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."

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Do We Vent or Pray?

Exo 5:22  Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, "O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me?
Exo 5:23  For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all."
Exo 6:1  But the LORD said to Moses, "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land."

The above passage is an example of a poor prayer.  If we are truthful, all of us have prayed equally as badly when we think that we know better than God and care about people more than he does.  Yet Moses and no one else in the Bible is ever chided for coming to the Lord with their needs or questions, in fact, we are commanded to do so; “Pray without ceasing”.  As we see in the next verse, the Lord intends to correct Moses’s approach to his problems by trusting in God, not by accusing God of doing something evil.  But even when our faith and prayers are weak and misguided, prayer is necessary and good.  So Moses isn’t chided but neither does the Lord let his prayer go unchallenged.

The great heroes of the faith in the Bible always kept a line of communication open with God; they weren’t in the habit of going to some man to do their praying for them.  We are a kingdom of priests which expressly means that we are free from going through another man.  We can go to God through Christ.  Isn’t that better than having to go through a priest or even your pastor who can never care for you like Jesus and who have no power to help you anyway?  Isn’t it better to be able to pray at any time rather than hoping that I will remember to pray on your behalf?

Asking God why is not sinful providing it is asked honestly and faithfully looking to God for help.  Even weak prayers are not condemned but God uses them to communicate to us.  I think this brings in another good reason for us to have a healthy prayer life.  The world knows that suppressing things is not good; things need to be vented.  The problem is they don’t know how to vent properly.  One popular method of venting is to take your frustrations out on something, like punching a pillow or screaming at the top of your lungs.  If we stop and think about this for a moment we can soon see how foolish and unhelpful this really is.

First of all it isn’t helping the problem.  At best it releases some tension but only for a while because the problem is still there with all its anxiety.  It is also quite self-centered as it exposes someone who can’t handle things when they don’t go in a way that pleases them.  It is merely an adult throwing a socially acceptable temper tantrum.  It is what someone who doesn’t have God on their side does because they really have no recourse for help.  So they are saying that I can’t have my way and I am going to let everyone know that I am not happy.  Fine, but now what?  You haven’t fixed anything and you haven’t dealt with it in a way that will bring peace and certainly not bring honor to the Lord.

Yes, we were designed to vent our frustrations and needs and we can do so by talking things out.  We were made to find relief through prayer to the only One who can help us in a meaningful way and One who loves and cares for us better than anyone else. 

God answers Moses’s prayer by pointing to himself and his power and purpose.  Instead of yelling and throwing a hissy fit because we aren’t getting our way, we can hand things over to the Lord who has told us that everything has a purpose that will ultimately end up for our good.  If there is any piece of knowledge that is more helpful than that, then I would like to hear it.  Talking things out with the Father who has been brought near to us through Jesus’s work, is the only God-honoring effective way to “release tension”; to deal with problems and find peace and comfort in a world in which we “will have tribulation”.  God made us and knows what we need better than we do.  Useful, saving, true faith takes him at his word and rests in his providence. 

Do our prayers reflect faith or accusations like Moses’s did?  One will bring peace, the other will just bring more frustration.




Friday, July 14, 2017

Are We Like Moses or Isaiah?

Exo 4:10  But Moses said to the LORD, "Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue." Exo 4:11  Then the LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Exo 4:12  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak." Exo 4:13  But he said, "Oh, my Lord, please send someone else."

There are a lot of wonderful things to learn from Moses.  No doubt he becomes a great example of a leader who loves his people so much he is willing to die for them.  But like most OT characters there are some lessons to learn that teach us how not to serve the Lord.  The above text is one example.

Few people ever got to meet God, let alone see some aspect of his glory, like Moses did.  While he will see a greater glimpse of God’s glory later on, he has certainly had an amazing revelation of God at the burning bush where among other things he was told the Lord’s name that demonstrated his eternality and self-sufficiency.  But it is precisely because of this encounter with God that the above text stands out.  He soon forgets how glorious the Lord is and asks to be excused from doing what the Lord wants him to do using the excuse that he is insufficient to perform the task. 

This text is sometimes entitled by preachers as “Here I am, send somebody else”.  It is an astoundingly good example of how we are so quick to live by sight and not by faith even when we are given an actual physical demonstration of God’s glory.  Moses has not only seen some of God’s glory in the burning bush but has seen three amazing miracles of his power and yet he can only look at himself and conclude that he can’t obey God because God has not gifted him with the abilities necessary to perform the work. 

Of course, Moses’ failure is that he looks at himself and not the revelation of God.  We easily see ourselves in this because we are experts at making excuses as to why we can’t obey the Lord due to circumstances all around us.  We justify our depressions and unloving attitudes because of things that have happened conveniently forgetting that God allowed those things in order to train and strengthen us, not as an excuse to think only about ourselves and disregard his calling.  We take it upon ourselves to decide that God failed to give us the required gifts needed for a certain task or service even though he clearly commands us to do it.  It is good for us to consider that such thinking is actually an attack on the wisdom of God.  We know that God sees it as such by his response in vs. 11 when he essentially says that Moses is blaming God because God gave him his mouth.

