Work In Progress

You read the opening verses of 1Corinthians and, if you’ve read the letter before and you’re at all familiar with this rag tag, dysfunctional group of believers (check out 5:1-6 and 11:17-22), you can’t help but ask yourself, “Is Paul just being really nice up front because he knows he’s going to lower the boom on them later? Or, does he really believe the stuff he’s saying about them?” I’m thinkin’ he really believes it.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in Him in all speech and all knowledge — even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you — so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .

(1 Corinthians 1:4-7 ESV)

Really Paul? Give thanks for God’s grace to them in enriched speech and knowledge even though you know that for many the knowledge just caused their egos to swell (8:1)? Commend them for not “lacking in any gift” while you know very well you’re going to correct them for childishly using the gifts to promote and elevate themselves (14:20)? Acknowledge that Christ is made known through them despite the din of noisy gongs and clanging cymbals emitting from their loveless motivation (13:1)? What’s going on?

Work in progress. That’s what was going on. That’s what Paul believed, truly believed, about “those sanctified in Christ, Jesus, called to be saints” (1:2). They were a work in progress. There weren’t there yet.

Sure, it might seem that on most days the flesh was winning the daily skirmishes over the Spirit, but while the battle was still being fought, Paul would be in their corner, encouraging them, admonishing them, rebuking them, and thanking God for them. For he saw them as those in whom a good work had begun–a work God was determined to bring “to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Php. 1:6). An on-going work confirming the power of the gospel to save, and to save to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25).

. . . Who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Corinthians 1:8 ESV)

That’s the thought that I’m chewing on this morning. God will sustain to the end. God will present His people to Himself guiltless in the day of Christ. And so, whatever we see today in other believers, or in ourselves, is to be put in the context of a work of grace which is still very much a work in progress.

The gospel not validated in our perfection, but in God’s patience towards us. The power to save not evidenced by any current state of victory, but in the on-going willingness to keep on keepin’ on despite our trips and falls and failures along the way. The reality of our redemption founded not in displays of self-righteousness but in the emerging reality that we, sometimes slowly but surely, are being transformed increasingly because of His righteousness given to us. The power confirmed not because we can be strong, but manifested gloriously as His Spirit sustains us in our weakness.

And so, even knowing all Paul knew about the Corinth church, he would thank God knowing God was working through them to confirm the testimony of Christ. Even as God was working in them to conform them more to His Son’s likeness and to present them to Himself guiltless.

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

(1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV)

Our God is faithful. Having called us into the fellowship of His Son, the fellowship of believers, He will establish us through the fellowship of His Son. He will use the church to build the church. Enable the body to build up the body. Encourage and correct the family through the family. Not that we might be exalted, but that His Son would be lifted up. That the testimony of Christ would be confirmed.

And this, through a work in progress.

Displaying His grace. Declaring His glory.

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Sated with Favor

Nothing too deep this morning, just something that brings a certain measure of delight. No new insight, but a familiar infusion of well-being. A short three-word phrase written to another but I sense preserved for me. Three words taken out of context, nevertheless true.

A reminder that I am sated with favor.

And of Naphtali he said, “O Naphtali, sated with favor, and full of the blessing of the LORD, possess the lake and the south.”

(Deuteronomy 33:23 ESV)

Sated with favor. True of this tribe of Jacob. True of the people who had been delivered from Egypt, who had wandered for 40 years through the desert, and who were ready to enter the promised land. And true of this guy in this chair.

Sated with favor. Not just abounding in God’s delight and goodwill, but satisfied with it as well. That’s the difference between being full and being sated, satisfaction.

You can be full and yet dissatisfied. Full and yet want more. Full, but not happy with what your full with.

You can be full and yet your stomach hurts. Full and the pain robs you of potential pleasure. Full and focused on desired ease rather than on all that God’s determined you possess.

Moses’s last words to the twelve tribes must certainly have been bittersweet. All the possibility of the land before them, yet knowing the propensity to grumble still active within them.

Oh, that they would know afresh and forever whose they were. That they would see that, regardless of present circumstance or of what tomorrow might bring, they were brimming with blessing because they were God’s redeemed people.

“Yes, He loved His people, all His holy ones were in His hand . . .”

