Monday, January 14, 2019

A Spoonful of Sugar

 

[Artist's rendering of a mom and two children]


“For men are not cast off by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show
compassion, so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to the children of men.”
—Lamentations 3:31-33

You have undoubtedly seen the Disney character, Mary Poppins, in the movie with that name, trying to get the Banks children to clean the messy nursery. She finally sings a song to them with the lyrics: “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”

An account records1 that after a struggle to come up with a song for the movie, lyricist Robert Sherman went home one evening to find that his children had just taken the Sabin polio vaccine. In asking if it hurt, his son explained that he had felt no pain because the nurse had given him the vaccine on a tiny sugar cube. This gave Sherman the inspiration he needed for the lyrics to the now-famous song.

When they suffer various problems and afflictions in their lives, I truly believe that God devises all kinds of “sugar” for His children. Though our troubles cause us great pain and anguish, God still sends His grace to help us bear the suffering. Our God pours into us as much—or even more—mercy as He may pour into us His discipline.

When I read the Old Testament Book of Judges, it always amazes me. Over and over again, God gives Israel a judge with His Word for them to follow. Once the judge dies, they begin to increase their sin and things go awry again.

The author of the Book of Judges records the length of time the children of Israel have to deal with their disobedience Then, God calls another judge. Each time, I read the words, “So the land had peace for ?? years,” I take particular note that the years of peace always exceed the years that they suffered war and turmoil.2

As we look back over the years of our lives, and as we move forward into the future, we must search for the grace that God sends us during our trials. We then must write the instances of His grace down! This little exercise will encourage us to see that God really does care, that He walks with us, and that He has gifts beyond our imagination to help us through the pain.

The Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, says it this way:3

He [God] will not over-afflict. He mixes mercy with all our afflictions. If he gives us wormwood to drink, he will mix it with honey. In every cloud a child of God may see a rainbow of mercy shining.

______________________

1 Sherman, Robert. A Spoonful of Sugar Online Disney Wiki.
2 For example: Judges 3:11, 3:30, 5:31, 8:28
3 Watson, Thomas, as quoted in Rushing, Richard, editor. Voices. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009. p. 228.

 

 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Priorities

 

[Photo of woman praying]


“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.”
—Matthew 6:33

With what do you concern yourself the most? I can honestly say I spend most thought on those things that I can do nothing about except to pray. Jesus knew we tend to suffer most over things it would actually take a miracle of His grace to resolve.

In His Sermon of the Mount, Jesus used as His illustration the worries about food and clothing—something we would all commonly worry about if we didn’t have them. But, rather than telling His disciples to pray about those things, or giving them solutions to those potential problems, He tells us to put our minds first on His kingdom requirements and on the righteousness He expects of us.

Sometimes, in order to get our lives straightened around after a deeply embedded sin and its consequences, we think most about the consequences. Instead, Jesus turns this idea on its head and tells us to first take care of the sin problem. He is the very embodiment of righteousness. And, He has graciously made a way, through His death on the cross, to make us righteous, too. He speaks peace with the words, “I will take care of the other problems.”

Do we put His Kingdom first? Are we anxious about living righteously in our New Year? In each new day? At the beginning of a new venture? When we are faced with troubles?

I was interested to see that in James 5:13-16, where the Apostle teaches us about praying for a sick member of a congregation, he admonishes those praying to confess their sins one to another. Would we consider that important when a man’s or woman’s life hangs in the balance? Certainly God does.

As we begin another new year, whatever worries we may have, if we start by first dedicating ourselves to His kingdom work and His righteous requirements for our lives, we can remain assured that God has the power to act in our behalf. I love the way that Charles Spurgeon addresses this verse:1

What a promise this is! Food, raiment, home, and so forth, God undertakes to add to you while you seek Him. You mind His business, and He will mind yours. If you want paper and string, you get them given in when you buy more important goods; and just so all that we need of earthly things we shall have thrown in with the kingdom.

______________________

1 Spurgeon, Charles H. Faith’s Checkbook. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980. p. 150.

 

 

Monday, December 31, 2018

His Name Shall Be Called...

