Monday, December 26, 2011

Why The Messiah Must Come Twice

I was reading of a story that the Jews relate.  A New York City rabbi was being told by a witnessing Christian that Jesus was the Messiah.  The rabbi walked to his window, looked out at the city unchanged by all its corruption.  He returned and said, "No, when the Messiah comes there will be justice".  Perhaps he was thinking of Isa. 61:1-2, " The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;  to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn."  Here the prophet repeats what he has already said, that when the Messiah comes one of the things he will do is judge the wicked.  It might also be worth while pointing out that when Jesus quotes this passage early on in his ministry while in Nazareth he stops before he gets to the reference to judgment.

It seems to me there is a fundamental flaw in this rabbi's criterion for identifying the Messiah.  He assumes that the Messiah will only come once and when he does he will judge the wicked and exercise justice.  His assumption then is that this is a good thing at least for Jews.  The flaw is in thinking that he should have justice and not grace.  He has placed himself in a category that doesn't exist, at least not outside of Christ.  "There is none that does good, no not one"; why then does he assume that the Messiah will only come once and that this is a good thing for him?

This was the first thought that came to me when I read the story and perhaps the reason Jesus leaves out part of the quote from Isaiah when speaking of what his mission was during his first advent.  It is unmerited mercy and amazing grace that he came the first time without reference to judgment.  If Jesus hadn't come the first time to deal with our sin no one would be able to stand in the Day of Judgment.  It is a tragedy of monumental proportions to think that the only work the Messiah needs to do is make this world right by giving to everyone what they deserve.   It is supreme arrogance to think that you are ready to meet God's appointed Judge while you reject his work on the cross.

Heb. 9:26-28 seems to bring the need of these two advents together in the same passage, "For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.  And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation."  The reason he had to come the first time was to put away sin and the reason was because all men are sinners proven by the fact that all men die.  And at death we are judged for our sin.  The ones that Jesus died for are the only ones who can legitimately look forward to his return.  He has taken away all the guilt of our sin and so when he comes back it will not be to judge us but to glorify us.  Clearly there is a connection between the cross and being ready for his return.  May each one reading this make his calling and election sure.  Have you fled to the cross of Christ as your only way for the forgiveness of your sins?

If the Messiah only comes once, we are all in trouble.  Praise God that he sent his Son the first time to save so we can be ready for the Second Coming.  The first advent secured our salvation.  There's your Christmas message in a nutshell.  Sorry it's a day late!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sermon Notes On How We Glorify God In Our Lives

The context of these notes is 2 Kings 19 when Hezekiah was seeking the Lord's deliverance from the army of the Assyrians.  Verse 19 states, "2Ki 19:19  So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone."  Notice how he acknowledges that their salvation was not to form the basis for God's blessings but instead it was so the Lord could reveal his power and might.  We might add that Hezekiah is seen as equal to David in his relationship to the Lord so we should take his prayer in that light.

"If this doesn’t form the basis for whatever we do including asking the Lord to save our skin we have completely missed the point.  Hezekiah, Jerusalem and we today have no relevance unless we honor our God and Savior.  Yes, he has an eye on his trouble but the other one is on the Lord revealing himself to everyone involved.

We need to see this because we have so many running around telling us that God has a happy plan for your life and it comes across like his main purpose is making you happy.  But the fact of the matter is that his “wonderful plan for our life” is that we find satisfaction and joy in worshipping him.  As soon as we make it about ourselves we show that Adam is alive and well in us.

Interestingly enough we have to be careful not to use this as some sort of magical formula for getting our prayers answered which invariably leads to selfishness.  Tacking on a phrase like, “may you be glorified in what I am asking for” even if it is from the heart doesn't mean that the Lord will be glorified by it.  Perhaps it would be better to say that often he glorifies himself through what looks like defeat. 

It is clear that a lot of church goers think that God is glorified and the cause of Christ is furthered by Christians appearing to have their act together physically, materially, emotionally and spiritually.  The humility that the Bible speaks of is seen as "loserville".  Christ and his people have to appear to be succeeding or it is a reflection on God.  But let’s remember Paul in 2 Cor. 12 where it was his afflictions and apparent weaknesses in which God’s power was most demonstrated in his life.  Elsewhere we learn that he wasn’t a polished speaker, he apparently was repulsive to look at; at least unimpressive and yet no one has been used any more than Paul.  

I think a more healthy NT way of seeing this worked out is by acknowledging in ourselves and when we see it in each other, how the Lord sustains and uses us in our afflictions as well as when he graciously removes our afflictions.  Had not Hezekiah and Israel been brought low in this trial none of these chapters would have been in the Bible.  Prosperity can’t begin to expose our faith like difficulty and humiliation can."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Healthy View of Yourself

I was reading of a story a missionary in the Sudan told of a meeting he was holding one day.  It was one of those places where the natives might or might not show up with clothes on.  But it was one prominent village elder's attire that really caught his eye.  Evidently the man had been rummaging through the missionaries trash and happened upon his wife's corset.  But don't get ahead of me.  To this man this fancy piece of clothing was not to be wasted wrapped around one's waist but worn on one's head like crown!  To make matters worse, this was all he felt necessary to wear to the meeting.  Of course, to the missionary this man had not impressed him with his fancy covering but merely became an object of pity and repulsion.

Now it isn't too difficult to see the similarity of such a story with what the natural man does when he thinks he can impress the Holy God with some good deed or religious ritual.  No matter how wonderful you think you are and how many "worthy" deeds you do in this life, in that great meeting, read Judgment Day, in the sky you will stand naked and ashamed unless you are clothed with the clothing given to us from God; the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

But perhaps there is a lesson for the saints as well.  Too often we soon lose that sense of need and unworthiness that we had when we first came to Christ.  We clean our lives up, memorize some Scripture, tithe and wear fancy suits and dresses to church and we begin to feel pretty smug about ourselves before the Lord.  We compare our "good" works with all the lost around us and fool ourselves into thinking that God has to be more than a little impressed with us.

Of course, by the time this happens we can be sure he is quite displease with our efforts.  Anything done without his glory in view out of thankfulness is no better than when the lost do it.  Isa. 64:6 reminds us of how God sees such activity, "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away."  To parade our good works before the Lord is like wearing this on our heads!  It is no accident that the elders of Revelation 4 cast their crowns before the throne.  Whatever we do in this life is merely because it was given us from the Lord.

