Some thoughts on Advent and the Resurrection

“There will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” -Acts 24:15

One of the reasons I like Christmas is the focus on Advent. Advent means “coming”. We know Jesus has come once to earth, born as a baby like the rest of mankind, except for our first parents Adam and Eve. He in every way knows what it is like to be human as we are. He grew up with parents and siblings. Jesus experienced temptation to sin just as we do, yet He never sinned. Only Jesus is worthy to be the Spotless Lamb of God for the sake of our souls. Yet the rest of the story still includes Advent. As Christians we know Jesus is coming again. His Second Advent will be different from the First, but it is the hope and glory for God’s people. We who know Christ and have made Him our Refuge wait for the blessed hope- the glorious appearing of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

I want to share with you my devotional reading from this morning. It focuses on the Christian’s resurrection when Jesus comes again. This is worth meditating on as an encouragement to persevere in the temporary and wait in joyful expectation of what is to come. It is written by John Bunyan, also the author of the famous Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan writes,

When we rise and live we shall be changed into a far more glorious state than when we were sown in the grave. It will indeed be the same body though raised in great splendor. We will not change our nature, but our glory. Our earthly bodies without sin and infirmity shall inherit the kingdom of God. They will be raised with no weakness or sickness, but in glory. Glory is the sweetness, comeliness, purity and perfection of a thing. Light is the glory of the sun, strength is the glory of youth, and grey hair the glory of old age. To rise in glory is to rise in all the beauty and utmost completeness that is possible to possess as a human creature. Sin and corruption has made a mad work in our bodies and souls. But, in glory there shall be no lame legs, no crumpled shoulders, no bleared eyes, and no wrinkled faces- He will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body (Phil 3:21). 

Souls now in Heaven will in a moment come into their bodies again and inhabit every member and vein just as they did before their departure. Their bodies will be raised in power. Death quakes, and destruction falls dead at our feet. We shall stand with grace and majesty and our countenances shall be like lightning. It will be raised a spiritual body. It is this body, and not another. We will have the same human nature in every way though changed into a far more glorious state. Otherwise, it cannot be us in Heaven, but something besides us. If we lose our proper human nature, we lose our being, and so are annihilated into nothing. Therefore, it, the same it, that is sown a natural body, will be raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44).

I have often pondered what my son Jesse will be like in Heaven. He has autism and developmental delay. What will his glorified state look like? I still believe Jesse will be Jesse, just without certain struggles he faces now. I have had people say they pray for my son to be normal. First of all, what is normal anyway? I know what they mean, but it isn’t a helpful comment. I pray for my son to be whole and complete one day. I look forward to the day when his disability does not hold him back but serves as an asset in Glory. But I believe his glorified body will not change his personality. I will still recognize him in Heaven and give him hugs and kisses. Ultimately, I trust God in how He has designed what Heaven will be like for His children. He loves Jesse better than I do. He loves each of His sons and daughters better. So this is where I rest. I hope for loved ones who have gone before you there is comfort in reading what we do know of Heaven and our resurrected bodies. Believers still grieve when we lose someone we love but we do not grieve as those without hope. There is brokenness in this world that also grieves us but it is not the end of the Story, praise God. As you close out this year and reflect, I pray you remember the Lord’s future graces. Meanwhile, there is strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Blessings all ours, with ten thousand beside. Great is His faithfulness.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: 1 Corinthians 15; Philippians 3:20-21; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11; Revelation 20:11-21:8

 

 

Godly Sorrow

“Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for Your law is not obeyed.” -Psalm 119:136 

As the psalmist desires to persevere in faith and obedience, he begins to see even more the contrast between holiness and evil. This is a mark of spiritual maturity, when the Christian awakens to the sinfulness of the world and it grieves him. God opens our eyes to the stark contrast of what is lovely versus what breaks His heart. He is helping us see what He already sees. The world is on fire, rushing to and fro from one crisis to another. Like the curse brought upon Cain, Adam’s race becomes restless wanderers. 

