Friday, January 06, 2017

Fresh Start

Everybody gets all excited about the start of a new year. There’s so much hype, fanfare and enthusiasm. It’s a time for resolutions but unfortunately many resolutions don’t last. Statistics say 45% of Americans make resolutions but only 8% of them actually keep these resolutions.

You determine that this is the year you lose those unwanted pounds. So, you justify the price of a membership at a fitness center and begin working out every day. But the workouts soon diminish to three times a week and then only weekly before you finally give up and wonder why you spent all that money. 67% of those who have gym memberships never use them.

You begin the new year with a plan to read through the entire Bible. The book of Genesis is exciting and full of familiar stories but you begin to bog down with all of the commands and instructions in Exodus, and you give up before you get to Leviticus. We’ve all been there.

There is nothing magical about a new year. What if you faced each month with the same excitement? Or each week? Or each day?  Maybe that’s what God had in mind when he said,

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

You can begin every day with a new resolve. Confess your sins and have a clean slate today.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

There is no need to wait for the new year to make changes in your life. If today didn’t turn out the way you anticipated, God’s love and mercy are available for a fresh start tomorrow.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

Be grateful for all the good things in your life. Write them down somewhere so that you don’t forget. Thank God for all that you have. Be specific. We have many reasons to be thankful.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Begin each day with prayer. Let God speak from the Bible. Apply His Word to your life. Have the right attitude. Use your time wisely. Remember that your days are numbered.

Make the best use of your time here on earth, recognize and take advantage of every opportunity and use it with wisdom and diligence. Ephesians 5:16

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Waiting for the Promise

I have a confession to make. I don’t like to wait, but waiting is a part of life. As a child,
waiting for Christmas seemed like an eternity. As time progressed, I couldn’t wait to become a teen, and then an adult, but still I had to wait. Driving to visit my family on the busiest travel day of the year we found ourselves waiting in traffic. Whenever I checkout at the store, I have a tendency to pick the slowest moving line, and so I wait. When I go to Starbucks, all I want is a plain old cup of black coffee, but I have to wait for the woman who wants a Venti, sugar-free, non-fat, vanilla soy, double shot latte, no foam, extra hot, Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha with light whip and extra syrup, double cupped. And so I’m learning to wait.

In the Garden of Eden, God made a promise to Adam and Eve after they sinned against Him. He promised to send a Redeemer who would crush Satan, but the world had to wait thousands of years for the promise to come to fruition.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:15

Two thousand years later, there lived a man named Abraham. God asked him to leave his country and his kinfolk and go to a foreign land that God would show him. He obeys and God makes a promise to Abraham.

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:2-3

All the people on earth would be blessed through the coming Messiah who would descend from Abraham. But it all began with one child of promise. God promised Abraham and Sarah a son, but they waited twenty five years for Isaac to be born. 

The nation of Israel began with Abraham and one of his best known descendants was King David. When the prophet Samuel anointed David to be the next king, David still had to wait. He waited over 15 years before he would take the throne of Judah and he waited another 7 years before he ruled over the united kingdom of Israel and Judah. And several years later God makes this promise to David.

The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 2 Samuel 7:11-13

That last phrase refers to the promised Messiah but Israel waited another thousand years before He came. Three hundred years after King David, God raised up the prophet Isaiah. This promise came through the prophet.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14

The virgin birth is important. We’re all born with a sin nature because we are descendants of Adam and Eve. In order for God to take on flesh and blood without the sin nature, he bypassed the earthly father. The child in Mary’s womb was miraculously conceived by Holy Spirit. Therefore, Jesus was able to live a sinless life and become the perfect sacrificial Lamb of God.

After the prophecy of Isaiah, Israel still had to wait seven hundred more years for the coming of Messiah. And many didn’t even recognize Him when He came. They didn’t realize that He would first come to suffer and die and at His second coming He would establish His earthly kingdom. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  Many failed to recognize that the promised one is Jesus.

In his gospel record, Matthew traces the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Abraham.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Matthew 1:1

And so after the world waited over four thousand years, the promised Messiah came to earth to save His people from their sins. That's what Christmas is all about.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12 

He lived a perfect sinless life, was crucified, died and was buried, and on the third day He rose again victorious over the grave, death and hell. Those who receive Jesus as Lord are given the right to become children of God. Jesus promised to return, and still we wait. For over two thousand years we’ve been waiting for His promised return.  

