Life with expectancy

return

The closing question for my small group’s discussion last night was, “How would your life be different (practically and specifically) if you lived each day with a continual expectancy of Christ’s return?”  It is a convicting question, to be sure.  We could get into the Biblical truths around the topic, like the fact that the Gospel has not yet gone to every tribe, and we have not yet seen the tribulation and Anti Christ – therefore we know that Christ’s return will not be today…but the temptation is to let that be an excuse to live without urgency.  What if our attitude, instead of complacency, was that nothing in this world satisfies – netflix, movies, music, money – and we are all headed into eternity at an alarming rate, and Jesus gives us abundant life both here and eternally?  What if we considered ourselves part of the task force that was completing the Great Commission to see the Gospel taken to even tribe, tongue and nation – so that the end can come?  What if we loved God and took Him seriously?

We all know in our hearts and spirits that the pleasures and treasures of this world do not satisfy, yet we continually turn back to them.  What if we set out to fight those temptations and natural desires?  What if we feed our Spirits a steady diet of intimate time with God, receiving true pleasure and peace, and allowing Him to guide us throughout our days?  Isaac Watts is one of my favorite hymnist, and he penned these beautiful words:

“Early my God, without delay, I haste to seek your face.
My thirsty spirit fades away without your cheering grace.
My spirit toils with this life’s gloom and fights to stay the course.
Remind me of that Heavenly hour when you first called me yours.

Early my God, without delay, before tomorrow’s dawn,
Let trumpets sound the vict’ry tune because you have returned.
Not life itself with all her joys will tempt my spirit move,
My maker and my helping hand, all I need is you.”

 – Isaac Watts

Do you wake up thirsty for God, and turn to Him immediately when you wake up?  Do you find pleasure in being reminded of your conversion experience?  Does He sustain you through life’s gloom and trials?  Is He all you need?

Let’s live for something bigger and greater than momentary pleasure.  Let’s live for Christ’s return.  Let’s know Him, let’s love Him, let’s proclaim the gospel so that others can come to know and love Him too – while there is still time.  And let us long for the day that He returns.  Not only to receive the benefit of entering into eternity, but to finally be in the presence of Jesus, our Savior.

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When Trials Come, No Longer Fear

When trials come no longer fear
For in the pain our God draws near
To fire a faith worth more than gold
And there His faithfulness is told
And there His faithfulness is told

Within the night I know Your peace
The breath of God brings strength to me
And new each morning mercy flows
As treasures of the darkness grow
As treasures of the darkness grow

I turn to Wisdom not my own
For every battle You have known
My confidence will rest in You
Your love endures Your ways are good
Your love endures Your ways are good

When I am weary with the cost
I see the triumph of the cross
So in it’s shadow I shall run
Till He completes the work begun
Till He completes the work begun

One day all things will be made new
I’ll see the hope You called me to
And in your kingdom paved with gold
I’ll praise your faithfulness of old
I’ll praise your faithfulness of old

His law is love and His Gospel is peace.

o holy night

Many hymns are packed with great theology and doctrine, many Christmas carols are marked by the same.  One of my favorites – musically and doctrinally – is O Holy Night:

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine!  Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine, Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from the Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Before Jesus came to walk this Earth, he world lay long in sin and error pining.  God had written His perfect Law and explained to the nation of Israel exactly how He desired to be obeyed and honored.  For centuries the people tried and failed to keep the Law, revealing to them and to us that it is impossible to live up to God’s standards.  In sin they were pining away at life, needing hope and a savior.  But with the birth of Jesus came a thrill of hope.  He was here as the king of kings and the savior of souls, to conquer sin and to set the prisoner free.  And yet, as sovereign king, He was born amidst our trials and struggles to be our friend.

Thus our appropriate response to is fall on our knees in worship, in respect, and in love.

What did He teach us?  To love one another:  His law is love and His Gospel is peace.  He fulfilled the Mosaic Law and wrote an amendment:  to love our neighbors and our enemies as we love ourselves.  God will execute justice and judgement through the authorities and eternally, we are to express the love and forgiveness we have been offered to others freely.  His Gospel has freed us from the guilt and weight of sin by paying our debt of punishment and giving us the Holy Spirit who enables us to obey.  Thus we have peace with God.

Chains He shall break for the slave is our brother:  physically and Spiritually.  He has broken the social and hierarchical casts that separate us, as well as the spiritual bondage of sin.  One might still work in service to another, one might still be a slave to a master in life, but our eternal state is free and before God we are on equal playing grounds, and when He returns all oppression shall cease.

What shall we do in response?  Sing praises and hymns, proclaiming his power and glory forever.

Sing His praises today.  Engage your mind as your Christmas Pandora station continues to blast those carols.  Sometimes the melodies have become so familiar that the words pass our lips without engaging our minds and hearts, but let their deep and rich truths remind you again of the beauty of the Gospel and your eternal forgiveness.  All which started by Jesus’ birth as a baby, laid in a manger.

Why is grace amazing?

amazing grace

Perhaps one of the most well known hymns for the past 250 years.  Isaac Newton was born in 1725, and after his mother died just before his seventh birthday, his father took him to sea with him at the age of eleven.  He grew up on the boat, drinking and carousing and was ultimately enlisted in the British navy.  Hating the service, he attempted to desert and was whipped with eight dozen lashes and lost his rank.  He then served on a slave ship but did not get along with his counterparts, and they left him as a slave to a slave trader in Africa.

John’s father sent a rescue mission to retrieve him and the ship suffered damage during a storm, nearly sinking.  Miraculously, some of the cargo shifted into the hole in the ship’s hull, and John understood this to be the intervention of God.  He continued to work in slave trading, though he began to have more compassion on the slaves.

