Tuesday, November 30, 2010

If Living Grows out of Life, then Dying Grows Out of Death

Reading: Hosea 4  

On November 21, 2010, the Sunday message was from John 17, and we focused in on vs. 2-3 in particular. This led to answering the question, “What is eternal life?” Most of us usually answer that by defining eternal, but not defining life. We think, “It is living forever.” That is the eternal part. But we still haven't said anything about what life is. So we looked at the definition of eternal life in John 17:3, and explored why it was true. If we had a mud sculpture of a person, what would we need to add in order for it to become alive? And, where would we get it? Of course, life is what we would need to add, and we would get it from Jesus Christ. Life is that which makes the difference between man being a pile of dust and being animated. Life is found in Jesus Christ. That is where it comes from. And man died the day he cut himself off from the source of life. Once we cut off the knowledge of God, we died, and that death meant that we are now dying.

Eternal life is found in knowing the Father and the Son; it is being reconnected to the source of life. And, all real living grows out of relationship to the Father by knowing Jesus Christ. Anything contrary to that relationship is really dying. The other day this was confirmed in Hosea 4:1-6, as I saw that not only does living grow out of life (abiding in Christ), but dying grows out of death (the rejection of the knowledge of God). Death is the pursuit of life in anything contrary to Christ. And anytime we are pursuing life in something contrary to Christ, we are effectively dying.

"There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. 2There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. 3Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying. … 6my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. "Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children. 7The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful.

Notice that even the creation is being affected by the death that has come upon the people. Dying is happening all around them, because they have turned away from God. Destruction comes because of a lack of knowledge. Knowledge of what? Knowledge of God, and as we see in John 17:3, knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. To turn anywhere else for life is to exchange our Glory for something disgraceful. (See also Psalm 4:2.) This will effect everyone around you. Dads, it is vital that you are joined to the source of life, so that your living grows from it and that your wife and children can eat the fruit of it. Young people, you must live out of life, and that is only in Christ. Can those around you benefit from the fruit of the life you are obtaining in Christ?

Where are you turning for life? To what do you turn to find that missing ingredient that animates your living? Are there delusions which have drawn you away promising life, that will only deliver death?  Have you turned to Christ for the eternal part of eternal life, but not the life part?Eternal life is intended to produce a new kind of living, a living that grows out of that new life. But in order to have the living, we must be turning to the source of life, Jesus Christ. Abide in Him and let His words abide in you (John 15:7). Apart from Him, there is no living (John 15:3).

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Advantage of Being a Jew?

