Home & The Everlasting God

On Friday evening I was able to return home after just over a week of being evacuated due to the CZU Lightening Complex Fire that ravaged the San Lorenzo Valley and areas nearby (Big Basin, Bonny Doon, etc).  While I am full of thanks to God for preserving my family’s house (through the work of many brave people), I cannot forget that multiple hundreds of families in my broader community have no home to which they can return.  It was in this context that I read Psalm 90 this morning and found it sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the point of dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow (Heb. 4:12).  Read the entire poem (because the whole thing is so apropos) but note with special poignancy verses 1-2.  As you do, listen to those same verses sung by Seeds Family Worship.  From everlasting to everlasting oh Lord, you are God!

 

Psalm 90 (New American Standard Bible):

(1) Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

(2) Before the mountains were born

Or You gave birth to the earth and the world,

Even from everlasting to everlasting

You are God.

 

(3) You turn man back into dust

And say, “Return, O children of men.”

(4) For a thousand years in Your sight

Are like yesterday when it passes by,

Or as a watch in the night.

(5) You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep;

In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew.

(6) In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew;

Toward evening it fades and withers away.

 

(7) For we have been consumed by Your anger

And by Your wrath we have been dismayed.

(8) You have placed our iniquities before You,

Our secret sins in the light of Your presence.

(9) For all our days have declined in Your fury;

We have finished our years like a sigh.

(10) As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,

Or if due to strength, eighty years,

Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;

For soon it is gone and we fly away.

(11) Who understands the power of Your anger

And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?

(12) So teach us to number our days,

That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

 

(13) Do return, O LORD; how long will it be?

And be sorry for Your servants.

(14) O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness,

That we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

(15) Make us glad according to the days You have afflicted us,

And the years we have seen evil.

(16) Let Your work appear to Your servants

And Your majesty to their children.

(17) Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;

And confirm the work of our hands;

Yes, confirm the work of our hands.

No Navel-Gazing! Look to Christ…

I recorded this video particularly for the people of Felton Bible Church, most of whom are scattered many places under evacuation orders because of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire burning in and alongside the San Lorenzo Valley.  Of note, I bungled the name of the church whose office I borrowed…it is Grace Church Monterey Bay.  If you live in the Monterey/Seaside area, I commend this group of folks to you!

Be Encouraged…

Here are words of deep joy and real encouragement this morning:

O LORD (O Yahweh), You showed favor to Your land; 

You restored the captivity of Jacob.

You forgave the iniquity of Your people;

You covered all their sin.

You withdrew all Your fury;

You turned away from Your burning anger.” (Psalm 85:1-3, NASB)

How and why are these words personal for you (us) if you (we) are a follower (followers) of Jesus Christ?  Well, because of what Paul reminds us of in 2 Timothy 1:9-10 (NASB) about God:

“…who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…”

Amen, praise the Lord!

Living in Fire

This is a very brief post to note that we as Jesus’ people gathered under the banner of Felton Bible Church (FBC) are currently living through the massive CZU Lighting Complex fire burning outside of Santa Cruz.  Please pray for the people of the San Lorenzo Valley, Scott’s Valley, Bonny Doon, and other nearby areas.  Pray for all the hardworking men and women working to battle this blaze. If you’d like, check out the FBC Facebook Page for a recent picture and short note.  God is good even in the middle of disaster like this.  His plan is perfect…

The Blessing of a Blessing…

Many of you are likely familiar with a song titled, “The Blessing,” that has quite literally swept the world during this pandemic.  One of the most remarkable developments with this particular song is the way in which it has been taken up and recorded, for all to hear, in many of the world’s different languages.  Though human language developed in a context of disobedience to God’s command (see Genesis 11), I’m convinced that it is nonetheless one of God’s best gifts to human beings.  Human language is beautiful.  And it is never more beautiful than when put to the service of praising God.  Consider for instance this version of “The Blessing” sung in Arabic.  I love the sounds of Arabic.  I love the fact that Felton Bible Church has the privilege of partnering with people working to bring the Gospel to people who speak Arabic.  I love that Arabic – so often employed today in worship of the false God of Islam – will one day sound only to the praise of the one who named himself, “I Am.”

