Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Proper Mid-Life Crisis

Heb 10:32  But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings,
Heb 10:33  sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.
Heb 10:34  For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
Heb 10:35  Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.
Heb 10:36  For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

Last Sunday I was speaking on being steadfast as Christians.  Part of this is to remain faithful while under testings and afflictions.  In the above passage these Christians exemplified steadfastness by willingly identifying with Christ and even when it brought persecution, they didn’t run or compromise but they remained faithful.  In that case the government came in and took everything they had away but it didn’t change their course.  In fact, the word that sticks out is in vs. 34 where they accepted the plundering of their property “joyfully”.  And they were able to do this because they had a firm faith in the revealed truth that their Lord would more than make up for it, not in this life, but in the one to come. 

Perhaps when we think of patience in suffering we tend to apply it to the big things like overt persecution or some big sickness or crisis and it is certainly important for us to be able to stand firm in such times.  But I fear that often when we hear a message on steadfastness and patience we forget that it applies the moment we get home from church and we face the everyday “trials” of life.  By that I mean the daily disappointments, the family squabbles, the nagging boss and just the routines of life. 

There is another time of life in which we need to be prepared and have our theology straight and our relationship with the Lord close and that is what we term the “mid-life crisis".  What goes through our mind when we reach a point in life when we realize that our life isn’t going to turn out the way we planned; or when we realize that our spouse isn’t going to live up to whatever ideals we had?  Often people fall into some serious sinful patterns because they haven’t learned to live for the right reasons.  At the heart of such mid-life crises is a heart that has made life all about what I want and not what God wants.

If I have my life planned out and things and people around me don’t live up to my expectations then how can I be happy and content and I certainly can’t joyfully accept the plundering of my life if God so wills.  We will never be like those saints in Hebrews 11 if our life centers on our will and plans and happiness alone. 

As I was preparing last week’s message I wondered if anyone ever had any kind of crisis in their life because they realized that they weren’t going to live up to their spouse’s ideals and needs.  I certainly have never heard of a husband admitting that he woke up one morning in a panic because life was passing him by and he felt he was failing to meet his wife’s needs; usually just the opposite; she isn’t meeting my needs.  No, it is always based on what we want and what we think we need, etc.  I have to admit that I am prone to view the value and success of my life based on what I am experiencing more than what my wife is experiencing and have had to admit a “mini crisis” this week as I realize just how sinful my heart still is.  It just shows why we find it difficult to hold up when things don’t go our way; because we only are concerned for our way and not what honors Christ and certainly not our neighbors and family’s good. 

At the heart of all this is that we can never be content in life if our life is never more than ourselves.  We reduce life to our little world and with nothing greater to live for how on earth can we endure?  If my goal is to serve well in the kingdom then if I have much or little isn’t nearly as important as what I do with what God gives me.  This is what 1 Timothy 6 is getting at; 1Ti 6:6  But godliness with contentment is great gain, 1Ti 6:7  for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 1Ti 6:8  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 1Ti 6:9  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  One of the snares he is referring to is being unable to deal with our life because we have pursued things that we can never keep very long.

But it is also knowing that Christ has put you in the spot you are in so that you can show others that having Christ is enough and in so doing reap eternal reward.  If we miss this; that we must be steadfast in the little things; then we will excuse our bad temper and ill-treatment of our loved ones.  If we think trials are only the big things and don’t realize that most of our trials are the everyday pain, disappointments, dealing with the ungodly pride in our life when those around us don’t bow to our every whim, then we will be defeated before we even get started.  We can please our Lord every day hundreds of times by placing our hope in him and being full of joy because our best days are ahead of us.

Not only would I like to see more mid-life crises about how we have or haven’t served others but it is always good to periodically take stock as to whether we are amounting to anything in the Kingdom of God.  And we don’t have to assume that we must be doing big, public, far-reaching things to be pleasing the Lord.  I love Matthew 25’s view of the judgment because the ones who were going to enjoy eternity with the Lord were those who just went about helping others when they could.  They made life about loving as they had been loved.  Mat 25:34  Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Mat 25:35  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, Mat 25:36  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Mat 25:37  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? Mat 25:38  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? Mat 25:39  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' Mat 25:40  And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' 

We won’t be judged on whether every desire and success we planned for ourselves was fulfilled or not but whether we served well in the Kingdom of God.  If we are going to have a mid-life crisis let’s at least have the right goals in life. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Death is Swallowed Up in Victory

Exo 7:10  So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent.
Exo 7:11  Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts.
Exo 7:12  For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs.

