Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How Does Salt Lose Its Saltiness?

Reading: Luke 14:34-35; Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:50
34"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear." (Luke 14:34-35)
A couple Sundays ago I was teaching through Luke 14. (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner – Are You?) I presented the end of that chapter as an application for Jesus' disciples of what the whole chapter had been about. I won't repreach the whole chapter here, but merely pick up in Luke 14:25-27. In the context of the whole chapter, I loosely paraphrased those verses as:
Large crowds are traveling with Jesus, so he turns to them and asks, “Do you want to be healed from your dropsy—your greed, self-interest, love of the praise of men? Or, are you just along for the ride?

Following Jesus Will Cost You

Luke 14 is about Jesus freeing us from our craving for others to think good of us. He does this by taking hold of our lives and calling us to His banquet. A banquet of misfits, if you will. But there is a price to pay in order to be healed of our dropsy! When you accept Jesus' invitation to His banquet, it may be your last invitation. It is as if you hate your close family (these are the ones that were on your own invite list in Luke 14:12) but now that you associate with “those people” you will often be rejected. But so was Jesus.
The cross you bear will be bearing the shame that is often heaped on the little ones you are now associating with. In the case of the early church, disciples were often rejected by their Jewish relatives. In our culture today, to be associated with Christians is increasingly going to cost us. I've never seen an episode of Duck Dynasty, and honestly have no idea what it is really about, but recent events in pop-culture show how one might go from the top of the dung heap to the bottom when we do not play by the social rules of the world around us.
After speaking about the cost of being a disciple, Jesus tells two brief parables warning us not to start following Him if we aren't going to finish. In the tower parable (Luke 14:28-29) the point is: Make sure you finish what you start or you will face ridicule. In the war parable (Luke 14:30-32) the point is similar: You better be able to finish or you will be in a precarious situation.
Both of these little parables lead to the punch line (Luke 14:33) which I paraphrase as follows:
If you are going to start as my disciple, you'd better be willing to say good-bye to everything you have (respect, esteem, possessions), or you won't make it.
This is what precedes the “salt is good...” comment by Jesus in Luke 14:34-35. These verses are not easy to understand. During my Christian life I have heard or read a variety of explanations of this that have remained unsatisfying to me. In the context of Luke 14, the meaning may be clearer.

Salt and Relationships

First, in classical Greek to have eaten a bushel of salt together, meant to be old friends, or to be bound by ties of hospitality.1 Said another way, to eat salt with one is to partake of his hospitality, to derive subsistence from him; and hence he who did so was bound to look after his host's interests.2 Salt symbolized loyalty and friendship.3
If the salt loses its saltiness,” in the context of Luke 14 (with the host of the wedding banquet being shunned by all his invitees), then could stand as a warning that when you follow Jesus and begin to associate with His guests, you will loose your saltiness (ties of hospitality) to your former friends. You will lose any commitment they had to your well-being.
It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out,” means that those same friends would have no more use for you. Therefore, the warning is similar to the previous parables: if you change your mind later because discipleship is too hard, your old friends (in this case the upstanding-rule-following-Jews) aren't going to suddenly like you again. They will be concerned for what you might cost them.4
If this understanding of the salt parable is right, it stands as another warning to make sure you count the cost. Figuring out later that you can't finish will leave you not only without the new community of Christ, you will also have lost your old self-serving relationships as well. Then what will you do?

Salt and Being Trampled Underfoot

This understanding of the parabolic use of salt also fits well in Matthew's Gospel where similar language is used.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 13"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
In the context of persecution, Jesus says it differently here than in the context of Luke 14. The last phrase reads, “except to be thrown out and trampled by underfoot.” Sounds like persecution to me. It could be read, “You are the salt of the land/soil. (The word there can be "earth" or "ground" or "land".) If Jesus meant ground there rather than how we usually read it (world/earth), that would change the sense. For more on that, see footnote 4 above.
Once again this verse could be referencing how the world will treat us when we become a follower of Jesus. To them we will lose our saltiness, the savoriness in our relationship, and they will trample us underfoot (persecution).

