God’s (Very) Long-Range Plan

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I’m part of a group that is writing out the Scriptures. We’re writing small sections each day, but by focusing on only a small portion of verses we are able to slow down; by writing it out we pay careful attention to each word. Yesterday one of those words stood out to me.  In the account of creation, Genesis two describes man’s divinely created home, a place of beauty and nurture. The garden featured trees with fruit to feed the human. All the bounty of the Garden was free for the taking, with one exception – the “tree in the middle of the garden” (Gen. 3:3). God expressly forbade eating the fruit from this particular tree. He said, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of the good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Did you notice that one word that caught my attention? When. God said, “when you eat of it,” not “if you eat of it.” Adam and Eve’s act of sinful rebellion was not a surprise to God. He expected it. He predicted it. He knew it was going to happen all along.

And because He knew it was going to happen, He made a way for sinful man to be redeemed before he ever spoke the universe into being. You and I need to know that the cross of Christ was not God’s reaction to man’s sin. John said that Jesus was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’ (Rev 13:8), and Jesus said that the Father arranged our inheritance, a “kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt 25:34). God provided the cure for sin before the first sin ever occurred, even before He called forth the light (Gen 1:3). Jesus coming to earth, living a perfect life, dying a selfless death, and rising from the grave was all part of the plan of the ages. To what end? That He might rule and reign over a kingdom of redeemed people.

Beloved, I want you to be part of that kingdom. I want you to know Jesus, but more importantly, I want Jesus to know you (Gal 4:9; 1 Cor 8:3; John 10:14). God made the plan long ago, and He included you in it. Have you, will you receive His grace today?

The Story of God

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The first four words of Scripture tell you everything you need to know about the Bible: “In the beginning God . . .”(Gen. 1:1). The Bible, for all the people and stories it contains, is a book about God. We like to say it is about God and man, God and Abraham, God and Israel. We point to all God’s creative activity, which is worthy of note and awe. But the Bible isn’t about all God did and the humans he worked through. The Bible is about God. The story of Moses is the story of God. The story of David is the story of God. The stories of Jonah and the Apostles are all the stories of God. He is on every page, in every verse, and behind every story, even if His name is not mentioned.

That is because God is the creator and sustainer of all existence. If He were to somehow cease to be, which can never happen because He is eternal, the heavens and the earth – every mountain and tree, every planet and star would disappear. Paul said of Christ (who is fully God) “By Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17). And John the Revelator recorded the angels’ praise: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being” (Rev. 4:11).

Get this – your story and my story is also the story of God. Paul said, “We live and move and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28). We would not exist without Him. We should seek every day to know Him. That is why I teach the Bible. That is why I encourage you to read and study for yourself. Listen to His amazing promise: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord” (Jer. 29:13, 14). You don’t have to hope to know God, you just have to look for Him in the pages of His Word. Beloved, will you open your Bible and seek out the One who created you and loves you?

Walking into the New Year

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I had no clue on January 1 what 2021 would hold, but God knew everything thing that was to occur in the next 365 days.  And as 2022 begins, He is equally aware of how it will unfold.  How can I be so confident?  Because Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last, and they are used to express completeness from beginning to end.  Three times in Revelation Jesus declares, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” and each time He adds a little more to His self-proclamation.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8).

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (21:6).

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (22:13).

Jesus is the Beginning of time (Genesis 1:14) and the End of time; because He is timeless (1 Peter 1:11). He called forth the first light (Genesis 1:3) and He will extinguish it and replace it with Himself (Revelation 21:23). He is the Beginning of all righteousness and the end of all evil (Matthew 25:46).

If you are in Christ, He is also the Alpha and the Omega of your life.  He is Beginning and the End of your day—He is there with you when you wake in the morning and when you lay your head down at night and every hour in between. He continues to watch over you through the night.  He is the First and the Last over your life—He was there when you drew your first breath, and He will walk with you into heaven when you draw your last, and He will never leave your side all the days of your life.

