The Day of Atonement

                     The Day of Atonement

Into the holiest of all the high priest alone could go
And what transpired beyond that veil no other mortal know
To sprinkle blood before the Lord and make atonement here
And only he not without blood could enter once a year

But Christ our Everlasting Priest Who died upon a tree
With wounds and blood upon His hands entered the heavenlies
His flesh that symbolized the veil was rent in twain that day
To open up the holiest for us to come and pray

Atonement made, our sins forgiv’n, Christ’s death removes our guilt
And now we come into the place where once His blood was spilt
Remembering the precious price to come into this place
May we with bold and thankful hearts come to this throne of grace

Childbirth: The Law of Cleansing

                                           Childbirth: The Law of Cleansing

Luke 2:21-24- “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.  And when the days of her [Mary’s] purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

Levitical Law of Uncleanness

In Luke chapter 2, we read that after the Lord Jesus was born into the world, Mary came to Jerusalem to offer the required sacrifices according to the law of Moses (v.22-24).  Leviticus chapter 12 states that any childbirth rendered the mother ceremonially unclean (Leviticus 12)—which is to say for a space of time she was not permitted to participate in Passover, offerings, and was to avoid the sanctuary.  For a male, the mother was unclean a total of 7 days following which were 33 days of purification—these numbers were doubled in the case of a female child.   Uncleanness contracted in childbirth is a reminder to us that each one born from the lineage of Adam is born in sin (Psalm 51:5, Romans 5:12-18).

The Exception Clause

According to the law, after the days of her purification (in Mary’s case 33 days), a woman was to bring 2 offerings: a BURNT offering and a SIN offering.  The burnt offering was to be a young lamb, but if the offerer was not able to afford a lamb, the poor offerer may bring a turtle dove or a pigeon instead (Leviticus 12:8).   It is important to note that the sin offering was to only be of a turtle dove or pigeon—a subtle reminder that the payment for sin is the same for all, rich or poor. These were the 2 offerings Mary brought to Jerusalem in Luke 2.

The Exceptional Lamb

From this passage we see that the Lord Jesus was born of a woman, and born under the law (Galatians 4:4).  Mary’s offerings illustrate this fact as she keeps to the law of Moses.  Astounding thought that God Himself took upon Him the form of servant (Philippians 2:7) clothing deity with humanity and was made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3).  When He came, he chose not the grandeur of a family from high society to bolster His reputation at the onset of His ministry.  Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor (2 Corinthians 8:9), and He chose instead to be born to a poor virgin girl.  This young girl was in such poverty that she could not even afford the lamb for her burnt offering, so she availed herself of the exception and offered 2 turtle doves—one for a burnt offering and one for the sin offering.  How humbling this must have been, not to be able to bring a lamb!  And yet, all the while she did have a lamb, for she brought with her THE Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), the Lamb who will carry into eternity the marks of suffering from which poured the precious blood that is our redemption and which cleanses us from all sin (I Peter 1:19, I John 1:7).  The Levitical offering for purification was only a temporary type to cover uncleanness until the true Lamb of God would come to eternally wash away the uncleanness we contract consequent to being born to the race of Adam.  Truly our voices rise with those who surround the throne in Revelation 5: “Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain!” 

When God turns out not to be who you expected

When God turns out not to be who you expected

Or maybe a better title would be when you realize you don’t fit into God’s plan the way you thought you did. Either way. The fact is it happens often enough. Some man or woman spends the better part of his life serving the Lord. He studies his Bible for years, often in solitude, so he can understand who the Messiah really is. He boldly proclaims the truth of the living God to others whenever he can, often to the dismay of those in authority. In great humility he is willing to take the low place so that the glory of the Lord Jesus will be magnified. And then his entire faith is shaken to its core.

Of course, I’m speaking about John (the baptist). Matthew 3 records some of what John was like. He was a humble and obedient servant of the Lord who boldly proclaimed the truth to the common people of his day – and also to the powerful. He had the very authority and calling of the Lord behind him. And this John would have the distinct pleasure to be called by the Lord Jesus Himself, “more than a prophet” (Mat 11:9). All the prophets of the Old Testament foretold of the day when the Messiah would come. But John was more than all of them because he had the honor of actually pointing him out: “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). 

And yet despite all this, John’s faith in the Lord Jesus, the One he identified as The Lamb of God, would come into question because of what happened next. As John was going about his business one day, the authorities (who didn’t much like what he was preaching) came and arrested him (Mat 3:7,4:12). Because John was a faithful follower of the living God (and indeed, “more than a prophet”) it isn’t hard to imagine he may have been confused by these events. It wasn’t yet well understood in John’s time that the Messiah would first suffer for the sins of the world (1 john 2:2) and be raised up from the dead and then return to Earth to put down evil and reign in righteousness. God’s people back then were expecting their Messiah to immediately put down the political enemies of Israel. They would certainly not be expecting the faithful servants of the King (as John was) to be languishing in prison.

John’s confusion is apparent when he sends two of his own followers to ask Jesus a question: “Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Mat 11:2-3). Note that it says he heard the “works of Christ.” This doesn’t simply mean he heard what Jesus was doing, but rather that he heard that Jesus was, in fact, doing works he expected the Messiah to do (Messiah is the Hebrew word for Christ). The Lord Jesus replies, “Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Mat 11:4-5). He points John’s disciples to what He’s been doing which is a perfect fulfillment of what works the Old Testament prophets said the Messiah would do (Isaiah 61:1-2, and others).  And then He adds, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Mat 11:6). John would never leave that prison alive (Mat 14:8-11).

I like the sequence leading up to this as recorded by Luke. Luke 4:40 records a time when the Lord Jesus was thronged with people coming to be healed: “Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them.” Then another time a little later when the crowds came to be healed by Him: “And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all (Luke 6:19).

And then there’s this time. When the disciples of John came from prison, Luke records, “When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities…” (Luke 7:20-21). I can’t help but notice that in this case the Word records only “many” of them were healed unlike the previous cases where we are told they were “all” healed. Maybe just a language thing. Or maybe there were people who went home that day disappointed, still suffering in their infirmity. In a sense, John did. There was no release from prison for him. He didn’t get what he wanted and almost certainly expected. God didn’t turn out to be doing what John thought he was doing (at least not yet).

What is our response when we are caught off guard by the workings of God, or when we come to realize that God is not who we expected Him to be? There are so many misconceptions of God in the world. Too many to even count. But anyone with a true desire to know who God is will learn because God will reveal Himself through His Word. And when He does, Quite often (maybe most often) He is simply not what we expect. What will your response be if this happens to you? Luke 7:23 records after the Lord Jesus showed the disciples of John the evidence of who He is, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” We can be stumbled [offended] by our surprise and reject what we learn because He’s not what we thought, or we can rest in the realization that our preconception was far inferior to the reality of who He really is!

And for the believer (as John was) we can face difficult faith-shaking events. In fact, it may be that people who genuinely know the Scriptures well are taken by this the hardest. Perhaps you thought the Lord was doing one thing in your life or moving you in some direction and you’re learning you were wrong. What will your response to Him be? Offended? Or in simple humility trusting that He is in fact the Lord and we (more often than not) just get it wrong. He promises “never to leave us” (Heb 13:5) so we have every reason to just move on, despite any hardship.

I suspect John’s disciples returned to his cell and shared with him what the Lord Jesus had done and said. And based on what we know of John, I’ll speculate further that John went to his death in peace, knowing that Jesus was truly the Messiah, the Christ, who would with certainty return one day and fulfill all the promises of the Old Testament. … Perhaps John even came to understand exactly what he meant when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” — that the sinless Messiah would first suffer for his (John’s) sin and be raised up again from the dead.

For those searching, may you find peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1). For those struggling with their own expectations, may you learn to enjoy again the peace you have with God through the Lord Jesus Christ,

-J. Wilbur

 

 

 

 

Morning Musings: Breaking Bread in the Storm

                                    Morning Musings: Breaking Bread in the Storm

I have been enjoying Acts 27 reading about Paul’s terrifying and treacherous journey to Rome by way of the sea.  This exciting passage tells of tempestuous winds, titanic waves, quick sand, and a storm that blackened the sky and hid stars for days.  Paul and 275 men endured all of these in a terrible storm during their voyage.  I cannot imagine the fear that the gripped the heart of each man every day wondering if this would be his last.  During the tempest, Paul assured the sailors that there would be no loss of any man’s life but the ship would be destroyed (v. 22).  Later he reiterated that except the men abide in the ship, they cannot be saved (v. 31).  Thirteen days the sailors went without food on this voyage and after Paul reassured the men with these words of hope, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and they ate in the midst of the storm.

The Christian life may be likened to sailing on the ocean.  One moment we’re basking in the sunshine on a calm sea and the next we’re struggling to not be dashed against the rocks.  Fear and doubt gnaw at the heart as we try to make sense of what is happening to us.  But just as Paul relied upon God’s promise of security, so must the believer in Christ draw strength from the promises of God. We are guaranteed that we will have tribulation in the world but are also reminded Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).  John reminds the believers that the One Who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world (I John 4:4).  In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul states that our heaviest affliction is light and our longest trial is but for a moment compared to the eternal weight of glory that awaits the believer in Christ (2 Cor. 4:17).

Paul’s ship was relentlessly beaten by the wind and the waves but it provided shelter and security for all those who took refuge inside.  Like that ship, the Lord Jesus endured the storm of God’s wrath poured out upon Him for sin. “All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me,” the Psalmist wrote as a prophecy of all that Christ would endure on our behalf (Psalm 42:7).  Paul’s ship protected every man inside, but it was ultimately destroyed—not so the Lord Jesus.  He is able to save to the uttermost those that come unto God by him, seeing He lives forever to make intercession for them (Heb. 7:25).

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, in the voyage of life we will face our share of storms.  The winds of trial will toss our lives back and forth; the waves of tribulation will tower over and threaten to destroy us.  But we have the promises of God that He will never leave us or forsake us, His grace is exceedingly sufficient, and He will not allow us to be tempted above what we are able to bear by His grace (Heb. 13:5, 2 Cor. 12:9, I Cor. 10:13).  An old English proverb states, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”  The trials of life are terrifying, but they afford us the opportunity to rely solely upon God and to personally claim His promises.  It is as we rest in the certainty and the security of these promises that we can have the peace of God in the tempest.  We must say with Paul, “I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.” Then, and only then, will we be able to give thanks to the Lord and break bread in the storm.

~ J. Slomba

Morning Musings: The Prism

                                            Morning Musings: The Prism

We have a window in our kitchen that faces East.  As the sun rises on a cloudless morning, the rays of sunshine pass through the window falling upon many little prisms that are attached by thread to the curtain that overhangs the window.  This morning, as I walked passed the window, I once again appreciated that as light passed through the prism, brilliant colors of the rainbow appeared.  This phenomenon is known as refraction.  If it wasn’t for the prism, I would never have been able to enjoy the brilliant spectrum of vibrant colors contained in a single ray of light.   This experience, while quite ordinary, afforded me a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon the rather extraordinary work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Upon the cross of Calvary, when the ground shook and darkness fell upon the face of the earth for a period of three hours, the greatest substitutionary act in history occurred as the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, became the terminal of God’s wrath in order to be the conduit of His love for us.  The character of God could not have been better displayed than at the cross.  The spectrum of God’s attributes at once become evident and can be particularly examined as his judgment fell upon Christ like the light through our prism was refracted to reveal such beautiful colors.  On one end of the spectrum, God is the just Judge; He is the perfection of holiness, for God is light and in Him is no darkness at all; He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and can not look on iniquity (I John 1:5, Habakkuk 1:13).  On the other end of the spectrum, God is full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth (Psalm 86:15).   Only in God could can we find such a perfectly harmonious paradox!   The very same God of justice and judgment who cannot even bear to look at sin, declaring to us the wages of sin is death, sent His only Son to actually become sin for us and die in our place (Romans 6:23, 2 Corinthians 5:21).  How severe is God’s penalty for sin?  Look to Christ on the cross.  How deep is the love of God for sinners?  Look again to the cross, for there the spotless prism refracted the holiest of light giving us the clearest view of God’s perfect attributes.

But Christ did not stay on the cross, the tomb could not contain its captive, and death could not keep its prey.  Praise the Lord He was delivered for our offenses and was raised again for our justification, or rather, for the declaration of our justification (Romans 4:25).   The resurrection of Christ is proof that His death alone is all-sufficient for the forgiveness of sin.  His sacrifice is accepted of God, and we are accepted in Him (Ephesians 1:4).

“Up from the grave He arose;                                                                                                                    With a mighty triumph o’er His foes;                                                                                                        He arose a victor from the dark domain;                                                                                                  and He lives forever with His saints to reign;                                                                                      He arose! He arose! Hallelujah Christ arose!”

-Robert Lowry

J. Slomba

Can God Use Our Mistakes?

                                             Can God Use Our Mistakes?

I have made my share of mistakes in this life.  It takes only a moment’s reflection to yield a number of painful memories of events that, given the opportunity, I would go back in time and change.  Or would I?  Making mistakes is likely the hallmark characteristic of being human, and while I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like without them, I can say with confidence that the lessons I learned from my mistakes have served me far better than if I had never made the mistakes at all.  Given my propensity to error, I have adopted the following mentality: a mistake is only truly a mistake if there is nothing whatsoever to be learned.  If, however, there is any lesson to be learned, then a mistake is really a learning experience in disguise.  Of course, these mistakes are not without certain consequence, but we will discuss this later.  While secular wisdom may add its amen to my sentiments, there is a still deeper, Divine truth from which I draw the greatest of encouragements—the truth of which will form the basis of this article and the answer to its title.

Yes!  A resounding yes!  God can use our mistakes for His glory and for our good, and this brings me such great comfort.  Allow me to only briefly share two of my favorite passages of Scripture on the matter, both of which discuss the tremendous failures of a man who, in spite of his faults, is called “a man after God’s own heart” (I Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22).  This man is King David.

The first example is found in 2 Samuel 11.  Walking upon the roof of his house, David happened to notice a woman bathing on her roof.  David inquired as to this woman’s identity and learned her name was Bathsheba, the wife of one of David’s mighty men of war, Uriah.  In short, David commits adultery with the woman causing her to become pregnant with his child.  David cleverly calls Uriah home from war to be with his own wife in the hope that Uriah will think that the child was his own.  Being an honorable soldier of good character, Uriah refuses to be with his wife while other men of war were out at battle.  Having failed his first attempt at covering his sin, David sends Uriah back to the battle carrying his own death sentence—a letter to King David’s captain Joab directing him to place Uriah in the heat of the battle where the enemy would kill him.  David’s plan was successful, and he took Bathsheba as his wife to cover up his sin, or so he thought.  Soon after, David was confronted by Nathan the prophet who exposed David’s sin.  David repented of his great trespass, but the child of Bathsheba ultimately became sick and died as a consequence (II Samuel 12:14). Is there any good that could come out of this horrible situation?  Indeed, yes!  David and Bathsheba would go on to have several more children together, two of which were named Solomon and Nathan.  Remember these names; we shall return to them presently.

Our second example is found in I Chronicles 21 and II Samuel 24, passages which both contain the record of a time when, provoked of Satan and motivated by pride, King David exacts a census of his kingdom in such a way as to violate the law of God.  The scene that follows is nothing short of terrifying as an angel, hovering between heaven and earth with a drawn sword in outstretched hand causes a wave of death to sweep over the entire nation. This seemingly minute error cost the lives of seventy thousand men (the approximate capacity of a football stadium).  It is at this time David is directed by a prophet from God to a particular hill whereon was the threshingfloor of a man named Ornan.  David purchases the hill and thereon builds an altar for sacrifice causing the angel to sheath his sword thus bringing a halt to the judgment.  Could any good whatsoever come out of this situation?  Absolutely, for this place where the wrath of God was stayed as a result of sacrifice would become the building place for the house of the Lord that David so longed to build!  Following the event, David said, “This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of the burnt offering for Israel” (I Chronicles 22:1).  This ground would serve as the very location of the house of God, the glorious temple whereupon sacrifice and offerings would occur as God’s way for the nation of Israel to approach Him.

Are these two separate, unrelated accounts, or are these events in some way connected?  I assure you they are connected.  David was told he could not personally build the house of God because there was so much blood on his hands from days of war (I Chronicles 28:3).  Therefore, David’s son, Solomon, would build the house of God instead (2 Samuel 7:13, I Chronicles 28:6).  Solomon, you will remember, was the son of Bathsheba, who became David’s wife after his sin of adultery.  This Solomon would be the one to go on and build the house of God: the location where David sacrificed at the threshingfloor of Ornan in order to stay the sword of the angel’s hand.  David’s sin of adultery with Bathsheba and that of numbering the people were offensive to God resulting in death in both cases.  However, the sin with Bathsheba ultimately resulted in the birth of Solomon, and the sin of numbering the people ultimately led to the discovery of the location of the house of God to be built by Solomon, the son of David.

In closing, we must peel back yet another layer, so to speak, and this is of utmost importance.  We previously discussed both Solomon and his brother Nathan, sons of Bathsheba.  Solomon’s lineage from David is detailed in Matthew chapter 1 ultimately culminating in the birth of one Joseph.  Nathan’s lineage from David is detailed in Luke chapter 3 ultimately culminating in the birth of one Mary.  Do you recognize these names, Joseph and Mary? In these two New Testament passages, the paternal and maternal line of the Lord Jesus Christ is given (though the Lord Jesus was not born of the seed of Joseph but immaculately conceived by the Holy Ghost Luke 1:35).  Incredible thought!  The Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ would be born from the seed of David and Bathsheba whose marriage was the result of David’s sin!  While God did not provoke the sin and in no way condoned the sin, God was still able to bring about a marvelous result as He, in infinite and incomprehensible wisdom, is always able to work His own perfect will amidst the often failing free will of man.   And the greatest mistake in all of history resulted when Jesus, the Messiah, came to earth and was condemned to death by the ones He came to save.  “Had the princes of this world understood Who Jesus really was, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (I Corinthians 2:8).  Once again, the will of man was free to make the greatest of mistakes, yet out of it, the perfect will of God was yet accomplished providing sacrifice for sin and salvation to as many as will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

We fail, we sin, we make mistakes—awful mistakes even.  These mistakes often have consequences.  But do not make the greater mistake of believing that our failures are bigger than God.  The believer in Christ is promised “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  Sin cannot be condoned and must be confessed to God as such, but we may take comfort knowing that in the Lord Jesus Christ, every sin can be forgiven, and no mistake is so great that God cannot bring something wonderful out of it still for his glory and for our good!

~J. Slomba

 

 

 

Suicidal Prophets

                                                             Suicidal Prophets

There is no subtle way to approach this.  I want to take a moment and share some thoughts about suicide.  I read some rather startling information from a 2015 report released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) based on 2013 statistics.  The report includes the following statement:

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among persons aged 10-14, the second among persons aged 15-34 years, the fourth among persons aged 35-44 years, the fifth among persons aged 45-54 years, the eighth among person 55-64 years, and the seventeenth among persons 65 years and older.”1

It is astounding to me that a time of life (ages 15-34) which should be filled with joy, could be a time when the prevalence of suicide is at its peak.  When I was about 18 years old, I learned that a childhood friend of mine had committed suicide leaving behind a girlfriend and a young child.  Over the years, I have continued to hear of Bible believing individuals who, sadly, took their own lives. The aforementioned CDC report also states, “There were 41,149 suicides in 2013 in the United States—a rate of 12.6 per 100,000 is equal to 113 suicides each day or one every 13 minutes.”1   These statistics represent only the national totals.  According to these statistics, at least a dozen individuals in the United States will take their own lives in the time it will take me to write this article.  Sobering thought, to be sure.  The concept of “suicidal thoughts” is so stigmatized in our society and within many circles of Bible believing individuals that those who struggle are often left in torment behind the prison bars of their own minds.  Many suffering souls lose this struggle on a daily basis.

I would not consider myself qualified to discuss topics related to suicide at great length.  However, I believe this is a particular battlefield known by far too many to remain quiet on the matter, and it is worthy of our consideration. Perhaps you, Reader, find yourself here from time to time wrestling with these thoughts. Thus, I would like to reflect on two prophets from the Old Testament.  These men both shared a significant life event in common—at one point, they both desired that God would take their lives.  At this time, I will say I do not believe these prophets would have taken their own lives, but extenuating circumstances had driven them to a place of great frustration and even desperation.  God did not answer their prayer and ultimately used these men mightily for His glory.  God also saw to it that these low points of apparent “weakness” were recorded for our encouragement and our comfort.  I do pray that as we examine these men, you may find such encouragement and comfort and find the Word of God to be a “word spoken in due season” (Proverbs 15:23).  The two prophets we will examine are Moses and Elijah.

Moses

Moses, the meekest man on earth (Numbers 12:3), the man to whom God would speak face to face as with a friend (Ex. 33:11), had only recently led an army of Israelites out of the land of Egypt after a series of miraculous events. If time in the wilderness had taught Moses anything, it was that being a leader of millions of men, women, and children was hard work.  The people he led complained because they grew tired of God’s provision, and their complaining provoked the anger of the Lord and the frustration of Moses.  Overwhelmed with his circumstances, Moses cries out and utters this prayer of desperation:

“I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”  (Numbers 11:14-15)

“I am not able to carry all this people alone,” is his plea.  Moses had apparently forgotten one of God’s first promises to him: “Certainly I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12).   Are we so different? Can we not relate?  God promises us, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), and yet how often do we forget this great promise and all that it means for us?  How often do we view our God in the presence of our circumstances rather than view our circumstances in the presence of our great God?  Certainly, the burden was too heavy so long as Moses saw himself as the sole bearer of it, and certainly our burdens will be too great as long as we try to carry them on our own shoulders.  Our Savior lovingly beckons, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  There is much left unsaid, but we must now move on to our second example.

Elijah

In the book of I Kings, we read of the prophet Elijah who experiences a tremendous victory at Mount Carmel over hundreds of prophets who worshiped the idol, Baal.  King Ahab expressed to Queen Jezebel, his wicked wife, all that Elijah had done.  Jezebel then sends a messenger to Elijah stating that he will be dead by this time the next day.  In fear of his life, Elijah flees deep into the wilderness where he finally comes to rest under a juniper tree and utters this prayer:

“It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (I Kings 19:4).

The Lord directs Elijah on a journey to a particular mountain called Horeb.  Here Elijah finds refuge.  At this mountain, the Word of the Lord comes to him saying:“What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replies:

“I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (I Kings 19:10).

In a nation steeped in the idolatrous worship of the idol Baal, Elijah thought himself all alone. God proceeds to reassure him that he was not alone—there were seven thousand faithful who refused to bow the knee to Baal.

Elijah felt alone; Moses felt alone.  Circumstances pushed both of these prophets all the way to their wits end—all the way to the edge of their human capacity to endure.  But praise God, when they came to the end of themselves, God was there; when we come to the end of ourselves, GOD IS THERE.  These were men who parted waters, raised the dead, and performed a number of miracles.  These were heroes of the faith and men of great character. Why would God allow these similar events, these demonstrations of weakness, these lapses in faith to be recorded in the pages of Scripture?  They are written so that we may know that the Bible is not a record of the acts and deeds of perfect men, but rather the accurate record of the acts and deeds of imperfect men and their dealings with a perfect God.  These men were relatable; we are told, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17)  These men felt fear, discouragement, and loneliness the very same way that you and I feel these emotions.  And God is no less a present Help in our distress as He was for Moses and Elijah.  These men pressed on in the face of distress and dire circumstances in order to accomplish the will of God.  Who but Moses and Elijah could be better suited to appear on the Mount of Transfiguration to discuss with Jesus the death He would accomplish in Jerusalem according to the will of God?  (Luke 9:28-31).  What a thought is this!  Two men who once desired to die being overwhelmed in the service of God will converse on the mount with Jesus Christ—One who would soon face unimaginable suffering and would  ultimately give His life in the service of God.

Dear Reader, imagine how different the Scripture record would be if God had answered the prayer of these two men.  Consider how greatly used these men were because God didn’t answer their prayer. Now think of your life.  What amazing and wonderful things can God do in your life if you let Him?  It is the prerogative of your enemy, the Devil, to snuff out your life in order to rob God of the glory of all He could do through you.  Whatever you are tempted to believe, you must know you are not alone just as Moses and Elijah were not alone.  I ask you to fight the good fight and arm yourself with the mind of God from His Word, the Bible.  Claim these promises of God and quote them aloud when you are tempted to think anything to the contrary:

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

“…He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

“…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7)

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

There are multitudes more, and I will leave you to find them.  Please do not be afraid to share your struggles with others.  Please know you are not alone in this struggle and that many more than you even realize share in this battle.  I pray you take encouragement from the lives of these great men and know that God loves you and is able to take your life and do exceeding abundantly above all that you ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).

~J. Slomba

1. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicide-datasheet-a.pdf

Victims and Vengeance

                                                       Victims and Vengeance

I would like to share a short story with you about something that happened to me the other day, my failure, and the lesson I am learning from it.  It is altogether amazing to me how God works through our failures to teach us lessons on the Person and character of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Here’s what happened:

I was travelling with my two brothers returning from a weekend of ministry at a Christian camp. About 1.5 hours into our journey, I was driving in the left lane of a two-lane highway passing a number of slower vehicles.  However, as I looked in my left side mirror, I was startled by the sudden appearance of a gray vehicle—the driver obviously irritated with my very existence.  She tailgated me for only a minute or so until I had the opportunity to change lanes so she could pass.  As the vehicle accelerated by on our left, I happened to notice the passenger of the vehicle, who could not have been more than 15 years old, gesturing with his finger. I cannot describe to you the emotions that swelled inside of me in that moment.  It was as though the deepest, darkest parts of my soul—places I didn’t even know still existed—had just erupted like a Pandora’s box filled with putrid and toxic emotions.  Thoughts of anger, vengeance, and retribution permeated my mind and heart as I laid on my horn in a pointless attempt to express my frustration and anger.  I thought maybe I would try to catch up to them, but they were quickly out of sight leaving me to seethe in my displeasure.  To my knowledge, I had done nothing to merit such a volatile response. Was I not justified in my response?  I had been wronged!  And yet, I could not help at that moment (maybe not quite at that moment) but think of the Lord Jesus as Peter describes Him:

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (I Peter 2:23 NIV)

This is quite the contrast between Christ’s reaction and my own.  My mind is drawn to two other men in the Bible: Abel and Zachariah.  The son of Adam and Eve, Abel was a righteous man who offered a “more acceptable” sacrifice to God than his brother, Cain (Hebrews 11:3).  Cain murdered Abel after Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted.  God later came to Cain and said. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Genesis 4:9).  Abel was rightly accepted by God and wrongly slain by his brother.  But righteous as Abel was, his blood symbolically cried “Injustice! Vengeance! Retribution!”  The blood of this righteous man would not seep quietly into the bowels of the earth.  His blood called—nay, cried out for retribution.

Many years later, a man by the name of Zachariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, led by the Spirit of God, rose up and spoke against the evils of the nation of Judah under the reign of King Joash.  At the command of the king, Zachariah was stoned in the court of the house of the Lord, but not before uttering the words “May the LORD see and avenge!” (2 Chronicles 24:22).   Unjustly slain, Zachariah calls upon the Lord to see and avenge him of this wrong.

I can relate with these men and their experiences.  While my brother has not attempted to kill me (yet), and the audiences before whom I speak have not tried to stone me (yet), I can relate to the human response desiring vengeance when I have been wronged or unjustly treated.  And then I think of the Lord Jesus.  We already saw in I Peter that he did not retaliate for the wrongs committed against him; He did not threaten.   He was falsely accused, insulted, beaten, whipped, mocked, and shamed, and in all of this, He did not retaliate. Isaiah tells us “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).  We are told in Hebrews that Christ “endured such contradiction of sinners against himself” (Hebrews 12:3).   He endured them all.  Often we think of the work of Christ as what “He DID do” but we must also consider what “He DID NOT do.”  He did not retaliate.  He did not threaten.  He did not call down fire from heaven to consume His adversaries (Luke 9:54), and He did not call down twelve legions of angels to rescue Him, though it was well within His power (Matthew 26:53).  He did not passively endure all of this suffering, but he actively yielded Himself to the Father’s will every single step of the way.  He yielded, through every crack of the whip, every blow of the fist, and every hurtful word.  “He saved others, He cannot save Himself.” These words like daggers were hurled at him by the crowd (Matthew 27:42).  And there was a measure of truth to their insults: if He chose to save to Himself, He could not save the world; in order to save the world, He must sacrifice Himself.

Both Abel and Zechariah, in some way, cried for vengeance on their killers in their death.  If they were righteous, how much more righteous is the Lord Jesus?  If these men were innocent, how much more He Who “committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth”? (I Peter 2:22).  If they could cry out for vengeance against injustice in their death, how much more could the Judge of all the earth?  But what is it that we read of our Lord Jesus at the cross?  What does He speak concerning His abusers? “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  Jesus could very easily have whispered these words in a silent prayer to His heavenly Father saving Himself pain and exhaustion, but He chose to use His precious breath so that Scripture might forever record His great love for those who caused Him so much pain.  He would not cry out for retribution but for remission of sin; His blood called out, not for revenge, but for redemption.   You see, when Jesus died on the cross, He did so to settle a legal debt that humanity owed to God because of sin.  Upon His death, Jesus uttered the singular Greek word teleō, (or tetelestai, according to some texts) which literally means, “accomplished, paid, or fulfilled.”  The Lord Jesus had accomplished the Father’s will, He paid our debt, and He fulfilled the Scriptures concerning Himself.

I am thankful for the work that God is doing in me and in every follower of the Lord Jesus.  We are daily being transformed into the image of Christ by the indwelling Spirit of God with the Word of God.  (Romans 8:29) There are times we are reminded just how much work there is left to do, and our failures should help keep us humble and in prayer before God.  We can be thankful, however, that God, Who has begun a good work in us, will perfect it until the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6).  As He continues His work in each of us, may it be our hope and prayer that we would better reflect the character of the Lord Jesus Christ in every aspect of our lives.

~J. Slomba

His Wonders in the Deep

                                                        His Wonders in the Deep

I have always loved the ocean.  I enjoy sitting on the beach watching the beautiful sunset as I listen to the predictably rhythmic sound of waves washing up onto the shore.  The failing light dances over the water, which reflects the most vibrant of colors.   Yet for all its beauty, this mysterious place remains largely unexplored.  Humans have been all the way to the moon, and yet over 95% of our world’s oceans remain unexplored1.  It is estimated that the deepest known location, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana’s Trench, is estimated at being approx.. 36,000 feet below sea level2.   To put this in perspective, if Mount Everest were to be uprooted and placed in this trench, its peak would still be 1 mile below the surface.  Now that’s deep.  The film industry is in no short supply for mythical creatures of destruction and chaos:  Jaws, Moby Dick, or even the giant squid from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  Stories are told of creatures that live in the deepest parts whose existence is only revealed when they surface shallow enough to be discovered.  Many wonders still dwell in the deepest parts of the ocean of which we may never know in this lifetime.  For now they exist solely for the pleasure of the Lord (Rev 4:11). There is a particular passage in the Psalms which I have been pondering recently:

Psalm 107:23-24- “They that go down into the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and the wonders in the deep.”

As you well know, It is the stock and trade of many fishermen who “do business in great waters” to gather their aquatic bounty from the watery depths.  The above verses draw attention to the fact that these privileged few are often eye-witnesses of God’s wonders—wonders that are normally witnessed in the deep waters.   But deep waters are frightening, aren’t they?  And for good reason, too!  If we get in the water, we can be eaten; if the water gets in us, we can drown!  That’s a lose/lose situation.  But I would draw your attention to a man who “did some business” in the great waters and experienced the “wonders of the deep.”  You know him as Jonah.

Jonah was a man on the run from God, but he was no more capable of outrunning God than he was of out swimming a great big fish.   A series of events (which I will leave you to read on your own) landed Jonah right in the belly of said fish.  Now as you can imagine, the wonders of the deep weren’t exactly wonderful for Jonah initially.  Three days and nights our poor Jonah spent in this place of unimaginable discomfort, but it is toward the end of this time that Jonah expresses some thoughts upon which we might stop and ponder:

Jonah 2:2-3-  “…I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol [hell] I cried, and you heard my voice.  For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.”

“Into the deep” Jonah was cast—and by God at that!  But I ask you, what “wonders” did he see except the inside of a fish?  It takes only a small amount of imagination to gather how much he must have suffered in the belly of this creature.  The resulting anguish of soul is expressed in the strong language noted in the above verses.    Again we read,

Jonah 2:5-7- “The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.”

Such a hopeless state of affairs in which we find our Jonah!  What could he do?  Where could he go?  The sea was all around him, the very weeds wrapped around his head and he was all alone descending to what could have seemed like a watery grave in the very roots of the mountains.

But God was not finished with Jonah just yet.  God had a marvelous plan.  For you see, God was also doing business in the great waters, as we read in our opening verses.  God was doing business with Jonah.  I cannot tell you how exactly this overwhelming state of affairs changed the heart of Jonah so substantially, and for the life of me, I cannot tell you why it took three whole days!  What I can tell you, is that from the depths of the ocean, in the most hopeless and helpless place, Jonah cries out in a prayer of repentance and faith.  God ultimately causes the fish to spit Jonah up on dry land to fulfill the task for which he had been originally called.

Perhaps you find yourself in a similar situation as Jonah in the belly of the fish.  You are trapped, you feel alone, you are sinking deeper and deeper into a dark abyss with no apparent hope of escape.   The deeper you descend into the void, the greater the pressure closing in, straining to squeeze the last ounce of your strength until there is none.  Feeling helpless and terrified, you consider simply giving up.  I have been there, too.  If this is you, then now is your time.  Now is your time to do business in the great waters—business with God.   If you have not accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you have business to do: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” is the challenge from Acts 16:31.  If you have trusted Christ as Savior but are holding on to some darling sin that is ruining your life, then you have business to do: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” we are told from I John 1:9.  And if you are a follower of Christ and are suffering for reasons you simply cannot understand, then you also have business to do: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” is the encouragement from James 1:2-3.

It can certainly be discouraging to suffer, but it is even more discouraging when we don’t understand why God is allowing us to suffer, which is often the case.   We feel like we are being carried by the ocean current with no real purpose or direction at all.  Ahhh, but rest assured, there is, in fact, a path though the footprints cannot be seen:

Psa 77:19- Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known.

As you can imagine, the inside of a fish makes for a lousy view.  But Jonah still managed to see the wonders of the deep as he emerged with a deeper understanding of Who God is.  The trials we face in life are not without purpose.   They are the sickness that drives us to the cure, the fire that purges out the dross from the metal, and the pressure that turns common carbon into precious diamonds.  And as we humble ourselves and yield to God in these trials, when we ultimately emerge, we are better for the suffering and are left with a deeper understanding of our Savior God.   These are the wonders in the deep!

Dear Reader, Life is like a vast ocean; we would much rather wade aimlessly through the shallows of the known 5%.  We would spend our lives enjoying a beautiful horizon and listening to the predictable sounds of the waves on the shore, never giving thought to the other 95%.   But God has more for you and for me; He loves us dearly and would have us know and experience him in a deeper more intimate way which can only occur when we are brought out of our comfort zone of self-reliance and independence.  He knows the unknown is often terrifying and that suffering is painful.  But be assured, there is a plan even if you don’t know it, there is a path, even if you can’t see it, and it is as we do business in the great waters that we experience the wonders of the deep. 

I do pray these thoughts help fill you with strength for today, and hope for tomorrow as we look for the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).

~J. Slomba

  1. http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/exploration.html
  2. http://geology.com/records/deepest-part-of-the-ocean.shtml

 

 

The Withered Hand of Faith

                                                   The Withered Hand of Faith

As many of you know, I have a disabled brother who was born with cerebral palsy.  Joey’s condition has rendered him triplegic, which means that he retains the functional use of only his right hand as his left hand is somewhat contracted and only minimally functional even after corrective surgery.  We affectionately call his functional arm “righty” and the disabled arm “lefty.”  Because of his condition, he is in a wheelchair and requires a great deal of assistance with activities of daily living.   Joey uses his right hand to eat, use a computer, write, and to transfer out of his chair, among other activities.   As you might imagine, his right hand is quite essential to the quality of his life.  The other day, I attempted an experiment.  I asked Joey to stretch out his hand.  He immediately reached out with “righty”–the good one.  I asked him why he did not reach out with his left hand, to which he replied, “Because the left one doesn’t work.”  Now why do I tell you all of this?  I tell you this because I have been thinking lately of a man in Scripture who was born with a condition of a shriveled hand—“withered,” as the KJV renders it.  This man had an encounter with Jesus which left him forever changed.  Three of the gospel writers found the event significant enough to write about, and as we examine the event, I do hope it imparts to your heart a similar blessing as I have enjoyed in considering it.  Without further introduction, the passage:

Matthew 12:9-13:  “He went on from there and entered their synagogue.  And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him.  He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out?  Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”  Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.”

Imagine yourself as this disabled man for a moment.  What would your life be like at this period in history?  Are you useful to society? Can you fish, mend nets, or farm land? Can you work with wood or metal?  Perhaps you could do these things at a nominal level, but any person with 2 good hands would be faster and more productive than you.  So finding work and earning money would be challenging at best.  Maybe you have given up altogether and rely on the charity of generous members of society.  After all, we do find him in the synagogue, and this isn’t the only record in Scripture where we find a disabled person accepting alms at a place of worship (Acts 3).   I do not know this man’s story, but it is easy to imagine he spent more time taking than giving.

And then one day, something incredible happens.   This One, Jesus, enters the synagogue and is confronted by the Pharisees who, desiring to catch Him in some error, ask Him if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath day.  To which Jesus replies, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”  He then says to the man with the withered hand, “Stretch out your hand.”  What is the man to do?  After all, Jesus didn’t say, “Stretch out your withered hand.”  So, the man is faced with a couple choices:

1.) Stretch out with the good hand-  Embarrassed by his condition or filled with a sense of pride and independence, the man could have reached out with his good hand expecting to receive some generous donation from Jesus.   Don’t we all have that tendency?  We try our best to mask our insecurities with confidence and put our best foot forward.  We flaunt our strengths and conceal our weaknesses in order to appear that we have it all together.  Allow me to assure you right now, dear Reader, every one of us has a withered hand; we are all broken in different ways.  Some are just better at hiding it than others.   At best the man would receive a generous donation and at worst he wasted his time.

Alternatively, he could:

2.) Stretch out with the withered hand- But what possible good would that do?  Onlookers might mock at the feeble attempt of the man to do that which he knew he could not do.  For a withered hand will always come short of that for which it reaches.   People might laugh, they might feel pity, and in the end it is possible he could be left feeling ashamed of himself.

But maybe something else would happen.  Is it possible that this Jesus is Who He says He is?  Could it be that this simple act of faith and obedience could result with his being healed?  We know the answer.  This man believed that he was in the presence of the One Who could heal his infirmity.  Pride, independence, entitlement, embarrassment, and shame all melted away in that moment when, in the energy of faith, the man attempted the impossible because he knew he stood before the God who specializes in the impossible.  It mattered not what others thought.  Bystanders and Pharisees faded from view as this man’s primary focus was the One Who could meet his need.  This act of faith was not performed in vain, for in the moment he exposed his weakness and presented before the Savior the feeblest act of obedience in the energy of faith, he was not disappointed but was miraculously healed.  His hand was restored whole like the other.

Dear Reader, we are all born with a withered hand.  Just as a withered hand will always fall short of that for which it reaches, so you and I have come short of the glory of God because of our sin (Romans 3:23).  Try as we may, we simply cannot please God (Romans 8:8).  But there is good news!  Jesus did not ask the man to reach out his hand like in Michelangelo’s famous depiction of Adam where God and man strain to touch fingers only to come short of each other.  The goal was not to take the man to the brink of his ability as though if he tried as hard as he could, Jesus would heal him because he did the “best he could do.”  If this was the case, then the “best he could do” was to stretch out with the unaffected arm!  No, this test of faith proved several points about our man:

  • He knew he was broken.
  • He knew that he needed to be healed.
  • He believed that Jesus could heal him.
  • He believed that Jesus would heal him.

Like the man in our story, you and I are in need of healing from the penalty of sin, and we too have a choice.  We can choose to approach God with our good intentions, good works, and try to earn his favor as we stretch out our good hand.  Cain tried this approach in the Garden of Eden when he offered to God the work of his hands instead of the required sacrifice, and his offering was not accepted.  Or, we can choose to accept the fact that we are broken and in desperate need of a Savior.  We can accept that we have a Savior in the risen Lord Jesus Christ who gave up his life at Calvary, Who “stretched out His own hands” for you and for me as He was nailed to the cross, and Who now offers eternal life and forgiveness of sins through the simple act of faith.  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” is the genuine offer (Acts 16:31).  So what will it be?  The Savior is calling, and he beckons you to reach out.

How will YOU respond?

~J. Slomba