The All-Seeing God (a daily proverb)

This devotional series examines a verse or two from a chapter of Proverbs each day of January 2017.

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. ~Proverbs 15:2

We call it omniscience, the fact that God knows everything with perfection. We call it omnipresence, the fact that God occupies every moment in time and every point in space without fail.

Solomon captured both of these truths in a few words. In Psalm 139, David more eloquently phrased it:

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. ~139:7-10

We cannot escape from the eyes or presence of God. We might try. We might think we can hide. We might think that what we do in secret is only in secret.

But God is there.

He keeps watch on the evil and the godly, Solomon wrote. This is why God is the perfect and truly fair judge. He sees all actions and he knows all motives. In his time, he will bring reward and recompense. To the wicked, this should be a cause of trembling. All the evil they do will not go unnoticed or unpunished. To those made righteous by faith in Jesus, this should be a cause of joy. God will repay every wrong done to us, and he will reward every good deed, and especially those that are done without longing for the praise of men.

Live with the joy of Christ, knowing that God sees all.

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Look to the past to fuel your future (a meditation)

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… ~Hebrews 12:1-2

“The dead still speak.” Those are the words I heard recently introducing a lecture on church history. And it’s true: the dead do speak. This is not in some macabre sense of ghostly spirits communicating through flashing lights, tv static, Ouija boards, or voice recordings. No, this is in the sense of people who have lived before having their words and lives shared through books, stories, or memories.

Even then, as Jesus said to the Sadducees, Moses called God “the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob”—and he is not “God of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:37-38). So we remember that those who belong to Jesus through faith, though physically their bodies may have died, spiritually they live on in paradise, awaiting the resurrection.

It is these of which the author of Hebrews wrote. These men and women, some remembered well by history and others not, who’s life stories still speak to us today (Hebrews 11). These are ancient Bible characters, men and women who belong in the annals of church history, and people of an enduring faith who have lived long or who have died before us in our churches and families.

Hebrews 12:1 says such people form a “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us. And what is their purpose in our lives? To fuel us to a faithful future.

They have run the race, following after Jesus, and finished (or have nearly finished) the course. Their lives are a testimony to the fact that one can indeed live faithful and die faithful in a sometimes dark, confusing, and faithless world. Their voices echoing in various ways from the past urge us to strip off the weights of sin and fix our eyes squarely on Jesus.

Sadly, there are also some who teach us this lesson but from a negative perspective. Paul wrote of such in 1 Corinthians 10 where many heard God’s voice and experienced his miraculous provisions yet “with most of them God was not pleased.” Paul concluded, “These things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (10:5-6).

So as we run the race after Jesus, we look back and see the lives of the past and hear their voices. Those who ran faithfully, we emulate the good. Those who did not, we avoid their evil. Remembering their lives provides for us fuel for a faithful future.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Rejoice today (a meditation)

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. ~ Psalm 118:24

Some days seem good, others seem bad. Some days we don’t want to end, others we can’t wait for them to be over. Good days, bad days, rough days, easy days—through them all, God commands our joy.

Joy can sometimes be a difficult thing for us to grasp, because the world looks at happiness primarily through the lens of pleasure. If it makes me feel good, then it must be good. There ensues a struggle—because what might bring momentary happiness might later bring lasting pain or destruction, if we do not approach the situations with wisdom.

But the Bible looks at joy differently.

Joy is a happiness focused on God—a happiness that looks not only at the momentary pleasures but also at the lasting, even eternal, outcomes. Seeing happiness through the lens of scripture we discern that some momentary pleasures will be fleeting in the long run (Hebrews 11:25), and we discern that some momentary pain will result in lasting happiness. We see this lesson even in an act such as childbirth—where there is pain in the labor but joy in holding new life.

This is why in John 17, Jesus could pray about us having his joy fulfilled in our lives and quickly follow with the pain of persecution for being faithful to him (17:13-14). This is also why Paul could say that the sufferings of today aren’t worth comparing to the glories to come (Romans 8:18) and James could tell us to take joy in our trials because of the good result they are producing (James 1:2-4).

Psalm 118 provides for us a two-fold reason as to why we can have such joy, even on the difficult days. First, God is in control of the good days and bad. The sun has come up, the earth has completed another rotation on its axis, and you have opened your eyes and taken another breath.