He left the slave trade and became an Anglican priest, and thirty-four years after leaving the profession, John began fighting against slavery and wrote a pamphlet “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade”.  His efforts ultimately led to the outlawing of slaver in 1807 under the leadership of William Wilberforce.

John wrote the first verse of Amazing Grace while his ship was being repaired after the storm:

Amazing grace!  How sweet the sound,
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

While hunting in Londonderry, Ireland, Newton was climbing up a steep embankment and was pulling his gun behind him.  The shot gun went off, he describes it thus:

“As I climbed up a steep bank, pulling my shotgun after me, in a perpendicular direction, it went off so near my face as to burn away the corner of my hat.”

He understood this to be God’s intervention yet again, teaching him to fear – and finding fear’s only true hope:  Jesus Christ.

Grace indeed is amazing.  But what makes it so amazing is that which it counteracts, and that is the wrath of God.  Without the “bad news”, there can ultimately be no “good news”.  We often diminish the Gospel by placating ourselves and believing that we are good people at the core, that God loves us because of who we are, and that admittance into Heaven is just the icing on the cake.

The Gospel, however, teaches us that we are hopelessly wicked and deserve damnation.  Unless we believe in Jesus and are transformed by the Spirit, we will perish.  We have already been judged and the wrath of God is poured out upon us (John 3.18).  We must grasp this reality in order to understand and appreciate grace.  Otherwise grace is not amazing.

Grace is us receiving what we do not deserve:  eternal life.  The more deeply we understand Hell, damnation, and the wrath of God against ungodliness, the more fully we can appreciate the magnitude and glory of grace.

And it is grace itself which teaches our hearts to fear.  Did you go through a season where your heart feared damnation and a godless eternity?  Did you come to a point where you understood your sin and wickedness?  That was grace revealing your true state.  And grace turns around and relieves our fear by giving us hope through salvation.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d!

How amazing is God’s grace to you today?  Let us embrace the holiness of God and His wrath against ungodliness so that grace can be all the more sweeter and glorious in our lives today.

We shall see Jesus

rapture

I love many of the hymns and Gospel songs because they declare the full Gospel, and point us to Jesus and His return.  “We Shall See Jesus” is one such song, and perhaps one of the greatest songs ever written:

Once on a hillside, people were gathered
Hoping to see Him, as thousands were fed
He touched the blind eyes, healed broken spirits
He moved with compassion, while He raised up the dead

Once on a hillside, people were gathered
Watching as Jesus was crucified
No one showed mercy, to the one who had healed them
Yet, Jesus loved them, as He suffered and died

Once on a hillside, people were gathered
For Jesus had risen and soon would ascend
Then, as He blessed them, He rose to the heavens
And gave them His promise to come back again

We shall see Jesus, just as they saw Him
There is no greater promise than this
When He returns in power and glory
We shall see Jesus, we shall see Jesus, just as He is.

Jesus is coming back.  He is coming to get us and to take us home.  And one day soon, we are going to see Him!  We will be face to face with our creator, with our savior, with our Lord, and our peace and joy will be made full and complete.  Are you ready?

Why was Jesus the “Man of Sorrows”?

man of sorrows

Even in the midst of walking through difficult circumstances and tragedies, we Christians often like to believe that life should be comfortable and easy.  Much of our sorrow in trials is centered around the fact that we believe we do not deserve whatever it is through which we are walking.  “Why me?” we cry and bemoan before God.  We now believe that not only the pursuit of happiness is our right, but happiness itself.  Jesus, however, was God and He came to Earth and was called the “Man of Sorrows”.

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.

– Is 53.2-5

God chose to give Himself no physical stature, no natural attraction by which to draw others, and He intentionally bore our sorrows, griefs and debt of sin.  Since those around Him did not understand His purpose, they considered Him to be “smitten of God and afflicted.”  Remember Job?  He was a man of great faith, and God decided to purify His faith by testing him through Satan’s attacks, and Job lost everything:  His wealth, his family and his health.  Job’s friends understood God to be the type of judge who would only reward good for good and evil for evil, and thus they accused Job of great sin and encouraged him to repent.  But we learn that Job’s situation was not judgment, rather it was purifying refinement of his faith – not a result of sin.

Those who witnessed Jesus being crucified on the cross similarly considered Jesus to be smitten by God.  And while Jesus was smitten and ultimately crushed by God for the purpose of saving sinners, it was not as a result of sin.  Smitten by God for our sake, Jesus was indeed the man of sorrows.  He lived a perfect life and yet suffered physical torture and death as well as Spiritual separation from God and damnation, all so that we would never have to spend eternity in Hell.

He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.  He was pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities.   

And by his wounds we are healed.  

Man of sorrows what a name
for the Son of God, who came
ruined sinners to reclaim:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned he stood,
sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Guilty, vile and helpless we;
spotless Lamb of God was he,
Full atonement, can it be:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished” was his cry;
now in heaven exalted high:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

When he comes, our glorious King,
all his ransomed home to bring,
then anew this song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Our Great God

Our Great God

Eternal God, unchanging
Mysterious, and unknown
Your boundless love, unfailing
In grace and mercy shown
Bright seraphim in endless flight
Around Your glorious throne
They raise their voices day and night
In praise to You alone

Lord, we are weak and frail
Helpless in the storm
Surround us with Your angels
Hold us in Your arms
Our cold and ruthless enemy
His pleasure is our harm
Rise up, O Lord, and he will flee
Before our sovereign God

Let every creature in the sea
And every flying bird
Let every mountain, every field
And valley of the earth
Let all the moons and all the stars
In all the universe
Sing praises to the living God
Who rules them by His Word

Hallelujah!
Glory be to our great God!
Hallelujah!
Glory be to our great God!

 – Fernando Ortega