All the plagues God did through Moses and Aaron in delivering Israel from Pharaoh were in part also directed against the gods that the Egyptians trusted in rather than bowing before the True and Living God.  The first miracle before Pharaoh in the verses above is no exception.  The serpent was considered a wise and magical creature in Egypt.  Wadjet, who was the goddess of Lower Egypt, is represented as a snake.  It was her symbol which is found on the crown of the Egyptian Pharaoh.  Once upon a time, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt were separate countries.  Lower Egypt was eventually captured by Upper Egypt, and when that happened the Pharaoh assimilated the goddess of Lower Egypt into his own crown.  And so that symbol became a sign of Pharaoh’s sovereignty and power.  But additionally it is interesting that Apopis, who is an enemy of the gods in Egyptian mythology, is often pictured in the form of a snake, and it represents the forces of chaos arraigned against Egypt.  Clearly then, in the throwing down of this rod snake, God, the Lord of Israel, is challenging the gods of Egypt.  The Lord is challenging Pharaoh’s authority; he’s mocking his magic.

Swallowing was important to the Egyptians because they believed that to swallow something caused one to acquire all its powers.  This probably wasn’t lost on the magicians since in 8:19 when they could no longer duplicate the miracles they knew that the true God was at work, Exo 8:19  Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said

It is no mere coincidence that Satan is depicted as a snake and with a purpose God has Aaron’s rod turn into a snake because this whole account reminds us of the greater exodus when God’s appointed Messiah delivered the elect from the Prince and Power of the air and the death that comes with it.  Christ was depicted as a snake on the cross because he took the curse of sin on himself and became a curse for us.

The exodus is God’s greatest miracle in this book.  It pictures God’s greatest work in sending his Son to atone for sins.  From the time he came into the world Satan used his limited power to try and destroy him.  He sent his servants to try and kill him and tempt him and bring his mission to nothing.  But in each case God swallowed up their attempts and triumphed over them.  Satan’s biggest mistake was to put it into men’s hearts to crucify Jesus.  In doing that, death, our greatest enemy was what?  It was swallowed up in the victory of the resurrection!  1Co 15:54  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." 1Co 15:55  "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"  God’s snake swallowed Satan’s snake.

Paul explains a little differently in Col 2:14  by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. Col 2:15  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him

The day Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh and his magicians and their snake swallowed up their snake and put them to open shame would have been a sight to behold and even more to be outside the tomb when Jesus defeated death in his resurrection would be an amazing sight.  But the Exodus account ends with a bit of a warning, Exo 7:13  Still Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.  Pharaoh didn’t see or acknowledge the glory of God in the miracle and most today can’t see the glory of God in the Gospel of Christ where he swallowed up the works of sin and Satan.  They, like Pharaoh, harden their heart to their own destruction.  It is the grace of God alone that enables us to see what the lost cannot.  To God be all the glory for our salvation.

Friday, September 15, 2017

How to React to Hurricanes

Rev 8:8  The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood.

The Trumpet Judgments of Revelation 8-9 and the plagues brought on Egypt serve a similar purpose.  Not only do they affect many of the same areas like water, land and Sun but they are even called plagues in Revelation.  In both cases they warn of final judgment and call on sinners to repent. 

This gives us some insight into how we are to view natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and disease.  God sends these things to mankind as reminders that life is coming to an end and judgment awaits.  Under the trumpet judgments only a third of mankind die while later one under the bowl judgments all die.  The bowl judgments picture final judgment where the opportunity to repent is past.

The reason this is important is seen in the way modern man views disasters when they happen as in the recent hurricanes of Harvey and Irma.  In the past when people at least pretended to believe in God such occurrences would cause people to assume it was God’s judgment and they would wonder what they had done to bring such things on.  Today when most people are busy trying to suppress the knowledge of God they either blame it on “nature” or just as bad assume they know why God has sent such things. 

