At the Cross (Joy Made Full)

An original worship song inspired by the hymn At the Cross by Isaac Watts and Ralph Erskine Hudson.

At the Cross (Joy Made Full)
Words and music by Isaac Watts, Ralph E. Hudson, Tim Northup

Who was that man upon the cross
Was He the King, the Saving One
Promised to come, to pay the cross
The sinner’s debt, with His own blood

Was it for crimes that were my own
He hung upon that cross alone
The greatest love, a grace unknown
That He should die the death I owed

At the cross I saw Heaven’s Light
Roll away the burden on my soul
There by faith I received my sight
Looking to the Son, my joy made full
Oh God

His spirit groaned and darkness came
Death carried Him to sin’s domain
But death could not the Son contain
He rose again up from the grave

At the cross I saw Heaven’s Light
Roll away the burden on my soul
There by faith I received my sight
Looking to the Son, my joy made full

At the cross I saw Heaven’s Light
Roll away the burden on my soul
There by faith I received my sight
Looking to the Son, my joy made full

At the cross I saw Heaven’s Light
Roll away the burden on my soul
There by faith I received my sight
Looking to the Son, my joy made full
Oh God

Looking to the Son, my joy made full
Oh God

 

Made In God’s Image

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen 1:26-27, NKJV)

Every human has within their heart a deep, subconscious longing for eternity. The Scriptures declare that God made each and every human being in His own image—the image of the eternal God. Just a few verses later we read that God intended for the man and woman to live in the Garden, watching over and caring for the animals (Gen 1:28) and cultivating the ground (Gen 2:15), without any contract or conditions for that work to end. And in Genesis 3 we read that when the man and woman sinned against God, only then did God cast them out of that Garden, and one reason is so they could not eat from the tree of life and live forever (Gen 3:22-23).

Science says that humans are animals. They say this based on a combination of observable physical traits, biological drives, social norms, and genetic information. I don’t challenge those observations. But who developed the classifications? Humans. Which means those classifications are only as valid as the finite empirical evidence and soundness of logic from which those classifications are deduced.

Consider the following questions: where in the animal kingdom do we see groups of animals forming councils, writing constitutions, debating laws, and arguing about money? Where in the animal kingdom do we see groups of animals building hospitals, forming rescue services, and pursuing justice and equality? Where in the animal kingdom do we see groups of animals erecting exclusive boundaries, hoarding natural resources, exploiting the labor of others, and killing for any reason other than basic sustenance or debilitating sickness?

All of those things, good or bad, are uniquely human things. None of those things are animal things. Clearly, there is something unique about humanity, something not shared by any other living creature on the planet. What is it that makes humans uniquely human? It is that image of the eternal God written on our hearts, breathed into us by the eternal God Himself (Gen 2:7).

The Gospel of John explains the image of God in terms of light. Concerning Jesus, John wrote,

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men… That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world (John 1:4, 9).

Why did Jesus come? To bring the light into existence? No—the light already existed in Him. Jesus came to bring light to humankind. You see, every human has a darkness residing deep within their heart called sin. Sin is anything we do or don’t do that doesn’t line up with the standard of goodness defined by the attributes and actions of God. Humankind’s sinful rebellion against God began in the Garden when Adam and Eve thought they knew better than God and they rejected the instructions He gave them about what not to eat. And we see the outworking of that sin throughout human history in every evil action ever committed by humans. Humanism says people are basically good. However, history begs to differ, demonstrating time and time again how utter depraved the human race is when left to its own governance.

So, what are we to do with this desperate, unfulfilled longing for eternity? Go to Jesus. God loves us so much that, though we are sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). And his death on the cross paid the price of atonement for our sins with His blood. Not just once and having to be repeated annually, as the Old Testament rituals required, but once-for-all, as the Old Testament rituals looked forward to, finding their fulfillment in Christ.

For believers, our longing for eternity is satisfied in Jesus Christ. Because, as the Scriptures promise, when we believe in Him, we find life in His name (John 20:31).

Love Has Come

An original Christmas worship song based on John 1:1-18.