You have begun a day—this day, today. “This is the day that the Lord has made.” It’s God’s day, God’s plan, and he has graciously included you in it. Yes, because of Genesis 3 and mankind’s fall into sin, evil very well could (and likely will) happen throughout the day. God doesn’t clue us in as to why he allows certain acts of horrific evil to occur. God doesn’t promise that such evil will not bring pain into our lives. God does promise that whatever such evil is and however much it might hurt in the moment, he will set all wrongs to right, he will punish all evildoers who do not turn from such sin, and he will bring ultimate good in response to that evil through Jesus and for his people.

The darkness has not escaped his notice and will not always remain. So, we can live with a forward-looking joy.

Second, it is a day to rejoice because God has saved us from our sins. A few verses before this call to rejoice, the psalmist said, “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118:21-22).

Verse 22 finds a quotation in several spots in the New Testament as a reference to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. That is ultimately how God has “become my salvation.” If you belong to Jesus, then every sin of yours on him was laid and every perfect act of his to you was given. Because of that gracious act, you are no longer a rebellious sinner but a beloved son or daughter.

As someone else has said, that means: For the Christian, the closest we will ever get to hell is the pain we experience in this life. That’s why Paul could write that the sufferings in this life aren’t worth comparing to the glories to come. What is to come is simply so much greater and better. Knowing that and knowing how Jesus rescued us from an eternal hell, we can be glad in this day no matter what it brings.

So, indeed, let us say with the psalmist: This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

A time for milk and a time for meat (a meditation)

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. ~ Hebrews 5:12

“Act your age” is the admonition we sometimes give to older kids, teenagers, or young adults. In life, we expect kids to act one way and adults to act another. The process of moving from childhood to adulthood is maturity.

The same is true on a spiritual level. The Bible calls our coming to Jesus a “new birth” (John 3). We are born again and then enter into the stages of spiritual infancy, adolescence, young adulthood, and then mature adulthood. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

The author of Hebrews wrote to a church he knew and loved dearly, yet for some reason had been separated from (Hebrews 13). He encourages them with many things, but he also rebukes them at points—we find one of these toward the end of chapter 5. Seeing the lives of many in the church, even from afar, he knows something is amiss. They came to know Jesus, started to grow in faith, and then stalled.

They should have been to the point where they could give instruction to others—like a parent teaching a child, but they were still like children themselves. Their teeth should have been cut and they should have been dining on meat, but he had to feed them milk instead.

The meat is the deeper teachings of God through his word; the milk is the basic teachings—“elementary doctrines”, or: the “foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God and of instruction about washings [possibly: baptism], the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1-2).

There is a proper place for milk. When people first come to follow Jesus, most (if any) are not ready for things like comparing Jesus to Melchizedek (which the author does throughout chapter 7). They need the basics. But if that is all they ever get and never grow into the meat, then something is awry—either in their willingness to learn or in the teaching of their church.

For we must go on to meat.

That doesn’t mean that we never again touch the milk. It can be a good drink to go with the bigger meal—a reminder of the foundations on which we build the rest. But we need to get most of our sustenance from the bigger meal in order to keep growing healthy and strong.

So push onto growth. Gain from the milk, but once your spiritual teeth are cut crave the meat. There is a time for both, but let us not be stuck on the basics. Rather, may we “go on to maturity” (6:1).

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Anticipating Eternity (a meditation)

“For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” ~Jesus, Luke 22:18

In Luke 22, Jesus was spending his final hours with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. During this time, he shared with them a Passover meal and took from it the bread and wine and gave them something new: a memorial supper. Some call this The Lord’s Supper others Communion—whatever our term, ever since in the church we have taken the bread and the cup and remembered what Jesus did for us in offering up his body and pouring out his blood on the cross.

Though we gather as Christians and partake of this Supper regularly, Jesus said that he would not eat the bread or drink the wine again until he could do it with us in his Kingdom (Luke 22:16, 18; cf. Matthew 16:29).

In his statement we should sense an anticipation of eternity. When we eat of the bread and drink of the cup, yes we look backward in time to when Jesus hung on the cross and suffered for our sins, but we should also look forward.

In Revelation 19, John spoke a marriage supper to kickoff eternity. This supper is a coming celebration meal when the church, the bride of Christ, is gathered for the first time as its whole—the day where Jesus-followers from all across the globe and all throughout history gather with each other and with our Savior-King to ring in the new creation and begin the age of eternal joy.

That feast will only be the start. In the new heavens and new earth: “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit…my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands” (Isaiah 65:21-22); and, “In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water” (Joel 3:18).