God’s timetable is not the same as ours. One day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day to the Lord. So from His perspective, Jesus has only been gone for a couple of days! Peter encourages our hearts and reminds us why Jesus has not returned yet.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient and merciful toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:8-9 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

An Attempt at Biblical Theology in Poetic Verse by Peter Cushman

I think it’s fair to say that art can reach the inner person quicker than an outline (though perhaps “art” is a strong word for my poem!). That is the thrust behind this attempt to summarize the storyline of the Bible. My goal was to produce something that would arrest the reader with the brilliance and intricacy of the Scriptures by tying the major themes together. I wanted the lifelong Sunday-school learner to come away with a fresh vision of what God is doing in history and the privileged role that He has given to us. Take a look, and see what you think. 

(This poem is written in anapestic meter; each foot has two unaccented syllables followed by an accented syllable. Each line (with a few exceptions) contains nine syllables, three metric feet.)

    In the beginning there was nothing,
    Nothing but God, holy, unchanging.
    Sharing one nature in three persons,
    Father, Son, Spirit, never ending.

    God needed nothing for completion,
    But for the brilliance of his glory,
    He chose to speak into existence
    A world to share in His great story.
    With three simple yet powerful words

    This great King created a kingdom.
    His world reflected him perfectly,
    To rule it all a man named, Adam.

    God gave man everything to enjoy
    And lived with man in that special place.
    God’s Word would be the authority
    Bringing blessing and light from God’s face.

    But like a dead fly in the ointment
    The old snake invaded the Garden.
    God’s enemy, using deception,
    Tempted man to doubt God’s love for him.

    Believing we would be happier
    Out from under God’s authority,
    Man listened to the words of Satan
    And ate, losing sinless purity.

    Shame instantly haunted the couple,
    So they hid from God’s presence in fear.
    Like a patient who’s ripped out his lifeline,
    Death entered the picture from here.

    Bound by what’s right, God cursed the whole world
    Because sin corrupted everything.
    But God promised to crush the devil
    To set the world free from death’s sting.

    Man’s evil progressed from bad to worse.
    Murder and deceit ravished the earth.
    So God wiped the world clean with water,
    But man’s heart was still wicked from birth.

    Move forward to Genesis twelve now.
    God chose to bless one man, Abraham.
    God promised him people and a place.
    This family will be God’s new program.

    God multiplied Abram’s family;
    In Egypt he saved them from famine.
    He promised a ruler from Judah,
    But an evil Pharaoh enslaved them.

    Israel cried out for deliverance,
    So God sent them the savior, Moses.
    God broke Pharaoh’s back with His power.
    Nothing could stop Abraham’s promise.

    God led them through water and desert
    Bringing them to the mountain, Sinai.
    Through Moses He gave them His good Law,
    But their hearts were too hard for that rabbi.

    God lived with his people in a tent;
    He guided them by fire and cloud.
    But most people still wouldn’t listen.
    Their stomachs were growling too loud.

    God provided rest for His people
    By placing them in the Promised Land.
    He lived with them there in the temple.
    David held Judah’s scepter in hand.

    But God’s people still would not listen.
    They rejected the LORD, their True King.
    The problem runs deep on the inside,
    So God promised internal cleansing.

    He would put his Spirit inside us,
    Which would make us alive forever.
    But this gift would cost God everything;
    God’s King would be crushed for God’s pleasure.

    God would send us His Sinless Servant.
    He’d live for the needy and poor.
    Then give up His life as a ransom,
    And rise from the dead as the Savior.

    But that was far into their future.
    First the Jews would suffer God’s judgment.
    God sent His people to Babylon,
    Barred from God’s presence in punishment.

    They cried out to God for deliverance,
    And God remembered His promise.
    He brought his people home to Canaan,
    Where they waited through years of silence…

    …Heaven is about to burst open.
    It starts with an angel and Mary.
    He tells her she’ll give birth to a Son.
    God moves in remembrance of mercy.