There is no doubt it is a struggle to serve the Lord without pride getting in the way; to walk humbling before him and others, always bearing in mind that I am nothing more than a sinner saved by grace.  It is easy to forget that without the imputed righteousness of Christ I would be walking around in all my naked sinfulness and not only would I not have enough sense to be ashamed but I would be proud of myself.  So let us preach the gospel to ourselves daily.  When we see some poor soul lost in his sins and doing some evil thing that disgusts us let not our first thought be how awful they are but let us think of ourselves first and praise God for loving us while we were yet sinners; "There but for the grace of God go I".  Perhaps we will walk more humbly, love more intensely and serve more effectively.

Friday, December 2, 2011

God's Love and Election

Let me try to make two points concerning the way God loves and the way he elects.  It seems most errors come about when we take a biblical teaching and go to one extreme or the other when the doctrine wasn't meant to be taken to either extreme.  The Bible teaches that God loves different things and people in different ways.  In one sense he loves all his creation and all humanity and in another sense he loves his chosen ones in a different way.

The Arminian assumes that if God loves one, he must love all  and love them equally.  Some Calvinists assume that if God loves any he must also choose to save them also.  But both of these assumption assume too much.  We certainly have no problem when men love differently.  I don't expect my neighbor to love his cat like he loves his wife like he loves me!  And yet it seems we want to pigeon hole God's love to be the same for everyone.  The problem is that this isn't supported by the Bible.  Let me prove this by just quoting two verses since it should be rather obvious anyway.

Rom 9:13  As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.  
Deu 7:6-8  For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.  The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people:  But because the LORD loved you.

I use these verses for two different reasons.  First of all they show that God loves people differently.  It is not my intention here to elaborate further but when one can accept this truth he is well on his way to understanding the sovereignty of God.

The other reason was to prove my second point; this is found in vss. 7-8.  One of the standard arguments against election is to say that God looks forward in time and sees who would choose or elect him and he elects them first.  This fails for several reasons but the above verses show one basic reason why such an argument holds no water.

Deu. 7 is one of the classic biblical illustrations of divine, saving election in the Scriptures.  God's very point in vss. 7 and 8 is that his election is not based on anything found in Israel that would cause him to set his love on them to be a special people for him and that calling was unlike his purpose for any other people.  Thus to say that God looked ahead and chose those who were smart enough or spiritual enough to choose him is to teach the exact opposite concept that the Bible teaches.  

He says he loved them because he loved them; end of story, vs. 8.  The biblical doctrine of election is that God chose to save some and not others based solely on his will, John 1:12-13.  This and only this removes all human boasting.  It isn't that we are all equally deserving to be saved but that we are all equally deserving to be damned but the Lord stepped in and saves some to glorify his love and holiness and leaves the rest to their own choice to demonstrate his justice and wrath.

Those that reject election because they don't think it is fair can only make this accusation because they believe all men deserve God's saving love.  But this only exalts man over God.  It is interesting how we can turn truth upside down.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Self Made Theology

Roger Olsen has come out with a book entitled "Against Calvinism".  In it he claims to be saving God's reputation from the New Calvinists who believe that God is sovereign to the point that he has determined even calamity to happen such as 9/11.  Evidently one can be sovereign and yet not control all things.  One of the most disturbing things he states in his book is that a God who would deliberately chose to let some go to Hell and cause calamity in the world would be hard to distinguish from Satan!  One wonders how he can come to such a conclusion but eventually in the book he shows his hand as to why he thinks God's reputation needs to be salvaged.

When asked by one of his students if God should come down to him and tell him that the Calvinist position is correct concerning election and predestination would he be able to worship this kind of God, Olsen says no!  In other words he is saying that it doesn't really matter what the Bible says; I already have my mind made up as to what God should be like and I will not worship any other kind of God even if I am wrong.

Well I know that the few people who read this blog are as appalled at such a stance as I am.  It would be easy for me write about how unbiblical such a presupposition is and I think a case could be made that no actual Christian could say such a thing.  If fact I am somewhat surprised that some Calvinists have called this a scholarly work when he makes no real attempt to support his arguments from the exegesis of Scripture, argues primarily from his own preferences (see above) and refuses to enter into dialogue or debate publicly to defend his positions.  But my concern is not what he believes but what we as Christians believe.

I think sometimes we do something akin to what Olsen does when it comes to believing the Bible.  In our hearts we know that if the Bible says something it is true and wouldn't dare say that we believe something so strongly that even if God himself said we were wrong we wouldn't give it up.  He tells us that we can give ourselves totally to his care, take up our cross and follow him, forsake family and security for something far better and we can do so because he is sovereign over all things not just over what we let him rule over.  We say we believe this but when push comes to shove and we have to stand for Christ or bow to this world or say no to a loved one we balk.  Our sin is the same, if not worse than Olsen's.  We refuse to worship the God we believe in.  He at least refuses to worship the God he doesn't believe in.  He might be wrong but he is at least consistent.

At the end of the day we either believe what we read in the Bible or we decide that the presuppositions that we have come to through the experiences of our lives and the influence of others will rule what we believe and more importantly will rule how we live out our lives.  What I find disturbing when I saw what Olsen was saying is not that someone can say that and still claim to be a Christian but how close we can come sometimes in doing the same thing and perhaps not even realizing it.  May the Lord grant us power and wisdom to live in light of his divine sovereignty and wisdom, not to deny it by either our words or our lives.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How Great is Your God?

In Mark 4 we read of Jesus calming the storm: Mar 4:38  "But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" Mar 4:39  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Mar 4:40  He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" Mar 4:41  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"  

After rebuking the wind Jesus rebukes his disciples for a defective faith.  One might wonder why Jesus is so rough on them.  After all their lives seemed to be in grave danger and all Jesus was doing was sleeping.  It seems the perfect time to pray. I don't think that they were rebuked for coming to Jesus and if we dig a little deeper we can see why they are rebuked.

What we actually see is that their prayer is an attack on the character of Christ.  "Lord, you don't seem to care about us".  They had assumed smooth sailing since Christ was with them but such was not the case.  Their next mistake is to assume that difficulty and tribulation meant that Jesus didn't love them as they thought he should.  So as they (and we) complain of God's providence in their lives, what they are actually doing is questioning the wisdom and love of God.  And equally as sinful they are saying that they have the right to question him as if they are wise enough to see a mistake he has made.  It would do us well to remember this when we are tempted to complain about things.  We aren't just murmuring but we are questioning the very character of God and in so doing exalting ourselves.  Small wonder that all the murmurers in the wilderness died without reaching the Promised Land.

