Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Faithful

Great is Thy Faithfulness
BY BETHANY
Daily ReadingMalachi 4 (Listen – 1:19)John 21 (Listen – 4:10)
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
Thomas Chisholm was born in Franklin, Kentucky, on July 29, 1866. He grew up in a log cabin and, at 16 years old, became a teacher. When he was 27, he had a conversion experience during a revival led by Dr. Henry Clay Morrison.
Chisholm ended up becoming a Methodist minister for a year before resigning because of his poor health. Over his lifetime, he wrote 1,200 poems, which appeared in many Christian periodicals. He also served as an editor of the Pentecostal Herald in Louisville for a short time. In 1909, he began his career as a life insurance agent in New Jersey.
In 1923, when he was 57 years old, Chisholm wrote “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” He submitted it to William Runyon, who was a composer affiliated with the Moody Bible Institute. Runyon set the poem to music and Hope Publishing Company published it the same year in which it was written.
On this last day of the year, may we look back and remember the faithfulness of the Lord so that, as we look forward to the mystery and unknown future of 2015, we trust in the One who has proven Himself faithful already. For “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price … He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” [1]
[1] Revelation 217, 20-21 ESV
Great is Thy Faithfulness (Listen: Harding University Concert Choir – 1:35)
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.
Refrain:Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
Refrain
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own great presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.
Refrain

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dependence, Joy, Worship

Marshall Segal post:  A Dream Come True in Corporate Worship

Something remarkable, even unimaginable will take place when you gather with God’s people this weekend. Most of us have lost our sense of wonder and awe with what’s happening, but it’s a phenomenon worth rehearsing. God has transformed helpless, hardened sinners into joyful, outspoken worshippers.
The book of Zephaniah offers a great set of prescription lenses through which to witness the glory of corporate worship, wherever you worship. Zephaniah exposes the darkness and wickedness in man’s rebellion against God — just how unlikely, even impossible heartfelt worship really is. But he also writes about the God who turns hardened hearts and overcomes the worst and most perverse corruption in us. God takes mouths that once mocked him, and fills them with the sweetest admiration and praise.

What Poisons Our Praise

We’re familiar with lots of verses from the Prophets — descriptions of the Messiah, promises of lasting peace and joy, commentary on God’s grace and mercy. The verses that aren’t often read in services or plastered on inspirational coffee mugs are just as important to the story, though.
“I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. . . . “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. . . . those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.” (Zephaniah 1:246)
Why was God so furious? What would cause God — “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6) — to bring such swift and awful violence against the world — his people and the nations around them? Three answers Zephaniah gives are pride (Zephaniah 3:2), complacency (Zephaniah 1:12), and an obsession and dependence on the things of this world (Zephaniah 1:18). Three answers Zephaniah might rightly (and tragically) give of the church still today.
The people were prideful — indulging in other gods (Zephaniah 1:5), defying God’s justice (Zephaniah 1:12), opposing his word (Zephaniah 2:5), and rejecting his correction (Zephaniah 3:2). Pride is the poison of worship. It pretends not to need God, and chooses selfish, dangerous paths rather than the life God provides. They were complacent — putting off truth, justice, and holiness for another day — not believing God would or even could judge their sin (Zephaniah 1:12). And they obsessed over possessions, looking to finer homes, more wine, and extravagant wealth for protection and satisfaction (Zephaniah 1:1318). They were confident and comfortable, but they were also condemned to severe punishment — to destruction at the hands of the most powerful Person alive, the awesome God they had offended and assaulted.
When we lift our voices in dependence, joy, and worship, we are experiencing the most unlikely twist in history.

The Divine Speech Class

While God watched the whole world soak themselves in sin — in pride against him, complacency despite him, and contentment without him — he had his eyes and heart on a few. He had decided, wholly apart from what they deserved, to rescue and repurpose men and women for praise. He would rip the rebellion from their hands and put a new message in their mouths.
“At that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.” (Zephaniah 3:9)
These are the seemingly small, but spectacular and eternal miracles populating the pews on Sunday morning. When God’s children, with hearts full, lift our voices in dependence, joy, and worship, we are experiencing the most unlikely twist in history. We who hated God — who preferred money, sex, and self over him — now wholly live for him and exult in his presence. God has authored a surprising and sublime ending to our story.

