Archives For Devotional

Joy - DefinitionThere are few topics that are more worthy of the Christian’s study and attention than the topic of Christian joy and rejoicing. Gordon Fee hits the nail on the head when he writes, “Joy…lies at the heart of the Christian experience of the gospel; it is the fruit of the Spirit in any truly Christian life, serving as primary evidence of the Spirit’s presence” (The Epistle to the Philippians, 81). He goes onto say that, “Unmitigated, untrammeled joy is . . . the distinctive mark of the believer in Christ Jesus” (ibid., 404). The great British expositor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, wrote that, “Nothing was more characteristic of the first Christians than this element of joy” (Life of Peace, 143). Elsewhere he said, “The greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful church” (Spiritual Depression, 5). And perhaps the great Puritan Richard Baxter said it best when he said, “Delighting in God, and in his word and ways, is the flower and life of true religion” (The Cure of Melancholy, 257).

This teaching absolutely permeates the entire New Testament and is everywhere confirmed by it. Take in this staggering emphasis on the centrality of joy in the Christian life as revealed in Scripture.

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Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a collection of entertaining stories narrated by Medieval pilgrims to pass the time on their journey. One storyteller who spins a yarn for his ambulant audience is the Pardoner. He is a priest whose job it s to dole out penance and grant pardon to the penitent for their sins. As it turns out, this empathetic Pardoner is himself intimately acquainted with the very debauchery he so liberally pardons. His findings are encapsulated in the Latin dictum: Radix malorum est cupiditas (literally, “the root of evil is greed”).Money on the brain

The plot of the Pardoner’s Tale concerns three men who blame Death for all the pain and suffering in the world. (Bear in mind that the Pardoner’s opinion is that greed is to blame, not death).

The three friends vow to find Death and kill him once for all. On their quest they meet a old, poor man, who tells the determined young hunters where to locate Death. He promises that they will find Death waiting for them under the old oak tree. They bravely head out to said tree.

When they arrive at the designated oak, what they find astonishes them: a huge stash of gold coins. The gold is enough to make all three of them rich for the rest of their lives, if split equally. But, naturally, they all covet more than their rightful share, and they each begin to ponder ways of acquiring a larger slice of the pie.

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February 14, 2014

The school of snow

by Jesse Johnson
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Image from createdsign.com

Yesterday much of the US woke up to a winter wonderland. Sheets of snow fell in the night—at my house we got over a foot. School was canceled and the ground was covered. For some people (like Canadians) this is normal. But for many cities, this was extremely unusual.

Have you ever wondered why it snows? I’m not talking about the hydrological reasons. I get that water freezes at a certain temperature, and that granular ice particles form and if the atmospheric pressure and ground temperature match some sort of range, voilá! Snow. But at a more basic level, why did God design a world in which it snows? What is snow designed to teach us? There are two major lessons from the school of snow:   Continue Reading…

“Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown . . .”
– Philippians 4:1 –

Laurel CrownThe way Paul addresses the Philippians in this verse is unparalleled in his writings. It is a piling up of no less than five terms of endearment, and it illustrates the love and affection that can and should exist between believers. Those final two terms are particularly noteworthy.

His Joy

He calls the Philippians themselves his joy. And that is a striking designation for a number of reasons. First, given Paul’s overwhelming emphasis on joy throughout the letter (there is some reference to joy and rejoicing 16 times in these four short chapters), it’s significant that he would identify his joy as the Philippians themselves. It’s also striking, secondly, because of where Paul is as he expresses that the Philippians are his joy: chained 18 inches away from a Roman soldier under house arrest, waiting to stand trial before the Roman Emperor. Paul’s joy is unshakable, because he does not derive his joy from the pleasantness and ease of his circumstances.

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The refrain: “in those days, everyone did what was right in their own eyes” echoes through the book of Judges. But it also echoes through our culture today. It is a sure sign of our world’s wickedness that it has taken a biblical phrase that expresses a complete surrender to sin, and turned it on its head, as if it were somehow virtuous to try and be a good person by living according to your own standards.

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An often-overlooked element of our culture’s sprint toward Sodom is the world view that people are capable judges of morality. In fact, if you were to ask your average American why they think they will go to heaven (assuming for the sake of argument that it exists), you would hear “because I am a good person.”

The follow up question has to immediately be, “why?” to which you will undoubtedly get the response: “because I try to do what is right,” or some variation therein. Maybe “because I always try to be a good person,” or “I help people,” or, “I live and let live.” But if you are really lucky, you may actually even hear them say, “Because I always do what is right in my own eyes.”

This phrase is, of course, drawn from the Bible. Its remarkable and more than a little bit ironic how today’s culture is quite familiar with this biblical statement. In fact, people borrow it liberally, failing to see that in the Bible, a culture is at its lowest when it views people as their source of morality. Continue Reading…

February 5, 2014

Judges Judging US

by Jesse Johnson

Judges-when wrong becomes rightLast week I wrote that the book of Judges has particular application to current popular culture, and that Christians today should familiarize themselves with it. Its likely that believers in every generation feel like theirs is the most wicked culture ever—but denying the serious speed at which ours is sliding toward Sodom would take note-worthy naiveté. In fact, it is a fair question: has any generation slid this far, this fast?

