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“…and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:26, 30-33). 

God, some have said, is wholly “other.” We know, by definition, God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. When we attempt to ruminate on His greatness we can feel infinitely small (and we are) and seemingly insignificant (but we aren’t). He can’t be totally and accurately defined but we describe Him as glorious, sovereign, transcendent, majestic, incomprehensible, and almighty, among many other lofty adjectives. And God is all of this and more!  But it is one particular aspect of this “more” that I’d like to drill down on: God is also personal. He is our perfect Father! 

All of our physical fathers are imperfect, many are disengaged, and some are downright negligent and mean. And because of this we live in a world of hurting people whose view of God as Father has been skewed by their experience with their earthly fathers. We tend to assign to God the same character and personality traits of our human fathers. If our dad was absent then we think God is also. If our earthly father was angry, God is seen as a condemning and hostile (and He can be to those who aren’t His own). If dad was loving, we project the Creator as kind and beneficent (and He is). Generous, then generous. Cruel, then cruel. Distant, then distant…and so forth. Praise God, I can say nothing negative about my Christ-like earthly father but, given the dysfunctional and disintegrating nature of the contemporary Western family, many don’t feel this way. It’s no wonder that the idea of God is unappealing and many have been prompted to avoid, rebel against, or reject such a notion.  

But we have good news! For all whose view of God is tainted by your physical father’s failures, please know God can be very personal, even more intimate than our own family. He has initiated a familial relationship with us that is most amazing. God can be, as Jesus often said, “your Father.” Yes, most recognize that the Scripture portrays Jesus as the Son of God but what about us? Are we too unlovely and insignificant, given the way we may have been treated by our own fathers, for the ruler of the universe to be that perfect Father to us, to love us in a way that reminds us of the way He loves Jesus? Could the Almighty claim us as His own children? Despite what we may feel, the fact is that God’s Word says He can and does. Again, what great news! 

As a matter of fact, we can be adopted into God’s family, become one of His children, share in Christ’s inheritance, and be glorified with Jesus, the very son of God! As you read the words of Paul, notice the terms of endearment “Daddy,” “children,” heirs,” and “son.” And don’t overlook the promises and provisions made to those that experience God’s adoption and familial affection: 

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “[Daddy]! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-17). 

So what’s the catch? For us to experience this glorious reality we must do 2 things – receive (turn from ourselves and our ways and turn to Him) and believe in (put our total trust in) the person and work of Christ. As the Apostle John said, “But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).  

Do you feel disappointed and disenfranchised with your earthy family? As scarring and sad as that is, God says you can join His eternal family. You can call Him “Daddy.” You can become joint heirs with Jesus. You can personally know a Heavenly patriarch who will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). You can find comfort and security in an incomprehensibly loving Father who will receive you back with seeking arms, an embrace, and a sumptuous feast when you return to Him from your wanderings (Luke 15:11-24). You can find in Him a love that is eternal and filled with hope (Romans 8:31-39). 

So my plea is simple: Despite the tragedy of families that fail us, don’t let that keep you from your perfect Heavenly Father. The God of the universe beckons you to call Him “Daddy” and receive His unequaled paternal provision. Receive and believe in Jesus and be “born again” into the family of the Father of the heavenly lights, “from whom every good and perfect gift is [received and] who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17, NIV).

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

Many of you are familiar with is what commonly referred to as “the seven ‘I am’ statements of Jesus.” They are pregnant with meaning about who Jesus is and who He claimed to be. Simultaneously they create awe and bring us great comfort. Here is a list of them as they appear in the Gospel of John:

“I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 6:48)

“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12, 9:5)

“I am the door” (John 10:7).

“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11-14).

“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

“I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

“I am the true vine” (John 15:1,5).

Given this is the Easter season, I would like to focus on the 5th of these: “I am the resurrection and the life.” To understand this we must look at the context (Isn’t this always the case?). In John 11 we see what appears to be a tragedy. Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, is dying. They send a message to Jesus telling Him of his sickness (11:1-3). Jesus was not startled but quickly told His disciples this illness was not going to end in death but ultimately demonstrate His own glory (11:4).

