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Archive for the ‘Evening Devotionals’ Category

Children of Wrath

January 21st, 2019

As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to walk when you conformed to the ways of this world and of the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience. At one time we all lived among them, fulfilling the cravings of our flesh and indulging its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature children of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3 BSB)

Something went wrong in human experience.

In the first chapter of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul explained the plan of God to bless us in Christ from before the foundation of the world, and of His work of grace in believers. He used grandiose phrases like: “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms,” “the riches of his grace that he lavished on us,” and “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.” He used them not for some emotional effect on the readers, but because they were and are the utter truth of God’s intentions for us.

But before he can go on and teach us more about the Christian life, he has to visit this topic of our sinfulness. The immeasurable blessings that God bestows on us through Christ have at their very foundation the sacrificial death of Christ for our sins. God from eternity planned to bless us, but something terrible got in the way, and that is our sinfulness. It was of such a nature, so strong and upsetting, that none of these plans of God for us could be fulfilled until this matter was taken out of our way.

We were dead

Death is an absolute. You cannot be deader than dead. And the Spirit inspired Paul to tell us our true condition without Christ. We were in spiritual death. We often speak of our sins as “our little foibles” or our “weaknesses,” “failings,” or “chinks in our armor.” We down play their seriousness, but God in His utter and complete holiness would not do so.  To Him we were simply dead – cut off from life.

Men are spiritually dead like a cut flower is dead. If you place the flower in a vase of water there is still the impression of life, but death has already set in and it will inevitably fade. The human race still shows some signs of kindness and greatness, but there is also the terrible signs of moral decay and death has already set in.

The world, the flesh, and the devil

There are three great enemies of righteousness in this life. The world is this fallen world with its fallen values. Here Paul spoke of “the ways of the world,” and that speaks of both an inward and outward adherence on our part. Every earthly culture has two aspects: the inner cultural values and the outward customs with their “proper” ways to act. John wrote:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not from the Father but from the world. The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God remains forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

The flesh is the biblical way of describing our fallen human nature that is detailed here. We willingly walk in the ways of the world because of our “flesh.” Our problem is not just what is “out there” in the world but what is “in here” in our hearts. We each have a tendency to sin. We read that before Christ we lived  “fulfilling the cravings of our flesh and indulging its desires and thoughts” (Eph. 2:3).

Elsewhere Paul wrote:

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh; for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do. Instead, I keep on doing the evil I do not want to do. And if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:18-20)

Early in the American experience, many well-meaning European pioneers sought to get away from the evil influences of where they had come from and to establish new and “Christian” communities – utopias – that would be places like virtual Edens. But they found that they each brought sin with them in their own hearts into the communities.

The devil is the evil mastermind behind this entire problem. Here he is called “the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). Satan is identified as a spirit that works among the people of this world to inspire disobedience to God. Paul wrote more about the devil and demons to the Christians in Ephesus than any other church. From the Acts 19 account of the establishing of the church there, and the clear spiritual conflict they were engaged in, we can only assume that the city was a stronghold of Satanic activity.

The phrase “power of the air” shows two things. (a) Satan is not limited geographically, not more than the air we breath is locked into certain areas only.  Eventually every molecule of the atmosphere that one human breathes can be breathed in by any other person on the planet. And the same is true of the work of the devil. (b) But I believe there is some weakness intended also in this description, as though his domain is built “in the air” and not grounded in any eternal reality.

We speak of those who dwell too much in phantasies as “building castles in the air,” and this is certainly the reality of Satan. As John wrote: “Woe to the earth … with great fury the devil has come down to you, knowing he has only a short time” (Rev. 12:12).

By nature children of wrath

The human condition is such that God is fully justified to exercise His wrath against us all. There are many questions this thought raises: At what age do we become “children of wrath?” Is the wrath of God exercised with the same fierceness against all humans? These and other questions are answered in the teachings of God’s word. As Abraham said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). So God is the completely fair and equitable judge. Christ spoke of it being “more tolerable” (Mark 6:11) for some in judgement than others. So we can trust God that His judgment will be completely fair. Where God’s word is silent in details we may assume that the affirmations of His fairness and rightness adequately cover the matters in general. He is the Judge, not you or me. He will judge fairly.

But if we do not understand this point – that the entire human race earned its total condemnation in the holiness of God’s judgment – then we will not understand His love and His grace. His love motivated Him to act in grace and send Christ to die for our sins. The human race is not just a little sick spiritually, and just needs a little help, some encouragement to try harder. No, the human race is dead spiritually, and only the grace of God in Christ can make us alive spiritually.

Those of us who have come to Christ have no means to boast or to be proud of ourselves, for we, in ourselves alone, were children of wrath. All of our boasting is in the cross of Christ and in the love and grace of God in Christ. Our life comes from Him, our adoption comes from Him, and we can debate the mystery of faith – how much of it is done by us and how much is done by God – but we must be clear that no faith would be possible without the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ, and Christ Himself, to believe in, and without the Spirit at work in our hearts to bring us to faith in Christ.

