The Fairness of the LORD

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If a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?

“But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die.

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive. Because he considers and turns away from all the transgressions which he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair?

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord GOD. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord GOD. “Therefore turn and live!”

Ezekiel 1 tells us that Ezekiel was a priest and was taken captive during the Babylonian exile. At this point in Ezekiel, God is answering a false proverb common among the Israelites living in exile,

‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
And the children’s teeth are set on edge’? (Ezek 18:2)

The Israelite captives had a victim mentality. They were complaining that their hardship was judgment for the sins of previous generations. But God is rebuking their way of thinking and teaching them about how His righteousness works.

Israel believed that if they were “good” people—if they mostly obeyed the outward rules and regulations that God gave Israel through Moses—then God would look the other way when they practiced idolatry or fornication or other sins. But God was very clear that even the most upstanding citizen, if they sinned, they were guilty and deserved death. And even the most wretched sinner, if they repented, God was willing to forgive them and let them live.

It’s easy think the same way those Israelites were thinking. Have you ever thought, “I’m mostly a good person. I’m not as bad as that person over there. So God will excuse me when I do just this little bad thing.” Well, You can be the most upstanding citizen, obeying all the laws of the land and treating people with kindness. But you watch that show you know you shouldn’t, or you just have to have that car in your neighbor’s driveway, or you give in to drugs, alcohol, food, or other addictions.

God is clear that the righteous person who turns from righteousness and commits sin is guilty and deserves death. God is also clear that the sinner who repents and turns to God will find life. God doesn’t weight our righteousness and sin. There’s no balancing scale for the good and bad things we do. That’s ancient Egyptian mythology. That’s not biblical Christianity.

And that’s why Jesus came and died for us. Every one of us has sinned (Rom 3:23) and deserves death (Rom 6:23). But God loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly died on the cross, shedding his own blood as a sin-offering to cover our sins once-for-all, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life (John 3:15–16).

But how can we be sure that Jesus’s death was sufficient to cover our sins? How do we know that He is God the Son and not just some well-meaning, first-century charismatic magician with delusions of grandeur? Because Jesus rose from the dead, appeared to hundreds of eye-witnesses, ascended to heaven, and now lives in the presence of the Father, offering intercession for us (1 Cor 15:3–7; Rom 8:34).

This is why we celebrate communion, or the Lord’s Supper—to remember the death of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and celebrate the free gift of salvation God gave us through Him.

O the Joy

An original worship song based on Psalm 40:1-5.

Verse 1
Patiently i waited on the Lord
And he turned to me
And he heard my cry
Patiently i waited on the Lord
And he turned to me
And he heard my cry

Chorus
O the joy of trusting in the Lord
Not in men or patterns of this world
O he puts a new song on my lips
All will see the glory of the Lord
All will see the glory of the Lord

Verse 2
He lifted me up from the miry clay
Onto solid ground
And he showed the way
He lifted me up from the miry clay
Onto solid ground
And he showed the way

Bridge
O my God you do miracles
And your plans toward us are good
There is none who can rival you
Full of wonder, rich in grace

Where Can Wisdom Be Found?

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But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?
Man does not know its value, nor is it found in the land of the living.
The deep says, ‘It is not in me’; and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
It cannot be purchased for gold, nor can silver be weighed for its price.
It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire.
Neither gold nor crystal can equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewelry of fine gold.
No mention shall be made of coral or quartz, for the price of wisdom is above rubies.
The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.

“From where then does wisdom come? and where is the place of understanding?
It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air.
Destruction and Death say, ‘We have heard a report about it with our ears.’
God understands its way, and He knows its place.
For He looks to the ends of the earth, and sees under the whole heavens,
To establish a weight for the wind, and apportion the waters by measure.
When He made a law for the rain, and a path for the thunderbolt,
Then He saw wisdom and declared it; He prepared it, indeed, He searched it out.
And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:12–28, NKJV)

Job was a man whose heart was fully devoted to God. But Satan was wholly devoted to turning Job’s heart against God. So God, knowing full well who Job was and what Job was about, let Satan take everything from Job except his life, his wife, and his so-called friends. In this passage, Job responds to the criticisms from his so-called friends and reflects on wisdom’s value and source.