As you listen to this song, consider its source – Numbers 6:22-27:

“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

 The LORD bless you and keep you;

The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

 So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Moses gave this blessing to Aaron and his sons to speak as priests over the house of Israel.  This is a priestly blessing.  Thus, it is entirely appropriate that the church would sing a song like this.  Why?  Because the true church of Jesus Christ consists of people chosen by God to be a “royal priesthood, a holy a nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).  Did you catch that?  Being priests of the living God is a matter of proclaiming the excellencies of him – of God – who called you.  Called you from what…into what?  From darkness…into his marvelous light.  From the darkness of sin, of rebellion against God, of death…into the light of salvation, of obedience, of life.  How did this happen?  Only through Jesus Christ!  Jesus Christ is the light of the world who brings life: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).

Enjoy this song.  Enjoy the deep truth it reflects.  But enjoy it…oh please enjoy it…as you stand redeemed from your sin by the blood of Jesus Christ who died for you on the cross.  Enjoy it while, by the sheer grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ as your King and Savior, you pass from death to life.  The blessing that you and I have to speak over the world is not one of generalized good will.  No, it’s far better.  It is the blessing of a call to come and worship at the feet of Jesus.  If you enjoy this song like that, then indeed you will bless all to whom God brings you this week.

Free Bonus Thought: Did you know that blessing of Numbers 6 appears on the oldest example of written biblical text uncovered thus far?  Check out this “Fix Your Mind” post from last year.

 

 

 

 

An Excellent Read – “Seeing the World in Black and White”

I’d like to commend to you this excellent article written by an African American brother named Greg Morse, titled, “Seeing the World in Black and White: How Much Do Assumptions Divide Us?”  It is one of the best things I’ve heard or read of late related to the conversations about race at work in our society and the church today.  As you read it, consider how Greg’s thoughts apply well beyond issues of race.  Consider how his words apply to our relating over how to best live during COVID, or simply to how we live daily in any circumstance.  As you read, pair this with 1 Cor. 13:4-7 – “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

May the Lord search my own heart…

Believe, Obey, Live!

John 3:36 is a wonderfully concise, wonderfully direct articulation of the Gospel.  The verse says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (ESV).  In this one statement we hear of sin, wrath, and death, answered with belief, life, and grace.  We hear that all people stand already under the wrath of God (the wrath of God remains on him), but also that this disaster need not persist.  In particular, notice the parallel between “believes in the Son” (which results in life) and “does not obey the Son” (which results in death).  This parallel demonstrates the inherent link between belief and obedience.  They are two sides of the same coin that is salvation.  I do not believe Jesus Christ if my life does not belong to him in obedience.  Conversely, I am not obeying Jesus (regardless of how squeaky clean I may think myself) if I do not believe that he is the Son of God.

In saying these things, I am not preaching a message of perfectionistic salvation, not at all!  The greatest step of obedience to Jesus Christ that anyone makes is to confess their guilt as a sinner and their need for Jesus’ righteousness to become their own: my sin on him, his righteousness on me (something we express in theological terms as “double imputation”).  The person who undertakes this surrender of faith – the person experiencing God’s electing and empowering grace that makes them able for such surrender – is someone walking in obedience (and thus belief) to Christ.  This first step of obedience will foster continued obedience, such that the obedient life after Jesus becomes, perhaps, the chief marker of genuine faith, of real belief.

Do you believe Jesus Christ this morning?  If so, you are even now living life that is eternal.  Do you obey Jesus Christ this morning?  If so, your confession of belief is indeed genuine.  Praise God!  If your answer to either question is “no,” then friend, take warning!  May it not be said of you that the wrath of God remains on you still.