To me, the lesson that screams out from this account is that the Lord is sufficient for us and that nothing is impossible if the Lord commands it.  Case in point: Luk 1:36  And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. Luk 1:37  For nothing will be impossible with God."  If God can cause an elderly woman have a baby then we immediately are without excuses when it comes to doing whatever the Lord would have us do.  Vs. 37 makes it clear that nothing is impossible “with God”.  Nothing God calls us to do is impossible because he will supply the strength.  All things are impossible without God.

Finally, there is an interesting parallel between Moses and Isaiah.  Like Moses, Isaiah also was given an amazing glimpse of God in his glory.  He also saw that in comparison he was a ruined sinner who needed grace, Isa 6:5  And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"  Like Moses he was given a task to take a message to people who would not want to hear God’s Word and would not respond properly.

But the difference between Moses and Isaiah is that when God asked was there anyone up for the task Isaiah says, “Here I am, send me!”  His vision of God encouraged him that he could do the most difficult of tasks.  Moses, upon seeing how little he was compared to God, kept his eyes on himself and so naturally didn’t believe he could do anything.  Thankfully the Lord works with Moses until his confidence (faith) is in God and not in his own abilities.

May the Lord give us a vision of himself in his Word that we abandon all excuses and by faith remove all mountains as we give ourselves totally to his glorious power.  Will we be like Isaiah, eager to obey, or like Moses and blame God for not making us like we think he should have?

Friday, June 23, 2017

For the Sake of Your Prayers

1Pe 4:7  The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

This is an interesting verse in its motivation of prayer to be self-controlled and sober-minded.  We probably would think that we should exercise self-control and sober-mindedness in order to be godly and effective in service or to save ourselves from fleshly addictions and so on.  But here Peter exhorts us to be vigilant for the sake of our prayers.

I see two ways to take this.  He could mean that we need to be careful to be godly so that our prayers will be heard.  This would be in keeping with chapter 3:7 where he tells husbands to live in an understanding way with their wives so their prayers are not hindered.  This is assumed to mean that God won’t answer your prayers if you are living in known sin especially in your relationship with your wife.  I think there is something to be said about this interpretation but there also might be more here than just having our prayers heard; especially in the text above.

Perhaps Peter is thinking back to the night of Jesus’ betrayal when instead of praying he and the other disciples slept.  It is clear from the Gospel accounts that the disciples had no clue as to what Jesus was about to face in his cross work.  It is also clear that Peter was overconfident in the flesh as seen in his encounter with the girl where he ended up denying Jesus three times.  He does this after promising the Lord that he would never deny him. 

So as they enter the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks them to pray with him but they are not being vigilant, sober-minded, and self-controlled because they are not aware of the danger they and the Lord were in.  They are overcome with the flesh as they grow weary and instead of praying they pamper the body with sleep.  There is nothing wrong with sleep, of course, but in this case prayer and the sustaining power of God both in their lives and their Master’s was much more needed.

So perhaps the point Peter is making in 4:7 is not to be diligent in godliness so that God will answer our prayers but more so that we will recognize how important praying is and be vigilant to pray often.  Too often we look at prayer as the last resort; “When all else fails, pray!”  But I think we are better off to be proactive and always be praying and anticipating our needs rather than walking through life unaware of the enemies of the flesh and our souls.  Had the disciples not been “intoxicated” with a kingdom in which they had positions of honor over their enemies and had they been more in tune with the will of Jesus they would have realized how important prayer was that fateful night.  Instead they run; they deny; they fear and the only thing that gets them through all this was that Jesus prays for them that their faith will not fail. 

Peter’s point then could be that we have to see life as it really is; to have a biblical worldview.  God uses our payers to keep us dependent on him and his Word.  We are told to prayer constantly, 1Th 5:17  pray without ceasing, because we are dependent on the Lord at all times for everything.  When we have the mindset that God just wants me to be happy and have ease and health and things, we will not have any real need to pray and seek God’s face, his help and his will.  At best our prayers will be a quick prayer at meal time because we have no real sense of our need for his power.  

Part of godliness and successful service is having an attitude of prayer.  It isn’t a last resort, it is how God sends his power and blessings to us so we can be effective for him.  If we aren’t vigilant and spiritually minded, we will not be effective and constant prayers.  In fact, we might not pray much at all.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Five Talent and Two Talent Saints

Mat 25:20  And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.'
Mat 25:21  His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'

1Co 3:12  Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—1Co 3:13  each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 1Co 3:14  If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.

The Bible doesn’t give us a whole lot of details as to what the reward system for saints will be in eternity.  It does make it clear that there will be reward and that it will be according to our service in this life which would radically affect most of us if we actually lived with this in mind.  But beyond that God has willed that we be left in the dark as to most of the details.  He has given us some clues as to how to please him and that has mostly to do with our motivations.  Reward will come when we do all things out of thanksgiving and to glorify the Lord that we love.  This is why love fulfills the law or God’s will for us.

But I got to thinking about the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 and the difference between the one who was given 5 talents and the one given 2.  The one given 1 talent was an unbeliever which separates him from the first two but I was thinking about what is the difference between the 5 talent guy and the 2 talent guy.

Growing up listening to the preacher this passage was usually approached by the English play on the word “talent”, so that it was seen as the different talents or abilities or gifts God has given us. While some have more than others, the point was to be faithful in what God has given you small or great.  I wouldn’t argue that this is an application. 

But I wonder if the “gifts” are seen in the “abilities” later in the verse; “To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.”  It seems that the gifts God have given us are implied in the abilities, and the talents are given in light of the way God has made each of us.  Maybe instead of reading it, “He gave gifts to each according to their gifts”, we might understand it, “He gave each opportunities to invest in the kingdom according to the gifts he had already given them”.

Now let me try to explain why this distinction might matter.  I think I have tended to apply this to the amount of “talents” each of us have.  So I look at someone who is a gifted communicator or singer or one who has been given a big income as having perhaps more talents than the rest of us.  And so they have more to work with and have the potential for greater reward.  I am fine with that since God can do with each of us as he sees fit and whatever God does is not only perfectly just but is much better than we deserve anyway.

But instead of thinking of it primarily as “talents” or gifts which might be implied in the word “ability”; I think it applies better to opportunities for investment which is how the Lord uses it in the text.  The extra talent or two that some get might be the situations to serve the Lord that many of us don’t get.  The 5 talent saint isn’t the gifted preacher who sits in his air-conditioned office sipping freshly brewed coffee while he tries to find Scriptural application for his people who are making good money and have relatively few outward problems.  There is nothing wrong with this because this is where God has placed him and he is to be faithful in that setting.  Except for the gifted part I find myself in the same situation.  But because being a Christian costs some of us so little, I wonder if at best most of us in the West are the 2 talent servants and the 5 talent ones are those that have much bigger investment opportunities than we will ever have?

I think about faithful saints who live in places where being a Christian is dangerous and yet while they try to be faithful in danger they also have to deal with poverty and all that goes with bad health care and inadequate nourishment, etc.  They have all the gifts that we do but their opportunities to display the power of God in their gifts are much more than most of us have.  I think these are the saints that are the 5 talent saints and their reward will be greater, and rightly so, than those whose faith didn’t cost them nearly as much.

Maybe instead of thinking of these “talents” as my ability to sing or teach or give or whatever, we need to start asking ourselves if we are willing to use them when it actually costs us something.  How many saints deal with loneliness or life with an abusive or uncaring spouse, or constant pain, or never knowing where the money for their next meal is coming from or are treated like fools because they profess Christ?  How many live in areas where they might be arrested or tortured or killed because of their Faith?  To me, these are the 5 talent saints who will have the most reward in glory among the saints.  We all will be faithful but some have had much more difficult situations to be faithful in than some.

If God has put us in the place of the 2 talent saints then that is fine.  Let us be faithful with what we have and we too will receive the “Well done, good and faithful servant”.  But let’s not glory in our gifts and privilege but in how well we honor the Lord when life is hard and when people are difficult.  Let us count it all glory to suffer for his sake.  Not just by singing and preaching in our comfortable churches but at home and at work when we are surrounded by the enemy and yet can testify to the goodness of God when it actually costs us something.  I think sometimes we lose reward because we are happy to serve when it is comfortable and convenient but we balk and complain when all of the sudden the Lord takes away our comfort and we don’t understand because we think we deserve it. 

Maybe what the Lord is doing is giving us another “talent” or better opportunity to use our gifts.  Displaying our gifts in church or when everyone is saying “amen” is one thing but I would think the greater reward is getting down in the trenches and ministering to people whose lives are messy and make us uncomfortable.  It is interacting with people who don’t love the Lord and don’t understand why we do.  Maybe American Christians are about to be given more “talent” opportunities than they have had in the past by living in a society that hates God and his Word.  The question is will we embrace this new “talent” or complain about it?  Will we hide them because they are difficult or invest them for the Kingdom of God?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Rebellion and Failure of Feminism

1Pe 2:13  Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,
Eph 5:21  submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.   Wives and Husbands Eph 5:22  Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
Eph 5:25  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

In my last article I spoke on how submission to authority is a must for one to live a godly life and be great in the Kingdom of God.  I wanted to add a little to that in this blog but come at it more from the marriage relationship.