Love Has Come
Words and music by Tim Northup

Lying in a manger the Promised Child was born
His parents stared in wonder could this be the Lord?
Surrounded by the shepherds, come to testify
As heaven’s host was praising him
Glory to God on high

Love has come, love has come
The Son of God is born to save the world
Love has come, love has come
Heaven’s Light has come to dwell with us
Heaven’s Light has come to dwell in us

Forsaking every privilege, He laid aside his crown
Born to dwell among us, coming to His own
Despised and rejected the Son of Man was scorned
But faithful unto death He brought
Salvation to the world

Love has come, love has come
The Son of God is born to save the world
Love has come, love has come
Heaven’s Light has come to dwell with us
Heaven’s Light has come to dwell in us

Love has come, love has come
The Son of God is born to save the world
Love has come, love has come
Heaven’s Light has come to dwell with us
Heaven’s Light has come to dwell in us

In Everything Give Thanks

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Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for You. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NJKV)

The ancient city of Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman province Macedonia, making it a hotspot for Roman travel, trade, politics, and religion in the region. And when Paul preached in Thessalonica, he quickly encountered much hostility from local non-believers. After Paul left, the Thessalonians continued to experience similar hostility and persecution in the city. Against this backdrop of hostile daily life, we read Paul’s isntructions to the Thessalonian church.

Confession time. When God lets my life get uncomfortable, I get upset. Personally, my issue is anger. When life starts piling on the difficulties, even the small annoyances that I can usually shake off feel like red-hot iron pokers burning away sanity.

Maybe you’re like me and your issue is anger. Or maybe your struggle is with discouragement, doubt, and despair. Or, perhaps, when life closes in around you, you detach from the world and run away. Whatever your response, all of us at various times experience the pressures of life weighing heavily on us.

But imagine being a Thessalonian believer. You’re living in the center of a pagan world that worships their gods with gluttonous parties, drunkenness, wild orgies, and so forth. As a Thessalonian, you used to do those things, too. But now, as a believer in Jesus, He has set you free from those lifestyles of sin and you don’t do those things anymore. But your old friends aren’t ok with that. They won’t sell you food, clothes, or other necessities. They won’t socialize with you anymore. And if you start telling them about Jesus, they literally drag you and your family out of your house and beat you.

As a Thessalonian, your first pastor, Paul, and his ministry team were forced out of town by such hostility. But he has heard about your struggles and he has written you a letter, encouraging you to give thanks in everything. How absurd!

But Paul doesn’t say, “rise up and slaughter the offenders,” or “take them to court and squeeze every penny from them,” or “run for office and force Christian morals on society.” Those are the methods of men. They’re not our mission from God.

God’s will for us is to let Him transform our hearts and minds into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s mission for us is to go out, into all the unbelieving world, preaching the gospel and making disciples of the nations. Both God’s will and God’s mission require us to remember the single most important fact of every believer’s existence:

Jesus Christ died for our sins, saved us from death, and gives us eternal life.

It is this reality that enables us and impels us to be thankful at all times, in all things. One author explains the situation this way,

[Remember] Rom. 8:28, [how] all of which cooperate for good to God’s children and thus call forth our thanks to God. We need to learn this secret of the happy Christian life—thankfulness. If everything actually conspires to do us good, how can we do otherwise than always rejoice? [1]

Our thankfulness is not based on external circumstances. It flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ. When we begin looking at life through the lens of salvation, we see God working through the hardship in this life to make us holy. That holiness grows in us, making us more like Jesus, focusing our hearts toward heaven, filling us with joy, and turning our frowns upside down.

[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1937), 358.

Do Not Fear, Little Flock

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Then He [Jesus] said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?

“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.

“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:22-34, NKJV)

Psalm 23:2 begins, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” Sheep are timid, fearful creatures. They aren’t strong or smart, they’re always looking for food and water, and they’re easy pray for predators. So, sheep are typically restless animals, rarely feeling sufficiently provided for and secure enough to lie down and rest. Instead, they wander about on edge, easily spooked and rarely satisfied with where they are.

A responsible shepherd meets the needs of their flock to address these issues. Such a shepherd ensures that the pasture land is well cared for, providing nourishing food and having ample water for the flock. They also protect the sheep from predators, fighting them off in defense of the sheep. And sometimes shepherds use music to sooth the sheep, drowning out strange noises and helping the sheep relax so they can lie down and rest. But, of course, the sheep have to recognize the shepherd’s protections and provisions and then choose to rest in the shepherd’s presence.

In Luke 12, Jesus instructs his disciples not to fear because the Father is such a good shepherd. He promises His Kingdom to every sheep in His sheepfold. God protects us from our Adversary—Satan and his servants—as well as the forces of the world that threaten to overtake us. The Father also provides for our every need. He created us, after all, and He knows that we need food, water, clothing, and so forth. So, Jesus tells us, we can rest in the protection and provision of the Father.

