Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Two Kings and Two Tables

Reading: Acts 11:27-30; 12:20-25
After the second service on Sunday, I had one of those, “I could have had a V-8” moments. By referencing back the completion of Barnabas and Saul's mission in 12:25, it becomes clear that 11:19–12:25 belong together as a unit. However, something that wasn't as clear to me then, now seems as plain as the nose on my face: It ties together two stories about hungry people needing to be fed that result in two very different outcomes under two very different kings.
27Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:27-30 ESV)
The believers living in Judea were about to enter into a famine. The prophecy was given in late 43 to early 44 A.D. and is fulfilled in a 4 year famine from 44-48 A.D. The newly formed community of believers in Antioch determined to respond under Christ's Lordship to the need and sent help to the believers in Judea.
Then, in 12:20-24, we have an interesting little parallel story involving hunger and the need to be fed.
20Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king's country for food. 21On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22And the people were shouting, "The voice of a god, and not of a man!" 23Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. 24But the word of God increased and multiplied. (Acts 12:20-24 ESV)
The people of Phoenicia (Tyre and Sidon) were dependent on Herod's benevolence for food. Given his displeasure with them, they were coming to resolve this issue. In other words, they were hungry and suddenly had a liking for Herod. Everyone loves the political leader responsible for giving them their food—at least to their face.
This desire to eat leads to their idolatrous worship of Herod. We heard Sunday some of the amazing details from Josephus' description of this same event. But there is a contrast I had missed that speaks volumes about the difference in care under Christ's unseen reign and Herod the powerful earthly king's reign. That difference is highlighted by the closing comment of Acts 12.
25And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark. (Acts 12:25 ESV)
Herod didn't complete his service. The only feeding he accomplished that day was to feed the worms; the people under his care received nothing. Barnabas and Saul completed their ministry and, in doing so, the people under Christ's care are fed through the obedience of His people.
This brief little story reveals the importance for all believers to take Christ's teaching regarding our responsibility one to another seriously. In the body of Christ, how we live out our lives in obedience to Christ becomes an extension of His care for His people. This then reflects on the Christ's reputation before the world–His glory. May He be glorified through us.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Call to Worship Fulfilled in the Gospel: A Meditation in Psalm 47

Reading: Psalm 47 ESV
Psalm 47 is a call to worship for the whole world and finds its fulfillment through the Gospel in our own day. For many years I read Psalm 47 with the emphasis on the call to clap your hands and shout. Being raised in a religious tradition that was very staid in its worship, what was surprising in the psalm to me as a teenager was that call to clap my hands in worship. However in the day it was written that was not the startling aspect of the psalm or even the first sentence.
1Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! 2For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.
What would have stood out to the original audience is found in the words, “all peoples.” In this psalm “all peoples” doesn't mean “all Jewish people,” or “all Israeli people,” but rather, it is “all the peoples of the earth” for the Lord is “a great king over all the earth.” In the next verses we see that the same word is used for the Gentile nations of the world around us.
3He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. 4He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
The call to all peoples of the world to worship God with great expression is rooted in the fact that He has subdued peoples (other nations) under the feet of Israel as they inherited the promise land. They can see the evident uniqueness of the Lord as not merely a local deity but as the Great King over the whole earth. He is therefore in a unique position to demand worship from all.
As the psalm continues, it becomes even more clear that the theme stated in the second verse—the Lord is “a great king over all the earth”—is the reason for this call to all peoples everywhere to clap and to shout with loud songs of joy.
5God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
6Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
7For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
8God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
Because God reigns over the nations, the nations (not just Israel) are called to worship Him. Then the most surprising part of the psalm comes at the end.
9The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted!
The princes of the peoples (these are the peoples of the whole world again) gather as the people of the God of Abraham. Christopher J. Wright points out that the word supplied in English, “as,” is not in the Hebrew.
"The nobles of the nations" and "the people of the God of Abraham" are simply set in apposition, the one being identified with the other. That God in this context should be specifically named as the God of Abraham is surely significant, in view of the universality of God's promise to Abraham. So the register of the nations will not set the other nations behind, beneath or even merely alongside Israel, but will actually include them as Israel, as part of the people of father Abraham.1
The shields of the earth” is an expression representative of the mighty warriors or leaders of the earth who belong to God. They are either equal to or closely connected with the “princes of the peoples.” Not just the Jewish people but the princes and leaders of the world belong to God, and by implication therefore, all the peoples who belong to those leaders belong to God.
None of this is particularly surprising to the New Testament, but it certainly was surprising in the Old. It is a look forward in keeping with the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). If the princes of the nations are to gather as the people of Abraham, indeed all the nations are called to gather as those people and to clap our hands, and to shout with loud songs of joy. That is a call to be fulfilled in the New Covenant people of God.
Psalm 47 is a call to worship for the whole world and finds its fulfillment through the Gospel in our own day as all peoples on earth are assembling as the people of Israel. So clap your hands and shout with loud songs of joy. It is a call to worship that, as we are seeing in our current series in the book of Acts, echoes through the pages of Acts to the nations of the world.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

