to my grandparents recently, I would feel sincerely guilty, and say to myself, “Oh man, yeah, I should get on that. Maybe next weekend…” Now, that window has closed. It’s now incumbent upon me to make up that lost time with my Sweetie of a grandmother, for all the years we are blessed to continue having her here.

Can I encourage you to take some time this weekend and make that phone call you have been putting off, that video chat, that visit to a grandparent or aunt or even your parents? We don’t know how long we have in this life with the people we love. As long as we have a chance, let’s take those opportunities to check in, to share the family news, or just to say “I love you.”

Sorry to end this week on a bit of a downer, but that’s what’s going on with me.

I hope you have a great weekend, and that you have a chance to tell those closest to you (or perhaps distant from you) that you love them.

We’ll see you back here next week!

Merry Christmas, Here’s to Many More.

Happy Christmas Eve, friends! I don’t have much to talk about today. We are now in the full-court-press of holiday preparation and festivities, getting ready to spend tomorrow morning with my folks. My toddler has been particularly rambunctious and playfully destructive around the house this week. We’re dog-sitting a very young and vocal pup for some friends of ours. All of this means I don’t have any deep or contemplative meditations on the holiday for you this year.

This year, I’ll just leave you with this:

I’m a Christian, which means this holiday is not about Santa Claus and stockings hung with care, talking snowmen and red-nosed reindeer. It’s not even about the fact that Die Hard is most definitely a Christmas movie, or that It’s a Wonderful Life is possible one of the best films ever made, period.

It’s about the fact–the historical fact–that Jesus the Christ was born in Bethlehem. It’s about the cosmic reality that Eternal God took on flesh and tabernacled among us. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

God came near. He is with us. And He did so not merely to teach us how to love one another or to encourage peace among men. The baby Jesus grew into the perfect and sinless man Jesus, who laid down His life (no one can take it from Him unless He lays it down) as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of all whom He would redeem. Jesus the God-man, the second member of the Trinity, the Messiah of Israel, died for His people, all His people from all the nations. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement that brought us peace was upon him. By His stripes, we are healed.

Jesus bled, Jesus died, and Jesus rose. It is finished. The war is won. The dragon is vanquished. And Jesus the King, the Lamb who was slain and is yet alive, walked triumphantly out of the tomb, carrying the crushed head of the giant He conquered.

Now, in the millenia since that stone rolled away, we must bear with the death rattle and the flailing gasps of a defeated devil. But the prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for Him. His rage we can endure for lo, his doom is sure.

This week, as you “rejoice, rejoice,” you sons and daughters of true Israel, take heart and have peace because Immanuel has come and is here and will return in triumph.

And if you are still reading, and all of this talk of Jesus’ death is strange and awkward and weird to you, know this: my hope and prayer for you this Christmas is that you would meet Jesus, truly meet Jesus, and come to know Him as Savior and Lord this year. If you want to talk to me about that, I would love that. Hit me up on Twitter (@the4thdave) or email me (the4thdave at gmail dot com) with any questions you have. It would be a gift to me to get to talk to you about this.

(Okay, I guess I had more to say than I thought!)

Merry Christmas, fam. God bless you.

Wednesday Guest Post by Webster Hunt: “Fred Phelps and the Pleasure of God”

[“Wednesday Guest Posts” is a new feature here at the 4thDaveBlog–I guess since it’s been two weeks, we can almost call it a “regular” feature. This week, we again hear from my friend Webster Hunt. Follow Web at @livingheart on Twitter.]

Give me a few moments to tell you about how I was caught off guard last week, upon reading of the death of Fred Phelps, having my attention brought to Ezekiel 18:23 – where God rhetorically asks, “Do I take pleasure in the death of the wicked?” – , and understanding a glimpse of the riches of His mercy in Jesus Christ, who fully “exegeted” the Father to us, to borrow a phrase.

If you’re reading this blog post, I’m assuming you have the internet, so I’m assuming you know who Fred Phelps is (if you don’t, open up a new tab a Google him – you can hate me later for it). One of the things he seemed to center on was this idea that the highest thing God desired was to condemn the wicked, which seemed to be everyone but the small group of followers he had. It’s ironic, really.