In verse 40 we see that Jesus doesn't chide them for waking him up and coming to him but for fearing the storm more than they feared him.  When he says, "Why are you so afraid?" in the original he is saying why do you have this kind of fear.  The kind of fear that they had was one that feared danger more than the Lord and caused them to question him.  I don't think it is sinful to fear things that are legitimate dangers.  If you don't try to get out of the way of an approaching tornado you aren't spiritual, you are a fool!  The disciple's God was just a little too small in their eyes to do them much good.  They needed to see what sort of God they had and so vs. 27, "Who then is this, that ever the wind and the sea obey him?"   This was why the Lord calmed the storm so that they would quit looking at it and stand amazed at him.  

They still had fear but now it was the wonder and awe of the Sovereign God that filled their eyes, not the storm.  By having a good understanding of God we can put everything else into its proper perspective, but a weak God will produce a weak faith and a life full of fear and defeat.  It is hard to give up much and persevere to the end when the prize, God, isn't all that appealing.  A fear that drives you to rest in Christ is a good fear but one that causes you to question him is an ungodly fear.

Two examples in Scripture show this.  In Isaiah 6 we read that Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up in the temple and the effect unmistakable.  God asks who is willing to take a message to the Jews that they did not want to hear, that they would not listen to and would not produce any converts.  Without hesitation Isaiah volunteers because once you see your sinfulness and the glory of your Savior nothing else matters.  Whatever he says we gladly do even giving our lives because our God controls the universe and has promised to work everything out for our good.  There is no safer place to be if we are in Christ doing what he asks of us.

Peter supplies a slightly different fear.  He asks to walk on the water to Jesus during another storm and the Lord grants his request.  All is well as long as Peter keeps the eyes full of Christ.  But as soon as he fills his mind with the waves he is overcome with fear.  At the end of the day, in the darkest day, when your trial and pain seems insurmountable you will trust and flee to whoever or whatever is the greatest help in our mind.  This is why the Lord squeezes us with trials, so that what is in us will come out and we can prove what kind of faith we have.  In other words we can prove how great God is to us. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Slaying the Enemy

In Deut. 13:6-11 we read, "If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods,' which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. Deu 13:9  But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people.  You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you."  

This is an astounding passage in that it reveals how God expected them to treat even their closest family members and closest friends who would try to entice them to serve anything else other than the true God.  They weren't to ignore them but turn them in to the elders of the city and be the first one to cast a stone at them in judgement!  This is a far cry from what we sometimes hear today, "He who is without sin let him cast the first stone".  

Under the Old Covenant such things are dealt with rather harshly and with the Lord's blessings.  In 2 Kings 11 we read of all of the Baal priests and anyone who followed them were to be cut down with the sword under Joash's reign, 2Ki 11:18  "Then all the people of the land went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest posted watchmen over the house of the LORD."  Just a few years before this Jehu was told to slay Ahab's descendants because of his sins.  

Can we find any application to this today?  Many have tried throughout church history to apply it and with disastrous results.  When we confuse the covenants we run into all sorts of problems and using the sword against the enemies of the gospel is clearly not how we are to deal with our enemies today.  But I would like to point out that in a very real sense Jesus has brought this concept over into the New Covenant.  I think Luke 12:26-27 says pretty much the same thing with a rather large exception.  "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."

The difference, of course, is found in that we don't kill our enemies but the similarity is that we just as aggressively battle the influence of sin both in ourselves and in those around us.  We know that Jesus isn't telling us to hate our families but that anything or anyone who would come between us and the Lord is not to be allowed any room to work.  A similar passage is found in Matthew 5 where we are to be willing to cut off body parts for the sake of Christ.  Paul later on uses language that speaks of death when he commands us to put to death the deeds of the body in Romans 8:13 and put to death what is earthly in us in Colossians 3:5.

As I was thinking about all this the thought hit me that there are still people dying in the New Testament times but instead of saints killing their enemies, we do the dying; we kill ourselves in a spiritual sense.  Instead of us removing other people, we remove ourselves from their influence.  We discipline ourselves to say no to their temptations and speak the truth to them in love.  Many times when we will not allow them to sway us to sin and instead speak of Christ to them, they will separate themselves from us.  The love of Christ constrains us bring all things into obedience unto the Lord.

This is better sanctification than those under the Old Covenant enjoyed for a number of reasons and maybe the best one is that it allows us to love and minister to the lost rather than killing them!  Let us learn to die daily that we might bring life to those who are dead.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Sabbath Revisited

Well, we aren't going to settle the issue of the Sabbath here but some thoughts have been going through my mind for a while now so I thought I would write them down.  First of all let me start with what seems obvious to me, while in some measure nine of the Commandments can be said to be written on the conscience of all men, I can't see how the same can be said of the Sabbath.  I am not aware of any person or culture that instinctively knows they need to take off one day out of seven to rest or to worship God.  It is not a moral issue like murder and theft.  It is one that needs divine revelation because it is not know to us instinctively.

Secondly can we argue that it is to be seen as the eternal law of God?  It didn't exist before creation and it certainly won't exist in eternity where there is only the glory of God and no need for a sun and no concept of days.  In fact, we know that eternity will be one long Sabbath but it will have nothing in common with the one found in Exodus 20.

Perhaps part of confusion lies in looking at the Fourth Commandment as looking backward to a supposed creation ordinance instead of future to a greater fulfillment.  After the six days of creation God ceased from his labors.  Adam and Eve were created to enjoy this rest by enjoying all that he had made for them and to be provided for by trusting in his providence.  They fell by saying that they would instead do things their way and not trust in the Lord.  They were saying that they no longer would be willing to rest in God but would do their own work.

It is interesting that the primary curse put on Adam besides his fallen nature is that all of the sudden he had to labor in a way that was mostly futile, Gen 3:19 "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."   In other words, man in his fallen state has no rest and his labor has no better end than death; it is futile.  Unfallen man had to labor but it would always result in fruit unto the Lord; it was joyful, fulfilling and satisfying.  All that changed at the fall.

And so immediately God starts to make promises that he is going to restore the rest that Adam rejected.  If this is in some way summarizes what happened in Genesis then it seems that the Sabbath laws could be given to look forward instead of backwards.  After all Jesus says more than once that the law and everything in the OT taught of him and can only be fulfilled in him, Mat 5:17-18  "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished."  

The theme of a coming rest is seen throughout the Bible.  In Matthew 11 he alludes to it pretty clearly, Mat 11:28  "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Mat 11:29  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Mat 11:30  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  Notice that this rest doesn't mean that there won't be plenty to do.  We still are under a yoke and have a burden but his service is joyful and fulfilling and accomplished God's glory and our good.  