1Christopher J. H. Wright. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative (Kindle Locations 6716-6719). Kindle Edition.   

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Is God Really Bothered?

Reading: Luke 18

The parable of the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8) is often simplified into a teaching on how persistence in prayer will bring the answer we want, and I wonder if its real impact is altogether missed. Maybe that should be no surprise since the rest of the chapter in which it falls reveals that the disciples also missed its impact.

As I will show below, the moral to the story or the meaning of the parable might be succinctly stated as, “No matter how small or trivial your life may seem, God is not bothered by your continual appeals for Him to do something about your unjust situation.” Yet, the disciples almost immediately assume that Jesus will be bothered by people bringing their little babies to Jesus in order that He might lay His hands on them (Luke 18:15). Shortly after this, when a blind beggar is crying out for mercy from Jesus, the disciples rebuke him and tell him to be quiet (Luke 18:39).

Had the disciples been characters in the parable of the widow, there is little doubt that they would have been trying to hush the old woman, trying to persuade her to accept her situation, and explaining that the judge's inaction toward her is the answer that he has given. Sadly, this is far too often still the approach that some might take toward people who are continually asking for prayer that God might change the brokenness in their own lives... especially difficult, painful, and hard to deal with circumstances. Like Job's comforters, we think it is better to help them accept, “No,” as an answer rather than join them in crying out to God for help.

This widow has no leg to stand on before the judge. Widows were powerless in that society. Her husband left her with no life insurance policy. She has no power to hold over the judge; her life could not be more trivial from a human perspective. There is nothing within this widow that can draw the judge's attention. And even if there were, he couldn't care less—he neither fears God nor cares about man. But cry out she does. Why? Because she refuses to accept the injustice of her situation. She refuses to rest content with the world as it is. She believes something must be made right in this broken and fallen world.

The parable offers an alternative to just accepting the brokenness of this world as it is. It invites us to refuse to rest content with the injustice of this world. It invites us to go to God crying out for Him to transform the world as it is into the world as it ought to be. And God will answer our prayers.

The parable is not saying that we should keep praying because just like the unjust judge, God will also eventually answer if we are just persistent. Rather, the parable is saying that unlike the unjust judge, God who cares deeply about His chosen ones, God who is not bothered by our coming, but rather gladly invites us to come to him and is patient with our cries for mercy, is indeed working out justice for His chosen ones. God wants justice for us and is already at work even in ways we cannot see and do not yet understand. But at work He is in response to our pleas.

Part of the problem we have in understanding the parable is rooted in many English translations of the last part of Luke 18:7. MacDonald's Idiomatic Translation captures it well and helps us understand.

Nevertheless, will not God surely make things right for his chosen ones who call to him day and night—while being ever so patient with them? (Luke 18:7 MIT)

The idea is not about whether or not God will delay in answering, but whether or not God gladly hears us and is disposed to listen. If He is not patient with us, then we must be ever so careful not to burden Him with our problems. But that is not the case with God. We need not try to encourage people to just accept their circumstances and stop crying out to God. Rather we can join with them in prayer, interceding with them before the Father, because not only will he be ever so patient with them and their cries for mercy, he will be patient with us and our cries for mercy on their behalf.

Of course, this would mean prayer. This would mean actually doing more than mentioning it once in prayer because we told them we would pray. This would mean grieving with those who grieve and weeping with those who weep. And maybe for some there is another concern. Not that God will be bothered by the requests of those unwilling to be satisfied with the brokenness of this fallen world, but that we might be bothered with actually having to intercede as persistently with them as this parable calls for.

