God Names and Claims His People: Forgiven

by Pastor Bert Hitchcock

“Blessed is the one 
whose transgressions are forgiven, 
whose sins are covered. 
Blessed is the one 
whose sin the LORD does not count against them 
and in whose spirit is no deceit.”
 – Psalm 32:1-2 

In our world and our times we have a pretty mild view of sin.  In fact, “sin” is not the word we would most often use to describe wrong-doing; it just sounds too harsh.  So, almost half the synonyms for “sin” in my thesaurus are more gentle words – words like error, fault, misdeed, shortcoming, deficiency, or imperfection.  And when we are talking about those kinds of sin, we find it pretty easy to forgive both others and ourselves. 

But the Bible speaks of sin in a much more serious way:   Sins are not just mistakes to be overlooked;  sin is bold-faced defiance, intentional disobedience, and self-centeredness to the point of harming others and offending a holy God.  Those sins we find more difficult to overlook, let-alone forgive.  So what can we do when we realize that even while knowing better, we ourselves have blatantly, knowingly, offended the Lord?   We have disobeyed Him so brazenly that if we were He, we would never forgive such a crime.  

Well, when that happens we tend to believe that God’s grace has run out, and now it is up to us to make atonement – to work off our sin.  But self-atonement is never enough for intentional, sins against God.  As has always been the case, only Jesus’ complete sacrifice of Himself, as He died on the cross, can forgive and cleanse our souls.  Every other payment is just too little, too late.

But radical forgiveness is exactly what Jesus has purchased for us.  He takes the weight of our sin that buckled our knees, and carries it away – Jesus becomes our scape-goat.  He takes the blemish of sin that we could not hide, and removes it – washes it clean with the blood of Jesus.  And he takes the guilt of our sin and drops the charges – charging Jesus with our crimes, while crediting Jesus’ righteous to our account.  This perfect, inexhaustible atonement is our only hope of forgiveness!  But as the familiar hymn boldly announces, it is enough!
“My sin – O the bliss of this glorious thought! – 
my sin, not in part, but the whole, 
is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more; 
Praise the Lord, it is well with my soul” 

God Names and Claims His People: A Breath

by Nick Wonder

Psalm 144:3 O Lord, what is man that you regard him,
    or the son of man that you think of him?

Man is like a breath;
    his days are like a passing shadow.

Job 7:16(b) Leave me alone,
for my days are a breath.

James 4:13 Come now, you who say, 
“Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 

14yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life?
For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

 15Instead you ought to say,
 “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 

16As it is, you boast in your arrogance.
 All such boasting is evil. 

17So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it,
for him it is sin.

Breath has various features, one being its life-giving role.  In the passages above, though, one element is in focus.  Man, at least in his days as a mortal, is fleeting.  In fact, “breath” in the ESV passages above is but one of several Hebrew words or roots assigned that translation.  Some, such as roo-akh, have the additional connotation “spirit,” with different assemblages of possible meanings for others.   The breath of this passage is hebel, the word most famous for its multiple appearances in Ecclesiastes as “vanity,” “meaningless,” “futile,” or “vapor,” depending on one’s preferred Bible version.   Elsewhere in scripture, it may be rendered “fleeting,” “emptiness,” “delusion,” “worthless,” or even “idols.”  While the etymology is uncertain (according to my quick and untrained perusing), some support seems to exist for the fundamental/literal meaning being “breath” (e.g. Is 57:13, “a breath will take them away”), with the others derived from the transitivity of that breath. 