Let’s pretend for a moment that Fred Phelps was right – that God’s highest joy and priority is to bring His enemies into rightful condemnation.  (And I hope you do understand that it is rightful. I mean, God gives life and breath and movement to his creation, just to name some very basic things, so 1) What does man do with every moment of each of those? Also 2) So who exactly IS God’s enemy?  Even, if you’re a Christian, there was a season in actual time where you were a child of wrath, where you relished in your inherited sin nature and did whatever your heart desired; and even if you weren’t as bad as you could be, you weren’t holy as God is holy, and that presents a problem.)

So if God’s highest joy is pouring out His wrath on His enemies, how are you reading this right now? How in the world is there an elect people, a church, a people which He calls His own peculiar treasure, His prized possession? Why did He even let Adam out of the garden?

Ok, we can stop pretending, because what Fred Phelps believes is a lie. We know this because if it were true, then all of mankind would be immediately condemned, immediately subjected to the wrath we deserve as God-hating sinners from birth. We know this because of God’s own revelation of Himself.

What do we see in God’s self-revelation in scripture? We see Holy and Just God clothing His newly banished man to cover their shame. We see Him forbearing with Cain and his improper sacrifice. We see Him giving the Amorites time to “fill up” their sin. We see God forbearing with the question of Abraham of whether He would kill the righteous with the wicked. We see Him choose a people who would be stiff-necked and despise every good thing He would give to them, as a whole. We see Him sparing, and sending prophets, and deposing and rescuing Israel, and saving a remnant, and then, oh then, we see the culmination of His character in Jesus – the One who made the invisible God visible. The One who is the Only Begotten Son of God and the Son of Man. We see the second Adam doing what the first Adam would not. We see the Second Man doing what the first man could not. We see Him always loving, always obeying, always pleasing God the Father who, as a pastor pointed out recently, only spoke of His Son in superlatives – “Here is my BELOVED Son, with whom I am WELL pleased”.  We see Him stooping, giving up the prerogatives to His glory, being found in the form of a servant, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. We see Him not being worshiped by every man that walked his way, and sparing that man.

The God who has made Himself known in the revelation of Scripture and ultimately in the Person of Jesus Christ, second person of the Triune God, who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, so that He may save for Himself a peculiar people, a treasured possession–the Scriptures say the Father was pleased to crush His Only Begotten Son. Do you see that? The joy of God to take sinful men and make them in the image of His Holy Son is so infinitely high, that the only contrast to make it plain is to ask, “Do I take pleasure in the death of the wicked?” Because I’ve also got to reckon this: that the death and eternal punishment of the wicked, unrepentant man, who with every breath was only ever always pleased to indulge his sin, however moral he may be (and even the vilest criminal has some sliver of “morality” which it abhors him to see violated) is good and right and holy, and in that fashion pleases God – because what does God do that does NOT please Him? Everything He does is good because He IS good; He is what defines what “good” is. But higher than that, saving a people for Himself by laying the iniquity of them on His own Son who willingly, and to the glory of God His Father, bore their penalty and their wrath and propitiated for them, and then showing that Son’s perfection by His resurrection, and giving the righteousness, the resurrection, the love, and the privilege of being His sons is so much more infinitely better that a negative description of the other is the only way to properly communicate to us His joy.

Now, considering that, I had to ask myself: How can I take pleasure in sin, when it pleased God to crush Him with Whom sin is no friend?

And I hope you take that away with you today as well, to God’s glory in Christ Jesus.

Grace to you all, and thanks again, Dave, for letting me guest-blog today.

Wednesday Guest Post: Webster Hunt

[Hey readers–from time to time, I’m going to bring in a guest blogger, just to mix things up. So please allow me to introduce a Twitter friend, Jesus follower, and all-around good dude, Webster Hunt. Follow him on Twitter at @livingheart .] 

Thank you, Dave, for giving me a chance to test the waters of blogging, and thank you, readers, for deciding to continue to read after you discovered that your regularly scheduled blogger had turned the reins over to a complete stranger. My hope is that you’ll be edified, comforted, and encouraged in Christ, and not run over the side of a cliff by a man who obviously has no idea what he’s doing – though he may boast otherwise.

My name is Webster Hunt, I’ve been married for seven years (in May, technically), and for the last three years my wife has been severely sick.  She’s seen so many specialists that I can’t count them. She spent much of 2012 in the hospital. She currently takes about 30 pills a day to fight all her various heart and blood pressure complications. She also has a pacemaker. She’s 26.