Is God really bothered? God is bothered by the fallenness of this fallen world, or the brokenness of this broken world. So much so that He sent His Son to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). However God is not bothered by your continual coming to Him and asking Him to do something about it. For those who are experiencing the brokenness of this fallen world, “No matter how small or trivial your life may seem, God is not bothered by your continual appeals for Him to do something about your unjust situation.” And for the rest of us, no matter how far out of reach justice and restoration may seem for someone, we should join with them in prayer to our loving Father whom we can trust is already at work and gladly hears our prayers.

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

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I said, “You are gods”: A Mediation in Psalm 82

Reading: Psalm 82, John 10
God presides in the great assembly (ESV: divine council); he renders judgment among the "gods": (Psalm 82:1)
Psalm 82 begins in a way that seems a bit awkward to our Christian ears. Verse 1 could be rendered, “God stands among the gods, in the midst of the gods He judges.” Who are these “gods” he stands amongst? The context makes rather clear that they are those who stand in leadership over God's people, those who make judgments that effect the weak, fatherless, poor, and oppressed of God's people (Psalm 82:1-2).
"How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? 3Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. 4Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:2-4)
Why does God refer to them as “gods”? Fair question. These rulers were called to dispense justice on God's behalf. All authority or rulership over people is delegated from God (Romans 13:1). So the rulers have a responsibility to represent truth and mercy on God's behalf. In effect, they were to represent God to the people. However, they were failing miserably. Calling them “gods” is a bit “tongue-in-cheek.” Now God was going to render judgment amongst them, and in fact on them.
5The “gods” know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, “You are 'gods'; you are all sons of the Most High.” 7But you will die like mere mortals; you will fall like every other ruler." (Psalm 82:5-7)
Then, in the closing verse of the psalm, it almost seems like a new idea is introduced in the conclusion out of left field. But it isn't out of left field at all.
Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance. (Psalm 82:8)
God rising up and judging is no surprise. It's the part about “why” he will rise up and judge the earth that may surprise. “For all the nations are your inheritance.” (The ESV reads, “for you shall inherit all the nations.”) It would have seemed more in keeping with the rest of the psalm if it had read, “Rise up, O God, judge of the earth, for the leaders of the people are oppressing the people.” And certainly, that is the reason which has been given throughout the psalm. But now, at the end of the psalm, it seems as if a new cause is introduced.
But it is not new at all. In fact, it is the very reason for the rest of the psalm. It all began with a promise to Abraham.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3)
"As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. (Genesis 17:4-6)
These verses introduce and repeat the promise: God called Abraham in order that through him he might bless the nations. God's plan for one man was the nations of the world. Then, in another place we get a glimpse into how God would reach the nations through him.
For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him. (Genesis 18:19)
How will God bring about this promise? He chose Abraham so that he would direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord. How would they be taught to keep the way of the Lord? “...by doing what is right and just...” Follow the logic. God chose Abraham so he would train his children and household–which eventually becomes the nation of Israel – to keep the Lord way. The way they keep the Lord's way is by doing what is right and just. And when they do this, the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised—bless the world through him.
What does this have to do with Psalm 82? Everything. The leaders of Israel were given the charge, handed down in the covenant with Abraham, to do what is right and just. And if they had done this, showing God's compassion to the people and dispensing God's mercy, the nations would have looked on and seen the glory of God. They would be the light of God to the nations (Isaiah 51:4; 60:3). It is through this obedience that the nations could see the true nature of the God who chose Abraham and His mercy. But they failed to do so, and so God must judge them, for God will fulfill His promise and reach the nations.
When one reads Psalm 82 with this understanding, and then turns to the New Testament and reads John 10, it is easy to see why Jesus quoted from this psalm there (John 10:34). There he calls the then current Jewish leaders thieves and robbers who have come to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:8-10). They are just like those in Psalm 82.
Then, Jesus points to Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). He is the Messiah who “with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:4) He will truly be the “son” of God in a way that no one else ever could be for He is the Son of God. The promise given to Abraham that all peoples will be blessed through him will be fulfilled through Jesus and His people (the church) walking out His justice and righteousness (love), as the light of the world (Matthew 5:14; Philippians 2:15).
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


Sunday, August 10, 2014

What is Korah's Rebellion?


The account of Korah’s rebellion (Korah and 250 men rise up in rebellion against Moses and Aaron; the earth opens and swallows them in the end) is sometimes used as a defense of authority against anyone who might be questioning authority. This event may have some things to say about authority in the church, but it is not the primary point. In fact, the distraction to this issue of “Who’s in charge?” may prevent us from seeing the glorious truth that this story is really about.

We are told at the beginning that 250 prominent Israelite men, leaders in the community, representatives in the assembly, rebelled against Moses and Aaron. The claim, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?” (Numbers 16:3), is not a general complaint about their authority, nor a general complaint about how they view themselves as being better than the rest of the community. This becomes clear when we get to the end of the story. One might call this verse the moral to the story.

This was to remind the Israelites that no one except a descendant of Aaron should come to burn incense before the LORD, or he would become like Korah and his followers. (Numbers 16:40)

The rebellion, it turns out was about Moses (really, the Lord) saying that only Aaron and his descendants could burn incense before the Lord. Korah and the 250 leaders (who already had a level of authority in the community) were claiming everyone in the community is holy enough to offer incense before the Lord in the tent of meeting. This also makes a lot more sense out of Moses telling these men to come the next day and bring their censors and burning incense to let the Lord decide who was right and wrong (Numbers 16:6-7). And it explains why, after all was said and done they were to take the 250 censors they had used and hammer them into a plating to go over the altar to remind the Israelites that no one except a descendant of Aaron (a priest) could approach the alter to offer incense (Numbers 16:39-40).

Aaron had already lost two sons in the service of offering incense because they did not follow the prescribed way (Leviticus 10:1-2). In some sense, I am sure he would have been happy to turn this responsibility over to someone else. Serving as priest was costly. Korah and his followers seemed to think it was about privilege. Worse yet, they did not realize there was a problem–that they needed an intermediary between them and God. God is holy; they were sinful. Their incense would not be acceptable to God. Only incense brought in the prescribed way, through mediation and sacrifice, would be acceptable.

It may be that Christians sometimes miss the greater point of this story because of familiarity with the truths of the New Covenant clearly laid out in Hebrews. As believers in Jesus we are all invited to draw near without any fear of punishment (Hebrews 4:16; 7:19, 25; 10:19-22, 12:18-22). There is only one thing that makes the difference between these verses in Hebrews and Korah’s rebellion. The freedom with which Hebrews calls us to draw near to God in prayer (remember our prayer is incense before God–Revelation 5:8) is only possible because of our Great High Priest. It is not possible because Korah was right (“The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them”). Korah was wrong.

Aaron and his family showed us that we need a mediator. Jesus is that mediator. The reason the earth doesn’t swallow us alive (or some other version of God’s wrath) when we approach the throne of grace is because we come through Jesus Christ. We come by a new and living way opened through his death on the cross. (See the Hebrews verses listed above.)

Many today promote the idea that there are many ways to God. That is Korah’s rebellion. Everything but coming to God through our Lord Jesus Christ is ultimately Korah’s rebellion. If it were not for God’s patience and endurance, judgment would long ago have been poured out.

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

Today if You Hear His Voice: A Meditation in Psalm 95

Reading: Psalm 95

Imagine receiving an invitation to eat dinner with the President of the United States—pick your favorite president just to keep politics out of this. What would you do? You'd clear your calendar. Psalm 95 is an invitation from a king. Not just any king, “the great King above all gods...”.

A Voice Calling Us to Worship

Psalm 95 calls us to worship. The speaker is a fellow member of the people of God, presumably a leader of the congregation. The recipients of this call are the people of God—members of the community of God's people. It is an invitation to come and sing joyfully with songs of praise, giving thanks in His presence (Psalm 95:1-2).
The ground or basis of this call to worship is the greatness of our God.
(3) For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. (4) In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. (5) The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. (Psalm 95:3-5)
This invitation is not like invitations which we are accustomed to receiving. We receive invitations to various events (weddings, graduations, etc.) with an R.S.V.P. request. It is optional. If you don't desire to come it is often hoped you might send a gift. Either way, your presence is requested, even desired, but there are no negative consequences for not coming. This invitation, however, appeals to the recipients not to brush it aside. There are consequences for not accepting this invitation.
God, “the great God, the great King above all gods,” the Creator of and therefore Sovereign over the sea and dry land (the whole earth), has invited you to come and worship. He has invited you to come and worship in a certain way: with singing and joyfully. Why? Is this invitation only for those who prefer to worship with singing and joyful noises, but not for those who prefer to worship quietly? No, because the greatness of who He is calls for this kind of worship—worship that speaks to the greatness of God from all—especially those of us who aren't naturally inclined toward this worship.
We are called to come and worship in a way that befits the King; in a way that doesn't belittle the greatness of our God. Worship is about God and His greatness; it is not about us. And since our God is great and above all, our worship should be joyful. (This does not mean there are never times for grieving before God. Even those ought to ultimately lead to joyful worship.)

Today If You Hear His Voice - Worship

There is something that I have often missed when reading this psalm. It is found in the relationship between the first part of the psalm and the second: the call to worship and the warning to heed the call to worship. It can be identified clearly when we see the logical connection of verses 6, 7c-8a, and 11.
INVITATION: (6) Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker...
WARNING TO HEED INVITATION: (7) …Today, if only you would hear his voice, (8) “Do not harden your hearts...
CONSEQUENCE OF REFUSAL: (11) So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'”
It helps to see that the Hebrew word for “come” in the invitation v 6 is the same as that for the word “enter” in v 11. In English it would be a little more awkward, but to emphasize the point we might read it, "Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker...'They shall never come into my rest.'" The call to come into worship, if refused, is met with the consequence of never coming into God's rest. That doesn't seem odd when we understand that God's rest is found in Him and in glorifying Him.
What does this mean? It means the people of God must take seriously the call to worship our God. The mission of God is ultimately about the nations rendering to God the worship due His name (see Psalm 96:1-3; 7-9). It means that in order to respond to God's invitation to come to Him, we come worshiping Him. It also means that to reject God's call to worship Him in joy is to harden our hearts. That hardening reflects hearts that have gone astray and have not known God's ways (Psalm 95:10).
Psalm 95 is both an invitation and a warning. This invitation and warning are captured in the book of Hebrews. The book of Hebrews reverses the order: it begins with a warning not to neglect such a great salvation (Hebrews 2:1-3), which is restated in the words of Psalm 95 (Hebrews 3:7-13) with an appeal not to allow our hearts to be hardened by sin's deceitfulness, and then appeals to us to draw near (come) and call on the Lord for his mercy (always a part of our worship) (Hebrews 4:16). This appeal to “draw near” and enter God's presence returns toward the end of the book (Hebrews 10:19-22). The writer of Hebrews applied the truths of Psalm 95 directly to those who considered themselves part of the community of faith in Jesus. This means it applies directly to us.
The Hebrew Christians had been around for some time; their faith was not as white hot as it was in the beginning (Hebrews 10:32-39). They needed to be reminded of this call to passionate worship of our magnificent God because of this salvation as great as that wrought by Jesus Christ. What about you and me? I need to be reminded. God is reminding me through Psalm 95. But I need more than a reminder. Today if I hear His voice, I need to respond in worship! Join me. Today, if you hear His voice...sing, sing joyfully, and render the worship due His name. Do not harden your heart.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Religion or Relationship?

Reading: Romans 12
This past Monday I went to get my oil changed. It's early, I've got my coffee, Bible, and a couple other books just in case this takes longer than expected. As I sit in the waiting room, and accidentally spill some coffee onto the seat next to me, a conversation begins with the only other person in the waiting room—a woman in her late 50's. Somehow the Bible gets brought into the conversation and I ask if she has a church.
Not right now; I did all that for a long time, going to church, tithing, being involved, but I traded religion for relationship.” Now, I know that according to current cultural protocol, she has just trumped everything. I'm supposed to be awed by the sheer superiority of such a comment. It is code for, “I've reached a level of understanding that has allowed me to rise above such inauthentic practices as organized religion to a new plane of authentic religion which is just me and the Lord.” Those words she used, “I've traded religion for relationship.” What do they mean? What did she mean?
Turns out, as I inquired, that several years back she and her now late husband were inspired by a movie, “Bucket List”. And that is when she turned her religion in for this so-called relationship. They began traveling the world and seeing places they always wanted to see. Don't get me wrong, I rejoice that they had some extended time together before his passing. I would want that for them and anyone else. However, I would never recommend the trade that was made.
What was this trade? “Religion for relationship.” She left being committed to a group of people outside of herself to which she was joined by a common belief, for which she sacrificed for the common good both financially and with her time, which involved working through conflicts, disagreements, and differences in order to accomplish something bigger than just ourselves, and traded that for merely doing what she wants on the weekends, traveling where she wants, and not being encumbered by such archaic things such as financial sacrifice for something from which I get no direct benefit, or time commitments. The first one she called religion, the second one she called relationship. Can you see the obvious contradiction?
You may object saying, “But she meant relationship with God, not others.” True; that wasn't missed on me. However, since love of God and love of neighbor are intricately tied together, and since she had already acknowledged an immense respect for the Bible as a Divinely inspired book, I heard her through its grid. And the scriptures tell us plainly that we cannot love God whom we cannot see while not loving our neighbor, brother or sister in Christ, whom we can see. (1 John 4:20-21) Love is never merely a feeling I have toward people while I am completely uninvolved in their lives.
Romans 12 describes what “relationship” looks like. It describes what authentic religion looks like. Here is a sampling of how this is described:
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship...5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. 9 Love must be sincere....10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practice hospitality....15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
It turns out, she has recently moved to the area and moved about a mile away from the church in which I am involved. I was able to invite her and I do pray she comes. I pray this that she might discover something authentic, something outside any one of us, something of relationship in a community which bears with each other, forgives one another, prays through dark times together, helps people in need that we know and do life together with. I can't speak to what she had before that she traded for this “relationship” (more accurately called self-life). I can say that I know a kind of relationship, a kind of authentic worship of God that cannot be lived apart from a believing community. And that is the kind of worship to which the Bible calls us.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


