Unrestrained Mercy, Unrestrained Praise

Psalm 40.1-11

God does not restrain his mercy toward us.

The apostle Paul tells us that God has lavished the riches of his grace on us (Eph. 1:7-8); the apostle John tells us that God has lavished his great love on us (1 John 3.1).

And here in this Psalm we see the results of that unrestrained mercy:

“he turned to me and heard my cry.
   He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
   He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.”

In the light of God’s unrestrained mercy, we are challenged to ask ourselves: Have we restrained our lips?  Have we held back from proclaiming his saving acts to one another? Have we hidden his love and faithfulness from one another?

God does not restrain himself when it comes to his love and his mercy toward us.  He has turned to us; he has heard our cry; he has lifted us up out of the mud and given us a firm place to stand. He protects us; he preserves us; he keeps us.  As we read earlier this week, “He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1.8-9).  “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim 2.13).

Let our time together (and apart) ever reflect God’s unrestrained mercy and love toward us.

Let us be unrestrained in our thanks and praise, for it is as we do that, that “many will see and fear the Lord, and put their trust in him.”

Without a Doubt

(Read Luke 2:1-14)

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
(Luke 2:11)

I love the specificity of this account.  Luke, who was writing an “orderly account” of the events surrounding the life of Christ gives us specific, historically verifiable information regarding the birth of Christ.  He gives us a time frame and names (“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…when Quirinius was governor of Syria…”); he also gives us an occasion (“a census”).

Luke gives us background information on Joseph. He tells us where Joseph lives, (“from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth”), and he gives us Joseph’s family lineage (“he was of the house and lineage of David”).

In other words, Luke is telling us: this is what happened; this is when and where it happened; this is who it happened to, and why it happened to them. There was research; there were interviews from eyewitnesses to the actual events.  Luke’s gospel is an investigative report.  Luke was conducting an investigation so that Theophilus would “have certainty” of the things he had been taught.  Theophilus would be left without a doubt.

Then we have the announcement of the angel to the shepherds in the field. The revelation to the shepherds came with a ‘when’ (‘this day’) and ‘where’ (‘in the city of David’), a ‘what’ (‘a baby…lying in a manger’) and a ‘who’ (‘a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’)

The long-awaited Messiah was clearly revealed.  He was revealed by an angel from heaven, accompanied by the glory of the Lord, and followed by praises to God from a multitude of the heavenly host. There was no doubt, there was no confusion in the angel’s message:  The Messiah has come.  Heaven came to earth to point the way to the Savior.  Hallelujah!

Meanwhile in Matthew’s Gospel, there was someone else who needed to have his doubts removed:  Joseph, the husband of Mary.  His betrothed wife was with child – and not by him. (Questions of Jesus’ paternity would follow him into adulthood – you know how people are).

It took an angel from heaven to tell Joseph that his wife was carrying one conceived by the Holy Spirit; he was THE ONE who would save his people from their sins.

From the time of Moses (and even before then) and through the time of the prophets, a Savior – the Messiah – was promised in the Scriptures. Many Jews like Simeon and Anna, who were at the temple when Jesus was presented (Luke 2), were waiting for the salvation of Israel.  Before them were countless others who “though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.” (Hebrews 11.39).

But we have received what was promised.  Not only do we have the writings of Moses and the prophets, we have the account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We have the account of the early church. We have the teaching of the apostles. We have the Scriptures, “written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15.4)

Like Luke’s friend Theophilus, we can have certainty concerning Christ; may this Christmas find us without a doubt.

Merry Christmas!

Call to Worship – Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
    An ever-present help in trouble.…

God is not an abstract helper; He is not a thought or concept that we use as a coping mechanism to see us through difficult times.  He is present – not just present, but actively present.

God does not passively observe the things that happen on earth and in our lives. He is sovereign; he does whatever pleases Him (Psalm 115.3).  He is actively working out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster (Prov. 16.3). He is with us in every circumstance; there is no place that we can go where God is not (Psalm 139.7-12). He does not take a break; he neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121.4).

