Our Joyful Burden

I shared last week that the judgment of God should be a cause for both fear and rejoicingboth regret and comfort—for those who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But for those who have no relationship with God, the judgment of God is a cause for only fear and regret. 

How did Nahum respond to this word of judgment God spoke through him? His opening words say, “The burden against Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite” (NKJV). The Hebrew word for “burden” is almost always associated with a word God has spoken. It’s a realization of God’s weighty glory; it’s never, ever something we should trivialize! 

Prophets don’t just prophesy future events, they also announce in the present tense where people have departed from a lifestyle that robs God of His glory and how they can be forgiven of sins. 

“The prophets foretell (speak to what will happen in the future) and forth-tell (speak to what we should be doing in the present), both in the light of God’s heart for His own glory among all peoples of the world.” —Dick Brogden 

God never makes idle threats nor empty promises. Truly His Word is His bond. Through Nahum, God foretold that Assyria would be utterly destroyed, twice saying, “I am against you” (Nahum 2:13-3:7). 

The world may rejoice at God’s justice on evil (3:19), but how does God feel about carrying out His judgment? Ezekiel records God saying, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Sovereign Lord. “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23) 

And Jesus declared, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16-17)

The Bible shows that when I sin, God’s first response is not anger toward me but broken-hearted grief. This is the message that must be both foretold and forth-told by Christians. 

“But what can I do,” you might ask. “I’m just one person. I’m not a big-time evangelist.” That sounds a lot like Nahum. He was just a guy from Elkosh—no special family lineage, no large city to claim as his home. 

God is looking for just one that will speak out His words (Ezekiel 3:17-21). Just one who will be humble enough to search their own heart first and then both boldly and lovingly deliver a message of both judgment and escape (Matthew 7:1-5; James 5:20). 

Foretelling God’s judgment is a burden. Forth-telling God’s forgiveness is a joy. All Christians have been given the joyful burden of this both-and ministry! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series called Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here

Spirit-Empowered To Do Good Works

Micah the prophet’s name means who is like God, or more literally: “who but God?” The implied answer, of course, is no one! 

Micah opens his letter by telling us his name, and then he closes his prophetic words with a play on his name when he says, “Who is a God like You?” (7:18-20). Who else but God could…

  • …pardon sin?
  • …forgive transgressions? 
  • …not stay angry at sinners? 
  • …delight to show mercy? 
  • …have such boundless compassion? 
  • …tread our sins under His foot?
  • …hurl our iniquities into the sea?  

NO ONE! 

In light of this, how should we respond to this amazing God? Micah asks a series of rhetorical questions about what sort of religious practices would somehow “balance the scales” for God’s amazing gifts to us. But here’s the deal: there is no way for us to balance the scales! Instead, Micah tells us this, “God has showed you what is good. What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” 

In other words, our response to God’s invaluable gifts must transition from a have to lifestyle to a get to lifestyle! Micah makes it clear that God’s Spirit empowers us to live this way (Micah 3:8). 

It is the Holy Spirit who empowers Christians to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. 

The apostle Paul agrees with Micah, even echoing some of Micah’s own phrases—God’s great love, His rich mercy, His unearned grace, His forgiveness of sin, His kindness, and His salvation (Ephesians 2:4-10). Why did God do all of this? So that we could “do good works”—like acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly—“which God prepared in advance for us to do”!

I am saved by grace SO THAT I am free to do grace-filled, Spirit-empowered, good things. 

All of this prompts me to ask myself three introspective questions:

  1. Do I continually remind myself that I was saved by grace and not by works? I need to check my have to vs. get to attitude. 
  2. Am I aware that people are watching me? What are they seeing? Do they see godly justice, loving mercy, and humility? 
  3. Am I living like Jesus? Peter explained that Jesus “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). Can that be said of me too? 

Who but God could call us, forgive us, and forget our sins? NO ONE! 

Who but God could empower us to live in such a way that others see His greatness too? NO ONE! 

Let’s never, ever become self-reliant or works-dependent (that’s have to living), but let’s stay so Spirit-reliant that we cannot help be get to people! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series about major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here

Think On This…

Here’s the seed thought for this episode of Think On This

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

Think on this: God has forgotten every sin of mine that He has ever forgiven!

Trespassers

Psalm 59 is the prequel to David being betrayed by the Ziphites as well as the incident in the cave between himself and King Saul. 

This psalm is also called an imprecatory psalm, which is the theological way of saying, “Get ‘em, God!” Since King Saul has sent assassins to try to kill David, you can understand why David is praying this way. But I sort of wonder why he inserts a Selah pause after two rather angry-sounding sentences in verses 5 and 13. 

