Mild He Lays His Glory By…

Christmas wasn’t that long ago, was it? Do you recall singing, ‘Hark! the Herald Angels Sing?’ That has to be my favourite carol of all time. So rich in lyrics, so majestic in its praise to the newborn King. And when you sang that classic carol, did you pay attention to the words, at least a few lines which I have been pondering?

‘Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth….’

Today is Maundy Thursday. It is also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday and Thursday of Mysteries, among other names. [Wikipedia]

John 13 paints the scene of the Last Supper, the last Passover meal which Jesus celebrated with his disciples, and to which he gave new significance with the introduction of the broken bread and shared a cup, portraying his broken body and poured out blood for our sin.

“It was just before the Passover Feast.’

This feast was on the calendar every year and even in 2018 faithful Jewish practitioners will commemorate this centuries-old celebration.

“Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”

He knew what time it was. This was no accident. All of the events that had transpired over 33 years were part of God’s decreed will. He had come to die. He had come not to be served, but to serve. He had come to be the Lamb sacrificed in full payment for sins. ‘Who would have thought that a Lamb could rescue the souls of men? O, you rescue the souls of men…’

He loved his own. John, one of the Twelve, described himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Is this not our description? Do we not perceive the love that Christ has for us? Dare we doubt it after he expressed it so evidently at the cross?

He showed them the full extent of his love. What capacity did God grant them to measure this love? Did they, like the believers for whom Paul prayed in Ephesus, not need God’s help to measure the capacity, to grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge?”

How can you know something that is unknowable? There’s the mystery of this gospel story. You and I are loved with an everlasting love, a love that leaves us speechless, a love that overwhelms every part of our being.

John has set the scene by introducing us to the majestic wonder of Christ’s love. But all are not filled with love…

….the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.  One of the Twelve, who professed but did not possess faith, became an instrument in the hands of an angry foe, the devil, who had tried from the birth of Jesus (through the action of King Herod) through until this major event to thwart the purposes of God.

Jesus washed his betrayers’ feet.  In the presence of his enemies, he demonstrated a calm submission to the will of God.

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Mild he lays his glory by. Wesley nailed it at Christmas and John paints the vivid contrast between the infinite knowledge of the Son of God who had come to do His Father’s will, and the selfless sacrifice of the Son of Man, who took the servant’s role in removing the grime from the feet of his followers.

Enough said. Ponder this scene. Then join me in singing ‘Hark! the Herald Angels Sing! Glory to the newborn, risen, reigning, ruling, soon coming King!

Sola Deo Gloria

How Do You Spend a Profitable Palm Sunday? or is that Every Sunday?

How do you spend  profitable Palm Sunday? ‘Wear green and get drunk?’ No! That’s how many spend St. Patrick’s Day, but is that even the way that day should be celebrated? I sincerely doubt Patrick would find much joy in the way ‘his day’ has been trashed! That’s a discussion for another day…

It never ceases to amaze me how every holiday, including those imported from the Christian calendar have been secularized. How will Good Friday be marked by the majority of earth’s citizens? Last Saturday night around the world a number of people marked ‘Earth Hour.’ Maybe on Good Friday they will take time to reflect on Heaven’s hour, though I highly doubt it! I’m sure our politically correct society will soon propose a renaming of this sacred day.

Now…back to our regular programming.  I promised in the last post that I would provide more details from my sermon based on Matthew 21:1-11.  How did the earliest followers spend Palm Sunday? How might we, following their example, align our lives?

I gave the outline in the last post, now let’s fill in the details.

1) Obeying Jesus Christ

A disciple is a learner, one who is following a master. As Jesus and his band of followers approached Jerusalem, he sent two disciples, with specific instructions.  A few verses later the response of these two is noted with the simple statement, ‘The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.’

Obedience is normative for those who know Jesus. Jesus reminds us, ‘My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and the follow me.’ He speaks. They hear. He knows them. They follow him. Obedience is quite simple isn’t it, unless our rebellious sinful nature resists the instruction

2) Studying Scripture about Jesus Christ

Matthew penned his gospel, with the help of the Holy Spirit, many years after the events of that first Palm Sunday. A gentle king, entering the city of the great King, riding on a beast of burden, was a vision long-expected. Zechariah had penned such a statement as part of his prophetic message hundreds of years before the fulfillment took place.