We do not know what 2022 will bring, what blessings and struggles, hellos and goodbyes, joys and sorrows.  But we can greet the coming year confident that the Alpha and Omega is already there.  Beloved, I invite you to begin the New Year with words of this beautiful old hymn:

I don’t worry o’er the future

For I know what Jesus said

And today I’ll walk beside Him

For He knows what is ahead

Many things about tomorrow

I don’t seem to understand;

But I know who holds tomorrow

and I know who holds my hand.

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow – words and music by Ira F. Stanphill, @ 1950.

The Day Jesus was Born

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A friend asked me about the validity of celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25th. The Bible doesn’t put a date on a calendar, and while we can get a good idea from tracing the astronomical records of a unique star, no one wrote the exact date into the annuals of human history. Many people have commented that shepherds would never have their flocks out in a field or on a hillside where they would be exposed to frigid temperatures. But several scholars have noted that generally, the temperature does not drop to those levels until after our traditional Christmas season, so there is reason to assume we’re pretty close.

I did say that the Bible doesn’t give us a precise date, but it does actually tell us when Jesus was born. Galatians 4:4 says, “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman.” I find so much comfort in that. The Bible is chock-full of references to time, from the record of Creation to “the day [when] His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.” God actually does have a calendar of sorts – a divine calendar – and all of human history flows according to the plans He made before the creation of the world. Everything will happen “when the time has fully come.”

I hope you take that personally. Because the same God who established the universe’s timeline has your name on His calendar too. He is moving in your life according to His purpose and design. He is making things and people and events come together just as He planned. Beloved, your life is not some crazy quilt with pieces of all shapes, sizes, and colors haphazardly sewn together. It is a work of beauty, precision, and exactness, stitched firmly together with blood-red cords. Every moment of your life has been leading up to the magnificent finished project that will be revealed, “when the time has fully come.”

The point is not to know when He came, but to know that He came and why He came. To set you free from your bondage of sin and to give you eternal life. So feel free to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th with joy and thanksgiving for God’s perfect, divine plan. And remember that He’s an “on-time” God. It won’t be a second late. Nor will it be a second early. It will be “when the time has fully come.”

The Rescue Plan

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Some themes have become so familiar in the Christian world that we speak them and receive them without a second thought. Things like: “God helps those who help themselves.” Now, I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover many times over and I tell you for certain, it’s not in there. Or how about, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Again, I’ve never found that in the Bible and  I can tell you from my own life, it ain’t so.  I heard another one recently that always comes around at Christmas and Easter, this human idea that God looked down from heaven and saw mankind in bondage to sin and death and sent His son in response. While it certainly expresses God’s heart of mercy for His creation, it’s not exactly the truth.

How do I know that? Because the Bible says that Jesus is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Before man could ever cry out for redemption, the Redeemer had already paid the price. What in the world does that mean? Well, it’s not a worldly concept at all, it’s the divine plan created in heaven before God scooped up a handful of dust – even before He said, “Let there be light.” Jesus was always meant to come to earth as a tiny baby and live a perfect, sinless life, and die an undeserved and cruel death.  He was always meant to lie in a tomb for three days and heaven never doubted that He would rise again, because that was the plan all along. Christmas and Easter were not God’s knee-jerk reaction to our predicament.

We also need to understand that time in the heavenly realm is not like time here on earth. God sees the end and the beginning all at the same time because He is the sovereign Lord of Heaven and Earth – and time. His plan wasn’t something that had to unfold from heaven’s perspective, though it took thousands of years to accomplish on earth. It was already a done deal. When the Father gazed at the Baby in the manger he saw the man on the cross. And so should we.

Aren’t you glad that He didn’t wait for you to cry out from the pit before He set a rescue plan in place? He planned it long before you needed it. That should give you great hope, Beloved. God had you in mind all along.

The Finished Project

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My granddaughter, Joy, painting pumpkins.