Strangely, the Great Physician tarried for 2 days without going to Lazarus’ bedside. By the time He decided to go (11:7) his friend had perished (11:11, 14). He arrives at a grieving household, making his entrance with the claim that Lazarus will be miraculously raised from the dead after 4 days (11:23). And on what basis did He make this claim? He tells them plainly, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He points to Himself – not the dire situation, the suffering family, or the stench of the deteriorating body. He says, “I am!!” He has the authority to overcome death and life and soon proves it (11:43:44). Based upon the command of Christ – “Lazarus, come out” – the dead man lives.

I could go on about the implications of this event in light of our being born again or regenerated. How dead men don’t make decisions and the power of God alone awakens us from our spiritual death (see Ephesians 2:1-10 if you want to examine the correlation) but I choose to focus on the physical aspect of this display of God’s power through the glory of the Son. As Jesus said to Martha, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And I believe this is true both spiritually and physically.

As we celebrate Easter, Christ’s willful death and eventual rise from the grave, it makes us ponder a painful reality of living in a fallen world; physical death. It is all around us and, as we age and have more experiences in life, we know that inevitably it will be our turn. If we don’t die from a terrible disease or accident, our bodies waste away, slowly eroding through toil and the passage of time. We have also lived through the grief of loved ones passing away, just like in this story. And their death and the prospect of our own can create an ominous outlook that begins to shape our thinking and our living.

The good news? Jesus is telling and showing us here in John 11 that through faith in Him we can physically live forever. Oh yes, His children will die an earthly death, but it is a transport not a termination. Because of His mercy and might, He will once again shout “come forth” to all those who believe and we will be raised and given new bodies (for more than a dash of comfort and hope, see 1 Corinthians 15:50-57). We will be healed and whole, spiritually and physically, for all of eternity. And we will be forever joined with Jesus and family and friends that have put their trust in Him, the Lord over death and life.

Do you believe? This is what Christ requires. This is what He told Martha – whoever believes in him, though he will die, will live on in Heaven – and this is what He is telling us. This Easter I urge you to surrender to Him so that what we celebrate, Jesus’ resurrection, will guarantee that His victory over the grave has been applied to you by His grace and faith.

If you don’t understand what all this means, please send me a note and I will gladly follow up with you. Or reach out to a trusted follower of the risen Jesus and ask them to help you. I’m sure they, like me, will be thrilled to do so.

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:13-16).

I know the title of this study seems wrong. That’s because we have been consistently taught that living a holy (please understand I use the term “holy” in this post in a relative sense) life before God enables us to experience happiness (joy or contentment). I’m not arguing this isn’t true. On the contrary, the Scriptures often reveal that living according to God’s ways produces a cleaner conscience and a clearer view of Him. Proverbs 3:7-8 is but one good example of this truth: “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil, It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”

It is true – living in a way that pleases God brings pleasure to those who love Him. But this seeking to please God, to be holy and Christ-like, is not some sort of manipulation in order to achieve happiness, as if we can “win” God’s favor. It is actually the byproduct of loving and adoring and treasuring Him above all else because of His grace and glory. This is why we seek to please Him and the blessed benefit is that it brings us closer to Him and thus more joyous. As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied…”Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:6, 8). Our motivation, however, in this model is His pleasure (happiness) first and ours is secondary, yet our contentment is realized in the pursuit.

Not disputing this profound reality, please bear with me. Let’s go a bit deeper. You see, I think this can be turned around as well. Maybe we are to pursue holiness (which, if I may, makes God “happy”) because we find our happiness (contentment or joy) in Him and Him alone. John Calvin said, ”Unless they establish their complete happiness in [God] they will never give themselves to truly and sincerely to him.” This may sound like semantics, but it isn’t. When we are content in Christ, holiness (pleasing God) is the supernatural (not natural) byproduct of this love and adoration. The first paradigm – we are happy when we are holy – though true, has a distinct ring of obligation and duty. Pursuing a righteous lifestyle, however, because we are so enamored with Christ, echoes authentic worship and genuine devotion.