I trust we are in the process of studying scripture. Most of us have well-worn verses and chapters, but how well do we know the Old Testament? Our current study in my home church is pressing us to consider the remarkable Minor Prophets whose major message rings with clarity in 2018!  (By the way why not head over to Calvary Baptist’s website and listen to the series ‘God Has Something To Say to You.) By the way, if you’re free Saturday night and are within driving distance, pick up a ticket for the Steve Green concert!

How well do we know the prophecies which point to Christ? What intentional study plans do you have? I find a focused ‘camping out’ in one book at a time is more fruitful than a rushed reading of miscellaneous scriptures.

3) Worshiping Jesus Christ

The Passover pilgrims spread their cloaks on the road. Others (obviously not environmentalists) cut branches off the local palm trees and spread them out before this coming King. They rolled out the green carpet and began a procession of praise.

Citing Psalm 118:26 they poured out their shouts of praise. Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

How triumphant are you in your praise of Jesus Christ? How much liberty do you enjoy in worship? Has anyone ever asked you to ‘tone it down?’ Amazing, isn’t it, that we can shout and cheer at sports events but in the context of worship we appear much more reserved? Are we driven by conviction or by fear of what others might think if we really forgot about them and focused on the One who alone is worthy of our worship, the Triune God?

4) Spreading The News About Jesus Christ

As Jesus arrived in Jerusalem there was a seismic shift. The whole city was ‘stirred’ rocked by the presence of the Rock of Ages, shaken by the One who is Unshakeable.  Throughout the city one question was on the lips of its inhabitants. ‘Who is this?’ Does anyone know?

The crowds speak up. What they know, they share. ‘This is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’  True enough but the answer is insufficient. Even Muslims could provide that answer today! This is Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Son of Man, Jesus the Son of God.

There WAS so much more to learn about this King. There IS so much more to learn about Him. Today let’s sit at his feet and learn from him.

‘Spirit of God my teacher be, showing the things of Christ  to me…’

More, more about Jesus….

Sola Deo Gloria

 

 

 

How To Spend A Profitable Palm Sunday

I’m preaching from Matthew 21:1-11 this morning exploring the conduct of the early followers of Jesus.

1) They obeyed Jesus Christ

2) They learned more about Scriptures which point to Jesus Christ

3) They worshipped Jesus Christ

4) They testified to others about Jesus Christ

How will you spend this Palm Sunday?

Sing hosanna to the King of kings!

I will post details about my sermon in the next post later this week.

Happy Palm Sunday!

Vision Correction?

In recent days I have had a few conversations with work colleagues about eyesight. One is recovering from cataract surgery, another is contemplating new glasses and a third bemoaned the changes that age is bringing.

Physical eyesight is a precious God-given gift. I am thankful for optometrists, ophthalmologists and all their assistants who have helped me assess my own vision. I praise God for missionaries who engage their time and energy in the health care of others as part of communicating the good news of the gospel.

The topic of spiritual eyesight provides plenty of food for thought. Jesus accused some of his ‘seeing’ audience of being ‘blind.’ Fanny J. Crosby, though lacking physical eyesight, possessed a spiritual eyesight which still reflects a passion for God in her hymns and poems.

We all need to have our eyesight checked, both physical and spiritual.

Thomas á Kempis challenges our ‘sight’ with his assessment of our assessment of others.  We all have skewed vision spiritually and demonstrate a desperate need for a definite appointment with the Divine Ophthalmologist.

He writes,

“If you cannot make yourself what you would wish to be, how can you bend others to your will? We want them to be perfect (We see faults in others), yet we do not correct our own faults. We wish them to be severely corrected, yet we will not correct ourselves. Their great liberty displeases us, yet we would not be denied what we ask. We would have them bound by laws, yet we will allow ourselves to be restrained in nothing. Hence, it is clear how seldom we think of others as we do of ourselves.”

That hurt! He’s speaking the truth, isn’t he? We think others need glasses, and we possess perfect vision.  Isn’t that the essence of hypocrisy?

How well do you see spiritually? The priority of the psalmist should be affirmed by us, ‘Search ME, O God and know MY heart….’ Let’s make an appointment for some ‘vision correction.’

Lord, have Your way in me….

Sola Deo Gloria!