 

[Photo of ornaments with names]


“And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
—Isaiah 9:6

In this season of Christmas, let us worship our Lord, recalling some of the names given to Him in Scripture. By what names do you relate to Him in your life?

  Jesus
Emmanuel
the Christ
Son of God
Son of Man
the Word
Teacher
Master
Savior
the Lion of Judah
the Lamb
King of the Jews
King of Kings
Lord of Lords
Mediator
a Branch.
the Bridegroom
our High Priest
The Way
The Truth
The Life
the Light of the World
the Bread of Life
the Living Water
the Door
the Rock
  the Good Shepherd
the Dayspring from on High
Man of Sorrows
the Resurrection and the Life
Rose of Sharon
the Altogether Lovely One
the Power of God
the Wisdom of God
the Alpha and Omega
the Vine
our Advocate with the Father
the Second Adam
King of Righteousness.
King Eternal
a Man Approved of God
the Consolation of Israel
Redeemer
Intercessor
the Root of Jesse
the Cornerstone of the Church
Chosen of God and Precious
the Root of David
the Offspring of David
the great I AM.
The image of the Invisible God

 

 

Monday, December 24, 2018

By No Means Least

 

[Graphic of Jerusalem]


“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of
Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who
will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”
—Micah  5:2 and Matthew 2:6

People in the days of Jesus would not have named Bethlehem a “destination city.” It lay small and insignificant, a few miles from Jerusalem, which served as the towering, celebrated city among all of Israel. Yet, God chose this little town for the greatest miracle in history.

You might also say, “Mary, you are by no means least among the young women of Israel,” although, at the time, everyone would have considered her pretty commonplace and poor. Yet, God chose this humble maiden as the mother for His Son, Jesus, and honored her above all women.

And, to the shepherds, we could say, “Herdsmen, you are by no means least among the men of Israel,” even though everyone at that time would have looked at them: smelly, uneducated, poor, and hardly capable of the call to spread abroad the news of the Savior’s birth. Yet the angels announced the greatest news in history to them and urged them to spread the news.

So many times in Scripture, God rebukes those who would overlook those considered “least.” Sometimes, we see ourselves in this light, and God rebukes our faulty thinking. He has chosen us to carry His Holy Spirit within us, elevating us far beyond what the culture would. And, more often, we pick and choose among the people we meet, or merely see, and overlook those who seem plain, common, or poor.

We should take time during this busy season, to see those around us in a different light, to wonder if God has chosen them for something special, to invite them into conversations and to urge them to occupy honored places. Remember what Jesus said, recorded in Luke 9:48:

“For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”

Let us allow the lowly shepherds, the humble, ordinary Mary, and the little town of Bethlehem to remind us that God often chooses those things we tend to overlook. We must allow Him to show us His power to elevate and use whomever and whatever He wishes to use for His glory. Amen!

 

 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Lo, He Comes!

 

[Photo of a man with arms outstretched]


“Look, he is coming with the clouds; everyone
shall see him, including those who pierced
him; and all the peoples of the world will
mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.”
—Revelation 1:7

Jesus comes! Prepare! These words came early in the Biblical story. God promised a Messiah—God with us—to the Jews through the Old Testament prophets and then through John the Baptist. We look at these prophecies as Advent texts. And, we rejoice that God has a plan through His Son who came as a helpless babe. He grew into a man, lived, died in our place on the cross of Calvary, and ascended back to His Father in heaven.

If we only observe the first coming of our Lord at Christmas, we lose the complete story of Advent. Just as we can read the text of many hymns in two ways—concerning the first coming and the second coming of Christ—we can sing about the second coming as the next Advent of our Lord.

The hymn, “Lo! He Comes, With Clouds Descending,” expresses the Christian’s hope for Christ’s return to earth. Here’s the first verse.1

Lo! He comes, with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand, thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of His train;
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign,
God appears on earth to reign.

You may hear a beautiful rendition of this hymn by clicking on the video button below.