I think we see this modeled in our focal passage. As you look at verse 13, think of joy or happiness instead of hope. The principle is similar – Peter is telling us that focusing on our hope (or joy or happiness) in Christ is a precursor to the holiness God demands. And that makes perfect sense. In this pattern we see relationship with Christ, not religion, as the motivator of good works. We pursue holiness because of the happiness we have in Him. His being our greatest treasure and the object of the affections of our minds and hearts compels us “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). In other words, because Jesus is our prize and possession nothing less than living like Him will satisfy or suffice.

Once again these ideas are not mutually exclusive or contradictory – they are gloriously symmetrical. We are happier when we are living a holier life because this pleases God and magnifies our vision of His majesty. And we intuitively seek happiness. But, just as importantly, we pursue righteousness because we find Jesus as our all-satisfying and all-sufficient Savior and sustainer. And to live in a way that dishonors Him would contradict Him as our greatest pleasure.

Interestingly, the writer of Hebrews suggests both of these ideas in 12:1-4. See for yourself – he tells us to pursue holiness (v.1) but do so compelled and empowered by hearts and minds fixated on the initiator and completer of our faith, Jesus (v.2). And that focusing on our Lord is what enables us to not grow weary in our struggle with sin (v.3,4):

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

So we see a continuum. We find all of our happiness in Christ. This adoration compels us to live a holier, more Christ-like life. The closer we get to Him and the more of His fruit we bear, the happier we are and the more we experience Him who is our greatest pleasure. This experience motivates us to an even more God-pleasing life. And this glorious cycle moves onward and upward! But, as in everything else, it always starts with Jesus.

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Rick Warren builds bridge to Muslims | muslims, warren, saddleback – Life – The Orange County Register*

Let me say up front that I love Muslims. Jesus called us to love all people (see Matthew 5:38-48) but also called us to be discerning and speak the truth. Love and truth are connected in Scripture. We see this in the person of Christ Himself (John 1:17) and in Paul’s admonition to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). And speaking and doing the truth is one of our greatest acts of love. With that in mind, let me make a few comments on this article (link above).

First, on a positive note:

  • We call called to pursue peace with all men (Psalm 34:14).
  • We are called to treat others with respect and dignity (Matthew 7:12).
  • We are to be reconcilers in the name of a reconciling God (2 Corinthians 5:18).
  • We are called to befriend and aid even our enemies (Luke 10:25-37).
  • We should avoid being adversarial and antagonistic in sharing Jesus (Colossians 4:5-6).

Second, a critique:

  • Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God (Exodus 20:3-5).
  • Only the Bible (not the Koran) is the inerrant, inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16).
  • We are mandated to teach all people and make disciples/evangelize (Matthew 28:18-20).
  • Telling people the truth of the Gospel, because we believe it is their only hope, is the most loving thing we can do for them (2 Corinthians 5:20).
  • Jesus’ boldly confronted those whose religion was false with the truth of God (Matthew 23:13-36).

Am I contradicting myself? I don’t think so. Loving means showing respect and caring for others, even those who hold divergent views on religion and faith. We are also commanded to love them so much that we tell them that God is love and has ultimately demonstrated this in Jesus Christ, our sacrifice and our Savior; “the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.” He is our hope and the only hope for all, including our Muslim friends.

And I believe this is what our focal text is telling us. Reconciliation is not just cooperation, finding commonalities, and getting along (although, in and of themselves, these are not bad things). Our ministry of reconciliation has, first and foremost, reconciliation to God as its foundation and platform. Reconciliation to God can’t happen apart from Jesus Christ (John 14:6). If we want true, biblical reconciliation we have no choice but to lovingly and graciously tell them of them about our God of love and grace. The only true God, the One who will reconcile to Himself all those that put their trust in Jesus and surrender to His Lordship.

Anything less, in my opinion, is compromise. So…what do you think?