If we read through Hebrews 4 the writer makes is quite clear that there is a rest waiting for all who come by faith to the cross of Christ.  He compares it to the rest of God at creation.  So in the first creation God did a "good" work that provided a good rest for man but he sinned it away and has been feverishly working ever since to correct but to no avail because sinful man can't fix the problem by his own works.  In Christ, God has done another work, a perfect and final work and all who enter into this rest will have rest for their souls and can never be cast out as our first parents were.  

The Sabbath that the Bible always looked forward to and the only one we need to be concerned about is the rest through faith in the finished work of Christ.  The Sabbath as found in Exodus 20 was never meant to be some eternal binding principle but looked forward to the cross and it is in obedience to the gospel that we keep "Sabbath" as NT Christians.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Leprosy and Sin

Leprosy seems to be used in the Bible in a unique sense as an illustration of sin.  For one thing it is not said to be "healed" by Jesus but "cleansed".  I think the reason is because, like sin, the effect of leprosy seems to always be that it separated one from the covenant blessings and in particular it kept them from the temple and God's people so that they were ceremonially unclean and so unable to serve and worship God.  Whether it was Hansen's Disease or not and therefore deadly or some kind of contagious rash has been debated.  One reason is because we don't read of people dying from it and needing healing but declared unclean and needing cleansing.  In this sense it depicts one aspect of sin.  It contaminates everything it touches and ruins one's ability to serve the Lord.

It is interesting to compare some parallels between sin and Hansen's Disease which is what we usually think of when we think of leprosy.  Scientists have come to realize that the disease doesn't harm by causing the extremities to rot but that it causes numbness in the extremities and this in turn causes the real harm of leprosy.

In one case the man who is credited with understanding how leprosy works relates an instance which helped him understand leprosy.  He was trying to turn a key in an old rusty lock and was unable to do so.  Along came a boy of about ten he knew who was afflicted with leprosy and he asked if he could try.  To his surprise the boy instantly turned the key and opened the lock.  Upon further examination he realized that in the process of turning the key he had ripped open his finger all the way down to the bone but was unaware of it because his leprosy had destroyed his ability to feel any sensation.  Another account tells of a man who had gone blind due to leprosy.  For years he would wash his face with a washcloth dipped in water but didn't realize that the water was scalding hot.  So eventually it destroyed his eyesight.  One might step on a nail but because he feels no pain doesn't treat the wound and so it becomes infected and instead of healing it just gets worse and worse, the whole foot starts to rot and death can only be the eventual result.

It isn't hard to connect the dots from how leprosy works to one way that sin can destroy us.  Sin's primary side effect is for us to love self above all else including God.  Even the most mature saint battles constantly to put the honor of Christ first in everything he does and decision he makes.  Like leprosy, sin or pride gets in the way of properly evaluating things we come into contact with.  Much like the drug addict or alcoholic who is so infatuated with the physical pleasure of the drug or drink that he becomes insensitive to what it is slowly doing to his body and his life.

I think this can be applied to countless ways sin eats away at our lives.  Here is a spouse who because of sin becomes insensitive to the needs of his or her spouse.  In his daily interaction with his wife he fails to speak to her and treat her with the love God demands.  Such things cause the relationship to weaken until one day he realizes that his marriage is ruined.  How many then use the excuse of a bad marriage to justify adultery which just makes the whole problem worse.  It has always amazed me how people will allow problems between each other to go on for years causing all kinds of unnecessary friction instead of dealing with them early on before things get intolerable.  But it is pride and laziness and a general lack of any real concern for the Lord and each other that allows us to be numb to what is going on around us.  And then one day we wake up and wonder why our families and friends and the church isn't what it ought to be or at least why we don't seem to be able to get along with people as we ought.

The Bible says that we are to glorify the Lord in everything we do.  In other words, everything we come into contact with is to be used for one purpose, the Lord's service.  Sin's tendency is to cause us to see things as how they immediately benefit me!  And we can rest assured that this will cause us to use things wrongly and be harmed by them instead of using them properly and benefiting from them.

Perhaps how we deal with trials is a good example.  When we understand that they are from the Lord to shape us into useful servants and produce godliness in our lives we can endure them in light of this and by the power of God conquer them.  They become tools for our good.  But when our sinfulness has us consumed with our immediate comfort then we are easily reduced to complaining and bitterness and they render us incapable of victory.  Too much of this kind of spiritual apathy and pretty soon our lives can become open sores where everyone can see the results of sin instead of the image of Christ.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Our God Does Not Forget

We all know the story of Ahab and how sinful he was.  Perhaps nothing demonstrates his sin like when he allowed his wife Jezebel to kill Naboth so he could have his vineyard.  In 1 Kings Elijah makes it very clear that God would not let this go unpunished and the punishment in part would be that his dynasty would come to an ignominious end with the violent death of his descendents.

In 2 Kings 9 we see that God has not forgotten Ahab's sin and that now, through Jehu, the time has come for him to avenge his saints.  But what is wonderful to behold is the unmistakable irony and justice in which the Lord brings it to pass.  As Joram, Ahab's then reigning son, goes out to meet Jehu, presumably to see how the battle is going, he has no idea that Jehu has been commissioned to execute justice on Ahab's family.

But it is the matter-of-fact way the Lord tells us about this in his Word that I find so amazing and comforting.  In verse 21 we read that they "just happened" to meet next to Naboth's vineyard, "and met him at the property of Naboth the Jezreelite."  Lest the reader has forgotten of Ahab's despicable sin and God's promise of judgment, he causes the setting of the judgment to be at the very place that sums up the reason for Ahab's judgment.

One little phrase reminds us that nothing happens by chance, there are no coincidences in God's universe, everything has meaning and we are wise to think things through and live in light of the fact that this is our Father's world.  It is our primary duty to honor him in all things and those that will not can know that God knows their names, he has not forgotten their deeds and judgment is coming.

In light of this, this poor sinner is glad to be washed in the blood of Jesus for without the cross no man is prepared to meet this God who will judge all sin either in Christ or in those who remain obstinate.  He is One who will not forget the smallest of infractions against his holy character and yet is gracious to save all who trust in him.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Peace Christ Gives

In John 14 Jesus is giving his "last minute" instruction to his disciples.  He begins in the first three verses by saying that he is about to be crucified so that they would have a place secured in Heaven.  Then later in vs. 27 he says that he is leaving them his peace.  Later we learn that this will come through the indwelling Holy Spirit but what is rather amazing is the timing of these words.

If we were visiting an inmate that was about to be executed and his last words to us before being led off to his death was that he would like to give us something before he died and that something is the same kind of peace that was in his heart; what would we think?  Thanks, but no thanks?  We generally assume that one about to die and especially one about to die a slow, excruciating death would be barely able to keep his sanity.  He would be doing well to remain calm in any sense but certainly would be full of the fearful anticipation of what lies ahead.