When we are reading—or even praying—an imprecatory prayer, here are some important things to keep in mind: 

  • This prayer is inspired by the Holy Spirit. All of the words in the prayer, including the Selah pauses, are directed by the Holy Spirit. Getting our angry thoughts out in God’s presence is the safest place to vent. 
  • This is a prayer for justice because an injustice has been done, not just a prayer because David is upset with someone. 
  • Since this prayer says, “Get ‘em, God,” it’s a prayer that turns matters over to God as the Ultimate Judge, taking the judgment out of my hands. 

Really this is a prayer that seeks to balance something vital: The desire to see evil punished while at the same time desiring to see all evildoers come to salvation. 

Think of it this way: When I sin, do I want to meet a God of justice or a God of mercy? Since we are to treat others the way that we would want to be treated, if I want to receive God’s mercy, I have to desire that for others too. Even those evildoers who have hurt me. 

David’s first Selah pause comes after saying that he is innocent of any offense or wrongdoing. When we pray an imprecatory prayer, we would do well to ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts to reveal any trespasses we have committed (see Psalm 19:12-13; 139:23-24). 

David’s second Selah pause comes after he says, “Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob.” Is my “Get ‘em, God” prayer a desire for me to be seen as the overcomer or for God to be seen as glorious? 

As long as my focus is on my trespassers, my focus is off my God. 

I cannot be consumed by thoughts of “them” because then I rob myself of thoughts of Him! 

So when you get angry enough at someone who has trespassed against you that you want to pray a “Get ‘em, God” prayer, Selah pause and pray, “Holy Spirit… 

  • …show me my trespasses; 
  • …help me forgive my trespassers; and
  • …help me to focus on my God, and not on my trespassers or my forgiven trespasses.” 

If you have missed any of the other messages in our Selah series, you can find links to all of them listed here. 

How To Pray When You’ve Been Stabbed In The Back

Sadly, some of the people who do us the most harm are those whom we least expected to hurt us. They seemed to have our back, but then they are stabbing us in the back! 

It’s sad, but it shouldn’t be totally unexpected. Matthew Henry said it well: “Never let a good man expect to be safe and easy till he comes to heaven. … It is well that God is faithful, for men are not to be trusted. 

David learned that lesson. He rescued the town of Keilah from the Philistines, only to hear that King Saul has called out his army to destroy Keilah and kill David. This prompted David to leave Keilah and flee to the Desert of Ziph. It appears that David has given Saul the slip, but the Ziphites send a message to the king saying, “We know where David is hiding, and we’ll gladly hand him over to you.” 

Here’s the painful part for David: Both Keilah and Ziph were in Judah—David’s tribe! His own family—that should have had his back—stabbed him in the back instead! 

I wish I could say this was a once-in-awhile thing, but we all know that it’s not. In fact, this sort of betrayal probably happens more often than we would care to admit. 

It was during this time of betrayal by the Ziphites that David wrote the 54th Psalm. In the opening verses, David laments the ruthless, Godless men that have betrayed him. And then comes that word of pause: Selah. 

I believe this Selah may have come when “Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God” (1 Samuel 23:16). One of the definitions of Selah is to weigh things to see what is more valuable. Notice that Jonathan took David’s attention off his evil betrayers and turned it to his loving God. So in the very next phrase after the Selah we read David saying, “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the One who sustains me.” 

Notice four key components of David’s prayer—

  1. David’s motive for praying. In the opening verse, he says, “Your Name…Your might.” To me, that sounds a lot like the opening words to the model prayer Jesus taught us: “Hallowed be Your Name.” 
  2. David’s prayer. He said, “Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth.” It’s interesting to note that David says nothing to the Ziphites themselves, but he only speaks of them when he is alone with God in prayer.  
  3. Prayer’s result. David didn’t have to try to make things right on his own because God took care of it—evil recoiled on those who stabbed David in the back. 
  4. David’s praise. Notice the words “I will praise Your Name…[You] have delivered me.” Again, this praise and focus on God sounds like the end of the model prayer Jesus taught us: “Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever!” 

When enemies assail, when you have been stabbed in the back, don’t look to men for help and don’t take matters in your own hands. Instead take a Selah. Consider that God is worthy of your attention, and not the “ruthless men” who hurt you. Turn your pain over to God and say with David: Surely God is my help; the Lord is the One who sustains me. 