*Please note that I didn’t say Rick Warren was necessarily in error here – these were just my comments on the article above as I read it. To be even-handed, I must add this link to Rick Warren’s rebuttal (we actually may be in total agreement…who knows) – Rick Warren: Report ‘flat out wrong’ (

MEGADETH Bassist: Why I Decided To Try To Become A Pastor

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10: 9-15).

I think most authentic followers of Christ would be a tad dubious of David Ellefson’s explanation of his work in the heavy metal band called MEGADETH, at least as it is explained in this article (link above). But who are we to say what this man has experienced? Although I know almost nothing about MEGADETH’s music or lyrics (not my genre), I’m prone to believe it wasn’t totally family friendly or God-honoring. Nonetheless, I’m convinced that even the worst of sinners (that would include me and the Apostle Paul) can come know a new, exciting existence in Christ. After all, those who have embraced Jesus know that it’s not about turning over a new leaf but finding new life in Him.

All judgementalism aside, what I would like to drill down on is the truth that is described in the name of Ellefson’s new ministry – MEGALife. He has moved, it seems, from MEGADETH to MEGALife. And whether or not God has truly transformed him and made him a new creation in Christ doesn’t change the truth that this is exactly what surrendering to Christ and dying to self does. We, by faith and through the Gospel, are delivered from spiritual death and birthed into spiritual life. Paul’s explanation is quite clear:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10).

Here are some of Jesus’ thoughts on how the miracle of this new birth takes place: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). Jesus, His words, works, and witness, is the conduit that gives us this life and allows fallen and rebellious sinners (like me) to be brought into a breathing, dynamic, eternal relationship with holy God. This is Mega-Life! And this radical new birth is brought into being through God’s good news in the person of His only Son, the one who died that that His sheep might live. This means that I, you, and David Ellefson, through the transforming, life-giving power of the Gospel, can be moved from eternal death to eternal life.

This should give us conviction and courage! For those of us who have tasted the abundant life found only in Christ, we know there is hope for those dying apart from God’s life-giving and life-sustaining power. We have this mysterious treasure of the Gospel and are called to unashamedly testify to its power and purpose to move people from MEGADETH to MEGALife in Christ. With that in mind, let’s ponder and practice Paul’s admonition to Timothy – for in it we find the Gospel of eternal life and our required response to it:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Timothy 1:8-10).

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 1:11-13).

It was a nervous plane ride to Texas for some. Not for me; I’m used to traveling by air. But for the man seated in the same row, with an empty seat in between, it was uncomfortable and unfamiliar. “I haven’t flown since 9/11,” he said. In my fatigue, all I could babble was, “things have changed, haven’t they?” He asked me a couple of questions before disappearing into an uneasy stare towards the skies from his window seat. I disappeared into my Christian book and was all too happy to have no further dialogue. Though he was pleasant enough, I wanted to lose myself in the lofty thoughts of great theologians and apologists. Shame on me…God had a different plan.

Given my small bladder and that a friend was going to pick me up immediately upon landing, I decided to go to the restroom (as if one can get any rest in the bathroom of a commercial airliner). I laid down my book on the empty middle seat and made the trek to the back of the plane. With the flight nearing its conclusion, I didn’t expect any more conversation. But I was very wrong. The blue-collar gentleman next to me was about to startle me from my missional slumber and into my Great Commission mandate.

“Are you are Christian man?” he inquired. “Well, yes, I certainly am…are you?” He paused and mumbled, “I think so.” I was unprepared for this turn of events (that’s the norm for me) and tried to gather myself. But I failed to come up with a coherent response. So I quickly asked God for wisdom and guidance. Soon my thoughts began to organize and I was empowered to speak again. But I could only think to say, “God wants you to know for sure. In the Bible, John wrote a letter for this very purpose.” Even though silence ensued, at this point I knew that I had nothing to do with my retort – the Holy Spirit had taken control.