Have Salt Among Yourselves

The Gospel of Mark's use of salt adds an interesting twist.
Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other. (Mark 9:50)
If this means the same as I propose in both Luke and Matthew, Jesus speaks of our losing the saltiness to the world (ties of hospitality, loyalty in friendship), but then says we are to “have salt in or among yourselves”. In following Christ, we will indeed be rejected by many, but we are to be bound by ties of hospitality” to each other. We are called to embrace the other guests at Jesus banquet (the church) as our family and friends. Have salt in yourselves (the church) and be at peace with one another.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology.
2Easton's Bible Dictionary
3International Standard Encyclopedia

4As to how salt was ever fit for the soil or the dung heap vs. unfit for it, David Garland notes: The text does not say that it is unfit to be used on food, but unfit for the earth or the dung heap. Malina claims that Jesus develops the point from the concrete picture of the outdoor Palestinian earth-oven or kiln, called earth (see Ps 12:6; Job 28:5). Fire in such an earth-oven was produced by burning dung. To make the dried dung burn, the bottom of the kiln was faced with plates of salt, and the dung itself was sprinkled with salt. The salt served as a chemical agent that helped the dung to burn. However, over time, the heat of the oven would cause the salt plates to undergo a chemical reaction which made the salt plates impede and stifle the burning of the dung. It is when the salt crystals chemically change that they must be thrown out — the salt has lost its saltiness. [Garland, David E.; Clinton E. Arnold (2012-01-03). Luke (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 15111-15116). Garland references Malina, The New Testament World, 119.]

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What is Your Spiritual Epistemology?

Reading: Ezekiel 37
What is your spiritual epistemology?” is just another way of asking, “How did you come to know the Lord?” Ezekiel speaks a lot about knowing the Lord. This book reveals two ways to know Him. Ezekiel 37 points us to the second way we can know the Lord.

Making Dead Bones Live

Ezekiel is brought by the Spirit to the middle of a valley full of bones—dead, sun-bleached, dry bones. They covered the surface of the valley. He is asked a question by the Spirit. “Can these bones live?”
One might quickly answer with an obvious, “No.” However, Ezekiel has already been brought by the Spirit of the Lord into a valley, and given his history with the Lord, He wisely answer, “Lord God, only You know.” This is followed first by a description of what the Lord is going to do in making them alive.
The Lord makes them alive in two phases. Ezekiel speaks to the bones, prophesying that they will be made alive. As He does, the bones come together, tendons and flesh grown on them, and skin covers them. Now Ezekiel stands before a valley of very nice looking dead people. They no longer look like the dead dry bones they were, but they are every bit as dead as before.
Then Ezekiel is told to speak to the wind, or breath. The Hebrew word for wind, breath, and spirit are all the same. Here, an allusion to all three is evident. Breath comes from the four winds, that wind is clearly the breath of life (as Adam received in the garden), and that wind is a work of the Spirit of God bringing new life, new birth, as He blows on these “corpses”. The once dead dry bones covering a valley floor is now a vast army standing on its feet.

Resurrecting the People of God

I've described the scene, but what does all this mean? We are told.
11Then he said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.' 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord." (Ezekiel 37:11-14)
At the time of Ezekiel's experience in this valley of dry bones, Israel was scattered to the ends of the earth. Note the expression in 37:11, “the whole house of Israel”. This is not merely a reference to the southern kingdom of Judah which was in captivity in Babylon, but also to the northern kingdom which had long before gone into captivity into Assyria, and never returned when Assyria fell. This is a promise to bring back to life what is obviously very dead. God is going to resurrect a people for Himself, gathering them from the four winds of the earth.
I cannot help but think this is the background to Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:7-10. There Jesus speaks of being born again (coming to life again), and how it will happen as the wind (spirit, breath) blows where it wishes. Sounds like the wind of Ezekiel 37. If this is so, it may also explain why Jesus expresses that as a teacher of Israel, Nicodemus should understand these things. Nicodemus should have known Ezekiel 37 and the new birth it pictures.

Two Ways to Know the Lord

There is something else that stood out to me as I read through this chapter. To this point in Ezekiel, we have been told more than 40 times that people will know the Lord as a result of His wrath (expressed in one form or another) because they had forsaken Him. Here however, we are introduced to another way that one might know the Lord: The Lord will make dead people alive and they shall therefore live and know the Lord!
5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 37:5-6)
12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord. (Ezekiel 37:12-14)
Note the order: God makes them alive, putting breath in formerly dead people. Then they know that He is who He declares Himself to be—the Lord. It isn't that they finally figure out who God is and submit to Him and they are made alive. Rather, in their dead state (think dry bones scattered across a valley) God has someone speak to them (speak to the bones) and pray for them (speak to the Spirit/wind), and the Spirit blows where He wills and gives them life and then they know Him.
This reminds me of something else Jesus said in John 3.
Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)
Again, note the order. It does not say, “Unless one sees the kingdom he cannot be born again.” Rather, “Unless one is born again (made alive by the Spirit of God) he cannot see the kingdom.” Dead people don't see.
There are then, two ways to know the Lord. Left to ourselves, we will know Him when He gives us what our deeds deserve—judgment. This is not the way I want to know Him. Rather as believers, we rejoice that He gave us life even while we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-6). Because of that, we now know Him. Oh the riches of the grace of God.
Like Ezekiel, we are called to speak to dead bones, and pray and ask the Spirit to blow life into people. God resurrects the dead before our eyes and they know Him. This is our confidence in evangelism: God desires to make Himself known.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


