January 6

The Cause and The Cure

Bible Reading: Romans 1:16-32

If such a thing were possible, I’ve long wondered what it’d be like to instantly time-transport some average 1960s vintage American citizen from their day to ours.  Undoubtedly, they’d be surprised by the advancements in technology.  But I sense they would be even more shocked and grieved at the decline in morality and civility.  Has there ever been a time, in our lifetimes, of greater distress and uncertainty?  Some of this is because of Covid, but there’s more to it than that.  What is the cause of the morass in which we find ourselves?  Is there a cure?  Today’s reading speaks to these important questions.

The passage speaks to a downward spiral which starts in one place and ends up in another.  I think it’s going to help us to start at the ending of this text and retrace our steps.  As we shall see, this will relate the entire matter back to the course of study we’ve been traveling these past days.

Romans 1:29-32 includes a long-list of sinful attitudes and behaviors.  It’s an ugly list.  A list of things which are all too apparent in our present day society.  A couple of things stand out.  Not only are these folks engaged in evil, they became inventors of evil (looking for new ways to express the evil bound up inside).  Not only did they practice such things, they became ambassadors of evil, cheering on those who join in.

In retracing our steps, what brought them to this point?  Notice the threefold repetition of the phrase, “God gave them up” (1:24, 26, 28).  “God gave them up: in the lusts of their hearts to impurity; to dishonorable passions; to a debased mind.”  Without God’s restraint, their depraved hearts and darkened minds were freed to engage in all kinds of evil behaviors.

Again, taking a step back from that vantage point, we must ask the tragic question, “Why did God give them up?”  The answer is found in verse 18, where we find the “wrath of God is (present tense) revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”  Inasmuch as men are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, God, in His wrath, has given them up.

But in what way are they suppressing the truth?  Verses 19-23 explain.  Though God, through His creation, has revealed both Himself and something about Himself, they refused to honor Him as God, or give thanks.  In fact, instead of worshiping their Creator God, they are predisposed in their futile and foolish thinking, to worship anything BUT Him.  This is the rejection which leads to ruin.  Sadly the truth of this passage is being played out before our very eyes in the days in which we live.

Yet we praise God!  There is a way to escape this pathway to ruin.  Sin is the cause, Romans 1:16 identifies the cure, indeed the only cure for all that ails us!  Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”  The good news for those who travel the broad way is this, the same powerful God who created all things has a gospel message which is powerful to save.  Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead so that we would be saved by grace through faith in Him.  He alone can rescue!  Sin is the cause.  Christ’s the cure!

Heavenly Father.  There was a time when I walked in denial of what was plain to see, you are the Creator of all.  My stupid sinful choices led me down a prodigal path full of burdens and loss.  Thank you Lord for making the truth of the gospel known to me and rescuing me!  These are distressing times in which we live.  People need You!  Give us a powerful testimony, compassionate hearts with Spirit empowered wisdom and boldness—to be used by you in making the gospel known to the world.

January 5

Knowing God

Bible Reading: Psalm 19

Some forty years ago, when I was serving as a submariner aboard the USS Omaha and stationed in Pearl Harbor, I received a gift in the mail.  It was a book entitled, “Knowing God,” written by J. I. Packer.  My Uncle Bob Emrich sent it to me.  Included was his note, “Jerry…Believing the most important thing about a man is his thinking about God, I hope this will be profitable for you.  With love and prayers for a Merry Christmas, Bob.”  Indeed, the book was profitable, but the note even more so—because it put into my mind an important thought which God used to change me.

Bob’s statement was true—but how are we to know God?  At the time, I didn’t know much of anything about God.  I had no idea how to grow in my understanding of the nature of God.  Theologians speak of God’s revelation to man in two different categories: general revelation and special revelation.  Today’s Bible reading in Psalm 19 speaks of both.  By means of general revelation God reveals something of Himself and His nature to all men through His created order.  Special revelation is God’s manifestation of Himself to individual persons, enabling them to enter into a redemptive relationship with Him.

In Psalm 19:1-6 we read how God communicates truth regarding Himself through His creation.  David, the Psalmist, sees the stars, moon, and sun and declares the “heavens declare the glory of God” (19:1).  Though these created things don’t literally speak, there is a sense in which their voice is heard throughout the earth (19:4).  The Apostle Paul said much the same when he wrote of how “God’s invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature” are revealed to us through God’s creation (Romans 1:20).  As good and necessary as general revelation is, it still lacks power by itself to lead a person into a saving knowledge of God in Jesus.