While some of us, perhaps especially in our youth, may consciously or unconsciously have thought we were invulnerable to death, recent events (even though the elderly have been disproportionately impacted) likely have increased awareness of the potential for life suddenly to be swept away.  And just as the designation “breath” in these passages is not exclusively applied to Christians but to all flesh, so the awareness that an individual’s time on this earth is short is not an insight only spiritually discerned.  A person uttering that “life is short” would not be accused of Bible thumping.  Indeed, the average unbeliever gauges the universe as older than does the average Christian and thus views his or her life (and that of humanity collectively) as an even smaller speck on the timeline.  Nevertheless, our response differs  At least, it should.  Attitudes of the worldly have included “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (Is 22:13, 1 Co 15:32), and rightly so, according to Paul, if the dead are not raised.  The frivolous sentiment is in contrast but not inconsistent with other non-Christian reactions to mortality, such as the inconsolable grieving of lost loved ones by those “who have no hope” (1 Th 4:14).  The combination is a pitiable one, and it will only be worse in the day to come when the lost will seek death and not find it. 

            Legitimate reactions to our life’s span are plentiful in Scripture.  We should not ignore mortality but follow the psalmist (90:12) in asking that the Lord “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Regard our God, whose days are from everlasting to everlasting, with great reverence, even some form of fear (1 Pe 2:17).  We must not allow ourselves to think that God ever is impotent or needs our favors—he owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps 50:10), while “we are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty”  (Luke 17:10). Even if at some time you cry out “Why?” regarding his plan for our lives or for the world, never countenance the thought that his will is deficient.  I was not around when God made behemoth (Job 40:15).  No temptation I face “is not common to man” (1 Co 10:13). I should learn from those who came before (e.g. James 5:10) and be wary of those who claim to uncovered something new about God (Ecc 1:9, Heb 13:9) or this existence.  I came from dust, to thence shall return (Ge 3:19), and continually should humble myself and repent of my short-sighted ways.  “Make the best use of the time” (Eph 5:16).  To Paul, living in the body should mean fruitful labor (Phil 1:22).  One with a transformed heart will not be complacent (e.g., Amos 6:1) but will care about the lost (witness the degree of Paul’s anguish in Romans 9:3) and seek to be an obedient instrument in the kingdom that builds on the right foundation (1 Co 3), while not fretting about the outcomes.  We should, moreover, not fill storehouses with our wealth that will one day vanish but build up treasures  in heaven (Mt 6:20) and look to the interests of others (Phil 2:4). 

            We may be thankful and enjoy this life while we have it, however (e.g., Ecc 5:19, Prov 5:18).  And we should not see our transcendent God as distant.  We rightly rejoice that the Christ who made the universe and is the head of all thing loved us enough to live and die for us and continually calls us to an intimate, loving relationship, naming us his friends, his bride, and all the other terms of endearment explored in these devotionals.  We have confidence that those who have gone before are now present with the Lord (2 Co 5:8).  We know that any “sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Ro 8:18).  Finally, (and I’m sure I am omitting some implications of our breathiness), since I have preached much law in these comments, I will assert that though we fall short in understanding this life and suitably responding, Christ’s perfect obedience in his short life and payment in death means we will be judged as free from error and will perfectly enjoy and worship him for eons without end.  Praise be to God.

Two hymns (one only an excerpt) below address related themes.  I found videos for neither, though, so I include  “Who Am I?” as a decent substitute. 

What Is Life? ‘Tis But a Vapor.  Thomas Kelly (1769-1855)

Verse 1

What is life? ’tis but a vapor,
Soon it vanishes away;
Life is like a dying taper:
O, my soul, why wish to stay?
Why not spread thy wings and fly
Straight to yonder world of joy?
Why not spread thy wings and fly
Straight to yonder world of joy?

Life Is a Span, A Fleeting Hour.  Anne Steele (1717-1778)

1 Life is a span, a fleeting hour;
How soon the vapour flies!
Man is a tender transient, flow’r,
That e’en in blooming dies.

2 The once-lov’d form, now cold and dead,
Each mournful thought employs;
And nature weeps her comforts fled,
And wither’d all her joys.

3 But wait the interposing gloom,
And lo! stern winter flies;
And, dress’d in beauty’s fairest bloom,
The flow’ry tribes arise.

4 Hope looks beyond the bounds of time,
When what we now deplore
Shall rise in full immortal prime
And bloom to fade no more.