Reading: Romans 3  
How does Paul answer the question, What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value [profit] is there in circumcision?”
Advantage or No Difference?
One might rightly, retort, “That's easy! He says there is much advantage in every way.” To which I obviously would agree. Paul does say that. The quandary for me comes when I realize that he lists only one reason, which turns out not to be so much of an advantage, and then, he states quite emphatically in 3:9 “there is no difference.” So much for an advantage. Which is it?
This question and answer fall into Paul's larger discussion. For our purposes let's jump into the discussion at Romans 2:8-10 where Paul declares that there will be wrath, anger, trouble, and distress “for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. But glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” Then He explains,
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Romans 2:12-13)
The problem for everyone is sin for all sin—whether under the law or apart from the law—and therefore all perish. It is here that Paul begins the discussion of whether there is an advantage to being a Jew and having a relationship to God through the law. (I have highlighted words which correspond to the question of advantage or profit in our original question from Romans 3:1.)
17Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag [boast] about your relationship to God; 18if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who brag [boast] about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." (Romans 2:17-24)
Here Paul, speaking from personal experience, presents a common notion amongst Jews about their advantages and the profit of being Jews. They would, at least in their thoughts, boast about their superior knowledge which led to superior positions: guide, light, instructor, teacher. Why? Because they had the law, which is the embodiment of knowledge and truth. So Paul strikes right at the core of their advantages by saying, “You who brag about the law (i.e. all the superiority you have because of the law), do you dishonor God by breaking the law?” (Romans 2:23)
Then in Romans 2:25-29, Paul informs us that the advantage of circumcision only applies to those who observe the law (obey it!), for those who break it become as though they had not been circumcised to begin with. Real Jewishness is not about outward circumcision, but heart circumcision which is done not by the law, but by the Spirit.
All of this precedes the question and seeming answer of Romans 3:1-2.
What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.
The problem with stopping there is 1) it seems to contradict what precedes it, and 2) he seems to dismantle that answer in verses 3-8 as he sets out to show that apart from faith, the law (the very words of God) actually judges them. And then in Romans 3:9, Paul's conclusion is stated:
What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.
Then in Romans 3:10-18, Paul lays out what I believe is the most scathing report on the human condition ever penned. It is only rivaled by Genesis 6:5-6, which led to the destruction of mankind by the flood, and the sparing of a remnant by grace in Noah. Paul uses emphatically declares there is “no one righteous, not even one,” “no one who seeks God,” “All have turned away,” “become worthless,” there is “no one who does good, not even one,” and “there is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Then we are told that this is said about those Jews who had the “advantage” of receiving the law (Romans 3:19). So much for their advantage and profit. In context this does not mean they are worse off than Gentiles, but on a equal playing field. Now that he has said this, the “whole world” is held accountable to God.
Advantage Excluded in the Gospel
Then Paul presents the Gospel (Romans 3:21-26) in what is one of the most glorious synopses of the Gospel in Scripture. He speaks of a righteousness which is “through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Why? Because “there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” (Romans 3:22-23).
In verse 27, Paul picks the theme of boasting or advantages back up, having now been adjusted by the Gospel.
27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:27-31)
The whole issue of advantages seems to have disappeared. Why? Because it is by faith. God was never only a local God. God has always been the God of both the Jews and Gentiles. The purpose of the Law was to lead to Christ to save the world. It was never just to save the Jews or the circumcised.
This raises the question of whether or not this faith nullifies the law. Paul's answer is, “absolutely not!” for as Romans 4:1-25 will demonstrate, the whole point of the covenant with Abraham and all that followed was faith. It is fairly obvious in reading the law that it was really all about faith in God's provision of mercy all along. All the sacrifices clearly indicated that God was providing for the sin of His people. Clearly they would be lawbreakers in need of sacrifice, and they would need to trust God for the provision for their sin. So faith was the whole purpose of the law to begin with.
An Advantage After All
Is there no advantage to being a Jew? Was there no advantage to being part of God's people and included by circumcision under the Old Covenant? There is indeed an advantage in having received the very words of God. Faith cannot come apart from hearing. And having received the very words of God, they could have faith, and through faith be saved. The fact that so many didn't have faith doesn't nullify the advantage that having heard, they were extended an advantage. (Romans 10:14-18).
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Friday, November 26, 2010

Can We Live the Sermon on the Mount?

Reading: Matthew 5-7  
The Sermon on the Mount holds up the most glorious picture of human relationships ever imagined. I don't think anyone, at least any reasonable person would argue that if everyone lived this way the world would be transformed for the good. Jesus comes on the scene, going about preaching, and right here, at the beginning of our New Testaments, we have the first and lengthiest sermon of Jesus recorded.
The scene is set, I believe, to remind us of Moses ascending the Mount to receive the Law. At that first scene, a barrier was put around the mountain to prevent the people from touching it. In this scene, Jesus' disciples came to Him. The first law was put into place to lead us to the Person who is now sharing the real purpose and intent of the law—the transformation of living which grows out of loving one's neighbor as much as we love ourselves. In fact, after an introduction which includes the Beatitudes, and ends with, In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven,” we have the body of this sermon. This “body” of the sermon begins with:
17Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them....20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17, 20)
And ends with:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
Here we see what might summarize not only the law, but the ethical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. Often called the golden rule, this removes godly living from a cultural, ethnic context. The Law was never supposed to be about only living according to the rules it laid out, they were rather application of the heart issue. What was the heart issue in the law?
... love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)
More importantly, we see in the Sermon on the Mount exactly what Christ did in coming to save us. The central call of Biblical religion was seen in the command: Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5) God had called His people to love Him, and they had failed. Now God has come and is loving His people with all His heart, soul, and strength in and through Jesus Christ as He lays down His life for us. Jesus is God doing unto us exactly what He has called us to do to Him. He loved us first.
So doing to others what you would have them do to you, and loving the Lord with all our heart, soul and strength is nothing more than being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. And being conformed to the image of Christ is never less than these.
Therefore, the Sermon on the Mount does apply to us today, we are called to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law, which are laid out here more clearly than anywhere. In fact, the closing of the sermon is all about the difference between the person who hears and does the sermon (house built on a rock), and the person who only hears but doesn't think he needs to do them (house built on sand).
But how? How in the world are we ever to live out this impossible task? I believe the answer to this question is found in the sermon itself. Found in what is at the very center of the sermon body and what is at the very end of the sermon body. At the center we are told:
9This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,  10your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  11Give us today our daily bread.  12Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'  (Matthew 6:9-13)
And then, after calling us to a level of righteousness that seriously exceeded that of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, just before summarizing it with “do to others what you would have them do to you,” we read:
7Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)
How? How are we ever going to live this way? We aren't... at least in our own strength. We can only do so the same way the Son did—in complete dependence on the Father. Apart from Him we can do nothing; but abiding in Him and He in us we will bear much fruit.
This also gives us a sense of what we should be praying for.  In fact, many of Paul's prayers seem to be prayer that we would walk in a manner that matches our Lord and the Gospel we have believed, that we would grow in our love for one another and live out the love of Christ toward one another.  Ask, seek, knock for the kingdom of God and His righteousness!

