“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:3).
For many years I sang in church choirs. I am not a great singer, but I always tried to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Psalm 98:4). I am an alto – I sing on the low female range. I remember one church choir I was in, I was seated with a soprano to my left, a tenor directly behind me on my left and a bass directly behind me on my right. Everyone was going in different vocal directions and I had the hardest time staying on my alto notes. Because the soprano was a strong singer, I was constantly being pulled in her direction. I spoke to our choir director, and he told me he didn’t want to move me, but he did give me some good advice. He told me to concentrate more on my note – and to lean just a little towards the alto to my right. He said that he could hear me singing the correct notes, but at the same time, he could tell that I was listening to all the other singers around me and losing confidence in myself. I will always remember what he told me, “You’re on the right notes, but you have to stay focused and not back off.”
I think about that often when the world is loud and I’m struggling to stay on the right way. Many different voices are saying many different things, and they are apt to draw me away from what I know is true. The culture wants me to embrace things that God’s Word has clearly forbidden. The scholar wants me to trade truth for worldly philosophies that have no regard for God. The unsaved world wants me to stop singing God’s praises altogether. My choir director’s advice rings loud and clear: stay focused. Concentrate on what you know is right and true; lean in to godly wisdom and don’t back off. This world is becoming more evil and more vocal every day. If we are not intentionally listening to God, you and I will be pulled away from what is right and true. I love this word from Paul to his protégé Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of” (2 Timothy 3:14). Stay the course. Focus on the truth. Let God’s Word drown out the voices of the world. The way of righteousness has not changed just because the music around you has. Beloved, don’t let the world change your song.
“I am so disappointed in you.” She could have hit me, grounded me and taken away my car, and it wouldn’t have cut me as deeply as knowing I had disappointed my Mom. Her words stuck with me for many, many years and colored my life and my relationships. I have always feared disappointing others – teachers, bosses, friends, family, strangers. And most especially God. Oh, I know I am saved and have eternal life – that is rock-solid. But I have carried this sense of being a disappointment to God for as long as I can remember. Until this morning, and something the Lord impressed on my heart.
Paul wrote often about being “in Christ,” meaning to trust in Him for salvation and eternal life. And I have. That also means that Christ is “in me” (John 17:23). I in Christ and Christ in me. By that, God considers me as one with His Son and all that the Son has is mine (Corinthians 3:21), including His righteousness before God (Romans 3:22). Now come stand with me at the water’s edge and hear the Father’s words as Jesus emerges from the Jordan River: “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This, too, is mine in Christ. This rocked my world this morning: God is never disappointed in His Son. And because I am in Christ and Christ is in me, God is never disappointed in me. Friend, the same is true for you – if you are in Christ, He is never disappointed in you.
“But,” you argue, “Jesus was perfect and sinless, and I am not.” It doesn’t matter. You and Christ are one in God’s eyes. “But I am disappointed in myself.” That doesn’t change the truth. You are in Christ and Christ is in you. God is not – will never be – disappointed in you.
When you grab hold of that, it will change everything. It will become your mantra when the enemy tries to dump shame on you. “There is no condemnation for me, because I am in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1). You will “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16) because you know He gladly welcomes you into His presence.
Beloved, when God looks at you, He doesn’t see the foolish, sinful person you think you are. He sees His Son in you. And He says – “This one is mine, the one I love, with whom I am well pleased.” Not disappointed. Ever. Christ in you and you in Christ. It’s a beautiful combination.
One of my responsibilities is to help my sister-in-love create a bulletin board in the church. The Lord gives her the image and I craft it. She is in charge of inspiration and I am the perspiration. This month, we naturally did an “Easter” theme – based on the song, “Love Grew Where the Blood Fell” and on Luke 22:44: “And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” My husband crafted a wooden cross and we mounted it to the board. Because we wanted to emphasize the Lord’s prayer of surrender in Gethsemane, we talked about adding the “rock” upon which Jesus prayed. But something stopped me. I went to the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all speak of the anguished prayer in the garden, but there is no mention of a rock; rather, the Scriptures say “He knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41) and “He fell with His face to the ground and prayed” (Matthew 26:39). No rock. But, the prayer on the rock is entrenched in our memory of the story. So where did the rock come from? From the 1886 painting, “Christ in Gethsemane” by Heinrich Hoffman. This classic work of art has become part of the story, just as the “Three wise men” have become part of the Christmas story. But read Matthew’s account again – there were three gifts, but no mention of the number of wise men. John Henry’s 1857 song, “We Three Kings” cements the idea in our minds.