Psalm 19:7-11 speaks to the special revelation unveiled to us in the Word of God.  David makes six bold statements regarding the Word in which He highlights the preeminent value of the Word when it comes to knowing God.  The Word alone has the capacity to revive the soul, make wise the simple, rejoice the heart, and enlighten the eyes.  In the progress of revelation, we begin to understand the Word has the capacity, through the gospel message, to lead us to salvation.  Having been born of the Spirit with life from above, we are thereafter Spirit indwelt to understand truths which had previously eluded us (Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:12-16).

How privileged we are as believers in Christ!  We have ready access to the Scriptures.  We are indwelt by the Divine Teacher (Cf. 1 John 2:27).  In the subject of knowing God, we’ve an inexhaustible course of study, which can change our thinking and how we live—to the glory of God!

Heavenly Father. How privileged and blessed we are to know You through the saving work of Jesus! You’ve privileged us to possess Your Word, which has worked through the centuries to lead countless multitudes to know You, and then to grow in their knowledge of You through its truth! You’ve indwelt us with the best of Teachers, who instructs us that Your truth might be applied to the deepest parts of our being. Grant that we will grow in Christlike maturity and always long for truth, as we yearn to know You better. Amen.

“More about Jesus let me learn

More of His Holy will discern

Spirit of God, my teacher be

Showing the things of Christ to me.”

January 4

He Has Made Them All

Bible Reading: Psalm 104

“Oh Lord, how many are your works

In wisdom thou hast made them all

The earth is full of thy possessions

There is the sea, great and broad

In which are swarms without number

Animals, both great and small

Oh Lord, thou hast made them all.”

As a newly saved believer some forty years ago, how precious these words were to me. I remember when I went to a Christian bookstore and bought an Amy Grant cassette tape. I played that tape over and over again. The words above are from one of those songs, aptly entitled, “Psalm 104.”

In hindsight, listening to that particular song was more valuable to me then I knew. Music and songs minister straight to the heart!  I had lived my life oblivious to the obvious—God created me and the universe in which I lived.  But in bringing life to my sin-dead soul, God was at work to change my thinking.  Of course He used His Word to accomplish that.

We humans didn’t crawl out of a swamp. Green skinned aliens didn’t deposit us here on this planet. There is a God and He’s not dead. He is the creator and sustainer of all things. His creation bears witness to the awesome greatness of His wisdom and power.

The Psalmist knew this and traced all things back to the hand which made them: the heavens and the earth; the sun and the moon, the day and the night; the mountains and the valleys; the springs which give drink to the beasts and wild donkeys; the birds in the sky which sing among the branches of the tree; the grass that feeds the livestock and the plants to provide food for man; the creatures in the sea.  He was well aware of the intricacies of God’s creative order and providential care of everything He has made.  Even the lowly rock badger found a place in the Psalmist’s hymn of praise.  He praised God for it all and rejoiced in it.  And in so doing he set a good example for us all.  Foundational to our right thinking about God is to acknowledge Him as our creator, to worship Him for all He has accomplished.

Creator God.  Your creation speaks to the greatness of Your Power and Wisdom.  Forgive me.  I’m sometimes too busy, or distracted to pay attention…to thank You for all You’ve done.  Grant that I might have the heart of the Psalmist who was so ready to praise you and rejoice in You.  Help me to look for you and see the beauty of all You’ve made.  Amen.

If you have internet access, there is a wonderful YouTube video and song by Brian Doerksen which speaks to today’s theme.  You can access it at the following address: https://youtu.be/28sqs5H5hao

January 3

The Great Pandemic

Bible Reading: Genesis chapter 3

By now we’ve all become well versed in pandemic matters. We know, for example, that Covid is highly transmissible and can be deadly. We know about social distancing, mask wearing, and vaccines. Sadly we all likely know someone who has had Covid or maybe even someone who has died from it. We should all take appropriate precautions to minimize our risk, but there’s another pandemic which is even more “transmissible.” It has a 100% mortality rate. We read about it in Genesis 3.