Friday, November 29, 2013

A Certain Hope Rooted in a Certain Memory

Reading: Hebrews 6  
Have you ever forgotten to do something really important? I have and the sinking feeling I get when I realize it is not pleasant. God hasn't; nor will He.
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. (Hebrews 6:10)
As evangelicals, we are all well trained to know that all our righteousness is as filthy rags to God. We understand that with nothing in our hands we come to God. …that we are saved by Christ's works, and our own works merit nothing before God in salvation. However, we often don't know what to do with verses like this.
There are three key things this verse reveals:
  • Why God will not forget
  • What God will not forget
  • What you must not forget
Why God Will Not Forget
The foundation of all that follows in this verse is the truth that God is not unjust. In other words, it would be unjust of God to forget your work as a believer and the love you have shown Him.
And lest we think that “God is not unjust” is a distinct statement from the rest of the verse, it is worth noting, as some other translations make clear, that in the original language God not being unjust is tied directly to His not forgetting your works and love. For instance,
For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. (Heb 6:10 NASB)
God would no sooner forget your works than He would be unjust. What God remembers, He rewards. The whole point of the writer of Hebrews reminding us that God will not forget is to assure us that God will reward us for what He remembers. This gives us hope.
What God Will Not Forget
God will not forget your works! What works? Works of love which you show God even as you help His people. It isn't that the work and showing love are two different things, but more like we might use “and” in the expression, “I'm sick and tired of...” wherein the second expression modifies the first. The works which God will not forget are the works of love which we show to His name.
When do we do works that show love toward His name? When we minister to the saints; when we serve God's people. The saints aren't a group of people who are up in heaven. The saints are the people of God to whom He has joined us in fellowship. Often they are the weaker brothers and sisters to whom whatever we do to them we do to Christ (Matthew 25:40).
Do you realize that your works matter to God? For God to remember your works means that He will reward them. The labors you do caring for God's people are not lost on God. They are not lost in the grace of God so that they don't matter.
How could all of this be true? How could “our righteousness is as filthy rags” and “God won't forget your works” both be true? This is the beauty of salvation. In salvation, God promises to remember our sins and lawless acts no more (Hebrews 8:12; 10:17)! In His mercy, God will not remember our sins; in His justice God will not forget our works and the love we show. This is possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us (Hebrews 10:11-18).
Do you ever think your works don't matter to God? You are showing love to God when you help His people. This means your work in caring for people is a form of worship.
Do you think that your care for God's people doesn't really matter in eternity? It matters. You are washing Jesus feet when you are washing the feet of the saints. There will be a day in the future when all our serving God's people, the least of his brothers and sisters, will be brought up again and remembered. These things will be remembered in a way that will matter in eternity (Matthew 25:31-40).
Why does this matter to God? Because God loves His people. He loves them more than you can know. He gave His one and only Son.
What You Must Not Forget
Since God will not remember your sins and lawless deeds, and since He will reward your works of love to His people, we must not forget that He will not forget. If we remember this, we will also not forget to continue those works of love.
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
This is a call to share our lives with those who aren't just our good friends—those who can't reward us. The “stranger” in our midst.
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)
This is a call to suffer with those who are suffering for the Gospel. It is a call to suffer with those who are unjustly suffering.
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)
This is a call to continue to live lives that do good and share with others. And notice the reason given: with such sacrifices God is pleased.
For us to know that God will not forget our works and that He will not remember our sins is intended to encourage those who have been doing good works. And it is intended to encourage them to continue and not give up doing them. The context of Hebrews 6:10 is that because God remembers, we have certainty that we will inherit the promise of God's blessing. God will not be unjust. God will never fail to keep this promise. (See Hebrews 6:11-15.)
God would no sooner forget your works than He would be unjust. Do you realize that your works, the love you show God's people, matter to God for He cannot be unjust. This gives us a certain hope rooted in God's certain memory!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


Friday, November 22, 2013

Is Your Bible Ever Hard to Read?

