Secure in God’s Love.

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31b-39, ESV)

What Paul gives us here is an appropriate message as we end one year and start another. God knows we are sinners who are in constant need of His mercy. Yet, as the apostle Paul tells us, once God has justified us, nothing can take away His love for us. The fact that nothing can separate God from those who are united with Christ Jesus is a powerful truth that can counteract and nullify one of the most potent weapons of the forces of the world, the flesh and the devil: shame.

Shame intimidates and causes hurtful wounds. Shame is a whip wielded by our friends, relatives and even our spiritual leaders to enforce compliance to a code of external standards. It is even a weapon we wield against our selves. Believers who believe they are hopelessly defective find their conscience punishing them for almost anything they think, say and do. A skilled spiritual abuser or a thoughtless relative or acquaintance can exercise great power over shame-filled individuals, for their conscience is an open wound that does not heal.They seek healing and relief, but find only more pain as unthinking, unfeeling, selfish, uncaring people continually irritate their inflamed conscience with rules and laws that remind them only of their defects.

Now guilt and shame are not the same thing. Guilt is the feeling of having wronged God because of a specific sin. Guilt leads the believer to confess his sin and find forgiveness and relief. Shame, however, is the belief that one is irreparably defective in the sight of God and man. It is composed of global guilt over non-specific sins, as well as feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy. Shame fails to appropriate the grace of God to inner hurts. 

Yet the words of Paul offer healing and freedom for such people for it enables them to understand the unalterable nature of God’s grace, acceptance and love. God does not condemn His elect whom He has justified and declared righteous. His verdict is the only one that matters and it is final. And it is written indelibly on our hearts by His Spirit. Therefore, if we still feel shame, if we feel still hopelessly defective, even after we have confessed our sins, we must ask the Lord to help us to appropriate the truth of His unalterable verdict. We must ask the Holy Spirit to make the truth of our security in Christ real to us. Then, when we are able to appropriate God’s free gift of righteousness, we can move on to carry out God’s will, secure in His eternal love. 

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The warning of Simeon.

“And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:33-35, ESV)

No doubt Mary was amazed because this man Simeon was unknown to them yet he confirmed the revelation that had been uttered to her by the angel Gabriel. She was amazed to hear this stranger speak to her of the wonders that God would do through her son. But the words also saddened and grieved her. The blessing Mary received in the honor of being chosen to bear the Messiah came with a bitter edge to it. She would feel joy yet it would give way to sorrow so unbearable that it would break her heart. And this suffering was for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind

Simeon prophesied that her child would cause division and dissent and that a sword would pierce her heart. Though she could not imagine what this would be we know that this is a reference to the crucifixion. This would the agent which would divide men for it would reveal their hearts. Jesus Himself is the dividing point of all men, the dividing point of all history. His life and death affect the lives of everyone who ever lived or would ever live right down to the present day and beyond. How one responds to Him, to His death on the cross determines where one will spend eternity. On one hand, the rich, the powerful, the proud, the egotistical and self-righteous will think they are fine without Him. They will fall because they would reject Him and His offer of salvation. The oppressed, the losers, the powerless, the humble, the repentant, they would all be raised up for they will accept Jesus with thanksgiving and gladness. 

The Expression of God’s Love.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, ESV)
The opening verses of John’s gospel take us back before the book of Genesis. Before God created anything, He existed. The Word that John writes of is Jesus. He has come to speak the truth and to bring the light of God into the sin-darkened world. He is the Messiah who was promised to the Jews, yet He existed always; He created all things; He holds all things together by His power. He is God incarnate, in the flesh. If we want to know what God is like, we must look at Jesus who is the fullness of God’s revelation to man. He is full of mercy, truth and peace. The Law of Moses too was truth but it revealed that we needed God for the Law was an onerous burden which was impossible to keep. The good news is that though we cannot keep the Law Jesus came to do this by becoming the Lamb of God, the sacrifice which would atone for the sins of all mankind.
Jesus is who He says He is, but not all would agree, particularly the rulers of the Jews, the ones who held religious authority in the time Jesus was born. Though they claimed to walk in the light they were dwelling in spiritual darkness. While it was true that they looked for the Messiah, Jesus was not who they expected. They looked for a warrior King who would throw off the yoke of Roman oppression and establish a new and victorious nation, not a baby born in a manger, not a suffering servant who would be executed like a criminal. Those who were oppressed by sin and Satan, these would accept Jesus. They would no longer dwell in darkness, but in the light of God’s truth revealed in the Word. They share that light that all may enter into the peace of God’s Kingdom.

Blessed Mary.