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Are You Associated with Joshua or Jesus?

Reading: Joshua 10  
In Joshua 9, we read of two different responses of cities to the Israelites as they began to conquer the land of Canaan. The first was a group of kings who joined forces to conquer Israel. They saw Israel and figured there is more strength when we are together than when we are separate. The second was the Gibeonites, who believed that God was really behind the Israelites and therefore they would be destroyed. They set out to save their own skin by making an alliance with Israel. They were happy to be made servants, because it was a suitable alternative to death. I wrote about those events under the title, Have you ever feared for your life?
In Joshua 10, we read of an interesting consequence to their alliance with Joshua. Rather than attacking Israel, when Adoni Zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard about what Israel had done to Jericho and Ai, and heard that the Gibeonites made a treaty with Israel, he made this appeal to four other kings:
"Come up and help me attack Gibeon," he said, "because it has made peace with Joshua and the Israelites."
I can imagine the Gibeonites may have had a moment of pause in which they wondered, “Okay, so we set out to save our skin by making a treaty with Joshua, and now will we be destroyed anyway by these five kings and their armies?”
The Gibeonites then sent word to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal: "Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us." (Joshua 10:6)
So Joshua and Israel marched all the way over to them and Joshua's victory became their victory. Because of their association with Joshua and Israel, the Gibeonites were able to share in their victory.
I couldn't help but think of an interesting change in the new storyline of the Gospel. Before we note the change, let's note some similarities. Like the Gibeonites joined with Joshua in order to save their lives, we have joined with Jesus (His name in Hebrew was the same, Yeshua, or Joshua) in order to save our lives. And, like the Gibeonites, we too will be hated because of our association with Jesus, just as they were hated because of their association with Joshua.
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. (John 15:18-21)
However, here is where the difference lies. Joshua was encountering the enemy and his victory was seen in how they won the battles and took the cities. Therefore the Gibeonites shared in his victories. Jesus encountered the enemy and was crucified. And it is his seeming defeat that is His victory, indeed it is our victory. Therefore, because of our association with Jesus we will “share in His sufferings, in order that somehow we will share in His glory” (Romans 8:17). Just as the victories of Joshua flowed over into the lives of the Gibeonites, so also “the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives” (2 Corinthians 1:5).
But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)
The Christian hope is a future glory, an unfading glory, that we receive when the Chief Shepherd appears. I wonder how often people associate with Jesus, but are looking for the results the Gibeonites received: an immediate joining into the victories of Joshua. That would contribute to disillusionment, failed expectations, when they encounter an entering into the sufferings of Jesus. So it is important to note the difference between association with Joshua and Jesus and know who we are associated with: Jesus, the Lamb that was slain, who in being the Lamb slain is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who conquered.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Live the Gospel

Reading:  Matthew 5  
Today I read the following by Leon Morris. I couldn't help but think it was another way of saying, “Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel.” You may want to read it twice.
The love of God changes those who respond to it into loving people. We begin in a measure to love as God loves. That means we not only love those people we find naturally attractive, but that we begin to see people as God does and love because of what we are, not because of what they are. And the more we respond to God's love, the more true this becomes of us. [Reflections on the Gospel of John, pg. 587.]
It reminded me of what I read this morning in Matthew 5:44-48:
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
May the Gospel transform us into people who live the Gospel—let Christ live in us.  No doubt the holiday season will provide many opportunities to walk this out.  May Christ live in you.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Happened?