So here is a reason to humbly rejoice. God has reached down into our lives and redeemed us in Christ, and has called us to Himself. He has adopted us as His children. His grace in Christ is able to take those who are properly called “children of wrath” and save them and make them like Christ spiritually.  God’s grace is amazing for more than just one reason! He reaches down to save us – that is amazing! – but He also brings us up and seats us with Christ in the heavenly places – also amazing!

Daily Devotions, Ephesians, Evening Devotionals

The Help of His Face

September 21st, 2018

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. (Psalm 42:5)

The psalmist knew what it was like to be on the mountaintop of successful ministry and to be in the valley of blame of failure. Anyone who serves the Lord very long will experience these two deceptive moments and must be prepared for them. Rudyard Kipling wrote: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.”

This type of thing happens in the careers of most people. Rarely, whether you are in business, education, medicine, or military, do you always go from success to success, from triumph to triumph. And it happens to those who serve the Lord as well.

The deception of triumph

Certainly it is more fun to be successful in any venture, than to seem to be less than successful. But success rarely depends on one single person alone. It comes due to a combination of realities – timing, mood, opportunity, chemistry, and unseen thoughts. Often the Spirit moves among a people, like the wind blows (John 3:8), and people respond to Christ and to His call to serve. And some situations there is less movement by God and less faith by people.

There is a scene in the film The Bear that depicted for me the reality of ministry. The film tells the story of an orphaned bear cub trying to survive in the wilderness. In a dramatic moment in the film a mountain lion chases the young vulnerable cub across the hilly terrain until the cub is cornered. But rather than cowering in panic, the cub stands its ground, letting out a brave roar, and the mountain lion stops its charge and runs away. Just as we think that the cub had successfully defended itself, the camera widens its view and we see a full grown bear standing behind the cub growling as well.

I thought to myself, how often we are like the cub, thinking that we in our courage, or creativity, or cleverness, have been successful in our lives, when in reality it was God who stood behind us and orchestrated the entire matter. He sent the right people, and the Spirit blew among the society, and success happened from His hand. We were just a simple part of a much larger work of God.

Christ told His disciples, when they returned rejoicing from the success of their mission: “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). All that we have is really is what the Lord has prepared for us in heaven. And that is what we are to hold on to. In the heady moments of successful ministry we can delight too much in the fruit of our efforts and not enough in the Lord Himself.

The help of His countenance

We could also speak of the deception of disaster, to paraphrase Kipling. Keil-Delitzsch points out that it is the spiritual man that must comfort the natural man in our hearts. It is the new nature in Christ that is given us at salvation that must grow and lead within our hearts, and not our old fallen nature with its focus on outward results. The “help of His countenance” is the look of mercy from our heavenly Father. It is the nurture of the merciful face of God that lightens our burdens and enables us to rediscover our joy.

In many ways, the relatively fruitless times of ministry become greater blessings to our hearts than the seemingly successful times, because they require us to turn our thoughts to God, to look up to Him, to commune with Him and to rest in Him. Success in any field tempts us to take our eyes off of Christ, and seeming failure teaches us to look at Him afresh.

The New Testament speaks often of “bearing with one another” (Col. 3:13), meaning to endure and to continue even when it seems pointless and difficult. People who are agreeable and pleasant and enjoyable to be with are easy to serve alongside of, and it takes no special amount of character or spiritual discipline to do so. But we reveal that we have been with God when we are able to graciously endure difficult people and difficult circumstances.

We all need, in our souls, to spend time looking at the merciful face of God, to remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of life and service to God, and just in isolation commune with Him. The psalmist was dealing with a period of his life that seemed relatively fruitless. In His younger years he had been with the multitude, leading them in excited worship, but now he felt forgotten by god, a source of reproach by his enemies. The only way out of this depression was the renewed vision of the merciful face of God.

This treasure in earthen vessels

One of the most meaningful passages of scripture to me is the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians. There Paul explains how he kept going in service: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7). Then he goes on to say that we are “hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed” (4:8), because the life of Jesus is within us.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (4:16). God is constantly at work within us. And it is exactly this reality that makes the Christian message compelling – not that everything is always pleasant, or easy, but that God is constantly at work. If we will let Him, I believe God can turn these seemingly dark times into beautiful periods of light and life, times in which we rejoice in Him and grow in Him more than ever before.

After all, the only problem we really have is with our earthen vessels we call our human bodies and minds. We have no problem with the power and grace and mercy of God. The Father is always at work (John 5:17). Our need is to slow down long enough to listen to Him and to experience the salvation that comes through seeing His face.

Daily Devotions, Evening Devotionals, Psalms