But, as Jesus explains, our ability to find spiritual rest depends on our intentional seeking for God. Jesus gently rebukes his disciples with the phrase, “O you of little faith.” God made the universe in such a way that our spiritual rest depends on us focusing our hearts on Him. If we focus our hearts on the physical challenges of this life, we are restless, wandering on edge, searching for safer, greener pastures. But when we focus our hearts on seeking our loving Father, He promises that we will find spiritual rest in Him as He provides for our earthly needs.

May we seek God and His Kingdom with our whole hearts, that we may find He will not only supply our earthly needs, but He will also give us rest.

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.

Whose Hope Is the LORD

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Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the LORD.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
And whose hope is the LORD.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit. (Jer 17:5-8, NKJV)

Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah before the Babylonian exile. His ministry began when he was a young man, from around 626 BC during the reign of king Josiah, to around 587 BC when Judah fell to Babylon. Jeremiah 17 is part of God’s prophecy about the destruction of Judah. The people of Judah were living in sin, worshipping the gods of other nations, a direct violation of the commandments God gave Israel. So, God prophesied against Judah, that they would be invaded and taken into exile, for their refusal to repent and turn back to God.

In Jeremiah 17:5, God describes one of the major issues that has plagued humanity since Adam and Eve: willful rejection of God’s ways and our selfish ambition to live by our own rules. God says, “cursed is the man who trusts in man.” When God says the person is cursed, God is not revealing some kind of new wrath against humanity. God is repeating the same message He has been warning us about since Adam and Eve: whoever chooses to go their own way and live apart from God lives under the condition of a spiritual curse.

What does this cursed lifestyle look like? God explains, “he makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD.” Very clear, very simple. If you trust in human strength, wisdom, or power—your own, other people, the government, academia, or whatever—instead of God, you are choosing to live under the spiritual curse.What does the curse look like? In verse 6, God explains, “he shall be like a shrub in the desert.” I lived in Yuma, Arizona for three years. Desert shrubs are dry, brittle, and prickly. They have almost no fruit, they give almost no shade, they’re constantly struggling to survive and their growth is stunted. If you turn your back on God, that’s what your spiritual life looks like. Everything may look and feel great on the outside, but your soul is spiritually parched, barely surviving in our dry, cruel world.

In Jeremiah 17:7, God describes how He created us to live in relationship with Him. God says, “blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD.” When God made Adam and Eve, He gave them one rule: do not eat from a specific tree. Why did he give them that rule? To test them, yes. But in that test, they had to trust God and not rely on their own understanding. That’s where the serpent got them to doubt God. That’s where the Enemy attacks us. And that’s how humanity broke the world through sin.

What does trusting God look like? God explains, “whose hope is the LORD.” Now, biblical hope is not like our modern idea of hope. When we say we hope for something, it’s a wish, “oh, I hope I get that new job or that new car.” There’s no confidence, no security. The biblical idea of hope is different. The person whose hope is God is actively trusting in God, relying on God daily, confident that God will stay true to His promises and secure in God as a refuge from life’s troubles. Biblical hope is confident expectation based on the character of our always loving, never failing, all-powerful God.

In verse 8, God explains what the blessing looks like, “he shall be like a tree planted by the waters.” In the desert, trees grow by the water. If you see trees, you know there’s some kind of water source nearby. A fork of the Colorado River runs through one side of Yuma. And by the river there’s a beautiful park with all kinds of beautiful wooded areas. When the summer heat comes, these trees survive because they have the water source. The trees are fruitful, providing shade, and thriving. When you trust in God, that’s what your spiritual life looks like. Even though the whole world is falling apart around you, The river of life—the Holy Spirit—is flowing through you, nourishing and growing you in the midst of our dry, cruel world.

In John 7, Jesus was in Jerusalem for Passover. Verse 37 begins,

On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Jesus is not the Living Water. He is the Rock, stricken for our sins. But when Jesus ascended to heaven, he sent the Living Water, the Holy Spirit, to live in us in a special way according to the New Covenant, comforting us, nourishing us, and making us more like Jesus. Let’s remember and embrace these truths, looking to our Lord Jesus, that we might actively receive the spiritual blessings that the Spirit works in our lives.