Reading: Genesis 1-3  
If God is good, how did the world get to be such a mess?” Have you ever heard that question? It comes in various forms. For instance it might be asked, “If God is good and all-powerful, then how do you explain all the wars in the world?” Or, “...child abuse?” And, frankly, these are good questions. Good questions because the issues raised are real issues. Child abuse is bad. War is not glamorous, no matter what the movies communicate. War wreaks havoc on the lives of millions of people. So these are good questions. Not long ago, I talked with a lady and as she shared pieces of her life's story, I wondered if she might ask the question this way, “If God is good and all-powerful, then why did my brothers rape me repeatedly? Why did they invite their friends over to gang-rape me at the age of 13? Why did my first boy friend rape me at 16? And why did the man with whom I was considering marriage commit suicide?” Her life had a war of its own. Undoubtedly this question is running around somewhere in her mind.
It should come as no surprise that the Bible essentially starts by answering this very real question. The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for a few centuries, and while they themselves had been rescued, it was their own generation whose brothers had been thrown into the river by the order of Pharaoh when they were children. It was they themselves that had experienced the suffering of having to make the same number of bricks, while gathering their own supplies for making them. And, now they are in a wilderness, wondering about food and drink. I have no doubt they had their own form of this question. Something like, “If God is good, and we are the chosen people, then can you explain this?”
The first three chapters of Genesis answer this question. Chapter one tells us what God did: from nothing, He created the world, and out of the darkness and chaos of that world He went to work and made a paradise of paradises. Chapter two gives us a few more details about how he was the master sculptor, who made man and all the animals from mud and simply breathed life into them; how He was the master gardener, planting a garden in Eden and made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground (apparently He loves variety), all of which were good for food and pleasing to the eye. There was one of these, however, about which He said, “you must not eat from it, or you will surely die.” Or, maybe it might be translated, “or dying you will die.”
And then, we have the serpent. We are told, “Now the snake was wiser than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” (Gen. 3:1 BBE) There is a note of irony I think in this sentence. Most modern translations use the word crafty, which can be neutral, but is often taken as negative. But the Hebrew word used could also be used positively and is used that way throughout Proverbs for the prudent man. Indeed God had been crafty... in the positive sense of the word in making the world, and planting the garden and sculpting man and all the animals and then animating them with life which came from within Himself. So while “the serpent was wiser than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made,” he was not any where near as crafty or wise as the Lord God who made the fields and the serpent. At the root of our temptations is the lie that something we desire is a greater pursuit than obedience to God's wisdom... the God who made everything that is.
Adam and Eve seemed to miss that irony. They believed the serpent's wisdom over God's. And the serpent's wisdom was a lie. They ate, and “their eyes were opened” to good and evil (they saw it in a whole new way). Now they saw themselves as the ones who could decide right and wrong. They took on the study of ethics, trying to determine how to live instead of leaving how to live up to God. But now they were blind... they could no longer walk with God. They could no longer see God. In fact the Gospel is the story of God giving sight back to blinded man.
If God is good, how did the world get to be such a mess?” The answer, as simple as it may seem, is also clear: In Adam, mankind rejected God and His wisdom and decided we knew what was best. And God's Wisdom is still proving true: in dying we die. We disconnected ourselves by rejecting God from the source of life. And in doing so, death is our lot. We stand condemned.
One might say, “No problem, let's just reconnect, right?” It's not so simple. Having rejected God (sin), we cannot just reconnect, for God is pure and Holy. Secondly, given all the right information and truth, just like Adam, we all continually choose to stay disconnected. So God had to not only provide a way for sinners to reconnect, but He would have to also change our hearts in order for us to come to Him by faith. And these, in a sense, are what the rest of the Bible is about and it leads to Christ Jesus.
For the believer, having been reconnected by God's grace, our devotions are a time of of walking with God and fellowship with Him. They are a means of staying connected to the source of life, from which all our living proceeds.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Where is your source of Wisdom?

