Your Very Life

Living where Life is

Month: April 2017

Good Friday Devo April 14

Read Lamentations 1:12, and consider that Jesus could say this from the cross.

  1. Now, read Matthew 27:26-46 and replay the many sorrows of Jesus. It hardly seems possible to endure so much.
  1. Truly, in the Last Supper, Jesus was right: “this is my body broken for you… this is my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Give thanks for his body and blood.

Pause to worship Christ Jesus for the cross! Use this simple communion prayer, by Horatius Bonar:

 

Here O My Lord, I see thee face to face,

Here would I touch and handle things unseen,

Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,

And all my weariness upon thee lean.

 

Here would I feed upon the bread of God,

Here drink with thee the royal wine of heaven,

Here would I lay aside each earthly load,

Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.

 

I have no help but thine, nor do I need

Another arm save thin to lean upon;

It is enough, my Lord, enough indeed—

My strength is in they might, thy might alone.

 

Mine is the sin, but thine the righteousness,

Mine is the guilt by thine the cleansing blood;

Here is my robe, my refuge and my peace,

Thy blood, they righteousness, O Lord, My God.

Thursday April 13 Devo

Read Psalm 22:1-8 & 14-19. Jesus quotes the first line of this from the cross.

  1. What do you think David (as he writes this Psalm) is going through? Do you think he is enduring quite as much as he writes?
  1. Sometimes poetry (or song lyrics with music) give us a voice that we would not otherwise have. What Worship music is most meaningful to you? Give thanks to God for that gift.
  1. Which of the lines of Psalm 22 are also true of Jesus at the crucifixion? Note them, and meditate on them. (If you need to, refer to Matthew 27:26-50)
  1. Look at Psalm 22:19. It’s true of David, but not of the Son of David. Ponder what Jesus was going through as he hung there for us.

 

Sing/pray this song of adoration to Christ:

 

O Sacred Head, now wounded, With grief and shame weighed down,

Now scornfully surrounded With thorns, they only crown,

How art thou pale with anguish, With sore abuse and scorn!

How does that visage languish Which once was bright as morn!

 

What thou, my Lord, has suffered Was all for sinners’ gain:

Mine, mine was the transgression, But thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior! Tis I deserve thy place;

Look on my with thy favor, Vouchsafe to me they grace.

 

What language shall I borrow To thank thee dearest Friend,

For this thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?

O make me thine forever! And should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never Outlive my love for thee!

[Attr. to Bernard of Clairvaux]

Astounding an Egyptian News Anchor

We have learned with horror of Palm Sunday’s attack on an Egyptian Coptic church and cathedral. We have prayed for their families and their country: that the roots of the gospel will sink deep and bring eternal redemption and reconciliation for millions of Egyptians.

The gate-keeper at the Cathedral in Alexandria stopped the bomber from entering, and suffered martyrdom, but saved hundreds. One life to save many.

Is God at work in this? Take two-and-a-half minutes, and watch the astonishment and the comments of a Muslim News Anchor after an interview with gatekeeper’s widow. This aired on Egypt TV in the last couple of days. Click here.

The following letter comes from my friend Ramez Atallah, General Director of The Bible Society of Egypt.  He references the News Anchor below.

Dear Friends,

Thanks to all who expressed concern and prayers following the tragic bombings in the churches of Tanta and Alexandria.

Palm Sunday is one of the busiest days on our church calendar. Egyptian Christians carry intricately woven palm branches. They chant “Hosanna to the King of Kings.” It is a day of joyful celebration.

Then the first bomb exploded.

Instantly, many robed chanters participating in the liturgy exchanged their now-bloodied, earthly robes for martyrs’ robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). A few hours later, the second bomb exploded in Alexandria as a suicide bomber detonated his explosive device outside Saint Mark’s Church. Altogether, 46 people went from celebrating by faith to celebrating by sight, meeting their savior face to face. Many more were wounded.

The funerals were a mixture of wailing and rejoicing, as a bishop explained:

“True, we love martyrdom. But we also love life. We don’t hate life on earth. God created us on earth to live, not die. The fact that we accept death doesn’t mean our blood is cheap, and it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter to us. We do not commit suicide. But we witness for Christ, whether by our lives or by our transition to heaven. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.”  