Then came a flood of questions and answers. He had been baptized, gone to church, left the church, had faith, lost his faith, had hope and now doubted. He believed he was a good man but knew, deep in his being, that wasn’t enough. He understood that it was about a relationship with Jesus and not about religious dogma and practice. He knew the Bible held the key to understanding and knowing Who held his future. He comprehended that he was a sinner, that he must cast himself upon God’s mercy, and surrender all of who he is to all of Who God is. All I could then do was to ask if I could pray for him. He  appreciatively said yes.

Suddenly I was reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the religious of his day:

“One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”“This is the most important,” Jesus answered: Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. “The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Then the scribe said to Him, “You are right, Teacher! You have correctly said that He is One, and there is no one else except Him. And to love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is far more [important] than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:28-34).

Perry is not far from the kingdom of God. How many teeter on the edge of hope and assurance? Many don’t embrace the simple yet profound words of the Apostle John: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” And we most fully know that we know that we have Jesus’ life, His new life, His eternal life when we “Love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, with all [our] soul, with all [our] mind, and with all [our] strength. [And we] love [our] neighbor as [our self].”

I am praying for Perry. I pray that Perry knows that he knows that Jesus is His and Jesus has him – now and forever. And I pray that one day I will see him in Heaven and we can talk about how wonderful Jesus is…and that bumpy flight between Nashville and Dallas. The one, I hope, where he began his pilgrimage from doubt to assurance. When he affirmed in his head and his heart that he loved Jesus above all else – with all that he is, with all that he has, based upon all of Christ’s worth.

So, what about you?

“O my God, I say, take me not away in the midst of my days– you whose years endure throughout all generations!” Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end. The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you” (Psalm 102:24-28). 

Whoever wrote Psalm 102 (some say David, some say Asaph) was extremely insecure. But, if we are honest, aren’t we all? We look for affirmation from various things and people – academic credentials, jobs, spouses, ministries, family, possessions, supervisors, financial savings, etc. – wanting to feel good about ourselves and our situation. This writer was no different. He understood the fleeting nature of his life (Psalm 102: 2, 11) and was in the midst of a time of great turmoil, pain, and affliction. Even worse, he felt God was uninvolved (102:2) and had abandoned him in anger (102:10). The psalmist was, by any definition, insecure about himself and his circumstances. Although maybe not to this extreme, can you identify? I sure can. 

I’m so glad the Bible shows God’s people with “warts and all.” They were frail and filled with foibles. And so are we. Insecurity is such a common theme in fallen humanity that, I believe, this passage and others give us guidance on how to deal with our lack of confidence. In this Psalm, like us, the writer tended to look at himself rather than God. When he turned from his feelings and looked at the facts, He saw the greatness and goodness of his God. Not in himself or his circumstances did he find the salve to soothe his insecurity. It was in the immutability of God. 

And what is God’s immutability? Maybe the word “unchangeableness” would be easier to understand. In his systematic theology, Wayne Grudem  (if you don’t have one, get it) defines this attribute of God by explaining that “God is unchanging in His being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and He acts and feels differently in response to different situations.” Beyond being changeless God is also timeless. Both of these concepts are found in the psalmist’s consolation in this passage (see 102:26-27). In the midst of his weakness, this child of God chose to cling to God’s ultimate prominence and infinite power as opposed to his own limitations. The Psalmist understood that contemplating our God’s immutability is a wonderful antidote to our insecurity. His comforting conclusion is found in verse 28: “The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.”

So what’s the application? In ourselves we are insecure (and have every reason to be). But as blood-bought followers of Jesus our security and identity are found not in ourselves but in the unchanging immensity and integrity of God. And this becomes a reality when we embrace that “who we are” is found only in the person of God’s son, Jesus. And, even more amazing, His identity has been placed into us. This is Paul’s thought when he says in Colossians 2:6-7, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Walking in Him means that, no matter our situation, we are persevering in faith-filled hopefulness and trusting He is at work in us. In other words, Jesus, and nothing else, is our identity and security! We know this because we, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). This means that part of His good news is that, no matter how imperceptible it may be, He is building us up!