Joy in God, Joy of God

Worship itself is a most sensational miracle — a heart revived and given an eternal and glorious purpose. But the dream come true is that this worship not only satisfies God, it also satisfies us — far beyond our wildest imaginations.
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. (Zephaniah 3:14–15)
The safety and happiness of knowing God as ever-loving and ever-present will satisfy the deepest, most desperate longings in your soul. When you meet this God and know more and more of him, you won’t have to tell your heart to rejoice. It will be full and overflowing. Joy is the spontaneous song of the saved, the never-ending condition of the acquitted.
And even more amazingly, there is One who goes before us, above us, and beyond us in our joy.
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
As you walk into corporate worship this weekend — especially as you sing God’s goodness back to him — know that he rejoices over you, too. His love for you is the surest. His joy in you is the fullest. His song over you is the loudest. Therefore, in worship, we are truly living a dream come true.
Joy is the spontaneous song of the saved, the never-ending condition of the acquitted.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Forgiveness, Not Survival, Victory Laurel

Marshall Segal post:  Unbroken Uncut

Louis Zamperini (1917–2014) was a miracle of a man. He truly lived — better, survived — one of the greatest stories ever written. Nonfiction stories are written, too, you know. “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16). Some stories wake us up and remind us of this mouth-stopping truth. Louie’s life could only have been born in the mind and heart of God.
A film opens today bringing Louie’s epic story to the big screen. It’s based on Laura Hillenbrand’s remarkable telling of Louie’s extraordinary story, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Louie’s life is a Lord of the Rings trilogy born in the flesh of one strong, but feeble man. The Coen brothers (writers), Angelina Jolie (producer and director), and everyone else involved should be applauded for taking on a life as excruciating and inspiring as Louie’s. It is a monumental task — one too large for life, much less for a full-length feature film.
I won’t offer any spoiler alerts, because I don’t believe this article will spoil anything for you — at least anything that’s not already suggested in the title (Unbroken: Survival. Resilience. Redemption). In fact, having read Hillenbrand’s book, I consider this an anti-spoiler — like reading up on the history and landmarks of Washington D.C. before you spend a week there. I believe you’ll enjoy the film (and Louie) more knowing the full story, especially the pages not covered in Jolie’s 137 minutes.

Worse Than World War II

Unbroken, the film, begins with the trouble-making son of Italian immigrants, chronicles his unlikely and meteoric rise to fame as an Olympian, displays some of the unspeakable horrors of war, and highlights the resilience and strength even weak men can have in the face of agonizing pain and unrelenting terror. What the film does will be intense and emotional enough to sober and inspire most of us. Violence, starvation, and torture will even be too much for many. After a plane crash into the ocean, Louie and two fellow soldiers were trapped on a raft for 47 days before they were captured by the Japanese. The Bird — the military officer who held and mercilessly tortured Louie — is rightly, if not inadequately, portrayed as an awful, sadistic villain and criminal. But there are worse horrors hidden in this edition of the story.
The movie simply doesn’t go low enough, and therefore cannot end high enough. If the worst things in life were war, torture, and death, then the movie might have done Zamperini justice. Louie himself, though, would testify they are not. There are worse evils and worse fates facing all of us — the darkness within each of us and the darkness we therefore deserve.

Fairy Tale or Horror Film?