(Deuteronomy 33:3a ESV)

And if this people of the old covenant were sated with favor, how much more those of us who have known the blessings of the new covenant.

Forgiven of our sin. Justified through His atoning sacrifice. Given the Spirit of adoption so that we can cry, “Abba, Father!” Forever sealed. Continually sanctified. His grace always sufficient. His love ever abounding.

Sated with favor! Ya’ think?!?

Nothing too deep . . . save the deep testimony of His Spirit with mine. Beloved of God. Sated with favor.

It is well with my soul.

Because of grace. For His glory.

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Seeing Ain’t Necessarily Believing

How could they? How could they have walked out of Egypt after witnessing the mighty arm of God throughout his ten round showdown with Pharaoh, and yet complained so rebelliously about being delivered in order to die in the desert? How could they have walked through the Red Sea, gazed up at the walls of water about them as they were held back by the very hand of God with them, yet doubted that God could provide water during their journey to sustain them? How could they have gathered bread provided freely and faithfully from heaven, day after day after day, yet doubted that the God of heaven was prepared and able to give them the land He had promised?

And how could they, when after possessing the land–the physical, tangible, surrounding evidence of God’s power to provide what God has promised–how could they then turn away from God, forsaking Him in order to serve and worship the non-gods of the nations who had been dispossessed? How could they?

That’s the question that echoes again and again as you read through Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. How could they?

Why weren’t they ready, willing, and able to do what God had asked? What prevented them from following His commandments? What kept them from obeying His word? After all they had experienced, after all they had witnessed, why didn’t it take? Well, based on something that caught my eye as I read this morning, apparently seeing ain’t necessarily believing.

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.”

(Deuteronomy 29:2-4 ESV)

So, when it comes to encountering God it’s possible to see but not see. To hear yet not hear. To take in all the facts and data and evidence and still have no understanding. I know that. Been there.

So, apart from God’s intervention, there can be no fruit from our perception. The secret sauce for knowing God, and fearing God, and obeying God is something only God can do.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

(Ezekiel 36:25-27 ESV)

Unless God gives us eyes to see, we can see but not see. Unless He gives us ears to hear, we can hear but won’t hear. Unless He gives us a heart to understand, we can do all the math we want and still come up with the wrong answer.

And so I sit hear this morning, with whatever understanding I have, reflecting on whatever I have seen through the eyes of faith and whatever I have heard through the word of God, and I’m grateful.

Reminded that it’s not about me. Not about how bright I may or may not be. Not about whether I’m prone to be a student or not. Not even about how faithful I think I might have tried to be. Instead, it’s only because God, in His abundant goodness and through His Holy Spirit, has given this sinner saved by grace eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to, in some measure, understand.

And seeing that is believing. And believing that is to worship.

By His grace. For His glory.

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First Mention of The Saints

Reading in Matthew this morning and the account of Jesus’ death. And what particularly captured my attention were the events recorded immediately after “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit” (27:50).

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

(Matthew 27:51-53 ESV)

And as I hovered over these verses the term “the saints” caught my eye. My first thought was that it seemed out of place. If you had asked me yesterday where I thought the term “the saints” was first used in the New Testament, I would have said probably in the book of Acts. After the church was born and the gospel was being proclaimed and many were being added to the church. Apparently not. However, of the 61 times “saints” appears in the ESV New Testament, only once does it show up before Acts. This is the only time “saints” is referred to in any of the gospels. And that led to my second thought, “How come?”

I’ve mentioned before in other posts that as a young believer “the law of first mention” was put on my radar. That the first use of a word, or phrase, or concept in Scripture is significant. So I’m asking myself, “Self, what’s the significance of the saints being first mentioned here?”

Here. After Jesus has just endured the wrath of God for sin. After He has yielded His spirit up. After the hand of God reaches down from heaven and tears the thick curtain of the temple in two from top to bottom. After the earth shakes and the rocks split and tombs are opened. And here, when after three days and Jesus rises from the dead, “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” coming out of their tombs and appearing to many in the holy city.

I take it that these people were recognized by those they appeared to in the city, thus able to attest to the miracle of the dead coming back to life. And so I’m thinking that they were those who came to faith in Jesus during his earthly ministry. The first to receive the good news of the kingdom. And the first to believe that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16). The first to be given the eyes of faith which recognized Him as Immanuel, God with us (Mt. 1:23), the Word become flesh (Jn. 1:14). The first to trust Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). The first to have died with hope in Him as Savior. And thus, the first to have followed Him in bodily rising from the dead.