Imbibing the Wine of Love

I am meditating this morning, albeit briefly, on John 2:1-12.  The passage drips with significance for Jesus, his ministry, and an understanding of the Gospel.  Water contained in stone jars used for ritual purification (in the rabbinic-pharisaic, Jewish system derived from the Law of Moses) transforms, at the “word” of Christ, into wine more than suitable for a celebration!  That which bound the human soul becomes that which delights the human soul.  That which held in bondage becomes a thing of freedom.  All of this takes place in the context of a wedding…a wedding…a celebration of the loving, human “one-flesh-ness” between husband and wife; that which is a unique pointer to Jesus himself, and indeed to the very nature of our triune God.  It takes place in the context of a wedding at which Jesus is a guest; he who is the greatest of all bridegrooms; he whose wedding celebration approaches still.  Free, joyous, intimacy with God appears on the horizon of this passage like the dawn beginning to break after a dark night.  What a glorious beginning to Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel of John!

But, what does all this mean for my life I wonder?  How does this stupendous Gospel event intersect with P.J. Davis’ day on July 20, 2020?  It’s easy for me to live in the world of stone jars filled with ritual purification water.  There is a certain false comfort of “control” in self-righteous “law.”  Conversely, there is a certain perceived risk of “non-control” in the free celebration of love.  Love means opening oneself first to God and then to others.  Being open means being open to hurt, not from God, but from others.  Living the freedom of love also means the possibility of being found “in the wrong” by some who eschew the wine of freedom and prefer still to live with water-filled stone jars.  Living love is a risky thing.  But whoever said that life shouldn’t be risky?  Indeed, isn’t holy risk in the freedom of the Gospel part of what makes real life real?

Still, I sense a caution for myself.  I’m ready to soar the heights in my thinking and feeling with John 2:1-12, but there’s something tethering me still to earth.  I’m ready to do what John Gillespie Magee Jr. lyricizes in his poem, “High Flight” – to slip the surly bonds of earth…to dance the sky on laughter silvered wings…to put out my hand and touch the face of God.  But, there’s something holding me back.  It’s sin – both the fear of sin (which isn’t of God’s Spirit), and the reality of my remaining battle against sin (which is ever so real).  You see, while I’m made for the celebratory wine of love, sin has a way of deceptively hijacking my imbibing of the stuff.  I begin drinking, toasting the bridegroom, namely Christ, enjoying my fellow banqueters, and yet I’m prone to find myself off in a corner, alone, toasting the drinker, namely P.J.  In that case, I find that what I’m drinking is no longer wine, it’s not even water.  Rather, it’s something more like foul sludge.  The answer in such moments is not a return to water-filled stone jars.  Instead, it’s a return to the bridegroom.  Wine is only wine in the presence of the bridegroom.  The free love of God is only a safe thing, it’s only a real thing, when in covenant intimacy with Jesus himself.

All of this helps my longing for heaven.  One of the beauties of heaven will be the free exercise of love with no need to “check six” for the lurking deception of sin.  In heaven, that last earthbound link will slip its mooring.  In heaven, my imbibing of the wedding feast wine will know no limits, no dangers, no missteps, and no sense of self-conscious unease. Praise God for the wedding feast of the Lamb to come!

“It’s Just a Thread” – Another COVID Era Devotion

Brothers and Sisters,

We must be careful how we speak and think; or think and speak.  Have you noticed the dual mindset at work in our world at the moment?  On the one hand, we’re very ready to step beyond COVID-19 and get back to “normal.”  On the other hand, we have a sense – which we voice often, in many different ways – that the world will never be “normal” again. Instead, we speak of the “new normal,” a term I don’t particularly like.  Not to get off on a tangent, but I’m concerned that speaking of the “new normal” risks giving “experts” an outsized and inappropriate role in defining what life should look like post-pandemic.  No, I have no intention of wearing a mask for the rest of my life or staying six-feet from everyone else for years to come, vaccine or no vaccine.  It is right that we acknowledge the ways in which the COVID pandemic has transformed, is transforming, and will transform our world.  Certainly, there are events in history, usually cataclysmic, after which everything changes – the plagues of Exodus, the rise and fall of empires, the Black Death of Europe, and World War II, just to name a few.  But, as Christians, it’s important that we step back and consider the larger perspective.