It is common for feminists to decry any form of submission of the wife to her husband as indicating that she is in some way inferior to him.  In part many men have reinforced this idea because they treat women as inferior.  But in actuality this is a fundamental error in thinking and in understanding what the Bible is after when it tells wives to submit to their husbands.  There is never in God’s Word any indication that women are ontologically inferior to men; that is in their humanity they are different than men but equal as human beings.  Their submission is for order in society and their protection; it is not a statement that men are superior and neither is it a statement that men can always do a better job at things that they are to lead in.

Feministic ideas fail because at their heart is the refusal to submit to any authority and especially God’s.  They are inconsistent because they don’t apply their rebellion equally when it comes to authority.  For example, does the fact that we are all commanded to obey the government mean that we are inferior to government officials?  Is the employee inferior to his boss?  No, and it is not unusual for a boss to be incompetent or at least unable to do his job better than some of his employees.  But the fact is that everyone can’t be the boss, everyone can’t be the foreman, the President, or the school teacher.  And in the same way the home needs a leader and God has given the husband and father that responsibility.  Whether his wife can do some of it better has nothing to do with who is to be the head of the home.  If a man is a good leader he will recognize when his wife is more or at least as gifted as he is in some area and give her the freedom to help him.  It is just like a good boss looks for those under him who can help him do his job and why a good President fills his Cabinet with people who are more qualified than him in certain areas.  As a leader his job is to make it all work for the good of the country.

A godly wife understands that she has been given her husband’s leadership from the Lord for her good and even though it is sometimes difficult to obey him, she does so within the biblical parameters because anarchy and butting heads is good for no one.  If her husband makes her feel inferior then that is on him and as the leader he will answer for that and this gives us all the ability to suffer under bad leadership.  I might be able to run the country better than the President but I am not the President so my job is to submit and the same goes for a wife even as we understand that each sphere of authority the submission is different and there aren’t one to one correlations.  In other words, the authority and consequences of rebellion are different from government to school to work place to home.

Someone put it well.  “For a marriage to be what it should be both spouses need to love the same Man, the God/Man Christ Jesus.  Without that both leadership and submission is much more likely to be guided by selfishness." This is especially true for the husband who is to lead for the good of his wife.  To fail here will lead to unneeded stress in the relationship at best and tyranny and abuse at worst.

A good illustration of this is when Jesus impresses on Peter the need for him to feed the sheep in John 21.  He doesn’t try to motivate Peter by asking if Peter loved the sheep; he asks three times if he loved his Lord.    Joh 21:17  He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.  If Peter loves the Lord he will take his responsibility to tend the sheep much more seriously than if he saw the sheep as existing for himself.

Here is a fundamental lesson for all of us.  Keep our love for the Lord warm and our love and interaction with others will be where it needs to be. 



Friday, March 31, 2017

Being Great in the Kingdom

1Pe 2:18  Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 1Pe 2:19  For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.
1Ti 6:1  Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 1Ti 6:2  Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things.

Without question these are some of the most difficult passages in the Bible to understand and especially to apply; and I could have quoted several more that say the same thing.  The entire theme of 1 Peter is submitting to authority and unfair treatment in order to serve and glorify the Lord.  The above passages are difficult because we are taught that this applies even if you find yourself as a slave.  In the 1 Timothy passage it says to serve well even if your master is a Christian! 

In our day such statements would be dismissed out of hand without any fair consideration at all.  But to a saint these words are from God and must be taken seriously regardless of how the lost or we feel initially.  Let me try to make a little sense of these statements.  This is a subject that cannot possibly be addressed fully in a brief article but I hope to point out a few things that show why this shouldn’t offend us but in fact these are some of the most practical passages in all of the Bible.

First we must remember that the slavery found in NT times was not racial slavery nor what we refer to as the sex trade of our day.  That is not to say that some of that didn’t go on then but this type of slavery was primarily slaves of war and it was part and parcel of the Roman Empire.  It was a fact of life that one had to be able to deal with to live within the Roman Empire.  The “slavery” of the OT Law was really just a welfare system.  When people try to discredit the Bible by saying that God commanded slavery they are trying to associate God with the racial slavery of more recent times and that is a clear attempt to deceive and we should make that very clear. 

Such “slavery” is offensive today because people think that they should be able to do whatever they want with no consequences; even run up bills they can’t pay and their creditors should just forgive them.  The idea that they should be held accountable and become a servant of sorts until their debt is paid off would never cross their mind.  But that is more of an indictment of the moral character of our day than a problem with the Law God gave Israel.  I think a case could be made that it would be better to be an indentured servant and have clothes, food and lodging than a bag, lady sleeping in a cardboard box on the street.

But as to our main point; we might ask ourselves why does the Bible not make any direct statements against slavery?  And not only that but why does it tell slaves to serve their masters well and masters to treat their slaves well?  Isn’t slavery wrong and if so why don’t we see a clear denunciation of it?  Let me suggest what I believe to be the main answer to these questions. 

