Are You Stumbling?

1 John 2:9–11 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

In John 8:12, Jesus says that he is the light of the world. Romans 6:12 says those who believe in Christ are alive in Christ. If we abide in Christ, we abide in the light. Love for your brothers and sisters is one of the primary ways that you know that you are abiding in the light, abiding in Christ. The one who is in darkness has no capacity to love because his eyes have been blinded by the darkness. If you are walking in the light, then you have no cause for stumbling.

On Good Friday I called our current circumstances a hearing test. Faith comes through hearing and so circumstances that test our faith are a test of our hearing. Likewise, if loving your brother is how you know you are abiding in Christ, then circumstances that test your love for the brotherhood are a test of your life in Christ. Grumbling, complaining, Judging, avoiding, back-biting your brothers and sisters to whom Christ as united to you in Himself? Are you stumbling over your brother’s theology? Over what he calls clean and unclean? Are you stumbling over what your Sister isn’t saying? Are you stumbling over your brother’s foolishness?

Whatever we may personally think of the social distancing standards, the six-foot rule really is too shallow a grave for our unity. If you are stumbling, then you are walking in the dark. You are not walking in the light of a Gracious God. You are not walking in the light of the love that you have received.

Love is not an emotional response to beauty, merit or kindness, but a moral attitude dedicated to another’s good, whether or not that other is lovable, deserving, or responsive. Divine love means to love the undeserving, despite disappointment, worthiness or rejection.

1 Corinthians 13:4–7 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The circumstances we find ourselves in are the judgement of a good God. The chastisement of Christ. It is discipline for our lack of wisdom. As I said, long before Gov. Inslee said all Israel to her tents in division and confusion – we had already made it a way of life. What confirmation bias is being revealed in your brothers and sisters as these events unfold? Do you love them enough to say something about that confirmation bias? Do you love them despite it? What ignorance, presuppositions, foolishness and worldliness is being revealed in your brothers and sisters? What is likewise being revealed in you? Because your sin is showing.

Jesus associated with the foolish things of the world to humble the wise. That means you. So why are you looking across the aisle thanking God for not making you like that fool over there? The unity of every fool who is hearing my voice right now, and we are all of us fools – our Unity is Jesus Christ.

The moon reflects the light of the sun. It is the lesser light. In the dark of night, the moon is a guiding light. The church is the lesser light that reflects the light of the sun of righteousness. In these dark times are we fulfilling that role? That calling? Showing that we stand in the light of God’s unconditional love? Or is the sky clouded by the billows of our own judgements, preferences and suspicions. Our cumulus clouds of self-righteousness?

John says that those who walk the light know where they are going. Do we know where we are going?  Where we will stand together, eyes fixed, not on one another, but on Christ for eternity? Is there anything so vile, so foolish, so selfish, so unholy that your brother or sister can do – to fall from Christ in whom they abide? So how can they fall out of fellowship so easily with you?

Do we remember where we are headed?  Where we will stand together, eyes fixed, not on one another, but on Christ for eternity? John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Let us repent of our lack of love for one another, our lack of abiding in the light, our lack of abiding in Christ – and get started, together, today.

A Death Sentence

Why does God allow suffering and difficulty in our lives if He loves us?

2 Corinthians 1:9-11 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

The circumstances of Paul’s life felt like a death sentence. Why would God allow one of His loving servants to suffer in this way? What was the point? 

Calvin wrote, “we are not brought to real submission until we have been laid low by the crushing hand of God.” 

Truly, we often need a bout of helplessness, to reduce our self-reliance and strip us of all false confidence, so that we might learn humility and open ourselves to the deep realities of God’s power. 

A severe threat of death led Paul to a deeper trust in God. 

When we rely on our own strength, righteousness and wisdom, we are unable to depend entirely on God, dooming ourselves to frustration, fear and moral failure. Romans 10:3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.

You Get as Much as You Need

Ephesians 3:16 and 19 “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being…. to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

The ultimate goal of Christ indwelling His people is that they might experience the fullness of God.

But we don’t experience the fullness of God, do we? So, is God a liar? Is His spirit weak and ineffectual? Or, do we experience all of God that we need?

We don’t need him much, so we don’t experience Him much. How much we know of Him, how much His fullness fills us is proportional to our need of Him. We all fall into the need trap. We all know how much we needed Jesus for salvation. To enter the narrow gate. To draw near the Father. In the bloom of our first awakening to God we were all magnificently aware of our need, but now that we are through that narrow gate we get along on our own strength and understanding. The less of Him we need the less of Him we experience.Then we wonder why we lack the kind of fullness described in the New Testament.

Remember Matthew 13:58 “And [Jesus] did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” 

God’s presence in your day to day life is directly proportional to your need of and belief in Him. Do you need Him to get up in the morning? Do you need Him at work? At the water cooler? In the laundry room and at the homeschooling table? Do you need Him to get your homework done and read to the kids? Do you need Him in the front yard? Do you need Him at the kitchen table and in the marriage bed? Do you need Him to pay the bills?