As we battle our insecurity with the immutability of God that is experienced through our union with Christ, let’s ponder James 1:17-18: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Consider what makes you feel whole, fulfilled, or complete. Is there something outside of Jesus that is your identity or security? Ask God to reveal and imprint the sufficiency of Christ in every aspect of your life and pray that you never look to anything or anyone else to make you feel complete.

Insecure? Let’s find our identity in “Jesus Christ [who] is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The God who promises that He never changes His mind or breaks His promises (Numbers 23:19). He is the One that has “granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Our immutable Lord is worthy of our faith – He can be trusted in our weakness. For through Him we have the confidence that only comes because we have “Christ in [us], the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36). 

One of the most glorious truths that a Christ-follower can cling to is that we are free. Jesus said, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Paul reiterated the importance of our freedom in Christ on numerous occasions but devoted nearly an entire letter, Galatians, to this truth. That epistle is punctuated with the proclamation of 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” So, concentrating on Jesus’ comments in John 8 and Peter’s thoughts in 1 Peter 1:18-23, let’s explore 3 critical aspects of the freedom found in our faith in Jesus. 

First, what are we freed from? In 1 Peter 1:18 Peter says it is the empty (or futile) way of our former life. Due to our inherited sin nature that was “handed down to [us] from [our] forefathers,” we were once enslaved to sin. We were formerly held captive by the god of this world and unable to break free from the allure, pleasure, and bondage of our sinful rebellion against God. In our unregenerate state, we were so imprisoned by our wicked ways that the Bible describes us as blind and dead. Paul summarizes this, and alludes to our only hope for freedom, when he stated, “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22).  

Second, what are we freed by? When you think of someone being kidnapped and taken hostage (think of one of your favorite police or detective shows), it is typical for the suspects to demand a ransom for the victim’s freedom. They usually want cash…and loads of it. But, in God’s economy, it takes more than perishable things (and money, by the way, IS perishable) like silver and gold to ransom us from our slavery to sin. It takes the ultimate currency; the shed blood of Jesus. As Peter clearly states, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19). We also know that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:22). So Christ’s blood is the only payment possible by which both our forgiveness and freedom could be purchased. His sacrifice has ransomed us and therefore He is our Redeemer. 

Thirdly, what are we freed for? Looking at 1 Peter 1:22-23, we see that we are not freed to go our own way…that’s what we are freed from: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” A. W. Pink said it this way: “Spiritual freedom is not a license to do as I please, but emancipation from the bondage of sin and Satan that I may do as I ought.”  

I think a story might be helpful here. Although probably more fiction than fact, this legend has often been told about Abraham Lincoln: 

One day when passing the slave auction, Lincoln noticed a young black girl about to be sold. Moved by her circumstance, we are told he bid for her and won. Immediately he told the shocked adolescent that she was free. She quickly began to ask questions. 

“What does that mean?”

“It means you are free,” Lincoln replied.

“Can I now say whatever I want to say?”

“Yes, you can say whatever you want to say.”

“Can I be whatever I want to be?”

“Yes, you can be whatever you want to be.”

“Can I go wherever I want to go?

“Yes, you can.” 

The girl, overcome with emotion, paused and finally said, “Then I will go with you.” 

You see, Jesus has ransomed us and freed us from the bondage of sin so that we can be with Him and be like Him. That’s what the Apostle is telling us in 1 Peter 1:18-23. We are not freed to go on our own way. We are freed to go His way and go with the power He now gives us to overcome that which once enslaved us. When Jesus once asked, after a particularly difficult teaching, if His disciples were going to desert Him along with so many others, Peter’s response says it all: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). 

Peter knew what we must know. Our Savior has freed us from sin so that we might follow Him.

“When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-7).

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I don’t like failure. I’ve tried – because it seemed like a good idea – but usually what I resolved to do had little spiritual value – exercise more, eat less, stop and smell the roses…that kind of thing. And, inevitably, my vows had little sticking power. By February it was back to the same old Linden. But maybe my focus was wrong. And maybe my motives were as well.

