Poetry Saturday—Peace

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Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell? I humbly crave,
                                           Let me once know.
             I sought thee in a secret cave,
             And ask’d, if Peace were there.
A hollow winde did seem to answer, No:
                                           Go seek elsewhere.

I did; and going did a rainbow note:
                                           Surely, thought I,
             This is the lace of Peaces coat:
             I will search out the matter.
But while I lookt, the clouds immediately
                                           Did break and scatter.

Then went I to a garden, and did spy
                                           A gallant flower,
             The Crown Imperiall: sure, said I,
             Peace at the root must dwell.
But when I digg’d, I saw a worm devoure
                                           What show’d so well.

At length I met a rev’rend good old man,
                                           Whom when of Peace
             I did demand, he thus began:
             There was a Prince of old
At Salem dwelt, who liv’d with good increase
                                           Of flock and fold.

He sweetly liv’d; yet sweetnesse did not save
                                           His life from foes.
       But after death out of his grave
              There sprang twelve stalks of wheat:
Which many wondring at, got some of those
                                           To plant and set.

It prosper’d strangely, and did soon disperse
                                           Through all the earth:
        For they that taste it do rehearse,
             That vertue lies therein,
A secret vertue bringing peace and mirth
                                           By flight of sinne.

Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
                                           And grows for you;
        Make bread of it: and that repose
             And peace, which ev’ry where
With so much earnestnesse you do pursue,
                                           Is onely there. —George Herbert **spelling is 1663 English**

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The Sin Of Man, The Salvation Of Jesus

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“Jesus is risen indeed!” This is the glorious good news that Christians around the world celebrate. 

But good news is really only good news when you fully realize how bad the bad news was. Like when the doctor comes in to tell you, “You’re going to be fine,” and you breathe a sigh of relief. And then the doctor goes on to explain what your condition was and all of the heroic efforts that were undertaken on your behalf, and you realize how close to death you actually were that your sigh of relief turns into a shout of joy! 

The resurrection of Jesus is the good news that brings us eternal life. But instead of merely breathing a sigh of relief thinking, “I shall not perish but have everlasting life,” let’s take a look at how close we were to everlasting death. 

Our fourth foundational belief says: “Man was created good and upright…. However, man by voluntary transgression fell and thereby incurred not only physical death but also spiritual death, which is separation from God.” 

Adam and Eve were given a choice: they were able not to sin and they were able to sin. God gave them dominion over everything in His creation but themselves, and He made them to be personally and intimately connected with Himself. But satan tempted them to take dominion over themselves, saying that they would become like God.

They sinned. “And sure enough, they then had knowledge of good and evil, but it was from the standpoint of becoming evil and remembering how good they once were,” said Nancy Guthrie. Because they sinned, now all of us are unable not to sin. Why? Because no one has been able to demonstrate to us how to be able not to sin. 

Their sin had consequences for them that have extended to us:

  • they felt shame at their vulnerability before God
  • they were fearful to be in God’s presence 
  • they were separated from God  
  • and they doomed all of us to live an utterly meaningless existence forever! 

But Adam and Eve’s sin didn’t send God scrambling for a remedy. Our fifth foundational truth says: “Man’s only hope of redemption is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” 

Jesus turned the absolutely worst news into the most eternally, overwhelmingly good news ever! 

Jesus was made the cure for sin from before the foundation of the world. God made Jesus to be our sin (not just to carry our sins). In order for this to happen, Jesus had to become human like us. That means that Jesus, like Adam and Eve, had the same choice to sin or to not sin but He did not sin. This allowed Him to be our perfect sacrifice on the Cross. 

When He died on the Cross, Jesus removed the uncrossable abyss between us and God. Jesus made it possible once again for us to be able not to sin. Not only that, but Jesus covers the shame that would linger even after our sin is forgiven by clothing us in His own righteousness! 

(check out all of the biblical references for the above points by clicking here)

Sin had us doomed to not only a meaningless existence on earth, but also to an utterly meaningless existence for the eternity following death. Jesus became our sin to allow us to be reunited with God and reclothed in Christ’s righteousness. This is not just good news, it’s eternally, overwhelmingly good news! 

If you’ve missed the discussion of any of our other foundational truths, you may access the full list by clicking here.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Mercy Finds The Loophole

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.

