A Reformed Congregation. Sierra View Presbyterian Church, Fresno, California

Month: November 2014

Abide With Me!

 For reasons unknown to me, I’ve had the great hymn Abide With Me on my mind all week.  If you don’t know it, you ought to.  It’s majestic and moving.  Consider the last line: “Hold thou thy Cross before my closing eyes; Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies!  Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee: In life, in death O Lord, Abide with me!”

 Henry Lyte wrote Abide With Me while he was dying.  His great desire was to preach one more time before his beloved congregation.  He spent his remaining energy doing so,  and as that day drew to an end he handed over a piece of paper with the words of his newest and last hymn: “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.  When other helpers fail, and comforts flee: Help of the helpless, O abide with me!”  Just a few weeks later he died and we’ve been singing his words ever since. Some of us might even remember its performance during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.

Abide with me. Of all the New Testament writers, the apostle John was particularly interested in the redemptive presence of God with His people.  While Paul focuses much of his Christology on our union with Christ, John (while agreeing with Paul, of course) focuses his attention on Jesus abiding with us.  It was John, for instance, that wrote, “And the word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”  (John 1:14) By my count, John uses the word ‘abide’ over 30 times in this writings, frequently to say that we abide in God, and that God abides with us.

This is a central teaching of the New Testament.  There is no other religion known to man that promotes the idea of God abiding with people.  How could He, since any concept of God is that He is necessarily holy, and therefore distant?  Yet the Living God, in great mystery and blessing, abides with each and every one of His children in a way that saves them, secures them and guides them.

Is there anything more comforting, more powerful and sacred than the One from whom the angels shield their faces abiding with frail sinners like you and me?  He abides with us not because He is under obligation to do so, but because He is compelled by His love for us.  So great is His love for us that He sings over us as He abides with us in life and death. (Zeph. 3:17).

When did you last spend considerable time in prayer exalting the Triune God because He abides with you?  Isn’t it true that we tend to jump straight to “make your request known to God” without first stopping at, “He made His dwelling among us?”  We tend to ask, “what should I do” at the expense of deep reflection on “Emmanuel, God with Us.”  Sit under the shadow of His presence a while, because God abides with you in victory and triumph.  Henry Lyte was right: Earth’s night is fleeing as heaven’s morning breaks.  But more than that, heaven’s morning brings renewed mercy because He who changes not abides with you in sacred joy and divine love.  He who abides with you desires one thing: His own glory.  Give Him that glory by taking joy in His holy presence with you today.

The God of Peace

 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20

The book of Hebrews, like Mark’s gospel, hits the ground running.  It’s a frenetic pace from beginning to end.  It begins with the declaration that Jesus Christ, through whom God the Father made the world and now speaks, is the heir of all things and the radiance of the glory of God.  Talk about jumping into the deep end of the pool!

Some say the book of Hebrews is a massive exposition of Psalm 110, insofar as Jesus is a better high priest than even Melchizedek, who’s name is translated, “King of Righteousness.”  The theme of Jesus’ superiority runs consistently through the entire letter.  So how do you conclude a letter that oozes the all sufficiency of Jesus Christ?  By taking your readers to the three great blessings that summarize New Testament theology: Peace, Resurrection, Great Shepherd.

God is proclaimed to be the “God of peace.”  God is at peace with sinners, and sinners are at peace with God.  Romans 5:1 reminds us, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God…”  When sin entered the world through Adam, man became alienated from God and strangers to His kindness.  There is nothing peaceful about alienation.  Nothing gentle about being a stranger.  But that’s what sin had done, and God could not allow alienated sinners to enjoy his presence, unless they come into His presence as ‘covered’ sinners.  The unregenerate will know God only in His vengeance.  Without grace, not one of us would know Him in His peace. Spiritually speaking, we are at peace with God because we are covered in the righteous deeds and holiness of Jesus Christ, which God both requires and provides for us as a gift of His grace.  Therefore, God is called “the God of peace” because His vengeance has been turned away by the Divine Covering of Jesus’ blood.