Reading: Ezekiel 21–22
This is a very hard section of Scripture to read. Not because it may be longer than some are used to reading in one sitting, but because of its content. Not because the content uses a difficult vocabulary, but because of what it actually says. Not just because we are Americans and have an over emphasis on God's love as compared to his holiness or wrath, but because of what God is actually like as revealed in Scripture. Here are some examples to illustrate my point.
2Son of man, set your face against Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuary. Prophesy against the land of Israel 3and say to her: “This is what the LORD says: I am against you. I will draw my sword from its sheath and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked. 4Because I am going to cut off the righteous and the wicked, my sword will be unsheathed against everyone from south to north.” (Ezekiel 21:2-4)
Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.' It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 21:7)
If we were to open our Bibles for the first time to this and begin reading here and then turned and read John 3:16, it would admittedly be difficult to fit them together. The Bible is the revelation of God—not a man-made God; not the creation of the ideal by a philosopher—the self-revelation of the creator of all that is to His fallen creatures. It will necessarily be complex. It will necessarily require us to adjust our expectations and ideas of what it ought to be like.
If the statements from Ezekiel above aren't enough to justify saying that this is a hard section of Scripture to read, add these.
6"Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief.
12Cry out and wail, son of man, for it is against my people; it is against all the princes of Israel. They are thrown to the sword along with my people. Therefore beat your breast.
14"So then, son of man, prophesy and strike your hands together. Let the sword strike twice, even three times. It is a sword for slaughter—a sword for great slaughter, closing in on them from every side. (Ezekiel 21:6, 12, 14)
First God tells Ezekiel that He is against the people of Israel and Judah; then He tells His representative, His spokesperson to groan with a broken heart and bitter grief over this. Then He confirms the certainty of the slaughter. If God asks His prophet to groan and have a broken heart it is because God Himself is groaning and has a broken heart. And yet, our God with a broken heart reaffirms His wrath:
I will pour out my wrath on you and breathe out my fiery anger against you; I will deliver you into the hands of brutal men, men skilled in destruction. (Ezekiel 21:31)
Does your understanding of God allow for this kind of complexity? Does your understanding allow for the God of Ezekiel 21 to be the God of John 3:16? If we have an understanding of God that does not allow for this, then we have a false vision of God. We must be adjusted by God's self-revelation and not continue to create God in our own image. But we must do more.
It is not enough to stop here. We cannot simply have an image of God that allows for this complexity. If we are to understand the message of the Bible we must allow God to resolve this complexity through that same self-revelation. As we continue reading in Ezekiel 21–22, we continue to read of both the wickedness of the people and how God will respond in wrath. It is not a pretty time in the history of God's people. But alas we come to a verse that helps us understand this complexity of God—a verse that points us from this complexity toward its resolution.
30I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. 31So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 22:30-31)
God was looking for an intercessor. That adds a whole new level of complexity. God is determined to pour out His wrath and is searching hard for someone to stop Him. God searched for someone to groan before Him in intercession as Moses did repeatedly for the people of Israel in the wilderness. But He found none. And so God sent an intercessor (John 3:16). God sent His Son to intercede on behalf of transgressors (Isaiah 53:12). God could not find someone to intercede.
I'm not blaming Ezekiel, the son of man (the title repeatedly assigned to him by the Lord). Ezekiel could not ultimately fulfill this intercessory role. It would require one who could bear the sin on behalf of the people. God would have to provide the Lamb (Genesis 22:8, 14). And indeed, He does (John 1:36).
What we see in Ezekiel 21–22 and many other places in Scripture is God's hatred of sin. God doesn't rejoice in pouring out His wrath on sinners. He grieves even as He pours it out. He looked for an intercessor and did not find one. So He sent His Son to intercede on our behalf. Oswald Chambers wrote,
Jesus Christ hates the sin in people, and Calvary is the measure of His hatred.”
Now God calls those whom He has redeemed through Jesus to intercede, to groan, to cry out on behalf of other transgressors. He grieves over the brokenness of humanity because of sin. He grieves because death still reigns over many. He calls us to groan inwardly even as He groans (Romans 8:23, 26). He still looks for an intercessor. Not of the ultimate type (Jesus), but those who, like Him, grieve with Him and suffer with Him for the world.
Do you have room in your life for this complex self-revelation of God? To believe in Him and to follow Him? It is a complexity that is only resolved at the cross and we are following Him only as we pick up our cross on behalf of other transgressors.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Empty Arguments for Empty Wombs: Why Jesse Jackson Was Right