On one hand you have self-appointed prophets who tell us that falling into certain sins is why God sends these things.  The problem with simplifying it down to this is that such disasters fall on every other nation as well and has since the Flood.  Not to mention that such disasters fell on nations even before they legalized certain sins, etc.  So it might make for emotionally charged preaching but it comes up a little empty.  Such things can’t be known with any certainty and so it does little good to speculate.

On the other hand I heard some misguided souls saying that the recent hurricanes hit Texas and Florida because they voted for President Trump.  Few things reveal America’s inability to think through issues than such statements.  If this is true then what are we to make of hurricane Sandy tearing through NJ and NY?  Obviously God was punishing them for voting for Obama!  At least now we know what is going on when wild fires ravage California!

No, instead, Exodus offers us a hint as to how we are to view such events in our life.  Exo 7:4  Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. Exo 7:5  The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them."  Over and over again the Lord tells Moses that he is sending these judgments on the Egyptians so that they will know who the true God is and what kind of God he is with the end that they would worship and obey him. 

This is why such events are to be seen as warnings.  They remind us that we live in a fallen world and a fallen creation and the result is death and judgment.  It is to cause us to turn to the true God and make sure we are right with him and ready to stand before him someday.  Those who call themselves Christians and tell us that God doesn’t send disasters but that is a work of Satan have no idea what kind of God the God of the Bible is.  He is not a God to be trifled with.  While he is a God of love, his love is seen in that he sent his Son to provide salvation from his judgment on sinners.  Too often people take his love to only mean that he will let their sin slide in the Day of Judgment.  Warning judgments should be understood that when God sends judgment on your neighbor, it is too late for him but you have the opportunity to repent.  Such statements as we saw above are only America refusing to listen to God.

I was reading after Ligon Duncan and thought he made a great point when it came to how Pharaoh was viewing the Lord.  It is clear that he saw God as just another god who could be ignored.  He found out differently and I leave you with Ligon Duncan’s take on the God of the Bible: 

“There is a passage in the chronicles of Narnia, when Jill is approaching the only stream in Narnia, wanting a drink. And when she gets there, Aslan, the great lion, is guarding the river. And she is frightened by it. And she’s trying to find out whether she’s safe or not. And she says to Aslan, "Do you eat little girls?" And his response is, "Little girl, I’ve consumed kingdoms, and peoples and worlds." And she continues to try and negotiate with him to make sure it’s safe, and he won’t give her any comfort. And finally she says, "Well, I’ll have to go find another stream." And he says, "Little girl, there is no other stream." My friends, there is no other God. You’re not going to be able to go and find another god that’s safer, another god who’s more manageable, another god who is more domesticated. There is no other God. He is the sovereign God of heaven and earth; and the only thing that you can reckon with in the midst of trouble, is that He is good. He is sovereign; you may not understand what He’s doing, but He is good. And God intends for us to learn His sovereignty. What an awesome God to, as it were, trifle with Egypt as He is doing.”

Friday, September 8, 2017

Do We Have Hard Hearts?

Exo 7:3  But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt,
Exo 8:15  But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.
Exo 7:14  Then the LORD said to Moses, "Pharaoh's heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go.

The hardening of our sinful hearts has not always been easy for some to understand and accept.  Without doubt some of this involves the unseen work of God in which we are not privy to but enough is said to be able to draw some important conclusions.  Part of the difficulty is seen in the three verses quoted above.  All through the Exodus account we read sometimes that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, Pharaoh hardened his own heart and sometimes, as in the third verse, it merely states that his heart was hardened in some way. 

The purpose of this article is to make a point about what it means to have a hardened heart but let me briefly try to explain how I believe the above verses all fit together; how can God harden a heart and at the same time the sinner is said to harden his heart.