We see from Jesus's prayer in the Garden that he did not relish the physical pain and especially the bearing of the wrath of God toward sinners that the cross would bring.  Yet his words in John 14:27 mean that he had a peace even on the eve of the crucifixion that was so perfect, so strong, so effective that it was this peace that he would give his people in this present age!

This peace is illustrated by his ability to sleep in a boat while his disciples panicked during the storm on the sea.  How did Jesus have peace in either of these situations that caused him to act completely different than his disciples?   In John 14 he says he didn't get it from anything sort of security that this world offers.  His peace came because he knew and could see what his disciples at that time could not.  It is not unlike the calmness and confidence one has as he walks through a room full of obstacles when the light is on compared to the fear and uncertainty he would have if the room was completely dark.

Simply put the peace that Jesus gives is the peace that the Holy Spirit works in us as the light of the knowledge of God grows brighter and brighter as we learn the Word of God.  And while much peace will come as we learn of what God is doing in his redemptive plan in human history as revealed by his word, I think perhaps the greatest source of peace for a saint comes in the clearest view of the sovereignty of God.

There are a great many passages that give us light of God's control over all things that should calm us in the worst of times.  Let me just point you to Hebrews, to one that we don't mention as often. "Heb 12:26  At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." Heb 12:27  This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of things that are shaken--that is, things that have been made--in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Heb 12:28  Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe."

The time is coming when God will destroy the physical universe and create them anew.  This means that everything in this world's days are numbered.  But the kingdom that we enter when God saves us cannot be shaken.  We are already in it, nothing can remove us, nothing can destroy us, nothing can defeat God's purposes in us!  If the disciples found themselves in that same boat in the same storm without Jesus but after Pentecost they would have no excuse not to have the same peace that enabled Jesus to sleep.  That does't mean that they should have slept and not rowed but it is the peace and trust in God while they rowed that would honor the Lord in that they put their trust in him more than they feared the storm.

After Pentecost I believe God would have expected the disciples not to cut and run at Jesus' arrest because they would have the same peace and faith that allowed Jesus to calmly and faithfully walk to the cross.  So yes, I want the peace of a dying man, the Man Christ Jesus.  I want the peace of Christ that causes me to trust in the goodness and power of God more than I fear this world

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Our Annual Bible Conference is Almost Here

The date for our conference is Sept.. 30-Oct. 2.  Each Speaker will speak each night and both on Sunday.  Services begin at 7 PM Friday and Saturday nights.  Attached is a copy of the brochure.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

This Syrian

As we were studying through 2 Kings 5 and Naaman the Leper I was struck with the way Gehazi referred to Naaman after Naaman clearly became a believer when he was cleansed from his leprosy.  After Elisha had made it clear that he would not accept gifts or payment from Naaman, Gehazi decides to take advantage of Naaman and pad his possessions by taking advantage of Naaman.  

It is the way he refers to Naaman that indicates to me the sinful heart of Gehazi.  You would think he would be amazed at the grace and mercy of God to save this pagan man.  But this is hardly Gehazi's attitude.  Instead of seeing him as a convert, as a brother and in particular a soul that has been snatched out of the flames of Hell, he continues to see him as an enemy as someone to use but not to love and serve.  He refers to him as "this Syrian".    His speech betrays a heart that is not wrapped up in the Lord and in people serving Him but he is only concerned with what affects him personally.

Does our speech betray defective hearts?  Do you find yourself referring to people in ways that are hateful and that clearly show that you see yourself as superior to them?  Even worse is when Christians see each other in this way.  Hopefully when we see or think of each other we see people that we love and want to know what their needs are; we don't just see someone to be used.  

Let it begin in the way we refer to each other.  Use terms of endearment because why should we refer to one another in the same way we address those outside the kingdom of God.  Not that we should address them hatefully or coldly but should not the way we speak to each other reflect a love and closeness that others can see and hear?  

Jesus says in John 13:35  "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."   Surely one way we show this love is by kindness in our speech and an attitude of service, not one of taking advantage.  We should look at each other as people that will spend eternity together and as sharing the most amazing thing in common, the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Oh Lord forgive us for not loving one another in the deepest of loves.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Thoughtful Response to God

God honoring and God pleasing worship cannot be manufactured by artificial means.  Whether you like formal music or more contemporary, whether you build a beautiful building and everyone dresses up or if you have a very liturgical order of service or even if you have a quiet atmosphere; these things aren't in themselves the worship of God.  They can aid in worship and should be addressed and have their place but potentially have nothing to do with worship.

As I was thinking through these things the expression that came to me was that worship is a thoughtful response to the revelation of God to our hearts and minds.  This is why Jesus told the Samaritan woman that those that worship God must do so in Spirit and Truth.  I believe the worship God seeks is for us to consider carefully his Word and respond properly to it out of a sincere love for his person.  If we do this properly his Truth will transform the way we think and live.  The atmosphere of the setting in which we hear his Word (church service) can either facilitate this or hinder it but the worship is when we hear from God and our hearts and minds are so struck by it that we can't leave the service the same as we came.

This happens all the time in the world when people read after their idols and seek to be like them.  Perhaps your idol is some business man who you want to pattern your business after and so you read everything you can from him.  Or suppose someone's idol is a movie star.  They are so consumed with that person that they study everything about him or her that they can; they watch every movie and they pattern their life after them or live vicariously through them.  This is what we were created to do towards the Lord.  To be so consumed with his person that we can't get enough of him, we can't hear enough of his Word and we can't do enough to please him.

When we sit in church or anywhere else and find fullness of life and satisfaction in learning of his glorious person and his glorious works and his redemption of sinners to the point that it transforms the way we think and live then we are giving him proper worship.  Emotion that comes from Truth is worshipful emotion.  Emotion that comes from man made music and atmospheres is not.  It might not be sinful but let's not confuse it with worshiping the Lord.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jonathan Edwards on Guilt and Fear

I thought these words from Jonathan Edwards, expanded on by John Piper are not only good but especially so in our age in which we deny Hell and are afraid of guilt.  Piper says in "The Supremacy of God in Preaching":

"The use of threat or warning in preaching to the saints is rare today for at least two reasons:  It produces guilt and fear, which are considered to be unproductive, and it seems theologically inappropriate because the saints are secure and don't need to be warned or threatened.  Edwards rejected both reasons.  'When fear and guilt correspond with the true state of things it is reasonable and loving to stir them up.  And the saints are only as secure as they are willing to give heed to biblical warnings and persevere in godliness.'"  "Let him who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall", 1 Cor. 10:12.