[Graphic of a play video icon]

The hymn appears to have been a collaboration between five individuals: a land surveyor from England turned Moravian preacher, hymn-writer Charles Wesley, two of his followers—one a cobbler—and then a man who loved to add Hallelujahs to Wesley texts. One author says it this way:2

As we await the coming of our Lord, about which this hymn is written, God’s Kingdom continues to grow just as this hymn once grew. Preachers, cobblers, land surveyors and those who embellish with hallelujahs build on one another’s efforts for the glory of God. They are just a few of the “thousand, thousand saints attending.”

______________________

1 Wesley, Charles; Cennick, John; Madan, Martin. “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending.” Hymn in the Public Domain.
2 Peterson, William J. and Peterson, Randy. The One Year Book of Hymns. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1995. Entry for August 8th.

 

 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Magnify

 

[Photo of frost on a window]


“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my
spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
—Luke 1:46-47

Mary spoke the above statement upon learning that God had chosen her to bear the Son of God. This stirring tribute to her Lord, called “The Magnificat,” comes from the Latin root word from which our word “magnify” derives. This same verb appears in the first sentence of Mary’s declaration.

When we use the word “magnify,” we think of making something appear bigger so that we can see it better. At a ballgame, we might watch the game from the stands on a jumbo screen so that we can see facial expressions and the intricate details of each play. In the laboratory, we magnify tiny creatures so that we can see them better with the human eye. In neither case do we actually make the objects bigger. We just make them appear bigger so that our eyes can see them.

What did Mary mean when she said that she “magnified” the Lord? She looked at His character, His might, His blessing, His holiness, His mercy, and His gifts. Then, she spoke of them in such poetic ways and desired to make them bigger so that she and others could see Him better. It was as though she had practiced this art throughout her short life. God had obviously carefully prepared her for this moment.

Psalm 34:3 records David’s desire to give the same kind of glory to God. He wrote:

Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!

When we get together with other Christians and relate what we know of our God, we also magnify Him. We do not make Him any bigger or greater than He’s ever been. But instead, through our expressions of worship, we show others the bigness of our Lord. We allow them to see and understand Him in ways they may have never seen Him before.

During this Advent season, like Mary, we need to consider our great God, and magnify His character in such a way that others can better see Him, heed Him, and know Him for themselves. He is certainly worthy of this exaltation!

 

 

Monday, December 3, 2018

O Come, Emmanuel

 

[Photo of of a family at Christmas]


“Behold, the virgin shall conceive
and bear a son, and they shall call
his name Emmanuel

(which means: God with us).
—Matthew 1:23

Like the happy family in the photograph above, why do so many people love having a dog? Most of all, I think they love the companionship. Life can often seem like a lonely venture. Children, around whom life has centered, go off to college leaving an “empty nest.” Parents, siblings, and friends, who were once always there, move away, or die, and leave a large hole in our lives.

God purposefully sent His Son, Jesus, to us. He did so for many reasons. But, one of those reasons was to fill a void in our lives that only He could fill.

One of the many special names that God gave Jesus was the name “Emmanuel.” God chose to give this unique name to specifically remind us that, in and through His Son, God is with us.

In other Scriptures (Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 94:14, and Hebrews 13:5), we hear that those who have come to know Jesus as Emmanuel have a God who will never leave us or forsake us.

Many at this time of year greatly miss the people who once filled their lives. It is very good that they can know the One who will never leave them. As followers of the Great King Jesus, God has given Him to us as our personal “God with Us.”

Here’s how Michael Card puts it:2

Incredible… are the times we know He is with us in the midst of our daily, routine lives. In the middle of cleaning the house or driving somewhere in the pick-up, He stops us… in our tracks and makes His presence known. Often it’s in the middle of the most mundane task that He lets us know He is there with us. We realize, then, that there can be no “ordinary” moments for people who live their lives with Jesus.

From the very beginning of Jesus’ life, God wanted us to know that He had been sent to be our constant, loving, ever-present, and ever-faithful companion. Knowing that God had this plan for us, we should sing anew this season and cry out in supplication as Israel once did:2

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel.
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

______________________

1 Card, Michael. Immanuel. Cited in Lucado, Max. The Devotional Bible. Nashville, TN:Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2003. Pp.1231-1232.
2 O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Latin hymn from 12th century Latin Antiphons, Public Domain.