Reading: Proverbs 18:5
It is not good to show partiality to the guilty by perverting the justice due the innocent. (Proverbs 18:5 HCSB)
The principle laid out in this proverb is clear. But why does this perversion of justice continue to happen? Why are the guilty given this partiality? Because they have power and the one showing partiality has something to gain by their power (Proverbs 17:23). Why are the innocent deprived of justice? Because they are weak and powerless and have nothing to offer. (Proverbs 18:23; 19:7)
Giving advantage to the powerful over the weak promotes and supports oppression. Oppressors, however, love to play the victim. The racist loves to speak about how the hated race is the real problem. That they are only doing what they have to. The abuser frequently blames the abused. The pattern is not unusual: the powerful blame the weak or powerless for the harm the powerful bring upon the powerless.
Sunday, as I was leaving the closing rally for “40 Days for Life” it struck me that the pro-choice movement uses the same tired talk-track. All the ingredients are present: the powerful (the pressuring father, the mother—sometimes the mother is also a victim of pressures and abuse, other times she is motivated internally by her own indulgence, the Planned Parenthood staff) and the weak and helpless (that would be the baby in the womb who has no legal protection, no voice, no guardian).
The pro-choice movement regularly cries out how oppressive it would be to women if they could not abort their baby at will. In other words, it would be oppressive to restrict those with all the power in this situation (the woman) by protecting those with no power (the baby). The baby must pay the price for mom's freedom. The weak must pay the price for the powerful. 
The pro-choice crowd loves to cry accusations about a “war on women” toward anyone pro-life. This is like accusing abolitionists of a war on white people, or accusing those who fight domestic violence of a war on men... as if all men are abusers.
Even Jesse Jackson could once see this pattern of the oppressor playing the victim in the pro-choice movement.
"There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of higher order than the right to life...that was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside your right to be concerned.” (Jesse Jackson, 1977)
Of course, it is quickly pointed out how not allowing abortion would adversely effect women who were raped. I acknowledge that not allowing abortion in cases of rape would effect these women adversely. Not as adversely as the rape itself. And not as adversely as the abortion will effect the baby. But it would mean serious, undeserved consequences for the mother.
Here is the irony: Rape and its consequences are horrible because it is the forced will of the powerful over the weak. What solution does the pro-choice movement suggest? More forced will of the powerful (now the pressuring family and/or pregnant mother) over the powerless (the baby). So as painfully difficult as even this issue is, it is only compounding the crime.
That said, only 1% of abortions are the result of rape. The pro-choice movement makes this issue sound like it is a huge number of abortions. Another 12% are for the vague category of health reasons.1 The rest are because of inconveniences caused by the baby. Sometimes difficult inconveniences, including fear, guilt, or shame, but inconveniences nonetheless. Why do wife abusers beat their wives? The lame reasons given might include that they didn't like the way they were spoken to, or the temperature of dinner, or some other inconvenience. At the end of the day, they do it because they can. They do it because they are stronger and can force their will upon the weaker partner.
Legalized abortion is legalized abuse and oppression. God has never supported the oppressor. God does not condone abuse. Therefore, God could never support the pro-choice mindset of protecting the powerful over the weak. All the excuses aside, that is what it is. Don't get me wrong, racists were always able to make a reasonable sounding case in the world they lived. Even antisemitism was attractive to enough people to allow Hitler to hold office. Hindsight has much greater clarity.
Consider the following:
Amongst “six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him” are “haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood…(Proverbs 6:16-19)
3For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. …4No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. …7Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood.” (Isaiah 59:3-7)
Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3)
The empty arguments of the pro-choice movement are the same empty arguments abusers and oppressors have been using for millennia. I close with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece.
We have been fueled by the fire of “women’s rights,” so long that we have become deaf to the outcry of the real victims whose rights are being trampled upon, the babies and the mothers. . . . Oh, God, what would Martin Luther King, Jr., who dreamed of having his children judged by the content of their characters do if he’d lived to see the contents of thousands of children’s skulls emptied into the bottomless caverns of the abortionists pits? (D. Dr. Alveda King)
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What's Missing?

