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A Shot of Encouragement

YouVersion

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while. The YouVersion Bible app is great and I am grateful to God for it.

I like apps. I try a lot, and buy a bunch. I’ve used half a dozen Bible apps in particular. I use Logos every week for reading commentaries and other resources, and open Olive Tree in order to look up Greek and Hebrew when I’m on my phone or iPad. YouVersion won’t replace those, but it has still earned a place in my daily rotation.

  • YouVersion has a buffet of English translations (let alone other languages). I choose the ESV in YouVersion 99% of the time, but all the translations are available for free. Wow.
  • Most of the translations have accompanying audio. It is amazing to have a digital servant ready to read at the tap of a button. Listening is not my favorite way to consume the Word, but there are many people (my wife included) for whom it is fantastic.
  • Earlier this year YouVersion added auto-scrolling of text with audio. The “official” ESV Bible app used to be the only app I knew of with that option, but this addition brought me back and I’ve stayed.
  • There are apps for iPhones/iPads, Android, and the web.
  • There are umpteen reading plans to choose from, plans to read through the Bible in a year, to read for shorter sprints, to read about particular topics. I like how the app keeps track of progress, sends optional notifications, and offers to read with others.
  • Social aspects of the Internet are both edifying and time-sucking. If I could only choose one app for connecting with people, I think I’d choose YouVersion. Where is a better place to encourage others to crave and to meditate on and seek to do the Word than in a Bible app?

I realize that I was late to the game with YouVersion (their counter is ticking up over 404 million app installs as I type), so this recommendation may not have told you anything new. But again, I’m thankful to the God of this Word for the team who made and maintains and updates this app. If you’re looking for a Bible reading plan or a new resource for 2020, I highly recommend giving this app a try.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Joining the Angels

The worship of the angels in the heavenly throne room is astounding (Revelation 4). He who sits on the throne is there. From His throne all that has been and is and will be is set. The living creatures, the twenty-four elders, and the myriad of the heavenly host praise God.

The angels are in God’s presence, they know and sing about and do His will. But, there was a time when they were curious about something that wasn’t obvious. They knew God was worthy to be praised for His glory, His honor, His power, but they didn’t get His grace, His suffering, and His salvation.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you by the Holy Spirit sent form heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12, ESV)

The heavenly beings will also praise God for His Redeemer, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 5). But grace is something they know from watching, not something they know from tasting. Jesus did not take on “angel flesh,” He took on a human body and blood so that we could be saved. He purchased our salvation. He will bring us to the throne at the appointed not only to be seen by the angels, but to judge them (1 Corinthians 6:3).

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Take On, Take Off

The end of the year is not magical for life change, but it is as good of time as any for evaluating your life and examining your heart. This flip (or swipe) of the calendar brings a close and opening of a decade. We are just days away from the 20’s, the TWENTY-Twenties. As usual when there are more than two people, one exhortation will have to work for many applications.

Some of you, for sake of increasing growth in Christ this next year, need to take on more. This past year we studied Paul’s exhortation to run to win with full self-control (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). We heard him say to quit like men, be strong, always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58; 16:13). We were reminded that every believer is part of the body, and gifted for sake of building up the body (1 Corinthians 12:7; 14:12). Watching others work is not a gift, and I mean that in multiple ways. Do you need to add Bible reading and prayer to your disciplines? Do you need to add faithfulness to your participation at small group? Do you need to stop making your husband to all the work at home, or visa versa?

Others of you, for sake of increasing growth in Christ, need to take more off. Hebrews 12 also uses the race metaphor, and running is a lot easier when you lose some weight. I once calculated my weight per step in a marathon, and losing just a few pounds would make a huge different over the entire course. It’s never good to carry sin around, and there are other things, not sinful per se, that we also carry that help no one.

“Lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1b-2a)

This is the end of a lap but not the end of your race. How are you running to win?

Categories
Rightly Dividing

Living Creatures

Here is the second half of Revelation 4 and the scene around the throne, with special focus on the four living creatures and their worship.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Christmas Communion

Perhaps you’re curious what the fourth advent communion meditation is going to be. If you’ve been following for the previous three, you probably remember that we’ve talked about the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in relation to Christmas. The gift of a Savior was the Father’s idea, the incarnation was the Son’s identification with us, and it was accomplished by the Spirit’s work. There are only three Persons in the Trinity, so what’s left?

Communion. Love would also be a good choice, so would life. But communion is what love wants and what life is.

Why is the Incarnation so glorious? It does reveal the Father’s generosity, and communicate the Son’s humility, and remind us of the Spirit’s interests. The Father sends, the Son was born, and the Spirit still says, Come. But why?

Christmas is not primarily a story of angels and stars and shepherds and a manger. The details are true, and the details point to the good news. Peace on earth! Here is good news to those who had offended God. The star led wise men to the King of Israel. Here is good news to those who were far off. There was no room in the inn. Here is good news that the Spirit makes room in our hearts for Him to dwell in us.

