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A Motivation of Praise

When you pray and ask the Lord for good, what reason do you give to the Lord? Often when we ask God to please do something, we add to that request a “because.” WE ask God to heal a sick mom, because she has little ones who need her. We ask God to provide for our financial need, because we want to be able to continue to honor him in all our dealings.

It is interesting, when we look at Scripture, to see the motivation that is behind many a prayer. It is not the same as is often prominent in today’s world.

Psalm 6:4-5

4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?

In Psalm 6, David is in significant danger. People want to kill him. And David is asking God to spare him. Notice here the reason that David offers the Lord for sparing his life. In simple terms, David asks God, “Keep me alive so that I can praise you.” David says that, if he dies, his voice of praise to the Lord will be silent.

Now, to avoid confusion, this is not David failing to believe that there is life after death. It is David saying that it is a good thing for the living to praise the Lord. David knows that those who pass on have eternal souls. But David also knows that the creation exists for the praise of the Lord, and it is a good thing when God’s people declare his glory.

Let me suggest that we make David’s motivation in this prayer a significant one for us as well. When you pray, how often is your prayer motivated by something other than the praise of God? How often do you give God all sorts of reasons behind your prayer that are not his ultimate priority? God loves us and cares about our needs. God loves his church. But let’s not be confused about what God is doing in the world. God is about his praise resounding from every corner of the globe. God is focused on being glorified. God is God’s ultimate priority, and this is good.

Think about this as you pray for your church or your family. Why should God grow your church? If your motivation for that prayer is primarily to keep the church alive, go deeper. If your priority for praying that people come to faith is ultimately the comfort of their eternal souls, go deeper. Friends, having strong churches and saved souls is good. But, understand, the reason churches need to grow, and souls need to be saved is so that the people God has created will rightly praise the Lord. I’m not saying God does not love us and care for us. I’m saying that, if we are to pray in tune with God’s ultimate priority, we pray that his name be praised and glorified from now until forever. Indeed, we pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” and we know that this is a prayer in concert with God’s ultimate will.

Something Impossible for God

Is there anything that is not possible when we think of God? On the surface, we think not. But a little further delving tells us that there are things God cannot do. God cannot be not God. God cannot lie, as lying is against his nature. God cannot sin. God cannot go from greater to lesser or lesser to greater, as God is already utterly perfect.

In Acts 2, we find another impossibility for God.

Acts 2:22-24 – 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

This little 3 verse section shows us the cross and resurrection work of Jesus. Evil men thought they were accomplishing something, but they only served to do what God had foreseen and foreordained that they would do. Lawless men sinned against God even as they were used by God to accomplish the saving work of Jesus. The Savior died. HE was buried.

But then comes the impossibility. Jesus rose from the grave. Why? It was impossible, absolutely unthinkable, that he would be held by death.

Why is it impossible for Jesus to be dead? Why could he not remain dead? I would suggest two ideas, though much more could go into this. On the one hand, Jesus cannot remain in the grave because of the nature of death. Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death. Death is the right and perfect response from God to our sin. But Jesus, by his very nature and life, is utterly sinless. While he voluntarily died as a sacrifice for our sins, taking upon himself the punishment for our guilt, Jesus remained sinless. HE suffered the effects of eternal death, of hell, on the cross. But once that work was finished, it was impossible that he would remain in the grave forever.

And, Jesus could not stay dead for the simple fact that Jesus is God in the flesh. The grave cannot hold Jesus because of who Jesus is. In John 1, we read that in Jesus was life, and that life is the light of men. Jesus does not represent death to us. His nature is not death. HE is the eternal God who eternally is. He cannot wink out of existence. HE cannot cease to be. And he cannot remain in the grave.

Christians, we should become more and more resurrection minded. We love to talk about the cross, as it depicts for us the perfect mercy and judgment of God. We love to think about the fact that Jesus took our sins upon himself as our perfect sacrifice. But so often we add that Jesus rose from the grave as almost an afterthought. WE explain his life and his sacrificial death with great detail. Then, we throw in, “O, and he rose from the grave,” as if this is a small detail we know we ought not leave out.

