Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Count Your Blessings, Count Your Sins

Save us, Lord our God, and gather us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.
Psalm 106:47

If you were to list all the ways that you have rejected God's authority in your life, all the ways you have rebelled against Him, been unfaithful to Him, and disobeyed His commands, how long would that list be? In Psalm 106 the psalmist does just this for the people of Israel. He heaps praise on the Lord by noting His goodness to His people in spite of all the ways they forgot Him, tested Him, questioned Him, rejected Him, disobeyed Him, spoke out against Him, angered Him, and took Him for granted. The psalmist testifies that in spite of all the sins God's people have committed against Him, God is still faithful in His love toward them.

Verse 47 is the second to last verse in the psalm and it implies that it was written while in exile in another country. It appears that the psalmist was writing this song of praise to the Lord even as he was experiencing God's judgment for Israel's sin. Repeatedly God allowed surrounding nations to conquer Israel and carry them off captive as a punishment for their sin. Yet when Israel repented and turned back to God, He would shower them with His blessings and faithful love once again. This happened time after time. The psalmist is fully aware of this pattern and boldly asks God to act in keeping with His character again, not because his people deserve it (the psalmist knows they do not deserve forgiveness or rescue) but so that God's name may continue to be praised for His amazingly faithful, wonderful love. At a time when another man might have looked at his situation and blamed or even accused God, the psalmist turns to praise because he knows just how great his sin and the sin of his people is.

I wonder if we do not appreciate God's faithful love toward us as much as we should because we forget just how unfaithful to Him we have been. Take out a sheet of paper and jot down some of the ways that you have been unfaithful to God. Then carefully note all the ways that God has continued to faithfully love you in spite of your imperfection. Take this opportunity to give God praise for His longsuffering goodness in your life.

For further reading:
  • Read all of Psalm 106.
  • Read Daniel's response to exile in Daniel 9.
  • Exodus 34:1-9: Consider the "name" god proclaimed to Moses regarding Himself directly following Israel's sin at Sinai.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What does Jesus' death have to do with me?

Sometimes it seems a little hard to grasp just what Jesus' death has to do with me. I mean it is well documented that this man's death was a tragedy, but just what does the death of one man over two thousand years ago have to do with me?!

We can find the answer to our question in the last eleven verses of chapter three of Paul's letter to the Christians at Rome. Paul has spent the first two and two-thirds chapters of his letter arguing that every single one of us has rebelled against God and chosen sin over Him. Every single one of us deserves God's wrath and is under His wrath. He has explained that if God were to judge us based on righteousness established by keeping the letter of the law, that we would all fall far short. Then in the last eleven verses of chapter three Paul begins to share the best news the world has ever known.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known. Paul says that God has revealed a new type of righteousness, one that is not dependent on keeping the law perfectly. How does one get this righteousness? This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ. To whom?! To all who believe. So then those who do not believe are not counted righteous and are still under the wrath of God. But is this all you have to do? Simply believe in Jesus!? You don't have to be from a certain group of people or meet any other requirements? There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all sinners. We all have the same disease so we all need the same cure. 

But this righteousness is costly. Our sin has racked up a great debt on our accounts, and that debt must be paid. God's wrath must be satisfied. There must be due punishment. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) But why must there be punishment? He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just. John Piper has said that because God is just, He demands a sacrifice for our sin. Because He is loving, He is willing to make that sacrifice Himself (Fifty Reasons p.20). If God were to let the terrible sins which we have all committed go unanswered, He would no longer be just. A just God must punish sin. 

That is why Jesus died that terrible death. Once again Piper is helpful. He notes that Jesus did not merely remove God's wrath from us, but He absorbed God's wrath onto Himself (Fifty Reasons p.21). While we were still God's enemies (Romans 5:8-10) in order to show His great love for us the wrath of God toward you and I was poured out on Jesus. And because of His death now all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. In other words a holy trade took place. Jesus took our sin upon Himself. The great debt of sin that we had all accrued was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). But Jesus did much more than simply cancel our debt. He credited to our account His own righteousness. So when God looks at those who believe on Jesus, He no longer sees an enemy lost in sin, but He sees one of His children covered in the pure righteousness of Christ.

But be careful to note, although this sacrifice of Christ is sufficient to cover the sin of all and is freely offered to all, it is only applied to the accounts of those who believe on His name and confess Him as Lord of their lives. One day we will all stand before God, and on that day there will be no neutral ground. There will be no agnosticism. God will look on us all and will see either an enemy who has incurred His wrath, or a loyal servant and adopted child made righteous by Jesus' blood. What will God see when He looks at you on that day? What will He see when He looks at your friends and family?

