Really Bad News And Really, Really Good News

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

My cousin Dick Brogden wrote in his book Missionary God, Missionary Bible, “Since good news must often indeed rectify bad news, the gospel message is both warning and invitation.” This is so appropriate when reading the prophet Zephaniah: He wanted to share some really, really good news, but first, he must make us confront the really bad news. 

Zephaniah prophesied near the end of Judah’s decline toward exile. He saw the great revival in King Josiah’s day, and then watched his fellow Israelites once again turn their backs on God. If Jeremiah spoke to faithless Israelites, and Habakkuk spoke to faithful Israelites, then Zephaniah spoke to fake Israelites—those who appeared to be religious, but whose hearts were not actually devoted to God. 

This whole book looks backward in history and forward to soon-to-be-fulfilled prophecy. Most of the time when God speaks, He is asking us to look forward to what is unavoidably coming. Zephaniah then takes God’s words as a call for us to apply them to our lives today. 

In the first chapter, God’s forward-look is a warning of the judgment that most assuredly is coming. Built into His warning are two backward looks to the law of Deuteronomy (vv. 13 and 15 look back to Deuteronomy 28:29-30). 

Zephaniah uses this warning as a wake-up call for us, telling us to “seek the Lord” and “seek righteousness, seek humility” before the day of God’s judgment comes (2:1-3). 

The fact that God’s judgment would fall on godless people shouldn’t surprise anyone (2:4-15), but when Zephaniah says, “Woe to the city of oppressors” (3:1), he’s talking to the people of Judah! Zephaniah addresses his warning to the fake Israelites, the hypocritical people—those claiming God’s name but not God’s nature. 

The apostle Paul sounds a similar warning to New Testament Christians: 

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.’ We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:6-14) 

The really bad news is ALL of us have sinned and we have ALL fallen short of God’s righteous standard. As a result, ALL of us would stand guilty before God on Judgment Day. 

But the really, really good news is that Jesus allowed our penalty to fall on Him instead! So if we put our faith in Jesus, God’s judgment will be appeased in Christ instead of on us! 

Christians, then, take the name of Jesus Christ, but we need to make sure we also take His nature.  Fake—hypocritical—Christians are those who are “Christian” in name only. 

I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased part of the 1 Corinthians passage above—These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence. (The Message) 

As we read those words, “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall,” I’d like to suggest four action steps:

  1. Hear the Word of God to YOU—not your neighbor—but you personally. 
  2. After you hear the Word, examine yourself to see if you are truly living in God’s nature and not just using His name. 
  3. Respond like King Josiah did when he heard God’s Word: He made a public commitment “to follow the Lord and keep His commands, statutes and decrees with ALL his heart and ALL his soul” (2 Kings 23:3). 
  4. Stay diligent—Hebrews 2:1 tells us, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” 

Don’t delay—the Day of the Lord is closer today than it’s ever been before! Pay attention to the really bad news that Judgment Day is coming, but then make certain you are standing in the nature of Jesus Christ on that day so that God’s judgment will pass over you. 

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

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Poetry Saturday—Will Ye Also Go Away?

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When any turn from Zion’s way,
(As numbers often do,)
Methinks I hear my Saviour say,
Wilt thou forsake Me too?”

Ah, Lord! with such a heart as mine,
Unless Thou hold me fast,
My faith will fail, I shall decline,
And prove like them at last.

‘Tis Thou alone hast power and grace,
To save a wretch like me;
To whom then shall I turn my face,
If I depart from Thee.

Beyond a doubt I rest assur’d
Thou art the Christ of God;
Who hast eternal life secur’d,
By promise and by blood.

The help of men and angels join’d,
Could never reach my case!
Nor can I hope relief to find,
But in Thy boundless grace.

No voice but Thine can give me rest,
And bid my fears depart;
No love but Thine can make me blest,
And satisfy my heart. —John Newton

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Perspective On Persecution

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Around the world we hear of Christians being persecuted for their faith in Jesus: Afghanistan … N. Korea … China … even in the USA, Christians like Jack Phillips and Barronelle Stutzman are being persecuted for standing up for what they believe. 