But look at Scripture. Look at Acts. Read Paul and Peter. The fact that Jesus is alive is at the very heart of Christianity. The idea that Jesus is alive is proof of Jesus’ identity as God, his perfection, and our hope. Lose the resurrection and you lose Jesus. Ignore the resurrection, and you ignore the faith. Focus on the resurrection, and you include that which led up to it, Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death.

I’d recommend that you take time to ponder the impossibility mentioned in verse 24. I’ve given you a couple of my best guesses as to why it is impossible that death could hold Jesus. They encourage me and call me to worship. Perhaps the Lord will help you see even more reasons why it is impossible for Jesus to have stayed in the grave. Perhaps the reasons I’ve given will call you to praise the Savior too. I would encourage you to let a focus on the resurrection lead you to hope, joy, and worship.

Two Wickednesses that Led to Global Destruction

In Genesis 6, we see the lead up to the flood.

Genesis 6:5-8 – 5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

God said that the hearts of mankind, by this generation of humanity, were so wicked that the solution was a global destruction. In case you’re not sure, that means that things were bad. The Lord’s righteous wrath, his perfect hatred of sin, was about to be on display.

What is interesting is the evidence we have been given up to this point of the sinfulness of humanity. Back in Genesis 3, we see the fall of man with Adam and Eve in the garden. IN Genesis 4, we see Cain and Abel as well as the evil Lamech, a man who sang about killing someone. Interestingly, Lamech is also cited as a man who married multiple women, the first man in Scripture to clearly violate God’s design for marriage.

Then, in chapter 6, we have that weird passage about the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men.”

Genesis 6:1-3 1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

Immediately, you should know that there are two significantly different proposals out there as to what this passage means. Many believe this passage to indicate demonic activity among humanity. This is based on the phrase “sons of God” which is used in Job to indicate angelic beings.

While that linguistic argument is convincing to many, I do not agree. I find myself agreeing with many others who suggest that the reference here to “sons of God” is simply a way to speak of human men in general or even more particularly to those men descended from the blessed line of Seth. It is also possible that such strange language is here being used because of the spread of the practice of religious prostitution, something certainly popular in Canaan after the flood.

My goal is not to convince anybody of how to interpret the phrase “sons of God.” Instead, my goal is to point out something that I believe is quite significant about humanity before the flood. God saw the wickedness of humanity. God saw that the wickedness was so great that he would shorten the human life span and flood the earth, wiping out every living thing except for a remnant he would save. But what wickedness have we seen? We have seen murder, and we know that is evil. And, we have seen a reference to sexual immorality, to the casting off of all restraint regarding human sexuality and marriage.

Christians, do you know murder to be a big deal, a judgment-worthy offense? Good. You should. Do you also see the casting off of sexual restraint as a big deal? I hope so. But the truth is, we live in a culture that is swimming so deeply in the ocean of sexual sin that we often times do not grasp its significance. So, I again call on us to remember that this is the kind of sin that God highlighted just before he highlighted the wickedness of mankind’s heart leading to the flood. Sexual sin is a big deal to God.

I hope not to come across as judgmental or holier than thou in this writing. My own sins are far too many to count, and I’ll not drop them here in an Internet post. The point I’m making is that God’s word opens with a very clear reminder to us that, if you want to oppose God and gain his judgment, sexual immorality and murder will do it. I’m sure there were other sins. But these are the ones that God cited for us from Genesis 4-6.

If you want a depressing side-note about our culture, just consider these two sins together. What part of our culture does the most to unite sexual immorality and murder? OF course this is the abortion industry. Is not the entire focus of the abortion industry to promise sexual license without consequence and to take the lives of the unborn? Are not there entire political groups dedicated solely to the proposition of perpetuating sexual rebellion and the slaughter of the unborn?

Christians, what do I want us to take from these thoughts? I hope we are sobered. I hope that we will remember that what God says is right is right. I hope that we will remember that rebellion against the ways of God is deadly. And I hope that we will see sexual sin from God’s perspective. Regardless of how much evil surrounds us, regardless of how much each of us has failed in the past, we must grasp how strongly God speaks against the casting off of restraint when it comes to our sexuality.

God has designed sex to be celebrated from within the bounds of biblical marriage. God designed marriage to be the union of one man and one woman for life. God commands that those who love him marry in the Lord, uniting only to those who are also believers and not simply to whomever catches our fancy. And God, from Genesis through Revelation, tells us that to rebel against him in our sexuality is a very big, world-destroying, judgment-bringing deal.

Have you failed in this area? Many of us have. I’m not telling you that you are hopeless. Nor am I looking down upon you in any way. I’m calling you to find the forgiveness of God. Repent of sin and turn to Jesus for mercy. As the ark protected Noah and his family from the flood that wiped out the world, so the grace of Jesus will protect all who come to him from the wrath of God we have earned.

Would You Have Gone?

In Matthew 2, we read about the wise men who came to Jerusalem looking for the newborn King of the Jews. These men from the east had seen a new star in the sky and knew that this was a sign that the promised one from God had been born. They went to Jerusalem, as one would assume a king to be born in the capital city.

You probably know the story pretty well. After all, it is told around Christmas time on a regular basis. If you know the story, you know that Herod asked the Jewish priests and scribes around him where the Christ was to be born, and they were easily able to quote for him a Scripture that promised the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Then Herod sent the wise men to Bethlehem to find the child.

Matthew 2:9-11 — 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

The wise men left Herod, found the

Christ, and worshipped him. This is a good and right response. When you become aware of the Lord, the right move is to worship.

Sometimes when I think about this passage, I actually find myself thinking about those whose actions are not mentioned. I think about the priests and scribes. To be fair, they may have been generally kept out of the loop and asked only a data question without any context. But I wonder. I wonder if the religious men around Herod knew that the wise men from the east were present. I wonder if they knew that these men were claiming to have seen a star. I wonder if they knew that Herod was sending the wise men to fish out the location of the newborn King.

What I know for sure is that these priests did not go. It seems like they had the data, but they did nothing with it. Knowing Scripture as well as they did, the priests should have recognized that it was time for the Christ to arrive. They should have known that the Messiah would be born around their generation. There was enough information available for these men to know that God had broken into history in a fantastic way.

If my gut guess is right, if the scholars knew about the wise men and the star and the promises of Scripture, then something very sad takes place in this passage. They knew the Christ had come. They knew the star had shone. They knew men were sent to find the baby. And they went back to their books, back to their lives, back to their temple, and did nothing with the news they had heard. They were told enough to know that God had broken into history and sent his promised one, and they were not concerned about it.

Like I said, this is a surmise on my part. It could be that the scholars were only asked the question without getting any info. If so, I cannot blame them for remaining in Jerusalem, as they had no info to go on. But I’m still convicted by the possibility. I’m convicted by the notion that a man could know that God is with us, that Christ is near, and stay home instead of going to worship the Savior.

Surmises aside, do you think you would have gone? If you knew where Jesus was, would you have dropped everything to run to Bethlehem just so you could bow down before the young Jesus? Would you have risked the danger of Herod’s wrath to catch a glimpse of God with us? I hope so.

Now, if you would have taken a significant risk to get where Jesus is, to see him, to bow before him, to worship him, does that show in your life today? After all, Jesus is with us. The Spirit of the Lord is with us. God’s people gather on a weekly basis to worship the same Jesus. God’s people shape our lives differently because of the finished work and presence of Jesus.

Ask yourself, “Does my life look more like the scholars or the wise men?” Do you have a lot of knowledge that leaves you unmoved? Or does what you know from the word of God call you to take note, get up, and act?

Christians, may you and I be a people who are not mere receptacles of knowledge. May the knowledge we have of the word of God and the claims of Christ change our lives. May it lead us to value worship greatly. May it lead us to change, deep and lasting change. May it lead us to not be able to sit still. May we never be able to neglect worshipping the Savior.

A Devilish Trick

If you know the word of God, you know that Scripture is clear that there is a very real devil who is our enemy. The devil is not as powerful as the Lord. He is not omnipresent. Neither is he able to accomplish anything beyond the will of the Lord. After all, the devil had to ask for permission to test Job. But the devil is a very real, spiritual person who hates the things of God and who wants to lead people to destruction.

The devil has certain go-to tricks that he tries on people. I suppose that is not a surprise. After all, if you’ve been doing a thing as long as he has, you would figure out fairly quickly what seems to work, and you would stick with it. Let me show you one from the beginning that is a clear trick, but it still works.

Genesis 3:1 – Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

The opening salvo in Genesis 3 is an old favorite of the devils. He asks a question. HE does so with a lie. And he does so with a particular attitude.

The question begins, “Did God really say?” In this instance, the devil is not questioning the presence of divine revelation. That tactic comes later in human history. Eve had no doubt that God spoke with her husband with commands. So the idea of God speaking, even what God had said, should not have been a problem for the woman.

But then the trick rolls in. The devil asks if God really said something that God in fact did not say. He asks if God forbad the people from eating the fruit of any of the trees in the garden. Remember, God had given Adam and Eve freedom to eat the fruit of every tree in the garden except one. Thus, the question presents a lie about the command of God.

But the attitude and the purpose behind the lie is what is the real trick. You see, when the devil asks the false question of Eve, he is asking another question that is not in writing, but it is one we can all hear. The devil is getting Eve to question whether or not God is good. The question, “Did God really say,” is very close to asking, “How could he do such a thing?” The devil is getting Eve used to not simply knowing the commands of God, but to evaluating them based on her own perspective.

The devil still asks the question, “Did God really say.” He succeeds in that question when he gets people to begin to suggest that not all that God has said is what God has said. Today, as people believe they can determine what parts of the Bible are true and what parts can be ignored, they are falling prey to the beginning of the devilish questions.

The trick of lying about what is in Scripture is also a popular devilish trick. After all, if the devil can twist the word of God, adding to God’s word commands that God has not placed on his people, he can burden those people. In the New Testament era, the Pharisees added rule after rule and standard after standard to the law of God. They lost the heart of the Lord in their zeal to improve upon the law. And the devil still gets people to take the word of God, make the word stricter than is God, and then apply those man-made standards to others. It is a deadly practice.

And the hidden attitude behind the question, that is a major ploy of the devil’s. He loves to get us to start evaluating whether or not God is good based on how we feel about his commands. Note, if the devil can get you to evaluate the goodness of God based on a strawman, a false depiction of God and his ways, he is doubly happy. Either way, the devil loves to have people look at God’s ways, God’s plan, God’s commands, and then to ask us if we think this is really the right way. He wants us to think, “How could God command such a thing?” And the moment we put ourselves in a position to evaluate the goodness of God’s law, we are putting ourselves in a position above God, declaring that we have the ultimate ability to judge the word and ways of the Lord. This may be the devil’s favorite trick of all.

Christians, it is good for us to see the commands of God and understand their goodness. It is nice when we can look at a mysterious Old Testament regulation, learn about the cultural context, and see how God was helping and lovingly protecting his people. All that God has commanded is rational and perfect, and it is great when we understand why.

But it is not good if we ever allow ourselves to look at the actions of God and evaluate them as if we possibly have the capacity to judge them as bad. God is holy. God is unlimited in his understanding and knowledge and goodness. You and I are sinners with limited knowledge and limited goodness. And the devil loves to get us to think, in our limited and sin-darkened minds, that God should have handled things differently. The devil loves to get us to think that we, if we were running the show, would have never made such a law or let such a thing happen. This is a trick of his that he was pulling on Eve with the first question he asked, and it is a trick he still pulls on us today. Let us remember that our responsibility is to know what God has actually commanded, and to know that the God who commanded is absolutely, infinitely, unchangingly perfect.

Two Simple Truths We Need to Believe

There are some things that, when you truly believe them, change your life. There are some verses of the Bible that I recognize, when I read them, that I need to receive their truths down into the depths of my very soul. Today’s reading in the word of God brought me two such verses.

Genesis 1:1 — In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Acts 1:9-11 – 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

In Genesis 1:1, we see the biblical claim that God created the universe. What you and I believe about this verse changes everything about how we view the world. Either this world is created by God with purpose and order and beauty and a goal, or it is not. If this universe is not created by God, it is nothing but randomness, chaos, meaninglessness, and futility. If the universe is created by God in the beginning, then God exists before the beginning. If the universe is created by God, it is his property to direct and do with as he pleases.

Friends, we live in a universe that the Lord created. The air you breathe and the earth you walk upon are on loan to you from the Creator. You own nothing. He owns everything. The reason you exist is simply that the Creator wills you exist. Your life’s purpose is bound up in the Creator. Your hope for eternity is found in the one who set the stars on their courses.