Satan loves nothing more than to destroy or pervert all that is good. The psalmist sees this happening before his eyes and it moves him to sorrow. When others disobey and rebel against our Heavenly Father it should move us to grief as well. Would we not get upset if someone maligned a person we love? How much more do we respond when God’s honor is mocked? Matthew Henry comments on this verse noting, “The sins of sinners are the sorrows of saints. We must mourn for that which we cannot mend.” May we react like the psalmist, with a broken heart over sin in the world. This is why Jesus came and died. The world is not now as it should be, but our hope as Christians lies in what is to come. There is restoration for those who know Jesus Christ as Lord. Our faith will become sight. This life is temporary and not our Home. We long for a better country, a heavenly one, whose Builder and Maker is God. Jesus came and He is coming again. Let this promise be our comfort. Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: John 14:1-7; 2 Corinthians 4; Hebrews 11:13-16; Revelation 21:1-5

Blessings from instruction

“Make Your face shine upon Your servant and teach me Your decrees.” -Psalm 119:135

Not only does the psalmist seek God’s help against his foes, but he desires the Lord’s blessing and instruction as well. Persecution does not rattle him so that he turns away from his faith, but leans into it. He wants more of God, especially when he feels alone. This prayer reminds me of the Aaronic blessing, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). To request more teaching from our Great Teacher reveals what is in the psalmist’s heart. He is seeking first God’s Kingdom, not his own.

When we live for ourselves, making our own rules, building our towers of Babel, it will crumble because the foundation is shifting sand. Kingdom builders for God stand on solid rock with Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone. The teaching they receive will not fail them. It is wisdom from God. I believe the Lord teaches us about Himself, who we are as sinners, and His commands through a few ways. Creation reflects God’s order, beauty and majesty demonstrating characteristics of God. Fellow believers image Christ in them although imperfect, through words and actions. Yet God’s Word speaks into our hearts the clearest way, teaching sheep in need of a Savior Shepherd. It is through instruction Christians enjoy sweet communion with our Father. This is our great joy and blessing. The Lord is faithful to teach Christians His ways for His Glory and our eternal good. 

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: Psalm 23; Psalm 86; Isaiah 55:6-13

 

Jehovah Maginnenu

“Redeem me from the oppression of men, that I may obey Your precepts.” -Psalm 119:134

The psalmist is harassed by those who despise truth. They hate him for living by the truth as it exposes their own unrighteousness. Those who do not fear God attempt to silence, mock or harm saints who reverence the Lord. This should not cause the believer to despair but rather affirm he is on the right side. Worldliness makes holiness a disease and normalizes sin (Romans 1:18-32). But Christians have Jehovah Maginnenu, the LORD our Defense. “The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know Your Name will trust in You, for You, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:9-10). Believers can entrust our circumstances no matter how dire, in the Lord’s Sovereign and Loving Hands. If we know He runs the show, and He also loves you, then what other excuse do you have not to trust Him?

If God allowed His only Son to endure cruel rejection and even death, we should expect persecution as well (John 15:18-25). Likewise, we have our older Brother to show us how to respond to the oppression of men. The night Jesus was betrayed, the Bible says He did not retaliate, although He could have sent an army of angels to His side in an instant. Instead, our Lord Jesus entrusted Himself to the Father who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). This is why the psalmist petitions for God to help him not sin against his enemies, but redeem him- keep him from taking the bait and falling into the pit his enemies wallow in. The psalmist desires obedience to the Lord over personal revenge. Let his example be an encouragement to us.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: Isaiah 53; Psalm 9; Romans 12:17-21

 

It Is Finished

“Direct my footsteps according to Your Word; let no sin rule over me.” -Psalm 119:133

I have often prayed this verse. It is the conviction of my sinfulness that brings me here. You and I need daily dependence on God. I hope this is a prayer on the lips of every Christian. It is good when we learn to see more of our sin. Sinful awareness brings godly sorrow which leads to repentance. A repentant heart enjoys restored fellowship with the Lord. The longer we walk with the Lord the more we will see our personal sin, not less. This could be defeating if we are not trusting in God’s purpose for our lives. It is a cycle of mercy in conforming His children into the likeness of Christ. Confession, repentance, restoration. Repeat. Instead of allowing us to sit on our hands in self-righteousness, the very fact we are not as we should be causes the Christian to pursue the Lord even more, not less. Sin will always be crouching at our door, but we must not let it become our master (Genesis 4:6-7). 