The answer, of course, is Yes, and the Bible has much to say about it. Now allow me to say this: I am not a fan of the Americanized reading and patriotic application of Scripture which is all too common. You should not read Revelation as if it described the phases of European history leading to the American Revolution. You should not read Joseph’s stock-piling of food as a sign for Americans to prepare for seven years of famine. And please, please, pretty please, don’t see Bartonesque Americana in Isaiah’s description of an eagle. Gag.

So the moral decline described in the book of Judges was not written as some sort of veiled prophetic description of the US. Yet at the same time, the delight in depravity displayed in those days certainly finds its parallel in our own world. And the Holy Spirit wants us to do more than just gawk at it: Judges is written for us to learn from it. Here are three lessons that I find particularly sobering (two for today, and one for tomorrow):   Continue Reading…

evictionSuppose there was a landlord who rented out his house to others. One day he sends a messenger to collect rent, and the tenants not only refuse to pay, but physically abuse the messenger and send him away empty-handed.

Instead of summoning the police, the owner sends another messenger. After all, this may have simply been a case of mistaken identity. This new messenger will have all of his credentials in order. But this second messenger is likewise abused.

Yet the landlord is still reluctant to evict the tenant, much less to call the police. Instead he sends a third messenger, and this one gets murdered. Still, the landlord holds out hope that one more messenger will do the trick, and get the tenants to pay the rent they owe. So he sends messenger after messenger, some of which are murdered, all of whom are abused and rejected.

Finally he sends his son—his only son—thinking that he will command the respect of the tenants, but instead they of course think, “if we murder the son, then there is nobody to charge us rent, and we can live here forever!”   Continue Reading…

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
– Philippians 3:20 –

TCitizens of Heaven_T_NVhis verse teaches us that the posture of the heavenly citizen is one of patient, eager anticipation of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. While we usually think of “waiting” and “anticipating” as generally being passive endeavors, the Greek word apekdechomai has a much more active force. The great 19th-century Scottish expositor, Alexander MacLaren, commenting on this verse, wrote, “The eagerness of the waiting which should characterize the expectant citizens is wonderfully described by the Apostle’s expression for it, which literally means ‘to look away out’ … like a sentry on the walls of a besieged city whose eyes are ever fixed on the pass amongst the hills through which the relieving forces are to come.” This eager anticipation is nothing less than the active fastening of one’s gaze and attention on a dearly desired end.

This is how the New Testament speaks of the Christian’s enthusiastic anticipation of the return of Christ.

  • In Galatians 5:5, Paul describes the Christian as one who “through the Spirit, by faith…eagerly wait[s] for the hope of righteousness” (ESV).
  • In his opening words to the Corinthians, he commends them for not lacking in any spiritual gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7).
  • In 1 Thessalonians 1:9 and 10, this is how Paul defines a Christian: one who “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven….”
  • And of course, in that section of the believer’s future hope in Romans 8, in verse 23, Paul says, “…even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”
  • And then in 2 Timothy 4:8, as Paul prepares himself to go to his execution, he looks forward to his heavenly reward and says, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

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There are no new sins, only more diverse and efficient ways of committing them. Before we let the mainstream of 21st Century culture catch us in its current, let’s hit pause for a moment and get our bearings. Perhaps it’s time to swim against the information flow.

Here are four godly disciplines to pursue in 2014 that have taken on a unique significance in the last five to ten years.

1. Pluck the I out of your iPhone.

not invincibleThe advent of smart phones has introduced an unprecedented rate of interruption into our social interactions. Phones have made us selfish and inconsiderate in ways that used to be deemed boorish and uncultured.

Formerly, if someone walked up to you and began talking while you were already engaged in another conversation, that the person would be considered rude.

But this decade has made us feel rude for not replying instantly to any interruption that hails from our phone.

You know how frustrating it is to be halted mid-sentence by a text chime tone, only to have the person you were talking with treat the “What’s up?” ping as if it were a life-and-death enquiry. I understand if Jack Bauer asked me to hold my thought while he checked the text message from the President. But very few people work for CTU or are on call to intercept a terrorist attack.

Most people answer their phones for one reason only: they heard it “Ping.” How Pavlovian can you get?

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In Luke 2:14 the angels sang these words: “Glory to God in the highest heaven! Peace on earth to those whom he pleases.”

This week I heard a worship leader explain that the lyrics of “Joy to the World” only made sense within the concept of a future millenial kingdom–a time where Jesus reigned on earth, and the ground would refuse to allow sin and sorrow to grow on it. That got me thinking–what other Christmas promises are there that are realized in a future kingdom?

Then I came across a Christmas sermon from Spurgeon on the angel’s declaration in Luke 2:14. This is what he says, and it makes for a hopeful Christmas devotional:   Continue Reading…