Friday, May 22, 2015

Surveying the Boundaries

“You shall not move your neighbor’s boundary mark, which the ancestors have set, in your inheritance which you will inherit in the land that the LORD your God gives you to possess...cursed is he who moves his neighbor’s boundary mark. And all the people shall say, ‘Amen’ not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set” (Deuteronomy 19:14; 27:17; Proverbs 22:28).

I am meditating this morning on the boundary lines of the inheritance given us in Christ from the Father:
  • The Father causes “us to be born again” in Christ so that we will “obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven” (1 Peter 1:3-5).
  • “God has granted [this inheritance] to Abraham by means of a promise...if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:18,29).
  • In Christ “we have obtained an inheritance,” and are “sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, Who is given as a pledge of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:11-18).
  • We give “thanks to the Father, Who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 3:12-14).
  • The King gives the inheritance of His Father to those who care for His “brothers” (the covenant family of God in Christ) in this world (Matthew 25:34-40).
  • We have been commended “to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

It is good.
“The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You support my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;

Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me” (Psalm 16:5,6).

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Weapon in Each Hand to Fight the Darkness

I got to fill in for one of our Sunday School teachers yesterday morning, and took the opportunity to look at one of the most challenging Psalms – 88. In the English and original Hebrew, the last word of the song is “darkness.” The only positives in the Psalm is the sons’ (of Korah) opening address to “the God of my salvation” and meditation on the perfections of God in 88:10-12 (“wonders,” “lovingkindness,” “faithfulness,” and “righteousness”). Everything else is dark in the Psalm. We spoke about the place of lament and emotional discipleship in the life of the congregation, since the song is titled “for the choir director.” This is in stark contrast to contemporary Christian worship, which is a pep rally, and the suffering of the saints with depression, which is too often alone. The Spirit’s work through the teaching ministry of worship (“be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” Ephesians 5:18,19) is neglected, since these days challenging emotions are not dealt with in the context of corporate discipleship as they would be in a Psalm-based liturgy. Psalm 88 (and similar Psalms), voiced by the congregation as a whole, would teach us a Spirit-inspired way of walking through depression and darkness. This seems like a valuable thing to do. As I pointed out to the Sunday School class, however, we have some Christian cultural expectations to overcome to utilize this Spirit-empowered scriptural tool. I can imagine our worship leader taking us through a Psalm like 88 and the uncomfortable reaction of the congregation. Some would have their brows furrowed as they struggled through the dark lyric, and others would joke their way out of the experience. The worship leader might be quickly questioned for putting such a “downer” of a song in the line-up.

We need this. I know not just from my place as overseer of the souls of the congregation (I know where many places of darkness are), but from my own experience with difficult days and weeks. Corporate lament and emotional discipleship would be an ultimate blessing to the people.

With this fresh on my mind this Monday morning (woke up at 5 a.m. worrying over a few specific souls), I read the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7).

Ah, I’m jealous for this. I want this for dozens that I’m thinking of this very moment as I write this. How, Lord, can I help my fellow brothers and sisters find this? They have the peace with God that comes through being justified by faith in Christ (Romans 5:1). But this peace in Philippians 4:7 is a guarding peace promised to believers as we sometimes walk a very dark path. How, Lord? Then I saw the word, “and” (yes, it’s in the Greek, too). This precious promise is announced in connection with something that comes before it. Commands.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7, the bold marks the specific imperative verbs).

The God-Who-is-present (“The Lord is near.”) works through...
  • ...our rejoicing in the Son (Who is called “the Lord” in 1:2; 2:11,19; 3:8,20; 4:23). Which means we are looking to Jesus regularly as He is on abundant display in the Scripture, and rejoicing in what we see.
  • ...our cultivated reputation as gentle (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 3:2; James 3:17). “To all men.” Challenging. It’s hard for some to let themselves be seen by others when they’re in the midst of the darkness.
  • ...our refusal to anxiousness (Jesus issues similar commands in Matthew 6:25-34//Luke 12:22-26; Matthew 10:16-20//Luke 12:11,12; Luke 10:38-42). Interestingly, the apostle Paul describes anxiousness in a positive way in Philippians 2:20. Apparently, worrying over the spiritual welfare of other believers is acceptable!
  • ...our thankful petitions to the Father (“God” is so identified in 1:2; 2:11; 4:20).
The Guardian of souls promises to work a protecting peace over those who pursue these disciplines (remember, they are commands, not suggestions). I’m not saying any of these things are easy to accomplish – especially for someone in a Psalm 88 kind of darkness. But it’s there.