Jonathan Edwards is famous for his 70 resolutions (which he read weekly). As my gift to you for 2012, I want to share some of them. Maybe you’ll find them as inspirational as I did. Maybe we all can find a way to integrate these kind of resolutions into the way we live; a way that should always seek to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The older English language may be a bit challenging (it is for me), but I believe there is great value in considering these vows. Here is my sampling for you:

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (1722-1723)

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, “A faithful man who can find?” may not be partly fulfilled in me.

33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. Dec.26, 1722.

34. Resolved, in narration’s never to speak anything but the pure and simple [truth].

37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year. Dec.22 and 26, 1722.

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.

43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s, agreeable to what is to be found in Saturday, January 12. Jan.12, 1723.

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4, and 13, 1723.

62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph. 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; “knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.” June 25 and July 13, 1723.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

Aug. 17, 1723

**Since it is our cultural’s tendency to want to leave the Christ of Christmas a small baby who perpetually stays in our imagined manger scene, I wanted to remind us all that this infant did grow up. And this Jesus, in all His fullness, is the Christ I want us to know this holiday season.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?

We all know how commercialized Christmas has become. This is to be expected in our secular society. But the twisted and homogenized view of baby Jesus that has evolved is causes me the most consternation. Yes, He was born in a manger and eventually evacuated Bethlehem in fear of a mentally ill and threatened Herod’s commanded slaughter of all newborn males under 2 years of age. These things are true of the Christ-child. But He is so much more than a helpless and powerless infant who conjures up innocent and heartwarming feelings that desensitize us to this newborn’s true might. So let us look to the prophet Isaiah to answer the question, “what Child is this?”

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire” (Isaiah 9:1-5). 

Here we see this baby Jesus as Savior. Lets notice that this child has come to: 

  • Emancipate the captives (v. 1). This passage establishes Jesus as our emancipator. He claimed such as He read the prophecies of Isaiah regarding the release of the oppressed in Luke 4:14-19, which is a passage that corresponds nicely to Isaiah 9:1-5.  Jesus came to set the captive free, to unfetter the wayward in bondage to sin, to tell and be the Truth that releases us from the wrath of God that rests on those who don’t believe. He has come that we might be emancipated from all that binds us – sin, religion, legalism. Apart from Jesus we are all slaves in desperate need of His power to free us from all that separates us from Holy God. As He tells us in Luke 4:18, “[God] has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”
  • Enlighten the darkened (v. 2). The Christ-child is the light of the world. Darkness has covered humanity since the sin of our forefather Adam. We stumble along in deceptive pride and self-sufficiency. Jesus even called the religious elite blind guides (Matthew 23:16). Nothing apart from the shining brilliance of Jesus can make the blind to see and the dead be raised to new life. In Luke 4:18, Christ says, “[God] has sent me to proclaim…recovery of sight for the blind.”
  • Ensure the joy of His people (v. 3). This manger-born baby came to give life and life more abundant (John 10:10). On the eve of His crowning achievement, the crucifixion, Jesus prays that, “I am coming to you [the Father] now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (John 17:13, NIV). Not only did Christ ensure the joy of His followers but it is His joy He gives us. And is to be known in full measure.
  • Ease the burdens of His chosen (v. 4). As an adult this child would proclaim, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus came to “release the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19, NIV)
  • Eventually end all conflict (v. 5). This infant is the Prince of Peace. He came to reconcile us to God, facilitate reconciliation between people (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-19), and eventually banish all that causes conflict and disharmony: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). 

What child is this? He is the Savior of the world (see John 1:29)! He is more than a baby whose birthday gives us cause to erect and decorate trees, exchange gifts, and share meals. As Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, NIV).  

I pray that this is the One we worship this Christmas. The One sent to redeem all those who put their trust in Him. He’s the only One who can emancipate us from sin, enlightened us to God’s truth, ensure our joy, ease our burdens, and will ultimately end all that causes suffering and sorrow. This Christ-child of Christmas is our Savior.

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