The Generation to Which We Belong

They are the trifecta of the Psalms. Three grand songs, back to back to back, that put on display the multi-faceted glory of our Savior. He is the suffering Savior of Psalm 22. The Shepherd Savior of Psalm 23. And the Sovereign Savior, the King of glory, in Psalm 24. If singing these three songs doesn’t stir the heart, not sure what will.

And because of faith in such a Savior, we are counted as a special people. The offspring of Jacob who stand in awe of Him, having been born again through His sufferings (22:23). The sheep of His pasture, led beside still waters, a table prepared, our heads anointed, dwelling in His house forever (23:2, 5, 6). And, those able to answer the call to ascend to His holy hill and stand in His holy place (24:3).

Re-running some slightly re-worked thoughts from 2012 reminding me of the generation to which we belong.

It’s a big deal to us in the HR field — recognizing that within society, and thus within the workforce, there are distinguishing characteristics within different generations of people. We talk about “baby boomers,” those post WW II folks, born between the late 1940’s and the early 1960’s. We take note of the generation that followed them, Gen X, those born between 1965 through to the early ’80’s. And now, we’re looking at the “Millennials” or Gen Y workforce. Each of these “generations” have, in general, a unique set of characteristics concerning how they view life and therefore, for us in the HR world, how they view work. But this morning, I’m reminded of another generation, a generation which transcends time periods. I’ll call them Gen S.

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

(Psalm 24:3-6 ESV)

The generation of those who seek Him. Gen S.

For this “demographic” it doesn’t really matter when you were born, but that you were born again. Apart from a sovereign working of the grace of God, none seek after Him (Rom. 3:11). But Gen S’ers, though once in darkness, have been brought into marvelous light by the wooing of a Bridegroom who says, “Come to me.” They have been convicted of their need of a Savior by the Spirit whose purpose is to make Him known. They have been freed from the bondage of sin. They have been adopted as full children of God. They are the redeemed.

So, Gen S could stand for “Generation Saved.” Those who, through the application of the shed blood of Christ on their behalf, have clean hands and a pure heart. Those who through the sanctifying work of the Spirit increasingly are fueled by truth and sincerity. Those who, because they believe, are counted as righteous.

But this morning, for me, Gen S stands for “Generation Seeker.”

As with our modern day generations, Gen S’ers are also identified by what “floats their boat,” by that which intrinsically motivates them. Baby boomers, apparently, work for security. Gen X’ers, we’re told, are ambitious and work for rapid advancement. Gen Y’ers are all about balance and, generally, work only as much as they have to in order to support their lifestyle without cramping their lifestyle. And Gen S’ers? Well, their consuming desire is to ascend the hill of the LORD. Their driving passion is to stand in His holy place. Their internal GPS is set to seek the face of the God of Jacob — to seek the face of their God.

By the fact of when I was born I’ll always be classified as a “baby boomer” by those who care about the demographics of men and women. Oh, but that I might be seen as Gen S by the God who looks upon the hearts of men and women.

That I’d bear the mark of a Gen S’er in what I say, in what I do, and in how I say and do it. That, because of the work God has determined to start within me, the evidence might be apparent that one consuming passion prevails in the life of this sinner-saved-by-grace. To seek Him. To enter into that most holy place to worship Him. To draw near, by the blood of Christ in full assurance of faith, that I might commune with Him.

Such is my generation, Gen S. The generation of those who seek Him. Those who seek the face of God.

By His grace. For His glory.


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Turn, Turn, Turn

Don’t really know why the word popped off the page this morning (though I have my suspicions . . . an encounter of the divine kind, perhaps?). But it did. A word that I’m thinking doesn’t really play all that well in today’s culture. Thirty or forty years ago, in the circle of believers I hung with, it was used frequently, matter-of-factly, like it was just the right way to talk about what happened to us. But don’t really think I hear it used much any more.

Instead we tend to talk more about coming to Christ, receiving Christ as Savior, or entering into a relationship with Christ. Rarely, at least it seems to me, do we talk about our conversion to Christ.

So, being sent on their way by the church, [Paul, Barnabas & Co.] passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.