For further reading...
  • Romans 1-3: Read the first three chapters in their entirety.
  • Hebrews 9-10: Read why Christ's sacrifice is different than and superior to any and all other sacrifices. 
*John Piper's Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die is one of my favorite all time devotional books. I highly recommend it. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Make a Show

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.
For great is his love toward us,
    and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

Praise the Lord.
Psalm 117
This is the shortest chapter in the Bible. Just two verses. Yet, even this small chapter calls for a response. The psalmist calls upon the whole world and all the peoples in it to praise God. When the Jews sang this in their worship it must have reminded them that ultimately God deserves and will receive praise from all nations not just the children of Abraham. Paul quotes this Psalm in Romans 15:11 as proof that God had always intended to bring the Gentiles into His family so they might praise Him (see ESV Study Bible notes on Psalm 117 and Romans 15:9-12). The psalm goes beyond simply calling for praise however, by giving us the impetus for praise: the great love and faithfulness that He has shown to us.
According to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance the Hebrew word for "praise" in verse one has among its possible translations to make a show, boast, rave, or celebrate. While the Hebrew word for "extol" can mean to address in a loud tone or commend. Taken together this presents a clear image of what it means for us to praise God.
Because of the love and faithfulness God has shown you, you should celebrate Him, rave about Him, even make a show declaring in a loud voice all the good He has done for you. When was the last time your praise of God met this description? I know that we don't want to make a show to draw attention to ourselves, but that's not what this is. The psalmist asks us to make a show to call attention to God! David himself gave us an excellent example of what this might look like when he danced and leapt before the ark of the covenant as it entered Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). So how can you celebrate God's faithfulness this week? What would it look like for you to rave about the goodness He's shown to you and your family? Find a way this week to proclaim loudly how good God has been to you in Jesus.
For further reading...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21

We use phrases like "you only live once" and "you only get one life" to remind us to live life for all it's worth, to take that once in a lifetime trip, and to seize the day. The truth is we never know if we'll have tomorrow. But what if we stopped thinking "you only get one life" and shifted our thinking to "you only get one eternity"? What if we focused less on squeezing every last bit of enjoyment out of this life and focused more on squeezing every bit of enjoyment we can into eternity?

I'm not saying it's wrong to be able to mark several big items off your bucket list. It's not that any of these things are wrong in and of themselves. What I am asking is "Is there a better more eternity focused way to spend our time and money?" The people I most look up to aren't the best travelled or most cultured. The people I really want to be like are men like George Muller. He poured all of his energy, time, and money into orphanages which helped raise more than 10,000 orphans in his lifetime and schools which helped educate over 120,000 children.* Muller simply trusted God to provide the money for these ventures. He never once asked anyone for a donation. He opted instead to leave room for the Holy Spirit to inspire people to give. 

I look up to the men and women who surrendered to a call to the mission field when that meant a life sentence. I don't know if you know this, but there was a time in history when missionaries leaving for the field would literally pack all of their belongings in a pine casket and board a ship to their final destination. They recognized that they were moving there for the remainder of their lives, which were often far too short due to disease or hostile locals. Sometimes these missionaries even wrote last letters to their relatives before they left. (To learn more about this and to read some samples of these letters and some modern day versions go to

As I think about these people I wonder... if I ever do save up enough money to take that once in a lifetime trip- what's really the wisest use of that money and time? Should I say to myself, "I only live once so let's take this big trip and tick this item off my bucket list? Let's enjoy life while we have it?" Or does it make more sense to say, "I can build an orphanage in Ghana for the same amount of money and help provide care for children who need to hear the good news about Jesus. I could enjoy the rewards for the way I spend this money for all of eternity!"? 

It's really hard to do, but I want God to continue working in my life to make me the latter type of person. I'm not saying that I will never do anything nice for my family, but I would rather spend my time and energy storing up treasure for eternity.

Perhaps David says what I am trying to get at best in Psalm 17:13-14 when he describes the wicked in part as "those of this world whose reward is in this life." May the Lord remind us all this week that our reward is not in this life like the wicked. We do not live to make the most of this life. Rather we live this life to the uttermost in order to make the most of eternity.

For further reading...
  • Luke 12:13-21- What Jesus has to say about storing up things for yourself if you are not rich toward God.
  • Luke 3:7-14- John the Baptist's definition of "fruit that is in keeping with repentance."
  • 2 Corinthians 8:1-15- Paul's advice for giving.

* This info is widely supported but the Wikipedia entry on George Muller is the most concise way to come about it.