Wednesday, February 25, 2015

For Those Who Have Been Trained by It

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11

Discipline. Chances are that when you read that word you think of spankings or timeouts, depending on how your parents punished you. But discipline isn't always about punishment. Self-discipline, for example, is about forcing yourself to do things that you would rather not do in order to better yourself. Sometimes our parents discipline us in this way as well. They ask us to do things that are meant to test and strengthen us. A father might teach his daughters a strong work ethic by asking them to do hard work. He isn't punishing them for doing something wrong, he is disciplining and training his daughters up to become a certain type of women. The hard work shapes their character.

This is the type of discipline presented in today's verse. It refers to trials that God sends into our lives in order to test, strengthen and shape us into the people He wants us to become. Building character like this is never fun, but it produces the right result for those who are trained by it. The result isn't automatic. You have to be trainable. In the original language the word for trainable is gymnazo. Not hard to figure out that it is connected with the idea of the gymnasium and exercise. The idea is that the person who is willing to endure the trial, who doesn't give up or refuse to submit to the training will benefit from it. These trials seem painful at the time but they produce the right result if we will be trained by them. Most of the time when I am really struggling I sense an emphatic lack of peace and yet this passage says that peace and righteousness are the end result of those who are trained by God's discipline. It makes us stronger, better able to hold onto our peace in the midst of a storm. And it produces the right character in us, i.e. righteousness. 

When we face a difficult trial it is normal and even appropriate for us to ask why. Why has this come into my life? Have I sinned? Do I need to repent or is this just something that in God's wisdom He has chosen to allow in my life? But too often we stall out at the why questions because we can't always answer them. So in the midst of whatever difficult trial you are facing right now don't just ask why. Ask, what am I supposed to learn from this? How can I be trained by it? How can this make me a better person? How can it shape me into the type of person who trusts God more, who has walked through the fire with Him and has learned more about His character? Remember, God always disciplines his children in order to draw us nearer to Him.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

When a Common Girl Marries the King

Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention: Forget your people and your father’s house. Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.
Psalm 45:10-11

Have you ever known anyone who got married but then kept living with mommy and daddy? It normally doesn't work out well, because that isn't how marriage was designed to work. "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). This is God's design for marriage. The passage above reminds us that it is also His design for Christians (the bride of Christ) as we commit ourselves to Him.

Psalm 45 presents the Davidic King as a magnificent, just, and prosperous man (Psalm 45:2-9). He is the ideal man, really. From a New Testament perspective we look back and know that Jesus fits this bill better than anyone else. In fact, even though this psalm was almost certainly written for one of David's descendants around the time of his wedding, it appears to point intentionally forward to Jesus when it says, "God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy" (Psalm 45:7).

Since this is true, then Psalm 45:10-11 gives us insight into our spiritual life as well. Many times in the Bible the church is called the bride of Christ. Christ has committed Himself to and given Himself for the church. Thus, when believers accept Christ they are not merely receiving a gift from Him, but are confessing Him as Lord, committing themselves to Him as a bride to her husband. We must "forget our people and our father’s house." Grabbing hold of Christ requires a forsaking of all else. 

Let's return to the metaphor in Psalm 45. When a common girl marries the King, she must move off the farm and into the palace. It simply will not do to have her slopping the pigs in the morning and dining with the King in the evening. She must live in the palace, be dressed in fine clothing, undergo beauty treatments, and learn how to dine with the King. So it is with us. We are common people, sinners, who have been redeemed by a great King and married to Him. It will not do for us to continue wallowing in the mud of our sin day after day and then show up to church on Sunday to dine with the King partaking in the Lord's Supper. To do so is shameful and it belittles our King. 

Committing oneself to Christ requires that we move out of our old trappings, our old way of living life, and yes, even some of our old relationships. We must forsake the relationships and patterns of living that drew us into sin and begin to live with the King, daily dining on His Word and learning how to walk in His steps. You can still be a witness to these people, but the way you relate to them must change. Jesus comes first now, everyone and everything else comes under Him. 

So what do you need to forsake for Jesus? Who do you need to leave behind? 

For further reading...
  • Psalm 45- Read the entire psalm.
  • Luke 14:26-27- Jesus said to be his disciple you must hate your father and mother.
  • Matthew 10:34-36- Jesus said "I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother..."