That is why the psalmist writes, “therefore we will not fear though the earth give way; though the “nations are in uproar [and] kingdoms fall,” the city of God and the people of God will not be moved.  The things that we see happening in the earth that strike fear into the hearts of men are all part of God’s workings.

What do we need to know?  We need only to know that the Lord Almighty is with us…he is our fortress.

What do we need to do? We need only to be still, and know that He is God; He will be exalted among the nations.

He is indeed a mighty fortress!

The Call to Worship – Psalm 8

“O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

When the name of the LORD passes our lips, is it accompanied by the majesty that goes with it?

• Is it accompanied by thanks and praise?
• Is it spoken with fear and reverence?
• Is it spoken to others – to let them know of His majesty?

Nowadays His name has become an exclamation point; His name has been used to curse others; His name has been used to express everything but His majesty.

“You have set your glory above the heavens.”

There is something beyond the heavens; when we look up and take a moment to take in the majesty of God’s creation in the heavens, those very heavens are telling us that there is something beyond them. It is the glory of God!

Psalm 19.1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”

While we can marvel at the fact that we have been made a little lower than the heavenly beings and given dominion over the works of his hands, we must always remember that we are part of God’s creation. We have not been created to celebrate our own greatness or awesomeness; we were created to celebrate and proclaim His.

“O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Let us be a people whose lips proclaim the majesty of God!

The Call to Worship – Psalm 84

Call to Worship – Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
    to the living God… (v.1-2)

To worship at the temple was the greatest joy of the psalmist, to the point where his soul longed – even fainted for the courts of the Lord.  Elsewhere, he writes:

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God. (Ps. 42.1)

His thirst is for God himself.  Jesus expressed this same longing during his time on earth when he said, ““My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” The worshiper’s longing for God surpasses even the desire for the things that we need to sustain usGod himself is the prize.

To worship at the temple meant a journey of at least a day; worship at the temple was required for the appointed feasts, but it was not seen as a duty by the psalmist.

Being in the presence of the Lord was worth whatever effort we need to make.

The psalmist writes, “Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!” For us in Christ, God’s spirit now dwells in us.

How blessed we are!

The Call to Worship – Psalm 34:8-22

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34.8)

We have an invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good!

This is an invitation that comes from David, someone who had been “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4.8-10).  In other words, this invitation comes from someone who is in deep relationship with God (Ps, 34.1-7) and who has seen God’s faithfulness firsthand. His testimony is clear: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles” (v.6).

David goes on to testify:

…Those who fear the Lord have no lack
…Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing
…His eyes are toward the righteous
…His ears hear our cry for help
…He delivers us from all our troubles
…He is near to the brokenhearted
…He saves the crushed in spirit
…He redeems the life of his servants
…there is no condemnation for those who take refuge in Him.

But within this invitation to taste and see is also an invitation to discipleship:

 “Come…I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”

It is the same invitation that Jesus extends to us in the Gospel: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11.29)

So come – taste and see – but stay and learn. Learn firsthand the things that David testifies to in this Psalm, that we would in turn, testify as David did and invite others to taste and see.

Taste and see!

Managing our Master’s Possessions

Text:  Luke 16:1-9; 10-13

The manager in our text was in charge of his master’s estate. He had oversight of the household supplies and budget – much like Joseph who was put in charge of Potiphar’s household and of everything that he owned (Genesis 39). The difference here is the Lord was with Joseph and he prospered – meaning that his master prospered as well.  In fact, Potiphar did so well that “he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.”

The manager in our parable however is dishonest, and as a result, his master’s possessions go to waste. His mismanagement finally catches up with him and he is fired. Here we see the biblical principle (spiritual physics) of reaping and sowing illustrated (Gal. 6:7).