Do you need Jesus? His power. His dependence on the Father and the Holy Spirit? Do you need His Love? The Fruit of His spirit?

We are the community of need living at the foot of the throne of Grace. Aren’t we? We act self-sufficient, self-willed, all-wise, strong and good. And in that pride of life we draw farther from grace and farther from God Himself.

In reality we are bound together by our need. We are united in our need of Him and our need of one another, because His fullness lives in His Body. We receive as much as we need. So, remember every day how much you need Him.

Every day pray Proverbs 30:8-9 “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”

Come to Christ in your need. The more of Him you need, the more of Him you will recieve.

Be a Whole Burnt Offering

Leviticus 1:3-9 “If his gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, he shall bring a male without blemish, shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. and he shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the LORD, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. And the priest shall offer all of it and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.

We’ve all experienced it.

Mom is cooking the London broil or the meatloaf and has to run after a toddler, then break up a fight, then answer the phone, apply bandaids, get batteries for the gaming controller and before you know it the pleasing aroma of dinner turns into the the unpleasant smell of burnt flesh.

We’ve all been to, or hosted, the BBQ where the host is flipping burgers, but has to step away to get more ice, then clean up purple soda on the carpet and fill the chip bowl and when he returns to the grill, his beautiful burgers are all hockey pucks that fill the air with the putrid smell of char.

No one likes the smell of burned meat. But in the passage read for us this morning, the whole burnt offering is a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Continue reading “Be a Whole Burnt Offering”

Be As Merciful as God

Luke 6:36“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Here is a command. Be merciful. How merciful? Merciful based on what standard? The standard, as always; the ‘north’ on our moral compass is God Himself.

The biblical meaning of mercy is exceedingly rich and complicated, as evidenced by the fact that several Hebrew and Greek words are needed to comprehend the many-sided concept.

Consequently, there are many synonyms employed in translation to express the dimensions of mercy, such as “kindness,” “lovingkindness,” “goodness,” “grace,” “favor,” “pity,” “compassion,” and “steadfast love.”

Prominent in the concept of mercy is the compassionate disposition to forgive an offender or adversary and to help or spare him in his sorry plight.

This is obviously typified in God’s self-sacrifice to conquer sin, Satan and death. Forgiveness and relief from a sorry plight. This is the nature of mercy.

When your child offends, breaks the rules and sins against God. When your spouse says something in public they shouldn’t, doesn’t fulfill their vows to provide, love, honor, obey, respect, cover or lead.

When a friend is faithless, the stranger rude, the co-worker dishonest, the family member strains the relationship with sin.

Do you stand in the gap with them? Do you walk there with them in their sin because you know all too well what it is to sin, offend, disobey and fall short of God’s glory? Do you show mercy or do you condemn?

Do you throw your hands in the air and say in your “perfection” how and why do people act this way? What’s wrong with them, as if you don’t act just the same?

You sin, so you are on the side of those who sin. You were dead in your sins and received forgiveness and so you are on the side of everyone who offends and needs forgiveness.

God has shown you mercy, so you are on the side of everyone who needs to receive mercy. Mercy is crucial to our relationships because our relationships are with people who sin, who fall, who hurt, and who need mercy and compassion and forgiveness.

To show mercy isn’t ignoring the need for repentance, restoration or discipline, its acknowledging the need of repentance, restoration and discipline.

To show mercy is to show people the one who forgives, the one who is willing to walk with us in death to save us from death. To show mercy is to show forgiveness to people who don’t deserve it, just like the forgiveness you received that you didn’t deserve.

To walk amongst sinners with mercy is to show forth the God who walked amongst sinners to save them.

To show mercy means that when you are sinned against, you put your arm around the one who sinned against you and say, “I understand. You don’t have the grace for me, you can’t keep God’s law, to love others as yourself, is too hard for you and I know because it’s the same for me. We can’t obey, we can’t love but God has provided a way, God has forgiven us in His Son and provided that forgiveness to us to share one with another.”

To show mercy is not to turn on offense in anger, but to stand with the offender and turn to the word of God and the one who saves; seeking the grace and reconciliation so generously provided to us in Jesus Christ.

Run Toward the Machine Guns and Live

John 12:24- 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Luke 9:51 “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem and didn’t look back. He went towards danger. Towards loss and affliction, persecution and pain. He knew the only way to return to the Father was through death. He couldn’t return to heaven and leave the mission undone. He knew the only way to provide eternal life to His brothers and sisters was going towards the danger – towards death.

On D-day, as the men came off the boats they were ripped up with machine gun fire. Their only option was to press forward and keep moving – toward the machine guns. There was nothing behind them but the sea.