Contrary to God’s explicit command and despite His dire warning of the deadly consequences, the woman having been devil-deceived, partook of the forbidden fruit. Then she gave to her husband, and he ate also. They had experienced intimate fellowship with God and had been well provisioned in an idyllic paradise. But all of that would suddenly and radically change. Their eyes were opened, and they realized they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together to make themselves loincloths—mankind’s first attempt to rectify the effects of his lost condition according to his own wisdom and by his own self efforts. In desperate fear, they hid from God. Spiritual death had entered into man’s existence. Physical death would likewise come soon enough (see Genesis chapters 4 and 5).

God declared a curse: on the serpent, on the woman, on Adam, and on the earth itself.  Our predecessors could hardly have imagined the tragic and far-reaching consequences of their sin, for their sin unleashed a sin contagion upon all of humanity.  Romans 5:12 explains: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”  There you have it.  The transmission rate for sin = 100% (all sinned).  Likewise, the mortality rate for sin = 100% (death spread to all men). We are all born into this world with a nature to sin, deserving of death (Romans 3:23, 623).

There’s good news amidst the bad in this sad account. In cursing the serpent, God spoke of One who would come from the woman who would render a fatal wound to the serpent. This promise looked forward through the centuries to the incarnation of God’s Own Son who, through His own death, would destroy the devil (Hebrews 2:14). God was faithful to that promise! In spite of the man and woman’s tragic choice, and by way of contrast to their ill devised fig leaf clothing scheme, God Himself clothed Adam and Eve with garments of skin (Genesis 3:20-21). Those garments, provided by way of animal sacrifice, were prophetic of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God on a cross for sins. God’s truth, righteousness, and justice were all demonstrated in the judgment He bestowed, his love, grace, and mercy were likewise revealed in His provision for Adam and Eve. Though God is unchanging in His nature, He remains who He is no matter what we do, His interaction with fallen humanity gives opportunity for us to behold His attributes in ways we’d otherwise be unable to see.

Heavenly Father. Who can measure the loss, pain, and sorrow that was unleashed on that fateful day when sin entered into the world! And to this day we live in a broken world that groans under the weight of sin’s corruption. Help us to weigh our choices according to the tragic consequences suffered by our forebears. Thank you, Lord, that in your righteous judgment on our forebears, you also made promise of a future redeemer. In the majesty of your grace and mercy we find hope. In this broken world, may we be ever thankful for your provision of a Savior, who bore the weight of humanity’s sin and sorrow. Amen.

January 2

The Way We Were

Bible Reading: Genesis chapter 2

The other day Laura was paging through some old family photo albums. Some of the pictures were from long ago, holding memories which have faded over the years. Sometimes it is good to reflect on such things. If humanity had a photo album and we could page back through it to the beginning of things, we’d find an idyllic scene which would defy our comprehension.

God created man and breathed life into him. He planted a garden, watered by a river, full of every tree that was good for food. God took the man and put him in the garden to work it and keep it. The man was given freedom to eat from every tree in the garden, except of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God, not wanting for man to be alone, created woman. Thus God created the institution of marriage in which a man is joined to a woman in an intimate life-long relationship.

At this point in the Biblical narrative, we find the man and the woman in their perfect state, a part of the “very good” of everything God had created.  Created in the image of God, they were the pinnacle of God’s work, privileged and provisioned to exercise dominion over all the earth and its creatures.

This was all, of course, before sin entered the world, and changed everything.  Imagine what things must have been like.  In their innocence, Adam and Eve possessed minds not poisoned by sinful thoughts, hearts never polluted with sinful desires and lives free from the sorrow of sinful regrets.  Their relationship with God was unfettered by sin’s destructive influence.  Irom what we read in Genesis chapter 3, it is apparent they walked with God and talked with Him.  They enjoyed a union with their creator God and with each other to a degree which has eluded mankind ever since.

There is a longing our Creator has planted in the hearts of His created for a return to the way things once were.  Solomon wrote of it, “He has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks this importation question: “What is the chief end of man?”  The answer–“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”  And again, it is as St. Augustine once said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”  

We were created to know and enjoy and glorify our Creator.  That is the way things were before the fall.  Christ’s sacrifice was made in order to restore us.  Knowing God is to be our happy and ongoing pursuit until the day we are brought home to heaven.  To that place where all that was lost in the fall will be restored. 