But Edwards realized that love was the highest motivator.  "Holy love and hope are more efficacious to make the heart tender and to fill it with a dread of sin than is the slavish fear of Hell."  Then Piper makes a great statement:

"Preaching about hell is never an end in itself.  You can't frighten anyone into heaven.  Heaven is for people who love purity, not for people who simply loathe pain."  Edwards is then quoted for balance:

"Some talk of it as an unreasonable thing to think to fright persons to heaven; but I think is is a reasonable thing to endeavor to fright persons away from hell - tis a reasonable thing to fright a person out of a house on fire."

When we see thirty youth walking into convenience stores at a predetermined time to causally steal whatever they want and then leave daring anyone to stop them we can be pretty sure they aren't sitting under the preaching of Hell, Fire and Damnation!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

He Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills

The other day I was considering Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 6.  Here Jesus says that we do not have to give ourselves over to taking care of the body or accumulating wealth for security since God is quite capable of providing for us.  This frees us up to focus on obeying and serving him even when it looks like doing so will put us into physical danger or need.

I was thinking of scriptures and songs that taught this and the song, “This Is My Father’s World” came to mind.  I also thought of the old song, “He Owns The Cattle On A Thousand Hills”.  But when I turned to Ps. 50 I noticed something interesting.  The context of this statement was not about God’s ability to provide for us but instead something equally if not more important.

Now to be sure, the fact that God owns all the earth and everything and everyone in it infers that we will be adequately provided for; so I don’t have a problem with this fact being used in the song to make this point.  But the context has to do with the silly and sinful notion that somehow we are impressing God or providing something for him when we bring a sacrifice to him.  The point is that some of the Israelites thought that the sacrifices were the end in themselves.  Evidently they thought that regardless of how sinful I am and how much my life is offensive to a holy God, as long as I bring him an animal he is happy. 

But God says in Ps. 50 that he already owns the animals.  They aren’t filling some need of his let alone pacifying his wrath against sin by offering a sacrifice to him that is already his to begin with.  He says, “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?”  They were failing to realize that these sacrifices couldn’t be the main point but that they pointed to something else.  In other words, the very nature of God should have caused them to realize that such pitiful “gifts” couldn’t actually make things right with God. 

What makes our lives acceptable to the Lord is that we live to honor him.    This is primarily shown in that we find our joy and fulfillment in knowing him.  To think that we can bribe him with something that is his just makes our sin more apparent; it does nothing to attain forgiveness and fellowship.  He goes on to say that while you are bribing me you continue to walk in ways that I hate. 

Unlike all false gods, the True God isn’t satisfied as long as we jump through a series of moral or ritualistic hoops that he has arbitrarily set up.  The only thing that proves that we love him is that we long to be like him.  These Israelites were not interested in hearing what God had to say since they "hated discipline and cast his words behind them"; they were pleased when they saw people doing evil; they spent their time with the wicked; they gossiped and slandered and threw God a dead animal now and then as if God was so low, petty and shallow that he would be satisfied with this.

But he gives us a weighty warning in vs. 21, “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. Psa 50:22  "Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! Psa 50:23  The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!"

First of all anything we do and say that suggests that God is like us is wrong.  This happens a lot in our day when people suggests that God is evil or unjust in some way because he doesn’t express his love and justice the way we think he should.  Railing against the providence of God is bringing his wrath upon you at worst and refusing to rejoice always at best. 

Then he says to get his next point because if you don’t you are in danger of his eternal wrath.  He is much more concerned with what is going on inside your heart than the religious activity.  The sacrifices he wants are the ones that arise from hearts full of thanksgiving and worship.  But then he balances this out.  He did not make humans with two parts, a body and a soul, that can be viewed separately as if they can live independently from each other.  What makes us human is that they cannot be independent.  We cannot let our body do what it wants and pretend that this doesn’t arise from within.  So he finishes by saying that the one who is right on the inside will be right on the outside. 

We cannot live an ungodly life and be clean on the inside.  On the other hand, good works and religious activity won’t clean up an evil heart.  When the Lord saves us he gives us a new heart or a new nature and this necessitates a new walk.  Perhaps Romans 6:4 says it as well as anywhere,  “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  Lest we think salvation is just positional and doesn’t have to affect the way we live in vs. 6-7 he adds some commentary, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

There are two things that the Old and New Testaments teach exactly the same; salvation is by grace alone and it comes with a new heart.  Nowhere does it teach that we can earn it or continue to live as we did before once we have it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pristine Societies

The other day I came across a video on the internet about a Amazon tribe that was supposedly one of the last people on earth to be exposed to “civilization”.  Of course, the premise was that they were better off left alone and great care was being taken to leave them that way lest they be “corrupted” by modern civilization.  For this to be true certain presuppositions have to be true. 

First of all evolution and naturalism must be true.  One must suppose that the highest level of life is achieved by living close to nature and that having to live in a society that has pollution and is given over to greed and materialism is far worse than living in poverty and at least the air is clean and none of western civilization’s social mores are ruining your life.  Along with this is the presupposition that there is nothing after death and so if one can eke out a few peaceful years on earth nothing more can be hoped for.

What such presuppositions fail to take into consideration is that isolation from western society while protecting from a few things also quarantines one from the gospel.  Thus a society left alone condemns everyone to a Christless eternity.  We might also add that while modern society certainly has a lot to be ashamed of and is full of crime, avarice, pollution and all sorts of corruption, supposedly pristine societies are no better.  Watch any “nature” show and you will see them living in filth, poverty, rampant disease and as much violence and moral decay as seen anywhere.

The reason is obvious.  “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God”.  You can take a few godly souls and put them on a deserted island but soon their society will be as evil as any before it (read the American experience).  It is popular to depict the Native Americans as peaceful cultures that lived close to the earth and had a healthy respect for the land and that the White man spoiled it all.  For sure, the Europeans acting out their sinful ways treated them unfairly and in many cases cruel and inhumane, but their cultures treated themselves the same way.  But with all the bad that happened to them so also came the gospel. 

This won’t mean much to those who see religion as part of the problem and have no idea who God is but to those Indians who were saved, without the invasion of the Europeans they would have no hope of salvation.  Sin is sin and nothing can justify mistreating our fellow man but let’s be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that anyone is better off being left alone, isolated from the world.  If we hear of a tribe who has never seen anyone from the outside world then pray that the Lord of the Harvest would send the gospel to them.