I used to enjoy craft projects of various kinds – cross-stitch, sewing, crochet, beadwork. I have many that are in various stages of incompletion.  I’m good at starting things, but not so good at finishing them.  That is why I love Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” God always finishes what He starts, and He finishes it well.  The creation account in Genesis 1 is a great example. At the end of every day, the Scripture says: “God saw that it [His work] was good.”  At the end of the week, “God saw that it was very good.

Paul says that God “began a good work” in us.  What was that good work?  Salvation.  The restoration of our relationship with Him.  And with it the transformation of our lives, that is sanctification – working to make us more like Jesus, “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29).  God’s purpose is to make sinful creatures into holy sons and daughters.  It is a life-long work that will only be completed when we are united with Christ.  But here’s the important point to remember:  it will be completed.  It will be accomplished.  God’s good work in you and me will be finished and it will be “very good.”

I hope that is as encouraging to you as it is to me.  Salvation and the transformation of my life are not up to me and my ability to get the job done.  I have boxes full of unfinished projects to prove that I can’t pull this off by myself. And neither can you.  But God has a cross and an empty tomb to prove that He can.  He has the power and the vision to accomplish this good work.  And He will prove Himself faithful.  Paul said that it is God Himself that will sanctify us “through and through” (*).  It is He who will keep us, “spirit, soul, and body blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (*) Beloved, You and I are not “unfinished projects.”  We are divinely designed and destined by God to accomplish His “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2) – to be like His Son. “The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24*).

God is There

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I know many of you enjoy doing the Bible in a Year reading plan. I prefer a slower pace; reading through in about three years gives me time to really chew on the Scriptures.  As many times as I’ve read it, I always find something new. That’s because it is a living Word inhabited by the living Spirit of the living God. And that’s also because my life changes and new things stand out in light of circumstances and needs in different seasons.  It’s a great comfort to me to know that wherever I land in Scripture, God is there.

The first verse in the Bible says “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Pare that down to the most important words: “In the beginning, God . . .” In the beginning, God was there.

Here’s what occurred to me, at the very end of the Bible, we read, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’” (Revelation 22:20). In the beginning, God . . . at the end Jesus – who is God. Oh, the sweet consistency of our Creator and Redeemer. He has sovereign control of the universe from beginning to end. Nothing happens outside of Him.

That gives me tremendous hope and here’s why. When we look at the world we may think that everything is out of control. Afghanistan. Massive hurricanes. Riots. Inept and corrupt political leaders. But we can trace out God’s fingerprints throughout human history, and that includes today. They don’t always show up in the moment, but they are there. God has not lost control of the world. He was there at the beginning and He will be here at the end.

Do you know what else that tells me? He is also in sovereign control of my life. Not one single thing escapes His notice – nor His control. I often wonder what He’s up to, but I don’t doubt His presence and power. Even – especially – when it seems He’s stepped out. He never has. He never will. The same is true for you, Beloved. God has never let go of you. Your struggles and difficulties are part of bringing His good, pleasing, and perfect will to fruition. In the beginning God and in the end God and God all the way through.

God is Here!

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“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14)

When you look out at the night sky you are looking at the handiwork of God – sparkling stars scattered across black velvet –  dancing in honor of their Creator.  The deeper man looks into outer space, the more he sees God at work. The mountains towering from the earth are grander than any human-built skyscraper and stand as a strong, silent witness to the God who ordered them to rise. The rising and setting of the sun and the moon powerfully declare the God who said, “Let there be . . .” From the towering Sequoias to the delicate Johnny-Jump-Ups, all of nature testifies of its Creator. And so do you.

