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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How Do We Approach the Father?

“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:26–27)

I have for years questioned how some view Christ interceding for us.  Perhaps one of the most used verses is Hebrews 7:25, Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.  I am not sure I have ever heard anyone refer to Christ’s intercession in any other way than he speaks to the Father on our behalf, or he pleads our case or perhaps asks the Father to answer our prayers because he died for us.  It is usually explained in some way like that.  I have read some commentators like Calvin who seem to support what I am about to say which is reassuring since I would be hesitant to teach something if I couldn’t find some good theologians who didn’t also agree. 

My main problem with viewing Christ’s intercession like that is that it seems as if the Father needs a little more convincing by the Son before he will take care of us.  But if Christ made a perfect propitiation, then the Father’s wrath toward us has been removed and he loves us perfectly in the Son and there is peace.  The Father can’t be any more favorably disposed toward us than he has been since we were born again and united to the work of Christ.

I have always seen his intercession, then, as referring to his one time work of redemption and Heb. 7:25 above is a good example.  I don’t take it to mean that he is always living to plead our case before the Father but that as long as he is alive his cross work will always be sufficient to save us.  As long as he lives, we will be accepted by the Father.  Vs. 24 I think shows this, Heb 7:24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.  The strength of his intercessory work is that he is risen and lives forever.

I quoted John 16:26-27 above because I recently read it for the “first time”.  Have you ever come across a passage and it hits you like a ton of bricks and you wonder how you had never noticed it before?  When I read it my first thought was, “Hey, that is what I have always thought the passages on intercession were to be taken.  Here Jesus says that under the New Covenant, when we pray, we don’t pray to Jesus and ask him to go to the Father because he doesn’t have to.  The Father loves us.  Jesus’s death fully reconciled us to God and nothing more needs to be done.  So he says that he doesn’t have to ask the Father on our behalf because we can go to him ourselves.

Perhaps you might be thinking of the several passages that refer to his interceding for us like Rom 8:34  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  But the context is not us praying but in our continuous, never ending justification; go read the context.  This would support what I have been saying.  Earlier in that chapter we read of the Holy Spirit interceding in our prayers, Rom 8:26  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  But here again I don’t think we are being told that the Holy Spirit is pleading our case but that we often don’t know what the Lord’s will is for us and don’t know what to pray for or sometimes we pray for things that are not good for us but not to worry because the Holy Spirit does know and the Godhead is taking care of it for us.  That is a quick synopsis but I think it gets the point across.

What about other places like 1Jn 2:1  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 1Jn 2:2  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  Again, the context is when we sin; how do we know our sins won’t condemn us?  Because Jesus Christ is righteous and his blood has full atonement made.  It is propitious, it has removed God’s wrath once for all.  We don’t ask forgiveness when we sin so that he might forgive the guilt of our sins but to restore fellowship through confession.  1Jn 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Now let me try to show why this isn’t merely splitting hairs but there is some practical value to get this right.  First of all, Christians are told to pray to the Father, not the Son.  The whole point of Jesus telling us to pray in his name is because he has paved the way for us to come to the Father.  One of the ways we are priests is that we can approach God on our own.  Christ is the Mediator in that the cross work has provided access to the throne of God both in justification and in praying.  We are never told to ask Jesus to go to the Father on our behalf. 

This isn’t to say that the Holy Spirit and the Son don’t work with the Father to help us but there is never any hint that the Father needs further pacification or needs to be prodded by the Son, Heb 2:17  Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Heb 2:18  For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.   All members of the Trinity come to our aid because Christ has removed all obstacles.

Secondly, this truth undermines much of Roman Catholicism’s teaching on intercession which sees our sins never quite fully paid for and the Father’s disposition toward us never quite what it should be and so we must approach the Father through Jesus or Mary or some “Saint” and then they go the Father and try and get things done.  I once read from a Catholic source that if someone prays to Mary, one way she would entice Jesus to do what she asks is by revealing one of her breasts to remind him how she used to nurse him and that would gain his favor.  Of course, all that does is undermine the cross because we can’t be loved and cared for any more than we already are.  Mary certainly can’t make the Godhead any more favorable to us than they already are. 

Personally I am glad the Father doesn’t need any more convincing to answer my prayers and do me good.  Christ’s life and death has done all that can be done and all that needs to be done.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Christ in the Old Testament

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 45:5  And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life…
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 45:10  You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.
Gen 45:11  There I will provide for you.

The account of Joseph is one of the clearest accounts of the person and work of Jesus Christ in the OT; albeit through typology.  Let me point out just a few in this article.

Verses 4 and 5 above remind us that Joseph got to the position of second to Pharaoh by being betrayed by his brothers.  Similarly we read in John 1 that “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”  But it was through his mistreatment by crucifixion that he becomes our Savior and King just like Joseph becomes for his family.  Through his wisdom and faithfulness he is exalted to the right hand of the King of Egypt where he secures food (life) for a world that is starving.  This work of Christ is what Paul is referring to in Php 2:8  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Php 2:9  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.

Before his brothers can enter into this kingdom and be reunited with their brother they have to face their sin of betrayal.  (Betrayal is a good way to understand what happened in the Garden of Eden when Adam fell).  So there are roughly three chapters where Joseph works on them until they have faced their sin and demonstrate that they are not the men they used to be.  Once they have proven this, and not until, Joseph reveals himself to them and there is a restoration of fellowship. 

While all this is going on Joseph keeps returning their money to them.  I see this as a reminder that salvation is all of grace and there is nothing we have that God needs and so it only insults him when we try to earn his grace. 

