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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Critical vs. Graceful

Ephesians 4:29 –“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Do your words minister grace to those to whom you speak?  Or are your words critical?  Do you find yourself pointing out the flaws of someone’s effort or performance?
A critical spirit can expose itself in several ways…the husband who constantly reminds his wife that things just aren’t being done as they should be around the house, the dad who hammers away at his children’s mistakes but rarely praises their good works, the church member who must tell someone what was wrong with today’s service, and on and on. 
Let’s admit it; some of us are good complainers and criticizers. 
But what does this say about us?
We know that our words reveal our hearts.  Matthew 15:18 teaches, “the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart.”
A critical heart reveals our pride… “No one can do this or that as well as I”…“I need to point this out otherwise this person will never get this right”, etc...
And God hates our pride and it is something that we must root out. Proverbs 16:5, “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished”. 
We should also remember that we are called to be kind-hearted and forbearing and patient with our brothers and sisters. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
If we notice we are particularly attuned to finding and pointing out where others have not met our own standard, then our focus needs to be shifted.
Christ has lifted us from our own failures and shortcomings and God is glorified in our imperfections.  Is God more glorified when others do something “just right” all the time or when they at times make a mess of things and God still works it all out? 
If you’re looking for perfection, look to God. Deuteronomy 32:4 teaches us that “his work is perfect” and Samuel says “his ways are prefect” (2 Samuel 22:31).  Certainly, we see most clearly the Perfection of God in the manifestation of His Son, Jesus.  The author of Hebrews says this of him, “being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him”.
Praise God that he sent this perfect Jesus and demonstrated magnificent grace to us even though we are far from perfect.   The next time you’re tempted to be critical drive your thoughts to the cross and remember the cost of grace displayed there.  Prayerfully, we can give a little grace when so much has been given to us. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

He Sacrificed His Own Son

The tragedy last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT has been heavy on the hearts of all. It is always natural to ask serious questions in times like this. Why did God let this happen? Why did some die and others lived? Some may even question the goodness of God.
Given that this mass murder took place so close to Christmas, I’m sure that many of you have thought about another mass murder that happened in close proximity to the first Christmas. We read about it in Matthew 2:16-18:
  16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.
 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more."
Herod had instructed the wise men to find Jesus for him under the guise of desiring to come and worship him.  Of course, his real desire was to kill the Messiah whom he regarded as a threat to his own power (v8). But the wise men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod (v12). So Herod resorted to this horrific act of ruthlessness similar to what took place in Connecticut last week. He had every boy two years or younger in Bethlehem killed so that he could be certain Jesus would die.
Scholars estimate that a town the size of Bethlehem would have had as few as 20 boys that age, and with the surrounding area accounted for there could have been around 30.  30 young boys slaughtered simply because Herod was paranoid. It was from this slaughter that God providentially preserved Jesus by directing Joseph to take Him to Egypt (vv13-15).
Neither the evil displayed in Connecticut nor the scene of carnage in Bethlehem was an isolated event. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of history is aware of this. There have been countless mass murders since the beginning of time and all of them have at least one thing in common. They demonstrate the total depravity of mankind. They are the worst examples of what man is capable of. They are all a direct result of the Fall.
And though they may cause us to doubt God’s goodness, they should do the opposite, especially in light of that first Christmas slaughter. The murder in Bethlehem shows that in and through such tragedies God is moving history toward a day when all such evil will be ended. Christ’s being preserved from that slaughter was necessary to provide a solution that would address all evil. God was not saving His Son from death indefinitely.  It simply wasn’t time yet.
But the day did come when the Messiah was slaughtered by evil men in a fashion far worse than anything we have ever seen. God offered His own Son in order that all sin would come to an end, either by being covered with Christ’s blood on the cross or by being covered with His wrath on the last day.
All of this points to the goodness of God. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (1John 3:8). Most of us will have the opportunity to discuss Sandy Hook with our unbelieving friends and family. Let’s not shy away from these conversations, but use them as occasions to share about what God has done to deal with evil. He sacrificed His own Son.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Psalm 104 - Bless Our Providential LORD

Bible-believing Christians hold that God created all things.  But what do we believe about His continuing role in upholding the creation?  As our scientific knowledge has progressed and natural laws have been formulated, have we begun to view God’s providence over creation as a past event?  Did God create a self-sustaining system?  And if not, what does it mean for my life?

The truth is that God is actively involved in His creation.  Psalm 104 is a celebration of God’s creation and His continued providential care over all that He has made.   The psalmist begins by describing different parts of creation as God’s garments (vv1-2), His habitation (vv2-3), His chariot (v3), and His wings (v3).  In this, the grandeur of the creation speaks of the grandeur of the Creator.

He then describes God’s past acts in creation:
 5 He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.
 6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
 7 At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
 8 The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them.
 9 You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.

These verses speak of the permanence of God’s work as well as the meticulous detail. The mountains are where they are because He put them there.  The water stays where it is because God made it so.

But beginning in v10 is an account of God’s continued providence over and in the world He has created.  For example, vv10-11:  You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.  In other words, rivers flow because God makes them to do so.  Likewise v13 declares that God Himself waters the mountains with rain – “the earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your work.”  The chapter is full of such celebrations of God’s perpetual activity in the world.  He causes the grass and plants to grow so that man can enjoy food, wine, bread, and oil (vv14-15).  He waters the trees to provide a home for the birds (vv16-17).  He marks the seasons with the moon and the sun (v19).  He brings darkness every night (v20). 

Even the animals depend upon the providence of God: “the young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God (v21).  This is true not only of the animals on the land, but also those in the sea; the very earth depends upon Him for its existence:
 27 These all look to you, to give them their food in due season.
 28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
 29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
 30 When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.

What are the implications of this for you and me?  One area in which we may give little thought to God’s providence is in our own work.  “My work is my responsibility.  If it get’s done, it is because I did it.  If it doesn’t, it is because I failed to do it.”  While this is true in a sense, Psalm 104 would tell us that even our own work depends upon God’s providence.  v23 reads, Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening.  We might take this to imply that what man accomplishes depends upon himself.  But v23 is part of a section on which v27 comments: These all look to you, to give them their food in due season.  The following verses note that the success or failure of our work depends upon the giving or withholding of God’s hand. That should cause us to approach our work with humility, understanding that ultimately we depend upon God's blessing.

But there is an even more significant way in which I am constantly dependent upon God.  v29 implies that each breath I take is given by God.  It is up to His providence to give that breath or withhold it.  If He gives it, I live.  If He withholds it, I die.  What this means is that my life, every second of every day, is held in the palm of His hand.

This should be comforting to me as a believer.  If God is so intimately involved in something as simple, yet consequential as the breaths I take, how can He not also be in the other details of my life?  My circumstances?  My concerns?  And if He can be trusted with my life, how can He not also be trusted in lesser things? 

Psalm 104 speaks of the wondrous power of God’s providence.  It also tells us the appropriate response to this providence.  The first and last verses of the psalm both declare, Bless the Lord, O my soul!  That is, worship Him!  Worship this God who upholds all things, including your own life.

Posted by Greg Birdwell