Those who don’t read the story will miss the reality that Louie was actually a very broken man — horribly broken by sin and then sweetly broken by God.
Shortly after his feet landed back on American soil, Louie went back with his family to his childhood home in California. They enjoyed food and conversation, unwrapping several years of unwrapped Christmas gifts — everything seemed peaceful, almost normal. Then his sister Sylvia played a recording of Louie’s voice that had been broadcast over public radio during the war. “Take it off! Take it off!”Louie fell into a violent, screaming convulsion — a scene that would sadly mark most of his next several years.
Like the immature, insecure boy before the Olympics, post-war Louie picked fights over nothing, then drowned his emotional scars and nightmares with endless alcohol and suffered the pervasive curse of POWs: post-traumatic stress disorder. These men were anxious and depressed — thirty percent more likely to commit suicide. Hillenbrand says, “They carried unspeakable memories of torture and humiliation, and an acute sense of vulnerability that attended the knowledge of how readily they could be disarmed and dehumanized” (349).
Louie did meet a pretty girl on the beach and two weeks later convinced the poor, na├»ve Cynthia to marry him. They eloped a short time later to the absolute outrage of her parents. It wasn’t long before Cynthia realized the tortured, drunken, unsafe monster she had married. Not being able to convince him off of the bottle, she stopped appearing with him in public, embarrassed by and even afraid of what he might do.
Louie Zamperini was horribly broken by sin, and then sweetly broken by God.

The Bottom of Brokenness

Spiraling dangerously and hopelessly out of control — visited every night by his Japanese torturer — Louie came to the conclusion that the only path to freedom was to kill the Bird. He began plotting a mission to murder the man who had ruined his life and now patrolled his nightmares. He wildly and foolishly invested the family’s money in dead ends, trying to scrape together enough to finance his murderous dream. Bloody vengeance against Mutsuhiro Watanbe had become this broken hero’s only hope.
Hillenbrand writes:
No one could reach Louie, because he had never really come home. In prison camp, he’d been beaten into dehumanized obedience to a world order in which the Bird was absolute sovereign, and it was under this world order that he still lived. The Bird had taken his dignity and left him feeling humiliated, ashamed, and powerless, and Louie believed that only the Bird could restore him, by suffering and dying in the grip of his hands. A once singularly hopeful man now believed that his only hope lay in murder. (365–366)
In another crazed nightmare, this ugly insanity forced Louie on top of his poor wife in the middle of the night, beating and strangling her. Weeks later, Cynthia found him shaking their screaming baby girl. She finally filed for divorce.

Better to Be Broken

Everything changed in the fall of 1949. Billy Graham emerged in the nation’s eye by holding a campaign in Los Angeles that drew tens of thousands of people — including one hurting and despairing wife and mother. Cynthia heard Graham’s gospel, surrendered her heart to Jesus, and informed Louie that she no longer wanted a divorce. Louie was relieved she had decided to stay, but skeptical and even offended by her conversion.
She pled and pled with him to attend one of the meetings, but over and over he angrily refused. Eventually, she had to lie to get him to come along, and he did. Graham preached:
“Darkness doesn’t hide the eyes of God. God takes down your life from the time you were born to the time you die. . . . [He will] pull down the screen and shoot the moving picture of your life from the cradle to the grave, and you are going to hear every thought that was going through your mind every minute of the day, every second of the minute, and you’re going to hear the words you said. And your own words, and your own thoughts, and your own deeds, are going to condemn you as you stand before God on that day. And God is going to say, ‘Depart from me.’” (373)
Louie was enraged, horrified that this man would dare to accuse him like this, after all he had been through for this country, after all he had endured. I am a good man, he thought, I am a good man (373). Graham continued:
Here tonight, there’s a drowning man, a drowning woman, a drowning man, a drowning boy, a drowning girl that is out lost in the sea of life. (373)
This sent Louie spinning, and he eventually stormed out before Graham was finished. But it would be the beginning of the end of Louie’s resilience. He had survived opposition before, but nothing like this. The next day, under the powerful preaching of the cross, Louie Zamperini was born again — rescued again. In the end, Louie was broken, but not by the Bird. God has done what the Bird, weakened by the flesh, could not do, by sending his Son, Jesus Christ — and then a tall, blond-haired messenger named Billy Graham. God had painted yet another picture of his perfect patience, saving the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15–16) — the selfish, angry, violent, abusive, murderous, and unforgiving alcoholic.
Hillenbrand describes Louie’s conversion:
When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that the Bird had striven to make of him. In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation. (376)

