Category Archives: Encouragement

Pictures of Salvation

For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words. (1 Corinthians 2.11-13)

There is a problem understanding spiritual things with a mind orientated to thinking in physical terms. After all, we live in a world of matter, time, and decay. How do we describe the beauty of heaven, the horror of hell, or the wonder of salvation in physical terms? It seems an almost insurmountable task. Yet God, who fully understands our limitations, draws on human experiences and physical reality to describe spiritual things.

The Bible is filled with “spiritual pictures” drawn in language and terms we can understand. By looking at these pictures our spiritual awareness is quickened and our spiritual nature is aroused. In this way our faith grows and matures: So faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10.17).

Think about the picture of the prodigal son, the pearl of great price, the tree of life and the golden city of God. Each picture reveals another facet of great spiritual truth. No single picture reveals it all, but each contributes to the whole revelation until we eventually stand awed by the complete painting.

Word Pictures in the New Testament

Some words and concepts in the New Testament are word pictures themselves – words like atonement, forgiveness, justification, redemption, reconciliation, regeneration, and sanctification. Each word draws on either an example from the Old Testament or human experience to shed more light on the wonder of salvation.

The Book of Revelation is a classic example. In Revelation numbers, symbols, colors, and even grotesque images are used to represent various pictures or scenes in God’s relationship with humankind. Each scene sheds more light, more facts, more depth to the panoramic canvas of human understanding until we eventually see the whole picture clearly.

The Ultimate Revelation

Jesus Himself is the ultimate revelation of God: No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him (John 1.18). God exists fully in spirit. To reveal Himself to us He entered the physical realm through Jesus Christ. He did so visibly, powerfully, and dramatically. In Jesus, God says, “I’ll draw a picture for you so you can see what I’m like.”

Our duty is to search out and examine the many beautiful and descriptive pictures God has drawn. Beginning in Genesis, the “book of beginnings,” in the Garden of Eden and ending in Revelation with the description of the city containing the tree of life, the Bible paints a wondrous mosaic of the rich and rewarding experience to be found in faith. Each portrait in itself is captivating, but only when pieced together and viewed as a whole are we able to see and appreciate its complete beauty.

The picture of salvation, as drawn in the Word of God, is mixed in the paint of human understanding, experience, and feeling. It’s painted on the canvas of time and it reveals the glory of God’s grace and love to a human race in search of its meaning and purpose.

…but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.    (Ephesians 2.4-10)

The Secret of Contentment

“We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap on the altar of the Future every real gift which is offered them in the Present”
(Screwtape’s council to his nephew Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis)

The Folly of Living in the Future

The Screwtape Letters are meant to remind us of the folly of living in the future rather than the present. Too often we think the days ahead will give us what we think we’re lacking now. “When I get this or when this happens, then I’ll be happy.” The true reality is that when we get what we think we want it turns out to be not quite what was anticipated.

Most of us don’t know precisely what we want, but we’re certain we don’t have it. Driven by dissatisfaction, we pursue the treasure at the end of the rainbow and seldom drink deeply at the well of the present moment – which is all we ever have. The truth is if we are not satisfied with what we have, we’ll never be satisfied with what we want.

The Source of True Contentment

The real issue of contentment lies with Christ – whether it is He or ourselves to whom we turn to determine the content (money, position, associates, family, etc.) of our lives. When we turn to ourselves to make that determination we inevitably resort to the criteria of comparison – What do “they” have that “we” want or lack. And that, my friends, points us in the dangerous direction of greed, envy, and covetousness, those selfish traits that guarantee unhappiness and discontent.

But when we allow Christ to determine the content of our lives, the secret of contentment is unveiled. Instead of comparing ourselves with others, we turn to Jesus, the “author and perfecter” of our faith (Hebrews 12.2). He left us an example that we should follow in His steps (1 Peter 2.21). We will be content when we put our hope in His character rather than our own shortsighted desires.

Paul’s Affirmation

In a letter composed in a prison cell in Rome, Paul made this astounding affirmation:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, 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 4.11-13).

Contentment is not found in having everything but in being satisfied with everything we have. We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content (1 Timothy 6.7-8). Paul acknowledged God’s right to determine his circumstances, even if it meant taking all he had. His contentment was not determined by how much he had but by the One who had him. Therein lies the secret of contentment.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 6.25-26

– Bill

from Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image, 285-86

 

Childlike Trust

Christian faith is not neurotic dependency but childlike trust. We do not have a God who forever indulges our whims but a God whom we trust with our destinies. A Christian is not a naïve, innocent infant who has no identity apart from a feeling of being comforted, protected, and catered to but a person who has discovered an identity given by God that can be enjoyed best and fully in a voluntary trust in God. We do not cling to God desperately oft of fear and the panic of insecurity; we come to Him freely in faith and live.