Mercy Finds The Loophole

And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21) 

     To begin, then, with the text, we have here a most painful fact that man’s nature is incurable. ‘The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.’ You will remember, before the flood, in the fifth verse of the sixth chapter, it is written, ‘Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually’ (Genesis 6:5). After the flood it was just the same. … 

     You might have hoped that after so terrible a judgment, when only a picked and peculiar few, that is, eight, were saved by water, that man began anew with better stock.… It is not one wit so. The same God who, after looking at men, declared that his imagination was evil before the flood, pronounces the very same verdict upon them afterward. …

     I believe that God might justly have condemned the whole race of Adam on account of Adam’s sin and their own guilt. But I do think that this was a blessed loophole through which His mercy could, as it were, come fairly to the sons of men. ‘No,’ He says, ‘I made them not distinct individuals but a race. They fell as a race; they will rise as an elect race. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). And ‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).’ … 

     I must have more than nature can give me. More than my mother gave me, more than my father gave me, and more than flesh and blood can produce under the most favorable circumstances. I must have the Spirit of God from heaven.

From Human Depravity And Divine Mercy

When Adam and Eve sinned, God wasn’t scrambling to come up with a Plan B. Jesus is described as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), meaning that God had His merciful plan of redemption ready before He even created humans! 

The atoning sacrifice Jesus made on the Cross was the “loophole” that God’s mercy used to pardon our sins. We can never earn our salvation because we are still people with evil hearts. But we can put our faith in the One who took our punishment upon Himself so that His righteousness can be our righteousness. 

O what a Savior! O what mercy God has shown! O how great is His love for us! How shall we escape appropriate retribution if we neglect and refuse to pay attention to such a great salvation…? (Hebrews 2:3)

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Finishing Well Is Better

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

The land was at peace… (2 Chronicles 14:6).

King Asa started out so well. The beginning of his reign could best be described by the word “peace”:

  • The land was at peace 
  • No one was at war with him 
  • The Lord gave him rest 
  • “[God] has given us rest on every side”  
  • The Lord his God was with him

When Cush attempted to attack the nation of Judah, Asa called on God: “Lord, there is no one like You to help the powerless against the mighty. … Do not let mere mortals prevail against You” (14:11). God gave Asa a great victory over Cush, and other God-fearing people from Israel began flocking to Judah “when they saw that the Lord his God was with [Asa]” (15:9). 

This peace lasted for 35 years!

And then came one poor decision from which Asa never recovered. 

The king of Israel began to make preparations for war against Judah. Instead of calling on God as he did when Cush was preparing to attack, Asa reverted to political maneuvering. He sent a bribe to a rival nation, enticing them to attack Israel. 

The prophet Hanani told Asa, “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war” (16:9). 

From “the land was at peace” to “from now on you will be at war” came about because Asa…

  • …trusted his own ingenuity instead of relying on God 
  • …calculated his odds instead of calling on his God 
  • …forgot about God’s past provision 
  • …refused to confess his sin and repent from it, even when the prophet called him out
  • …utterly abandoned his God (16:2-12) 

Starting well is good, but finishing well is far better! 

A mark of a godless leader is one who refuses to confess and repent from his sin. 

Asa’s refusal to admit his sin resulted in the end of his life being spent afflicted with disease and his country being surrounded and oppressed by enemies. 

This is part 54 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Learning Life’s Lessons

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

Have you heard the cliché, “Experience is the best teacher”? I don’t think that’s really true. I’ve known a lot of people who have had some huge experiences but haven’t learned a single lesson from them. Honestly this is the better statement: Evaluated and recalled experience is the best teacher. 

Many of my “life lessons” have cost me money. For instance, I was told numerous times by my parents, grandparents, and my driving instructor not to speed, but I didn’t learn that lesson the easy way. It cost me financially. I recovered from that, and I’ve only had one speeding ticket in the 40 years that followed! 

Most of us can recover from a financial loss. But other life lessons cost us more dearly: our broken physical health, lost intimacy in a relationship, a damaged reputation, or missed opportunities. Then we walk around with the weight of guilt, baggage, second-guessing, and regret. Jesus didn’t die on a Cross for us to live weighed down like this! 

God wants to help us! So why do we wait to call on Him until after we’ve tried to do it ourselves? Or until after we’re so deep in trouble or weighed down with baggage? Perhaps we think, “This is such a tiny thing. I can handle it myself.” 

  • Solomon said it was the tiny things that brought ruin 
  • God told Cain that it was the sin that was crouching at his door that wanted to take him down 
  • The devil prowls around and looks for the most opportune time to pounce on us 
  • Which is why Paul tells us to put on all of God’s armor and prayer all the time (see Song 2:15; Genesis 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8; Luke 4:13; Ephesians 6:10-11, 18) 

Portia Nelson summed it up well in her short story that I think all of us can relate to…

Chapter 1
I walk down the street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I fall in.
   I am lost… I am helpless. It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2
I walk down the same street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I pretend I don’t see it.
   I fall in, again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place. But it isn’t my fault.