First, Job asks the question, “where can wisdom be found?” He answers his own question: it’s not of human origin, nor found in all of creation. It cannot be bought with currency or bartered for precious stones. It’s value is immeasurable, but it cannot be found anywhere in nature.

Second, Job concedes that wisdom is “hidden from the eyes of all the living.” Animals don’t possess wisdom and even Death has only heard rumors about it. True wisdom is found only in God. Job explains that the God who looks upon the whole universe, exercising authority over all the elements including wind, water, and storms, envisioned wisdom and spoke it into existence. God is the measure of what wisdom is, and all true wisdom begins and ends in Him. Thus, Job concludes with a thought echoed throughout the Proverbs, “Wisdom is found in the fear of the LORD.”

We can fill our heads with information—that’s called knowledge. And over the course of life we amass innumerable experiences that hopefully we learn from, that’s called maturity. But God is the source of true wisdom. That’s why James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Not because God is hoarding wisdom and we need to beg Him to give us a little taste. But because God is the author and source of all true wisdom, so there’s no greater, truer source of wisdom than God Himself. And the more time we spend in God’s presence through prayer and Scripture, the more opportunity we give to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to guide us into all truth and help us grow in the wisdom of the LORD (John 16:13).

In John 16, Jesus explains that if he did not die, resurrect from death, and ascend to heaven, then He could not send the Holy Spirit to do this great work in our lives. But the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit is one of the beautiful blessings of the New Covenant under which we live. God says in Jeremiah 31:33–34, “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me.” And in Ezekiel 11:19–20, God promises, “I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.”

These promises of a New Covenant have been made available to all believers through the blood of Christ. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:4–6, “We have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” And finally, as Jesus Himself said of the cup that he shared with His disciples at the Last Supper, “this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt 26:28). So then, through the blood of Christ we belong to the New Covenant. The Holy Spirit lives within us. And the Cross is the wisdom of our of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, offering eternal life for all who believe in Him.

God Our Rock

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“For You are my lamp, O LORD; The LORD shall enlighten my darkness.
For by You I can run against a troop; By my God I can leap over a wall.
As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the LORD is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.

“For who is God, except the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?
God is my strength and power, And He makes my way perfect.
He makes my feet like the feet of deer, And sets me on my high places.
He teaches my hands to make war, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

“You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your gentleness has made me great.
You enlarged my path under me; So my feet did not slip. (2 Sam 22:29–37, NKJV)

These words, sung by King David, are part of a song that David composed toward the end of his life. The song is quite lengthy, beginning in 2 Samuel 22:2 and continuing through verse 51. It is a kind of memoir of David’s life, an ode to the LORD, with its primary theme being how the LORD was David’s light, his strength, and his deliverer.

David describes how the LORD is like a lamp in his own life: He brings light to David’s darkness, which, in context, probably refers to how the LORD delivered David time and time again from death at the hands of the Philistines, Saul, Absalom, and everyone else who tried to kill him. The LORD illuminated David’s mind and heart, giving him wisdom on the battlefield and to overcome even the most challenging obstacles in his life.

We, too, have a lamp in the LORD our God. We were in a state of spiritual darkness. But when we surrendered to Christ and trusted in Him, the Light of the World became the Light in our lives, delivering us from the power of darkness and delivering us into the marvelous light of His eternal kingdom (1 Col 1:13).

In the second stanza David shifts his analogy to the idea of the LORD as his rock. The LORD made David into a man of war and used him to lead Israel in subduing the surrounding nations and expanding the borders of ancient Israel. So I think its interesting that David first speaks of the LORD as his rock, strength and power regarding his feet. But a warrior is only as effective as his foundation. And David’s foundation was the LORD God Almighty. There is no surer foundation than the LORD. And with the LORD as our champion, leading us into battle and teaching us the art of spiritual warfare, we need not fear the Enemy. We need only to trust and follow the LORD.