Social Media is abuzz. In many instances, Muslims who are outraged at the blind and evil hatred of this atrocity, have expressed frustration with Christians in all their talk of love and forgiveness.  As with previous attacks, the sense of revenge is minimal as families embrace martyrdom as a gift from and to God. [Witness] the Muslim interviewer’s astonishment with the widow of the gatekeeper who prevented the suicide bomber from entering the Alexandria church yard, thereby saving countless lives. What is happening in Egypt is not a 2000-year-old legend, but a modern, living testimony to the power of the Christian faith.

Please pray for the Church of the Martyrs, as they seek to faithfully apply the teachings and example of Jesus to forgive and carry on.  Pray for patience in the midst of sorrow and grief.  Pray for victory over bitterness and anger. Pray for our church and government leaders.

And as you celebrate this weekend, may you be inspired by the witness of many Egyptian Christians whose faith epitomizes the true meaning of Easter.

Sincerely in Christ,

Ramez Atallah, General Director, The Bible Society of Egypt

 

Friends reading this blog post: be in prayer for Egypt. Visit www.bibles4egypt.com to see the work there. Perhaps a short-term mission trip from Grace is in our future?!

Pray for us believers here… We’re not in physical danger, so we are lulled to sleep. I don’t hear the kind of radical forgiveness from Christians in the West. “Radical forgiveness” = gospel forgiveness. Rather, I hear us complain and murmur, and try to squeeze Jesus into a busy life, and wring our hands at the decline of our cultural norms, and yearn for ‘days past’.

But I think we need to dive into the life of radical forgiveness & radical devotion to Christ exhibited our Egyptian brothers and sisters. We need their leadership to help us grow.  I wonder how we are short-circuiting God’s deeper gospel work in our culture?

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

Wednesday April 12 Devo

Read today the final segment of the Servant Song – Isaiah 53:7-12

  1. vv.7-9 speak of the Servant’s responses to the unjust affliction. What are they? Why do think that is important?
  1. In v.10, what are the two aspects of God’s will mentioned here?
  1. In v.11, we see the outcome of the “anguish of his soul”. What is it?
  1. v.12 describes the end of the matter. Consider what we learn here. Jot it down, and ponder it. How does it reflect or echo the opening line of the song, 52:13?

 

He was wounded for our transgressions,
He bore our sins in His body on the tree;
For our guilt He gave us peace,
From our bondage gave release,
And with His stripes,
And with His stripes,
And with His stripes our souls are healed.

He was numbered among transgressors,
We did esteem Him forsaken by His God;
As our sacrifice He died,
That the law be satisfied,
And all our sin,
And all our sin,
And all our sin was laid on Him.

We had wandered, we all had wandered
Far from the fold of “the Shepherd of the sheep”;
But He sought us where we were,
On the mountains bleak and bare,
And brought us home,
And brought us home,
And brought us safely home to God.

Who can number His generation?
Who shall declare all the triumphs of His Cross?
Millions, dead, now live again,
Myriads follow in His train!
Victorious Lord,
Victorious Lord,
Victorious Lord and coming King!

[Thomas Chisholm]

Tuesday April 11 Devo

Yesterday we began to read the “Isaiah 53” Servant Song. Today, we’ll read the central portion of it. Read Isa 53:4-6 at least two times.

  1. Circle every time you see “we” “our” “us”. We are in this.
  1. List everything it says Jesus does on our behalf. Then, beside each item, write down what you think it means.
  1. v.6 says that we did one thing, and God responded unexpectedly. What is each?
  1. Write a prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus for v6.

Reflecting on this, we see in v4 that Jesus picks up our sorrows, in v5 that Jesus stands in our place, and in v6 that Jesus bears our guilt. Everything is “for us”.

 

O love how deep, how broad, how high! Beyond man’s gift to prophesy—

That God, the Son of God, should take Our mortal form for mortals’ sake.

 

For us baptized, for us he bore, His desert fast and hungered sore;

For us temptations sharp he knew, For us the tempter overthrew.

 

For us he prayed, for us he taught, For us his daily works he wrought—

By words and signs and actions, thus Still seeking not himself, but us.

 

For us to wicked men betrayed, Both scourged and mocked—with thorns arrayed,

He bore the shameful cross and death—For us gave up his final breath.