Evil will recoil on evildoers, you will be kept safe, and you will be vindicated by God’s might! 

If you missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can find them all by clicking here. 

Poetry Saturday—Trinitie Sunday

Lord, who hast form’d me out of mud,
    And hast redeem’d me through Thy bloud,
    And sanctifi’d me to do good;

Purge all my sinnes done heretofore:
    For I confesse my heavie score,
    And I will strive to sinne no more.

Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
    With faith, with hope, with charitie;
    That I may runne, rise, rest with Thee. —George Herbert

[Reblog] What’s So Good About Good Friday?

I posted this 10 years ago on Good Friday.

Good Friday? Good for whom?

For you and me? Yes.

Good for Jesus, no. It was Bad Friday for Him, wasn’t it?

Or was it?

The writer of Hebrews says, “For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the Cross, scorning its shame.

What joy?

It was for the joy of what was nailed to the Cross.

So what exactly was nailed to the Cross?

Isaiah records an unusual statement from God—

Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

That seems unfair! We receive double(!) for our sins! Here’s a 2-minute video where I explain what this means culturally—

Only when invoices were paid-in-full did they get doubled-up.

The Bible tells us that we’ve all sinned, and that the invoice or penalty for our sin is death. We have the IOUs of sin nailed to the door of our heart where God says “You owe Me your life!” But we cannot pay this debt by ourselves.

But Jesus can. And Jesus did! Check this out—

He personally carried our sins in His body on the Cross…. (1 Peter 2:24 NLT)

Having canceled and blotted out and wiped away the handwriting of the note with its legal decrees and demands which was in force and stood against us. This He set aside and cleared completely out of our way by nailing it to His Cross. (Colossians 2:14 AMP)

That’s what is good about Good Friday. Jesus knew that taking our sins on His body, and then allowing His body to be nailed to the Cross, would double-up and nail-down our sin once and for all!

When Jesus said, “It is finished!” He was really saying, “It is paid-in-full!”

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Why Did Jesus Suffer?

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Why Did Jesus Suffer?

     Think much of all your Lord suffered, but do not overlook the reason for it. If you cannot always understand how this or that grief worked toward the great end of the whole passion, yet believe that it has its share in the grand why. Make a life-study of that bitter but blessed question, ‘Why have You forsaken Me?’ …

     Why, then, did God forsake His Son? I cannot conceive any other answer than this: He stood in our place. There was no reason in Christ why the Father should forsake Him—He was perfect and His life was without spot. God never acts without reason, and since there were no reasons in the character and person of the Lord Jesus why His Father should forsake Him, we must look elsewhere. … 

     He bore the sinner’s sin and He had to be treated, therefore, as though He were a sinner, the sinner He could never be! With His own full consent He suffered as though He had committed the transgressions that were laid on Him. Our sin and His taking it upon Himself are the answer to the question, ‘Why have You forsaken Me?’ …

     So long as the smile of God rests on the man, the law is not afflicting him. The approving look of the great judge cannot fall upon a man who is viewed as standing in the place of the guilty. Christ suffered not only from sin, but for sin. If God will cheer and sustain Him, He is not suffering for sin. The judge is not inflicting suffering for sin if He is manifestly encouraging the smitten one. There could have been no vicarious suffering on the part of Christ for human guilt if He had continued, consciously, to enjoy the full sunshine of the Father’s presence. It was essential to being a victim in our place that He should cry, ‘My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?’ … 

     Beloved, see how marvelously, in the person of Christ, the Lord our God has vindicated His law!

From My God, My God Why Have You Forsaken Me?

The great apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about his singular focus—When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2) 

“Think much of all your Lord suffered, but do not overlook the reason for it,” Spurgeon said. 

That earth-quaking, darkness-inducing, temple-rattling, soul-piercing cry of Jesus—My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?—could only have been uttered by someone perfect. I know plenty of reasons why God could have forsaken me, but Jesus knew only a single reason. 

Jesus did not suffer because of something He had done wrong, but because of all I had done wrong.

That Cross was stained with His blood for my sin. 

Because He was forsaken, I am now accepted in the Beloved Jesus (Ephesians 1:6-7). Think much on this: Jesus was crucified for you and me SO THAT we wouldn’t have to bear the penalty of our sin. Justice was satisfied. Now, by faith in His sacrifice on the Cross, we can come to God not only with our sins forgiven, but we can be accepted by Him as His children. 

