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Category Archives: Jesus

O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

“Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep…”

Israel is the name God gave to Jacob: “And God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’ So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you’.” — Genesis 35

For those who are ready for some Christmas music (and for those who are not, but have a passion for Israel) may I offer this beautiful arrangement of “O Come Emmanuel”?

This is my sister…

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

(Note: If the above link does not play well, please visit www.lisareiff.com, click on Music, then O Come Emmanuel.)

And while you are listening to her beautiful voice, think of Israel, and think of her Savior:

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.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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OMG: What’s With All the Blasphemy?

I have friends who speak the name of Jesus more than I do. But they aren’t talking to Him or about Him. When the name of Jesus Christ is spit out of someone’s mouth as a curse word, we universally recognize this as blasphemy. Christ-followers have no problem refraining from this horrible disrespect and it grieves us when we hear it from others. Yet how often do you hear “OH MY GOD!” in a conversation or see “OMG!!!” posted on FaceBook by devoted Christians?

Are we thinking clearly about what we’re saying? Listen to R.C. Sproul:

We need to define blasphemy, and this verse from Luke [12:10] gives us a clue as to what it is. The two phrases “who speaks a word against” and “who blasphemes” are parallel. Blasphemy, then, involves speaking a word against God. It is a verbal sin, one that is committed with the mouth or the pen. It is desecration of the holy character of God. It can involve insulting Him, mocking Him, or dishonoring Him. In a sense, it is the opposite of praise. Even casually using the name of God by saying, “Oh, my God,” as so many do, constitutes blasphemy.

What’s in a name?

More than any of us can imagine! The name of Jesus “is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The name of the LORD is more than a name. “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” When we see the name LORD in all caps in the Old Testament, that is the Hebrew name YHWH (what we now say as “Yahweh”) — it was a name God’s people wouldn’t even pronounce or speak out loud. What do we think we’re doing treating the holy names of the Creator of the Universe and the One who gives us our very next breath as if they are common exclamations?

A challenge for us: Do a word study on the names of God to restore the respect, awe and honor it deserves in our minds and hearts. Here are some online options:

BibleStudyGuide.org

JesusWalk.com

BlueLetterBible.org

Bible.org

AgapeBibleStudy.com

Michal Hunt says it well at the end of the last link above:

Whatever word you use when you call upon the name of God, remember to call in reverence and in love for the word that expresses the essence of God in His most intimate relationship with you is LOVE, for God is love.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2012 in God's Word, Jesus, The Heart

 

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What Kind of Bride?

Have you ever compared and contrasted the ancient Jewish tradition of marriage proposal and wedding preparation with the many references in scripture to the Church as the bride of Christ? I had not, and on the first day of the new year, one of our pastors delivered a most excellent and challenging word to our church on this topic.

In a nutshell, Jewish custom was that the bridegroom would first propose to his bride by extending to her a cup of wine. If she accepted it, and drank, she accepted him. He then would return to his father’s house and begin to build a chuppah, their honeymoon suite (which was far more elaborate than today’s wedding canopy). This typically could take a year. During this time his father supervised the construction. It wasn’t finished until the father declared it ready. The groom, if asked about the wedding date, would reply, “only my father knows.” Meanwhile, the bride would prepare herself. Because she did not know when he would return to ‘abduct’ her, she would have her wedding clothes, lamp, oil and other necessities, constantly beside her bed so she could be ready at a moment’s notice. During this waiting period the groom would send gifts to his bride, signaling his constant care and love for her. During this waiting period she did not go out without a veil, signaling that she was taken, spoken for, and was interested in no other.

One thing could break off the engagement: If the bride deceived her betrothed and did not remain pure. She could callously disregard and disrespect his promise of marriage and go after another. This was grounds for divorce, even though the wedding had not yet taken place. The engagement was serious stuff.

By now, anyone familiar with scripture is familiar with all of the many parallels between Christ and His promise to His bride, the Church. We have accepted His proposal and we now wait for Him to come for us. He is preparing a place for us and only the Father knows when it will be ready. But what about us? Are we prepared? Are we waiting expectantly? Do we appear separated for Him or are we going after other things, placing them in higher importance? Are we interested in the place our groom is preparing or in the groom Himself? Are we complacent or committed? Invested or apathetic? Passionate or preoccupied with distractions? What kind of bride are we?