The Spirit has shown me two weapons in two days to help others fight the darkness (Psalm 88 and Philippians 4:4-7). Pray with me, beloved, that He will wield them powerfully through the congregation and through this wholly inadequate overseer.
Psalm 88:9-17 in the ARP Psalter

Monday, May 4, 2015

The God of Isaiah and the Gospels Among the Dead

“They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain. The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea. Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the ‘legion’; and they became frightened. Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. And they began to implore Him to leave their region (Mark 5:1-17; cf. Matthew 8:24-34; Luke 8:26-39).

The Bible is about Jesus (“All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation,” Baptist Faith & Message 2000, I). We should expect that behind the actions and words of Jesus are shadows, types, and symbols in the Old Testament in which He walks during His time on earth. In fact, the apostle Paul teaches us that we cannot even understand the Old Testament until we read it in Christ: “...until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:14-16; cf. Luke 24:44-49; John 5:39).

In “the vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz” (1:1), the Holy Spirit revealed the work of God in Christ reaching out to tomb-dwelling bacon-eaters who didn’t even want Him:
“I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’
To a nation which did not call on My name.
I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people,
Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts,
A people who continually provoke Me to My face,
Offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on bricks;
Who sit among graves and spend the night in secret places;
Who eat swine’s flesh [old covenant, Leviticus 11:7//Deuteronomy 14:8; new covenant, Mark 7:19; Acts 10:1-48],
And the broth of unclean meat is in their pots.
Who say, ‘Keep to yourself, do not come near me,
For I am holier than you!’
These are smoke in My nostrils,
A fire that burns all the day.” (Isaiah 65:1-5).

The God of Isaiah’s vision is the Christ Who came ashore in “the country of the Gerasenes.” The man possessed by Legion is the focus on the story, but he is merely openly living what was true of all the unclean, spiritually-dead Gerasene residents. God the Son permits the tomb-dweller to recognize Him, ironically via the thousands of demons which inhabited him. The man is released, brought to salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, and commissioned as a missionary to the Gerasenes (who asked Christ to leave the area).

“...the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God...for God, Who said [in Genesis 1:2,3], ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One Who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4,6).

The God of the Bible (Old and New Testaments) doesn’t reach out to the clean, the pretty, the moral, the spiritually-open. He saves the filth-eating walking dead through His spotless, blameless, eternally-beloved Son. This is the grace of God. And He hasn’t changed since the pages of Isaiah or the Gospels. Remember that today when the devil tempts you, Church, to think that people of certain nationalities, skin colors, accents, religions, sexual preferences, political parties, economic statuses, etc., cannot be saved as you were by “the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God.”

As you go, proclaim salvation by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Even in the tombs, among the bacon-eaters, and – yes – even among those who want you to disappear from the land.
"Gerasenes," by Abram Gomez

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Difference Is Grace

Thursday morning I got to the coffee shop early. I spoke to the barista about his upcoming international trip and how I handled my vaccinations before my first trip abroad. Like the fellow at the Chinese restaurant here in town, the barista doesn’t even ask my order any more...I guess I'm predictable (caffe americano and a muffin or scone). I like to eat before the rest of the guys arrive. Talking through Berkhof’s a bit easier when I’m not eating. I opened my Bible. The previous evening we’d finished the Revelation in Bible study. While eating, I turned to Revelation and then Isaiah.

“And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

“Everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And you who have no money,
Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price”
(Isaiah 55:1).

(We’d been in Isaiah 54:5-13 the week before while studying Revelation 21:1-22:5.)

I kept reading through Isaiah 55 and came to a passage I’ve quoted countless times over the years:
“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.
‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts’”

Reading it Thursday morning, though, I realized that this passage teaches God’s absolute difference from us as it relates to the Gospel’s free gift.

“‘Everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And you who have no money,
Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.
Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance.
Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Hear, and your soul shall live...’ the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.
‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts’”
(Isaiah 55:1-3,6-9).