My friend, think much on this. Resolve to know the unspeakable value of Christ crucified for you. And then rejoice greatly that you are accepted in the Beloved. If you would like to know more, please contact me.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Born A King

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Born A King

     A very singular thing is this, that Jesus Christ was said to have been ‘born King of the Jews’ (Matthew 2:2). … The moment that He came on earth, He was a king. He did not wait till His majority that He might take His empire—but as soon as His eye greeted the sunshine, He was a King. From the moment that His little hands grasped anything, they grasped a scepter. As soon as His pulse beat and His blood begin to flow, His heart beat royally and His pulse beat an imperial measure and His blood flowed in a kingly current. He was born a King. He came ‘to be ruler in Israel.’ … 

     His goings forth as our Surety were from everlasting [Micah 5:2]. Pause, my soul, and wonder! You had goings forth in the person of Jesus from everlasting. Not only when you were born into the world did Christ love you, but His delights were with the sons of men before there were any sons of men! Often did He think of them; from everlasting to everlasting He had set His affection upon them. … 

     If He had not loved me with a love as deep as hell and as unutterable as the grave, if He had not given His whole heart to me, I am sure He would have turned from me long ago. He knew what I would be and He had time enough to consider it—but I am His choice and that is the end of it. … He knew me before I knew myself—yes, He knew me before I was myself. … 

     Sweet Lord Jesus! You whose going forth were of old, even from everlasting, You have not left Your goings forth yet. Oh, that You would go forth this day to cheer the faint, to help the weary, to bind up our wounds, to comfort our distresses! Go forth, we beseech You, to conquer sinners, to subdue hard hearts, to break the iron gates of sinners’ lusts and cut the iron bars of their sins in pieces! O Jesus! Go forth, and when You go forth, come to me!

From The Incarnation And Birth Of Christ

Think about that for a moment—Jesus had all of eternity to think about you, to see your whole life, and still, He loved you enough to die on a Cross for you! 

That God should love a sinner such as I 
Should yearn to change my sorrow into bliss 
Nor rest till He had planned to bring me nigh 
How wonderful is love like this

Such love, such wondrous love 
Such love, such wondrous love 
That God should love a sinner such as I 
How wonderful is love like this

That Christ should join so freely in the scheme 
Although it meant His death on Calvary
Did ever human tongue find nobler theme 
Than love divine that ransomed me

That for a willful outcast such as I
The Father planned the Savior bled and died 
Redemption for a worthless slave to buy 
Who long had law and grace defied

And now He takes me to His heart a son 
He asks me not to fill a servant’s place 
The far off country wanderings all are done 
Wide open are His arms of grace —C. Bishop, Such Love

The Need For Confession

Jesus taught us to pray to OUR Father. This speaks of community and accountability. Ken Blanchard noted: “Accountability means: We owe each other for something we’ve agreed upon.” What have the saints of God agreed upon? That God is our Father, that Jesus is His Son and our Brother, and that the Holy Spirit is our Helper. We’ve agreed that if we are brothers and sisters in God’s family, we are mutually accountable to one another. 

The part of accountability that some people don’t like is the realization that I make mistakes: I let people down; I sin. In a community of saints, my shortfall not only affects me but the rest of the community too. But there is a remedy—The remedy for my sin starts with my confession of my sin. 

If people like David, Isaiah, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Paul confessed their sin and called themselves sinners, what makes me think that I’m exempt from that diagnosis or that cure?! 

Confession is an owning of my sin. It’s saying to God, “I have sinned. I need forgiveness. I will repent of this. I need Your mercy.” And it’s saying to my fellow saints, “I need your help so I don’t have to repeat this sin.” 

Unconfessed sin is life-draining (Psalm 32:1-5). The word confess in the Old Testament Hebrew means to “throw out your hand.” Expose it all! In the New Testament Greek confess means to acknowledge that my life does not measure up to God’s standard. 

Confession may start in my personal prayer closet, but it needs to move to the public domain of the community of saints. Jesus made it plural, “Forgive US OUR debts, as WE have forgiven OUR debtors.” 

Sometimes I cannot see my own debts that need to be forgiven (Psalm 19:12), so I need the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the loving confrontation of someone who loves me (Psalm 139:23-24; Proverbs 27:6, 2 Samuel 12:1-13). 

The apostle James helps us see how a loving community brings healing, deliverance, and restoration. The key components that James lists are prayer and confession (James 5:13-16). 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer echoed James when he wrote, “A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light.”  

Confession may be the most under-used resource for Christians to gain power in prayer and victory over falling into temptation!

Let’s continually make use of this wonderfully freeing discipline. 

%d bloggers like this: