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Archive for February, 2010

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Imagine Me

A couple years back, ” I Can Only Imagine” took the hearts and minds of many Christians. We thought of the “new heavens and the new earth” wherein God will wipe every tear from our eyes. And while I might be a Johnny-come-lately, I just now stumbled onto Kirk Franklin’s “Imagine Me” video. While we imagine the life to come with Jesus, do we often enough consider how the kingdom of God lives in the hearts of His people? I love this video because it shows the scene of a returning disabled soldier, an abused girl, a sexually exploited woman, and a cancer victim. Franklin’s message? We are a new creation, and God makes all things new–here, now, and in the midst of a fallen world. Enjoy…

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THE CLOCKMAKER

Time should be heard as well as seen,

Says the clockmaker, carving a cuckoo bird.

My wife gives the sick child his medicine.

Who said children should be seen, not heard?

I work all night until my sight is blurred,

At this abandoned craft that now is mine

For all the comfort folly can afford.

Time should be heard as well as seen.

I can’t imagine what life might have been

Without the babies crying, had I preferred

The cloister or the study at nineteen,

Thinks the clockmaker carving a cuckoo bird

In hours stolen from sleep, pleasure deferred

For the sake of this obsession, a daft machine

That never can refund the cost incurred.

My wife gives the sick child his medicine

Praying he’ll sleep soundly and be fine

Tonight or tomorrow night, someday. The third

Time he cried out wrecked my whole design.

Who said children should be seen, not heard?

I dreamed he lay so peaceful that the Lord

Himself believed the stillness was divine

And would not wake him, although my absurd

Clocks froze and went silent for a sign:

Time should be heard.

COPYRIGHT 2008 National Review, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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Who is the greatest sinner?

Dante imagines that the answer is Judas who betrayed Jesus the Christ. Along with Judas are the other betrayers, Brutus and Cassius, who along with Judas are devoured by Satan’s three mouths. But beyond this indictment of the so-called greatest of sinners, the chaplain today in service brought up three interesting figures who share a definite pattern. If asked for great sinners, the names Isaiah, Paul, and Peter would probably not come to mind. Let’s look though at the way they view themselves in front of God:

ISAIAH

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

PETER

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

PAUL

After that, Christ appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.



These verses (from Isaiah 6, Luke 5, and I Corinthians 15) show that in front of the presence of the LORD, we quickly lose any claim to our own righteousness. Not only does Paul say that he is the least of the apostles, he calls himself “chief of sinners.” Martin Lloyd Jones once said something to the effect that when we examine our own selves, truly, nakedly in front of God’s demand for honest holiness, we too will share Paul’s assessment, not of him but of ourselves.

Two applications. What separates Judas, Brutus, and Cassius from Isaiah, Paul, and Peter? First, one should be careful not to simply say they are the same as they have such different end-states. But how so? Isaiah did not think himself worthy to go, Paul persecuted and oversaw the murders of Christians, Peter left Christ in His neediest hour. The answer is grace and grace alone. God gave Isaiah the grace to speak powerfully to a people radically opposed to his message; God gave Paul the mercy and grace to endure the beatings, “the thorn,” and the kind of stonings along with false accusations that Paul himself had used against Christians; God gave Peter the mercy to be the rock on which the Church would be built, turning the denier into an unashamed proclaimer of the Gospel leading to martyrdom. Nothing other than the grace of God can account for such a radical change in these three men.

The other application deals with guilt. This has been one of the hardest struggles for me in all the Christian life. At various times and in various places without any seeming connection, my past comes back to haunt me. The antidote? “Before the Throne of God Above” has a great couple of lines: When Satan tempts me to despair. And tells me of the guilt within, Upward I look and see Him there. Who made an end of all my sin. The answer is that Jesus put an end to all of our sin, so completely and finally that God looks upon the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ rather than on my own sin, the chief of sinners.

And yet even a healthy recognition of past sin which should result in praise for mercy can sometimes lead to Satan’s whispers: How could you be saved? Who do you think you are? Don’t you remember the time that…?

How does Paul, who must have struggled with such thoughts, answer?

