Into Your Hands

Just before Jesus expended His last breath, He cried to His Father,Hope

Into Your hand I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Those nearby who were well acquainted with the Scriptures, especially the Psalms would have recognized that He recited Psalm 31:5.  He had the word of God on His lips with His final breath.  It sustained Him throughout His life.  In one incident when He encountered Satan, Satan said to Jesus,

If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matthew 4:3).

Jesus replied from Torah,

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (4:4).

Satan continued to try trip him by also quoting Scripture back to Jesus out of context.  However, Jesus knew the Scriptures well and would not be fooled by Satan’s trickery.  Jesus frequently used Scriptures in countering the arguments of the Pharisees and Sadducees and giving a defense for His Father and His decrees and declarations.  He taught the truth of the Scriptures to His disciples so they would gain strength from them in time of need and be able to offer a defense for the truth in the life of Jesus.  The Scriptures became Jesus’ sustenance in life and in death.

His example teaches us that the Scriptures are our authority and their content are lamp and life.  Relying on the Scriptures is relying on God.  Both God and His word are the content and strength of our lives.  The particular passage from Psalm 31:5 illustrates this assurance.  King David never knew that the Messiah, the Son of God, his offspring would quote from his psalm.  He never knew the vitality of his psalm for all subsequent generations.  He never realized that this truth would give assurance to so many.  Although he wrote it initially for himself, we recognize that he also intended it to be for the entire congregation of God.  The heading informs us of his purpose,

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.”

He saw commitment to God his lifelong vision and allegiance, even in death, because he recognized God was his redeemer (Psalm 31:5).  He gives a litany of distresses and troubles he encountered throughout his life and concludes,

But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hand” (31:14-15).

At the conclusion of his psalm, David turns to his audience, the congregation for whom he intended it and announces,

Oh, love the LORD, all you His saints! For the LORD preserves the faithful, And fully repays the proud person. Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the LORD.”

He wants to assure them that commitment to God meant safety, because those whom God considers “saints” or set-aside ones are safe in His hands.  They can be courageous and hopeful, knowing that the strength and power to endure hardship comes from God.  God holds His saints tightly in His hand.  Jesus, our Savior set the example on the cross when He cried to His Father,

Into Your hands I commit My spirit” Luke 23:46.

God is our Father, also, and we like Jesus can trust Him to care for us.

Beauty of Holiness

Did you know that holiness has beauty?  The psalmist declares,

Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2).

As we look around our world, we take in the beauty of nature.  The Sequoia sempervirens tower above all other trees demonstrating their strength and longevity.  The oceans cleanse our senses as we take in their freshness and powerful sounds.  The heaven gives off its strong morning light and mellow evening one as both orbs travel consistently across the sky in their unbroken routine.  We take assurance that as the sun sets one day, it will inevitably rise the next and give its warmth and brightness for energizing and enlivening our work and play.

However, the psalmist bypasses the earthly pleasures of creation and takes us to genuine worship apart from the wonders of creation.  He calls for worship “in the beauty of holiness.”  Whoever has ever described something like holiness as beautiful?  It has no physical dimensions.  It has no real fragrance nor can we hear musical notes flowing from it like that of a Stradivarius violin in the hands of a virtuoso musician.  It has no voice that sings as Joan Sutherland or Luciano Pavarotti.  It has no canvas that portrays the artistic splendor of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.  The beauty of holiness, according to the psalmist, surpasses these wonderful expressions of humanity, as beautiful as they are.

What makes holiness beautiful?  Two things.  First, the LORD Himself makes holiness beautiful.  Holiness means to set apart for the purpose for which it was created.  When a thing is set apart and expresses naturally what God intended, it is holy.  The earth and all its splendor in this sense takes on a sense of holiness, for it expresses God’s intended purpose.  It expresses the life and greatness God intended.  When God created it all, He declared that is was good.