The redeemed sinner may grow weary in fighting this life long battle, but we do not go to war alone (Isaiah 40:29-31). He equips us with weapons of truth found in the Bible (Ephesians 6:10-20). God comforts, encourages and challenges us with the fellowship of saints. He provides grace upon grace in our time of need. Sin is dead to the believer as we are alive in Christ. Although we struggle against our flesh, the difference between Christians and unbelievers is forgiveness. Those who look to Jesus for salvation are forgiven once and for all. Jesus has defeated the curse which infects all of Adam’s race. Christ will help us put to death what does not belong to Him. “It is finished” was His cry. Rest in this proclamation.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: John 18:28-19:30; Ephesians 2:1-10; Psalm 103

 

His Mercy is more

“Turn to me and have mercy on me, as You always do to those who love Your Name.” -Psalm 119:132

This whole octave is the theme of God’s mercy toward His own. It is God’s mercy to reveal Himself in Scripture so we can know Who He is. It is God’s mercy to peel back our sinful state as we examine our hearts through His law. The Lord is merciful to show us our need of Him. It is God’s mercy to fan the flame of desire in our feeble hearts so that we even consider His words as our treasure. We love Him because He first loved us. It is God’s mercy to protect us from the onslaught of our enemies, seen and unseen. Whether our adversaries dwell in our thoughts or outside our doorstep, He will not allow Satan to snatch us from His loving grip. It is God’s mercy we are not lost forever. The Lord directs our steps, obliterates sin’s power over us, lavishes us with His favor, opens our eyes to what is true and what is abominable.

God’s mercy is a precious gift that washes over each saint every day, mostly without us realizing it. God is faithful to pour out new mercies on His children until we see Jesus face to face. He is the One who keeps, sustains and fights for His Beloved. Right now we abide in faith, hope and love. But one day, our faith will become sight, our hope realized. Only God’s eternal love for us and ours for Him will endure. His mercy means one day we will enjoy perfect, everlasting fellowship with our Creator, Father, Savior and Friend.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: Psalm 103

 

Where the waves grow sweet

“I open my mouth and pant, longing for Your commands.” -Psalm 119:131

I love how God uses physical elements to point to deeper truths. Bread, light, water, and air are all things we as humans understand. They are basic needs for our survival. The Lord uses physical objects to lead His people to a knowledge of Jesus. God’s message is not muddled. He loves us too much to make the Gospel confusing or irrelevant. This verse demonstrates a connection between bodily panting and spiritual thirst. We know what it is to pant, to be out of breath from a long run or because the scorching heat of the day brings about thirst. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that He had living water to give her. Rightly He did. Those who trust in Jesus as Savior will never thirst again. He alone quenches our spiritual thirst. Yet every saint knows as he grows that the well goes even deeper. Cool, sweet water.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep the valiant mouse seeks the end of the world with those aboard the ship. He remembers his nurse from when he was young telling stories of “where sky and water meet, where the waves grow sweet, doubt not Reepicheep, to find all you seek, there is the utter East.” So the saint will pant for more of what he has tasted of God’s goodness.

The psalmist Asaph wrote of God’s promises to those who worship Him alone. The Lord has said, “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). Later in the same psalm God contrasts His actions toward those who hate Him with people who serve Him. He again promises to His children, “But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you” (Psalm 81:16). Who alone can satisfy the God shaped vacuum in each of us but the Lord Himself? And He promises to do so. God’s commands continually revive the withered spirit from His wellspring of Life. His mercies are new each day. Our Lord is faithful to feed and water His sheep.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: John 4:4-30; 6:35-40; 7:37-39; 8:12; 10:1-21

Light of the World

“The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” -Psalm 119:130

God’s Word illuminates dark roads. He gives us spiritual vision to see the truest reality- the unseen spiritual realm. By His law even fools can know their sinful state, requiring their need for a Savior. Scripture reveals the darkest places in our hearts. This is a mercy, as godly sorrow leads to repentance and restored fellowship with the One who loves us best. What would the world be like without a sun or the Son? Always grasping through pitch blackness, without hope, without comfort or purpose. Some live this way. It should move every Christian with pity and compassion to see a blind soul, a dead spirit walking aimlessly through this earthly portal.