The answer is because there is a very practical reason why the Bible doesn’t get involved in politics and really doesn’t get involved in social issues.  While it might make statements about being generous to those in need and that those who don’t work shouldn’t eat, etc., it also assumes that this fallen world will always have social and political upheaval.  We see this when Jesus said, “For the poor you always have with you”.

God’s word to us is not a manual for how to change the world through politics or social programs; you just won’t find instructions for such things.  It is his word to us to explain why this world is full of injustice and why we are sinners and how to be saved from sin.  It also instructs those who have come to embrace Christ as to how to live godly and bear fruit unto the Lord in every situation you find yourself in.  The church was sent into the world to proclaim the gospel, not to take up social and political issues.

I am not saying that we can never get involved in those things.  We owe the end of slavery in England and America to heavy Christian influences.  But we help no one if we fix temporal problems without freeing souls from the coming Judgment.

Let me point to the days the NT was written in.  There couldn’t be a more unjust and cruel government than Rome in many ways.  But Jesus and the Apostles never once tell anyone to protest the government, let alone try to overthrow it or any of its institutions like slavery.   It doesn’t mean it supported them but there are many more important issues than whether we are treated fairly or not.  We are put on this earth to glorify God not be treated as we would necessarily like to be treated.  Jesus tells us to be subject to the authorities we find ourselves under, give Caesar his due no matter how evil he was, and in so doing we gain great reward in Heaven.

What the Christian slave in Roman times (and any of us anywhere at any time) needed to hear was not that he shouldn’t be treated that way and it was unfair and he shouldn’t put up with it.  No, what he needed to hear was how to please the Lord and gain reward in glory while he was in a situation he had no hope of changing.

And that is the beauty of why the Bible doesn’t concern itself with telling us to change the world.  There is no hope for this world until Christ comes back; read Rev. 18.  There is hope for sinners who hear and believe the gospel.  If we can make a difference while we are here then so much the better.  But since Christians are generally the weakest of society our main duty is going to accept the place the Lord has put us and serve him well while we are here.  We do ourselves no good if all we do is try to fight against the providence of God.

I will end by pointing out the verses that follow the 1 Timothy passage above where Paul is telling slaves with believing masters to serve them well.  These are convicting words but demonstrate what I have been saying.  Rather than constantly trying to change their situation and being upset and fighting him, be content with God’s providence and in so doing there is great gain.  This will take great grace from the Lord to give us such submissive hearts but after all didn’t Jesus say that to be great in the kingdom you have to serve, not overthrow those who mistreat you?  Read these words and see if this is so: 

1Ti 6:2  Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things. 1Ti 6:3  If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 1Ti 6:4  he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 1Ti 6:5  and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 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. 1Ti 6:10  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Joseph Enslaves the Egyptians

Gen 47:13  Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. Gen 47:14  And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house. Gen 47:15  And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, "Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone." Gen 47:16  And Joseph answered, "Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone."… Gen 47:23  Then Joseph said to the people, "Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. Gen 47:24  And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones." Gen 47:25  And they said, "You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh."

This text has been a source of puzzlement for a lot of commentators.  This might be especially difficult for westerners who are used to some measure of democratic rule.  For some it would seem Joseph becomes more of a tyrant than the benevolent ruler that he has seemed to be up to this point in Genesis.  Some have wrongly concluded that absolute power corrupts absolutely and such is the case with Joseph. 

One problem with this view is that the text is written in a way that seems to praise Joseph’s actions, not condemn them.  How then are we to understand Joseph forcing the people into slavery to Pharaoh?  In this chapter we read that after he had all the people’s money, he tells them to sell their animals and possessions for food as the famine raged on and when these ran out he forces them to sell their land and eventually themselves for food.

Some, more liberal commentators, have compared Joseph to dictators like Stalin and Hitler.  But their problem is that they are reading this as if it is merely history and not about the One for whom history is all about, the Lord Jesus Christ.  This isn’t a commentary on human forms of government but about Jesus of whom Joseph is a type.  We have already seen in Genesis how Joseph came unto his own and his own did not receive him.  He was betrayed by his brothers and suffered at the hands of the Egyptians and by being faithful in sufferings he is exalted to the right hand of the ruler of the Land.  It isn’t hard to see where all this is going.

Joseph, through his wisdom, has provided food in a world that is destitute of it.  We might say that he has provided life where there is only death.  And only by coming to him can any find the food they need.  This is what Jesus did when he came to earth and lived and died for us.  This is why he called himself the bread of life and the living water and the way, the truth and the life, etc.

So the text is all about Jesus establishing his rule by securing a people for God’s own possession, 1Pe 2:9  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1Pe 2:10  Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  Notice how Peter goes on to describe us as a people who were not God’s or not under his rule but now are in vs. 10.  Joseph illustrates how the Lord is calling a people out of this world by revealing that they are living under the death penalty of sin and their only hope is to come to the Bread of Life.