Similarly, our hope for eternal life rests on our foundation in Jesus Christ. He is both the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2), a faith based on the sacrificial love of our Savior who died the death we deserved and payed the ransom for our sins with his death on the cross. A faith secured by a proclamation on the cross, “it is finished.” A faith that was proven true when Christ conquered sin and death and rose victoriously from the grave on the third day.

In both verses 31 and 36, David describes the LORD as a shield—first, as a shield for all who trust Him, and second, as a shield of salvation. With David’s many run-ins with near-death experiences, both as a shepherd (with wild animals) and as King (from enemies trying to kill him), David surely knew first-hand about the saving power of the LORD, Who, as we’ve already mentioned, rescued David from death numerous times throughout his life.

As David surrendered his heart to the LORD Who delivered him from death many times, so we, too, receive the “shield” of the LORD’s salvation when we surrender our hearts to the LORD and trust Him with our eternal destiny. Then, as we learn to trust the LORD daily in our lives, His shield grows from a tiny buckler, barely big enough to protect our souls, to a giant Roman shield capable of deflecting the Enemy’s arrows and inflicting incredible damage when we use it properly in spiritual combat.

So, the LORD is our light, our rock, and our shield. All of these speak to God’s immense power to guide, strengthen, and protect us. And yet, David confesses, it is the gentleness of the LORD that raised him up. There are some who think that God is some kind of sinister overlord, actively checking a naughty list ready to zap us if we get out of line. Well, it is certainly true that God is righteous and just, punishing evil and wickedness. But God’s righteousness and justice flow from His love.

God’s love is so great that He decided to share it. So He created an entire universe and populated it with living creatures to share His love with them. Then, when  we humans rebelled against Him, we received the just penalty of death for our rebellion. But the LORD, not willing to condemn us without a means of deliverance, gave us a promise of salvation, and made good on that promise by sending His One and Only Son to live the sinless life we never could, die the death that we all deserved, and usher in a new era of salvation for everyone willing to trust in the name of the Son–Jesus Christ.

Immanuel, God With Us

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This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’” (Matt 1:18–23, NLT)

I don’t know about you, but for me, the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s is a bit awkward. It’s kind of a twilight zone, sandwiched between the excitement and stress of the Christmas season and the anticipation and trepidation of the New Year with all of the hopes, dreams, and possibilities that go along with turning the page from one year to the next.

For me, Christmas is a time to look back on the previous year, asking the Lord to show me when and how He was working in my life. It brings to a close the season of thanksgiving that for many of us began on that fourth Thursday in November. New Year’s is a time when I look forward, asking the Lord for direction and wisdom to show me when and how He wants me to follow Him. It sets in motion many of the experiences I will have throughout the new year, or at least, through the first three-to-six weeks. But this in-between week is a bit of a let-down. There’s leftovers and gifts to enjoy but it’s time to take down the decorations, go back to work, and settle back into the daily grind of life.

Matthew records how the angel told Joseph that the child’s name is Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). As we look back at the last year, let’s not miss all that God’s done for us. In fact, let’s look back a little further, say, nearly 2000 years. Let’s look back and remember how God the Son added a human nature to Himself, became a human baby named Jesus, and entered the world with all the pomp and circumstance of a poor, humble peasant child. And let’s remember that world-changing, earth-shattering, veil-tearing moment 33 years later when Jesus the Son fulfilled his eternal calling by taking the sins of all people, who ever did and ever would live, as his own, enduring the excruciating pain of crucifixion, and the even more agonizing wrath of the Father toward sin, so that His blood sacrifice could provide an eternal, once-for-all sin-offering for everyone who trusts in Him. And let’s not forget that moment in our own lives, maybe only a few days or weeks or years in recent past, when the joy of His salvation entered our hearts for the first time in that moment we trusted in Him as Savior and Lord.