Jesus has extended His hand, and we the Church, His bride, has accepted the proposal. Now we wait for Him to come for us and we must wait like the expectant bride, keeping herself pure, obviously appearing ‘taken’—we are not available to any other. We wait like the ready bride, excited, prepared, ready to go to the party. We wait like the engaged bride, thinking constantly about our current and future relationship. We don’t lose hope, we don’t get lazy, we don’t take off our veil. We must be found dressed and ready to go to the most important, exciting, amazing feast of all time.

In a recent post I briefly discussed the concept of covenant. In the Driscoll/Breshears book, “Doctrine” in their chapter, Covenant: God Pursues, they say, “Through covenant with God we enjoy a relationship that is akin to marriage and includes protection from Satan our enemy, peace with God though we declared war on him through sin, material provision in life and the life to come, and a coming perfect kingdom as our home where Jesus will forever rule over all as our gracious covenant king.” Now who would not want to be part of a marriage covenant like that? SO: What kind of bride are we? What kind of bride am I? A challenging word, for sure.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2012 in Jesus, Priorities, Purpose, The Church

 

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Broken Resolutions and New Beginnings

What is the real secret of the new year? It’s real secret lies in that we know nothing at all about it. Year after year men and women make their new resolutions. They realize above all else what is needed is a fresh start and a new beginning. They decide to turn their backs on the past, to turn over a new leaf, or even to start a new book of life. That is their desire, that is their firm conviction and intention. They want to break with the past and for a time they do their utmost to do so, but it doesn’t last. Gradually they invariably slide back to the old position and to the old state of affairs. And after a few such experiences they no longer try, and come to the conclusion that all is hopeless. Up to a point, the fight is kept up and maintained, but sheer weariness and fatigue eventually overcome them, the pressure and the might of the world and its way seem to be entirely on the other side and they give in. the position seems to be utterly hopeless.

Well, now, there’s a cheery thought for the new year! But for how many does this ring true? By our own determination we try to keep our new year resolutions. And it lasts for a little while. (My daughter commented last night at how she dreaded January at the gym because beginning January 1 through about mid February, the place was packed with newbies starting their resolutions… for about six weeks.)

This is my first day back at work this year, so the “real” beginning. Thought I should make it count. The above quote comes from a sermon on The Parable of the Prodigal Son by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones (1898-1981). (I wonder if he preached it in January.) He goes on to say (and the rest of this text is largely taken directly from his sermon):

Do  you feel that your life has gone wrong, has gone astray? Are you forever mocked by the haunting spectre of the might-have-been? Do you feel that you have got yourself into such a position, and into such a situation that you can never get out of it and put yourself right again? Do you feel that you are so far away from what you ought to be, and from what you would like to be, that you can never get there again? Do you feel hopeless about yourself because of some situation with which you are confronted, or because of some entanglement in which you have got involved, or because of some sin which has mastered you and which you cannot conquer? Have you turned to yourself and said, “What is the use of making any further effort, what is the use of trying again? I have tried and tried many and many a time before, but all to no purpose, and my trying now can lead to but the same result. I have made a mess of my life, I have forfeited my chance and my opportunity, and henceforth I have nothing to do but to make the best of a bad job.”

The very first word of the Good News (the Gospel) is that people in this position should lift their head! All is not lost—there is still hope, still the possibility of a fresh start, a new beginning. And it can begin right now without a moment’s hesitation, and not by hoping on something imaginary, something that relies on our strength of determination, or something in the unknown future, but rather by leaning of something that happened in the past nearly 2,000 years ago, but which is as strong and powerful today as it was then. There is a possible turning point even along the blackest and most hopeless road. There is a new beginning.