Finally his brothers are told to go back home and proclaim the good news.  Basically they say, “Joseph is not dead but he lives and not only that but he reigns and invites us to come into his kingdom and he will provide for us beyond our wildest dreams!”  But the first benefit is that they will be near Joseph, vs. 10.  What primarily causes Jacob to go to Egypt was that Joseph was there and Heaven is where Jesus is and that will be what makes Heaven, Heaven. 

It is the gospel in a nut shell.  Behold, today is the day of salvation, do not tarry.  The One we sinned against has gained the victory over the death that hangs over us.  Do not tarry but believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.  Hasten to him and you will be near him and he shall be your God and you will be his child and there will be peace and fellowship and he will provide for us eternally.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Be Not Deceived

Jas 1:14  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
Jas 1:15  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Jas 1:16  Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Jas 1:17  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Christians have from the beginning understood that there is what is sometimes called an unholy trinity of powers that work against us to cause us to sin; the world, the flesh and the Devil.  There is in our flesh a remaining principle of sin that wants to put self above God and everything else.  The world is full of tempting things that the flesh wants to make idols of and the Devil tries to bring these two things together in any way he can.  While they work in an almost perfect harmony of temptation I think sometimes it is good for us to delineate between the areas each of these have so we know how to battle them. 

For instance, the well-known Flip Wilson phrase, “The Devil made me do it” is poor theology at best.  Satan can’t make us do anything and generally this is understood that Satan can put thoughts in our minds independent of whether we want him to do so or not and so in some way he, not us, is to blame for our sin.  This is something that I have rejected early on in my Christian life and I hope with biblical merit.  It assumes that the Holy Spirit and Satan (or his demons, since most would believe that Satan is not omnipresent) both indwell us in some way.  I reject that out of hand and neither do I think that Satan can plant thoughts in my mind or speak to me in some way internally.  There is no way to battle evil thoughts if he can put them there independently of our will.

I do believe the Devil’s primary area of attack is in our minds but it is from without, not within.  He is the mind and power behind the worldly system, the prince and power of the air.  It is interesting that he is mentioned very little in the OT.  Gen. 3, Job, once in the Psalms, as Lucifer in Ezekiel and in Zechariah.  In almost all cases he is seen as the accuser of man.  But once we get to the NT he is seen as a liar and a deceiver which is what the name devil means.

How do these three things work together?  To build on what I said above, the flesh is remaining sin in us that is full of pride and desires to please self.  The world is constantly displaying things that play to our sinful desires.  In part Satan uses the world to tempt us to give ourselves over to the flesh.  His danger, then, isn’t so much that he tries to get us to do wrong things but tries to get us to want to do wrong things.  Our flesh is quite good at doing that which is why the old saying, “The Devil made me do it” really misses the mark.

James 1:14-15 above says we fall to temptation because we want to.  If we want to sin less then purify your heart, don’t tell Satan to leave you alone.  The Bible never tells us to speak to Satan but to love the Lord with all our heart and to grow in the knowledge of him.  The way to sin less is to not find the things of this world as attractive as Christ; to see them for what they are destructive to us and dishonoring to the Lord.  And this is where Satan’s tactics come into play.

I think James 1:16-17 speaks more to Satan’s work, Jas 1:16  Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Jas 1:17  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  He wants to get us to believe the world when it tells us that it has what we need.  No, every good thing comes from above, not below.  Notice how James starts off with do not be deceived.  Through the philosophies of the world and the perversion of biblical doctrine, he tries to get us to believe the same lie he told Eve.  Once she believed that the fruit could offer her something God couldn’t she was lost.  The best way to stop committing acts of sin is to realize where they lead and the damage they do to the kingdom of God.  It is to believe God and not the lies all around us. 

Sure Satan is happy when we commit sinful actions but what he is really after is for us to love Christ little and this world much.  Then we will happily commit sinful acts.  And this is what really dishonors the Lord.  When a saint hates the sin in his life and does all he can to honor the Lord, then God is honored even though we are still sinners.  But when someone who professes Christ lives in such a way that it seems he loves himself more than Christ then God is dishonored in a far more fundamental way.

One of my favorite passages on this subject is 2Co 10:3  For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 2Co 10:4  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 2Co 10:5  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.  Our battle with sin isn’t so much to try and stop committing sinful acts, but to transform our minds so that sin is no longer attractive.  Notice the strongholds we are to destroy are any argument or prideful opinion that is contrary to God or Truth.  So we guard every thought by making sure that Christ is central to all we do and only the Bible teaches us why this is true. 

So I don’t just tell myself not to steal but I seek to love others and do them good because I believe what the Bible says about life and death and judgment, etc.  This is why the NT reserves some of its harshest condemnations for those who try to reduce godliness to "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch"; because it is merely external but doesn’t examine why we are doing what we do.  There was nothing sinful about the fruit in the Garden of Eden.  The sin was in thinking it was as important as the Lord and this led Eve to commit an outward act of rebellion.  Paul goes on to say as much in Col 2:23  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

In other words, not indulging the flesh can still be indulging the flesh!  Because the flesh can only do what the heart wants it to do.  One can still be proud while he is outwardly denying himself something.  Godliness is always first a matter of the heart and mind and Satan’s directs his attention at trying to get us to believe that in one way or another the Bible isn’t true.  I think as we read through the NT we begin to see this throughout, but I will leave you with just one more passage that I think is one of the great statements of godliness in the NT: 

1Ti 4:1  Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 1Ti 4:2  through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 1Ti 4:3  who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 1Ti 4:4  For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 1Ti 4:5  for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.