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Archive for December, 2018

There Is a God, You Are Not Him

December 31st, 2018

As for man, his days are like grass— he blooms like a flower of the field; when the wind has passed over, it vanishes, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the loving devotion of the LORD extends to those who fear Him, and His righteousness to their children’s children—to those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts. The LORD has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103:15-19 BSB)

One of the major after-effects of the fall of mankind is a misguided opinion about ourselves. We take ourselves too seriously, and replace what was meant to be the spirit of true worship of the eternal greatness of God with an admiration of ourselves. Indeed, this was part of the original temptation that Satan put forth to Adam, that by eating the forbidden fruit they could become as God.

This appears to be a tricky matter, however, to discuss properly because there is so much attached to the subject. We humans are not always bad to one another all the time, yet still there are many bad things we do one another. The point of our attacks against one another is often in the area of diminishing the humanity and importance of another. We each have felt the sting of these “put downs” and dehumanising comments and disenfranchising attitudes – whether they come to us due to race, due to class and social status, or simply are directed at us from within our own family.

So anyone and everyone who is human knows what it is like to be put down. We learn in life that we must stand up for ourselves, and fight back against injustice and insult. When the world says we are nothing, we feel the need to answer and say “I am somebody.” Yet in answering these challenges, we can leave God out of the matter, resulting in merely another and a greater tragedy. For it is our Creator who gives us dignity.

The Dignity of Mankind

Our dignity is found in the fact that we are creations, made by the all-wise and all-powerful God. And we are made in His image – we reflect His thinking and His manner and his values. Sin has scared us and that original image is today misshapen and twisted. Our usefulness to God is diminished, but not our value to Him.

This is one of the most amazing truths of Scripture, that despite our sin God still loves us. He has paid the price to redeem us by the death of Christ on the cross in payment for our sins, and He has the power to change us and restore us. When we come to Christ in faith we become new creatures, and we are on a growth path now, growing more and more in grace to reflect the character of Christ. God promises to finish this task in heaven:

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your entire spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. (1 Thes. 5:23-24 BSB)

Sin has diminished our dignity, but grace in Christ recovers and reclaims it. But this does not give us the right to mistreat those among us who are not yet saved. We should treat all people with respect and dignity due to their potential in Christ. And in that sense, we should not allow people to disrespect us. Common courtesy means that we should be patient with one another and not be offended every time we suspect someone disrespects us, otherwise we would turn into argumentative neurotics.

Our dignity calls us not only to not let other mistreat us, or to try and take away our humanity, but that we should also, out of that dignity, treat others with the same respect that they should have had toward us.

We Are Like the Grass

But the text above points out our vulnerability. We are like the grass that flourishes for a while, that blossoms and blooms, but then dies. We have our life and may have our great moments, but this physical life is fleeting. It is here today and gone tomorrow. No matter how long we live, it is over in a flash and even the memories we have are blown away by the winds of time.

And our place is remembered no more. Haven’t we all had those experiences of returning to some place – a former school, an old neighborhood, a former work place – where we were somebody important, or thought we were, yet the people there no longer remember us. Oh, this is what life is like. We are all forgotten in the end, no matter how important we seemed at the time. And often our achievements are also forgotten.

This should not make life insignificant and our achievements unimportant, for this is true for everybody, and advancements in human civilization can only come through those who achieve something, and pass it on to the future generations, and then vanish. Solomon wrote:

When there is a man who has labored with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and he must give his portion to a man who has not worked for it, this too is futile and a great evil. For what does a man get for all the labor and endeavors at which he toils under the sun? Indeed, all his days are filled with grief, and his task is sorrowful; even at night, his mind does not rest. This too is futile. Nothing is better for man than to eat and drink and enjoy his work. I have also seen that this is from the hand of God. For apart from Him, who can eat and who can find enjoyment? (Ecclesiastes 2:21-25)

So we ought to seek to achieve something for the world – this is what God has given every person to do. The good man or woman “must work, doing good with his own hands, that he may have something to share with the one in need” (Eph. 4:28). We should seek to make the world a better place, but we should also realize that we will all be forgotten by the world eventually.

I was in a men’s Bible study this past week and we began to discuss death and whether a Christian should be cremated or buried. A biology teacher spoke up and said that it does not really matter, because the outcome will eventually be the same for both. Cremation makes it happen sooner, but eventually the body buried in the ground will undergo the same disintegration.

Our Eternal Significance Is Found in God

The psalmist was inspired of God to proclaim an encouraging truth, that only God is eternal, but that because He is our Redeemer we find eternal life in Him. God is not the supreme egotist, who created and redeemed us just so that He could be praised. If that was all He wanted, He never needed to redeem us from sin through the painful means of the cross of Christ. He could have simply annihilated mankind and created another race that would only praise Him all the time.

But that is not who God is. God rather is love and the reality of being in the presence of God is to experience His mercy and grace and love. Christ said to the Father: “Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, that they may see the glory You gave Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). The glory of God is inseparably connected to His love, and to praise Him is to express our gratitude forour salvation, for our acceptance in His eternal family, and our awe of how greatly He loves us.