Chapter 3
I walk down the same street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I see it is there.
   I still fall in… it’s a habit… but my eyes are open, I know where I am.
It’s my fault. I get out immediately.

Chapter 4
I walk down the same street.
   There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
   I walk around it.

Chapter 5
I walk down another street.
    —Portia Nelson

Prayer helps us avoid the holes in our sidewalk, the crouching sin at our door, the prowling devil, and the lurking temptations. But more than that, prayer puts us on the right path to avoid all of these things in the first place (see Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 30:21; 2 Samuel 22:34, 37)! 

God doesn’t have to get ready to help us; He’s already ready to help us. He’s just waiting for us to ask for His help. 

No matter how little or big the challenges, with God I can overcome! 

No matter how obvious or hidden the hole is, with God I can go down the right street! 

No matter how many times I fall in the hole, God can get me out! 

No matter how much the devil wants to bring me down, with God I can live righteously! 

No matter how many times sin pounces on me and I give in to it, God can forgive me! 

Don’t wait a moment longer to call on your heavenly Father in prayer. Let Him hear your voice early and often—He loves to hear from you and respond to you! 

If you’ve missed any of the other posts in this series on prayed called Be A First Responder, you can find the full list by clicking here.

Godly Anger

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

…his anger was aroused… (Job 32:5).

Throughout the story of Job, there is very little insight from the story’s narrator. Other than the first two chapters which set up the story, and the epilogue in the last chapter, the narrator barely utters a word.

That is until a fourth man, who has been on the scene the whole time Job and his friends have been debating, finally cannot help but speak out. His name is Elihu. 

Elihu has been present the whole time Job has been speaking with his other friends, but because Elihu is the youngest, he has held his tongue, awaiting an opportunity to speak. Now the narrator tells us that Elihu “became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him. … When he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused. 

The phrase “anger was aroused” is used 31 times in the Bible. Every single instance refers to God’s anger except here. In fact, God uses the same phrase in chapter 42 that Elihu uses here. 

Two things seem to arouse the anger of both God and Elihu (whose name, but the way, means “He is my God”): 

  1. Job justifying himself rather than God 
  2. Job’s friends condemning Job without evidence; in other words, they put themselves in the place of God the Judge  

Here’s what Elihu knew—

To not get angry at the things that anger God is itself a sin.

I need to pay attention to my anger, and I need to express my anger in a respectful, appropriate way. It is wrong to ignore or suppress godly anger, but it is equally wrong to sin in the way that I express godly anger. Remember that the apostle Paul doesn’t say, “Don’t get angry,” but he says, “When you get angry, do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). 

When God finally speaks in this story, He expresses His anger at the same things Elihu addressed. Interestingly, God says to the oldest friend Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends,” but God doesn’t call out Elihu for any of his words.  

God gets angry, perhaps more than anyone else in the Bible does, but He never sins in the expression of His anger. We need to make sure that what makes us angry is also what makes God angry. And we need to make sure that our anger is never expressed sinfully. 

God Delights In Me

It’s been said that the bookends of success are starting well and finishing well. I believe that! 

David started well when he lifted up a prayer of thankfulness to God when he became king over the united nation of Israel. Prayer at the the beginning puts us on a path toward success. 

Have you ever begun to assemble a child’s toy or a piece of furniture, gotten completely stumped, and only then read the instruction manual? We’ve all been there! There are many things in life that we start on our own and then hit our knees in prayer only after we’ve exhausted all of our human resources. Fortunately, after we pray and God answers, we often end up finishing well with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. The question is: what do we do when we again get ready to start something else? Do we pause to start well with prayer, or do we dive in on our own again? 

I think one of the biggest reasons we don’t go to prayer quickly is because we feel unworthy to go into the presence of a holy, righteous God. 

One commentator said about Psalm 18 that David probably prayed this “before he committed his terrible sin” with Bathsheba and Uriah. That may be, but with very few minor changes, David prayed this exact same prayer (2 Samuel 22) at the very end of his reign. His reign as king was bookended with the same prayer. 

Between the bookend prayers of Psalm 18 and 2 Samuel 22, David prayed another prayer—this one was after he had sinned against God, Bathsheba, and Uriah. David truly believed that God forgave that sin and wiped the slate clean, so much so that he noted this great blessing on his life: “He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me. 

He rescued me because He delighted in me?! Yes! 

David knew that God had told us that He delights in those who obey Him. The example of God’s delight was seen in Jesus. Because Jesus paid the price for the forgiveness of my sins, I can be completely cleansed. Then Jesus comes in me, and takes me into Him, and takes both of us into the Father. So now when our Heavenly Father looks at a forgiven sinner, He sees only the righteousness of Jesus—something He utterly delights to see! (Check out all of the biblical passages I’m referencing by clicking here.)  