Heavenly Father, sin has so poisoned my heart and clouded my thinking such, I’m oftentimes prone to wander down dead-end paths.  I know you created me for a purpose—to know You and to enjoy You.  To glorify You in my life.  Grant me grace to align the compass of my being in Your direction; to reign in my wayward thoughts–those impulses which work to put me off course.  May my ears be ever tuned to the Spirit so through Your truth my mind will be renewed to a right way of thinking about You!  Cause  my heart to ever long for you. Don’t let me lose vision of what Your will is for me.  Amen.

“Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart

Naught be all else to me, save that thou art

Thou my best thought, by day or by night

Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.”

January 1

The Creator of All

Bible Reading: Genesis chapter 1

At the beginning of a new year, it’s good to remind ourselves of another beginning, the one we read about in Genesis chapter one.  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  Out of nothing, the self-existent God created everything.  Theologians use the Latin phrase “ex nihilo” (meaning “out of nothing”) to refer to this extraordinary aspect of creation.  Out of nothing God created everything. In our endeavor to think rightly about God, this is foundational.  Out of nothing, God created the sun, moon, and stars; the expanse of heaven; the land and the seas; the plants, animals, and the fishes of the sea; and man.  He spoke it all into existence and declared His creation to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31).  Since then, God’s “eternal power and divine nature” have been on display before us (Cf. Romans 1:20). 

One of my favorite fishing holes is on the beautiful North Umpqua River.  A mile-long hike through a tall stand of old growth firs, brings you to the spot.  The hole is situated just above a 30-foot drop-off from which the river tumults into a place called the Narrows.  The sight and sound of the roaring river in this beautiful setting are inspiring.   On more than one occasion I’ve found myself singing the words to “How Great Thou Art,” praising God for the sheer beauty of His creation.  But you don’t have to go anywhere to behold God’s creation.  You can praise Him for it all no matter where you are.  In fact, the rational response of the created to their Creator is to honor Him and to give Him thanks. 

Take a moment.  Look around, in any direction.  Everything you see was created by God.  You are alive?  You have breath in your lungs?  Praise God!  He created you too.  As the Psalmist said, you “are fearfully and wonderfully made!”  Stop and consider the immensity of it all—those stars in the sky are innumerable!  The same God who created this vast universe, created those smallest particles, too small for our human eyes to see, in the heart of an atom.  Scientists tell us there are over two million distinct species of animals on this planet and over three hundred thousand species of flowering plants!  They all exist on a blue marble situated the perfect distance away from the sun (not too hot and not too cold).  The more you consider the wonders of God’s creation, the more reason you’ll find to praise Him.

Heavenly Father.  We marvel at Your wisdom and power through which you brought all things into being!  We praise you and give thanks for it is in You “ we live and move and have our being.”  Forgive us.  We are too often negligent to honor you as we should.  Creation calls to us to worship You.  Grant us ears to hear, eyes to see and hearts to respond. Amen.

“Oh Lord, my God

When I, in awesome wonder

Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made

I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder

Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee

How great Thou art, how great Thou art

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee

How great Thou art, how great Thou art!”

If I Were a Clock

If I were a clock 

How happy I’d be

That all of the humans

So depend upon me

We are many, we clocks

And scarcely is found

A place where we’re not

In which humans are bound

With two hands that go ‘round

Or digital display 

We never stop working 

Through the night and the day

Time to wake up and go

To school, work, or to play

Get going, don’t be late

There’s no time to delay

Those funny humans 

Always hurrying about

See all we can make them do

Without even a shout 

Tick tock tick tock

One second at a time

There’s no stopping us now

Unless we unwind 

And still we remind them

“Life’s passing” we say

And even if we stop

We’re still right twice a day

The Dash Between the Dates

On a tombstone in a graveyard you will likely find a symbol, a short and simple line, between two dates.  The dates, on the left and the right, mark the year of the beginning and end of one’s life.  The “in-between” part—the life lived–is all summed up and represented to us by a dash.

The dash bears more weight than it should.  A simple short line can hardly suffice to tell the story of all that transpired in the life of a person.  Did they die young or old?  The dates tell that story.  But the tombstone and the dash say little or nothing about the dead person’s character or deeds.

Our omniscient Creator knows all both about the dates and that which lies in-between.  Where we see a dash, he sees and knows a person.  A person created by Him to know and love Him.  He has “set eternity in their heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  In the heart of each rebel sinner lies a God-given desire to be reconciled to Him.  