Reading: Numbers 15  
I suppose there are not many devotionals written on Numbers 15—even fewer on the verses I have in mind. However, as my bible reading plan had me reading Numbers 14-17, I couldn't help but notice something missing in chapter 15. “Missing,” I say only in the sense that it seems obvious to me that it ought to have been there.
In this chapter, there are instructions about what to do if the whole community or an individual is led astray1 into sin, and how an offering can be made for atonement (Numbers 15:22-29). There are instructions for those who blaspheme the Lord in open pride (Numbers 15:30-31) and how they are to be removed from the community. Then there is this odd little story about a man found gathering wood on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36). He is brought before the community and held in custody until they decided what to do with him.
35Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” 36So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Numbers 15:35-36)
Now I am not sure as to whether gathering wood on the Sabbath constitutes a sin in which one is led astray and deceived, or whether it constitutes blasphemy against the Lord in a self-exalting manner, but I lean toward the former. Regardless, though, it still seems that something is missing.
It may well be that the reason this story is here is only to teach us about the holiness of God that we might fear Him and keep His commandments. And it may be that the observation that I am about to make is unintended by the Author of the Bible. However, I offer this observation and will let you decide. My observation is that something is blatantly missing in this story; that Numbers 15:36 ought to have been able to report something else. Something else that didn't happen but should have.
This chapter is sandwiched between two chapters in which the Lord also spoke and told Moses that someone was to die. In those chapters, the Lord told Moses the whole community was to die—this same community that is doing that stoning here in Numbers 15:36. (See Numbers 14:11-12; 16:21.)
In each of the cases in Numbers 14 and 16, although the Lord told Moses the community was to die, they didn't. Why? Because Moses interceded on their behalf (Numbers 14:13-20; 16:22-23). Now in the latter case, some still died, but only those who had acted in self-exalting pride while the community was spared. And yet the community still complained against the Lord and the Lord once again declared He would destroy them instantly, and once again Moses and Aaron interceded and made atonement for the people (Numbers 16:41-50). So the account in chapter 15 is followed by two accounts in a row of the community being condemned to die and spared through intercession. (See also Numbers 21:7.)
What do I think is missing in Numbers 15? Let's compare. In Numbers 15 we have sin just as we find in Numbers 14 and 16. In Numbers 15 we have the Lord announcing the judgment of death just as in Numbers 14 and 16. But, in Numbers 15 we don't read, “But the community fell on its face before God and cried out for the Lord to spare the man.” This is the same community who was sentenced to die and was spared through the intercession of Moses in chapter 14. They don't seem to understand what Moses understood when he interceded on their behalf.
Now may the Lord's strength be displayed, just as you have declared: 18'The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.' 19In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now. (Numbers 14:17-19)
They don't understand the nature of God's love. The same people who here receive mercy fail to call on God for the same mercy on behalf of others. I wonder how many of the Israelites, as they were picking up stones and stoning the man thought to themselves, “Wow, I hope I never get caught doing what I've been doing.” Where was the intercessor to say, “Let the one without sin be the first to cast the stone.”
Moses was a great intercessor. We have an even greater intercessor—Jesus Christ. Moses turned away God's wrath. Jesus absorbed God's wrath on our behalf. Yet how many of us are found in the prayer meetings, or before the throne of God in private interceding on behalf of those who are condemned to die all around us? I don't say that to condemn, but rather to spur us on to cry out to God on behalf of the lost. The Lord is abounding in love and forgiveness. Would that we would call on Him and experience His pardon in the lives of the lost around us.
As I read the account of the man brought before the community in Numbers 15:32-36, I can't help but think of some who have inquired, “Does this church practice church discipline?” (Meaning, do we practice Matthew 18 and, if need be, remove people from the church when they are unrepentant.) Although my answer is, “Yes,” I sometimes wonder if they are asking because they want to make sure we are laboring to restore people, or if they are just a little too anxious to see people called to account for their sin. Maybe it is in their tone, or their follow up questions that make me wonder.
If we were present in the wilderness in Numbers 15, would we have picked up stones, or fell on our face before God in intercession? Is that the point of Numbers 15? I can't say that it is, but I can't say that it isn't. I can only offer the observation. I am not certain something is missing in Numbers 15, but maybe the bigger question for us is whether there is something missing in our own lives. Are we interceding for the dying world around us? Are we interceding for the struggling brother or sister in our church? Am I? Are you? (See Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2.)
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

1“Unintentionally” is the translation of a word that means to be led astray and has in its etymology the idea of having been deceived. This is contrasted with the person who sins “with a high hand” or sins exalting himself above God. The difference seems to be not in whether one intended to sin or not, but whether one was knowingly exalting himself over God, or deceived and led astray by the enemy.   