So I’m thinking “saints” is first used in the context of the final outcome. Emphasizing that those who put their faith in Jesus will also, like Jesus, defeat death. That those who follow Jesus spiritually here on earth will follow Him physically beyond earth “that where I am you may be also” (Jn. 14:3). That the hope of eternal life will be found in the eventual reality of a resurrected body. And that those set apart by Him and for Him will, by their resurrection, be witnesses to all creation, declaring through their risen lives, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Mt. 27:54).

O saint rejoice! For as a people we are first mentioned in the context of eternal victory. As those set apart we are linked with all that will testify to the promises and power of God. As those declared holy through the finished work of the cross, we will rise to forever worship Him behind the curtain, in the holy of holies, as we declare with all creation, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isa. 6:3).

By His grace. For His glory.

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Our Daily Burden Bearer

Overall, it would seem to be a song of victory. Enemies are scattered. Prisoners are led out to prosperity. The inheritance which once languished is restored. The spoil is divided. And the one who led in victory is ascended on high, “leading a host of captives” in his train and “receiving gifts among men.”

But it is the One who brings victory to the victor who is to be praised. The God who “rides through the deserts.” The God who goes out before His people. The Lord who is among His people with His chariots which are “twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands.” The One who rides in the heavens, whose power is in the skies, and yet is awesome from His sanctuary on earth. “The One who gives power and strength to His people.”

He is the One surrounded by a music-making, song-singing procession. A great congregation, those who are of Israel’s fountain. Those who join in the chorus led by the songwriter singing, “Blessed be God!”

But what grabs me this morning is one verse in this grand song that reminds me that victory only comes out of battles. Enemies encountered. Less than ideal circumstances experienced. Hardships endured. And rarely is the fight won in the first round. Deliverance often coming after extended periods of drought. The promised prize not realized before prolonged pressure.

And I’m reminded that the God who is the God of ultimate victory is also the God who helps us get through the daily battle.

Blessed be the Lord,
  who daily bears us up;
  God is our salvation.    Selah

(Psalm 68:19 ESV)

We’re perhaps more likely to bless the Lord–literally, to bow the knee in adoration–when we perceive the war is won. More likely to praise His name when we think we’ve passed through the storm. Find it more natural to exult Him for His promises when we feel like we’re holding the prize in our hands.

But the songwriter says bless the Lord who daily bears us up. Who day after day carries us along (MSG). Who daily bears our burdens (NIV).

That’s where the fight is fought, day after day. Where the struggle is real, waking in the morning with the same concerns that kept you from falling asleep the night before. Where the suffering seems relentless, the pain of today all too familiar as it feels a lot like the pain of yesterday. Where the weight seems beyond carrying again, the burden before you no less heavy than the one behind you. That’s the battle, day by day.

But in that battle the God who is God of our salvation is in our midst, and that too, day by day. The God who one day will lead us in victorious procession into His glorious throne room, is today present to carry us along, to help shoulder our burdens, to bear us up. The power that raised Christ from the dead, the same power present to sustain us in our dread. His mercies new every morning. His promises just as sure every day. The same yesterday, today, and forever.

And that, my friend, is reason enough to bless the Lord!

All praise be to our Daily Burden Bearer!

By His grace. For His glory.

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Destroy Jesus

There was no legal basis for their accusations. Nor any moral imperative that merited their rage and indignation. And, if the Roman governor had been versed in such things, he would have found that even their theological charges against Him were ridiculous. More than that, if Pilate had known the Hebrew Scriptures, he may very well have concluded that the Man from Nazareth was telling the truth. That the events of the past three years, as it concerned Jesus, were in fact pointing to Him as the prophesied King of the Jews. No, it was less about justice and law–Roman or otherwise–that incited the religious leaders to stir up the crowd against Jesus. Pilate knew that “it was out of envy” that they had delivered Jesus up to him (Matt. 27:18).

Familiar story. Oh, but that it would never become too familiar.