To you I lift up my eyes,
  O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
 Behold, as the eyes of servants
  look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
  to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
  til he has mercy upon us.

Psalm 123.1-2

Welcome 2014!

 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.   Jeremiah 29.11

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.   1 Peter 1.3

Best Wishes
for the New Year!

 

 

“So Who Are We?”

“Remember Who  You Are”

The late Duke of Windsor, who had for a short period been King Edward VIII, died in Paris in March 1972. That night a very interesting documentary was shown on British television. It included extracts from earlier films in which he was shown being questioned about his upbringing, his brief reign, and his abdication.

Looking back to his boyhood he said, “My father [King George V] was a strict disciplinarian. Sometime when I had done something wrong, he would admonish me saying, ‘My dear boy, you must always remember who you are.’” If only he would remember that he was a royal prince destined for the throne, he would behave accordingly and not misbehave.

So who are we?

That is the question. I doubt if there is any New Testament text which gives a more varied and balanced account of what it means to be a disciple than 1 Peter 2.1-17 and in particular verse 9:

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Here the apostle likens the church to a nation or people, in fact, to God’s own people or possession. What is fascinating about these expressions is where Peter got them. He didn’t invent them but found them in Exodus 19.5-6, where God said to Israel, newly redeemed from Egypt, that if they kept His covenant by obeying His commandments they would be His treasured possession, His nation out of all the nations of the earth, a holy nation.

Here in this letter, with great audacity given him by the Holy Spirit, Peter lifts these words out of Exodus where they applied to Israel and reapplies them to the Christian community. You followers of Jesus, he is saying to us today, are what Israel used to be – “a holy nation,” though now an international one.

Why  Us?

But why did God choose Israel? And why has He chosen us?

The answer is not out of favoritism but in order to be His witnesses; not that we might enjoy a monopoly on the gospel, but that we might declare the “excellencies” (or “praises” or “mighty deeds”) of Him who called us “out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

John Stott. The Radical Disciple

 

Job: Stars emit sound

Biblical Statement: Job, written around 2000 BC, stated that, “the morning stars sang together” (Job.38.7). The Hebrew word for “sang” is ranan and refers to the emittance of a loud creak, shrill, or stridulous sound. Job claimed, in ancient days, that stars emit loud, shrill, stridulous sounds that are audible.

Modern Astronomy

1940: In an attempt to determine whether stars emit sound, radio astronomer Grote Raber attempted to detect radio waves from the sun. His results were negative.

1942: Raber tried again with “inconclusive” results. The same year, however, United States Army scientists were testing secret radar equipment developed for detecting German aircraft. This equipment used a wave length of 400 to 500 centimeters. Suddenly in February of 1942, the radar sets received extremely high noises so loud they could not be operated. At first it was thought to be a form of German “jamming.” However, when the direction of the sound was traced it was found to be caused by the activities of a sun spot. This discovery gave birth to the radio telescope (which Raber was instrumental in developing). It is now known that radio waves entering our atmosphere vary in length from 0.8 centimeters to 17 meters. The natural ear is not designed to hear the shrill of the stars but, in fact, just as Job declared over 4,000 years ago, they do “sing.”

Arnold Schnabel, Has God Spoken?

Then Job answered and said: “Truly I know that it is so:
but how can a man be in the right before God?
 If one wished to contend with him,
one could not answer him once in a thousand times.
 He is wise in heart and mighty in strength –
who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?
 He who removes mountains, and they know it not,
when he overturns them in his anger,
 who shakes the earth out of its place and its pillars tremble;
 who commands the sun, and it does not rise who seals up the stars;
 who alone stretched out the heaven and trampled the waves of the sea;
 who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades
and the chambers of the south;
 who does great things beyond searching out
and marvelous things beyond number.

Job 9.1-10

 

What in the world is going on?

What in the WorldRemember this?

“Judgment Day, May 21, 2011 – ‘Have you heard the awesome news? The end of the world is almost here!’ The Bible guarantees it.” Harold Camping spent a hundred million dollars to promote his prophetic prediction of the day the world would end. Pressed by reporters after his May 21st prediction failed, Camping said he had miscalculated, that it would happen on October 21st. When that failed he quipped, “I’m not a genius, I pray all the time for wisdom.” Harold Camping’s world ended this past Monday, December 16th. He was 92.

What’s next?