Thursday, February 20, 2014

If Only We Could See: A Meditation in Psalm 126

Reading: Psalm 126  
If only we could see, laughter and joy would fill our mouths when we think about the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. I realize that is not the way many speak of the church today. In fact it is quite popular to speak disparagingly of the church as if God's great mission in the world had failed.
I am not suggesting that there are not reasons to be concerned–there are. But I am suggesting that there is much more to the picture. Psalm 126 gives us a glimpse into the picture.
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. 2Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them." 3The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
4Restore our fortunes, LORD, like streams in the Negev. 5Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. 6Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
Joy at the Time of Ingathering
This psalm speaks of the time when the captive people of God were released from Babylon and returning to the land of Zion. The people returning were poor and displaced. They were unsettled. Yet there was joy; joy unspeakable; joy like a dream; joy that could only be expressed in a mouth full of laughter and singing. This was a time of ingathering—ingathering of God's people from where they had been displaced, dispersed, and dispossessed.
Their prayer was that the Lord would restore their fortunes like the cracked dry stream-beds in the dessert. When the rainy season comes, that which was cracked and dry is now the very source of life for all around. But notice they weren't waiting to be filled with joy until they were the flowing stream. They were filled with joy because the Lord was gathering them in and now they were praying with joy that they would be restored to become the source of life to all around.
What does any of this have to do with the church?”
I'm glad you asked. The prophets looked forward to this time of gathering God's people from where they had been scattered. Here are just a couple from numerous examples.
Hear the word of the LORD, you nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.” (Jeremiah 31:10)
He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. (Isaiah 11:12)
Notice where they will be gathered from? From the four quarters of the earth. In the scattering and regathering of God's people, there is a transformation envisioned by the prophets. They left the and rather ethnically Jewish and they are re-gathered from the nations of the world. This of course is fulfilled in the Gospel as the Gospel goes into the world gathering Gentiles as well as Jews so that all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25-26).
Do You See?
If you are a believer in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ, you are one of the disinherited and dispossessed that God has brought back to the land. God has gathered you into his inheritance. Paul prays for the church in Ephesians that we would see this.
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead. (Ephesians 1:18-19)
What is the hope to which He has called you? Certainly heaven, but more than that. He has made you part of a family. He has restored you to a place in which you now have an inheritance. You are part of something not only much bigger than yourself, but something eternal. This hope is a community of love in which sins are forgiven, offenses are born with patience, and humility guides our interactions.
Do you see the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people? Do you see that in Christ you have been joined to a family, a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9)? Do you see that as a part of God's holy nation you have received a hundred times as much “houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields” (Matthew 19:29)?
Do you see the power he has made available to you–that same life-giving power that raised Christ from the dead–in order that you can be transformed like the streams in the Negev? You can be transformed so that you are no longer a dry, fruitless tree (Isaiah 56:3) but now a life-giving, fruit-bearing tree? Our lives are to be transformed by the river of Living Water that flows from Jesus Christ into a life giving agents in this broken world.
Like the people in Psalm 126, we may still be poor and displaced in many ways. Our lives and churches may still be unsettled. But our mouths should be filled with joy, laughter, and singing because we are no longer displaced, dispersed, and dispossessed. We have been restored to the inheritance God has for us! If only we could see, laughter and joy would fill our mouths when we think about the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,