But conditions are attached. Drawing further from the parable, there are three things we must do if we wish to avail ourselves of a new hope and a new start:

  1. First, we must face our position squarely, honestly and truly. It is one thing to be in a difficult position and quite another to face it honestly. Like the prodigal son, we don’t get into that kind of a pickle over night. It’s gradual, it’s quiet, and we scarcely see it at all until we hit bottom. Then we tend to avoid thinking about it. We busy ourselves with other things or say, “what’s the use, here I am anyhow.” But the very first step back is to face the situation honestly and clearly.
  2. The next is to realize that there is only One to Whom you can turn and only one thing you can do. The prodigal had tried and exhausted all his own efforts and the efforts of other people. He was finished and no one could help him but his father. If we pathetically try to cling to our own means, our money, our friends, we will never be pulled from the pit of repetition or the snare of our own doing. The  improvement will only be transient and temporary. You can go on trusting yourself and others and trying with all your might, but a year from now the position will not only be the same but actually worse. God alone can save.
  3. But as you turn to Him, you must realize further that you can plead nothing before Him except His mercy and His compassion. The prodigal left home full of himself, his rights, his own confidence, but he returned determine to be nothing more than a servant in his father’s household, at least they had it better than what he finally made of himself. We are nothing before God—we have turned our back on Him, ignored Him and flouted Him. Yet if we cast ourselves upon Him and His mercy, asking Him if in His infinite goodness and kindness He can possibly make something of us, then all will be different.
  4. If you do, you will find that in your case, as in the case of the prodigal, there will be a real, solid new beginning and new start. The impossible will happen and you will be amazed and astounded at what you will discover. In Jesus Christ, a real genuine new start, and new beginning are possible. And they are possible alone in Him! We see the prodigal son’s father rushing to him as he sees him returning, kissing him, stripping him of his filthy rags of clothes, preparing a huge celebration feast, treating him like the son he always was and not the beggar he had become. God is amazing and surprising. He rises far above our way of thought.
  5. But in order to have a really new start, I require something further. It is not enough that every trace of my past be removed, I require something in the present. I desire to be clothed, I must be robed. I need confidence to start afresh and to face life and its people and its problems. The father does not stop at kissing his son and removing his filthy rags, he clothes the boy with dress that is worthy of a son and places a ring on his finger. He announced to all that his son has returned and clothes him so as to make him feel unashamed when he meets people. No one else could do that but the father.

It is precisely the same with us when we turn to God. he not only forgives and blots out the past, He makes us sons and daughters. He gives us new life and new power. He will so assure you of His love that you will be able to face others unashamed. He will clothe you with the robe of Christ’s righteousness [right standing], He will not only tell you that He regard you as a child, but make you feel that you are one….The world only tries to clean the old suit and make it look respectable. God in Christ alone can clothe us with the new robe and really make us strong. Let the world try to point its finger and remind us of our past. Let it do its worst; we have but to look at the robe and the shoes and the ring, and all is well.

Here is opportunity for a real new beginning. It is the only way. God Himself has made it possible by sending His only Son into this world, to live and die and rise again. It matters not at all what you have been, nor what you are like at the moment. You have but to come to God confessing your sins again Him, casting yourself upon His mercy in Jesus Christ, acknowledging that He alone can save and keep, and you will find that

The past shall be forgotten,

The present joy be given,

A future grace be promised,

A glorious crown in heaven.

My prayer for us all this new year is that we don’t waste time or waste our lives, waiting for some unknown imaginary event or new year resolution to improve our lot. Faith in Christ alone will do that. Such an amazing gift, such a wonderful, unfathomable promise. Time to leave the pig sty and return to the Father.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in Grace, Jesus, Salvation, Sin, The Journey

 

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Doors, Part Two

My second “ah ha” about “doors” this past week is the mistaken but common assumption that the scripture in Revelation—“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me”—refers to Christ’s call to the heart of the unbeliever. But this is not in context.

These words are directed to the Church, the lukewarm church of Laodicea, to be specific. This church had become lazy. “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing…”  They thought they were rich, but in reality they were “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” It was in this context that Christ called them to hear His voice and open the door. This is a call to repentance to the believer who has stopped following hard, to the Church who has become like the world. And while it involves discipline, we are encouraged that the Lord disciplines those He loves. He counsels this church to “buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

Refining gold is a fiery process. Soren Kierkegaard said, “God punishes the ungodly by ignoring them. This is why they have success in the world—the most frightful punishment because in God’s view, this world is immersed in evil. But God sends suffering to those whom he loves, as assistance to enable them to become happy by loving him.”

There are several old paintings of Christ standing at the door about to knock; in most, there is no door knob on the outside. Perhaps there is a closed door that I am to open. I pray I hear the knocking and the voice of the One who calls me nowhere other than closer and more like Him, even if it means discomfort and suffering. No one of us will suffer more than our Master. And if we follow the Master, we will suffer.