I share this to warn you and me – don’t let side stories and paintings and songs and culture add to or take away from the Word of God. Sure, there’s no harm in having a rock in Gethsemane or three kings in the Christmas story (who, by the way, did not come to the manger, but to the holy family’s house about 2 years after Jesus’ birth). But there are other false teachings that slip in just as easily and can do great harm to your faith and mine. Even if it is something you are sure of, go to the Scriptures and verify it. Our own thoughts and recollections can be colored by something as simple as a children’s nativity play. Friend, we need to be like the Bereans – who listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts17:11). I’ve been a Bible teacher for 20+ years, and my sister-in-love has studied the Bible even longer and we both had a rock in Gethsemane. We were both surprised to discover that there ain’t no rock. Beloved, don’t take anyone else’s word for what God said but God Himself. Even mine. Go get your Bible right now and check it out.
An interesting scene plays out in Matthew 16:13-17, and it is still playing out to this very day. The script is always asking the same question: “Who is this Jesus?” It is answered by three different respondents.
Jesus first asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (vs. 13). In other words, what was the opinion of the general population? The response in Jesus’ day was “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (v. 14). John the Baptist was a preacher and the forerunner of Jesus. His message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). By this point he had lost his head to King Herod, so perhaps Jesus was the reincarnated John. Or, they thought He might be a prophet of old like Elijah, Jeremiah or one of their contemporaries. All of these pointed to God’s Anointed One, thus the people thought Jesus was another who would come before the Messiah. Today the answers are often the same. While some reject Him altogether and scorn His name, most believe Jesus was a great prophet, teacher, and humanitarian who upset the status quo to lift up the disadvantaged. But is that really who He is?
Jesus then turns the question to his disciples. “But what about you.” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” (v. 15). Like the disciples, every person must answer this question for themselves. The world is quick to give us their opinion, but you and I must wrestle personally with this question and reach our own answer. But how do we know we have the right answer?
The Lord commended Peter for his response: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). How did Peter come up with this answer? Jesus said, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in Heaven” (v. 17). If we want to know for certain that we have the right answer, we must ask the right question: “Who does God say that Jesus is?” We can find the answer at the Jordan river. When Jesus was baptized by John, the Scripture says that as He came up out of the water, “A voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:17). No other answer matters because anything less than God’s answer is the wrong answer. Jesus said that Peter got it right because his answer came from His Father. And that answer was confirmed on the top of a mountain when Jesus was transfigured and appeared with Moses and Elijah. “A voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.’” (Matthew 17:7).
Who do you say Jesus is?
This is the most important question you and I will ever face because eternity hangs on the answer we give. And getting the answer right has everything to do with who we ask. We can ask the world: “Who do you say Jesus is?” and follow the wrong answer to all the way to hell. Or we can ask God: “Who do you say Jesus is?” and believe the only answer that leads to eternal life. Beloved you cannot afford to get this one wrong. The question has been answered for you by the One who speaks only Truth. Peter got it right. Will you?
“They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16).
When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star and the angel above the stable and we add the animals and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.
The truth is, Satan is part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.
As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.
“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6
Humankind has been wrestling with the concept of belief in God for thousands of years. The most brilliant minds from every side of the issue have argued for and against belief in God. Lately the voices against have become louder and more widely accepted and belief in God is considered antiquated, foolish and a cause for scorn. But for a person of faith belief in God is the starting place. Everything else springs from this crucial point. Without God our worldview – our understanding of the universe, of life, and of ourselves changes completely. So, we must nail this one down – What does it mean to “believe in God?”
Our key verse declares that faith believes in the existence of God and there are evidences all around to prove He does exist. God has first revealed Himself through His creation. Romans 1:19-20 says “What may be known about God is plain to [men], because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities- His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made; so that men are without excuse.” David said “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands…Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1, 3). The world around us professes to the reality of God. When I was in seminary, I had to take Biology – which I saw as useless for a Biblical/Theological degree. But the more I leaned about the science of life, the more I saw God in creation. Gaze into an astronomer’s telescope to the farthest reaches of space and God’s handiwork is there. Look through the most powerful microscope at the most miniscule parts of cellular life and God’s fingerprints are all over it. There is too much intricacy to the greatest and smallest details of everything that exists to deny the work of a creative Designer. People of faith believe that the universe and all life was not created by some “cosmic accident” It was created by God. The foundation of faith is the belief in the existence of God as evidenced by everything that surrounds us.
So, is that all there is to it? Is believing that God exists enough? Not according to the Bible. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19). If the demons of hell profess to the existence of God, then there must be more to faith than simply saying “Yes, I believe there is a God.” Let’s revisit our key verse and the claim that we must believe that God exists. The word “exists” holds a deeper meaning in the original Greek than just being; it carries the impression of acceptance, companionship, belonging, involvement. It means relationship. To believe in God is not just intellectual assent, though we cannot miss out on that first vital understanding. Believing in God means investing all I am in a relationship with my Creator. It means that I am His and He is mine. That’s the difference between how the demons believe and how faith believes. Faith – genuine faith – is both mind and heart – recognizing the truth of God’s existence and making it personal through a relationship that impacts every aspect of our lives.
I believe in God – and this is not just a rote statement I declare, it is the deepest conviction of my heart and it changes everything about my life. Beloved, do you believe in God?