Here’s an important principle to keep in mind: In times like these, we need to remember there have always been times like these. Especially because the psalmist Asaph, Jesus, and the apostle Paul all forewarned us about persecution (Psalm 83; Mark 13:9, 12-13; 2 Timothy 3:12-13). 

Jesus said that our persecution should only come “on account of Me.” And Asaph notices the same thing in his prayer, using phrases like “Your enemies,” “Your foes,” “they conspire against Your people,” and “they form an alliance against You.” 

Asaph also recognized that times like these call for a Selah pause—a pause to calmly consider. 

I think the first thing we need to consider is our part in bringing on the persecution. I need to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal if I may have been the trigger to the anger of these wicked people. If I have done something, I need to repent, ask forgiveness, and see what I can do to make restitution. 

Next, we need to Selah to consider this: It might look desperate, but God has handled these kinds of evil people before. Asaph mentions several enemies of God’s people whom God decisively defeated in the past. Our Selah pause will help us recall that God is the same today as He was yesterday—He is more than able to handle these persecutors. 

With all of these bullies ganging up on Israel, you can understand why Asaph cries out for God’s strong action against them. But I want you to notice that the call for judgment is NOT vindictive but redemptive. Asaph asks for punishment “so that men will seek Your name, O LORD” and that they may “know that You, whose name is the LORD—that You alone are the Most High over all the earth. 

In other words, this isn’t a “Get ‘em, God” prayer, but a “Save ‘em, God” prayer! 

We’re not looking for relief for ourselves—that’s only temporary—but we’re looking for glory for God—that’s eternal!

Jesus and the apostle Peter both tell us that God’s desire is for no one to perish apart from a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ (John 3:16-17; 2 Peter 3:9). 

The reason we need to Selah and ask that introspective question about our words or actions triggering our persecutor’s anger is because God will use our righteous response to persecution as a testimony. 

Jesus said our persecution should be because of Him, but He also told us that there would be a blessing in it (Matthew 5:11-12; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17-19). And Paul tells us that this reward isn’t just a silver lining to a dark cloud, but a reward beyond compare (Romans 8:18). 

Asaph went to prayer when Israel was attacked, and that should be our first response too. 

But let’s Selah in that prayer to make sure we’re not the trigger, and then may our prayer be more for God’s eternal glory than it is for our temporary relief. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series looking at the Selahs in the Psalms, you can access the full list by clicking here.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—We Are All Laborers

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.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

We Are All Laborers

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:6-9) 

     Remember that the ablest ministers, the most powerful evangelists, the most profound teachers are, after all, nothing but laborers together with God. Let your mind be set upon the Master and not upon the servants! Do not say, ‘We are for this man because he plants,’ or ‘We are for the other because he waters,’ or ‘We are a third party for nobody at all.’ But let us join in ascribing all honor and praise to God, Who works all our works in us, since every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights, to Whom be glory world without end! … 

     The church is God’s farm.… In the margin of the Revised Version, we read, ‘You are God’s tilled ground….’ 

    We begin by considering that the church is God’s farm. The Lord has made the church of His sovereign choice to be His own by purchase, having paid an immense price for it. ‘For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance’ (Deuteronomy 32:9). Because the Lord’s portion was under mortgage, therefore the only begotten Son laid down His life as the purchase price and redeemed His people to be the Lord’s portion forever and ever. Henceforth it is said to all believers, ‘You are not your own. For you were bought at a price’ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Every acre of God’s farm cost the Savior bloody sweat, yes, the blood of His heart! He loved us and gave Himself for us; that is the price He paid! … 

     The Master’s commission is not ‘sit still and see the Spirit of God convert the nations,’ but ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature’ (Mark 16:15). 

     Alas, the loiterers are many, but the laborers are few.