5 Then cease, fond nature! cease thy tears;
Religion points on high:
There everlasting spring appears,
And joys that cannot die.

Who Am I?  Casting Crowns

Chorus

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
A vapor in the wind
Still you hear me when I’m calling
Lord, you catch me when I’m falling
And you’ve told me who I am
I am yours

God Names and Claims His People: God’s Temple

by Pastor Bert Hitchcock

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple 
and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” – I Corinthians 3:16
“As you come to him, the living Stone…you also, like living 
stones, are being built into a spiritual house…” – I Peter 2:4

Much of Old Testament history revolves around God dwelling among his people, first by means of a portable temple (the tabernacle) and later via a more permanent building: the temple built by King Solomon, destroyed by the Babylonians, and later rebuilt.  Then, the New Testament describes Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and the establishment of His church, in the context of a rebuilt temple being present in Jerusalem.  But,  Jesus also predicted the destruction of that temple, which occurred in 70AD, after the New Testament was written.

So, where is God’s Temple now?  When His disciples were marveling at the beauty of the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus said if the temple was destroyed, He would rebuild it in three days – obviously referring to His own body as God’s Temple.  So, when Jesus ascended into heaven, certainly the fullness of God’s Temple – His very presence – came to dwell there.  

So, is there no longer any temple in which God dwell on the earth?  O yes, the New Testament speaks of the Church being God’s temple on earth.  On the day of Pentecost, God sent His Spirit to indwell the disciples of Jesus.  So, wherever God’s people dwell, there God the Spirit is present – as surely as He hovered over the ancient tabernacle, in a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.  Sometimes Christians want to individualize this to the point of claiming they don’t need the church; they have God’s Spirit, so they are God’s temple.  But God is primarily speaking of Jesus’ disciples corporately; together we are God’s Temple.

The Apostle Peter helps us understand when he speaks of Christ Jesus being the cornerstone of this temple.  A cornerstone is not just a one-stone building, or the stone where the wall happens to turn in a different direction.  The cornerstone established the beginning point and the initial walls of a building; or sometimes the word was used for the final capstone of an arch atop the building.  In either case, the cornerstone reveals basic truths about the whole building being built.  So Christ Jesus determined the nature and purpose of this spiritual temple called the Church.

So what is our part as His disciples?  Well, Peter says we are “living stones” being built together into this temple.  That is a rich metaphor!  Being a living stone assumes that we have the life of God’s Spirit (we are not dead bricks), but it also assumes that we are related to Christ the cornerstone – we have no function apart from Him.

But “living stones” also points to the building process.  These days if we want to build a brick building, we just order loads of bricks; they are all alike.  But the temple in Jerusalem, in fact,  all ancient stone buildings even including the majestic cathedrals built in previous centuries, required that the building stones be shaped to fit their distinctive places in the building.  It was a long, labor-intensive task, for every stone was different.  That’s one reason great stone cathedrals are no longer being built: there are few stone-cutters left in the world.  But the Lord is the master stonemason: he selects, breaks, chips and smooths each one of us for the place He intends us to fill in his temple.  And only there – only because of His masterful work on us – are we useful in His Church, His Temple.

So, be patient.  Some great cathedrals took hundreds of years to build, and they are just stone structures.  Christ’s Church has been under construction for at least 2020 years.  But it is not just a beautiful pile of lifeless rocks; it is the living Temple of God on this earth; it is where you will find Him, where He is being worshiped and served – with or without any physical building.

God Names and Claims His People: Our Appointment

by Nick Laninga

In these days of uncertainty there is one thing that is certain!! Our appointment with Death.

Hebrews 9:27 says “It is appointed for man once to die and after this the judgement.”

Death is appointed and you are no exception. You die only once, but death is not the end; it is your destiny’s door. Maybe this is the fear, but it need not be for the Christian.

We listen and hear the constant bombardment of the frightening news about all the cases of Covid 19 and we should be concerned and prayerful, however in all this are we losing the bigger picture, getting caught up in all the stats, we zero in on all the cases, yet it has been pointed out that [only] 1 person in 3 million has died, and yes, death is real and awful in this sinful world that we sojourn in and it should not be diminished!

But take heart as we recently heard at a home going service “No one dies too early” 

Listen to the words of Psalm 139:16. “All the days for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” How many days do I have left? I don’t know. No one knows. except God. He knows the exact number of years, days, hours and seconds, the exact moment that death will occur. This can either be sobering and frightening or it can be comforting. What is it for you?  

Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. 

Take sometime to read through The Heidelburg Catechism Q&A. 1, 26-28.

God Names and Claims His People: God’s Household

by Pastor Bert Hitchcock

“I am writing you these instructions so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”
– I Timothy 3:15

My first memories of church include being admonished not to run, shout, or fight with my brother “in God’s house.”  Well, those days are ancient history for me now.  But as much as I believe that some decorum is in order when we meet to worship, you will never hear me refer to a church building as “God’s house”.  The Old Testament saints could speak of the temple that way, but not New Testament believers.  The Bible never tells us to go out and build church buildings.  So if not a building, what does the Bible mean when it speaks of “God’s house”?

In I Timothy 3:15 (quoted above) the word is better translated “household”.  That’s a family word, but not just meaning parents and their children (there is a different word for that) but meaning an extended family, or even a dynasty.  So when David wanted to build God a house (a temple) God said “no”.  Instead, God promised to build David a house: not a building to live in but a dynasty – a line of kings for years to come.  That royal family was called the House of David, just as the royal family of England is the House of Windsor, and the royal family of Saudi Arabia is the House of Saud.

There are certainly places where the Church is spoken of as the house of God, meaning His temple.  And there are places where the Church is described as God’s family, in intimate, relational, terms.  But calling the church “God’s household” seems to speak of a line of descendants who walk in the footsteps of the family head – a royal family with characteristic family traits.  So Paul wrote in order that we Christians might know how we are to behave as the household, the royal family, of our King.  We are to be a line of descent well-known to be the “pillar and foundation of the truth.”  Here Paul is emphasizing that Christ’s Church is built on truth, as the foundation upon which it stands, and the superstructure that supports the entire building.  Because Jesus is the Truth, we must be the champions of His truth.

I love being part of a church which is like a family: people of all different ages and interests  joined together by the rescuing grace of Jesus, and made into a new family.  And then, as we live in love, and extend the same love and mercy we received, to other undeserving people, God brings even more people into His re-born family. What a wonderful, loving context in which to live.

But we are not just a loving family; We are part of God’s Household, the royal family of Christ.  And so, our challenge is not just to be warm and loving even to people who are cold and hateful. We are also called to be as strong and unbending as steel when it comes to God’s Truth.  For, truth is not just whatever we want it to be; truth is what God declares it to be!  So, we are not really loving anyone well, if in the name of love, we begin to compromise God’s truth.  That would crumble the foundation and bring down the superstructure of the whole Church.  May God gives us courage and grace to faithfully speak the truth in love.

God Names and Claims His People: The Bride of Christ

by Lea Gibson

There is a lot of joy and excitement wrapped in being a bride. But given the circumstances in our world right now, there is also a lot of fear and anxiety in being a bride. As Brian’s and my June wedding date draws closer and community restrictions have tightened, it’s difficult not to worry.

This time has been a great reminder of the purpose of marriage and of a wedding. It is not about the party. Especially as a Christian, it is so much more and there is a deeper meaning.

Jesus calls the church his bride. Through this analogy, we are given a picture of sacrificial love and service as Paul states in Ephesians 5. In Revelation 21, John states that the new earth is like a bride dressed for her groom.

Since we are the bride of Christ, we are able to experience a life long covenant. Being his bride means he will never leave us or forsake us.

Being a bride is exciting, yes. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with Brian. I’m excited to celebrate with friends and family (whatever that ends up looking like). But most importantly, I look forward to entering into this covenant between us and God. Being an earthly bride deepens my perspective of the love, the commitment, and the anticipation of the new life promised to us all in the Bible.