Christians must pray for the lost, asking God to give them eyes of faith, a heart to understand His simple but glorious truth. The basic message of the Gospel is able to penetrate the understanding of a child. The simplicity of the Good News is purposefully done so it may reach the farthest corners of the world to every nation, tongue and tribe. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Through Christ we truly see for the first time. Glory to God for such mercy and freedom from sin’s bondage when we are finally shown The Way through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: John 14:1-7; 2 Corinthians 4:13-18; Ephesians 6:10-13

Following His footprints

“Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them.” -Psalm 119:129

If God’s statutes did not mean anything to the psalmist he would not have wanted to obey them. The love for what is right and true grows an inward desire for holy obedience. Those who do not love God’s law but go through the outward motions are legalists at best, hypocrites at worst. We are motivated by what we love, things we are passionate about, what we respect, and by godly fear. The difference in reverent fear for the Lord versus being afraid of Him is loving God’s authority. We trust Him to rule over us therefore we will obey. His character, His nature, demands our all and yet God Himself is not demanding. We are not His puppets on a string. Instead, the Lord woos us to Himself, unlocking the mysteries of Who He is over a lifetime of discovery. This is the heart of God for His children. 

As we grow in grace toward spiritual maturity, His saints learn what a wonderful, gracious, merciful Law-Giver we serve and desire to follow His footprints. This too is a mercy as God gently leads us in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. The end result is the Christian’s glorification, reflecting the likeness of our Savior. We have been justified by His mercy, we are being sanctified in His grace, one day we will be glorified in His perfect righteousness. 

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: Deuteronomy 4:1-40; Psalm 23; Romans 8:29-30

God is Mercy

“Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them. The unfolding of Your Word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, longing for Your commands. Turn to me and have mercy on me, as You always do to those who love Your Name. Direct my footsteps according to Your Word; let no sin rule over me. Redeem me from the oppression of men, that I may obey Your precepts. Make Your face shine upon Your servant and teach me Your decrees. Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for Your law in not obeyed.” -Psalm 119:129-136 Pe

I’m not sure the timeline from when the psalmist wrote this octave Pe, from the previous Ayin, but there is a continuation of thought and emotion. The writer declares his adoration for God’s statutes. He again asks for help against his oppressors. His heart breaks over those who do not follow God’s law. The psalmist desires to be taught by the Lord and live out his faith in holiness. These are marks seen throughout Psalm 119, but the similarities struck me particularly between the octaves Ayin and Pe.

One question worth asking each time we read Scripture is, “Who is God in this passage?” What does the text inform us about His character and promises? By beginning with this question we then rightly see who we are as image bearers living under the curse of sin, and our need for a Savior. In this passage God’s mercy is displayed. But why does God need to intervene at all? Is the psalmist merely asking for the Lord to deliver him from bullies and be a religious person? If the writer only desired to live a morally good life and have God save him every now and then from mean guys, his life would be in vain. Because all live and will die, what is the point of worshipping an unseen Divinity if all you do is seek to please Him between the dash line of your birth and death date?

I believe the psalmist sees more than the temporal. Even as he is afflicted, he knows there is more to life than the seen. God in His mercy, has revealed this truth to him. The Lord is merciful to all who draw near Him as the psalmist does. He does not give His children what they deserve, which is Hell. He does not keep His beloved in sin and ignorance. No, God blesses His sons and daughters with the gift of instruction, understanding and discernment. He gave us Himself through His Son Jesus on the cross. My sins and yours if you know Christ as Savior, are covered by the righteousness of Jesus. Therefore we can pray as the psalmist does, “Turn to me and have mercy on me, as You always do to those who love Your Name.” 

God has turned away the hellfire and given each of His children a new heart, with spiritual sight to see the truest reality. Spiritual warfare is on the move and has been raging since the Fall. But God has delivered His people once and for all. He will continue to display His mercy and lovingkindness as it overflows from one day to the next. The Christian is taught, sustained and protected because of His covenantal promise. Those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are His eternal sons and daughters.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: Romans 11; 2 Corinthians 4; Hebrews 8