 

For us he rose from death again, For us he went on high to reign;

For us he sent his Spirit here To guide, to strengthen and to cheer.

 

To him whose boundless love has won Salvation for us through his Son,

To God the Father glory be, Both now and through eternity.

[Latin Hymn, 15th C, Trans. Benjamin Webb—altered]

 

Monday April 10 Devo

For the next 5 days, take a few moments each day to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice, and worship him for it. These daily devotionals are designed to take about 15 minutes, and to be Scripture based. At the end of each, I’ve included a hymn to do with that day’s passage. Lyrics (aka poetry) can help us worship too – pray them to the Lord, &/or sing them to your soul!

There are several Old Testament passages that point clearly to Christ’s passion. This Holy Week, We will dwell in 3 of them.

Read Isaiah 52:13-53:3. This is the first section of the greatest Servant Song in Isaiah. (The other 3 Servant Songs are 42:1-4, 49:1-7, & 50:4-9.)

This one deals with the details of Servant’s suffering, and the why behind it.

  1. Verse 13 gives courage and hope. What outcome does it promise?
  1. Jot down as many referents to Jesus’ life and suffering in 52:14-53:3.
  1. Starting at 53:2, “we” play a part in this. What is that role?
  1. How have you been like the “we” lately? Where have you seen that in yourself?

 

“Man of Sorrows” what a name For the Son of God who came

Ruined sinners to reclaim! Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

Bearing shame and scoffing rude, In my place condemned he stood—

Sealed my pardon with his blood: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

Guilty, vile and helpless we, Spotless Lamb of God was He;

Full atonement can it be? Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

Lifted up was he to die, “It is finished,” was His cry;

Now in heav’n exalted high: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

When He comes, our glorious King, All his ransomed home to bring,

Then anew this song we’ll sing: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

[Philip P. Bliss]

How Christians disagree (and when they can’t)

Christians, it seems, love to disagree. Maybe not ‘love’ but we tend to disagree over all sorts of issues. The why is simple: As Christians we want to please God. Scripture says so much, and yet it often doesn’t say enough! So we do our best to think and live honoring to him. (Also, we still deal with sin inside of us, which leads both to errors and to stubbornness. This also causes disagreement!)

This blog post serves to follow-up “Grace is the Grease in the Gears”. Click here to read that. This will help us think through where we can disagree, where we cannot, and why.

Consider the following questions. They require different answers and for different reasons: Did Christ really rise from the dead? Can I sleep with my girlfriend? Should you have a beer? Can they use guitars, drums, etc., to lead worship? Is Christ the only way to God? Should I speak in tongues? What schooling for our children? Can I use ESV, NIV, NASB, NKJV?

They each fit into one of four levels of processing.

Level 1: Matters of truth and error, of reality itself.

Christ’s resurrection is a matter of reality, and thus of truth or error. There’s no margin for a believer to discount the historicity of it. All of eternity hangs on whether or not Christ rose from the dead. Also, “is Christ the only way” falls in this first level. If you believe there are 10 ways to God, one of which is Christ, then you are not within reality.

The Classification here is Truth / orthodoxy / reality. The central tenets of our faith: Trinity, Authority of Scripture, Incarnation are good examples.

When someone disagrees on a matter of truth: Deal with them with grace. Since they are claiming Christ, ask them to use Scripture to make their case. Scripture is all that matters.

Level 2: Matters of doctrine

One step down from “truth/error” are matters of doctrine. These are extremely important in every believer’s life and each church body. Doctrine is “what the whole bible teaches us today about some particular topic.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. P.25)

The goal here is pleasing God by putting the puzzle together properly. The Puzzle being the teaching of Scripture. Rodney Stark explains that Scripture—written as it is by ~40 authors—is an anthology. It demands that we think as we piece together the nuances in teaching between the different authors. (He lays this out in The Victory of Reason.)

Doctrine is extremely important, but Christians can come to different understandings on doctrinal level questions and still be one in Christ. For instance: speaking in tongues—equally devout Christians come to different conclusions about Scripture’s teaching on this point.

The “sleep with your girlfriend” question is ultimately one of doctrine: Scripture is clear that sex is God’s gift reserved for marriage. However, the believers engaging in pre-marital sex have not lost their salvation. Their actions are deeply displeasing to God, are endangering their souls, and require his gracious discipline. But this is ultimately a question of what their beliefs are and how they are living them out.