From Farm Laborers

It’s sad how much time Christians spend on non-essential things. We church shop to find the pastor or the music that suits our tastes; we claim ownership over ministries and only allow others to work under us, but never alongside us; or we attend church and give our tithes and offerings and expect the pastor to do all of the ministry. 

All of this is not only unbiblical but none of this is focused on eternity. And as C.S. Lewis said, “All that is not eternal is eternally useless.” 

Jesus paid too high a price for us to keep the good news to ourselves, or claim that our ministry is superior to someone else’s, or to simply loiter and watch others do the work. All Christians are laborers in God’s field. God made an invaluable investment in the work Jesus did on the Cross, so He wants to see a return on His investment that will last for all eternity. 

It’s time for us to stop squabbling, stop protecting our turf, and stop loitering. We must get to the work because the time is short and the Master is looking for eternal results.

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Watch Your Horn

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

During my freshman year of college, I was once the butt of a good-natured joke. I didn’t mind it so much except for the fact that there were several people in the room that didn’t know me, so they would have walked away thinking I was a jerk. As I vented to my roommate about this, his counsel was simply, “Just forgive ‘em, man!” 

Yeah, right … easier said than done! I didn’t want forgiveness—I wanted payback! Ever been there? 

The Hebrew word Selah is a call for us to pause and calmly think about what’s going on in our heart and mind. For instance, in those moments where we may want someone to get justice for the way they hurt us. 

In Psalm 75, God is literally the One who speaks the Selah. In fact, God speaks twice in this short psalm: once in verses 2-5 and again in verse 10 to close this psalm. Putting together His two speeches, God says, “I choose the right time, I judge perfectly, I hold everything firm. Selah. I will cut off the horns of all the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.” 

What is meant by “the horn of the wicked” or “the horn of the righteous”? Literally, it means a show of strength, but it can be used in both a negative or a positive sense. 

In the negative sense it means:

  • boasting of your own power 
  • standing in defiant opposition to all other powers 
  • proudly trumpeting your own strength
  • the English words “arrogant” and “boast” in verse 5 are both the same word Hebrew word halal. This means to shine a light on yourself, literally to say “Hallelujah!” to or about yourself! 

This pride is so dangerous! As C.S. Lewis said, “Pride is ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration on the self.”

In the positive sense, a horn means the righteous person who shines a light on God, who concentrates on Him, who knows that anything good they have comes from Him. 

The wicked lift up their own horn (literally lift up themselves), while the righteous bow their horn (literally lift up God). What does God do? God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). 

This psalm essentially has God giving two warnings:

  1. To the wicked He says, “Do not lift up your horn against Me.” 
  2. To the righteous He says, “Submit to Me and do not try to rush My timing.” 

Notice that Asaph says “a cup of foaming wine” is coming to the wicked (v. 8). This symbolizes God’s judgment (Revelation 19:11-16). This was to be our just punishment too, but Jesus took the cup of God’s wrath Himself, and in its place gave us the cup of God’s blessing (Isaiah 51:22; Matthew 26:39-42; 1 Corinthians 10:16). This switching of the cups is what we celebrate every time we drink the cup of Communion. 

God was patient with us and He is still being patient with the boastful wicked, which is why He warns them—and us—to Selah. We were rescued from judgment and now God calls upon us to tell others about Him, so that they may also be reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ (Proverbs 24:11-12; 2 Peter 3:9). 

Here’s the call to Christians: Watch your horn! Don’t shine a light on yourself, but shine a light on Jesus Christ and remain on-mission to rescue those who persist in blowing their own horn. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our Selah series, you can find the full list by clicking here. 

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Poetry Saturday—Upon A Life I Have Not Lived

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Upon a Life I have not lived,
Upon a Death I did not die,
Another’s Life; Another’s Death,
I stake my whole eternity.

Not on the tears which I have shed,
Not on the sorrows I have known,
Another’s tears; Another’s griefs,
On these I rest, on these alone.

O Jesus, Son of God,
I build on what Thy Cross has done for me;
There both my death and life I read,
My guilt, and pardon there I see.