Savor the Unseen Sequel

The true climax of Louie Zamperini’s story is his second visit to Sugamo Prison. Standing inside the walls that had watched him suffer so badly, he now looked into the eyes of many of the very men who had inflicted the blows. For the first time since the war, he was seeing the faces of his pain and humiliation. How did he respond? Did he devolve into a seizure of violent screaming? Did he silently burn with fear and rage? No. “Louie was seized by childlike, giddy exuberance. In bewilderment, the men who had abused him watched him come to them, his hands extended, a radiant smile on his face” (373).
He later wrote a letter to the Bird:
As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare. . . . But thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. (396–397)
Forgiveness, not survival, was the victory laurel of Louie’s life.
So when you see the movie, and enjoy Louie stepping back into freedom, savor the steps he would take years later into true freedom — freedom from anger, depression, alcohol, fear, violence, and revenge. Freedom that would last through eternity.
Forgiveness, not survival, was the victory laurel of Louie Zamperini’s life.

Our Eternal Enjoyment of Him

David Mathis post: You Were Made for Christmas

Few things are more tragic than taking Christmas in stride. Its spirit and magic, that alluring sense of supernatural goodness, are not just for children, but even for the grownups. Especially for the grownups. God forbid that we ever get used to Christmas.
There is something here so remarkable that pagan astrologers take to flight for the long, arduous journey westward. Something so good is in the offing that a wicked king commands the slaughter of innocents. Something so unusual that blue-collar workers, who thought they’d seen it all, are filled with great fear, then leave their flocks in haste to find this newborn — and then can’t keep quiet. “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them” (Luke 2:18).

Christ the Lord

This great first-century wonder, worth announcing with angelic host, and telling everyone who will listen, finds its heart in this: “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Not only is this the advent of the long-awaited Christ, the Messiah, the specially Anointed One of whom God’s people have pined and prophets opined, but this is “the Lord.” God himself has come. Here, finally, after centuries of waiting, is the true Immanuel. Here is “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
It is news too spectacular to say all at once. Day after day will pour forth speech in the life of this child. Act after act will reveal piece by piece that this human somehow shares the divine identity of Yahweh, “the Lord” of Israel and the nations. Page after page in the Gospels, story after story, will show us progressively more, that this one who is so manifestly man is also truly God.
This Word who “became flesh” (John 1:14) is one and the same Word who was in the beginning with God, and was God, and all things were made through him (John 1:1–3). This is the great spectacle for those shepherds and magi, and it is the wonder we ourselves, who have lived our blessed lives knowing this truth, should aspire to taste again each Christmas.
But he is not just God with us; it gets better. He has come to rescue us.

Christ the Savior

God is with us in this Christ, and it is no circus stunt for mere entertainment. This is no raw demonstration that the creator can be a creature if he wants. Rather, this marvel is for us, for our rescue from sin and all its pervasive effects, entanglements, and ruin.
“Unto you is born this day . . . a Savior,” heralds the angel (Luke 2:11). “You shall call his name Jesus,” the messenger says to Joseph, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus, Hebrew Yeshua, means “Yahweh saves.” This same God sent Moses as his instrument to save his people from Egypt. He sent Joshua, and the judges, and the kings as his instruments of rescue at points in the past. And now he himself comes, and he comes to save.
But there is more yet to be said. It gets even better.

Christ the Treasure

God himself arrives not only to save us from sin and death, but to rescue us to himself. Christ comes, and will pay the ultimate price in suffering and death, “that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18), that risen he would be our exceeding joy (Psalm 43:4) at the bottom of this good news of great joy (Luke 2:10).
There are “higher ends,” according to Puritan Thomas Goodwin, than his being God-in-the-flesh and his coming to save God’s people. All the benefits achieved by his life and death “are all far inferior to the gift of his person unto us, and much more the glory of his person itself. His person is of infinite more worth than they all can be of” (quoted in Jesus Christ, 3).
Jesus himself is the Great Joy that makes all the attendant joys of our salvation so great. The risen Christ is the treasure hidden in the field (Matthew 13:44). He is the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45–46). He is not just God with us, here to save us, but he himself is our greatest joy, the preeminent Treasure, who will satisfy our human souls forever like only the divine-human Christ can.