Yes, in a few years they might be driving cars, dealing with smog and watching television but at least they have the opportunity to hear of Christ.  It is only after the world contacts these people that we have any hope that there is any elect among them.  Their greatest danger isn’t modernity with all its social ills; it is to never hear that Jesus Christ came to earth to save sinners.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sorry, But We Do Not Have A Free Will

One of the problems we face today when speaking to people about the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man is correcting the view that man has a free will.  We need to be very clear about what the Bible teaches about free will; no one has one except God.  Yes, man was originally created with one but lost it in the Fall.

The Bible is clear about this.  For instance, in Rom. 3 the Word of God says that no man seeks after God or is capable of doing any good thing.  Now think about this.  If I am by nature incapable of doing good then I am incapable of choosing to do good.  My will is corrupted in some way in which I cannot choose to do good.  It would be better to say that I cannot do good because I will not do good because I don’t want to do good. 

One might think within himself, “Wait just a minute, I am free to think and choose whatever I want to. No one is telling me what to think.  When I get up in the morning I am free to pursue whatever I want.  If I want to choose God I can and if I don’t want to, I won’t.”  One reason people have a hard time understanding free will is because they don’t detect any force or influence in their minds expect their own will. 

But to claim the freedom of the will to do either good or wrong is akin to saying that a dog has the freedom to bark or not.  There is a fundamental problem with this logic.  A dog does not have the freedom to choose between barking or meowing or mooing because he is a dog by nature.  Thus he is incapable of doing anything other than being a dog and dogs bark. 

Romans 3 is saying that this applies to humans as well.  We are by nature sinners and so the only thing we are capable of doing is sinning.  To insist on being able to exercise our will in a way that chooses God or obeys him is to insist to be able to do what sinners cannot do. 

One way fallen man has made this confusing is by changing the definition of sin and righteousness.  We redefine sin and lower God’s standards so that it appears that we are doing things that please him but we have only set ourselves up as the standard which means that everything we do is in rebellion to the Lord. 

Rom 6:17 says, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.”  Here is another place where we learn that before God gives us a new nature we were under bondage to sin.  For the natural man to claim to have a will that is free is to claim to be his own boss independent of his sin nature.  But if the will is under bondage to sin, then it is not free; there is no third option, you are either free or a slave; you are either in jail or out of jail.  One cannot be in a middle position. 

It will be much easier to understand and explain the Bible when we don’t start with unbiblical presuppositions.  Understanding that we are totally corrupted by and in bondage to sin will immediately cause us to realize that we are totally dependent on God for every step of salvation.  And this is true of the rest of life also.  We need him each step of the way for without him we can do nothing; nothing but sin that is.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Who Did Jesus Understand Himself To Be?

Mar 10:19  You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" Mar 10:20  And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." Mar 10:21  And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."

James White made an interesting point the other day speaking about the rich, young ruler.  In seeking to expose the fact that he was a law breaker and in particular an idolater Jesus tells him that in order to inherit eternal life he must keep God’s Law perfectly.  This young man does what so many have done before and after him.  He assumes that because he has not grossly broken the second table of the law he is not guilty of the first commandment. 

This got me to thinking.  Jesus starts off with the easier ones then finishes by showing that this man loves himself more than God because he is not willing to part with life’s pleasures for the sake of Christ.  Ultimately Jesus is teaching us that no poor attempts of law keeping are going to save anyone.  In order to inherit eternal life one must trust fully on Christ alone.  But first one has to realize that we are all lawbreakers regardless of how good you think you are.

So I think the beauty of Jesus’ words here is not that he moves from the law to himself because he doesn’t.  He is going to show this man that he is a law breaker and he is still referring to the 10 Commandments.  If I can paraphrase Jesus’ words I think he is in essence saying, “Okay, you think you have kept the 10 Commandments because you have kept from treating your fellowman cruelly.  Let’s cut to the chase.  The first commandment is that you shall have no other gods before me.”  (This Jesus more clearly explains means that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.)

Now the amazing thing.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Are you willing to forsake all for Yahweh”, he says “Are you willing to forsake all for me!”  The question here is whether this man has broken the law and Jesus equates his love for Yahweh with his love for Jesus.  If the First table of the Law can be summed up in total love and allegiance to Yahweh and Jesus says in order to have eternal life one must give total allegiance to the Son, then it seems the obvious conclusion must be that Jesus is God.

Jesus is commanding this man to forsake all and follow only him.  If Jesus isn’t God then he is in essence commanding him to break the very first and greatest commandment.  Perhaps another way of putting it is that it is impossible to keep the commands of God unless one follows Christ as God.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Heavenly Obedience

We have been considering the Lord’s Prayer in Mathew 6.  While I was preparing the sermon on God’s will being done on earth as it is in Heaven I thought of a couple of places where we might get a glimpse of his will being done in Heaven.  We have all heard messages on how God’s will is done in Heaven and how our obedience should mirror the obedience of the angels in glory.  His will is no doubt done immediately, it is done totally, it is done by all, etc.  And these are certainly important things to consider as we examine our lives.

I believe a case could be made that it is also done eagerly.  If our God is perfect in his wisdom and goodness then any commands he gives must be for the most glorious purposes and we should be eager and joyful in our response or we are demonstrating a lack of faith in his perfectly glorious person.

So where are these examples?  How about the first chapter in Ezekiel?  Here the Cherubim are described for us.  In verse 9 we read, “Their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went.”  As we read through the chapter we see that this is mentioned quite a bit and seems somewhat obvious as to why.  Here are the verses:

Eze 1:12  And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.
Eze 1:14  And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning.
Eze 1:17  When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went.
Eze 1:25  And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.

The text seems to emphasize their quickness in obeying the Lord and at least one advantage of having four sides was that they didn’t even have to take the time to turn in another direction.  There was absolutely no delay in doing the Lord’s will!  To me this speaks of eagerness; anything that would cause delay should be removed so we are unencumbered.  This is pretty much what Hebrews 12:1 is teaching when it says lay aside every weight that would slow us down in serving the Lord.  It all goes back to what our most pressing desires are. 

In Ezekiel 1:25 it says that when God spoke they stopped moving, let down their wings and listened to him.  They were never to forget that the important thing was not what they were doing but who they were doing it for. 

This verse made me think of Matthew 18:10, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”  I thought it was interesting that these “guardian” angels were described as always looking at the face of the God in the discharge of their duty to protect their charges.  (Let’s assume anyway that this is what guardian angels do.  I can’t say that I have a handle on guardian angels.) 

If we asked someone to babysit our children and they were occupied with a boyfriend or the TV while they were babysitting we would assume they were not doing their job very well.  But remember that God does not need angels to look after us; it is his ordained way of caring for us to some degree.  Their first duty is not to care for us as they see best but to do so in accordance to the will of God.  Thus the glorious truth of what Jesus is saying besides the fact that even children have the attention and care of the Lord is that nothing happens to us that is outside of God’s will for us because the angels have one concern only; to care for us as the Lord would have it.  So their focus is not on us but on hearing from God. 