Lord, I believe; O deal with me,
As one who has Thy Word believed!
I take the gift, Lord, look on me,
As one who has Thy gift received. —Horatius Bonar

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—An Assured Eternity

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.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

An Assured Eternity 

     The life of God in the soul is not transient but abiding. Not temporary but eternal. Some think that the life of God in the believer’s soul may die out. But how then could it be eternal? If it dies, it is not eternal life. If it is eternal life, it cannot die. … We are said to have been made ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4). Surely this means, among other things, that we receive an undying life. …  

     If our life is Christ’s life, we will not die until Christ dies. … 

     This is John’s desire for you: that you would believe with all your heart and soul and strength. He would have you believe more constantly, so that you may say, ‘My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and give praise’ (Psalm 57:7). It is not always so with us. We are at times chicken-hearted. We play the man today and the mouse tomorrow. Lord, have mercy upon us. We are an inconsistent people, fickle as the wind. The Lord would have us abide always in Him with strong and mighty confidence, being rooted and built up in Him. He would have us trust courageously.

From The Blessing Of Full Assurance 

John the Beloved wrapped up his Gospel with this statement: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). The word John uses for “life” is the Greek word zoe. This is how zoe is defined—

Life real and genuine, a life active and vigorous, devoted to God, blessed, in the portion even in this world of those who put their trust in Christ, but after the resurrection to be consummated by new accessions…and to last for ever. (Strong’s Greek dictionary) 

Do you believe Jesus died and rose again? Based on that faith, have you asked the Father to forgive you of your sins? If so, then listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit in your heart that is giving you full assurance of promises like these: 

  • Everyone who believes may have eternal life in [Jesus] (John 3:15) 
  • Whoever believes in [Jesus] shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16) 
  • Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent (John 17:3) 
  • Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life (John 3:36) 
  • Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14) 
  • Because I live, you also will live (John 14:9) 
  • Whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life (John 5:24) 
  • My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day (John 6:40) 
  • When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4) 
  • Resting in the hope of eternal life, life which the ever truthful God Who cannot deceive promised before the world or the ages of time began (Titus 1:2) 
  • I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13) 

[Check out all of these verses by clicking here.]

Friend, this is why it’s so important for us to regularly read the Bible. We need to have our faith bolstered by hearing these rock-solid, unchanging, eternal words of God so that we can live each day in full assurance of our salvation and eternal life.

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Poetry Saturday—Give Me Jesus

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

Gracious Lord, incline Thine ear,
My requests vouchsafe to hear;
Hear my never-ceasing cry,
Give me Jesus, or I die.

Wealth and honor I disdain,
Earthly comforts, Lord, are vain;
These can never satisfy;
Give me Jesus, or I die.

Lord, deny me what Thou wilt,
Only save my soul from guilt;
Suppliant, at Thy feet I lie,
Give me Jesus, or I die.

Weak, unholy, and unclean,
I am much defil’d with sin,
On Thy mercy I rely,
Give me Jesus, or I die.

Thou dost freely save the lost,
In Thy grace alone I trust;
With my earnest suit comply,
Give me Jesus, or I die.

Thou hast promis’d to forgive
All who in Thy Son believe;
Lord, I know Thou cans’t not lie,
Give me Jesus, or I die. —Williams Hammond

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Never Give Up On Grace And Mercy

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.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Never Give Up On Grace And Mercy

Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25) 

     My friends, it is one thing to go to church or chapel. It is quite another thing to go to God. …

Coming to God is not what some of you suppose, that is, now and then sincerely performing an act of devotion but giving to the world the greater part of your life. You think that if sometimes you are sincere, if now and then you put up an earnest cry to heaven, God will accept you. And though your life may be still worldly and your desires still carnal, you suppose that for the sake of this occasional devotion God will be pleased, in His infinite mercy, to blot out your sins. I tell you, sinners, there is no such thing as bringing half of yourselves to God and leaving the other half away. …  

     If I should see a sinner staggering on his progress to hell, I would not give him up, even when he had advanced to the last stage of iniquity. Though his foot hung trembling over the very edge of perdition, I would not cease to pray for him. And though he should in his poor drunken wickedness go staggering on till one foot was over hell and he was ready to perish, I would not despair of him. Till the pit had shut its mouth upon him I would believe it is possible that divine grace might save him. See there! He is just upon the edge of the pit, ready to fall. But before he falls, free grace bids, ‘Stop that man!’ Down mercy comes, catches him on her broad wings, and he is saved—a trophy of redeeming love. 

