Archive for April, 2017

Jesus: Our redeemer

April 29, 2017

Job 19.25-26

The Verse of the Day for April 27, 2017 comes from Job 19:25 (NLT):

“But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last.

This verse refers to the  “redeemer,” one who exercises the right of redemption. The act of redeeming literally means  “to purchase out, buy up;  buy out of the hands of a person; to set free; to buy off, to secure for oneself or one’s own use; to buy up from the power or possession of any one.” According to the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, to be redeemed, then, is to be forgiven, to be made holy, to be freed, adopted, and reconciled to God.

Psalm 111:9 (NLT) refers to the redemption of Israel:

He has paid a full ransom for his people.
He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!

Likewise, Psalm 130:7 (NLT) makes known the same:

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
for with the Lord there is unfailing love.
His redemption overflows.

The Verse of the Day with its reference to “my redeemer” also brings to mind that as believers we have been redeemed or purchased back from hand of the enemy by Christ Jesus, as Matthew 20:28 proclaims:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many

Jesus is designated as our savior and redeemer. In the Old Testament we find a particular reference to the Kinsman Redeemer. This heroic figure is foreshadowed in the Book of Ruth, where a male relative assumes the responsibility to act on behalf of a distant family member who is in danger or trouble or in need of vindication.

A scripture memory song describes this Old Testament prototype:

The Kinsman Redeemer, our wonderful savior.

The Kinsman Redeemer, we know that He is able

To restore and to bless, to turn sadness into joy.

When we read the Word of God and learn the truth,

We see that the Kinsman Redeemer was Boaz who married Ruth.

A series of teachings based on the Book of Ruth and some of the lessons to be learned from that amazing love story reveals the heroic figure of the Kinsman Redeemer. The teachings inspired this poem which the Verse of the Day brought to mind:

Another Lesson from the Book of Ruth

Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us.

And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently

for God’s promises to be fulfilled.

Romans 15:4 (NLT)

In times of crisis when famine engulfs the land,

Those willing to glean, to sacrifice will survive.

Like Ruth, they shall be satisfied and even thrive

To see blessings flow from the Father’s own right hand.

As a Kinsman Redeemer arose to rescue

Two brave women in despair, Naomi and Ruth,

So their example reveals an eternal truth:

What God did then, He does no less for me and you.

Dismissing failures, our Savior ignored each flaw

As he called us by name and set the captives free,

For our redemption canceled any penalty

When he redeemed our souls from the curse of the Law.

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, still lives,

And through all eternity he endlessly gives.

Heidi French Lovett offers a musical expression of “Jesus our Redeemer”:

The verse from Job also brings to mind George Friedrich Handel’s Messiah, the renowned oratorio based on texts from the King James Version of the Bible. One of the most well-known selections from this frequently performed musical composition is based Job 19:25-26: “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth.”

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Lose your mind: renew your mind

April 28, 2017

Philippians 2--5

The Verse of the Day for April 28, 2017 comes from Philippians 2:5-8 in the familiar King James Version:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

The opening phrase of the passage offers this exhortation to believers in the Amplified Bible:

Philippians 2:5 (AMP)

Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:]

The expression brings to mind similar words of encouragement “to put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and “to be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” Believers must learn to put off their former way of thinking and put on or develop new thinking habits or patterns based on the Word of God.

I recall an experience when I first began studying and applying the Scriptures in my life in a serious and consistent manner. I was in the Army, and one of my buddies noticed how intently I studied the Bible, as I shared my enthusiasm for what I was learning. One day he pulled me to the side and said in a serious manner, “Johnson, if you keep studying that Bible so much, you’re going to lose your mind.” Immediately I was offended and remarked, “I studied harder and for a longer period of time when I was in college, and I didn’t lose my mind. Why do you think it’s going to happen to me now?” I dismissed his remarks and kept on pursuing spiritual principles, applying them to my daily life. After a short period of time, however, his words came true. I did start to lose my mind, but I also recognized that I had replaced my old mindset with a new way of thinking, as I put on the mind of Christ.

This ongoing, lifelong spiritual process is called “renewing the mind.” Christians are instructed not to be conformed to the thinking patterns of the world but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2).

This section of scripture is associated with the familiar process of metamorphosis. Translated from the Greek word metamorphoo, the phrase is also used to express that as believers strive to manifest more of Christ in their lives, they are also “changed” into the same image by means of this ongoing process.

Butterflies as they undergo metamorphosis are transformed from egg to larva or caterpillar to chrysalis (cocoon) to butterfly (adult). Christian believers also continually undergo a similar spiritual transformation as they mature in Christ. The essence of this amazing process is expressed this way:

We put off the old, put on the new, and leave the past behind.

As we follow Christ, we are renewed in the spirit of our mind.

As believers, we are encouraged to change of our minds and develop new thinking patterns. We are to put off the old man and to put on the new man, as we put away lying or any other ungodly practices. We personally apply these principles of renewing our minds when we determine that we will change directions in our lives and start following this directive to

Put off, put on, put away

And do not be conformed to this,

but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,

that you may prove what is that good and acceptable

 and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:2 (NKJV)

 

Moving in the opposite spirit, not in hate

But walking in love, being kind, tenderhearted;

Not being anxious but learning to patiently wait;

To quench the fiery tongue before it gets started;

Never spewing venom but with our mouths confess

The truth of the Word of God that we might make known

What God declares we are, to always seek to bless

And reap a great harvest from good seed being sown;

To reverse the curse and counter iniquity,

God orders our steps, and we choose the path of peace:

Not to seeking revenge but forgiving each enemy,

For all giving assures that favor will increase;

Renewed in the spirit of our mind night and day,

Being transformed “to put off, put on, put away.”

Jody McBryer concludes with a powerful rendering of “The Mind of Christ”:

 

 

 

Jesus saves to the uttermost

April 26, 2017

Hebrews 7--25

From Hebrews 7:25 (NLT) comes the Verse of the Day for April 26, 2017:

Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

The Amplified Bible offers this powerful rendering:

Hebrews 7:25:

Therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost (completely, perfectly, finally, and for all time and eternity) those who come to God through Him, since He is always living to make petition to God and intercede with Him and intervene for them.

Posted below is a previous blog entry devoted t0 this verse which makes known Jesus Christ as a complete Savior, who fulfills his purpose as the Son of God:

For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10)

The Psalmist offers these comforting words to remind us of God’s faithfulness to rescue those who are lost:

Psalm 31:8

And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room.

Psalm 106:10

And he saved them from the hand of him that hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.

Psalm 107:2

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy;

In thinking about Jesus Christ who saves to the uttermost, I recall a blog entry where I commented on our being rescued from a “horrible pit.” What follows is an excerpt from the post entitled “There is no pit so deep. . .”

I recall reading a commentary regarding Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy, who were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps because they helped Jews to escape in Holland during World War II. They found themselves in a horrible situation, in a deep pit, and Betsy’s last words before she died spoke of hope, even in a most difficult situation. Corrie ten Boom, was later rescued and gave her testimony of the amazing power of God’s love that sustained her over the years of her life. Betsy said these words which became the opening line and the title of the following poem:

“There is no pit so deep. . .”

“There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”

 Betsy ten Boom

He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock,
and established my steps.

Psalm 40:2                            

“There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”

In times of turmoil and deep distress we rest until

We see that God’s Word comes to pass, for we have no doubt

That He will again deliver us and bring us out

With renewed strength to climb an even steeper hill.

 

We are assured that every promise God will fulfill.

When we are exhausted, God will refresh and refill.

No matter how severe the problem we thought about,

“There is no pit so deep. . .”

 

Despite our best efforts, at times life goes all downhill.

In times of despair we seek courage and strength to instill,

As we persevere to triumph along this treacherous route.

Rooted and grounded, we are no longer tossed about.

We remember these words as we strive to fulfill God’s will:

“There is no pit so deep. . .”

Travis Cottrell reminds us “Jesus Saves” and to the uttermost, as the Verse of the Day reiterates:

Oh, to see the Mystery

April 25, 2017

colossians-1-27

Fifty years ago, I recall hearing and reading the Verse of the Day for April 25, 2017 for the first time, and since then these verses have come to mean so much to me in studying and applying the Word of God.  The New Living Translation offers this rendering of Colossians 1:27-28:

For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.

This passage from Colossians 1:27-28 also mentions the concept of “the mystery” which Dr. Mark Hanby refers to as part of the “progressive revelation of God”—reflected in God’s desire for a dwelling place, displayed in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness (first dimension) leading to Solomon’s Temple (second dimension), and culminating in the Temple of the Living God, the body of Christ (third dimension).

Derived from the Greek word musterion, translated “sacred secret,” the essence of “this mystery” is that Jews and Gentiles would be united in one body, the Body of Christ. This “great mystery” was hidden in Christ before the foundations of the earth.  Had Satan known this mystery or great secret, the Scriptures declare that he never would have crucified the Lord of glory, Jesus Christ. The mystery was revealed to the Apostle Paul as the context of the Verse of the Day indicates.

In Chapter 3 of Ephesians, Paul speaks of the spiritual impact that the Church, the Body of Christ, was designed to demonstrate:

Ephesians 3:10 (New Living Translation):

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

God’s desire is that members of the Body of Christ, both individually and corporately, might know and apprehend more fully the true meaning of the mystery of the one body. We express our yearning to understand the riches of the glory of this mystery to a greater degree in this way:

Oh, To See the Mystery

Ephesians 3

 

Enlighten our eyes that we might openly see;

Expand our mind and widen our comprehension

To understand the temple of the mystery.

Teach us to comprehend fully each dimension

And ascertain the magnitude without measure:

Reveal to us the true length,

though it is endless;

Teach us to find the full breadth,

though it is boundless;

Help us to reach the vast height,

though it is measureless;

Teach us to probe the great depth,

though it is fathomless.

Show us your divine design for the inner man.

Make plain the purpose, the pattern, the symmetry

Unfolded in the blueprints of your master plan

For the One Body, temple of awesome beauty.

Share with us the value of this priceless treasure,

The riches of the glory of this mystery

Held in the secret places of your good pleasure.

Take our hand and lead us, as you would guide a youth,

Who loves and lives to explore the depths of your truth.

The lyrics to this original song were also inspired by Colossians 1:27-28:

Christ in You, Christ in Me

Even before the world began,

God put together His master plan,

Calling Jews and Gentiles into one body,

The riches of the glory of this mystery

Which is Christ in you, the hope of glory,

Christ in you, the hope of glory,

Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Enlighten our eyes, help us to see

All that you have called us to be.

Share with us the secrets that will set us free,

The riches of the glory of this mystery

Which is Christ in me, the hope of glory

Christ in me, the hope of glory,

Christ in me, the hope of glory.

Put on God’s Word, renew your mind.

Seek Him with your whole heart, and you will find

He’ll open your eyes; He’ll let you see

The riches of the glory of this mystery

Which is Christ in you, the hope of glory

Christ in you, the hope of glory,

Christ in you, the hope of glory.

We’re no longer bound; we’ve been set free.

We once were so blind, but now we see.

We’re walking into our destiny:

The riches of the glory of this mystery

Which is Christ in me, the hope of glory

Christ in me, the hope of glory,

Christ in me the hope of glory.

Christ in you, the hope of glory,

Christ in you, the hope of glory,

Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Christ in me, the hope of glory,

Christ in me, the hope of glory,

Christ in me, the hope of glory.

Charlie LeBlanc offers a musical reminder that it’s “Christ in You! (Hosanna! Music)”

Faith is a journey

April 24, 2017

Within the past several weeks, a number of Quotes of the Day as well as Verses of the Day have focused on faith. In addition, faith continues to be a topic of importance in that Bishop Charles Mellette of Christian Provision Ministries in Sanford, NC has been teaching a series related to faith. From the series a metaphor emerged which described “faith as a journey.”

In addition, I discussed a related quote “Faith is a journey; when you start, you can’t quit.” Bishop Mellette also make the following statements to corroborate this point:

“Faith is not an experience—Faith is a journey. . . Your faith is coming and growing,” as he also shared 2 Thessalonians 1:3:

We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other,

He also shared Romans 10:17:

17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

He went on to say, “Your faith grows exceedingly—Faith is progressive . . . It involves a process. It is ongoing. God is not your previous experience. . . God is your new beginning, as we are living our faith every day.”

In a previous blog post on faith, I commented on the significance of faith in my life as a believer, as I recalled that my first Bible teaching shared at a Youth Night service at a church camp in high school centered on faith, as I explored Hebrews 11:1, and verse 6. More than 50 years later when I was required to write my personal testimony to share with students whom I taught at Indiana Wesleyan University, I entitled my sharing “My Journey of Faith”

One of Bishop Mellette’s teachings related specifically to “Faith as a journey” and inspired the following poem:

 On Our Journey . . . The Journey Continues

May we see clearly where our paths have led

And be strengthened for the journey ahead.

“Strengthened for the Journey”

 

“And now I cause you to begin even a new journey. . .

The journey has already begun.”

Apostle John Tetsola

 

We are steadfast– our souls remain anchored in hope,

Eagerly watching and waiting, looking above.

Feeling during dark times that we can barely cope,

But seasons swiftly change, for we have come to know

Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.

Despite appearances, God has the last say so.

Once more we seek to serve, to go where we are sent

That our lives should reflect the praise of His glory,

The finishing touch on your crowning achievement:

The surprise happy ending of this love story

When all creation finally gets back to being one,

Even as with Father, Holy Spirit, and Son.

The perfect will of God unfolds for all to see,

As we begin each new day on our journey.

Recently while developing an online American Literature course for Carolina College of Biblical Studies, I incorporated the same metaphor: “Life is a journey of discovery,” as a theme revealed in a variety of literary works by American authors. Students also explore their personal feelings, thoughts, and reactions evoked from the various readings as they intersect with each individual’s quest to find his or her personal identity.

The course points out one of the universal concerns of humanity is the quest for identity. Every individual seeks to find out “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “What is my purpose in life?” Life can be viewed as a “Journey of Faith,” the  quest to discover our true identity as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

In thinking about this concept, a meaningful song comes to mind to remind us to take joy in each phase of our ongoing journey of discovery.

Michael Card offers “Joy in the Journey”:

National Poetry Month: Let’s celebrate

April 21, 2017

National poetry month

Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is now held every April, when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country come together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture. Thousands of businesses and non-profit organizations participate through readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other events.

As a practicing poet who writes from a decidedly Christian perspective, I recognize a spiritual connection with poetry and would like to share comments from a radio broadcast “Poetry and Praise” which I hosted more than a dozen years ago:

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the famous English Romantic poet, defined this literary art form as the “best words in their best order.” Poetry is an expression of the heart.  As Longfellow said, “Look into thine heart and write.”  Another poet said, “When you have something special you want to say, poetry helps you say it in a special way.” Certain qualities make this literary expression called poetry “special.” Poetry generally has rhythm or meter, sometimes in a specific recurring metrical pattern but not always, as with free verse.  Poetry can also have rhyme but then again, not always.  As the late Roger Miller once stated:

Roses are red, Violets are blue.

Some poems rhyme and some poems don’t.

Finally poetry has meaning or significance and a remarkable ability to evoke a mood or attitude, using figurative language to paint unforgettable mind pictures. The Roman poet Horace stated that “The purpose of literature is to instruct the mind and delight the spirit.” Robert Frost said, “Poetry begins in delight and ends with wisdom.”  Poetry causes you to think and to remember what you didn’t know you knew.

Most poetry is relatively short: a compact unit of lines that reach deep into the heart. Whether the words of the Psalmist who speaks, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. . .”  or the line from the classic love sonnet from Shakespeare, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” or the powerful imagery of James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation” or Dr. Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” or the closing lines of “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost or lines from your favorite poem, poetry has remarkable power to touch the heart and soul in an unforgettable way, which we celebrate, especially during the month of April.

I encourage each of our readers to join me in the celebration of poetry throughout this month: write a poem, learn a new poem by heart—recite a poem and share it with a friend. Why not check out a book of poetry; make a new friend with a poet whose work you enjoy or someone whom you’ve heard about. Do something poetic that you’ve never done and celebrate God’s goodness in some way involving poetry.

As born-again believers, Christians are also said to be new creations in Christ, and we praise God for having given us all things richly to enjoy. Indeed, Ephesians 2:10 declares that “. . . we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  The word “workmanship” is translated from the Greek word poiema, which means masterpiece, a glorious creation, a centerpiece of attention, as the French would say, le piece de resistance, or showpiece. Of course, the Greek word poiema is transliterated into the English word poem, which in the minds of many people is always a “masterpiece” or glorious creation. So that the people of God represent the real poetry of life, for which we praise God.  Accordingly, we should not just wait until April to extol the beauty of poetry, but recognize and celebrate this cherished literary form every day. Make every day a

Good News Day

 This is the day the LORD has made;

we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24

 

It’s a good news day

no blues day

new shoes

no way to lose

What a good news day

 

It’s a great day

I can’t wait day

lift your voice

let’s rejoice

Good God, a good news day

 

It’s a payday

goin my way day

no nay–all yea

what you say

Such a good news day

 

It’s a live it up day

overflowin cup day

It’s a bright and bubbly

doubly lovely

Show-nuff good news day

Take a look at and listen to this video promotion of National Poetry Month from Museum of the Bible, showing the use of Hebrew poetry in the Old Testament:

Death, where is your sting?

April 20, 2017

The Verse of the Day for April 20, 2017 reminds believers of the accomplished work of Jesus Christ when he arose triumphantly over sin and all of its devastating consequences, even over death itself. As the hymn reminds us, “Up from the grave he arose/with a might triumph over his foes. . .”:

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (Amplified Bible)

O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? Now sin is the sting of death, and sin exercises its power [upon the soul] through [the abuse of] the Law. But thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory [making us conquerors] through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The passage which is often recited on Resurrection Sunday, also reminds me of remarks I shared during a memorial service for a church member who passed away a few years ago. Also included was verse 54:

54 And when this perishable puts on the imperishable and this that was capable of dying puts on freedom from death, then shall be fulfilled the Scripture that says, Death is swallowed up (utterly vanquished forever) in and unto victory.

Picture this: Pick up a nitroglycerin tablet which is remarkably small, about a fraction of an inch in diameter and height. Pinching the tablet between the thumb and forefinger would cover it completely. Imagine using all the water in the Pacific Ocean to wash down such a small object. Without question, the nitroglycerin tablet would be “swallowed up” and utterly overwhelmed by the vastness of the ocean.

Another illustration came to mind as I thought of the time when I came across a dead mouse, a small rodent about 4 inches long, as walked I outside of the condo where we were living at the time. I scooped up the tiny carcass and placed it inside a small plastic bag that was then stuffed inside the 13-gallon trash bag that would be tossed into a dumpster that would compress hundreds of similar-sized trash bags, all of which would be taken to a massive landfill encompassing several acres. I could see that in the same way the dead mouse would be “swallowed up” when it eventually found its way to the landfill, even so to an even greater degree, “. . . Death is destroyed; victory is complete!” according to the Good News Translation.

I rejoiced as I saw how God illustrated in such a striking manner just how inconsequential death, the last enemy, has become because of Jesus Christ’s triumphant defeat of him “who has the power over death, that is the devil.”

Because of Jesus Christ and his mighty triumph over sin, disease, and death, as believers in his resurrection, we have a decidedly different perspective on death. We rejoice, as we anticipate the manifestation of the ultimate triumph over the last enemy when we shall experience the reality of the “Final Victory.”

David Goodwin offers an anthem “O Death, Where is Your Sting?”

We conclude with another musical version of Christ’s triumph:

“O Death, Where is Your Sting?” (Pepper Choplin)

Christ has become firstfruits

April 19, 2017

The Verse of the Day for April 19, 2017 is found in 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 in the New Living Translation:

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.

The expression “He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died” is translated “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” in the King James Version. The reference to “firstfruits” brings to mind the Feast of the First Fruits, one of the feasts associated with Passover, one of the three feasts established by God for the Children of Israel to observe when they left Egypt for the Promised Land. It was instituted on Day 14 of Nisan (the first month); the Feast of the Unleaven Bread was to begin the next day, Nisan15, and the Feast of the First Fruits to begin three days following Passover on Nisan 17. They are referred to as one feast.

Jesus Christ appears as a type, a foreshadowing of events to come, throughout the Old Testament, as in the case of the Passover Lamb and other aspects of the Seder, the Passover meal, Jesus was recognized as “The Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” Those previous indications are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, whom Paul describes as “our Passover.” Indeed, Jesus died at the very time that the Passover lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple.

First Fruits was a feast of a thanksgiving offering of the first portion of the harvest to God for His goodness in providing food from the land for the Israelites, acknowledging that all good things come from God and that everything belongs to God. Giving the first fruits was also a way of expressing trust in God’s provision; just as He provided the first fruits, so He would provide the rest of the crops that were needed. A first fruits ceremony is described in detail in Deuteronomy 26:1-11.

In 1 Corinthians 15:23, Paul refers to Christ as the First Fruits. The real point of the feast was looking to the resurrection of the Messiah. Jesus, the Messiah was our provision for spiritual welfare. Jesus was raised on the first day of the Feast of the First Fruits. Jesus said he was the Bread of Life. This was the last feast the Lord took part in while on earth.

The Feast of the First Fruits began the harvest. The offering to the Lord was the first of the grain that was harvested, and afterwards the harvest would continue. This is the symbolism of the First Fruit. Christ was the first as 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23 states. Those who have and will believe in Jesus Christ for salvation since that time are the harvest.

The reference to “firstfruits” was also the inspiration for this poetic work:

Firstfruits

Of His own will He brought us forth by the word
of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits
of his creatures.
James 1:18

Transform and then so fashion our visage
To be like Christ, the brightness of your glory.
Fashion us in your fire that we might be
Reformed and cast in His express image:
As boldface type printed upon the page,
As a new coin minted in your treasure,
Stamped with the essence of your character
To convey the power of your message.
So saturate our spirit, heart, soul and mind;
Flaws and failures the Lord heals and restores
To permeate our presence that we might find
Our true calling as Christ’s ambassadors.
More than vessel, vehicle, or instrument,
Like Christ, we are firstfruits of God’s intent.

Steve McConnell offers “Firstfruits” a musical rendition of this celebration:

Did you hear. . . Are you listening?

April 12, 2017

Instead of the usual Verse of the Day, the blog entry for April 12, 2017 is another “Quote of the Day” which in this case is based on two questions: “Did you hear what I said? Are you listening to me?” These two questions also bring to mind a related verse found in James 1:22 (NKJV):

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

The same verse was the basis for a previous blog entry entitled “Hearing vs. Listening: The Art of Listening” which is revised and re-posted here:

James 1:22 also brought to mind a number of thoughts regarding the distinction between hearing and listening, as I thought of a discussion on “listening” in a public speaking class that I teach.

In discussing the communication process, we noted the difference between “hearing” and “listening.” Indeed, hearing and listening are not synonymous. According to Stephen Lucas, hearing is “the process by which sound waves are received on the ear; it is the sense by which sound is perceived.” We hear the ambient sounds that surround us without really paying any attention to the fan on the computer or the air conditioning or the ticking of the clock.

On the other hand, listening is the act of interpreting and evaluating what is being said; it is an active activity that involves receiving, deciphering, and perceiving a message with intent to respond. Hearing is passive, whereas listening should be active. Keith Davis comments, “Hearing is with the ears; listening is with the mind.”

In Chinese calligraphy, the character for “listen” consists of pictures of the ear, the eye, and the heart, illustrated in this way:

The discussion regarding hearing and listening also brought to mind that listening is an art that is perfected over time by conscious, consistent effort to improve. This is especially true in a spiritual context whereby believers must learn to listen to God. We find that God is always speaking; indeed, God is never not speaking. As we continually place our ears near to the lips of God, we develop our proficiency in listening to hear the Master’s voice, as we practice in order to perfect this art:

The Art of Listening

God has something to say to you,
God has something to say.
Listen, Listen, Pay close attention.
God has something to say.

Children’s Song

The Lord GOD has given Me
The tongue of the learned,
That I should know how to speak
A word in season to him who is weary.
He awakens Me morning by morning,
He awakens My ear
To hear as the learned.

The Lord GOD has opened My ear;
And I was not rebellious,
Nor did I turn away.

Isaiah 50:4-5

Listen, listen, children: hear with the inner ear.
Tune your ears to hear in the center of your heart.
I will whisper cherished secrets as you come near.
To listen intently and obey is an art,
Practiced and perfected day by day.
As you hide my Word in the center of your heart,
I perform and bring to pass each word that I say.
In my unfolding Kingdom, you too have a part,
For to walk in love is the more excellent way.
Partake of my promises and consume my Word.
As precious as life-giving water, hold it dear
And do my will, proving all things that you have heard.
Listen intently and obey: Perfect this art.
Listen, listen, children: hear with the inner ear.

Although I use this poem when I teach the section on listening in the oral communication classes that I teach, quite providentially, I wrote the poem years before I started teaching these classes. When when the poem was first read at a Bible study, someone pointed out that at the center of the piece is the word “heart” which encompasses hear, ear, and art, all of which reinforce the message, as illustrated in this way:

Without a doubt we must strive each day to become more proficient at developing the “art of listening.”

As we close, listen to the JumpStart3 contemporary Scripture Memory Song of James 1:22:

Christ died for us

April 10, 2017

Romans 5--6-8

As believers across the world focus on the last week of Jesus Christ’s life on Earth, the Verse of the Day for April 10, 2017 reminds us of the moral condition of the world when Christ made his sacrifice:

Romans 5:6-8 (NLT):

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the righbt time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

This passage makes known the absolutely depraved state of humanity “when we were utterly helpless” prior to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “For when we were yet without strength—that is, powerless to deliver ourselves, and so ready to perish, in God’s perfect timing, that is “in due time—at the appointed season Christ died for us sinners.

The next two verses reveal God’s love which is demonstrated in three ways:

First, “Christ died for the ungodly,” whose character, so far from meriting any intervention on their behalf, was altogether repulsive to the eye of God;

Second, He did this “when they were without strength”—with nothing between them and perdition but that self-originating divine compassion;

Third, God displays or demonstrates His love “just at the right time,” as Paul goes on to explain the difference between God and man:

Most people would not be willing to die for an unrighteous person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. Paul is simply asking if an individual—a man of simply unexceptionable character will “anyone” be willing to die for? In contrast, perhaps for “a good man—a man who is distinguished for goodness, a benefactor to society. Logos Bible Software speaks of such a rare instance of self-sacrifice for one merely upright; though for one who makes himself a blessing to society there may be found an example of such noble surrender of life.”

The striking contrast between man and God is set with the phrase “But God. . .”  But God “commends” or “sets off” or “displays” his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Such love is overwhelming when we recognize all that God did for us while we were in such a sinful state that God hates.  Such love is gloriously displayed, as we reflect upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, as we commemorate the last week of Jesus Christ’s earthly life.

This powerful passage is set to music “Christ Died for Us” – Romans 5:6-8 (Truth Songs EP)