Matthew also tells us that Jesus’ birth fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy, that this babe is called “Immanuel, which means God with us” (Matt 1:23). It doesn’t say, “God who was with us.” It says, “God with us.” Salvation isn’t a one-time event. Jesus doesn’t say, “hey, trust me just this once, now here’s your get-into-heaven-free card.” Salvation has a moment of beginning but it has everlasting results. Think about it—salvation from what? From sin, from death, from hell. But I’m still a sinner! And I’m still gonna die! Exactly! Which means salvation isn’t complete this side of heaven. It’s not complete until we escape the final judgment and enter the eternal state, abiding in the presence of our triune God.

As we look forward to a New Year, I want to encourage you with this: The Father is looking forward to spending more time with you this New Year. The Father is looking forward to wrapping his arms around you, just like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son did when his wayward child returned home. The Father is looking forward to answering your prayers, changing your heart, and transforming your mind. The Father is calling to you, inviting you to fellowship with Him. But, you say, “I’m a sinner, a wretch, a nobody, how can this happen?” It happens when we, covered by the blood of Christ, carried by the power of the Spirit, receive the invitation of God Almighty to commune with Him in prayer. It happens when we abide in His eternal presence. And when we mess up, we go to Him, humble ourselves, confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, and let our loving heavenly Father restore us back to full fellowship with Himself.

Christmas has come and gone this year. A New Year begins tonight. Whatever your goals, hopes, dreams, and resolutions, the Father is calling to You—to all of us—inviting us to dwell in His presence, ask Him for guidance, confess our hurts and fears and pains, and even vent our frustrations to Him. Our loving heavenly Father is continually inviting us to live every moment with Him. So, in this New Year, let’s embrace our spiritual adoption as children of the Almighty God and draw near to our loving Father, carried by the power of the Spirit, and entering His presence through Jesus the Son—God with us.

God Our Good Shepherd

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For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 34:11–15, NLT)

Earlier in the chapter, Ezekiel prophesies against the leaders of Israel, whom the LORD rebukes for being “bad shepherds.” These bad shepherds are guilty of (1) feeding themselves instead of their flocks, (2) taking the best food and clothing while the people starve, (3) forsaking the weak, sick, and wounded, (4) ignoring the wayward and lost, and (5) ruling harshly with cruelty. This is a picture of Israel’s political and religious leaders. But when we look long and hard at what’s going on in our country and in the world, I think maybe we can relate.

Anyway, Israel’s leaders bore a significant amount of the blame for Israel’s sinful ways. Israel’s kings, queens, prophets, and priests, for the most part, instead of leading the people in worshipping the LORD, led the people in worshipping idols. And instead of turning to the LORD in times of need, like invasion of foreign armies or famine, they turned to foreign nations, especially Egypt and Babylon, and many others. This is in addition to all of the previous ways we mentioned about how they amassed their own wealth while exploiting the people.

But at the end of the day, that’s what we do. We’re all sinful. Even as believers, while we wait to receive our eternal bodies and heavenly abode, we wrestle with our sinful flesh and it’s ugly selfishness. That’s why it’s so important for us to seek the LORD daily, dying to ourselves moment-by-moment, so He can live through us, especially those of us who are leaders, in our church, in our workplaces, in our homes.

We are like sheep, easily distracted, not very smart, and biting, kicking, screaming, when we don’t get our own way. When that doesn’t work, we run aimlessly to the world. That’s what Israel did. And that’s what we do, too.

But the LORD is a good shepherd. He is not like Israel’s leaders or our world leaders today. He is holy, righteous, and true. He is always good, whether in dispensing justice or mercy. When we run, He comes after us. When we bite and kick and scream, he lets us throw our fit, then He sets us right again. Sometimes he bops us with His rod, other times He holds us down until we listen. And always He’s calling to us, gently beckoning us to come back to Him.

In these verses, the LORD promises Israel that He will bring them back to their land, make them prosper in the land, and give them peace. These are special promises for God’s chosen nation Israel. Not because Israel deserved it. The entire Old Testament shows us that they didn’t. But because Yahweh chose them.