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Day Every Prayer is Answered: A Meditation in Psalm 102

Reading: Psalm 102
God does not despise the prayers and entreaties of the destitute (Psalm 102:17). The destitute are those brought to the lowest low; they are desperate. The description of this psalm in the Hebrew manuscript reads: A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD. (Psalm 102:1 ESV)
Many of us are well aware Israel tested God by their complaining in the wilderness. They were complaining because they didn't like God's provision and the fact that He didn't bring them to a resort the week after they got out of slavery. That kind of complaining is reprimanded in Scripture. However, there is a complaint that God hears. In fact, it is a whole category of prayer called “lament.” It is the complaint of faith—the faith of the destitute that knows something is wrong in the world and refuses to accept that God will do nothing about it. Verses 1-11 demonstrate what those prayers often look like.
Hear my prayer, LORD; let my cry for help come to you. 2Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. 3For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. 4My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food. 5In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones. 6I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. 7I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof. 8All day long my enemies taunt me; those who rail against me use my name as a curse. 9For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears 10because of your great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside. 11My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass.
Job prayed many prayers of lament in the middle portion of that book. There are many psalms which are prayers of lament. We even find some in the Gospels... most notably the application of Jeremiah 31:15 to the slaughter of children in Bethlehem with Rachel weeping for her children (Matthew 2:18). That was the ultimate lament and Matthew's Gospel is pointing to the coming of Jesus Christ as the ultimate answer to that lament.
The psalmist brings his complaint in faith. In Psalm 102:12 he begins to speak of what God is like. First he had laid out his own situation and the reason for his crying out as he is. Now he lays out truth about God that anchors his soul in the middle of his desperate circumstances. In this, the psalmist speaks of what he knows God will do. This is his hope (meaning expectation; not wish).
13You will arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come.... 15The nations will fear the name of the LORD, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory. 16For the LORD will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory. 17He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea.
When will God do this? Verse 13 alludes to the time for this: “for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come.” God will do this at the appointed time. When is it that this “appointed time” comes? When will all this happen?
This will be written for a later generation, and a newly created people will praise the LORD: (Psalm 102:18 HCSB)
Newly created people” expresses well the more literal, “a people yet to be created”. What generation is this? Who are these people yet to be created when the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory?
The language of verse 13, “...for it is time to show favor to her; the appointed time has come” is reminiscent of Isaiah 49:8 and 2 Cor. 6:2. There in the time of God's acceptance of us He listened (answered their cry); in the day of salvation He came to their aid. And the context of 2 Corinthians 6:2 makes clear that this day is the day the Gospel is made known to us that God is not holding our sins against us but rather Jesus bore those sins and gave us his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). There we discover who this “newly created people” are: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17) Psalm 102 is fulfilled in Christ and results in the creation of the church!
God does not despise the complaint of the destitute. He suffers with them. He is moved with compassion. He took on flesh that He might bear their griefs and carry their sorrows (Isaiah 53:4 ESV). The day that God ultimately answers all prayers of lament is the day we hear the message of Jesus Christ and our hearts are opened to see Christ and be saved. For only in salvation can there truly be the answer to our griefs and deliverance to a new heaven and earth where everything is made new.
God hears the prisoner's groaning; He sets free those condemned to die, so that they may go forth in their freedom and declare the name of Yahweh in Zion. God does this to assemble peoples (all nations) and kingdoms to serve the Lord (Psalm 102:20-22). This reminds me of what Jesus declared when He said, “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to send forth the oppressed in their release...” (Luke 4:18 my translation of the last phrase).
God frees us and sends us to free others. God hears our complaint and answers us in Jesus Christ. And then God uses us to reach others and answer their complaint by saving them too. No longer because of God's wrath will he cast us aside (Psalm 102:10).
[Side note: This does not mean that God does not also hear our cries and change our circumstances (heal; provide; deliver). That would make this a cold, unfeeling answer. It would also disregard the multitude of times that God did answer and heal, raise to life, provide, etc. But all of those “mini-salvations” are only small pieces along the way in the grand salvation that we have in Jesus. And without the grand salvation, they would be ultimately meaningless as all would end in damnation.]
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Don't Be So Quick to Blame the Devil