We sometimes take that goodness for granted, and plow through the day under stress and pressure with our routines and ignore God’s wonderful intentions in the created order.  As we do so, we not only brush aside God’s intentions in creation that praise Him, but we ignore God’s intentions in our worship of Him.  Our action items interfere and bog us down with worry and anxieties.  Meeting deadlines and the distractions of the mundane takes us away from the extraordinary, that is, God’s intentions for our lives – the beauty of holiness.  Temptations enter the scene and lead us away from His purpose.  Things get ugly: broken relationships, bickering, distrust, arguments, tension, isolationism, factions, and related actions and attitudes.

Second, worshiping God in the “beauty of holiness” returns us God’s intended purpose.  Such worship turns the ugly things of life into something more beautiful than the surroundings of the natural world.  Peace with God is a beautiful position.  Assurance of His love and living in it is a beautiful attitude.  Jesus informed us of the greatest commandment in the law:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

Love of God expresses holiness, because in doing so, this love sets us apart from the way the world loves: conditional and with self in mind.  Loving from the heart, soul, and mind encompasses the entire being – nothing left out.  This is holiness, and it is beautiful to God.  Love expresses worship.

The Grace of Soul Restoration

Shepherd with SheepThe Twenty-Third Psalm is timeless.  Pastors continue to read it at funerals and related events.  It brings comfort to those who weep and assurance for those encountering troubles and difficulties.  At times, those who hear it are caught up in an emotional turmoil and some of the deeper truths rush past.  Often application arises first before the meaning of a phrase or word, and some of the richness of the passage or a phrase within it breezes by as an after thought.  For this reason, in spite of the troubles or anxieties that come to mind when we approach a passage as Psalm 23, focusing on particular phrases and words compel a deeper dive into what the author may be communicating.  One important principle for guiding such a reading is realizing that works as Psalm 23 are inspired by God, and the Holy Spirit uses His word as teaching moments about eternal truths.

Upon reading it a few days ago, my eyes stopped at one phrase,

“He restores my soul (Psalm 23:3).

That is a curious phrase.  Restore suggests that something may have been taken away or became worn down and needed repair.  That thought prompted me to seek a Hebrew lexicon to determine how those who spoke the original language treated the word.  I was surprised to discover that the word “restore” has multiple meanings in the original language, one of which is bring back from waywardness.  The applicable truth is quite simple.  When God’s people go astray, He brings them back.  The Scriptures throughout affirms this truth.  Israel constantly turned away from God, but He promised to return them.  The Gospels portray Jesus as the Good Shepherd who keep His sheep and goes after the one that strays (Matthew 18:12-13).  In the same way, the portrayal of God as the Shepherd illustrates this same truth.

The Bible gives testimony that humanity always goes astray.  Even believers in Christ do so.  It is within the nature of men and women to wander off from God.  Temptation easily captures the mind and heart and takes it down a wayward road.  History from the beginning of time illustrates people following their own path.  Frank Sinatra used to bellow out, “I’ll do it my way.”  Our way is the most traveled path.  It is easier and captivates our desires while attempting to fulfill us with pleasures.

The psalmist, David, had a very different perspective.  He recognized that waywardness for the sheep meant death and destruction.  He knew that his own life crossed many destructive and tragic crossroads.  When he encountered these crossroads and encountered tragedy, he later recognized the destructive nature of his actions.  God restored him.

If we review the context of Psalm 23, that type of restoration seems to come to light.  The next phrase gives the aftermath of restoration,

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (23:5)

Righteousness suggests a contrast that the sheep have gone the wrong way, and the shepherd took his rod and staff and  restored them to the right path (23:4).  These implements give comfort, because they lead back to familiarity.  The wrong path was a frightful unfamiliar ground full of dangers.  The rod is a means of discipline for showing the right way.

The way of the shepherd is “goodness and mercy,” whereas the way away from the familiar path is evil and harshness.  The shepherd is good and merciful.  This means that he does not wait for the sheep to return to him.  They never will once they are lost in an unfamiliar pasture full of rocks and stubble.  He goes after them and restores them to the right pasture, the pasture full of nutrition for the soul (23:5).  He guarantees the believer’s safety in this life and the next.  Such safety surfaces from God’s grace of soul restoration.