(Acts 15:3 ESV)

The conversion of the Gentiles. That’s what popped this morning.

A bit of online concordance work and you find out it’s the only time in Scripture conversion is used, though there are a couple of other references to converts. But if you dig a bit deeper, and look up the Greek words behind conversion and converts, you find the original word used around 40 times. And most often it’s translated as turn.

That’s what conversion is, a turning. That’s what a convert is, someone who’s turned. Isn’t that, as believers, what we are? Turners?

Those who have turned from darkness to light. Who have turned from following the way of the world to seeking first the kingdom of God. Who have turned from worshiping idols we’ve created to worshiping the One who created us. Who have turned from faith in ourselves to faith in Christ Jesus.

And aren’t we to continue to turn? Having been converted in the past, isn’t sanctification about being converted in the present? As the Father, by the Spirit, continues His work of conforming us to the likeness of the Son (Rom. 8:29), shouldn’t we still be turning? I’m thinkin’ . . .

Turning more and more into people who do life with the mind of Christ, the heart of Christ, and for the glory of Christ. As we get increasingly familiar with the things of heaven, finding our priorities turning increasingly away from the things of earth. As we learn, day by day, the dynamics of walking in the Spirit, turning progressively away from our reliance on our flesh.

We’re converts. We’ve been converted. We should be bold to speak of our conversion.

Our conversion past, present, and, praise God, future. When, one day, we’ll be converted from earthly bodies to heavenly bodies. When what was born perishable, when raised, turns imperishable. When what was once sown in dishonor, converts to an unimaginable glory. The weakness of the dying flesh turning into the power of resurrected bodies. Our current natural body, undergoing a conversion into a spiritual body (1Cor. 15:42-44).

It seems to me that if there is anyone who should not be characterized by stagnation, it’s the believer. Converts of Christ. Those who have undergone a conversion. Who continue to go through a conversion. Those who anticipate, soon and very soon, a final and forever conversion.

Turn, turn, turn.

By His grace. For His glory.

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A Door of Faith

I grew up in a non-religious home. If we ever went to church it was to marry or bury. My theology was founded on a god after my own making with the understanding that if He’d leave me alone, I’d leave Him alone, and we’d figure out eternity whenever, if ever, we got there. (Shudder!)

Never really doubted there was a heaven. Tried not to think about the possibility of a hell. And, whenever the subject of heaven was brought up (usually in some sort of joke), the entrance to heaven almost invariably involved some sort of encounter or conversation at the pearly gates.

Yup, the pearly gates. They were the entrance point. Manned by either an angel or by “Saint Peter”, they were the checkpoint for all who might enter. And before them, a line of folks waiting to get in. Or, depending on the story, waiting to determine if they could get in.

But today, I’m more of the mind that the entrance to heaven isn’t in the clouds. That it’s determined long before any pearly gates are encountered (there’s actually twelve of them, I think (Rev. 21:21)). That to be absent from the body is, in fact, to be present with the Lord (2Cor. 5:8). Or not, depending on decisions made before being absent from the body.

So, if entrance to heaven isn’t the pearly gates, what is it? If the portal isn’t opened based on some sort of test you take in the clouds, then what is it based on? What did I read this morning that’s got me thinking along these lines?

Answer to all three questions? Something I’m chewing on this morning as I hover over Acts 14.

And when [Paul, Barnabas, & Co.] arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

(Acts 14:27 ESV)

A door of faith. That’s what God had opened up to the Gentiles through the gospel preaching ministry of Paul and Barnabas. A door of faith. That’s the entry point to the kingdom of heaven.

Accessed here and now. Available to all. No waiting.

A door of faith. The proclamation the portal. The subject the way of salvation. It’s access the way to adoption.

That’s the salvation power of the gospel. “The righteousness of God revealed from faith for faith” (Rom. 1:16-17).

A righteousness fit for heaven. A holiness compatible with the presence of God. A redemption reserved because someone walked through a door of faith.