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Martin Lloyd-Jones says that we ought to respond to our Enemy or the inner voice of past remembrances with agreement. Yes, I am what you say (and even worse for you are forgetting…), “but by the grace of God I am what I am.” This is not always easy, but we are not told that we have a walk of faith, a stroll of faith, or a leisure holiday of faith. It is a fight and one worth pressing on for. You and I are children of the living God, more than conquerors, holy and righteousness, a new creation by the hand of the living God who makes all things new–by His grace and for His glory.

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We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”

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Psalm 89:33-37 (King James Version)

33Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.

34My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.

35Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David.

36His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.

37It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven.

I have always thought the moon the red-headed step-child of the sun. It is not as bright, gives little light, and plays second fiddle to the awesome white-hot radiance of the sun. Recently, I saw a special which can be seen on Hulu of the 3-D Sun, an amazing look at the magnificent star up close. The sun is about 500,000 times brighter than the moon.

And the moon in literature and mythology? Well, Romeo compares the moon as chaste, envious, and bitter at Juliet’s brightness. Later, Juliet tells Romeo NOT to swear by the moon because it monthly changes: “O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,  That monthly changes in her circled orb, Lest that thy love prove likewise variable” (2.2.109-111). Associated most closely with the moon is Dian who is mentioned aplenty in both Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Artemis for the Greeks and Diana for the Romans, these later goddesses supplanted their precursor, Luna, Latin for moon, from which we get the word “lunar.” Both are associated with changeability and wildness. The moon is inconstant, fickle, chaste, a one-time lover and next-day cold shoulder, a place of wildness hovering over the forest. Indeed, think of the craziness associated with full moons and one can easily conjure werewolves, madmen, and cyclical supernatural events. Is it no wonder that the proverbial howling at the moon is associated with another moon-derived word, “lunatic”?

But beyond our mythologies and associations, God has a very different view of Earth’s only natural satellite nearly a quarter of a million miles away. What human beings see as an ever ebbing and flowing moon, changing in its cycles, ironically never changes. What we see of the moon does. It is there. When God spoke through the Holy Spirit into the pen of Ethan the Ezrahite in Psalm 89, He spoke of Israel’s lamentations at feeling forsaken, “Lord where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” (Psalm 89:49-50). And why were the Israelites feeling forsaken?

God tells them that if they break His covenant, they will be disciplined, the natural consequences of their rebellion: “If they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgressions with the rod and their iniquity with stripes…” (Psalm 89:30-32). So whose fault would this distance, the punishment, the darkness of the night, and the absence of the sun belong to? Certainly not God’s. The expectation of the oil-drenched, joyful, prosperous, Davidic kingdom would be exchanged for a plundered nation and poverty. No wonder Israel hoped for a deliverer-Messiah to restore David’s glorious line.

And yet God is so gracious as to say, “…but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness” (Psalm 89:33). David’s offspring, says God, will endure forever. Despite all of the people’s unfaithfulness, God will be faithful. Despite all the people’s adultery, God will be a patient bridegroom. Despite all of the people’s broken promises, God will fulfill His covenant–through David.

Maybe we associate the moon with fickleness and changeability because we are so variable and faithless, with each other and infinitely more importantly, with God. But God’s view is different. His promises are good, firm, and never reneged upon. Would David’s offspring endure forever as God promised? Yes! The children of David (today’s believing Christians) do endure forever, but more importantly there was One of David’s lineage who endures forever. He was (is!) invictus, unconquerable. He conquered sin and death and a broken, fallen world.

Nothing else demonstrates God’s faithfulness and love better than Jesus Christ. David’s throne shall endure forever, and this greater David would come from His line to fulfill all of God’s promises. It is little wonder that Matthew in opening up the New Testament says something from of old: “A record of the origin of Jesus Christ, son of David…” (Matthew 1:1).

What would God choose to remind a world in darkness that he is always faithful? A celestial body which shines magnificently against the darkness of the night. Speaking of His covenant and faithfulness, He says, “Like the moon, it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies” (Psalm 89:37).

This morning in the midst of darkness, both from being up at 0430 at a military installation in Arizona and from a longing to see my family, I felt the chilly, lonely night still lingering. But oh, how God is faithful. He reminded me of that in the sky.

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