Other doctrinal questions are: “Reformed” or “Arminian” answers to questions of salvation? What roles and offices are open to men and to women? What are the events of the End? What happens at Communion? What is the church’s stance toward Politics and Government? My answer to each of these is a reflection of what I believe Scripture is teaching.

Level 3: Matters of conviction or conscience

The third level is even more practical: how we make decisions in life. The classification here is “wisdom”. Mike Pence recently made the news for his ‘life-rule’ of not having dinner alone with a woman, other than his wife. (It’s the “Billy Graham Modesto Manifesto” rule). This is his conviction; he wants to protect his marriage, his heart and his wife’s. For him it’s a choice based on Wisdom.

A Christian’s use of Alcohol or school choice fall in this area. It’s where Christians live out their faith in the day to day. And we will come to different conclusions. It’s what Romans 14-15 (and 1 Corinthians 8) are all about.

How do we disagree here? We remind ourselves that differing is to be expected within the body, that everyone is living to honor God, and trust that he is leading someone to a different conclusion than he led you to.

Level 4: Matters of taste or preference

Finally, there are matters of taste: which translation of Scripture, musical style, or dress for church. Or, some guys just might not like to go on men’s retreat—does it mean they are sinners or lacking conviction? No, they just are so uncomfortable that they don’t do it.

You get the idea. Level 4 items that matter for eternity, nor even really for someone’s discipleship. I remember one grandfather saying to me, “I don’t love the loud music of today’s worship, but I figure I get to set aside my preferences for the younger generation’s growth.” I suspect there are many grandparents who are living into Ephesians 5:21 like this: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Conclusion

Notice is that there is some overlap between the levels. What for one is a matter of taste, for another is a conviction: one may not drink alcohol because she doesn’t like it while another convictionally abstains. Or, what one classifies as a ‘truth/error’ issue, another may consider a Level 2 doctrine issue.

By the way, the more a church demands full agreement on Levels 3-4, the more ‘fundamentalist’ they are. The more a church discards unity on Levels 1-2, the more ‘liberal’ they are. The dance is to keep the right balance of full unity on Level 1, deep cohesion on Level 2, true mutual respect on Level 3, and a generous spirit on Level 4.

Grace is the Grease in the Gears

A home-schooling mom—who no longer attends Grace—once asked me “How can you send your kids to public school? Why would you do that?” We were preparing to send our guys to the local elementary school. She and her husband were convinced of the rightness of homeschooling for their kids. She figured it would be right for everyone. For a variety of reasons, it has never been God’s leading for our family.

The Christian Life is filled with these issues: areas in which I am convinced, but you come to a different conviction about. To schooling options you can add things like: how much a local church should support missions, a Christian’s use of alcohol, appropriate entertainment/leisure choices, spending/giving patterns, political opinions. These are not matters of right or wrong (per se). They are matters of conviction.

How do we, in the local church, live into the reality of different convictions within this body? How do we grow in grace and truth, walking together with authenticity? Romans 14:1-6 gives us six helps for just this situation: building genuine fellowship in spite of different convictions of conscience.

The matter at hand in Rome is “do we eat meat or not?” In those days, meat vendors would sacrifice it first to the gods, and then sell it. The conscience question is this: are we condoning pagan sacrifices by eating? Or, since the gods are nothing, it means nothing, let’s eat. The second question in this passage (vv.5-6) concerns the Sabbath – Jewish-background believers wanted to honor the Sabbath more than Gentile-background believers. What should Christians do?

Paul lays out 6 principles for deepening fellowship in spite of different convictions.

  1. Welcome all believers, but not to win them to your side (vv.1-2).

Recognize that, within the body, there will not be homogeneity of views on all things. There is going to be a range of answers to conviction questions. Get comfortable with that range. Welcome all. (Again, this is not truth or error, nor even doctrinal questions. It’s conviction… conscience, practical, life-outworking stuff.)

  1. Don’t write people off based on their convictions (v3).

It’s easy to compare ourselves to others, and either look down on them (e.g., with alcohol: “they are being so legalistic not to drink”), or we judge them (“they are living too much like the world for drinking”). Paul says we simply cannot box people in and write them off and expect Grace to grow.