To Live Below With Saints We Know…

It’s been awhile since I have heard this poem cited in a sermon, a lecture or even ordinary conversation. It bears repeating and illustrates the next chapter in The Imitation of Christ entitled ‘Bearing With The Faults of Others.’

To live above (heaven) with saints we love, O that will be glory!

To live below (earth) with saints we know, Well that’s another story!

á Kempis had his share of interaction with people, as we all do. Some fellow pilgrims on the pathway to heaven are a delight, a joy to meet and know and a blessing to interact within various settings.  Others…not so much!

Ponder this counsel penned by this leader who lived from 1380-1471, a block of almost 91 years.

‘Until God ordains otherwise, a man ought to bear patiently whatever he cannot correct in himself and in others. Consider it better thus–perhaps to try your patience and to test you, for without such patience and trial your merits are of little account. Nevertheless, under such difficulties, you should pray that God will consent to help you bear them calmly.’

How hard is it to put up with others? How difficult, at times, are you to put up with by others? God does test our patience and allows our rough edges to be ‘worn off’ with interpersonal interaction.

Some of us tend to idealize the Bible and we forget about the remaining sinful tendencies of God’s chosen people.  e.g.

a)  Why did Paul and Barnabas not head out together on a second missionary journey? What caused the conflict and who was right?

b) How did Paul assess the hypocrisy of Peter (Galatians 1) in his inconsistent interaction with the Gentiles? Calling a fellow leader out in front of ‘them all’ must have been a painful process!

c) How does a Diotrephes, who loves to have preeminence, gain a position of leadership in the congregation depicted in 3 John?

There’s a huge difference between personality ‘quirks’ and sinful attitudes. Sin must be confronted, in fact Matthew 18 and Galatians 6 unpacks for us the careful process of confrontation and restoration.

The Bible reminds us that ‘love covers over a multitude of sins.’ That does not mean that sin should be ignored but there certainly is a ‘loving’ and ‘non-loving’ way of addressing it in interpersonal Christian relationships. I wonder how much of the former we have seen modelled!

Paul, in his letters to the churches, urges the stronger and weaker brothers to interact with grace and love.  We are tempted to make ‘our preferences’ into essential issues and the ‘preferences of others’ into non-essentials.

When should we confront? When should we ignore an issue? How do we speak the truth in love into the lives of those with whom we interact?

This calls for wisdom. This calls for grace. This calls for urgent prayer that God Himself would equip in in every way to do His will, to reflect by His Spirit the very character of Christ into His image we are to be conformed as we grow. May our interaction with each other press us into a deep awareness of our personal need to become more like the Master

 

 

Love = The Beginning? The End? The Essence of The Christian Faith?

Agree/Disagree – Love is the supreme virtue of the Christian faith.

In Galatians 5:22,23 the Apostle Paul notes the contrast between the fruit of the Spirit of God and the activities of our sinful natures.  He writes, ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love….’ A list of nine aspects of the Spirit’s activity and the FIRST is love.

In 2 Peter 1:5-9 the Apostle Peter urges the acquisition of virtues that will ‘…keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’  In this list of eight virtues, the EIGHTH (final) is love.

In John 13:34,35 the first followers of Jesus Christ, who had grown up in a commandment-saturated faith, namely Judaism, are given a NEW commandment, one uniquely commanded and crafted by their Master. Jesus states, ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

So, is love the beginning? the end? or the essence of the Christian faith?

In chapter fifteen, á Kempis, pens several sentences on charity, an older word equivalent to love. Here my comments are italicized.

1) Never do evil for anything in the world, or for the love of any man (person).

What motivates the ‘doing of evil?’ What ‘drives’ people of all ages, both genders and all races to think, say and do evil deeds?

2) Without charity, external work is of no value, but anything done in charity, be it ever so small and trivial, is entirely fruitful inasmuch as God weighs the love with which a man acts rather than the deed itself.

Significant observation, isn’t it?1 Corinthians 13 affirms that all spiritual gifts must be combined with love if they are to have any lasting spiritual impact. Even small deeds may be fruitful when motivated with the right purposes. Think of the value of a cup of cold water in the operating manual of the Master.

3) He does well who serves the common good rather than his own interests.