When we pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, let’s be careful that we aren’t only concerned with governments and others.  It is first a prayer that in our lives God’s will is honored above all else and may God help us to do so eagerly and joyfully.  Any delay or complaining or souring of our attitudes is not the obedience his nature deserves.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Crux of the Gospel

I was listening to James White the other day and I thought he made a point worth sharing.  He was comparing the way the Apostles presented the gospel to the way many have come to present it in our day.  We tend to start with the sinner and ask him if he wants to go to Heaven or not.  We make it mostly about his escaping Hell and he can escape if he asks Jesus to save him. Of course, all of this has to do with the gospel message but if we study the way the Apostles presented it, it comes across with a different emphasis.

I started reading in the book of Acts to confirm this since I was raised with the mindset that the main question is whether we are going to Hell or not and what I find supports White’s point.  We don’t read of the Apostles going around asking people if they wanted to escape Hell or not.  They for the most part just proclaimed the fact that Jesus has been appointed Lord of all through his death and resurrection and that everyone had better submit to him and it is this submitting to him as Lord that brings salvation.

In Acts 2 we read of Peter speaking of the significance of the crucifixion but his emphasis isn’t on how this atones for our sins but how it is the means to his exaltation as Lord, “Act 2:34  For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, Act 2:35  until I make your enemies your footstool.' Act 2:36  Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." Act 2:37  Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"  

The inference is that Jesus Christ is our judge and since these men had a part in his death they were not ready to meet him but all Peter does is lay out Jesus as Lord and the Holy Spirit did the rest.  He certainly does not lead them in a rendition of the “sinner’s prayer”.

In Acts 3 especially starting in vs. 17 Peter again refers to their murdering Jesus and points out that he is the Author of life.  The inference is that they have rebelled against their creator and in vs. 18 they need to repent and turn again.  In other words submit to him if they are to be saved.  He then reminds them of Moses’ words that God would raise up a prophet like him that they “had better listen to” and if they didn’t listen to him they would be destroyed.  Acts 17 is interesting in this light as well.  Paul doesn’t begin by talking about the cross and that Christ died for their sins since no one in Athens knew anything of this and wouldn’t have understood its significance.  He mainly speaks of the fact that God is Lord and Creator; his Son is the appointed Judge proven via the cross and resurrection and all had better repent of their sin and believe in or submit to him.

I am not saying that the Apostles didn’t speak of the atoning work of the cross or that they never mentioned Hell but do you see where the emphasis is compared to a lot of what goes on today?  It is on the Lord of glory and our duty to acknowledge him as such.  It isn’t on us and our need of eternal life and the escape from Hell.  Eternal life in heaven is seen as the result of salvation not the goal of salvation.  To them the goal of salvation was having a right relationship with Jesus, not just as savior but as Lord.

The effect of salvation is to get us on our knees in obedience to Christ, not just to get us justified so we continue to live as we want.  If we apply this to the Lordship Salvation controversy of recent years one can’t help but think that those that take the side that one doesn’t have to acknowledge Jesus as Lord to be saved have missed the point of the gospel entirely and are in danger of preaching a false gospel.  Is the crux of the gospel Jesus as Lord or is it us having eternal life?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hope, Coveting and Contentment

I was reading a discussion on the difference between hope and coveting and thought there are interesting points to make and I will interject the subject of contentment since this is involved in the question I believe.  First of all, to avoid confusion it is always good to define our terms.  Biblical hope is an unrealized promise from God, Heb 11:1  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  It is promised to us, it is legitimately ours; we just don’t have it yet.

Coveting in the Bible usually has a negative connotation because of the 10th Commandment, but it means to desire something greatly.  It doesn’t have to be used in a negative sense such as, “I covet your prayers”.  The sin comes in when we desire either something that God has told us is not ours to have such as our neighbor’s wife or to desire something inordinately.  Sinful coveting is to desire something so much that we aren’t content with the lot God has given us.  This can create some problems then because if God hasn’t given us something then should we desire anything we do not have?

Let’s go back to the subject of our Blessed Hope.  It is clear that we are to desire for the Lord to come back and to be with God in Heaven.  Is this to covet something that we do not have and so to be discontent with God’s providence?  I think the answer is clear.  Otherwise Paul is sinning in 2Co 5:2,  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling”.  The issue is whether it is godly desires that honor him or selfish desires that do not have the Lord in mind.  Paul had a measure of discontent because he wanted to experience the fullness of the glory of God and it isn’t possible while we remain in this sinful flesh.

There are many things as Christians that we should covet; godliness, growth in the Lord, Christ honored in our lives.  And I would say that many times we do not covet these things as much as we should.  Being content in Christ doesn’t mean that we just sit back and lose all interest in things and are just glad we are saved and could care less about everything else.  It is possible and necessary to be quite content in all that Jesus is to us and yet understand that there are many things that we are lacking and need in our lives.  I suppose it is a paradox to some degree but not too difficult to understand if we stop and think about it. 

But let’s think about one way this might work out in our thinking.  Is it wrong for me to desire or covet a car that I don’t have?  I think we can see that in some way if we don’t on some level want something we don’t have (read paycheck for example) we won’t accomplish anything at all.  At the root of whether this is a sin or not is that basic question, “Why do you want what you want”?  If you want it for prestige sake or because your selfishness won’t allow you to be content and happy in the Lord without it, then it is easy to see that sinful desires are involved.

On the other hand, if your car isn’t doing the job and buying it won’t stop you from serving the Lord then that is different.  (Obviously there are a lot of other considerations but hopefully the point is made).  Perhaps a better example would be food.  We are to be content with enough food to live on but three times a day I begin to covet, lust maybe, for it.  Overall I am content with the food I have.  It is not my portion to eat as the rich do and that is ok with me but I am not content if I do not have that portion allotted to me.

The point is that desire doesn’t mean that we aren’t content in the Lord but our desires need to constantly be examined in light of scripture and as a measure of our love and contentment of Christ.  1 John 3:3 says, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”  Sin causes a certain amount of discontentment in this life that can only be alleviated in our glorified state.  To be perfectly contented in this life would mean that we are contented with our sinfulness to some degree.

When Paul said that he had learned to be content in every situation that didn’t mean that he didn’t have unrealized goals and desires but every desire had the glory of Christ as its basis.  Certainly hope, coveting and contentment have a place in our lives but like everything else, meditation on the Word of God gives us direction.