Reading: Psalm 1-2  
The first two psalms effectively describe two ways of living. The first is about a man who is pursuing a source of wisdom which is outside of man. He is pursuing wisdom from God. In doing so he finds himself sinking his roots into life itself. We read of this man:
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 2But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)
He is like a tree planted by the streams of water. He has such life flowing through him that he yields fruit in season, his leaf never withers, and whatever he does prosper. For him, this Wisdom has become the tree of life, making his life a living tree!
The second psalm is about those who believe the source wisdom is really in themselves. They are listening to their desires and likes. And therefore God, whose Wisdom is contrary to their own, has become one whose words are like chains and fetters (a shackle on the ankles attached to the chain). So rather than delighting in the law of God we read this:
"Let us break their chains," they say, "and throw off their fetters." (Psalm 2:3)
For this man, rather than sinking his roots deep into the streams of water, they are warned that they must turn or be destroyed in their way (2:10-12).
Two dispositions and two different outcomes. If one were to examine your life, which disposition would it reveal? Would it reveal a pursuit of Wisdom outside yourself and outside human achievement? Or would it reveal a casting off of God's Wisdom, a trust in yourself and your own wisdom?
Of course, in Christ, the Wisdom of God took on flesh and dwelt among us. And the Wisdom of God, Jesus Christ, is the One who transforms our disposition into love for God. On the cross, the Wisdom of God became the tree of life, whereby we can sink our roots deeply into the life of God.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


An Excellent Quote from Mark Webb

This morning in the message I referenced a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer which helps bring together the tension between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. It is posted on Thursday, November 18, 2010. There is another quote I want to post here, which has also been helpful to me in thinking of the glorious truth of God's grace in election. We are naturally prone to think hard thoughts of God, and this quote helps us see God more accurately.

It is a quote I have benefited many times from Mark Webb. I first heard it from C.J. Mahaney a few years ago, and have used it repeatedly since. In fact there are parts of it that I recommend memorizing as it will serve you in understanding the glorious grace of God's election. I will put that portion in bold print.

After giving a brief survey of these doctrines of sovereign grace, I asked for questions from the class. One lady, in particular, was quite troubled. She said, ‘This is the most awful thing I ever heard! You make it sound as if God is intentionally turning away men and women who would be saved, receiving only the elect’ I answered her in this vein: ‘You misunderstand the situation. You’re visualizing that God is standing at the door of heaven, and men are thronging to get in the door, and God is saying to various ones, ‘Yes, you may come, but not you, and you, but you, etc.’ The situation is hardly this. Rather, God stands at the door of heaven with His arms outstretched, inviting all to come. Yet all men without exception are running in the opposite direction toward hell as hard as they can go. So God, in election, graciously reaches out and stops this one, and that one, and this one over here, and that one over there, and effectually draws them to Himself by changing their hearts, making them willing to come. Election keeps no one out of heaven who would otherwise have been there, but it keeps a whole multitude of sinners out of hell who otherwise would have been there. Were it not for election, heaven would be an empty place, and hell would be bursting at the seams. That kind of response, grounded as I believe that it is in Scriptural truth, does put a different complexion on things, doesn’t it? If you perish in hell, blame yourself, as it is entirely your fault. But if you should make it to heaven, credit God, for that is entirely His work! To Him alone belong all praise and glory, for salvation is all of grace, from start to finish.”

Enjoying God's grace,


Friday, November 19, 2010

God With Us

Reading: Matthew 1-4
As I was reading this text Wednesday morning I was struck by a few things. First, that Jesus, being given the name Jesus, Yeshua (meaning 'O save Yahweh', or 'Yahweh is Salvation'), “because he will save his people from their sins” (1:21), is fulfilling the statement, “'and they will call him Immanuel' —which means, 'God with us.'” We begin getting a hint here in Matthew, of what will become clearer and clearer as we go, that Jesus is God with us—the Lord our Redeemer.
And then, we get to chapter 4:23-24:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.
I can't help but wonder if this is the fulfillment, in a sense, of a promise all the way back in Exodus. Here, Jesus (Yahweh is Salvation) is going throughout the land teaching and preaching. News or reports, literally “hearing,” about him spread all over, to include even Syria, and He is healing all their diseases. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, that word 'hearing' is first used in Exodus 15:26 where we read:
If thou wilt indeed hear the voice of the Lord thy God, and do things pleasing before him, and wilt hearken to his commands, and keep all his ordinances, no disease which I have brought upon the Egyptians will I bring upon thee, for I am the Lord thy God that heals thee.”
Here in Jesus, God is with us as the Lord, Yahweh, that heals us. The question that the Gospels ask over and over in various ways, “Who is this man?” is being answered: He is the Lord.
Sometimes I wonder if we forget this great truth about Christ being the Lord that heals. James tells us,
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.” (James 5:14-15)
As an elder in a church that, like most churches, has plenty of sickness to go around, I wonder why we don't more frequently get called to anoint with oil in the name of the Lord. I'm not talking about every time someone has a headache. I'm talking about the more serious stuff. I must say that it reveals an area of lack in our pastoral teaching that we don't see more of it. (It does exist, thank God!) We need to know that Christ is the Lord our healer. What a glorious truth that is. Yes, I realize that God doesn't heal everyone when we pray right away. I realize that we will all eventually die from something. But I wonder, if in the delayed turning to Christ in prayer, a seeming indifference to calling for elders to anoint with oil, if it reveals a misplaced trust. We wisely go to the doctor, and even specialists, explore various remedies, but would to God that we would first go to the Physician of our souls who has authority not only over our bodies and disease, but over the very core of our beings, over our souls as well.
Of course, pastors (elders) might be much busier if church's did more of this, but busier doing what it seems should be done.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bonhoeffer on God's Sovereign Grace and Man's Responsibility