But we are also seeing that to be part of this kingdom you must die to self and become a slave to the Lord.  The rich, young ruler balked at this when Jesus said to sell all he had and follow Christ.  You see, the reason some are offended at what Joseph did is two-fold.

First, they don’t see themselves as starving; they don’t realize how destitute they are as sinners and that Christ is their only hope.  They think they are alive but are really living apart from God and thus they are dead men walking even though they might have much in this life.  It is interesting to me that some would be more offended at what Joseph did than the ones who sold themselves to Joseph.  The difference is that these people knew they were dead unless they did what Joseph said to do.  They didn’t complain about the price because who can put a price on life?  Notice their attitude when Joseph relates his demands,  Gen 47:24  And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones." Gen 47:25  And they said, "You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.

We read a very similar demand of Christ in Mar 8:34  And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Mar 8:35  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. Mar 8:36  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  Also in Mat 10:38  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Mat 10:39  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Jesus said that those who are forgiven much, love much.  The problem many who live in modern days have is the concept of being ruled by someone else.  We think that it is our God-given right to live for ourselves and that we are owed everything we need in our pursuit of happiness.  But most people throughout human history have been under the rule of others and dependent on them.  And personal freedom might be nice but life is all about being under the rule of Christ and left to ourselves we are doomed.  These Egyptians knew that and were perfectly happy to sell themselves in order to have life because they knew they were needy and Joseph was the only one who could meet that need.

This brings us to the second reason some today stumble at this text.  We think God owes us salvation without submitting to his lordship.  But we are the sheep of his pasture, he owns us by creative right.  The problem this world has is that it lives on God’s earth and breathes his air but live as if their lives are their own and not the One who made them.  When God saves us we come back into a right relationship with him recognizing that he is God and we are not and we give ourselves willingly and joyfully back to him in exchange for eternal life.  He now owns us not only by creative right but also by redemption. 

This text is a wonderful look at the Kingdom of God that Jesus is securing for the Father and one day he will give the kingdom back to the Father; after he has saved all those to whom the Father has given him.  1Co 15:28  When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Purified By the Word

1Pe 1:22  Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,
1Pe 1:23  since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;
1Pe 1:24  for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls,
1Pe 1:25  but the word of the Lord remains forever." And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

I find the emphasis on the Word of God and Truth in this passage interesting.  Usually when we think of regeneration and sanctification we emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit in both of these concepts and rightly so.  But the above passage only mentions the use of the Word or Truth in both being born again, 23, and in continued sanctification, which I believe is being inferred in vs. 22 as well as the whole context.  But this got me to thinking about how the Word of God is involved in both of these two things; the new birth and the pursuit of holiness. 

When it comes to being born again I have always tended to think of it primarily as the Holy Spirit giving me new life, which it is, but basically relegated the use of the Word to a secondary role.  Almost like we are to proclaim the gospel as if it were a magical incantation and then step back and see if the Holy Spirit is going to convert the person.  That is a bit of an overstatement but as I have studied this text out I have come to appreciate the use of Truth more than perhaps I have in the past.

To explain further, I believe that the reason the Holy Spirit opens our minds or gives us a new heart is not just an end in itself but that we might understand and believe God’s Truth.  The problem fallen man has had from the beginning is that we believe Satan and our sinful hearts and this world rather than the Lord.  So when the Holy Spirit regenerates us it is so that we can and will believe the gospel that says there is only One who is righteous so trust in him if you want to be right with God.  So the Word is indispensable in the process of the new birth because there would be no reason to have a new heart if we didn’t have Truth and Light to believe rather than the lie and darkness that has controlled us up until conversion.

Just as in the Garden, Adam and Eve decided to buy into what the Serpent was selling and were cast out of the presence of God; so being saved is being brought back into a right relationship with God so that we believe that he alone is the source of all truth and we live in light of that truth.  And so the truth of the gospel is what causes our newly regenerated heart to turn from the deception of sin to the truth of the cross of Christ.  The Spirit uses the Word to get us to trust in Christ for justification.

While we are passive in regeneration, we are not passive in conversion.  Notice vs. 22 and 23 above, 1Pe 1:22  Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart1Pe 1:23  since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.  We have purified our souls (active) by obeying the truth but in vs. 23 we have been born again (passive) as the Holy Spirit must give us life before we can do spiritually living acts like repent and believe.

That brings us to the use of the Word in the process of sanctification.  I think the best way to get this is the way Peter is using it in light of sanctification.  In other words, while the Holy Spirit uses the Word to convert us, in the same way he uses the Word to further clean us or to sanctify us.  Remember that the point was started in vs. 22, continue to purify your souls in the same way you have already been purified.  Just as the gospel is used to purify our souls with the aid of the Spirit, so the Word continues to purify our lives.

