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Covenant

2 Chronicles 30:9

The Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.

Acts 3:19–20

Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.

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Perhaps you’ve experienced the sting of an apology unkindly received. You did something wrong. You admitted it. You said you’re sorry. You put out your hand. And the one to whom you apologized turned it all back on you. “You bet you were wrong! I hope you rot in…” I’ve been there. Sadly. That was more than 25 years ago, and I can still remember the feeling of blood rushing to my face, my ears beginning to burn, my stomach tied in knots.

A wise older pastor gave me some thoughts – things I wish I would have said (or not!) like, “OK, you can let God back on this throne now.” That spiteful unkindness serves as a wonderful counterpoint to the grace, mercy, kindness, goodness, and love of God who “will not turn away his face” when you return to him, and who refreshes our souls with his forgiveness.

Is there a sin for which you need to seek Gods’ mercy, and the peace, comfort and renewal? That comes from his forgiveness. Turn to him and you will find that your apology is most kindly received. You will discover a peace beyond understanding when you lay your sins at the foot of Jesus’ cross.

Psalm 33:21

Our heart is glad in the Lord, because we trust in his holy name.

1 Peter 1:13

Set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.

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What fills your gladness boat? Is thinking of a vacation in the mountains or a Bahamas getaway more to your liking? Perhaps it’s the joy of your grandchildren, or the anticipation of a Saturday morning T-ball game with your kids. There are bright spots all around us in these days and times of affluence.

But I think of our brothers and sisters in Kenya where the living is difficult and the joys are much more frugal. The children we visited in a village near Kisumu were delighted to see their dad, and to meet some white westerners. Their joy was in chasing the cats across the dirt yard, and enjoying some warm milk and bread with us.

Then there is Jesus Christ and the joy of the Lord. God has revealed himself to us in Jesus. He has provided his name to us so that we may know him and call on him in worship, praise and prayer. This reality is the great unifier among all those who call Jesus Lord. Whether from a mansion high on a hill or little mud hut in a faraway village, true gladness is in the Lord for those who trust in his name. Jesus must remain as our hope for all these things – houses, vacations, and any earthly joy will one day come to an end.

The eternal joy of Jesus is a true hope which unites us all. Sometimes that is difficult to realize and embrace. But God calls us to set all our hope on his grace, and look toward that time when the truth of Jesus’ glory is fully revealed.

Amos 4:13

For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to mortals, the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!

Matthew 16:3

Jesus said, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

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Imagine this scene…

You find a watch on the sidewalk, and say, “Hey, look! Someone dropped their watch.”
“How do you know someone dropped that?” I might further probe, “Did you see it happen? How do you know it didn’t just appear here?”
You wisely respond, “Are you kidding me? It’s a watch. It’s got scratches. It didn’t just appear’. Someone dropped it.”
I foolishly press on: “Yes, but you didn’t see it. And after all, there are so many places and so much time; it could have evolved…”
“Oh, come on! No one believes that,” you say. “Watches come from watch factories to stores and are bought by people who wear them, and sometimes lose them.”
Then I ask, “Have you ever even seen a watch factory?”

Silly, right? Very few of us have seen watch factories, but we know they exist. There is a dramatic difference, however, between believing that watches come from factories and believing that we and the whole world are the creation of the Creator, “the Lord God of hosts.” Watches are not accountable; they are not sensate beings. We are able to acknowledge our Creator. We are accountable to him. We can and should interpret the signs of the times. We can honor him as Lord and God.

Since the world determined that creation by the Creator is no longer something to be believed, every imaginable deviant behavior, every possible denial of ungodliness, and any behavior that anyone wants to embrace is on the table for discussion. If we are the product of random accidents of nature, we get to determine what is good and evil.

Lord, have mercy!

Psalm 139:4

Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.

Matthew 6:7–8

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

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There have been times when, as a parent, we have withheld something from a child until he asked for it specifically. It wasn’t a matter of being a mean parent. Nor was it because we wanted the credit of being the one who provided the needed help. It was for the sake of our son and his brothers. We wanted them to see the benefit of acknowledging their need for our help and appreciate our love for them.

Would that not also be true for God and our relationship with him? God knows our thoughts and the words we will say even before we speak them. God knows our needs before we ask of him in prayer. We need neither convince him of our needs, nor say our prayers in any sort of proper prayer parlance. He even provides for our needs without our prayer – giving daily bread, forgiving our sins, guiding our paths by his providential care.

So why pray? What good does it do? Four reasons come to mind.

  1. God commands us to pray. Jesus says, “when you pray…” He also says, “Ask and it will be given you…”
  2. God promises to answer prayers. In fact, James 4:2 tells us that we “do not have because [we] do not ask.”
  3. Prayer reminds us of our need for God’s loving care. It’s easy to forget that we need God 24/7; and that God’s goodness and faithful lovingkindness is precious and highly valuable.
  4. Prayer honors God. When we pray we acknowledge God’s gracious love, his providential care, and his mighty power. Of all the reasons to pray, this seems to me to be the most noble and worthy. I truly do wish to honor God, and when I pray I hope that I do just that.

Psalm 86:9

All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.

Titus 2:11

The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.

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Yesterday was Epiphany, the Christmas of the Gentiles. It is the day set aside to remember the visit of the magi to the Christ Child with their gifts and worship. That was 2000 years ago. But the worship, giving, and seeking embodied in that event continue on today. In fact they will continue on forever.

Worship is not only something we ought to do; it is something we actually join. When we bow down – whether in prayer, receiving the Lord’s Supper, in praise, or in humble submission to God’s word, we are not doing God a favor. We are embracing a reality and joining an ongoing expression of honor and praise to the One who alone is worthy of our worship.

God is worthy of all glory and honor because of who he is, and what he has done. He is love. He is Creator. He is over all. He has revealed his worthiness by becoming a baby: grace appearing in a manger, and through acts of kindness, love, mercy, healing, and goodness. He has brought salvation to all. Those who receive that gift join an unending chorus of praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Psalm 139:23–24

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Ephesians 3:17

Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

The Janion

I haven’t seen the latest Star Wars movie yet, so this is not a kabash on the movie. Nor is it necessarily a kabash on the franchise. But a recent quote from Martin Luther struck me in strong counterpoint to a line in one of the previous movies. Luke speaks to Darth Vader and says, “There’s something good in you…” (or words to that effect).

We would all like to believe that there is something good in us; something worth redeeming, or making us worthy of love. It’s as though we believe we’re entitled to God’s love. Luther says something about God’s love that is at once challenging and reassuring:

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to us.

It may not seem like a very complementary thing to say that God’s love does not find anything in us which is pleasing to it. We would rather think that there’s something good in us (ala Luke Skywalker to Darth Vader). But this is dangerous and not truly comforting. What if we are convinced (as we should be) that we are sinful through and through apart from Christ? What hope would we have for God’s redemptive love? There is nothing good in us (check out Romans 7:18 in case you need a reminder of this reality).

The only hope we have is that God’s love does not find goodness in us, but creates good in us. That good in us is Christ. God’s Holy Spirit brings us to faith, and through faith Christ reigns in our heart. God’s love creates goodness in us for which all glory goes to God.

The worst evil we can embrace is to believe that for any reason God owes us his love. Nothing could be farther from the truth. But neither does our lack of goodness prevent God from loving us. And that is truly good news. God’s love depends on his character, not on our worthiness.

Now that God’s love has found us, Christ dwells in our hearts by faith. And that is abundantly good!

Psalm 107:1
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!
Romans 1:21
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
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At our weekly Pastor’s Prayer Partners breakfast we read a prayer by John Baillie. In part is says

I thank you, O Lord God, that though with liberal hand you have at all times showered your blessings upon our human kind, yet in Jesus Christ you have done greater things for us than you ever did before:

Making home sweeter and friends dearer:

Turning sorrow into gladness and pain into the soul’s victory:

Robbing death of its sting:

Robbing sin of its power:

Making peace more peaceful and joy more joyful and faith and hope more secure. Amen.

These beautiful thoughts are at the conclusion of his morning prayer for the 24th day of the month. The first part of the prayer enumerates other things for which we certainly should be thankful, and I’ve copied those below.

It seems important to me, however, to offer two additional thoughts this Thanksgiving day. First of all, the reason for giving thanks to God is unchanging: he is good, and his mercy endures forever. That is a constant for which we must always be thankful. Note, too, that we give thanks to the One who is good and eternally merciful; we’re not talking just about an attitude of gratitude.

Secondly, there is grave danger in failing to be thankful. If we fail to be thankful to God our hearts grow ever darker and we become futile in our thinking. In other words, being thankful to God is the sign of having an enlightened heart. Thanklessness is a sign of futile thinking.

That said – and with the unchanging reason for being thankful to God in mind – here is the first part of Baillie’s prayer. It is worthy, it seems to me, of a thanksgiving meditation.

Now unto you, O heavenly Father, be all praise and glory that day by day you richly fill my life with various blessings:

A home to share, family to love, and friends to cherish:

A place to fill and a work to do:

A green world to live in, blue skies above me, and pure air to breathe:

Healthy exercise and simple pleasures:

My race’s long history to remember and its great men to follow:

Good books to read and many arts and crafts to delight in:

So much that is worth knowing and the skill and science to know it:

Those high thoughts that sometimes fill my mind and come from places I do not know:

Many happy days, and that inward calm that you give me in days of gloom:

The peace, passing understanding, that comes from your indwelling in my soul:

The faith that looks through death and the hope of a larger life beyond the grave.

From A Diary of Private Prayerby John Baillie, revised by David Bahn