God was not merely making a point about His creative ability or His dramatic timing or His embrace of humble beginnings. All of those make a point about what He aimed to achieve through it all: reconciling God and man through the God-Man. We desire to be together with family because we are made in the image of the Triune God.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

A Condescending Lesson

A common Christian abuse of Christmas poses itself as spiritual behavior. The abuse occurs when Christians reluctantly, or plainly refuse to, love others who don’t rise to the level of understanding that we think they should have about Christmas. In other words, since they don’t get Christmas like we do, they’re not worthy to share our Christmas joy. I might be a relative, it could even be how parents treat their kids. If only they would just grow up, then we wouldn’t have to teach them a lesson by being so condescending.

This behavior reverses the gospel. It abuses Christmas.

Jesus didn’t wait for people to get it before He came. He didn’t take on flesh because that’s where the glory was. Flesh is precisely not where the glory was. He came to redeem and restore fallen men, the very ones who didn’t get it. That’s the point of Christmas.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

In some ways, Christmas is the anti-holiday, at least as the Hallmark channel portrays it. The birth of Christ in Bethlehem was the anti- “everything is just right” moment that brings people together. We’re stressing to arrange all the details to be perfect. Jesus came because nothing was perfect, and He came in an inconvenient and unacknowledged way. And, of course, 2000 years or so later, we’re still talking about it.

We want to be with people when they get it. Jesus went to people because they didn’t. May your joy in Emmanuel come first, like a gift to your people, rather than held back like a wage that they must earn.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

The Spirit of Christmas

It shouldn’t be that big of a surprise, but God’s Spirit has a lot to do with Christ’s coming. This is the third part of our advent meditations for communion, having considered the Father’s gifting of His Son, and the Son’s identifying with flesh and blood as His brothers. Consider the Spirit’s work.

The Spirit is responsible for the virgin birth, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy that a virgin would conceive and bear a son and call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). As the angel told Mary,

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power fo the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God” (Luke 1:35)

The Spirit is responsible for believers recognizing that Jesus is God in flesh. The Spirit enabled God with us, and the Spirit enables us to recognize God with us.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. (1 John 4:2)

Again, the Spirit enabled the Son’s birth, the Spirit witnesses about the Son, and the Spirit works to open our eyes to know that God has come in the flesh.

And it is not the first Advent only that concerns the Spirit. The Spirit is given to us as a guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it in the fullness of time (Ephesians 1:10, 13-14), and in the final chapter of Revelation, it is not only the Bride who desires the second coming (Revelation 22:17).

“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”

As we come by the Spirit to celebrate Immanuel’s sacrifice of flesh and blood, we look forward with the Spirit to Immanuel’s return.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

The Will of His Throne

I recently finished rereading Dante’s Paradiso, the third part of his poetic journey that starts with a tour through hell and ends up in the highest heaven. The whole epic is called The Divine Comedy because it has a happy ending, at least for those in heaven.

One part that stood out to me again is an explanation given by an occupant of the lowest part of heaven that Dante encountered, and, according to his celestial geography, the part furthest away from God’s throne. Dante asks if those in this circle are disappointed that they are not and cannot move closer. Here is the answer:

“If we desired to be higher up,
then our desires would not be
in accord with His will Who as-
signs us to this sphere;

Indeed, the essence of this
blessed state is to dwell here
within His holy will, so that
there is no will but one with His;

While I don’t think the distance imagery is accurate, this description of heavenly desire is gold. What is heaven? To have our wills match God’s will perfectly. Heaven is where we desire exactly what He desires, perfect contentment with the blessings of His will.

I enjoyed reading Dante’s imaginative effort about heaven while reading the apostle John’s inspired vision in Revelation 4 and 5. At the center of John’s sight is the throne, the place where the Lord God Almighty sits. The throne communicates His glory, and His authority. It is the place where He wills what happens.

Isn’t this exactly how we get into trouble? At best we are ignorant of His will, or we forget it, or we reject it. Of course that is misery, not joy. It is rebellion, not worship. It is hellish, not divine.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9–10)

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Rightly Dividing

Around the Throne

This was the hardest diagram for me yet (of the now five I’ve posted). What is most obvious is that this heavenly vision is focused around the thrones around the throne (since some form of throne is used nine times in these five and a half verses). I’ll aim to finish the rest of chapter four next week.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

A Flesh and Blood Brother

Here is the second week of Advent and we come to consider the Second Person of the Trinity. Last Lord’s Day we considered that Christmas is the Father’s idea and how His gift altered the world.

In an obvious way Christmas is about God’s Son. Christ’s birth is a celebration of Emmanuel, God with us. The birth of a Savior is the enfleshing, the incarnation, of God. His mother even laid Him in a nativity scene.

But it is easy to remember that Jesus is the reason for the season and still not get it. It is just as easy to give a Christmas gift instead of giving yourself, in other words, to give something in order to maintain distance. “I gave you something, now get off my case.” This is the opposite of why Jesus came. God in flesh and blood is God identifying with flesh and blood.

In Hebrews God says that His Son is “not ashamed to call [those who are sanctified] brothers,” and puts these words in Jesus’ mouth from Psalm 22:22, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” That is Jesus, talking about His Father, calling us brothers. And then having Jesus speak with the words from Isaiah 8:18, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

The conclusion is that “since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things” (Hebrews 2:12), and that “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect” (2:17).

The Father gave His Son as a gift for us, and gave us as a gift to His Son. The fact that the Son of God became a baby is amazing, and the fact that the Son of God became a brother to us maybe even more.