I know how it turns out. Jesus wins! But may I never cease to wonder that Jesus willingly subjected Himself to such shame. Never lose the awe that He disregarded the humiliation and willingly endured the cross and all that led up to it. Never stop being amazed at the love of the Creator that He would so suffer for the sake of His creation.

And this morning it’s two words, highlighted I think by the Spirit, that cause me to pause and consider afresh the insanity that led to my Lord’s crucifixion.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” . . . Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.

(Matthew 27:15-17, 20 ESV)

Destroy Jesus. Two words that have no place being placed side-by-side. A verb and a noun which should never be associated together. And yet, that’s what the religious leaders incited within the crowd–a determination to destroy Jesus.

Blinded by envy, they failed to recognize the King of eternity. Driven by their own self-preservation, they disregarded Christ’s self-proclamation. Having given themselves over to “all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1John 2:16), they refused to hear all that was spoken by the living Word–the delight of the Father, testified to by the Sprit, come to give life and life to the full.

Destroy Jesus. It is still the cry of the spirit of our age, the spirit of antichrist. The demand of those who refuse to acknowledge the Creator. Those who will have no king over themselves but themselves. Those so blinded by self, sin, and Satan that absurdly they demand the death of the Author of Life (Acts 3:15). Those, however, for whom Jesus died. Those for whom Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

But death has no power over the Author of Life. Far from death destroying Jesus, Jesus through death destroyed “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,” and delivered “all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14). And that, through “the power of an indestructible life” (Heb. 7:16). The empty tomb bearing witness that there is no destroying Jesus.

“Fear not, I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

(Revelation 1:17-18 ESV)

He is the Living One.

The death He died not because of some mob’s insanity, but because God so loved the world that He sent His Son. Not destroyed by men, but delivered up by God. Not to satisfy their sinful jealousy, but to atone for it. And then, raised in power on the third day that all who have died with Him might also live with Him (2Tim. 2:11).

O what a Savior!

Such amazing grace! To Him be all the glory!

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Such A Heart As This

Before they went forward, they needed to look back. Before they were to proceed, God told Moses they needed to be prepared.

Entering the land of promise would come with challenges. Foreign people would come with foreign gods. Pagan people would showcase pagan practices. And these gods would be intriguing, these practices enticing. The allure to follow other gods, to bow down before carved images, and to worship the creation rather than the Creator would be real and strong. So they would need to keep their souls diligently (Deut. 4:9).

A land of plenty would come with plenty of temptations. First, the temptation to forget where they had come from. The relative ease of working their own land in their own country for their own welfare would have a way of causing them to forget that they were once slaves in another land serving a cruel ruler.

And then, temptation to think more of themselves than they should. To forget that the cities and fields they possessed were not of their own building but were a gift that came with the promise. And this would lead to forgetting the Giver, and to increasingly behaving as a self-made people who could live self-directed lives. Thus, they would need to watch themselves very carefully (4:15).

And so, before entering the land God promised, they first needed to rehearse the word God had spoken. Before experiencing the milk and honey of Canaan, they needed to be reminded of God’s glory and greatness experienced at Sinai. Before they were ready for their new homeland they needed to have the right heart.

“And the LORD said to me, ‘ . . . Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear Me and to keep all My commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!'”

(Deuteronomy 5:28-29 ESV)

That’s the heart that sets up for success in the promised land. A heart that fears God and keeps His commandments. That’s the posture which rightly prepares for the promise. A humility of soul before the Almighty which causes it to thirst for His precepts. That’s the attitude ready to appropriate life to the full. Always looking beyond the gift and seeing the Giver. Ever thankful to possess what could never be purchased. Always wanting to respond to such great grace with submissive obedience.

Such a heart as this. Oh, says the LORD, that’s the heart I want my people to have.

Me too. A heart that fears His name and keeps His commandments. A heart constantly refreshed with the awe of who God is and thus a desire to do what God wills. A heart that I could never manufacture on my own, but a heart that He has provided in preparation for entering the promise. A new heart.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules.

(Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)

God has provided such a heart as this.

Still learning to follow it. Still figuring out how to do battle with the old man and the flesh which constantly rises up in opposition to it. But, by the Spirit within me, increasingly learning what it is to fear the LORD with healthy, life-giving awe and wonder. And, by His enabling, figuring out how to walk in the way He wants. Longing for, dependent upon, such a heart as this.

By His grace. For His glory.

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