What does the Word of God have that can purify or clean us?  In both cases it is truth.  It is knowing where the world is headed and that you have been saved by Christ and wanting to hear from your Savior, etc.  In other words, it is knowing and believing truth and identifying and rejecting what is false.  Why does the world reject the gospel and stay away from churches that proclaim the Truth?  Because they believe Satan and not the Word.  The Spirit has given us ears to hear and hearts to obey.

Jesus said, “The Truth shall set you free”.  He could have said the Holy Spirit, God, Me but we need to see this as well.  What sends you to the doctor?  It is someone telling you that he can fix your problem.  See how the Word is what the Holy Spirit uses to “fix” us.  It isn’t mystical; it is knowledge.  We clean our lives because we know where this world is headed, we know that sin only will destroy us and so we believe our Savior and we love our Lord and so do what he tells us because we trust him.  People who say they love Jesus but don’t care what he says are hypocrites.  People who say they can worship God at home or on the lake and don’t have to go to church are deceived because they aren’t learning truth; they are listening to their deceitful hearts.  We must actively engage in studying the Word and believing what we read and living in light of it.  In this we honor the Lord because we believe that he is telling us the truth.  “If you love me, keep my commandments”.  That is more than just a command to follow rules; it is a call to center our lives around his words to us. 

All this helps us understand what vss. 24-25 above have to do with the context.  The lies of Satan and this world are destined to end in destruction.  Cultural moral climates and PC correctness will come and go but Truth is Truth and will always be true.  We can bank our souls on the Word of God because that is the only reality and by definition can never change or be untrue.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Are We Preparing to Pass the Test?

2Co 5:10  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
Rom 2:6  He will render to each one according to his works:
Rom 2:7  to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;
Rom 2:8  but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
1Pe 1:17  And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.

The teachings of the Final Judgment in the Scriptures are not simple but a few fundamental things are necessary to know.  For saints our ultimate judgment will be whether we have been united to Christ.  Either we are justified or not.  For the lost this is also true.  If they are not saved they will be cast into the Lake of Fire. 

But the way we lived also has much to do with our judgment.  For the lost, their works will determine their suffering in the Lake of Fire.  For the saved our works have a two-fold purpose.  Our good works will be proof that we have been united to Christ so that if we did not bear fruit it will show that we were never saved to begin with; if we did bear fruit we will hear the much anticipated statement, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master”.  Our works will also determine our reward and experience in eternity, although there is not much description of what this will look like in the Bible as seen in 2 Cor. 5:10 above.

The passage in 1 Peter above also uses the judgment as a means to motivate us in the way we live while on earth.  I have used preparing for a college exam as a means to illustrate how we are motivated for the day we stand face to face with our Lord.  I remember those that would goof off most of the semester and then go into panic mode just before the exam and study all night and usually do unsatisfactory work.  We might say they waited until the end to live as they should have been living the entire semester.  But there were those of us who tried to keep up with our assignments and reading so that we were ready to be tested because we had been obeying what the professors told us to do and when to do it and we did so not just to make a good grade but because we had an interest in what we were studying.

Peter in the above passage is telling us to begin to prepare to give an answer for the way we lived by living holy lives because without such holiness no man will see the Lord.  But I want to carry the illustration just a little further.  There are two ways to be motivated for the final exam.  The first group basically is motivated by fear as they realize they aren’t ready and so go into panic mode.  The second group we might say is motivated by a love for the subject.  We see it all the time with students who go to school because their parents make them or to party for a few years but have no real desire to learn. Then there are those who have a goal in mind and want to learn a particular subject, get a degree and go into that profession.

In other words, we might ask the question, “Why did you go to school to start with?”  Let’s say you went to school to learn the Bible because you wanted to preach.  If you are part of the first group then one would have to wonder why you didn’t find the study of the subject and doing the assignments interesting.  Why weren’t you motivated to do what you went to school to learn about?  You entered into college to study so why aren’t you motivated to study what you claimed to be interested in?  The second group is more consistent with their professed desire to preach because they throw themselves into the subject.  Would we not tend to think that the first group really has not been called to preach while the second group gives evidence that they have been called?

So let’s carry this over into the Christian life.  What are we to think of those that supposedly enter into the kingdom but have no real desire to serve in the kingdom nor do they have a desire to know the King and listen to what he has to say?  It seems all they want to do is party and be the king themselves. 

If we have entered “school” as disciples of Christ, then we did so because we know that in us dwells no good thing and that we know nothing of value apart from what our Teacher teaches us.  He is also our Savior as well as our Lord; he and his kingdom are our new calling and if we don’t really prepare for graduation then we need to examine ourselves as to whether we are really in the kingdom or not.  

If I can bring this back to motivation; we might ask ourselves what is motivating us for the Day of Reckoning?  Is it fear because we really haven’t been preparing to meet the Lord?  Or do we love the “subject” so much that we have been preparing all along?  The problem with trying to cram for the finals is that it shows you don’t have a love for the subject; that you don’t have a new heart.  We can’t cram for the judgment in the Christian life, if we haven’t been preparing then we won’t pass the test.  