Christ the Glory

But Christmas doesn’t terminate on our enjoyments. The herald is joined by the heavenly host: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14).
Call it Christmas Hedonism, if you will. The Joy he came to bring in his own person as the God-man is the joy that aligns with, and fulfills, the great purpose of all creation. Christmas brings the electricity of joy that runs along the grid of all reality.
Goodwin continues: God’s “chief end was not to bring Christ into the world for us, but us for Christ . . . and God contrived all things that do fall out, and even redemption itself, for the setting forth of Christ’s glory.” Mark Jones spells out so helpfully what it means that Jesus is not just Lord and Savior, but also Treasure:
The glory of Christ is not an appendix . . . . As it is the culmination of all we can say about his person and work, so his glory provides the most basic reason for saying it, in that it is the basis for and the fullness of our eternal enjoyment of him . . . . we are not speaking the whole truth if we make Christ’s personal glory subservient to our salvation. (Jesus Christ, 4)
This child of Christmas is more than Lord. He is even more than Savior. He is our great Treasure, and in “our eternal enjoyment of him” is his glory and the end for which God created the world. Christmas is not finally about his birth for our salvation, but our existence for his glory.
You were made for the Great Joy of Christmas.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Breath of Heaven

Mary's Song of Praise: The Magnificat

And Mary said,
I’m bursting with God-news;
    I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
    the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
    on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
    scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
    he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
    beginning with Abraham and right up to now

Luke 1 [ESV]


O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
BY STEVEN DILLA
Daily ReadingZechariah 12 (Listen – 2:42)John 15 (Listen – 3:45)
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
— Matthew 1.22-23
“Caesar is Lord,” the people would shout as his ornate chariot traversed the streets of Rome. From viaducts to philosophy, architecture to economy, none surpassed Rome. Their elite culture was the hope of the world — and it spread like wildfire, consuming much of the known world. Because Rome’s cultural dominance gave it seemingly limitless potential, it was stunning when the empire began to decline.
In the end, Caesar proved not only unable to save his empire, but even himself. The fall of Rome was earth-shaking, plunging civilization into what historians have long-called, “The Dark Ages.” For hundreds of years battles raged endlessly, pestilence and plague spread freely, and chaos seemed to gain the upper hand all too regularly. The period isn’t significantly brighter in church history. Scripture was largely inaccessible, starving the Church of sound doctrine and increasing the growth of folk religion, superstition, and far worse. (The groundwork for the devastatingly fractured interpretations of Scripture that lead to the crusades was formed during this time.)
“O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high, and order all things far and nigh,” wrote an anonymous monk sometime before 800 C.E. The words to “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” cry out from the depths of the Dark Ages, longing for God’s presence, Emmanuel, to rescue humankind. In more ways than one, the unknown author behind this song is an outlier. The lyrics show intimate knowledge of Scripture in a time of illiteracy, and the author seems acutely aware of humanity’s limits. Even if there were a vision for restoration present, no one on earth would be sufficient enough to bring it to be. 
O come, Desire of the nations, bindin one the hearts of all mankind;bid every strife and quarrel ceaseand fill the world with heaven’s peace.
“Jesus is Lord,” is a revolutionary claim. It upends not only global empires, but whatever each of us would enthrone on our own heart to save us from the insufficiency of our world. Christmas day celebrates the coming of an all-sufficient King. He is both the wisdom we long for and the power we need. He is God, and we long for his presence to heal our world and restore our hearts. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (Listen: Francesca Battistelli – 4:20)
Verses in italics are less commonly sung.
O come, O come, Emmanuel,and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuelshall come to thee, O Israel!
O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Refrain
O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s heightin ancient times did give the lawin cloud and majesty and awe.
Refrain
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,from ev’ry foe deliver themthat trust Thy mighty power to save,and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Refrain
O come, Thou Key of David, comeand open wide our heav’nly home;make safe the way that leads on highthat we no more have cause to sigh.
Refrain
O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.
Refrain
O come, Desire of the nations, bindin one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace.