Monday, December 30, 2019




But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

I read an article this week about a married couple trying to buy a home, but were unable to buy the one they first wanted. The writer said “the universe had other plans”. So, all of those rocks and fireballs and black holes in space have a mind, and a unified mind, and decided a couple on earth could not buy a house? 

The Bible shows us, instead, that God, the creator of the universe, intentionally intervenes in human life for our good. Our passage today begins with “when the fullness of time had come”. When the time came that God had chosen he sent his Son. 

And God sent his Son with a purpose: to redeem men and women from slavery to the law. To “redeem” is to pay the price to obtain freedom. God sent Jesus to pay the price to redeem us from slavery to the law, to sin, to the principles of the world some people follow, like those who believe the planets control their destiny. 

God’s redemption had an additional purpose. He redeemed us so that we might receive adoption as sons. You cannot be a slave and a son at the same time, so God redeemed us from slavery and adopted us as sons. 

Our adoption by God was intentional and was always his plan even before he created the universe. 

Ephesians 1:4-6 says “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

Before the world began, the Father decreed that those who receive Jesus as savior will be adopted into God’s family as sons. 

So, adoption is an act of God’s love and his grace. When Jesus saves us, the Father adopts us into his family. We become sons.

Why does Paul say we are adopted as sons rather than sons and daughters? Is he excluding women from adoption? No, he is using as the basis of this discussion the system of adoption in the Roman Empire. In Rome, a man could name any male relative as his adoptive son. The one who was adopted would get the estates and titles of the father. 

A famous example of this is Julius Caesar. His will provided that his great nephew was his adopted son. So, when he was assassinated, his will was read and Augustus became his adopted son. He received not only Caesar’s estates, but his political standing. This ultimately allowed him to become the first emperor of the empire. 

So, when Paul says believers become sons by adoption, he means each believer gets a special set of privileges no one else gets, like an adopted son would get in Rome. 

And this applies to believing men and believing women alike. Paul, and actually the Lord, elevates the status of women. In Rome, a woman could not inherit an estate or a title. But, in Christ there is no male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28) Men and women both receive all of the benefits of redemption and adoption.  

What are the privileges we receive as sons of God adopted into his family?

 There are two mentioned in this passage. Let’s take the last one first. 

Because we are sons, we are also heirs. We have an inheritance. Our inheritance is eternal life. 1 Peter 1:3-4 tells us our eternal life is an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for us. An earthly inheritance may vanish. For example, you may have seen an RV with a sticker on it that says “spending my kid’s inheritance”. 

But the heavenly inheritance is protected by God and does not diminish or go away. It is God’s promise that it will be there when we get there to claim it. You do not lose your salvation because you do not keep it, the Father keeps it for us. 

The second privilege we have as sons is a special connection to the Father though the Holy Spirit. Verse 6 says “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!””

While the rest of this text is written originally in Greek, the word “Abba” is Aramaic. That was the language commonly spoken in Israel during that time. It was the language Jesus used. In fact, Jesus used this very word. When he prayed in agony, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He said “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) 

The word “Abba” reflected the intimate relationship between God the Father and God the Son. 

The Holy Spirit, which Paul calls the Spirit of his Son, lives in each and every believer. He gives us this special connection to God as a child to his or her father. As Jesus did, we can cry out to him, expecting him to listen, to care, and to help. 

When my adopted grandson needs something, or is upset about something, he goes to my son-in-law, and says “daddy”, the English word that conveys this special relationship.

A word of caution is needed here. Although I am using earthly examples to help explain this relationship, it is important that you do not transfer the traits of your earthly father to your Heavenly Father if they are not scriptural. 

It is a natural thing to do, but you should not do it. For example, if your father was remote and detached, do not export that to your image of your Heavenly Father. He is always there, he never sleeps, he never stops caring, he is never powerless.

As we head into the end of this year, I know that many of you are limping to the finish line, not sprinting. This is one reason I chose to speak of adoption. You are emotionally spent. You are physically injured or sick. You do not have enough money. You have been abandoned by friends or family.

Your Heavenly Father knows all that you suffer and all that you need. He cares. 1 Peter  5:7 tells us to cast our anxieties on him for he cares for us.

Philippians 4:6-7 tells us not to be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to let our requests be made known to God. Then, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.  

I do not know what the new year holds for any of us. If this year was a bad one for you, I pray you will have a better one next year. Most of all, I pray that you will go to the Father with every care and concern, every hurt, every need, and to thank him for every blessing.

If you have not received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, I pray you will do that today, repenting of your sin and placing your trust in him. Then you too will become an adopted son of God and enjoy all of the benefits he gives. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019



This psalm celebrates God’s power and his protection of Jerusalem. It was probably written after some military victory, when enemies attacked Jerusalem and were defeated through the actions of the Lord.

God’s Presence in the City

The first sentence contains two great truths: (1) the Lord is great and (2) he is to be praised greatly.

The word “great” is overused and undervalued in our culture. It means something that is much more than normal or average. God is much more than any other being. We should not think of him as less than he is.

He has blessed us by allowing us to have a relationship with him, to talk to him, and to be loved by him. But that does not lessen who he is. It is a great condescension on his part to allow you to relate to him. But, if you lessen who God is, in your thinking, you will be less inclined to praise him and to be grateful for your relationship with him.

The Bible tells us many of the attributes of God that are praiseworthy: he is all powerful, he is knows all things, he is just, he is merciful, he is loving, and much more. As you read your Bible, you can highlight the attributes of God that are mentioned or revealed. Or you can write them down to help you praise God.

We praise him for his attributes, for who he is.

The Bible also tells us of great things he has done. He created all things, he destroyed the world by flood, he delivered Israel from Egypt, he protected Israel from strong nations, he destroyed Israel when it became apostate, he brought them back from exile and re-established the nation, he provided a way of salvation, and much more.

We praise God for his mighty works.

Since God is great, he deserves great praise. Our praise should be much more than our normal praise of normal things. It should not be lukewarm or a matter of heartless ritual, but heartfelt, intense, undistracted praise.

After making this statement, the psalmist rejoiced in God’s presence in the city of Jerusalem, through his presence in the temple. To him, the whole city is beautiful because God’s presence is in it. And it was secure because God protected it.

He remembered God’s protection. God “has made himself known as a fortress”. (3)

We do see here, though, an eschatological reference, a looking to the end times. The psalmist sees the mountain on which the temple was placed as the “joy of all the earth”. (2) We do not have any Old Testament reference to that happening.

The Psalmist also refers to the temple mount, Mount Zion, as being in the “far north”. Geographically, that was not the case. Jerusalem was not in the northern part of Israel, much less in the northern parts of the world.This seems to be a semitic way of referring to God’s throne in heaven. Some pagan religions used this saying as well.

It appears, then, that the psalmist not only saw the Jerusalem of his time as grand, but looked to the heavenly Jerusalem where God rules and where believers of all nations will come and find joy.

God’s Protection of the City

In these verses, the psalmist recounts an attack on Jerusalem by several kings who came together to create a strong force. This may have a real event as the basis, such as Assyria’s attack on Jerusalem. In the alternative, we might see it as a metaphor for the great struggle between the Lord’s people and the world as expressed in Psalm 2:1-6.

He writes in hyperbole, saying the very sight of Jerusalem terrified the enemy and made it run away. He gives credit to God for destroying (shattered) the ships of Tarshish with the wind.

This reminds us of the final battle in the book of Revelation. John saw the armies of the beast and the kings of the earth gathered to make war against Jesus and the host of angels. And Jesus slew them by his word. He captured the beast and false prophet and threw them in the lake of fire. (Revelation 19) After the judgment, the new Jerusalem appeared and would last forever under the rule and reign of the Lord. (Revelation 20-21)

God’s Praise

The psalmist said the people had thought about God’s steadfast love symbolized by his presence in the temple. God had shown his love for Israel by making a covenant with them and dwelling among them. The psalmist realized that god had done many great things for Jerusalem and Israel over the centuries.

This thinking about God led the psalmist to praise, saying:
God’s praise filled the earth;
God is righteous;
His judgments were cause for rejoicing.

Enjoying God’s Presence

Here the psalmist encourages the people to fully enjoy the evidences of God’s presence. The psalmist see Jerusalem as magnificent and wants the people to take note of her towers and strongholds so that they can tell the next generation.

But the greatness of the city is attributed to God. He has made it great because he is great. He is eternal and he will guide and protect his people forever.

Like these Old Testament saints, we can praise God for his greatness. We can rejoice that he is in our midst. He dwells with us individually and as a church. And we can see God as our fortress, as he protects us from the evil one and many other dangers.

Praise God this week for his great attributes and deeds. And rest in his protection as your fortress.  

Sunday, December 15, 2019



This is a psalm of praise to God for his reign over the world, his sovereignty. It seems to be written on the occasion of a military victory for Israel, giving credit to God, not the military, for the victory. There is also an eschatological dimension, a desire to see the full establishment of God’s rule on earth. Liturgical churches often read this psalm on Ascension Day.

The Call To Praise The King

The Psalmist calls upon the people to praise God extravagantly. He tells them to clap their hands and shout to God with loud songs.

There is a picture of this in 2 Kings 11. During a very turbulent time in Israel, when most of the royal family had been killed, the daughter of King Joram hid young his young son Joash from the queen until he could be made king. He was then brought before the people, crowned, and anointed as king. The people clapped their hands and shouted “long live the king”.

This call is issued to all peoples, not just to the Israelites. (1) The Psalmist was declaring the Lord’s sovereignty over all people and nations. This is the eschatalogical dimension. We know that, while all of those in heaven sing praises to God and recognize him as King, the kingdom of God will not be fully established until those on earth join them. And that will only happen at the end of this age.

Malachi 1:11 records God saying “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.”

The call to praise is based on the fact that God is to be feared as the great king over the earth. He rules over all and should be feared over all.

At first glance, it may seem contradictory to call for exuberant and joyful praise in one breath, and fear of the Lord in the next. But, they are not contradictory for the believer.

That is because the believer has proper perspective. Perspective is point of view. Fear of the Lord is recognizing God and ourselves in proper prospective. He is holy and he is sovereign, and we recognize not only the fact of it, but the blessing of it. We have deep reverence to him because he is holy and total submission to him because he is sovereign. And, we praise him for these traits and rejoice because they benefit us.

God’s sovereignty calls for us to submit to him, but also promises us that he is in control and will work all things out as he has said and to his glory. The Psalmist understood that. He credited God for subduing Israel’s enemies and protecting their heritage as his people. (3)

Believers belong to God. We are his children, his family. (John 1:12) Because of that, we rejoice in his triumphs. First, we rejoice because we are happy to see him glorified. Second, we rejoice because, as his family, we benefit from his victories. Romans 8:28 tells us “…for those who love God all things work together for good”.

Our fear of God is not that he will destroy us, although we realize his power to destroy. Our fear of God is a deep reverence for who he is, a reverence that gives us peace and joy.

The King Ascends The Throne

These verses picture God as the warrior who has won a great victory and now ascends to the throne with great fanfare. The Psalmist calls the people to recognize him with songs of praise. He is king of all the earth.

The Reign of the King

These verses picture God seated on and reigning from his throne. The people of all the earth gather before him in submission and worship. He is exalted over all earthly rulers.

This is not always apparent to us. But the view of the Bible writers is always that of God directing the affairs of men. In his mercy, he often lets men and women descend into sin as they rebel against his sovereignty, but he always exerts his power and authority when he wishes.

One is example is the Flood in Genesis. God saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth. (Genesis 6:5) He let that go on for a while, then destroyed the earth with a flood. A few generations later, men built a tower in an attempt to reach the heavens and make a name for themselves, and God destroyed it and confused their languages. (Genesis 11)

Today, we certainly see ungodliness run wild in our world. Things we would not have thought of doing even a few decades ago are sources of merriment and rejoicing and even justification for oppressing those who do not agree with it.

None of this takes God by surprise and none of it is beyond his control. Romans 1 addresses the ungodliness of mankind and how God has given people up to their dishonorable passions to become objects of his wrath.

The Book of Revelation shows this world and its degradation to us in vivid images. It was written to show us that, while God lets Satan have his way to an extent and for a time, he will end it all at the time of his choosing and destroy all of his, and our, enemies. He will sit in judgment of mankind from his great, white, throne. (Revelation 20:11)

All people will acknowledge the king, willingly or unwillingly. Philippians 2: 10 tells us that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.

He will then make all things new. And in that new creation, he will sit on his throne, in the midst of all of those who fear him, and reign over them with great and eternal blessing to them.

 We will sing about that tonight in Handel’s Messiah:

For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!:|
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever.

Saturday, December 14, 2019


Matthew 1:18-25

When you look at a manger scene, the focus is rightly on the baby Jesus. He may be in the manger or in the arms of his mother, Mary, who gets a lot of attention at Christmas also.

But, often, my eyes slide over to Joseph, wondering what he was thinking. It had been a tough year for him. His fiancé turned up pregnant. He was going to be a good guy and break the engagement quietly. But an angel appeared to him and told him the Baby was from the Holy Spirit. Try explaining that one to your mother!

To further complicate matters, he had a dream and an angel told him the following:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed[b] to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

The baby would be named Immanuel. This was not the name he would be known by, which was Jesus, but a name designed to tell us what he was and who he was.

Matthew, empowered by the Holy Spirit, looked back at the word of the Lord spoken to King Ahaz (about 7 centuries before!) and said the birth of Jesus fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah: "they shall call his name Immanuel". (Isaiah 7:14)

To help those who do not read Hebrew, Matthew interpreted it for us: it means “God with us”.

Matthew saw this as a momentous occasion, God fulfilling words he spoke 7 centuries before in the birth a baby. And the occasion is the birth of “God with us”. And it was told to Joseph first.

Why is that important?

It is important because God has always, and will always, want to dwell with his people. He showed this in the beginning, creating a perfect place for men and women to live and to abide with him. He walked in the Garden with them.

Genesis 3, of course, shows us that the man and woman rejected God and he cast them from his presence in the garden. But, he did not give up on the concept of dwelling with them.

Just a couple of examples of that are the Tabernacle, the pop up church of the day, that the Israelites carried with them and placed in the middle of the camp when they stopped. Another is the Temple, especially the first one, where God’s presence dwelt in the midst of the capital city of Jerusalem.
But even the Tabernacle and the Temple were remote to the individual. Only the priests could enter it, and only the High Priest could enter the room where God’s presence actually dwelt. That remoteness was a product of God’s holiness. He cannot tolerate sin in his presence.

That problem would be fixed by the baby named “God with us”, as he removed the sins of those who believed in him and lived so that his righteousness could be imputed to us.

And, he dwelt with his people. The apostle John picked up on this and wrote “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. (John 1:14) Jesus dwelt with his followers for the years of his ministry. He was with the Twelve every day and night during that time.

But, what about when he died? Well, the resurrected Christ told his disciples that he would be with them until the end of the age. In other words, he would never leave them, he would dwell with his followers through the Holy Spirit all through their lifetimes until they were either reunited with him at death or when he returns at the end of the age. He said this in John 14:1-3 and 14:19-20.

Like the infomercials say: but wait there’s more!

When this age does end, where will God be? He will be fully and finally dwelling with his people. He shows us this in Revelation 21:3. God’s dwelling place is with mankind.
So, Joseph looked at that baby and thought, this is the God-Man, the savior, sent to restore Eden and dwell with mankind again. And he is my responsibility. That would be weighty, wouldn’t it?
But, I hope there was some joy there for Joseph as well, that maybe he understood just a little of what was happening, that God had finally taken this huge step that would result in restored fellowship with his people, those who believe in Jesus.

Joseph believed and did what the Lord told him to do. He eventually died, and, I believe, Jesus fulfilled his promise to come for him and take him to be with himself, now the glorified king in heaven. And Joseph is walking around heaven telling the story with a big smile on his face, looking over at that throne and thinking “I knew you as the little baby in the manger”.

And I hope you, when you look at the manger scenes this year, will experience the awe of the momentous occasion that it represents and remember that God said he would dwell with you forever.

Monday, December 02, 2019

A Mighty Fortress

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow'r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow'rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God's truth abideth still,

His kingdom is forever.

Martin Luther’s reflection on Psalm 46 

Sunday, December 01, 2019


Advent, which marks the start of the new liturgical year, always begins on Advent Sunday, which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The term Advent is taken from the Latin word adventus, which means “arrival” or “coming,” and was from the translation of the Greek Parousia—a word used for both the coming of Christ in human flesh and his Second Coming. The season of Advent is a time when Christians reflect on the comings of Christ to Earth. The first two weeks of the season focus on the future return of Christ at the Second Coming, while the last two weeks focus on the coming celebration of Christmas. As Ryan Reeves notes, the first written evidence of Advent is found in modern Spain and Europe, and the earliest official mention of Advent practices comes as the Council of Sargossa (AD 380). Since the date of Christmas has been set on December 25, the first day of Advent changes slightly from year to year.