Yesterday morning I read the following quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and had many opportunities throughout the day to think back on it in various conversations. However, it is really a great quote to read and think about, so I thought it a good one to post.
Christ comes, indeed, and opens up His own way, no matter whether man is ready beforehand or not. No one can hinder His coming, but we can resist His coming in mercy. There are conditions of the heart, of life and of the world which impede the reception of grace in a special way, namely, by rendering faith infinitely difficult. We say that they impede it and render it difficult, but not that they make it impossible. And we are well aware also that even the leveling of the way and the removal of the obstacles cannot compel the imparting of grace. The merciful coming of Christ must still 'break the gates of brass and cut the bars of iron' (Ps. 107:16); grace must in the end itself prepare and make level its own way and grace alone must ever anew render possible the impossible. But all of this does not release us from our obligation to prepare the way for the coming of grace, and to remove whatever obstructs it and makes it difficult. The state in which grace finds us is not a matter of indifference, even though it is always by grace alone that grace comes to us.”
This is from Ethics, pg. 136, 1986 paperback edition. Which is a great read. I am considering this quote for the sermon on Sunday, but it is in all reality probably too lengthy to use in a sermon, and a bit complicated. However, I like to humor myself by leaving it in until the last possible moment since I like it so much.

I Love a Good Spy Story

Reading: Joshua 1-6  
Spy stories are always filled with intrigue, and apparently it was no different in roughly 1400 B.C. when Joshua secretly sent two spies into the Promised Land. What is the very first thing we read about their trip?
So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there. (Joshua 2:1)
I suppose it would have been difficult to check into the local Holiday Inn as Israeli spies, so it is understandable that they chose to stay with a woman who wasn't much for social standards before her neighbors in Jericho.
But there is one more thing I noticed as I read Joshua 1-6 devotionally this morning. When God gave Jericho into Israel's hand, they were to devote the whole thing to the Lord. Nothing was to be spared... not even a robe from Babylonia, and a small savings account of silver and gold (Joshua 7:21). And yet, what is the one exception? The prostitute!
17The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. 18But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. (Joshua 6:17-18)
What a story of grace. The holy God of Israel, on their very first victory in the Promised Land is going to teach them something about what it means to be devoted to the Lord, to regard God as Holy, and to give God what is His due (He gets everything from this first city... a kind of first fruits). And what does God choose to exempt? A prostitute. God's grace is evident right here in the very first act of total devotion to the Lord. Where His holiness is being revealed, it is a gracious holiness.
One might suggest that it wasn't a story of grace because, as we read, it was “because she hid he spies.” Hence, one could suggest it was because of what she did. Yet, it is clearly an act of total grace on God's part. For instance, why Rahab and not another prostitute? Simply because the spies entered her house. God could have sent them elsewhere. And God was under no obligation to negotiate with her... He could have had them destroy her too. (In which case I suppose we would just simply not have this story.) Yet, despite the possible backlash for saving one of the worst of Jericho's society; despite the potential misunderstanding as to why Achan (chapter 7) was in bigger trouble than Rahab, when all he did was go on a shopping spree instead of dedicating those things to God, but she was a prostitute; God was sovereign in lavishing His grace on Rahab, the prostitute.
This is the same God who revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. This same Jesus who told the rulers of the Jews:
I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. (Matthew 21:31-32)
You might say that Rahab entered ahead of Israel... in fact, she was waiting there to demonstrate the utter mercy and grace of our holy God.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,