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

(Luke 1:42b-44, ESV)
After the angel Gabriel had appeared later to Mary to tell her that she was to give birth she went off to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant. The baby in Elizabeth’s womb rejoiced at Mary’s presence because of the baby in her womb, Jesus, the Savior. Elizabeth announced that Mary was highly favored, blessed for she, though not perfect, had been chosen by God to be the mother of His Divine Son.
Like Mary, Elizabeth’s husband had received a visitation from the angel Gabriel who announced that his wife was going to give birth to the Lord’s messenger. Yet, unlike her kinsman, Zachariah, Mary was a simple country girl, unschooled in the scriptures. Still she knew the Lord and had faith in Him. She knew He was capable of mighty deeds, yet the message the angel Gabriel gave her made no sense since the supernatural conception of a child by the Holy Spirit was something never heard of before. And yet Mary was willing to do what the Lord commanded even if she did not fully comprehend how it was to happen.
Mary knew, as she expressed in her son of praise, the Magnificat, that the Lord exalted the lowly. She praised Him because He called the least likely people to accomplish His work, not the rich, famous and mighty. His ways and His will confound humans because He does things contrary to what the world thinks best. He always favors and blesses the lowly, the humble, the insignificant, and uses them to accomplish His greatest works. People like Mary and people like us.

Only God Change The Human Heart.

“And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.” (Micah 5:4-5a, ESV)
Micah pronounced a vision of the coming Kingdom. He prophesied the coming of the real and eternal King, the Messiah. The greatest of all Kings and rulers was to come out of a lowly town of Bethlehem, the city of David. The Messiah, like his ancestor David, would rule over all the people of Israel. He would defeat all those who opposed Him or persecuted His people. He would destroy all the idols and all the false religions and bring judgment upon all those nations, people and prophets who promoted evil and sin. The Messiah will be honored and glorified by all.
Jesus is the Messiah who has fulfilled the prophecy! He was born in Bethlehem. He did not come as a military genius or a political leader, or even as a community activist or organizer. Yet He came to establish a kingdom. He did this by sacrificing His own dignity, position and life through His death as a common criminal. He then called weak, despised and inept people to spread the kingdom not with swords, guns, or bombs but with truth, mercy and love. Though the lot of His followers has never been easy they have brought down mighty kingdoms by letting people know that God loves them even though they (and we) do not deserve it. God’s acceptance and mercy can do more to change the hearts of men than laws, threats, or violence.

More Words about the Peace of God.

“Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
20  At that time I will bring you in,
at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes,” says the Lord.”
(Zephaniah 3:19-20, ESV).

As we approach the feast of Christmas the message of Zephaniah reminds us that the Messiah, Jesus, is the King of Peace. He came to free people from the oppression of sin and Satan and to bring peace to the earth, peace with God and peace among all mankind. Perhaps this is why the violence of terrorism is so very painful and seems more tragic when it occurs around holiday time. It disrupts holiday events. And it should. It should make us all more mindful of our need for unity among all peoples, a unity that can exist only in and through Christ Jesus.

The idea that true peace and unity in Christ alone is an unpopular message in our politically correct world. The media, the government and various activist groups would have us believe that all religions are equal and that all worship the same God or “god force”. They would also have us believe that basically all religions desire freedom and peace for all people, aside from, of course, the violent agenda of radical sects and individuals. Yet the words of the Lord spoken through the prophet Zephaniah tell us that it is the Lord God Almighty who alone can and will break the yoke of oppression and restore His people into right relationship with Himself. This is because only Jesus can restore us to the perfection and bliss of Eden by means of His sacrifice on the altar of the cross. He is the only God who loves His people so much that He came down to be one of us, to be our perfect offering for sin. There is none like Him!

 

Reason to Rejoice.

“Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.” (Zephaniah 3:14-15 ESV).
In the beginning of this chapter, Zephaniah warned the people of Judah that God’s wrath was about to fall upon them because of their sinfulness and idolatry. He then abruptly shifted his focus to describe the joys of the coming Kingdom that the Lord will establish once He has purified the earth and cleansed it from its wickedness. He will deliver those who put their trust in Him because He loves them so very much. No longer will they be an object of derision and subject to violence and persecution at the hands of their oppressors.

This is cause for great rejoicing. The Lord is surely going to send judgement upon the earth for the sins of mankind. The Lord has sent enough warnings to us in the scriptures and through His church of these coming days of tribulation. These warnings are designed to lead people to Him so that He might have mercy on them and forgive them. The calamities themselves have the same intended purpose as do the promises of a blessed future for those who repent, for it is the humble who will inherit the kingdom, not bullies or arrogant or boastful people.

None of us is saved by our works, but by the unmerited grace of God. It is inappropriate for any believer, therefore, to gloat over the sure punishments which will befall the wicked or to look forward to them with glee. Instead we should pray that we may endure with steadfast faith in God through these rough times. We should also work to show the mercy and love of Christ to everyone that does not deserve it with the hope that they may indeed turn to the Lord and repent.