The Gospel Coalition 



This psalm is a song declaring God’s presence with and protection of Israel, his people, in times of upheaval.

God Is Our Refuge & Strength

The psalmist declared that God is the strength and refuge of his people.

Israel knew that it was a small country compared to many others. It could not, therefore, muster the military strength of greater and larger nations.

Even when Israel was not directly at war with one of these powers, it was vulnerable because of its location. Sometimes it got caught in the crossfire as Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria and others fought each other for dominance. Because of this, Israel needed to rely on the strength of the Lord.

The psalmist declared that God was their refuge. A refuge is a safe place. For example, God set aside six cities in Israel as cities of refuge to which a person who killed someone unintentionally could flee and be protected from the revenge of the deceased’s family. (Joshua 20)

In this psalm, God is the safe place to which the Israelites could flee in times of international trouble or disaster. He is always with his people and they always need him, but they experience his presence in a special way during times of distress. He is closest to them then.

Lastly, God was “a very present help in trouble”. He is available; he can be found. And he is ready to help his people.

He is not the god of Deism, the idea that God created the universe but does not intervene in its affairs. Julie Gold wrote a song that has this same deistic idea. It is called “From A Distance”. She writes: “God is watching us, from a distance.” It goes on to talk about what man does while God is watching.

The psalmist, however, saw God as involved in the affairs of his people, giving protection and providing strength in all circumstances. The circumstances the psalmist mentions seem to  be natural disasters: the earth giving way, the mountains moved into the sea, the sea roaring and foaming, causing the mountains to tremble. (2-3) These could remind us of the natural events around us that scare us, such as fires, earthquakes, floods, and volcanoes. These things scare us, especially when the media try to make it sound like the end of the world. But the psalmist said “we will not fear” because of the Lord.

It could be that these events are metaphors for upheavals among nations. Nations constantly war against each other, threaten each other, and compete economically with each other. It can cause a lot of stress if you think about it. But, trusting in God, we need not fear. For God can make them fall by speaking his word of judgment upon them.

God With us

In contrast to the raging seas, God provides a river that makes his people glad. He chose Jerusalem as the place of his presence. It was the City of God. (4) This makes us think of the Garden of Eden with its river of four branches where God’s people dwelt in the presence of God. It also makes us think of the New Jerusalem of Revelation 22, where the river of the water of life flows from the phone of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the city.

God’s presence dwelt in the midst of that city. (5) This is a reference to the temple. God cannot be moved. The mountains can be moved, but not God. Because God dwelt in the city, it could not be moved. The city had God’s help. This was always true while Israel feared God and keep the covenant.

It did not matter if the nations raged and fought, God was in control of their destinies. He could destroy them with his voice. (6)

This stanza ends with a restatement of the truth of the psalm: God is with us; he is our fortress. (7)

Look What He Has Done

One way the believer encourages him or herself is to remember the mighty things God has done, the works of God. The psalmist invited God’s people to enjoy God’s acts of deliverance. He delivered his people from Egypt and from the invasions of surrounding countries. He is the one who will ultimately destroy all of his enemies and make permanent peace.

God brought desolation upon Sodom and Gomorrah. They have never been rebuilt. He gave Israel victory over many enemies. They defeated Jericho without throwing a spear. The Assyrians were defeated, turning on themselves.

In verse 10, God speaks directly, telling his people to be still, to know he is God and will be exalted in the earth. This reflects the speech Moses gave to the Israelites when they were trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptians. He said “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for your, and your have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14) In other words, be still and know that I am God.

The Lord then told Moses “I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” (Exodus 14:17-18) In other words, I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.

The conclusion is the restated refrain: God (the Lord of hosts) is with us. He is our fortress.

A German pastor wrote a song to this effect. He called it: "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" ("A Mighty Fortress Is Our God") as a paraphrase of this psalm. His name was Martin Luther.

So, how does this Psalm apply to the New Testament Believer, the Christian? First, God dwells with us through Christ. Jesus said “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”  (John 14:20” The Holy Spirit dwells in every believer.  Jesus said “…if I go, I will send him (the Holy Spirit) to you. (John 16:7) Paul wrote: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.” (Romans 8:9)

God is still our strength, so we need not fear. Paul wrote “For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self control”. (2 Timothy 1:7)

God is still our refuge. He is the only safe place. Trust him and lean on him always, and especially in times of distress.