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

You are Barabbas

Today, I want you to put yourself into the story of Jesus' crucifixion. Put yourself in Barabbas' place. Imagine that you are rotting in a Roman cell having been found guilty of murder and of rebelling against the Roman government. One day while you are awaiting your certain execution a guard comes and hauls you before the governor. You know this is not good. Judgment day has come. You are brought out on a platform before a large crowd of people. There on the platform with you is the governor and another prisoner, already black and blue from the beatings he had received. As the governor points at this other prisoner he says to the crowd:
“You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” (Luke 23:14-16)

It is then that you realize that this other prisoner is Jesus of Nazareth. You have heard enough about the man to know who He is. You can't help but notice the irony in the situation. Jesus has been falsely accused of the very thing you are guilty of, involvement in rebellion against Rome. Just then the whole crowd, having been churned up by the religious leaders cries out as with one voice.
“Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Luke 23:18)
A sudden swell of hope rises up inside of you. Never did you think the religious leaders would be lobbying on behalf of a man like you! Could it be possible that you would be released today in keeping with the governor's tradition during the feast? The governor continues making appeals on Jesus' behalf, but the mob begins to shout.
“Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:21)
The governor quiets the crowd and appeals for a third time.
“Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” (Luke 23:22)
But the crowd responds with even more insistent shouting. It could actually happen, you think. I could be set free! The governor knows that he cannot allow a riot so he gives in to their demand. He orders your release. A guard comes over and removes your shackles pushing you toward the stairs that will lead you down into the crowd. He then shuffles over to Jesus and leads Him away to be crucified.


We don't know how the historical Barabbas responded to the great gift he had received. Did he grow to love and appreciate the man who had died in his place? Did this encounter change him in any way? We don't know. But maybe the question I should be asking is how will you respond?

The truth is that you are Barabbas, and so am I. We are guilty; Jesus is innocent. He died the death that our sin deserved while we go free. The crowd likes us better because our guilt makes them feel comfortable, better about themselves even. The world applauds and cheers for us as long we continue in our sin; but it hates Jesus. His innocence and the truth He speaks shine a light on their own guilt. The guilt they are so desperately trying to cover up. They cannot tolerate his blinding righteousness any longer. He must die to assuage their consciences.

So how will you respond to Jesus' death on your behalf? Will you continue living for yourself? Will you live for the cheers of the crowd? Do you realize how great a pardon you have received? Will you call Jesus Lord? Will you live for Him?

Never forget that you are guilty. Never forget that you are forgiven. These two truths must be ever before the minds of Christians.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...

In New York Harbor the Statue of Liberty stands as a beacon of freedom, a picture of the American dream. That dream is perhaps captured best in the words of the poem New Colossus by Emma Lazarus which has been engraved on a bronze plaque and placed in the Statue of Liberty Museum in the lower level of the statue's pedestal. It reads in part:
From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome...
Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

These words beautifully capture the best of America- a wide open invitation to all the world's hurting, sick, and hopeful to come and find a better life. But this idea did not originate with America. We find it first in Scripture. God has never made a habit of calling the strongest or the best. He has always called the needy and the weak. He extends an open invitation to the weary, the needy and the sinful to come to Him and find a better life.
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! (Isaiah 55:1)
The Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners... (Isaiah 61:1) 
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Are you spiritually thirsty? Are you in need? Are you weary or brokenhearted? Come to Jesus. He has already invited you to bring your problems to Him. Trust Him. Don't miss your chance to be whole simply because you were too proud to cry out for help.

Consider the blind beggar from Luke 18:35-42. He knew that Jesus had welcomed the sick, that He was able to heal. So when he heard that Jesus was passing by the beggar didn't wait for a personal invitation, he cried out to the Master for help! Even as people tried to shut him up (people will always try to prevent us from crying out to Jesus), the blind man shouted all the louder. He knew that Jesus was his only opportunity to be healed and he refused to miss his chance.

Don't miss your chance. Jesus is still extending His invitation to sinners, prisoners, captives and all manner of people today. If you are spiritually thirsty, if you sense your need for Him today, then run to Jesus. Cry out to Jesus. Lay your problems at His feet in prayer and believe in the healing, peace and restoration He can bring into your life.

For further reading...