From Salvation To The Uttermost 

My friend, if you don’t have a personal relationship with God through the forgiving work that Jesus accomplished on the Cross, I implore you to come to Him before another minute passes. When Jesus said from this Cross, “It is finished,” He told you that He paid in full your debt that would have kept you separated from God forever. 

Now you just need to come to Him in faith. Simply pray something like this: “God, I acknowledge that I am a sinner separated from You. But I believe that Jesus paid the penalty for all of my sins when He died on the Cross. Because of that payment, I am asking You to forgive me and bring me into a full relationship with You. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.” 

And let me speak to you, my Christian brother or sister who has been praying earnestly for the salvation of someone dear to you. Let me encourage you to not give up! God’s mercy and God’s grace are so swift that even with the last breath they can swoop in to save. Never cease to pray for them and know that Jesus is interceding for them before God’s throne too!

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“It Is Finished”

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Just before Jesus said, “I am thirsty,” John tells us that Jesus knew everything written about Him in the law had been completed and all of the prophecies about Him had been fulfilled. Jesus knew this to be true but no one else standing there would have said “Aha!” because of that statement. But Jesus left no doubt for any of us when He next said, “It is finished!

These three English words are just one word in Greek: tetelestai. It’s in the perfect tense, telling us that nothing more needs to be added to Christ’s work. It not only shares the same root word that John uses for completed and fulfilled, but it closes the circle of another dying declaration of Jesus when He quoted Psalm 22:1: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” His “It is finished” statement is also the last verse of Psalm 22.

The root word telos translated as completed, fulfilled, and finished has a very rich meaning. Here are three definitions we should consider: 

(1) To complete or bring to a conclusion

Jesus told His Father that He had finished (telos) His mission (John 17:4). Q: How do we know His mission was completed? A: Jesus sat down! Think about this: There were no chairs in the Old Testament temple because a priest never rested, there was always more work to do. But when Jesus finished His work, He sat down (see Hebrews 10:1-4, 11-12). 

(2) To discharge a debt

Since Jesus was the only One who could make the final “once for all” payment, that means that we were hopeless debtors prior to that. God foretold of His forgiveness using the picturesque language of a debt being “doubled up” when it was paid in full (see this video where I explain this concept more fully). Here’s what Jesus did: 

Having cancelled 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 note with its regulations, decrees, and demands He set aside and cleared completely out of our way by nailing it to His cross. (Colossians 2:14 AMP) 

Q: How do we know the debt was paid in full? A: The curtain that had separated us from God’s presence was torn in two.

(3) To fill up what’s missing

In this case, Jesus took what was missing by switching cups with us. He drank the cup of God’s righteous wrath—which was justly ours—and gave us His cup of righteousness in its place! (see Isaiah 51:17-22; Matthew 26:39).  

Q: How do we know we have a cup of righteousness in place of a cup of wrath? A: Dead saints of God were resurrected when Jesus died. “It is finished” was not Jesus giving up, but death giving up … it was not Jesus defeated, but death defeated! 

Jesus paid it all! There is nothing I can do to add to His completed—tetelestai—work, so I can now do what formerly was impossible: I can live a holy life for God’s glory. I can now finish (telos) my race on earth and receive the rewards God has stored up for me (see 2 Timothy 4:7-8). 

Christ’s tetelestai confession is our empowerment to live holy! 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series looking at the dying declarations of Jesus, you may access the full list by clicking here.

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