Though we join to eat and to remember, looking back and looking forward, Jesus said he would wait. Looking to him, we see a patient longing. The dawn of eternity is far off yet soon enough, and when it comes then we will celebrate with him.

In the meantime, though, we keep looking forward. We keep yearning and waiting as we share the broken bits of bread and drink from the cup, ready one day to do it face-to-face with our Savior-King who made it possible for us.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Be Merciful to Me, a Sinner (a meditation)

One of my favorite old hymns is Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy. The last verse goes:

Let not conscience make you linger / Nor of fitness fondly dream
All the fitness He requireth / Is to feel your need of Him

It reminds us of the fact that we have nothing to offer God for our salvation. We are able to come to Jesus and find forgiveness of and freedom from sin only because he has acted and given to us fully by his grace.

Sadly, some people miss this truth and their thoughts go in other directions. One of these is the direction of self-righteousness and another is the direction of a soul crushed under the weight of never being good enough. The self-righteous person believes that he is somehow better than people around him, especially those he deems to be sinners.

Jesus gave an illustration of a Pharisee who fit this self-righteous mold in Luke 18:11-12. There in a prayer, the Pharisee says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

The song above addresses those who crushed under the weight of feeling never good enough. “Fitness” is making oneself ready. If that is what we strive for, then we’ll never reach the goal. Left on our own, such thought indeed crushes.

But in Luke 18, Jesus offered a better way—the way of the person who feels their need of Him. Contrasted with the Pharisee is a tax collector standing far off, eyes to the ground, and beating his hand against his chest. This tax collector called out: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)

Jesus said that this was the man who left the temple justified before God.

It is a simplicity of grace, yet one we fight against. Most of us would rather be in some way self-justified, feeling as if our goodness contributed something to our salvation. Yet, it doesn’t. And instead of this being a soul-crushing defeat, this should help us to realize the greatness of grace.

Some of us need to get over ourselves (Jesus talked about that in Luke 18:14). Some of us need to set our eyes more fully on what God has offered through Jesus. Then we will see our need for him. Then we will find true salvation in Jesus alone.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Good Reads 08.24.16 (on: justice, God’s love, and prayer)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On the greatness of God’s love for us: We Have Nothing to Offer the One Who Offers Us Everything by Jared C. Wilson

If you look to Jesus, the bread of life, and ask him to satisfy your hunger, he will not give you a stone. He will give you himself. Let us then stop begging for signs and start beholding Jesus. There is one great sign that you are loved more than you thought. It is the cross. And there is a still further sign that you will live in this love forever. It is the empty tomb. (click here to read more)

Why we sometimes have to wait to see justice: Grateful for the Wait by Randy Alcorn

Why doesn’t God simply reward each good and punish each evil as it happens? Because God’s justice is not a vending machine in which a coin of righteousness immediately produces reward or a coin of evil yields swift retribution. Scripture assures us justice is coming. Everything in God’s plan has a proper time; the gap between the present and that proper time tests and incubates our faith. When reward and punishment are immediate, no faith in God is required or cultivated. (click here to read more)

A series of posts on prayer:

On praying for the best and not just the good: Do You Pray Like a Nonbeliever? by John Piper

How then do they pray? Generally, they do not ask God to do bad things. They ask him to do good things without asking him to do the best thing. They pray as though God were the giver but not the gift. They pray for protection, and shelter, and food, and clothing, and health, and peace, and prosperity, and social justice, and comfort, and happiness. (click here to read more)

On what to pray for: God Doesn’t Need to be Convinced to Give You What You Need by Michael Kelley

We know that through the gospel, we are God’s beloved children. And we know that as a good Father, He does not provide for us reluctantly, but instead delights each day in giving us our daily bread, and doing more than we can even conceive. God does not need convincing. He already knows what we need, and He is going to give us just that. (click here to read more)

On how to pray well: 3 Keys To a Powerful Prayer Life by Tim Challies

The first key is a place of quiet, a place that is free, or as free as possible, from distractions. “With regard to many of us, the first of these, a quiet place, is well within our reach. But there are tens of thousands of our fellow-believers who find it generally impossible to withdraw into the desired seclusion of the secret place. A house-mother in a crowded tenement, an apprentice in city lodgings, a ploughman in his living quarters, a soldier in barracks, a boy living at school, these and many more may not be able always to command quiet and solitude. But, ‘your Father knoweth.’” Of course today we have distractions that may arise from the very devices we use to pray—the iPhone that houses our prayer app, for example—so we need to take special care that we “silence” our devices so they do not distract us. (click here to read more)