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…
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.
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…
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.
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!
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,
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.
Brothers and Sisters,
By way of a short “devotional” email today, I want to commend to you three encouragements:
The first are these wonderful words from Psalm 95:1-7a (ESV): Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise. For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”
The second is an episode from the podcast, “Ask Pastor John,” which posted yesterday. If you click here, you can listen to John Piper address the question, “Is the Calvinist-Arminian Debate Really Important?” I highlight this episode because it relates to our sermon last Sunday generally, and to our discussion in Sunday School particularly. Especially if you were part of the Sunday School conversation, let me encourage you to give this 15-minute episode a listen.
Finally, consider visiting and becoming familiar with The Gospel Coalition website. This theological movement of believers from various denominational contexts is an important element of the church’s experience in America today. You’ll find much through TGC that can edify your walk with Christ. Incidentally, one of TGC’s two key founders, Don Carson, long stood near the center of theological education in the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) through his teaching role at Trinity University.
Praying you are enjoying your Tuesday in Jesus…
Brother and Sisters,
It’s felt like a long week…and it’s just Wednesday night. Not a bad week mind you, but long. Much of my thinking, and no small amount of effort, has been consumed with questions of when we may be able to gather again as Felton Bible Church. In light of Governor Newsom’s four-stage approach to reopening our state (and where churches fit into that plan) we have some challenging questions to wrestle with. Those questions include (or may include) if, when, or how it might be necessary to take issue with that plan (Note: I’m not saying here that we should do so, but just remarking on the considerations at hand). In thinking over these things today, I was also encouraged/struck by the reminder from a brother pastor in our valley with respect to this thought: “What is God about with us as Jesus’ church right now? What is he doing to shape and change us for the future?”
In Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus taught his disciples the hard truth of what awaited him, and thus them, in Jerusalem (the same truth we encountered on April 12th, Resurrection Sunday, with Luke 18:31-34). What awaited Jesus and his followers was very hard, tragically hard even; nothing less than suffering and death. Though he also said it would end in the glory of resurrection, Jesus’ men, evidenced by Peter, got stuck on the hard. In fact, Peter pulled his Rabbi (also the one he had just proclaimed to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God”) aside “…and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You’” (Matthew 16:22, NASB). Imagine, rebuking God himself in the flesh! Oh wait…I’m pretty sure I’ve done nearly the same thing…more than once. Jesus’ response to Peter was both swift and penetrating: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23, NASB).
Now, consider our situation. I don’t know exactly what will come of Governor Newsom’s plan as it pertains to Felton Bible Church (not to mention the many hurting folks in our community). I don’t know exactly how we should respond as a congregation, other than we must (and will) begin with prayer. But I do know this, I don’t want to respond like Peter. I don’t want our Great Shepherd to have cause to say to us: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me…” Undoubtedly, we’ve walked a difficult road in the last forty-plus days (though, in God’s mercy, haven’t we seen much blessing along the way?). It could be that we will walk through yet more pronounced difficulties before we emerge from shelter-in-place. It could be that God’s call on us as people in submission to our authorities will mean weeks more of “virtual” church. It could also be that we will need to take a particular sort of stand in response to undue restrictions. I don’t know. I do know that we want to be in lock-step with our Savior. May we set our mind not on man’s interest, but God’s. Beyond suffering and death, the glory of resurrection awaited Jesus and his disciples. We too, as followers of Christ, hope – in a sure, certain, anticipating kind of way – for the same thing: life after death. As a microcosm of that great hope, we hope now – in a sure, certain, anticipating kind of way – for the life God will give us on the other side of COVID-19.
So, hoping with you in light of what God has done…what he is doing now…and what he will do in the weeks ahead…
I remain yours In Christ,
Brothers and Sisters,
It’s Day 40…forty days since we in Santa Cruz County, California entered into life under a shelter-in-place order (assuming I have my count right). We should mark today as something special. Why? Well, recall the prominence of “forty” as a symbolic number in Scripture, particularly as a marker of testing and endurance. Here’s what I mean:
During the flood, Noah and his family endured rain that blanketed the earth for forty days (Genesis 7:4, 12).
Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai in the presence of God, eating and drinking nothing…twice (Exodus 24:18; Deuteronomy 9:9, 10:10).
The spies of Israel observed the land of Canaan for forty days (Numbers 13:25).
Israel spent forty years in the wilderness as a result of the people’s disobedience against God when faced with entering the land of Canaan (Numbers 32:13).
For forty days Goliath challenged the armies of Israel and insulted the God of Israel, before David killed him with a sling stone (1 Samuel 17:16).
David ruled as king over Judah and Israel for forty years (2 Samuel 5:4).
Solomon, David’s son, also reigned as king for forty years (1 Kings 11:42).
Elijah, after fleeing in fear from Jezebel, spent forty days and forty nights journeying to Mount Horeb to meet with God (1 Kings 19:8).
The prophet Ezekiel lay on his side for forty days in symbolic representation of Judah’s sin (Ezekiel 4:6).
Jesus fasted in the wilderness and battled Satan’s temptations there for forty days and nights (Matthew 4:2; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2).
After his resurrection, Jesus ministered for forty days before ascending to the right hand of his Father (Acts 1:3).
Now, here we are, forty days into a time we never anticipated. Haven’t we been tested? Do we believe that God is faithful? Do we believe he is sovereign, in control, purposeful, doing all things out of love for his children? Do we believe he is judge, the one who does not allow sin to go unchecked and unaddressed? Think back over the last forty days and consider: What has God done during this time to get your attention in a particular way? What dark corners of your heart has he exposed to the light of his Word? How has he shown you love in a manner you never experienced previously?
As you reflect, take a moment and be thankful, deeply thankful, for God’s preserving grace in your life. Listen to what Moses told the Hebrews as their forty years came to an end and they prepared to receive the inheritance promised to Abraham: “…the LORD your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing” (Deuteronomy 2:7). In the last forty days, you and I have not lacked anything necessary to glorify God, enjoy him, and love others. We have been tested, and God proved faithful. Will he fail to be faithful still in the forty days to come? Certainly not!
On that note of God’s faithfulness, I am going to end this series of daily devotionals. The test of this COVID era will undoubtedly continue still, but we’ve found our stride for as long as God means for us to endure. It’s been a privilege to meet with you each day. There will be more devotionals to come in the weeks ahead, but they will be periodical rather than daily. May the Lord bless you and keep you until the next moment I’m prompted to write. Who knows, it might even be tomorrow!