It is our praise of God that gives us eternal significance. And praising Him is the most mature thing we can do. The immature person focuses on himself, and has an insatiable desire to be noticed and appreciated. One day, hopefully, the selfish immature person will wake up and realize how fleeting life here is, and that even those who praise and compliment him will eventually die and be forgotten as well. That his self-focus is an empty thing, vanity and meaningless.

Out of His love, God saves us from sin, brings us into His eternal family, affirms us as His children, tells us in our hearts that we are important for Him and always will be important to Him. He restores our lost dignity that was ruined by our sin and by the sin of others. He heals the inner wounds of our heart, and we find complete acceptance in the Beloved Savior.

So if you long for dignity, respect, significance, and affirmation – come to Christ and let Him save you and redeem you.

Daily Devotions, Psalms

Resting in Confidence

December 26th, 2018

Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. He who goes out weeping, bearing a trail of seed, will surely return with shouts of joy, carrying sheaves of grain. (Psalm 126:5-6 BSB)

The psalmist makes a spiritual analogy from farming life, that the one who goes forth planting seed should expect a harvest, and even if the planting or sowing is done in difficult conditions – even with weeping – there will come a time of rejoicing at the harvest.

God empowerment or self empowerment

In today’s world, especially in the developed world, increasingly the emphasis is on self-empowerment and cultivating the attitude that takes charge of life. We see this in management seminars that teach people to prepare purpose statements, strategic objectives, goals and aspirations, and measurable steps to get where they are going. But it is also the spirit of the age that has a growing confidence of what we can do. People are taught today to see themselves as empowered agents who can change their surroundings and achieve their goals in life.

This is not all bad – not at all. People should set goals and confidently seek to achieve those in their life. As someone who has been the senior pastor of some large church for the past twenty-five years, overseeing ministerial staff members, I have encouraged my staff members to make concrete goals for their ministry. Yet in life, and even in the Christian life, we can take this concept in a direction that leaves God out of it. James rebuked the people of his day and age along these same lines and wrote:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business, and make a profit.” You do not even know what will happen tomorrow! What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your proud intentions. All such boasting is evil. Therefore, whoever knows the right thing to do, yet fails to do it, is guilty of sin. (James 4:13-17 BSB)

The greatest need for our age and for every age is to know and experience the empowerment of God. The passage above from Psalm 126 does not teach us that those who set out on a certain course of their choosing, and stay the course, will inevitably find success regardless. Rather the point is that those who go God’s way, who believe His promises, who teach His Word, who witness to His grace, power, and redemption, they who plant the seed of the word of God in the lives of people will eventually see these come to fruition. We human beings are capable of failure, but God never fails. We read:

For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return without watering the earth, making it bud and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that proceeds from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and it will prosper where I send it. (Isaiah 55:10-11 BSB)

Even for those who reject His Word and His witness, the Word achieves the goal of condemnation.

Sowing in tears

This psalm came out of the judgment of God for the Hebrew nation’s sins, which resulted in the Babylonian Captivity. Puritan scholar Matthew Henry pointed out:  “God sent them into captivity, not as dross is put into the fire to be consumed, but as gold to be refined.” So it is always with God and His children. The tears are not useless, but rather they become part of the planting process of God. And trouble and hardship, when faced with knowledge of the Word of God become instruments He uses to grow us. Our tears are like the rain that waters the ground where the seed falls.

Our tears are not the seed, and some people just become bitter in hardship, but if we can remain fixed to the purposes of the cross and of grace, and keep reading and meditating on His Word we find that these tears help to nurture and to fertilise God’s truth in our hearts.

Reaping in joy

But what is spoken of here, and what the emphasis in the Bible on this matter of purpose and planting the truth of God, is not merely about self-development, but about sharing His love with others. The sheaves he is talking about represent those who trust the Lord through the seed of God’s Word that we have planted in their life.

The seed must also be planted in ours, but not in ours alone. We cannot stand before Christ and find a suitable answer in the Bema Judgment in the purpose of our life goal that we focused only on our growth and let our neighbours remain lost. Rather the purpose of every Christian must be aligned with the Great Commission to make disciples of the whole world. We do this work the best – just like farmers do – when we work with others. We all have some role to play in this matter.

But I believe that in the truly spiritual person these matters become intertwined with one another – our growth and our neighbour’s salvation and growth – until we cannot always completely separate the two. We invite people to come to Christ, but also to come and sit with us at the table of grace as our brothers and sisters. It is the family of God that rejoices in the common effort and common purpose and shared character.

Resting in Confidence

So we can rest peacefully in God and in the power of His grace, confidently and calmly. Leave the time and means and nature of the future harvest to God. We can rest in His promise. Though there may be times when the Spirit will place on our hearts the urgency of this matter with some people, and call us to act quickly and immediately, we never should do this in a spirit of insecurity or anxiousness. We can attend to the task of planting His truth and letting God bring the increase in His time and in His way.

 

Psalms