The larger perspective reminds us that God rules sovereign over all things, all time, and everyone.  From the perspective of eternity, the COVID pandemic is, and will be, just one small thread in the grand tapestry of time.  It will appear bright and distinct in that portion of the tapestry which depicts the end of 2019 and the whole of 2020.  But, despite momentary clarity, move backward or forward in the tapestry’s illustration of history and you won’t be able to follow the COVID-19 thread for very long.  It will quickly become lost in all that God is doing.  Think of the millions, the billions, the uncountable different threads our Creator is weaving into the grand story of his glory on display; on display for all to see, and especially for his people to delight over.  COVID-19 is just one part, one small part, one brief part, of that masterpiece.

Finally, we must not forget that this tapestry God is weaving means something for each of us personally.  I don’t know all that God is doing with COVID-19, but I do know some of what he is about.  And that “some” is enough to sustain us through the long-haul, even amidst frustration at the bumbling responses of fallible human beings (ourselves included) to an overwhelming event.  Here’s what I mean…here’s what God is about in this pandemic for you who follow Jesus as Lord and Savior:

 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30, NASB).

What is God about in this pandemic?  Well, in part he’s about working for your progressive, and eventually completed, glorification.  God means to glorify you together with Jesus in the day of Christ.  He’s about that work for you, and for untold millions of your brothers and sisters in Jesus around the world.  As we pray (and well we should) that God would end this crisis and our suffering in it, let’s also pray that he would not do so until he has accomplished all he means to do with COVID-19.  In the meantime, we can welcome each day as it comes.

Love in Christ,

P.J.

“A Bone to Pick” – Another COVID Era Devotion

Brothers and Sisters,

I have a small bone to pick with myself this morning; with myself and, I suppose, many others like me.  It’s a hermeneutical bone, meaning a bone that has to do with my observation, interpretation, and application of Scripture.  It’s a very small bone, and so I’ll be brief.

In reading through Romans 3 this morning, I came to verses 21-31, which includes that ever-so-famous statement, Romans 3:23 (NASB) – “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Now, I’ve used that verse many times (and will use it many times in the future) to make the point that all of humanity stands sinful before God apart from faith in Jesus Christ.  Indeed, I’m correct to do so.  It’s right that Romans 3:23 would find employment in making the point that all have sinned.  But, and here’s the bone to pick with myself, condemnation is not so much Paul’s emphasis in those verses.  He spends much of Romans 1:18-2:29 making the case for condemnation.  By chapter three, verses 21-31, he’s working again on the great theme begun in chapter 1, verses 16-17 (NASB): For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”

Just as all men have sinned against God and stand guilty – without distinction as to Jew and Gentile – so God’s salvation comes to all, without distinction of persons, through faith in Jesus Christ.  The Apostle is not saying that God saves everyone (a heretical, universalist view of salvation), but that salvation by grace through faith is freely available to all who will come to Jesus.  There is, humanly speaking, no prerequisite to faith in Jesus Christ; no qualification of status, race, money, age, power, beauty, strength, virtue, action, knowledge, wisdom, or capacity.  What encouragement!  What exhortation!  Why stand apart from the one ready to save you when nothing prevents your coming to him?  All have sinned against God, yes.  God is judge, the one who condemns and will punish sin, yes.  But, grace conquers sin!  God is also rescuer.  Salvation is available to all who will receive it.  May you be such a person today.

In Christ,

P.J.