Then, “To him who overcomes ((“Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”)), I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says.”

Our God is a God of covenants. He cannot break his covenant, and He doesn’t even though we do. We see this clearly in the Old Testament and His care for Israel. His love for them was an everlasting love—even though they failed Him again and again, he still retained His covenant with them.  And He still keeps His promises today. Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears in their book, “Doctrine” say, “New dimensions are brought to light when Christ’s covenant is understood in the context of His previous covenants. Covenants are about God’s activity and intention to redeem us, and the covenants tell us about ourselves—our condition, our brokenness, our dignity, our role as images of God, our suffering, and our calling.”

So we hear Him knocking… calling us back into His covenant, calling us away from lukewarm commitment (is there such a thing?) and into His protection, provision and presence. Will the American Church hear and respond? Or will we be spit out His mouth?

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2012 in God's Word, Jesus, Obedience, The Church, The Journey

 

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Ticket to Where? Or Who?

Loved the message at church yesterday morning. It was the last in a series on Getting to Know God, on the topic of Worship, given by our Worship Pastor. The entire message was great, but what I loved was an illustration about how the cross is not a bridge to heaven. Salvation is not a ticket to heaven.

He said: When you go visit your friend, you don’t go to his house regardless of whether he’s there — you want to be with your friend, so you go wherever he is. He said his wife bought tickets to U2 for his birthday and he was excited to go see the band at the Oakland Coliseum. He wasn’t excited to go to the Oakland Coliseum.

Likewise, the cross is a bridge to Christ, not heaven. Salvation is our “ticket” to our chief purpose: Glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.

Since my girlfriends and I are studying “The Cross of Christ” I thought this was a very good add regarding the purpose of the cross, or maybe more accurately, the non-purpose of the cross. Do we make much of the fact that we’re saved so we can go to heaven, or do we make much of Christ, just because of Who He Is and we just want to be wherever He is… now and forever?

Food for thought!

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in God's Word, Jesus, Salvation, The Cross

 

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Pretty Crosses

Why do we wear crosses around our neck or hang pretty cross plaques on our walls? Why do Catholics make the sign of the cross and what is it that we think of when we see these things?

A couple of my girlfriends and I are reading John Stott’s classic, The Cross of Christ. We’re going to read a chapter a week and meet after work to talk about it. Today we talked about the first chapter, The Centrality of the Cross. Here Stott discusses how the cross became symbolic of Christianity. What struck me most about this is what the cross actually meant to first century citizens, both Romans and Jews, as well as others. The cross was the most horrific instrument of torture and death, reserved for the worst of criminals. Its very shadow or mention in conversation was enough to cause strong reactions (an understatement) of horror, disgust, repulsion and shame on the one who experienced this kind of death. Cicero went so far as to state that the very word ‘cross’ was so abhorrent it was to be far removed from a Roman citizen’s eyes, words and even thoughts. On top of this, the Jews knew that anyone who hung on a tree (and they did not differentiate between a live one and its wood cut into two beams) was cursed. And they weren’t talking Harry Potter.

I suspect American Christians know little of this. I know nothing of what reaction the symbol of the cross produced in people 2000 years ago. I only know of pretty crosses adorning necks and entry ways. Why did Christians choose such a shameful, horrible symbol as the very thing that identified them with Jesus? I learned that it is because it was central to Jesus’s life on earth. From His youth He steadfastly walked toward what He knew was His task, His calling, His choice. Because it was central to His mind it was central to His followers. It IS central to His followers.

From chapter one: “How is it that Christians can face such ridicule without shifting their ground? Why do we…insist on its centrality? Why must we proclaim the scandalous, and glory in the shameful? The answer lies in the single word integrity. Christian integrity consists partly in a resolve to unmask the caricatures, but mostly in personal loyalty to Jesus, in Whose mind the saving cross was central. Indeed, readers who have come without bias to the Scriptures all seem to have come to the same conclusion.”

So, my prayer is that I no longer see pretty crosses. That when I see this symbol I recognize it for what it is. For what it means. For what it meant to Jesus, and what it means to me, and to all those who sit at its base and realize what was wrought upon it.

Today one of my girlfriends reflected that she never understood why a friend of hers honored Good Friday over Easter, but now she gets it. I pray that every day I will “get it” more.

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2011 in Jesus, Salvation, The Cross