We Can Lift Our Eyes

For June 15, 2019
Jerusalem is located approximately 2,500 feet above sea level. In antiquity, travelers would lift their eyes unto the hills as they neared Jerusalem or “Mount Zion,” as Psalm 121 (KJV) attests:

I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

The Jerusalem Temple represented the Lord’s earthly abode. Association with Him guaranteed shalom (peace), protection and providence.  Thus, the Psalmist asks and answers the central question: “Where does my help come?”  “From the LORD, who made Heaven and Earth!”

For the People of God, looking up evokes great anticipation and comfort because:

    • The Lord is the omnipotent and omnipresent Creator of Heaven and Earth.
    • The Lord is our solid foundation who will not be shaken by our adversity.
    • The Lord is the Keeper who preserves His people forever.
    • The Lord never sleeps while keeping His people secure.

We Christians “lift our eyes” to the cross of Jesus Christ. Because there He reconciled us to God and purchased our eternal peace, protection, and providence:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. John 3:14-18 (NIV)

In 1913 George Bennard, noted for his work with the Salvation Army and the Methodist Episcopal Church, had an experience that made him look at the cross of Jesus in light of Philippians 3:10: “fellowship of His suffering.1 From that experience, he wrote a very popular hymn that raises Jesus’ cross from a trivial religious symbol to the very heart of the Gospel for so many of us today:

The Old Rugged Cross

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame; And I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.

On that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, Has a wondrous attraction for me; For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above To bear it to dark Calvary.

In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, A wondrous beauty I see; For ‘twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died To pardon and sanctify me.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true, its shame and reproach gladly bear; Then He’ll call me someday to my home far away, where His glory forever I’ll share.

Chorus:
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.

Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV) reads:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Keep looking up!

 

An Astounding Eternal Reality Awaits Us

For June 9, 2019
Normal, everyday living often provides so many distractions that we fail to see and appreciate the astounding eternal, transcendent reality that awaits us. For we who believe in in the Lord Jesus Christ and have committed our lives to Him can expect the fulfillment of His wonderful promise:

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. John 14:1-3 (NIV)

Although many have speculated about the precise moment of our Lord’s return over the past two thousand years, no one really knows when it will happen.

In the meantime, Jesus admonishes His followers to be vigilant and watchful, as if we are “on guard,” until He returns in glory. At that precise moment, He will call us from our labor on earth to our reward in Heaven, and we will experience the pinnacle of His redemptive work; clothed in new immortal bodies that will enable us to share in His eternal glory—in full measure!

This is the glorification recorded in Romans 8:28-31 (KJV):

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

Exodus 33 and 34 illustrates what happened when Moses requested to see the Lord’s full glory. The Lord warned Moses that no one can see His full glory and live. However, the Lord did allow Moses to see His “back side” briefly. Yet, that brief glimpse illuminated Moses’ face to such a degree he had to cover his face to avoid frightening the other people.

No human can endure God’s full glory in natural bodies and live. Instead, God has to transform our bodies to insure our safe, eternal co-existence. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (NLT) describes this transformation:

What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

Christians everywhere anxiously await the Lord’s descent from Heaven when He will create a new Heaven and earth free from sin, Satan, or anything defiled. There, we will experience eternal bliss with Him forever (in bodies free from sin, pain and disease) in the company of other believers—past, present, and future—and experience His love, glory and majesty forever.

Today, the Lord is preparing our special place where we will have His eternal peace, rest, and comfort (from all toil, pain, and sorrow) just as Revelation 21: 3-4 (NIV) attests:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

At that time, a final separation of the Righteous and the Wicked will occur. Our qualification or disqualification will not be based on our “good works” but on the  redeeming work of Jesus Christ performed at Calvary. (It is our gratitude for His gift of grace that compels us to commit our lives to the Lord by performing good deeds that point others to Christ.)

Through Jesus’ vicarious death and resurrection, God provides a full payment for sin, and those of us who trust in Him will experience this benefit. As a result, God will deem us as the Righteous,  and we will share eternity with Him in Heaven.

Unfortunately, those who do not trust in the merits of the Lord’s redeeming work will be disqualified since they have no payment for sin. Deemed as the Wicked, they will experience God’s eternal separation in Hell.

1 Peter 1:3–5 tells us how we are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation—ready to be revealed in the last time. Only humble, reverent, and sincere faith in Christ will assure us eternal life in glory, which is truly our hope and peace. What a wonderful Savior!

We Have A New Moral Position

For May 18, 2019
In the Beginning, God created our ancestors, Adam and Eve, to be perfect human beings who represented the pinnacle of His perfect creation. God placed them in the Garden of Eden where they experienced complete fulfillment in unbroken, loving fellowship with God.

They lived in eternal bliss as long as they obeyed one command: do not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Unfortunately, they ate the fruit, and spiritual death and physical death happened just as God warned.

Physical death came over time, but spiritual death (or the Fall of humanity) came instantly, as the entire world became sin-contaminated.1

Sin is like a wedge that separates us from God. It restricts our ability to experience a sustained fellowship with our holy God, since He did not fall from perfection; we did, and our inherited sinful nature, which taints our thoughts, words, and actions, is highly offensive to Him.

Thus, we are sinners not because of the sin we commit. We are sinners because of the sin-tainted nature within us that is constantly at work inside us.

Trying to regain our perfection and reestablish fellowship with God is humanly impossible. Many try to earn a righteous moral position to secure God’s good graces by performing enough “good” works to convince God that we deserve to be with Him in Heaven.

Here, I would spend my entire life trying to perform one more good deed because I could never be sure if the next one would be the one that got me in. I’d be tortured to live life worried if I’ve helped enough little old ladies across a busy intersection, or offered enough people my seat on the bus or subway, or yielded my right of way to enough cars while driving through town, or gave enough money to charity, or assisted enough people in need.

As sinners, we can never do enough “good” to earn passage into Heaven. Even on our best day, God disqualifies us as unclean and our noble acts as filthy rags according to Isaiah 64:6.

We need a perfect Savior; someone who is sinless yet suitable to bear our sin. Again, Isaiah makes an astute observation: He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Jesus Christ is our perfect Savior whose death at Calvary (in conjunction with His resurrection three days later) paid sins price completely. Our faith in His redemptive work transforms us on the inside and allows God to declare us as righteous.

In other words, we are no longer judged or condemned by sin, as God exchanges Jesus’ righteousness for our unrighteousness. Now when He looks at us, He views us as He views His Son, Jesus Christ, and He sees us as perfect, having satisfied all of His righteous requirements.

Through Jesus Christ alone, we have God’s forgiveness and His eternal fellowship. He died on our behalf at Calvary, because He loves us more than we could ever comprehend and more than we can love ourselves. It is not our works, but our faith in His works that secures our eternal fellowship with God.

We were once separated from God, but how now we are reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ. We were once enemies, but now we are at peace with Him.

In Christ, we have a new spiritual identity and a new moral position. This is God’s grace, and it is truly amazing. What a wonderful Savior!

We Have A New Spiritual Identity

For May 13, 2019
Through faith in Christ, we can obtain a new spiritual identity from our Heavenly Father that is diametrically opposed to the old physical identity we acquired from our parents at birth. The difference between the two identities is that one is sin-dominated while the other is not.

Only God can eliminate our old sin nature, and He does so through the Born Again experience Jesus says is as mysterious as the wind, yet is essential for true, lasting fellowship with God:

I tell you the truth, unless you are born again you cannot see the Kingdom of God…Don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.  John 3:3-7 (NLT)

Then the Lord continues:

As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:14–17 (NLT)

Here, the Lord is teaching just as dying people lived because they trusted the efficacy of Moses’ brass snake. We too can live—eternally with God—when we trust the efficacy of Jesus’ redemptive work on Calvary’s Cross.

Through faith in Christ, His Holy Spirit inhabits us. Now we are no longer spiritually dead and sin-tarnished. Instead, we are spiritually alive with a new disposition. Much like light obliterating darkness, God’s penetrating glory obliterates our old sin nature…upon our invitation.

In other words, we must invite the Lord Jesus Christ to take full possession of our hearts and lives. Then as His Spirit comes to live inside us, He immediately changes our nature and worldview.