Since all men and women are born depraved, by default all of our hearts are hardened in our sin.  We call this the doctrine of Totally Depravity.  Notice Paul’s description of all humanity in Rom. 3:
Rom 3:10  as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one;
Rom 3:11  no one understands; no one seeks for God.
Rom 3:12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."
Rom 3:13  "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips."
Rom 3:14  "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."
Rom 3:15  "Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Rom 3:16  in their paths are ruin and misery,
Rom 3:17  and the way of peace they have not known."
Rom 3:18  "There is no fear of God before their eyes."…
Rom 3:23  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Being totally depraved speaks to our inability to do any good work before God and to the animosity that exists between us and God, Rom 8:7  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Rom 8:8  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  But totally depravity doesn’t mean that we are as sinful as we could be.  The Spirit of God works in the world to restrain man’s sin in order that God’s purposes will be accomplished. 

And so man by nature has a hard heart and seeks to continue in his hardness and when confronted with the gospel further hardens his heart by refusing to submit to the righteousness of God.  So what does it mean when God hardens a heart that is already hard?  I think it can best be understood as he stops restraining the sinner from doing what he wants to do by nature but instead allows him to digress even further in his rebellion.  I have illustrated it by holding a book up in the air.  If I let go it will drop because that is all it can do because of the law of gravity.  So the Holy Spirit holds back all men from being as evil as they could but when it suits his purposes he “lets go” and allows them do what they want to do and this can be described as hardening their heart.  He no longer restrains them from their desire to sin.

Pharaoh by default had no desire to let Israel go because he wanted them to worship him. The Lord let him keep Israel until such time as the Lord wanted Israel to go and then he refrained Pharaoh from doing what he wanted to do.  Israel’s worship wasn’t as important as the misery of the death of his son.  But in the whole scenario Pharaoh was only thinking of Pharaoh.  So when God hardens a heart he merely lets it fall further into its hardness.

But the word for hard in the OT means heavy which is interesting for a couple of reasons. It is interesting that these Egyptians believe that the heart was the essence of man and the key to eternal life.  They believed that it would be weighed on the scales of justice.  If it was heavier than the feather of justice, he was damned.  Misdeeds added weight to it.  So even in the Egyptian theology a hard heart was an evil heart but they had no idea how bad things really were.  

It is also interesting that this word for hard or heavy has the same basic meaning as glory.  We know that the word glory has the idea of the weightiness or importance you put on something.  So when we glorify God we are acknowledging his importance or worthiness.  So if I can connect all of this I would say that a hard heart is a heart that has put the worthiness or glory on something other than God.  Sin is at its heart man seeing himself as more important than God.  He has transferred the weightiness or worthiness to himself and robbed God of what he is due which is for us to acknowledge that the Lord alone is worthy to be praised.  

Perhaps this will help us examine our own hearts to see if we have allowed sin to harden our hearts so that we have been dazzled in some way by this world so that the glory of God has been darkened in our minds and we therefore serve the flesh with what is due to our God and Savior because we have put the heaviness or importance on temporal things rather than the eternal.  Our lives betray our hearts that have put too much glory on this world and the awesomeness of God has been forgotten.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Remembering the Word

2Pe 3:1  This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,
2Pe 3:2  that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.

In Peter’s second epistle, he is warning the church of false teachers who will lead them into sin and away from Christ.  In warning them against error he doesn’t have them focus on the error but on the truth found in the revelation of Jesus Christ, the Word of God.  He exhorts them to grow “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord”, 1:2.  To use the old adage, one becomes an expert spotting counterfeit money by studying the genuine, not the false.

In the above verses Peter also points out that much of what he is writing is not new but he is reminding them of things they have already been taught.  So he is causing them to focus on the genuine over and over again.  The implication is that we tend to forget what we have been taught and along with that we tend to store biblical teaching in the hard drive of our memory not the RAM.  What I mean by that is that we walk out of church and we tuck the message away until next week as if it isn’t relevant and necessary every moment of every day.  We don’t live our days with the Word of God constantly in our minds.  We haven’t let it permeate our thinking so that it determines our world view and identity; so that it is readily available in our minds when we need it.  We let our current financial or relational status or political climate or the discomfort we are in determine our thinking and actions and mood rather than letting the Word of God be continually guiding us.