  1. Remember: they are serving God just like you are (v4).

“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” Again, we are talking of fellow believers on matters of conscience (not sin). I have to trust that God is working their lives, and he is leading them to their position of conscience. And, I can trust that he—the master—will get his servants doing what he wants. “It’s before his own master that he stands or falls.”

  1. We must think decisions through for ourselves (v5).

“Each of you must be fully convinced in your own mind.” You are not living by your convictions if you simply do what everyone around you does. Think things through, wrestle with Scripture, seek godly counsel, and pray. When we live from the inside out we can live with grace, because we are not insecure about our position.

  1. We honor the Lord in all things (v6).

Whether you eat meat or not, Sabbath day or not, our goal is to please the Lord and bring glory to him. With this as our goal, we will begin to see where that same goal informs others’ actions/decisions too. Goodwill grows even through outward disagreements.

  1. We give thanks to God (v6).

Gratitude is the key to receiving all things, and to abstaining from all things. When God leads us to a conviction, we’re thankful: He’s giving us a gift to enjoy, or protecting us from a harm we can’t know. Give thanks to God for our convictions. And, frankly, we can give thanks for the different convictions others hold, for the same reasons.

 

Grace among God’s people is hard to uphold. It would be much easier if you would just agree with me! Romans 14 is a good case-study of practical ways to live grace with each other. To switch to ‘machine’ metaphor: Grace is the grease in the gears of the church. Without it, everything comes screeching to a halt.

What Christ’s Death Accomplished

In Matthew’s gospel, he gives us 4 hints of the effectiveness of Jesus’ death. Hanging on the cross, forsaken, dying, “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.” (Mt 27:50).

In the very next paragraph, Matthew then lists 4 events that flow from Jesus’ death. And, not just chronologically. They flow as an effect of that cause. What are the 4 effects of the death of Christ, as Matthew highlights?

First, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (v51). That veil which hid the Holy Presence of God from every eye except the Jewish High Priest (and him only once a year) is not ripped in half. God’s presence is available to all. The death of Jesus opens the way to God’s presence. This is, perhaps, the simplest way to understand what was accomplished on the cross: we can now come to God. (Read Hebrews 10:19-22 for a vivid invitation – Let us draw near to God with full assurance!). The way to God is open to any and all… the Temple system is finished–no more need for offerings and oblations. Jesus is the Final Offering, the Once for All offering. The chasm has been bridged, the debt has been paid, the penalty absorbed, the way opened. Amen.

Second, “the earth shook, and the rocks were split” (v51). That same earth that was cursed when Adam and Eve sinned (Gen 3:17) now shakes with anticipation at the renewal accomplished by Jesus’ death. Romans 8 says, “the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:19-21). The earth dances, as it were, at the effective sacrifice of Jesus which redeems all things–not just humans’ souls!

Third, “The tombs were also opened, and many bodies of the saints… were raised” (v52). Matthew says that they didn’t come out of their tombs until Resurrection day, but he inserts that account here to link it with the effectiveness of Jesus’ death. What does Christ’s death accomplish? The undoing of death! “Death itself begins to work backward…” Aslan says to Susan and Lucy. The perfect Lamb of God destroys the power of death from within. Matthew wants us to link that resurrection power to the perfect sacrifice that accomplishes it.

Fourth, The Centurion was “filled with awe, and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God'” (v54). The one positive word of testimony in all of ch27 is on the lips of this Roman soldier, who’s likely seen dozens or hundreds of men crucified. There is something utterly different about this man. Truly he is the Son of God. At the beginning of Jesus’ life, Matthew demonstrates the Gentiles worshipping in the story of the Magi. Now, at the very end of his life, Matthew does the same: the Roman Centurion exclaims praise. This is one of the major themes of this gospel: the Gentiles are included now. No more division between Jew and Gentile; all are one in Christ. No more separation or alienation. Christ brings us together.

Matthew shows us that Christ cancels SIN (by opening the way to God), cancels the CURSE (as the earth shakes!), cancels DEATH (by the mini-resurrection), and cancels ALIENATION (with the Gentiles worshipping). This is what Christ’s death accomplished! Amen and amen.

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