They could run back to the sea and drown or run towards the machine guns and maybe… live. It was counterintuitive to every self-preserving cell in their bodies but the twisted logic was run toward the guns to live. Run toward the impregnable defenses.

Run toward death to live.

But moving forward they could survive and liberate a continent. And the miracle was as each man ran toward death and did his part, Normandy was conquered by the allies.

We need this kind of example. The army has grown lazy and fat with inaction or it cowers in the trenches with now will to move forward.

But Jesus went ahead of us to show us how, to make it possible for us to follow.

By Laying down one’s life in obedience to the Father – dying for righteousness – is eternal life, glory and joy.

You know you lie. You know you covet. You know you curse. You know the loneliness of sin; the despair and the pain of sin.

You know that loving your wife as Christ loved the Church, raising our children in the fear and admonition of the LORD, making disciples of the nations, being Holy as God is Holy – it’s an impregnatable fortress.

You can’t scale its high walls. You are too weak and feeble to claw that elevation.

Getting out of bed, going out the front door, facing your loved ones – it’s like a machine gun of failure and despair. Continue reading “Run Toward the Machine Guns and Live”

Jesus Thirsts for Wrath

John 19:28–30 “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

Psalm 22:14–15 “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.”

John 19:28-30 is a fulfillment directly of Psalm 22:15. Psalm 22 is the most quoted psalm in the NT.

This moment when he speaks of thirst, as in His whole earthly ministry, Jesus is profoundly misunderstood. Physically, at this point, salving his thirst prolongs his life which prolongs his agony and the roman soldiers were all too ready to oblige him.

But Jesus didn’t mean he thirsted for anything in this world, certainly not the cheap swill the soldiers kept there to stave off dehydration. Here at the height of agony, Jesus is resolved and prepared for that cup, which just a few hours before, He Had asked His father to remove in Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”Jesus, in the garden of gethsemane, said no father I am not thirsty, but I will drink if it you tell me to. We see here mere resignation.

But Jesus goes on to suffer and suffer, and it isn’t until he asks for the cup of wrath that His father gives it to Him. The Father withholds it. Jesus endures the wrath and condemnation of men and through suffering He is perfected. He thirsts for the end. He knows what is required and so He looks to the heavens and says, “I thirst.”

The cup of wrath and judgment for mankind is mentioned often in the OT.

Psalm 75:8 For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.

Someone had to deal with this cup.John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (ESV)

Jesus was not forced to drink. His will was not violated. His will, which wavered under a load of dread and misery, came into full strength and utter submission to His Father’s will. Christ’s faith at this moment, asking for that which was His father’s desire but was contrary to every fleshly desire and comfort he knew – to this Jesus submitted willingly. He thirsted for it. He desired to be satiated with the wrath and condemnation of His father because that is what He was born to drink. It is His father’s will and His fathers will is His sustenance.

The psalms are the prayers of the Messiah. The messianic songbook.

Psalm 42:2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

Psalm 63:1O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Jesus thirsted for the end of His earthly ministry which would be the death stroke of death, the destruction of Satan and the obliteration of sin. Jesus asks for that cup and after everything He had endured, His obedience and love for the Father overrules everything else and the cup He feared, that He dreaded, that He wanted to avoid, is lifted to his lips and He drank it off.

There on Calvary, especially there, He submits, and it is a long obedience in the same direction that prepared Him for that moment. Habit over momentary distress. Faithfulness over easy-safe-selfishness.

Christ thirsted for the cup of His calling as the suffering servant– His shame and terror and dread –and He drank it to the dregs because he needed an empty cup. He needed a cup with which to sprinkle cleansing water upon His bride; the living water of baptism. He needed a cup to fill with blessing, cleansing, and salvation.

There was a cup in the upper room in Jerusalem that Paul delighted to call “the cup of blessing which we bless” (1 Cor. 10:16). This is the cup the psalmist alluded to when he wrote, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation” (Ps. 116:13). Jesus was offering them this cup when He said, “Take, drink from it” (Matt. 26:27).

The Disciples too, misunderstood. There was a cup of wrath and judgment that was emptied by the thirsty Christ at Calvary.

By the time that cup is passed to us – all the terror and condemnation is gone. We find only life. Only favor. Only grace. Only the wine and water of the new covenant for the whole world. The cup of life and blessing.

Christ thirsted for the cup of judgment so that He could finish it. Drink it all down. Remove it. Washed, he offers the cup of His blood; His grace – to you.

Are you thirsty? We aren’t as thirsty for the cup of blessing as Christ was for the cup of woe. We are self-centered little wretches who mess about with drink and sex and self when limitless joy and goodness are offered to us.

1 Corinthians 10:21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

Are we thirsty for the cup of blessing? Is the cup of hope and life our habit? Our Joy? Or have we satiated ourselves with the cup of distraction, disbelief and self-satisfaction? Are we as thirsty for the cup of life and Grace as Jesus was for the cup of Wrath and condemnation?