The land promise was specific to Israel, but our Lord Jesus Christ makes us a similar promise about our eternal inheritance. In John 10, Jesus says,

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” (John 10:14–16)

And in John 14, Jesus says,

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.” (John 14:1–4, NKJV)

We are those other sheep, not of Israel’s sheepfold, but of the same spiritual flock, following the same Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. And though Israel’s land promise, may not be for us, the LORD promises us eternal life abiding with Him, if we will only trust in Him.

So, when your life is going great, trust the LORD. Don’t be like Israel’s bad shepherds, hoarding your wealth, ignoring those who are suffering, and exploiting those around you. Instead, generously share whatever blessings the LORD has given you with those around you. And when your life seems like it couldn’t get worse, know that if you’re trusting in Jesus Christ, this world is the closest to hell you’ll ever get. Because we have a Good Shepherd who promises us a future of eternal glory abiding with Him.

God Our Mighty One

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Though the LORD is very great and lives in heaven,
he will make Jerusalem his home of justice and righteousness.
In that day he will be your sure foundation,
providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.
The fear of the LORD will be your treasure. (Isaiah 33:5–6, NLT)

The LORD will be our Mighty One.
He will be like a wide river of protection
that no enemy can cross,
that no enemy ship can sail upon.
For the LORD is our judge,
our lawgiver, and our king.
He will care for us and save us. (Isaiah 33:21–22, NLT)

These verses emphasize God’s transcendence. Transcendence is a fancy word that refers to God’s greatness compared to the natural world. God transcends time and space—He is not bound by the natural laws of the universe. He has no beginning, no end. He has always existed, always does, always will. He is Spirit. He is not composed of matter and is not restrained by physical dimensions. He exists everywhere, at every time, always in full measure of Himself.

For us to know God, or to know anything about God, we need Him to reveal Himself to us. We cannot fully understand who He is, but He has revealed much of Himself to us, and His revelation is to us our wisdom, our knowledge, and our salvation. He has revealed enough for us to acknowledge that He is greater than anything we can imagine. And this idea should fill us with awe, wonder, humility, and reverence at the mere thought of Him.

These verses emphasize God’s immanence. Immanence is a fancy word that refers to God’s presence in the world and nearness to His people. He is not a dictator who ruthlessly governs us from afar. He is a loving shepherd who compassionately meets us where we are and invites us into a personal relationship with Him. He transcends time and space, He enters the physical world and works to win the hearts of wayward souls and welcome believers into His family of faith.

God is our king, sovereign and just. Anything true and righteous is found in Him. But He is a loving king who cares. He knows our limitations, our hurts, our weaknesses, and our desperate need to be delivered from our slavery to sin and death. He has always known these things, which is why even before He created the universe He made a plan to come and rescue us and to abide in our hearts to comfort us and lead us in His ways.

Verses 6 and 22 both mention how the Lord is our salvation, that He saves us. In context, God gave this message to Israel through the prophet Isaiah. Prior to chapter 33, God told Israel that He would send them into exile for their wickedness. But in this chapter, God describes how he would go with them and how he would one day deliver Israel from her oppressors restore her as a nation.

When we look at Israel, we are reminded of ourselves. Israel was wicked and God called them to account. Similarly, we are sinful people and God calls us to account. But God knows we’re slaves to sin and He knows we need a deliverer to rescue us. Jesus—God the Son—came to do just that. He became a man and died the death that we deserved to deliver us from our sinful fate. Now he gives us the choice to trust Him with our lives.

As believers, every day is a new day to walk with Him. Every day we can choose whether or not to trust and follow Him. So often we’re like Peter walking on the water, who, when he saw the storm raging around him, began to sink. Life’s storms capture our full attention so easily that we can forget about Jesus. But like with Peter, Jesus is right beside us, holding out his hand, inviting us to look to Him, let go of the world, and follow Him.