 When you look in the mirror you are looking at the most powerful testimony to the existence of the Creator. Every cell in our human bodies bears God’s signature. The intricate inner workings that are occurring in your body are amazing – and you aren’t doing anything to make them happen. They are following a prescribed pattern written by their Creator.  Did you know that there is a digestive enzyme in your body that is only needed when you introduce lactose – milk sugar – into your system. It is produced by one specific DNA protein which just quietly hangs around until it is called into duty. When you drink a glass of milk at breakfast, your body signals that little protein to take its place and start producing the enzyme that breaks down the lactose for digestion. When the work is done this little dude goes back into its dormant state until you have cheese on your sandwich at lunch and ice cream for dessert after supper. Isn’t that incredible?! I know I didn’t give a “scientific” explanation there, but the point is – there is far too much intricacy and complexity to the human body – and to all of creation – to think this all happened by accident! Every breath we take, the beat of our heart, our brain waves, and the DNA that makes our bodies work all declare His praises. How can we think we are anything less than the work of a wonderful Creator?

You, Beloved, are a walking, breathing, testifying witness to the existence and creative power of God – without saying a word.  He not only fashioned you with His own hands, but He also put His image in you so that the whole world knows – God is here!

Give God the Glory

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I’m preparing for my fall class by reading Romans over the summer. Actually, I’m writing it out. This is my favorite way to study the Scriptures because I have to pay careful attention to every single word.  This is when the Spirit sends me on those wonderful word studies and calls me to think carefully and deeply about what a verse says.

I hit one of those the other day and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. Paul is explaining why God is justified in pouring out His wrath on sinful, rebellious men. Here’s the verse that caught my attention: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). There are several major points here, but we’re going to focus on two:

Men – all men – know about God. “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 . . .” (v. 20) They know that Someone is the creative force behind everything that exists. Paul said that creation is intended to draw men to “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him . . .” (Acts 17:27). Man is “without excuse” (v. 20b) when he denies the truth of God.

Then, here’s what caught my attention – the very minimum man owes God is glory and thanks. God is worthy of glory – which means declaring his splendor and brilliance and power with words of honor, praise, and excellence and assigning the highest status to Him. Not that He needs it. We do. We need to give Him glory to turn our minds and hearts to Him who alone is worthy. And we owe God our thanks as our Creator. We exist because He decided we should. That in itself should be enough to thank Him.

The wicked man refuses to give God even the least He deserves – glory and thanks. Oh but He is worthy of so much more and when we receive His Son as our Savior we give Him the rest – love, faith, trust, devotion, service – our very selves. Beloved, what about it? Are you giving God everything He deserves or just the bare minimum? Or are you refusing to give Him anything at all?

Hebrews: Jesus – Son of God, Son of Man

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 “But we see Jesus . . .”

Surprisingly, after speaking of Him from the opening of his message – after identifying Him as the Son of God, the eternal King, the Creator, the Lord – this is the first time the author identifies Jesus by name. But there is no doubt that the recipients knew exactly whom he talking about. There is only one Son of God who was also “the Son of Man.” There was only one who could fill every role perfectly. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).

Adam was God’s special creation, His pièce de resistance. He was meant to carry the image of God and give his Creator glory. He was meant to rule the created world in peace and productivity. But he fell from his lofty status and brought chaos and rebellion and condemnation to the human race. There should have never been wars or poverty or abuse or neglect or hatred or corruption. There should have never been earthquakes or hurricanes or tornadoes or enmity between man and animals. There should have never been sin and death. But there is. Everywhere we look we see repercussions of Adam’s sin. But, thanks be to God, we also see Jesus who was God’s answer to man’s dilemma before man ever existed.

Jesus, who was “made a little lower than the angels” in a human body. Jesus, who willingly bore all of mankind’s sin and shame. Jesus, who “suffered death” – but only for three days – He only “had a taste” of it. Jesus, who rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. Jesus, who is now and forever “crowned with glory and honor.” We see Jesus, the Creator who became a man to redeem His creation, to set right what Adam turned upside-down. Why?

“To bring many sons to glory . . .” Beloved, the struggles in your life, the pain and heartache, are all the result of your fallen condition as a human being. That’s not to say that everything is necessarily your direct fault, it’s just part of living in a sinful world. But it wasn’t meant to be this way. You were meant to bear God’s image and bring Him glory. Jesus came to give it all back to you. Will you let Him?