Now as a result, we no longer pursue a life of sin and self-gratification because we are “new creatures” in Christ, and pleasing Him becomes our new chief concern.

Some associate the New Birth1 with materialism and claim it helps us to gain recognition and amass wealth and power. However, this is not the case since God is no respecter of persons and His Kingdom is spiritual, not material. (Earthly supremacy is what we sinful and proud humans want, while transforming hearts is what our holy and loving God wants. He knows once He possesses our hearts, everything else we have becomes His property—exclusively!)

In this new life we have in Christ, we may not experience significant external changes, like having our names listed in Who’s Who, or having others speak well of us, or even obtaining wealth, power, prestige or property. Nevertheless, we will experience a dynamic, complete spiritual overhaul on the inside that makes us acceptable to God forever.

Inviting the Lord Jesus Christ into our hearts, and allowing His Spirit to rule our lives by reverent, sincere faith, and through daily obedience and submission to Him, we are certain to accomplish the will of God, secure His eternal favor, and become His beloved children forever.

Truly, we have a new spiritual identity.

 

The Lord is Still at Work

For April 28, 2019
One day, there was a person who was quite nervous and agitated. Anyone could readily see that they were deeply troubled about something, and while they explained their quandary, tears were welling in both eyes.

Then came the words many of us have expressed at some point in life: “I pray to the Lord, and nothing happens! Is the Lord really at work in my life?

I suppose this was how the lame man felt before he encountered the Lord at the Pool of Bethesda on that fateful Sabbath Day (Saturday). Although nothing is said about how long he had been coming to the pool looking for a miracle, according to John Chapter 5, the man had been lame 38 years.

For according to legend, an angel of the Lord would stir up the water, and the first person into the churning pool would be healed of whatever disease he or she had. The man wanted to be healed, but was never fast enough to reach the water first.

Weary and discouraged, the man explained his affliction to the Lord, who simply instructed him stand up and walk—taking his mat (for sitting and reclining) with him, and the man was healed instantly.

The crowd condemned Jesus, the Great Physician for healing the man on the Sabbath, to which the Lord replied: My Father is always working, and so am I! (John 5:17 NLT) More than six-thousand years of human history reveal the Lord’s marvelous work.

I can imagine how hopeless Adam and Eve must have felt when they buried  Abel, their murdered son who practiced a greater level of faith in God than did his elder brother and murderer, Cain.

However, it is through Seth, the Lord reminds us He is with us in adversity, and that His plans are infallible. Eve soon gives birth to Seth, whom the Lord uses as a replacement for the noble Abel, and shortly after the birth of Enos, Seth’s son, the Bible tells us that people begin to “call on the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:26)

Twenty-five years passes, and Abram and Sarai have not received their promised heir. Yet their abiding trust in the Lord is rewarded, according to Romans 4:18-21 (NIV):

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

Joseph suffered thirteen years of wrongful injustice and imprisonment before he saw the fulfillment of the series of dreams from the Lord concerning his destiny, and that of his family. Full of faith, Joseph confessed to his brothers in Genesis 50:20 (NLT): “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”

Isaiah 40:27 poses a rhetorical question: “Why do you say my way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God?” While King David exclaims in Psalm 27:13-14 (KJV): “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.”

At the impending doom of Jerusalem, God chosen city, and with the first wave of exiles departing the city under Chaldean escort, Habakkuk seems perplexed by God’s method of chastening His Chosen People. Ultimately, he comes to understand the just shall live by faith1 just before he concludes with this exclamation:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NIV)

Because the Lord is infinite and almighty, and we are finite and frail, it is normal for us to experience feelings of intense doubt and fear when life’s circumstances seem to overwhelm us. There are times in my life when answers are not clear, and the Lord seems absent. Yet in retrospect, in every situation, the Lord continues to be faithful…in every possible way.

Our Christian life is a “faith-walk” that will not be understood completely until we meet our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ either at death or upon His return. Until that glorious day, we can have the assurance that He is at work in us; with a promise that He will never leave nor forsake us. What a wonderful Savior!