This illness took us completely by surprise. I can still remember the night that would foreshadow all the suffering to come – her blood pressure had contually risen all night and peaked at 185/110, at which point we asked her uncle to run her to the ER so that I could take care of our daughters. From that night, her illness only seemed to get worse, and seemed to be one which no doctor could peg down nor treat effectively, and one which would force us to make life-altering decisions in our family. I’m tempted to go into all that changed, but I may unintentionally cause reproach by passing over massive amounts of detail that are necessary for fully understanding all that happened. But in short, that year, our daughters were kindly adopted into a family that could better take care of them than we could and we chose to leave our home church to mitigate the effect our daughters would feel in having to leave us. Those were the hardest parts.

By our Lord’s providence, we found an apartment close to where I work so that I could quickly get to my wife if she needed me to, and we’ve been there since. 2013 was a hard year filled with loneliness and regret that things had to happen the way they did. We missed our daughters, and although we were greatly thankful for our Lord’s providence and love toward us in providing for them two wonderful adoptive parents, we wished that the home they could have been in was ours.  We missed our life before my wife’s illness; the freedoms, the joys, the little things we took for granted.

But we grieved together and whenever one fell into deep sorrow, by the grace of our Lord, the other was able to lift up, weep with, comfort, remind the one whose strength seemed sapped of our Lord’s sovereignty as shown in His Word. Even my wife, in the midst of an illness that attacked her body and mind at various times, was able when I was broken down to give comfort and remind me of the truth that our God, Jesus Christ, had conquered death and sin and was seated at our Father’s right hand, and would avenge any evil done to us, and would take the evil done to us and work it to good.

And here’s where I’m going with all of that: I wish the men who counseled me before marriage (who, in their defense, did their best to prepare us for marriage with all the right intent in all the ways our parents did not or could not or would not) had posed this question to me –

“Do you want to keep your promise that you’ll make at the altar when the sickness is the worst it could be, and it happens before its usual time – after you’ve experienced the joys of marriage for a time and have been husband and wife longer than you’ve had a mortgage – and the normal joys and experiences given to normal young couples dries up, and you have to make sharp sacrifices to take care of her.  When there is no physical joy to be gained, when you have to work your day job and then come home and take care of her too, when all your money is going to treating her illness, and many creature comforts that you would have otherwise experienced is gone and you’re left with the charge from God in scripture to “Love your wife” and “to deal with her in an understanding way” and you understand that your reasonable service to Christ is to be gracious toward your wife and remain steadfast in righteousness and purity when, though your wife’s body belongs to you, you are no longer able to exercise the joy that normally brings, do you still want to be married to her? Are you willing to be a living sacrifice in order to bring glory to Jesus Christ in your marriage by loving her the way 1 Corinthians 13 says a Christian should although you may receive no rewards, no accolades, no praises, no recognition, no glory in this life? Will you remain her husband both because you want to and because you vowed to?”

– because I think it would have made me take marriage more seriously in the first four years. Praise God that He prepared us by giving us mature men and women who would train us up to understand on the far-side what we neglected in the beginning.

Now granted, when that question is asked devoid of actual experience, it’s probably easy to say “Oh, yeah. I’ll totally do that. So when do we get to the “I DO” part of this?” Nonetheless, that is what I want to give to you to think about from my guest-blog, because Ephesians 5 tells me that marriage is a most visible picture by which our God demonstrates the relationship between Jesus and His church, and it’s easy to remain married when all the benefits and joys are readily available – and praise God when they are – but should He decide to take away those benefits and joys, let me encourage you: it is for your good because it is for Christ’s glory, though it seems to be absolutely contrary. It has to be. Biblically, it’s the only way we can think about suffering in any context. But I think that there’s an especial focus when it’s within the context of a Christian marriage, because that’s the picture God has chosen to demonstrate how He relates to His people, His Church, Christ’s body.

As a bonus: If we want to make a slam-dunk argument for Biblical marriage in our culture and how they think about marriage, we should pray, pursue, and study to obey Christ’s commands concerning marriage without complaining, especially when there’s suffering involved. True enough, even a lost person can sacrifice much for their spouse in the midst of an illness – I believe that to be the image of God in man leaking out despite their best efforts to suppress the truth – but given enough time, and given enough loss, and given enough lack of recognition, glory, or return for their investment, they’ll give it up. Let’s not be like this crooked generation.