Reading: John 10  
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)
How often have we heard this scripture quoted and assuming the thief is the devil? Don't get me wrong, I am not disputing the fact that the devil is a thief. Nor that he is bent on destruction. He is indeed. But by too quickly concluding that Jesus is speaking of the devil here we might miss the more significant and relevant application for those in positions of leadership over God's people. If we read more carefully we may find a warning for leaders to beware lest they be the thief who destroys.
This scripture has a context, and the context of this verse doesn't seem to have anything to do with devils or demons. The context of this verse is all about presumed leaders of God's people who prevent the people from seeing Jesus, the Good Shepherd. The end of John 9 flows right into the beginning of John 10:
39Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." 40Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" 41Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. 10:1"Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. (John 9:39-41; 10:1)
In John 10, Jesus is speaking to the same pharisees as in chapter 9. He tells them they are guilty of sin and under judgment. The “very truly I tell you...” of John 10:1 is a continuation of the same thought. John 10 is a warning against these Jewish leaders that they are thieves and robbers.
Jesus is speaking to them in parables. In the first, Jesus is the Shepherd of the sheep (John 10:1-5). The gatekeeper opens the gate for Him. This is what the Jewish leaders were supposed to be: gatekeepers. But they weren't opening the gate for Jesus. Jesus came to give life and that more abundantly. Instead of opening the gate so the sheep might have life they were barring sheep from Jesus. They were stealing life from the sheep by keeping them from Jesus.
Then, as if He is shifting parables, Jesus is now the gate and the Jewish leaders are “all who have come before me” that are “thieves and robbers” (John 10:7-10). How is it that the Jewish leaders, teaching the scriptures as they were, were thieves and robbers? How were they keeping people from Jesus?
Though I am certain there is more than one answer to this question, I think we have a big answer in John 5. There Jesus is also speaking to the Jewish leaders.
39You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
In John 5 we discover that the Jewish leaders studied the Scripture, but refused to see Jesus in the Scripture. They were not rightly handling the Scripture (2 Timothy 2:15). All of the Scriptures are to point us to Christ (Luke 24:27, 44). The Pharisees thought they had life in the Scriptures. But they refused to go to Christ to get that life. Likewise, in their teaching they were not opening the gate of the Scriptures to lead the people to Jesus but rather were hindering their ability to see Jesus by teaching everything but Jesus from the Scriptures.
So although it may seem harmless to think that John 10:10 is talking only about the devil, I wonder if in fact it might lead to a bigger problem. If we think it is the devil, we might miss the warning that applies to any that would presume to teach the Scripture. We (those who teach God's word) better make sure we are using the Scripture to open the door to Jesus. If not, we are thieves and robbers, keeping the people from the life, the abundant life that Jesus and only Jesus can give them. (See also James 3:1.)
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

For More on John 10 and Jesus' handling of the false shepherds of Israel see I Said, “You are 'gods'”!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Restoring the Sanity of a Nation

Reading: Daniel 4  
Do you have those moments when you wonder if we as a nation lost our sanity? Do you wonder how we seem to have come untethered from any semblance of truth? If not, this post is not for you. If like me you hear the news and at times find yourself perplexed as to how rational adults can (e.g.) seriously be discussing whether or not middle school boys should be allowed to dress in drag, then keep reading.

Or, if when seemingly normal adults (like our current President) argue that it is okay to have an abortionist take a developed baby from the mothers womb feet first until only the head remains inside, puncture the base of the baby’s skull with a surgical instrument, insert a catheter into the wound, and remove the baby's brain with a powerful suction machine, you wonder when and how sanity took a vacation in our society, then keep reading.

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a dream which was very similar to the parable of the mustard seed.
I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. 11The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. 12Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed. (Daniel 4:10-12)
It turns out that this tree represents Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom which was truly one of the greatest kingdoms of the ancient world. But the dream continued with a angelic being coming down and ordering the tree to be cut down and destroyed with the stump remaining. In the interpretation of the dream we read:
"This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: 25You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. 26The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. (Daniel 4:24-26)
All of this came to pass for Nebuchadnezzar. He boasted that the greatness of Babylon was by his own power and for his own glory (Daniel 4:30). Immediately, “he was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.” (Daniel 4:33)

After the time set by the Lord had passed, Nebuchadnezzar gives this testimony:
At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. (Daniel 4:34)
True sanity is directly connected to whether or not we acknowledge God. Why? Because acknowledging God is acknowledging reality; denying God is denying reality. More importantly, God is actively at work in the minds of those who do not acknowledge Him, just as He was with Nebuchadnezzar. We see this in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Paul tells the Roman believers that the knowledge of God is plainly revealed in creation and that when we don't acknowledge God, we are actively suppressing the truth (Romans 1:18-25). In so doing, no matter how much we claim to be wise, we become fools. And God responds to this.
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28)
The seeming insanity of our culture is not the cause of our problems but the effect of our problems—the effect of our suppression of the truth of God. In our suppression of the truth, we are really doing is either taking credit and glory for what God has done for ourselves like Nebuchadnezzar, or we are assigning the credit and glory to something other than God. Either way it is theft of the highest order—theft from God.

Now before you run from this blog and begin ranting about how we took prayer out of schools, ask whether or not you've taken prayer out of your personal life, or out of your family. Ask when the last time you attended your church's prayer meeting. Ask whether or not you acknowledge God with your finances and your time. We need to make sure that we ourselves are raising our eyes toward heaven and acknowledging God. Let's start with the house of God and our own households.

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

For another devotional on Daniel 4 see How Do You Keep Your Sanity?