    This one will be Son of the Most High.
    He’ll rule from the throne of His Father.
    He’ll bring the best news for all people.
    His name will be Jesus, the Savior.

    When her time for delivery arrived,
    She went to the city of David.
    She laid her firstborn in a manger.
    The Lord became what He created.

    The trickle from heaven exploded
    As thousands of angels announced him.
    “Great joy that will be for all people;
    The Lord Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

    Jesus grew in wisdom and stature
    Until John appeared in the desert.
    A voice crying in the wilderness,
    telling people, “Turn from sin’s pleasure!”

    Then one day He made his appearance.
    Jesus came to John in the Jordan.
    He was baptized and filled with God’s Spirit.
    Coming up the heavens split open.

    The Spirit brought Him to be tempted.
    In the desert He faced the old snake.
    But this Man is what we all should be;
    God’s commandments He never would break.

    He read from the prophet Isaiah
    That He came to preach good news to man.
    He healed the sick and cast out demons.
    He lived to fulfill His Father’s plan.

    He called twelve to be His disciples,
    And prepared them for what would come next.
    God’s people would betray their Savior.
    They’d ask Pilate to put Him to death.

    But this was His purpose for coming,
    So He rode into Jerusalem.
    He ate one last meal with His brothers,
    And sweat blood through prayer in the garden.

    Submitting His will to the Father,
    He went with the guards to stand trial.
    The religious leaders blasphemed Him,
    Not to mention Peter’s denial.

    Finally the high priest simply asked Him,
    “Are you the Christ, Son of the Blessed?”
    Then Jesus responded from Daniel,
    “I’ll come with the angels of heaven.”

    They dragged Him to stand before Pilate
    Demanding he crucify Jesus,
    So Pilate gave into their wishes.
    They beat Him; His back torn from lashes.

    They marched Jesus out of the city
    Where they pinned Him to die on a tree.
    They railed Him with curses and cruelty
    As He bled out for you and for me.

    The Father took all of His anger
    Pent up from the filth of mankind.
    He poured the whole cup out on Jesus,
    The payment of your sins and mine.

    They took His corpse down that same Friday,
    And buried Him in a rich man’s tomb.
    The women from Galilee saw it;
    They’d return when the Sabbath was through.

    As the first light was dawning on Sunday,
    Several women came bringing spices.
    They paused as they noticed the entrance.
    They entered…no body inside it.

    Then an angel appeared in the tomb,
    And told them that they should not fear him.
    “Did you come here looking for Jesus?
    The Lord is alive; Christ is risen!”

    The women could hardly believe it!
    They rushed back to deliver the news.
    But the twelve thought this tale was idle.
    To believe it they’d need living proof.

    That night the group gathered in secret
    Afraid of what might happen to them.
    Then Jesus appeared behind locked doors.
    Their Lord had come back from the dead!

    He opened their minds to the Scriptures,
    And taught them for forty days longer.
    He promised to send them God’s Spirit.
    The church would be built by this Power.

    Then Jesus sat down by His Father.
    Where He rules as the judge of mankind.
    While the twelve returned to the city,
    To be clothed with this Power on High.

    Later, when they all met together
    Tongues of fire appeared on each one.
    They shared the great message of Jesus.
    The church was born and thousands were won.

    The twelve started in Jerusalem;
    Then they reached people in Judea.
    The news was growing and increasing
    As they moved into Samaria.

    The gospel spread all over the earth,
    And the news is still moving forward.
    Jesus continues building His church
    As the Cornerstone; we’re brick and mortar.

    Then on the day known by the Father,
    King Jesus will return in the sky.
    He’ll come in great power and glory.
    At His word all his enemies die.

    He’ll rule as the true Son of David
    Over God’s kingdom for one thousand years.
    He’ll radically transform creation.
    The King of Kings will wipe away tears.

    At the end He’ll forever damn Satan;
    God’s enemy will never return.
    Then He’ll resurrect every person,
    And judge each based on what he has earned.

    Some will be rescued from the fire,
    Those who trusted in Jesus alone.
    He’ll welcome them into God’s presence.
    They’ll worship the Lord on His throne.

    God will make a New Heaven and Earth
    Where His people will live forever.
    He’ll restore the Garden of Eden.
    The story ends happily ever after.