God Names and Claims His People: Chosen

by Jan Lovegren


Have you ever been in a group and chosen last? Or how about in a classroom and waiting to be called upon only to face not measuring up? Those are some tough memories. I remember to my horror seeing 2 puddles of sweat that had dropped to the floor from my hands as I clutched the desk waiting to be called on in math class.

Being chosen by God is a whole different situation! We are chosen not because we are smart or a good ball player but because God just loves us so much. He made it possible for us to be with him by giving himself for all our mess and badness.

Hear what Peter says about God’s people:
1Peter 2:9&10 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

I rejoice to know that I am chosen to be with such a God forever! I also am so thankful that this family  loves their God and we can praise him together in unity for all eternity! We will all be in our heavenly home which he will lavish upon us as a groom gives gifts to his bride. You haven’t seen anything yet compared to the glories he will rain down on those who love him.

Chosen, what a wonderful word from God for his people!

God Names and Claims His People: Friends

by Danyale Tamminga

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
John 15.15

When we receive kindness from another person, it touches us. A tangible form of kindness is sharing. One example that comes to mind are the meals people shared with us after a baby was born.  I can remember Arnie and Gretchen Van Dyken clomping up our stairs after Peter was born with scalloped potatoes and ham, canned green beans and dessert. What a gift that was! I still remember it as one of the best meals ever. And that is just one example of so many meals that came our way after a new baby.  Gestures like these reminded our family that we had good friends. People shared with us; we were loved, remembered, cared for.

It is striking to me that in the last part of verse 15 in the 15th chapter of John, Jesus says to his disciples, “but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Jesus shared with his friends–he made known to them—all that he had heard from his Father.  This seems like sacred ground to me—to be privy to the confidences shared between the Father and the Son.  Jesus certainly must have loved his friends to show them such a kindness as sharing what his Father made known to him.  Though his disciples didn’t comprehend all that Jesus was telling them, they surely must have been touched that their beloved Teacher was taking them into his confidence. That’s what friends do.

Our family recently listened to a sermon by a Scottish preacher named Ian Hamilton. He repeated a phrase several times throughout the sermon, “the heart of the Eternal is wonderfully kind.” Jesus has called us his friends. He has shared with us the most sacred of confidences (and the best meal ever). He is wonderfully kind.

God Names and Claims His People: Saved By the Lord

by Merry Tamminga


“Happy are you O Israel! Who is like you? A people saved by the Lord!” Deut 33:29

Do you know, I don’t think there is much more to say about this. Do you know, O Israel, we are a people saved by the Lord!

Listen! We are people saved by the Lord. do you hear? Do you see this? We are a people saved by the Creator of the universe. Can there be anything more amazing and fantastic?

That there is God. And He loves us. And He loves us so much that He sent His son to take away our sins. And we, totally depraved sons and daughters of Adam are . . . saved. What have we done to deserve this? I promise you nothing. There is not one redeeming factor in your life or mine that makes us even the smallest bit worthy of God’s great mercy. And yet God loves us still. And we are innocent in His eyes because He has placed our guilt on Christ’s innocent head. Tell me, Christian, do you know of anything more beautiful than this? That we are a people, completely sinful and unworthy of God’s love, and yet a people who are saved by God’s great grace, a people Saved by the LORD.

Can it be true?
That the God in heaven loves me?
Can it be true
That He hears me when I cry
That He looks when I am lost
That He sent His only son
For me?
What am I Lord
That Christ should die
That all my sins
My infinite sins
Are wiped clean by the blood of my Savior? That you have saved me
My wretched body
My sinful heart.
I can’t begin to voice my thanks, Lord
For only you know
The immensity of my need for a Savior.
But God, I thank you
For all you’ve done
And for all you’ve done that I can’t even fathom I thank you O God
For saving me.
That I am a person
That we are a people..

WE are a people Saved by the LORD.