Faith. A stake-my-life-on-it belief that God the Father sent God the Son to die on a cross to bear the punishment my rebellion against God deserved. To be the once forever atoning sacrifice my sin demanded. That the Son was buried but rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, and sent God the Spirit to dwell in believers and testify of a door of faith. “That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

. . . and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.”

(Matthew 9:28b-29 ESV)

Thankful for a door of faith. Grateful for a God not content to leave me in my ignorance and self-made theology, but who led me to the door, and by His grace, gifted me the faith to walk through the door (Eph. 2:8).

Bring on the pearly gates . . . all twelve of them. My entrance into heaven is sure and secure because of a door of faith.

Opened by His grace. Entered for His glory.

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Solid Advice for Believers, New and Old — Part II

Yesterday, while reading in Acts, I took note of how Barnabas started to disciple new believers in Antioch. Not by giving them a list of prescribed actions, but by exhorting them to a lifelong principle: “Remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” (Act 11:23b).

Today, as I continue to read of the birthing of the church, and as new believers continue to be added to the body of Christ, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that I encounter more foundational advice for new believers. And so, this morning, I’m chewing on the importance of staying with grace.

Paul and Barnabas had been “sent out by the Holy Spirit.” “Set apart” for the work to which the Spirit had called them (13:2-4). And that work involved a ministry of itinerant preaching. Traveling and proclaiming the word, initially at least, in the synagogues of the Jews. And, it seems to me, they encountered a Spirit-prepared congregation when they come to Antioch in Pisidia (central Turkey, today).

Wouldn’t always be the case, but this particular Sabbath the Spirit allows Paul to get through his whole message. And the Spirit stirs the heart of Peter (not the apostle, but the guy sitting in this chair) as he reads the message preached by Paul that day, recorded by Luke sometime later, preserved by God through the millennia, and supernaturally illuminated by the Spirit this morning as I read God’s living and active Word.

“Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this Man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by Him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”

(Acts 13:38-39 ESV)

And for a number of the brothers, and I’m thinkin’, sisters, it was known. And they did believe. And they followed Paul and Barnabas as Paul and Barnabas followed Christ.

And what first instruction were these new followers of Christ given on how to follow Christ?

And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.

(Acts 13:43 ESV)

They “urged them,” says the ESV. Earnestly and persistently they “persuaded them” (CSB, NKJV) to continue in the grace of God.

Not a gimme that those who had been saved by grace — especially Jews and devout converts to Judaism who had grown up on a religion of blessing for obedience — would intuitively get that they must be sustained by grace. That what had begun as a work of the Spirit could not be brought to fruition by any works of the flesh. That what was birthed by faith was designed to grow by faith.

And so they urged these babes in Christ to continue in the grace of God. To continue. To persist. To remain or abide. To stay with. It would take intentional effort to rest and rely on God’s finished work. It would take focus to walk by faith. It would take holy determination to allow His strength to be known in their weakness, to trust that the work He had begun in them He would complete in them. “Stay with it,” Paul and Barnabas would say.

And that “it” is the grace of God. They earnestly persuaded these new believers to stay with the grace of God.

Staying with grace. It’s what new believers need to hear as they embark on the pilgrimage. It’s what we more seasoned believers need to hear as well, again and again, as we continue to run the race. It’s what they needed to know when they knew so little. It’s what we need to remember when we can be tempted to rely on all that we’ve experienced.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me! . . .

’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

Remain faithful. Stay with grace.

Good advice for believers. For the yet to be weaned and, for the weary warrior.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Remain Faithful with Steadfast Purpose

According to the inspired revelation of Acts 11, he was a “good man.” He was a man “full of the Holy Spirit.” He was a man “of faith.” And they? Well they were brand spankin’ new believers. Having heard Jesus preached they believed and “turned to the Lord.” They had become the visible evidence of “the grace of God.” But they were spiritual newborns. Babes in Christ. Didn’t even know what they didn’t know. So what next?

Cue “the good man.” Cue Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36). When the church in Jerusalem heard about this harvest among the Hellinists, and this start up church of start up believers, “they sent Barnabas to Antioch.”