It is amazing how so many modern day saints think that one message a week is sufficient Bible study.  One would have to assume that they have retained everything they have ever heard and it stays fresh in the memories so it is right there when they need it.  I think the reality is that we need to learn and relearn the Word and it needs to be drilled and redrilled into us because our natural bent to sin will easily take over our worldview and thought patterns if we don’t keep our minds saturated with the Word of God.

Peter gives us a good example of this in Luke 22:60-62.  In the previous evening Jesus told him that before the cock crowed in the morning Peter was going to deny him three times.  Now I know that if the Lord told that to me I would think that all I have to do is not forget what he said and hold out for a few hours.  There is no way I am going to forget his words and deny him not once but three times.  But my sinful tendency, just like Peter’s, is to let self dominate my thinking.  Like Peter, as soon as I am confronted with the possibility of physical danger my natural tendency is self-preservation even if it means disassociating myself from the Lord.  Instead of dwelling on Jesus’s words, Peter and we tend to dwell on self and this is why we need constant, steady Bible study and teaching.  I think this is seen in the text in Luke, Luk 22:60  But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are talking about." And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. Luk 22:61  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times." 

Can you image Peter looking at the face of Jesus and remembering what he had forgotten just a few hours before?  How prone we are to forget and how much we need the power of God to keep the Word before us and to be controlled by it.  But without the Word in our heads, it can never permeate our hearts.  Let’s pray that we would have a proper desire to grow in the knowledge of the Lord and to be patient when the preacher preaches on something that we “already know and don’t need”.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

What Land are We Looking For?

Gen 28:13  And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Gen 28:14  Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 

One thing that Christians have debated from the very beginning of the church is how are the land promises given to Abraham fulfilled.  Were they fulfilled by the time Christ came or is there a future fulfillment for them to be regathered back into the land of Palestine?  Some see the Jews being regathered back into Palestine as pretty much the culmination of God’s plan for the world.  People like John Hagee have made it their life’s ministry to “help” God fulfill prophecy by physically relocating Jews back to their “homeland”. 

While it is a vast study that is too large to cover entirely here, I want to offer a few thoughts that might help us find a more practical application for the subject.  Where this can move into unfruitful and even dangerous areas is when people seem to be more concerned and even excited over Jews being gathered to Israel than they are about the gospel being proclaimed to them.  Some even go so far as to say that the Jews don’t need the gospel since God loves them outside of Christ and their future isn’t connected to Jesus’s work but the blood that runs in their veins. 

One of the problems as I see it is that many fail to realize that the land promises while fulfilled literally in the OT always had a universal goal in mind.  In other words, the promises look forward to the day when God’s people will dwell in the whole earth not just in a tiny part of it.  By “God’s people” I mean all those in Christ because anyone not in Christ ultimately will have no part of God, period.  It was necessary for the Jews to possess the land for a time so that Christ could come and do his work but the goal was never Palestine but a new heaven and earth because the goal was never just about the Jews but about the elect unto salvation.  The above passage shows that early on the Lord was speaking about his people possessing more than just a few square miles in the Middle East. 

Elsewhere in Genesis, for instance, we see that it was never just the Jews in mind but that the Gentiles would be brought in to create a people way too large to merely indwell Palestine, Gen 12:3  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Gen 15:5  And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Gen 22:17  I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, Gen 22:18  and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice."

It is important to note that nowhere in the NT does anyone refer to the Jews waiting to inherit the land.  Anytime there is a reference to anyone inheriting land it speaks of the church and the word “land” is changed to a more universal word like “world”.  Mat 5:5  "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  Mat_6:10  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Rom 4:13  For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  Rev_5:10  and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."  Rev_11:15  Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever."

If Israel gets to live in Palestine for a few years then I am glad for them.  I will be with Christ so I will have something much more glorious to think about.  But what is sad is that there are so many who are much more interested and excited in the Jews getting their own country than they are about Christ’s kingdom being established on earth.  Christ told us to go into all the world and establish his kingdom through the gospel, not worry about getting Jews to Palestine.  

There is a lot more that could be said about this but I think a biblical and a much more practical, Christ honoring case can be made that the land promises to Abraham as well as all the promises are fulfilled in the new nation that God is making through the preaching of the gospel that includes Jew and every other people group, Rev 5:9  And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, Rev 5:10  and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."