David said his sin had been washed “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7), So now look at what he could claim—

The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has rewarded me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I am not guilty of turning from my God. All His laws are before me; I have not turned away from His decrees. I have been blameless before Him and have kept myself from sin. The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in His sight” (2 Samuel 22:21-25). 

…according to my cleanness in His sight. 

In GOD’S sight! The devil wants to accuse me. He wants my sight to dominate. The devil doesn’t want me to see myself as God sees me. But I declare it out loud: I am clean IN HIS SIGHT! 

This cleanness allows me full, bold, confident access to Almighty God! I can take everything to God in prayer because I am clean in His sight! 

If you would like to read more of the posts in our prayer series called Be A First Responder, please click here. 

The Lingering Effects Of Poor Leadership

Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command… (2 Kings 24:3). 

I am intrigued by the succession of the last kings of Judah just before Jerusalem falls in 586 BC. The leadership authority has been completely undermined by the downward spiral of sin in the previous leaders. As a result, the kings of Judah are now just an “empty suit,” with someone else exerting the real influence.

King Josiah was the last God-fearing king Judah had. After Josiah died, “the people of the land” made Jehoahaz king of Judah. He only reigned three months. 

After Jehoahaz died, “Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim son of Josiah king” after Egypt subdued Judah. Pharaoh changed his name to Jehoiakim, took all of Judah’s treasures, and imposed a tribute on Judah, forcing Jehoiakim to tax all the citizens. 

Later on, Jehoiakim became a vassal king of Nebuchadnezzar. After Jehoiakim died, his son Jehoiachin only reigned as king for three months before he was deposed by Nebuchadnezzar. 

Nebuchadnezzar then “made Mattaniah” king. He also imposed tribute and changed the king’s name to Zedekiah. 

King Zedekiah rebelled and was executed, after which Nebuchadnezzar “appointed Gedaliah as governor.” Gedaliah was assassinated shortly thereafter, completing the collapse of Judah and sending the people into exile in Babylon for the next 70 years. 

[Check out all of the biblical references for these sad events by clicking here]

Oh, what misery for the people of Judah for this last 20-year span under these final kings! The consequences of the leaders’ continual rebellion against God brought such uncertainty and heartache for the citizens. 

A mark of a godless leader is the wake of misery that follows him for generations afterward. 

Lord God, help me to see that my actions today have consequences for tomorrow. I want to leave an empowering, God-honoring legacy for the next generations, but this can only happen as I remain obedient to You! 

This is part 51 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here

Think On This…

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

In the fifteenth year of Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit. He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through His servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher. The Lord had seen how bitterly everyone in Israel, whether slave or free, was suffering; there was no one to help them. And since the Lord had not said He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash. (2 Kings 14:23-27) 

Think on this: Just because God has used me to do something amazing doesn’t necessarily mean that I am free of sin. 

The Destructive Power Of Self-Sufficiency

…Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her (1 Samuel 28:7). 

How sad for King Saul! But this is the inevitable path for one who was put into his leadership position by God and then completely turned his back on God. 

God did so much over so many years to try to get Saul to turn back to Him, but Saul persisted in his self-sufficiency. As Paul wrote in Galatians, “A man reaps what he sows.” Militarily, Saul had one shining moment: delivering the people of Jabesh Gilead. The closing words of 1 Samuel show us the valiant man from Jabesh conducting a covert nighttime mission to remove the bodies of Saul and his sons from the Philistines, and then giving them a proper burial. Just imagine how many more valiant men may have been around if Saul had continually obeyed God! 

Now, nearing the end of his life, Saul is at his wits’ end: God is not answering him by any means he tries. As a result, this final chapter of Saul’s leadership is characterized by words like:

  • afraid
  • terror filled his heart 
  • great distress 
  • filled with fear 
  • his strength was gone

Until King Saul ultimately takes his own life.

The consequences of Saul’s sinful self-sufficiency impacted more than just him. A leader’s sins have devastating effects on his followers. Throughout Saul’s reign as king we see the army fearful, hesitant, ill-equipped, slinking away, confused, set up for failure, and ultimately defeated. Saul could never get out of his own way, taking Israel down with him.

A mark of a godless leader is sinful self-sufficiency.

How sad for Saul and Israel. Especially because Saul’s demise was totally avoidable if he only would have repented of his pride and turned wholeheartedly to God.

This is a sober reminder for all leaders: if God has put you in a place of leadership, you will experience success. Don’t let that success fool you, as it did with Saul, into thinking you created that success. This is the first step toward the downward slide that ultimately destroyed Saul, and it will be your undoing as well. 

This is part 49 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

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