So where do you start if you’re a Barnabas? Tell them to start reading in the book of John? There wasn’t one yet. Tell them to make time in the morning to do some devo’s with the Psalms and Prophets? Uh, not sure there was a scroll in every home. Tell them to pray? Tell them to tithe? What’s the first thing you tell new believers who need to pursue the new life when they have really no clue of what that really means?

Well, if Barnabas is to be trusted (and the church at Jerusalem certainly thought he could be), when it comes to setting up someone to grow in the grace and knowledge of their new found Savior, you direct their hearts.

When [Barnabas] came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose . . .

(Acts 11:23 ESV)

Remain faithful, says Barnabas, with steadfast purpose. Remain true with a firm resolve of heart (CSB). With purpose of heart continue with, or cleave to, the Lord (NKJV, AV).

Barnabas gave them first a principle, not a practice. He encouraged them with a life direction and not a daily task list. He pled with them to set their face towards a way before he instructed them on the mechanics of their walk.

Remain faithful, he said. With whatever understanding you have of who the Lord is and what the Lord has done, remain faithful to that. You’ll grow in your understanding, but remaining true to what you know today will be foundational to what you’ll grow into tomorrow. Faithful in little, faithful in much — that’s the way to enter into the joy of your newly owned (and, if should be the case, your not so newly owned) Master (Mt. 25:21).

And the on-going fuel for remaining faithful is steadfast purpose. Literally, a “purpose of heart.” A firm resolve in the inner being to remain true to the God of your salvation, and to His Son who has called you into life, and life to the full. However you understand that today, remain faithful to that with steadfast purpose.

And I think this principle of remaining faithful with steadfast purpose works because of a promise.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” ~ Jesus

(Matthew 7:7-8 ESV)

Those who set their hearts to seek Christ find Christ. Those who purpose to walk in the Way have the Way opened to them. Those who, with Spirit-enabled holy determination, resolve to be faithful find Him faithful.

Not to be overly simplistic, but I’m thinking this is a good starting point, a solid working principle for any believer, new or well-seasoned.

How we need to beware of “the drift.” The waning of the drive for the kingdom we once felt. The atrophy of the burning desire to abide in the Vine. The losing of our first love. Becoming increasingly content with putting our hearts on autopilot. Allowing status quo to displace steadfast purpose.

These new believers didn’t need, first and foremost, a list of what to do, but an exhortation to remain faithful to the One they’d come to desire.

The rest would follow. Obeying the precepts, a result of their heart-focused pursuit. The spiritual disciplines, a result of their simple devotion. The worthy walk, the fruit of their wholehearted worship.

Remaining faithful with steadfast purpose. Not a bad starting point. I’m thinking not a bad principle to return to.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Fruitful in Affliction

Nobody really likes the desert. I’m guessing, if they had the choice, most people would look to escape the storm. Say what you want about trials, testings, and terrible situations, and the potential benefits of being in the crucible, but, at the end of the day, who doesn’t want out of the fire?

We cling to the promise that while weeping may hang around for a night, joy comes with the morning (Ps. 65:8) and so, we focus on the morning. We long for the morning. We pray for the morning. We can’t wait for some daylight. To go back to how things were when they were good. But what if the morning isn’t necessarily an escape from our current situation but is actually the recognition that, by God’s grace, we’re actually flourishing where we are, in the trials of the night?

Continuing to read Joseph’s story and chewing on the idea of being fruitful in affliction.

Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

(Genesis 41:50-52 ESV)

Forgetful and fruitful. That’s what God had made Joseph in the land of Egypt.

Egypt, the place where he was sold as chattel. Egypt, the land where this once favored son was demoted to the bottom of the food chain and his reputation destroyed. Egypt, that “season” of being forgotten in prison for “two whole years” (Gen 40:23-41:1).

But it was also Egypt, the place where, in a sense, he rose from the dead–having been buried by his father and brothers back in Canaan. Egypt, the land of knowing God’s favor in profound ways, even as a house-boy and a prisoner. Egypt, the season of discovering he could be an oracle of God and a savior, of sorts, to all the world.