This covering did not come cheaply.  It required the ‘blood of the eternal covenant.’ Its cost was the life of God’s beloved son.  The cross is the crucible of God’s justice where penalty was paid.  That’s why we can never move our hearts and souls beyond the centrality of the cross.  At the cross, where Sacred Death occurred, we get Jesus’ holiness, he gets our filth.  But we were not made for death.  His death, therefore, would have meant nothing had he not risen from the grave.  Resurrection is the pinnacle of the victory and accomplishment of God  “…who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus.”  If the cross is the crucible of Justice, then the empty tomb is hallowed Mercy.

He who was brought up from the grave does not occupy an obscure corner of heaven.  No, he sat down at the right hand of God in glorious ascension to serve as our Great Shepherd.  Interesting, isn’t it, how Jesus referred to Himself as the ‘Good’ shepherd?  But now, at the right hand of God in perpetual exaltation, He is called our ‘Great’ shepherd!  The cherubim shout “holy, holy, holy.”  As our great shepherd, He leads us by the hand into that angelic fellowship, where His own holiness should be our greatest joy.

As your Great Shepherd, may He grant you the very precious satisfaction that He is ‘working in you that which is pleasing in His sight’ until He completes His work on the Day of Glory.

The Confluence of Faithfulness and Availability

“Dwell in the Land and Cultivate Righteousness!”

“Alright, boys…I want you to go out there and be as regular and as ordinary as you can be!”  You ever hear of a coach say such a thing?  Of course not.  No parent tells his child to be regular, any more than a politician tells his constituents that he’s not likely to get anything meaningful done in congress.  We tend to find significance only in the spectacular.

That’s why the pursuit a quiet life of mundane faithfulness (to borrow from a blog) is entirely counter-intuitive to our spectacular-obsessed culture.  Even the Christian subculture has, to a certain extent, bought into the push for personal greatness.

I was reading an entry by a pastor who asked a young man if he wanted to do really great things for the Kingdom of God.  “Absolutely” was the immediate response, followed by clear anticipation of grandeur and heights.  The pastor then pointed to his wife nearby and said, “Marry a woman like that.”  That was it.  Not, “Marry a woman like that…then go do radical things in the amazon.”  Rather, he did something entirely radical in our radicalizing world: he pointed the eager young Christian to regular things. (Side note: some are called to such radical things.  Bless God for that and be encouraged by them.  Most, however, are not).  In effect, the pastor said, “If you want to have the greatest impact for the purposes of God, then live your ordinary life in faithfulness to Him.” That’s true, because believe it or not, most of us are pretty regular people, with average skill levels.  Yet those are the people that God chooses to build His kingdom.  God chose the ‘things that are not’ to bring to nothing the things that are. (1 Corinthians 1:28)  Translation: normal, regular, typical people will be the sharpest tools in God’s box, so that when anything happens to advance the gospel, all glory goes only to God.

We get a peak into the outworkings of this very mandate unto ordinary faithfulness when we find David in Psalm 37:3, “Trust in the Lord and do good.  Dwell in the land and cultivate righteousness.”  The other verses in Psalm 37 get all the press.  Like, “delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  But the overarching concern of the chapter is for a heart that is settled on God, joyfully embracing all His works and promoting righteousness wherever we are.  The mandate to an ordinary Christian life is consistently commended to us in the Scriptures.

Today, some of you will be changing diapers and wondering about your place in the Great Commission.  Others will be cutting lumber or arresting bad guys, and wondering the same thing.  Whatever you do, whether you eat, drink, take a walk or crunch numbers, do all things to the glory of God.  In doing so, you are dwelling in the land and cultivating righteousness.  You’re also positioning yourself to glorify God in the quiet things of life.

You are normal, regular, typical people probably called to an ordinary life.  Don’t buy into the Christian version of pop-culture that tells you that to be significant, you have to be extreme and daring.  You do not.  You need to be faithful and available, because it’s at the confluence of the faithful and the available that God typically shines the brightest for the lasting effects of the Great Commission.

You can ask a lonely shepherd boy in the Hebrew desert, or a virgin teenager in Nazareth.  You can even ask a Pharisee from Tarsus.  They’ll tell you all about faithful, available, ordinary people who grow to love God and change the world.