Without knowing anything about a person we know something about them.  We are all born sinners.  We’ve all missed the mark and have fallen short.  We’ve failed to measure up to God’s holy standard (Cf. Romans 3:23).  The death date on the tombstone testifies to the reality—“death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

The date on the left speaks to the year of one’s birth, but another birthday can work to radically alter the character and eternal trajectory of a life.  Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7).  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” 1 Timothy 1:15) and died “for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).  To those who receive Him He gives “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).  The new birth works a wonderful transformation in one’s identity, life, and eternal destination.  Jesus can make something beautiful of the dash between the dates.

The death date on the tombstone does not mark the end.  “An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds, to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).  Those who die knowing Jesus will spend eternity with Him.  Those who don’t will “pay the penalty of eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

Having assurance of heaven the believer in Christ is nevertheless concerned for the character of what lies within the “dash between the dates.”  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).  On that day the “quality of each man’s work” will be revealed with fire and he will accordingly either suffer loss or receive reward (Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).  What is done here matters there (i.e. in heaven).

Paul’s instructions to Timothy speak to such matters: “Instruct them (“those who are rich in this present world”; 1 Timothy 6:17) to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:18-19).  Our “dash” should be filled with such things.

Missionary C. T. Studd put it this way:

“Two little lines I heard one day,

Traveling along life’s busy way;

Bringing conviction to my heart,

And from my mind would not depart;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,

Soon will its fleeting hours be done;

Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,

And stand before His Judgment seat;

Only one life,’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

What’s in your dash? 

Pastor Jerry

The Perfect Gift

2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

On one of my visits to Africa, I was privileged to witness the distribution of “Operation Christmas Child” shoeboxes to children. People from around the world fill these shoe boxes with toys and other items which are then sent and given to children in needy places. On the occasion of my visit, there were about two hundred children, all sitting in a big school yard, trying their best to be patient as they waited for all to be given their box, appropriate to their gender and age. Most of these children had never received a gift of any kind before, so imagine their excitement when they opened their boxes and discovered their own precious gifts! It was one of the most joyous scenes I’ve ever beheld!

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this matter of gift giving lately. I remember as a child how excited I was for Christmas in anticipation of opening my Christmas presents. Those days were long ago, and those gifts are but distant memories. Since then, I’ve received many gifts from family members and friends, some quite valuable and precious. But of all the gifts I’ve ever received, only one could be deemed “indescribable.”

Some forty years ago I was given this gift. It came undeserved and unexpectedly.  At the time, I knew I had need of it, but since then, I’ve come to understand, in a growing awareness of my own frailty, that I needed it much more than I then realized. Most gifts wear out over time, or they are replaced with something better or more suitable to our changing wants and needs, but this gift will never wear out. In fact, the more I examine it and make use of it, the more precious it becomes to me.  The value and beauty of this gift is such that it only grows in its allure over time. The gift came to me at infinite cost to the giver, such is the largeness of his heart and readiness to give good gifts to all. Since I received this gift, I’ve met countless others who have received it too. And regardless of age, gender, or stature, they are all likewise incredibly grateful for being so immeasurably blessed. One day, I’ll meet the gift giver face to face. I’ve been told that I’ll marvel even more as new facets of the gift will be unveiled to me (2 Thessalonians 1:10). 

By now you’ve realized that I’m speaking of Jesus and salvation. He came into this world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and He’s the indescribable gift spoken of 2 Corinthians 9:15. Salvation comes to us as a gift, freely given to those who put their trust in Him (Ephesians 2:8-9). He gladly forgives and saves and transforms us, and assures us of a future home in heaven. He, in His person, is the perfect gift. Have you trusted in Him for salvation?  There is much joy to be had in receiving Him (John 1:12)!  

Jerry Conklin

THE CRADLE AND THE CROSS

A tree was cut down

A feeding trough shorn

The carpenter not-knowing 

For what it was borne

The long promised Savior

Did come on that day

He was laid in that manger

His blanket the hay

Wonder and mystery

God was made man

A moment in history

Where Christmas began

A tree was cut down

A cross of wood shorn

The carpenter now-knowing

For whom it was borne

The long promised Savior

The once cradled One thrown

Onto a cross, hung there

For our sins to atone

Wonder and mystery

That God was made man

A moment in history

Where Christmas began

Trees bloom and wane

Carpenters too

But the Christ child reigns

Forever, its true

A cradle and a cross

A manger and a tomb

A pure lamb’s life lost

For me and for you.

Pastor Jerry