And so, when he named his own two boys, he paused long enough to look around and, though still in Egypt, realized that God had done an incredible work even why he still dwelt in the desert. That miles and miles of sand dunes had, in fact, become his new norm, forgetting the good old days of feasting in his father’s house. That this had become his place of thriving, even as he recognized the fruit born in the land of affliction.

A picture of Jesus. A reminder to me.

Jesus could have avoided the cross. More than that, He didn’t have to put up with all the opposition He was subjected to during His years of public ministry. And, beyond that even, He didn’t have to endure the season of enduring the testings and trials of the flesh in order to know our frame and sympathize with our weakness. Though He prayed for the morning, yet He endured the night knowing that God would make Him forget His hardship and make Him fruitful in the land of His affliction (Matt. 26:39, Heb. 12:2). Praise God! ‘Cause I am a tiny, tiny piece of that harvest.

And so, while I might feel like I’ve been in my own desert for a while now, and that there’s no sign of going back (wherever back is), I too can see how God has made me to forget, and how through His overflowing favor He has even allowed some fruit to be seen. How the seeds of hardship which were sown have allowed me to reap a new crop of realizing the faithfulness of God and appreciating the power of the gospel. Of knowing His strength even in my weakness. Of seeing His power even in my plight.

Forgetting and fruitful. Even in the desert. Even before the morning has come. Content in my current situation because of the presence, power, and promises of my Savior . . . in all my situations.

. . . for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

(Philippians 4:11b-13 ESV)

Fruitful. Even in affliction.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Joseph and Jesus

This morning I am hovering over the very familiar tales of Joseph and his various captivities (Genesis 37, 39-40).

They begin with Joseph being thrown into a pit by his brothers — Joseph soon to be the subject of a fake news piece about his untimely death. He’s then sold by his brothers as a slave to the Ishmaelites for a mere twenty pieces of silver. In turn, he’s eventually sold to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, by the Ishmaelites (I’m assuming at a profit). Not long after that, he’s thrown into prison because of some more bad reporting conceived by Potiphar’s not so blushing bride. And while it all makes for some interesting reading, Joseph’s pit to prison journey, in terms of world events at that time, are pretty insignificant happenings.

But what strikes me is how many times I read in chapter 39 that the LORD “was with Joseph.”

The LORD is with him in Potiphar’s house causing everything he does to succeed (39:3). Okay. But think about it. “Everything” isn’t really all that much. He’s a house manager. And not even a house manager for the Pharaoh of Egypt, but for one of his high-ranking lackeys.

Then, after the too close encounter with Potiphar’s wife results in Joseph being demoted from Potiphar’s place to a prison cell, the Spirit makes sure we know:

But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it.

(Genesis 39:21-22 ESV)

Great! The LORD’s with Joseph. Stirring the heart strings of the prison keeper to take a shining to Joseph. Putting him in charge of the prisoners. What does that mean? Bringing them their food? Taking away their plates? Cleaning our their toilets? Supervising them during exercise period? I don’t know. But you gotta think whatever it meant to be in charge, it was all pretty menial.

And I think to myself, “Self, doesn’t the God of the universe have more important things to do than be with Joseph and pull whatever divine strings need pulling to make everything he does (which never was really very much) succeed?” Evidently not.

And I think about a big, big God being involved with such small, small details and I wonder at the depths to which God sees, knows, and determines to act from heaven concerning things of earth.

And then I ask myself, “Why?” Is it because he loves Joseph so much? I’m guessing, partially.

But then I sit back and realize it’s because God so loved the world. The eternal Creator had promised an eternal Savior and so, He determined to enter time and space in order to fulfill that promise. He had a people chosen before the world began, and now, as the world ran, He condescends to get involved in the minutiae of mundane life to preserve that people so that the promised Redeemer might come as He had said to accomplish the work He had determined.

What kind of God is that? What manner of love is this?

So big as to set the world on it’s axis, yet so involved that, with the ends of His fingertips, He ensures that all Joseph does as a prison keeper is successful.

So awesome! So amazing!

The LORD was with Joseph in order to make way for Jesus.

Because of grace. For His glory.

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