Reminders of the Cross

 Sunday morning, the minister talked about Jesus sharing about His second coming to His disciples from John 14-16.  A thought surfaced – “I have heard this before many times.”  Pride.  No sooner does the proclamation of the gospel happen that a temptation arises to attempt to blunt the message.  Temptations do not come from God.  Rather they come from the source of darkness and try to block our listening so we do not hear and the Spirit does not have material to work in our hearts.  Such subtle deception – these temptations.

Yes, I have heard that message from that passage many times before, but the moment the cross gets stale and old is the moment it fades from memory.  This results in losing sight of the love of God.  The slippery slope begins from that point first toward questioning God.  This questioning, while entertaining what we consider as the staleness of the message of the gospel, leads to another rung downward.  Doubt creeps in.  This questioning and doubt do not arrive without a nudge.  Temptation gives them that nudge.  Unless we encounter that temptation, it could blossom into skepticism and subsequent unbelief.  Giving into temptation takes a person a step away from God.  That first step encounters more temptations.  If we succumb to them, the steps away from God become more rapid until we run full speed into unbelief.

I have read many stories lately about former pastors, elders, and leaders in the church “deconverting” and becoming atheists.  One atheist, John Loftus, was a pastor for 14 years, graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and studied under Christian apologist William Lane Craig.  He has now written six books against the Christian faith.  Among them are: “Why I became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity,” “The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails,” and “The End of Christianity.”  He even taught apologetics.  He gave three reasons for deconverting: adultery, the failure of other Christians when he asked for help, and atheists came up beside him and converted him.  Two of them had nothing to do with atheism and its merits.  Even the other one failed to give merits for atheism.  He boasts in his failures.  This is a sad and tragic commentary.  Temptations killed whatever faith he claimed and baptized him in pride and boasting.  He apostatized.  It is tragic that fellow believers shoot their own wounded, and we must take care to surround a wounded sheep.  But do we not have responsibility to come to Christ with our problems (Matthew 11:28)?  Loftus did not, and he rejected faith in Christ and took the ultimate step toward apostasy.  That occurred frequently in the early church from what we learn from John,

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:19).

I am constantly reminded of what Peter writes, “For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth” (2 Peter 1:12).  Though you know.  Hmm.  Fading thoughts without reminders lead to forgetfulness and cold hearts.  I do not want temptations to get in the way of remembering the cross.  I need to check my temperature regularly to insure that I never get cool toward Christ and His cross.  Temptations are sneaky and devious.  They break the temperature gauge and whisper that it is warm outside.

EVERYTHING NEW FOR 2015

The vast number of us enter 2015 with the greeting, “Happy New Year!”

As we look out our windows, many of us see a brisk cold morning, because 80% of the United States experiences a freeze.  However, that does not stop us from enjoying a fresh start in a new year.  As we view the landscape of the new year and review the old road behind us with all of its experiences and the wisdom it left us, we can plant our feet on the starting line of the new and give thought to fresh expectations and goals.  What guides them?

The Bible offers us some tips on all things new for paving our journey to which we can gain freshness and hope in things to come.  Many of the passages below give encouragement, strengthen our faith, and provide confidence of God’s sovereignty and providence from which we can draw for engaging the days to come be they good or difficult.

All references are from the New King James Version.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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“Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy” (Psalm 33:3).

“He has put a new song in my mouth– Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3).

“I will sing a new song to You, O God; On a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You” (Psalm 144:9).

“Behold, the former things have come to pass, And new things I declare; Before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).

“Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness And rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

“Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).

“For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

“But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26-29).

“And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many” (Mark 14:24).

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15).

“…and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23-24).

“And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15).

“Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

“Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning” (1 John 2:7).

“To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17).

“He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name” (Revelation 3:12).

“And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

“They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth” (Revelation 14:3).

“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea” (Revelation 21:1).

“Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful” (Revelation 21:5).