I marvel at Paul’s observation in Philippians 2:21. Writing of Christians, he notes, ‘For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.’ The contrasting conduct of Timothy stood out in stark contrast with the general run-of-the-mill believer. I wonder how ‘different’ we are from others. The real standard of comparison is not the conduct of other ‘Christians’ but the flawless, selfless example of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5-11)

4) ….he who has true and perfect charity seeks self in nothing, bu searches all things for the glory of God.

I have been thinking, in recent days, of a former member of a congregation I served in Northern Ontario. At his funeral, I shared this hymn –

Lord, help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for others.

Others, Lord, yes, others, Let this my motto be;
Help me to live for others,  That I may live like Thee.

Help me in all the work I do
To ever be sincere and true,
And know that all I’d do for You
Must needs be done for others.

Let “Self” be crucified and slain
And buried deep: and all in vain
May efforts be to rise again,
Except to live for others.

So when my work on earth is done,
And my new work in heav’n’s begun,
I’ll praise You for the crown I’ve won,
But praise You more for others.

Let’s live today and every day Sola Deo Gloria – to the glory of God alone! The God who redefined love at the cross calls to us today!

 

 

Judge Not – What Did Jesus Mean? Are You Sure?

I have loaned out my useful text by Dr. Harold Burchett, which includes a thought-provoking article on ‘judging.’ Here’s another reflection on Matthew 7:1-5 penned by Bob Utley at Bible.org – a useful site for more serious Bible study.  

[I have highlighted some of the text in red for emphasis. Read the text again carefully. Answer this question – ‘Who removes the speck from his brother’s eye in verse 7?]

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY – (written by Bob Utley)

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: MATTHEW 7:1-5
 1“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’and behold, the log is in your eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

7:1 “Do not” This is a present imperative with a negative particle meaning to stop an act already in process. Christians have a tendency to be critical of one another. This verse is often quoted to prove that Christians should not judge each other at all. But, Matt. 7:5,6,15, 1 Cor. 5:1-12, and 1 John. 4:1-6 show that Jesus was assuming that believers evaluate one another spiritually. One’s attitude and motives are the keys (cf. Gal. 6:1; Rom. 2:1-11; 14:1-23; James 4:11-12).

▣ “judge” This Greek word is the etymological source for our English word “critic.” Another form of this same root in Matt. 7:5 is translated “hypocrite.” It seems to imply a critical, judgmental, self-righteous spirit which judges others more severely than it does itself. It emphasizes one set of sins over another set of sins. It excuses one’s own faults, but will not excuse the faults of others (cf. 2 Sam. 12:1-9).

SPECIAL TOPIC: JUDGING (SHOULD CHRISTIANS JUDGE ONE ANOTHER?)

7:2 The Greek text of Matt. 7:2 appears in a rhythmical, poetic form. This may have been a well-known proverb. The fact that this statement was used in the other Gospels in different settings backs up this interpretation.

This verse contains a significant truth which was repeated quite often in the NT (cf. Matt. 5:7; 6:14-15; 18:35; Mark 11:25; James 2:13, and 5:9). How believers act toward others is a reflection of how God has acted toward them. This is not meant to destroy the biblical truth of justification by faith. It is meant to emphasize the appropriate attitude and lifestyle of those who have been so freely forgiven.

7:3 “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye” “Speck” was used by classical Greek writers for the material that made up a bird’s nest. Therefore, we are talking about bits of plant material and similar insignificant, small items.

▣ “but do not notice the log that is in your own eye” This was an Oriental overstatement. The “log” referred to some large piece of lumber, a building timber or rafter. Jesus often used this literary form of hyperbole to communicate spiritual truths (cf. Matt. 5:29-30; 19:24 and 23:24).

7:5 “You hypocrite” This compound word came from the theatrical world and was used for an actor performing behind a mask. It came from two Greek words, “to judge” and “under.” It described a person acting in one way but being another (Luke 18:9). A good example of this kind of activity can be seen in the life of David (cf. 2 Sam. 12:1-9). Jesus used this term for the self-righteous Pharisees in Matt. 5:20; 6:2,5,16; 15:1,7; 23:13.

This verse implies the appropriateness of believers’ concern for other Christians when it is not done in a condescending, self-righteous manner. Galatians 6:1 is helpful regarding the proper attitude and motive for Christians’exhorting and correcting one another. The Church has always had to spiritually examine and exhort its leadership and membership.

Digging deeper into the depths of Scripture…

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