The California senate has voted to ban reparative therapy for gay and lesbian teens. The bill, which interestingly enough has been opposed by both the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and the California Psychological Association, now goes on to the state assembly. It is claimed that such therapy has led in some cases to patients later committing suicide. The bill refers only to minors, not adults. Apparently reparative therapy hasn’t caused any adults to commit suicide. When the government seeks to regulate therapy in the counselor’s chambers, what’s next – the preacher’s study?

 

Sermons about the Incarnation: Quotations to Stir Our Hearts and Minds

From the human perspective, when you compare God with the other gods of the world, you have to say our God is really sort of odd. He uses the most common of people, people that aren’t any different from any of us here; He comes in the most common of ways, when by His Spirit an anonymous young woman is found to be with child. And the strangest thing is that He comes at all – He’s not the Above-Us-God, too holy to come down. This God’s love is so immense that He wants to come down. And He has proven His love by the fact that He did come down and touch our ground.  James R. Van Tholen, “Where All Hope Lies”

It was not suddenly and unannounced that Jesus came into the world. He came into a world that had been prepared for Him. The whole Old Testament is the story of a special preparation – only when all was ready, only in the fullness of His time, did Jesus come. “The Consolations of God: Great Sermons of Phillips Brooks”

Do you want to see the humility of God? Look in the manger and see Him lying there. Surely this is our God. Seeing an infant, I wonder how this could be the One who says, “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” I see a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Is this the One who is clothed in the beautiful glory of unapproachable light? Listen! He is crying. Is this the One who thunders in the heaven making the angels lower their wings? Yes, but He has emptied Himself in order to fill us. Guerric of Igny, “Liturgical Sermons”

When Jesus was born, the voice of God became flesh and dwelt among us. And what the voice said was, “Console, console My people.” The consolation that God’s anger is past…the consolation that our heavenly Father has a tender affection for us in our weakness…the consolation that our sins are pardoned and “cast into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). John Piper, “Looking for the Consolation of Israel”

Rejoice, you who feel that you are lost; your Savior comes to seek and save you. Be of good cheer, you who are in prison, for He comes to set you free. You, who are famished and ready to die, rejoice that He has consecrated for you a Bethlehem, a house of bread, and He has come to be the Bread of Life to your souls. Rejoice, O sinners everywhere, for the Restorer of the castaways, the Savior of the fallen, is born. C. H. Spurgeon, “Joy Born at Bethlehem”

The entire human race had a place, and the Lord about to be born on earth had none. He found no room among men. He found no room in Plato, none in Aristotle, but in a manger, among beasts of burden and brute animals, and among the simple, too, and the innocent. For that reason, the Lord says in the Gospel: “The foxes have dens, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Jerome, “Homilies on the Psalms”

He chose a time of utmost peace as the time when He would be born, because this was the reason for His being born in the world, that He might lead the human race back to the gifts of heavenly peace. … He, as a kind mediator and reconciler, has made one house of God of angels and humanity. Bede the Venerable, “Homilies on the Gospels”

What you do not understand, treat with reverence and be patient, and what you do understand, cherish and keep. Augustine of Hippo, “Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany”

Despite our efforts to keep Him out, God intrudes. The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked “No Entrance” and left through a door marked “No Exit.” Peter Larson, “Prism” (Jan/Feb 2001)

The incarnation was a historical and unrepeatable event with permanent consequences. Reigning at God’s right hand today is the man Christ Jesus, still human as well as divine, though now His humanity has been glorified. Having assumed our human nature, He has never discarded it, and He never will. John Stott, “Authentic Christianity”

– Bill

(Compiled from Christianity Today)

 

“Amen. Praise ye the LORD!”

Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks unto Thy holy name, and to triumph in Thy praise. Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the LORD.

Psalm 106.47-48

Words of praise and thankfulness unto God have always typified His people. He is our Maker, the source of our existence, the Benefactor of our blessings, and the Savior of our souls, it is deserving that He should be remembered with reverence and thanksgiving.

Paul told the Colossian brethren that one of the characteristics of walking in Christ was to be abundant in thanksgiving (2.6-7). Likewise, to the Ephesians he said, “Giving thanks always for all things to God…” (5.20).

The Bible tells us that crowning achievement of God’s creation was mankind. Everything that was made was made for us! With our unique and divinely-ordained intellect, the earth and all that is in it was given into our care and subjection (Genesis 1.28).

For Christians there are just no words quite adequate to describe the thrilling experience of life. Yea, even those moments fraught with pain, disappointment, sorrow, and tears are beneficial and necessary for us. The make us complete, enabling us to be happy and joyful through all the uncertainties attendant to this life.

So with the psalmist we may heartily say, “Amen. Praise ye the LORD!”

 – Bill