Friday, February 3, 2017

Are We Saved Through Faith Alone?

Gen 45:4  So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, please." And they came near. And he said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.
Gen 45:9  Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry.
Gen 45:13  You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here."
Gen 45:14  Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck.
Gen 45:15  And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.

Act 3:19  Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.
Act 17:30  The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

One thing you can’t help notice in the account of Joseph is the amount of space used to tell us about the elaborate effort Joseph used to see if his brother’s had changed from earlier when they hated him and sold him into slavery.  I mentioned this a couple of articles ago but want to expand on it here and show at least one reason why I think such emphasis is placed on the restoration of love and fellowship between Joseph and his brothers.

Let me point out from the start that the account of Joseph from beginning to end is recorded in part to illustrate Jesus and his work in saving a people from death.  We can’t help but see his brothers depicting the Jews of Jesus’ day as well as all mankind as is pointed out in Joh 1:10-11  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

And so his brothers represent fallen man who hate God and so hate the Son of God.  When Joseph came to his brothers in the field back in Gen. 37, they rejected him and sold him into slavery.  Yet as it turns out this would eventually be their salvation as the exalted “Brother” by his work becomes the only one who can save them from certain starvation and death.

This brings us to our text above.  When his brothers come down to buy food Joseph could have merely said, “You are forgiven; all is forgotten; everything is wonderful.  Come to Egypt and I will take care of you.”  But everything wouldn’t have been wonderful because if his brothers did not have a change of heart then there would not be any fellowship only continued estrangement.  If they were not brought to repentance of their sin against Joseph how could they have any decent relationship with him?  So Joseph put them through a series of tests to bring them to repentance, culminating in the incident of accusing Benjamin of stealing Joseph’s silver cup.  Until their attitude towards Joseph changes, they will not be brought into his kingdom and could not enjoy his presence.

This is precisely why the condition of salvation is not just believing in or trusting in Jesus but also repentance.  God saves us to bring us into a right relationship with himself so that we might know him and honor him as we should as well as appreciate and enjoy him.  Rom. 5:10 said that we were enemies of God but that through the cross we have been reconciled to God.  When the Holy Spirit converts a sinner he lays down his rebellion and submits to the Lord and loves him with all his heart, body and soul.  There are no exceptions- repentance and faith- not just repentance and not just faith, but both.  Now it can be argued that saving faith involves repentance and I would agree.  But there are those that say that if we require repentance and godliness then we are adding to faith.

“Easy-Beliefism”, which is the teaching that all a sinner has to do is believe that Jesus died for them to be saved, misses this point entirely.  They say that one can remain in rebellion and still be saved; that it is okay to “accept” Jesus as your Savior but you don’t have to accept him as your Lord.  This kind of “faith” doesn’t need a change of nature because it leaves one intact in his sinful nature.  And, of course, this works well with Arminian theology that thinks that everyone has the ability to trust in Jesus on their own.  And if you don’t need to repent then that makes perfect sense.  If I can be saved by merely believing some facts but I don’t have to have a change of heart from being a God hater to a God lover than we have lowered the bar of salvation so low that even Hitler could have been “saved” without repentance evidently.  The two verses from Acts quoted above show that we are not saved only through faith but also through repentance; both a work of the Holy Spirit on the elect.

But my point is that this is an extremely man-centered view of redemption.  It is one in which God doesn’t care if our attitude changes towards him or if we become worshippers of him; he only cares that he fills Heaven with bodies.  He doesn’t want us to go to Hell but he doesn’t seem to care too much whether we are freed from sin. 

This flies in the face of everything the Bible says about who God is.  He does all things for his own glory, including creating man, letting him fall into sin so that he could redeem him.  I will just quote one passage on this, Rom 9:22  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, Rom 9:23  in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory

Joseph was not interested in a relationship with his brothers in which they still hated him; one in which he gave them everything and they gave him nothingNotice how his glory was part of the message in Gen 45:9  Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. Gen 45:13  You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here."  If God is the only true glory and all other glories are derived from him then the greatest thing he can do for us is to allow us to stand in his presence and “drink” it in; to enter into the fellowship of the Trinity.  Joh 17:24  Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

I think this is the main reason why Heaven is so often depicted in movies and TVs and even in sermons many times as a place where all we do is continue to enjoy ourselves as we did on earth but you never see God there.  It is the “happy hunting grounds, the perfect golf course, or fishing hole, etc.”  If anything, God is depicted as some mean judge that everyone is afraid of.  When God means nothing to us down here, then the thought of Heaven being first of all the place where we shall see God isn’t all that attractive.  

Man was created to love, serve and worship God and he saves us to that end.  Any “Gospel” that doesn’t require a change of heart is centered around man and not God.  It says that man’s salvation from Hell is more important than God receiving the honor he is due.  There is no salvation without “conversion”, repentance and a change of nature from rebel to worshipper.