How does the manager react when confronted? Unlike David’s confession in Psalm 51, there was no confession. There was no acknowledgment of sin; there was no crying out for forgiveness.  Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, the manager’s default reaction of self-preservation kicked in.  That is the sin nature that resides in all of us; when confronted by our sin, our default reaction is to hide from God and to try to fix things ourselves.

This manager who had abused his position and squandered his master’s possessions, continued to look out for himself; his interest was in preserving his lifestyle.  He had a position of status with the business people in the community and he probably had a nice room in the main house, if not his own quarters; he wasn’t about to give that up.

He rules out manual labor, and he rules out begging because of the shame; he’s a proud man.

Instead, he finds a way to keep those who are indebted to his master indebted to him; by discounting the debt owed to his master.  In the business world, we call this a “win-win;” were all parties come away with something favorable:  the master of the house recovered some of the money owed to him; the debtors got a break on the amount owed, and the manager found a way to keep his relationships.  His shrewdness draws praise from his master – not that the master approves of his deeds; he is admiring the manager’s ability to look out for himself.

Before we go off thinking of how we can emulate this man in our own practices, let us also remember that receiving the approval of men doesn’t mean that we have approval from God. And as we will see a bit later, you cannot have both.

In his explanation of the parable, Jesus is drawing a contrast between the people of this world and the people of the kingdom – and to call his followers to account.

“For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

This is not a compliment; Jesus is letting us know where we fall short.

“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

He is telling us that the people of this world (unbelievers) do a better job of using their money to advance their own (selfish) interests than the people of God use money to advance the kingdom of God and his purposes.

Put another way, when Jesus says to “use worldly wealth…” he is reinforcing his teaching from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:19-24).

It’s important to remember that there is much encouragement here. We have the promise and reassurance that God knows what we need and promises to meet those needs. As the people of God, we have been freed from worrying about the material needs of life. God has freed us so that we can concern ourselves with building the kingdom of God and live a life of faith that is pleasing to him.

If our priority is to accumulate treasures on this earth, then Jesus says that our “eyes are unhealthy, and [our] whole body will be full of darkness,” meaning that if we see everything in terms of what we can get for ourselves, that view will affect or infect every area of our lives as we make decisions with ourselves at the center of our thinking.

We have to ask ourselves some questions:  How are we handling our worldly wealth?  Are we using it to enrich ourselves and to elevate our own status and lifestyle? Or, are we using it to advance the kingdom of God and to build up the people of God?  Are we using it to bring increase to our Master, or do we bury it in the ground to try to preserve it?  (Matt. 25:14-30)

The early church (Acts 2.44-45; 4:32b) beautifully illustrates this principle of using money to advance the kingdom of God and build up his people:

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

The concept of “mine” took a back seat to the purposes of God.  No one was working to accumulate wealth or to store up treasures on earth. By sharing and giving, the believers were working to store up treasures in heaven. They understood that worldly wealth will someday be gone (Luke 16:9), but it can still be used to build eternal things.

We can take this passage and use it to examine our own lives. How we handle worldly wealth reveals what is in our hearts:  if we are dishonest with little, we will be dishonest with much; if we’re not trustworthy with worldly wealth, how can we be entrusted with true riches?

Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that you can serve both God and money. Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) thought they could do both. They were wrong.

Jesus said it plainly: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

What can we take away from this parable?

  1. Money and wealth are not inherently evil. It is the love of money that is a root or source of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). The Pharisees were lovers of money (v.15) and they viewed Jesus with contempt when he spoke this parable. Their love of money caused them to void the commandment of God and replace them with their own traditions (Matt. 15:3-6).
  2. God wants us to see money differently. Instead of using it to secure a lifestyle for ourselves, we can use it to build his kingdom, bring him glory and build up his people. (Acts 2.44-45; 4:32b, 34)
  3. God has freed us to do so (Matt. 6:25-33). He has promised to meet our material needs; he tells us not to worry about these things, so that we can be free to serve him fully and joyfully.