In Acts 1, we see the picture of Jesus returning, alive, to heaven. Then, as the men marveled at that sight, angels came and told them that Jesus, the very same Jesus, the living Jesus, Jesus the Son of Almighty God, will return to earth in just the same way that he left it. And this too changes everything about our worldview.

Friends, Jesus is alive. Right now, today, at the beginning of 2020, Jesus is alive. And Jesus promises to return. The world in which we live has a limited amount of time ahead of it before the Savior comes back. Life will not go on forever as things are now. Christ will again break into human history. Christ will descend back to earth. Christ will make right what mankind has made wrong. Christ rules and will rule forever.

What changes in you when you recall that Jesus is alive now and is returning? So many things that seem vital to you become insignificant. Little slights and insults that feel like major mountains become as nothing in the light of eternity and the Savior’s return. Real hurts, big pains, hard struggles dim and soften in the light of the eternity ahead of us. We can rest in the fact that Christ will do justice and set all things right. We can rest in the fact that the church will survive and grow to the end of the age. We can face persecution with the knowledge that the ultimate outcome of all things is already determined.

As the new year begins, Christians, take these two truths to heart—truths that many of you read on your first day of daily Bible-in-a-year reading. God created this world. It is his. You are his. Jesus is alive and is returning. You have hope and an eternity of joy in front of you if you are under his grace. Let these truths impact how you see everything, absolutely everything.

Have We Lost Wrath?

The word gospel means good news. The gospel is the good news of Jesus. It is the good news of his life, death, and resurrection. The gospel is the good news of the perfectly fulfilled plan of god to save for himself a people.

It is interesting that, as we talk about the gospel in today’s culture, there are words that are emphasized and words that are whispered. Take, as an example, the word brokenness. In many presentations today, there is tremendous emphasis placed on the fact that our sin leads us into a broken state. As we step away from the plan of God and the ways of God, we break our lives. We hurt ourselves emotionally. We harm our families, our friendships, and our very own souls. And this is surely a true thing.

What I wonder, however, is if some who emphasize the soul-damaging effects of sin are failing to emphasize the biblical result of sin.

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 – 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul emphasized the turning of the people to the gospel. But notice, in verse 10, that Paul has a word that is seldom used in popular circles these days. The people who were transformed in Christ were awaiting the arrival of Jesus, the one who delivers us from the wrath to come.

I am wondering if, in popular Christianity today, we have lost the concept of wrath. The wrath of God is his perfect, righteous, furious judgment for sin. Wrath is not God getting mad or getting his feelings hurt. God’s wrath is a set position of the Lord to always hate sin in all its forms with all that he is. And his wrath, poured out, leads to the judgment of and destruction of the wicked. A person who experiences the full wrath of God experiences hell forever.

Paul was not shy in his letter to remind the Thessalonians that Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come. The gospel is a salvation from the wrath of God. And the wrath of God is coming. The result of sin is that wrath. And I believe that, if we fail to talk about this fact, we fail to paint a true picture of the gospel.

Please do not hear me attempting to knock those who use terms like brokenness when they discuss the effects of sin. The present experience of those who have walked away from God is quite often a strongly felt, strongly experienced brokenness. People in our modern culture may well be able to identify with the fact that, no matter how hard they have tried, they have not been able to escape their experience of being less than what they were created to be. And I do understand that this can be a significant entry gate to a gospel conversation.

What I am suggesting, however, is that brokenness is a symptom on the disease track, not its final dark end. Yes, sin results in brokenness. But, even worse, that brokenness, without a true gospel cure, leads to spiritual death and the wrath of God. The Bible tells us that Jesus is our only rescue from the wrath to come. So, whether a person feels broken or not, the final judgment is on its way. Christ will return. God will judge. All who refuse the grace of God in Jesus will face, unprotected, the wrath to come. And none of us can survive that.

Christians, if you wish to talk about the soul-harming effects of sin, do so. If you can show a person that sinful choices lead us to personally experienced destruction in the here and now, that is a great conversation starter. But do not lose the wrath of God. Sin is an affront to the Living God. We are all guilty of it. Sin leads to wrath. And we need Jesus to rescue us from that wrath, or we will suffer the right consequences of rebellion against the Creator and Lord over all.