The Gospel is not natural to our fallen race. Every religion other than that of the Bible is works-based. Even the religion of naturalistic evolution is works-based (the strong survive). We believe we must work to save ourselves or to keep ourselves alive in this world. In this belief-system shared by everyone from the Muslim to the atheistic biologist to the Mormon to the Buddhist, human beings stand in solidarity. And God is utterly different. Salvation with human beings is impossible; only God can save (Matthew 19:26//Mark 10:27//Luke 18:27). This is the context of Isaiah 55. The Gospel, or Good News, is that God does the impossible by freely giving a gracious salvation to those who hear His command to repent: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord” (compare with Matthew 3:2,8; 4:17; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Luke 3:8; 5:32; 13:3,5; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20). He freely gives grace: “...He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon...”

God is different because of grace. We think we must earn our salvation, yet we cannot. We fight His offer of the gift, trying to make Him like us in a million different ways. But it’s a gift. A gift we cannot earn. Ever. This is the absolute difference between God and man, and it is a difference we must accept if we are to be saved.

It is Gospel, or Good News:
  • “...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith” (Romans 3:22-25).
  • “...the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s [Adam] offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned [Adam]. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s [Adam] offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)” (Romans 5:15-17).
  • “...the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
  • “ grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8).

Friday, April 24, 2015

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

“It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.’ And He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed [αγιασθητω, “let it be made holy”] be Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation”...if you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?’” (Luke 11:1-4,13).

I’ve always been fascinated by the Gospel of Luke. The divinely-inspired compiler (1:1-3) is often “moved [φερομενοι, lit., “carried”] by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21) to record his material in a way that requires some careful consideration. That’s why I love this Gospel. It’s easy to read for all who come to it, but also invites us to meditate on the theme-relationships of the larger structure.

This week I was reading Jesus’ teaching on prayer in chapter 11 (which contains Luke’s recording of the “Lord’s Prayer”). In addition to the model prayer, the Lord also gives two illustrations highlighting the importance of perseverance in prayer and the willingness of the Lord to give to us through the means of prayer. Matthew records these elements separately from each other. This doesn’t confound me like it seems to confound others. I have no problem believing that Jesus taught similarly-worded material at different times and in varied contexts. Anyway, Matthew tells us that the Father gives “what is good to those who asked Him” (Matthew 7:11). Why does Jesus change the wording in His teaching recorded in Luke 11 from “what is good” to “the Holy Spirit”?

I think the answer to this question, and the key to a larger coherence in Luke 11:1-13, is found in the new covenant promise recorded by the prophet Ezekiel:
“Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Son of man...say to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘...I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God’”’” (Ezekiel 36:16,17,22-28).

Just as Jesus begins His teaching on prayer with a concern for the holiness of the Father’s name and ended it with the giving of the Holy Spirit, Ezekiel does the same (“hallowed [αγιασθητω, “let it be made holy”]...Holy [αγιον] Spirit”). Jesus’ teaching on prayer is built upon the foundation of the Scriptures. He teaches us to pray the promises of the Word. I know that’s not a unique statement. There are a lot of teachers out there urging us to pray the promises of Scripture, and that’s good. I can appreciate anyone motivating us to get into the Word. However, there’s a nuance here that’s usually overlooked when we’re told to “pray the promises of the Word.” The promise of the Lord in Ezekiel is not individualistic, focused on the desires of the individual in their private life – their own self-centered world. The prophet records God’s Self-centered (capital “S”) plan to be glorified in the salvation of His people before the witness of the all the nations. It’s a world-wide Gospel plan about Him.

Is Jesus’ teaching on prayer any different than Ezekiel’s revelation of the Gospel?

Your [not “our” or “my”] kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:2-4).

We (second-person plural pronouns, never first-person singular) pray for ourselves (again, as the Church) as a subset of praying for God’s coming Kingdom. This coming Kingdom is also the message preached by the Church (9:2; 10:9,11).

The Lord Jesus teaches us to pray the Gospel plan for the gathering of God’s people (the Church) from among the nations, the forgiveness of their sins, and their filling with the Holy Spirit – all for the making-holy of His name and the magnifying of His great glory. Even “our daily bread” falls under this heading. It’s all about His glory through His Son, the Savior-King.

“Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). May we be willing to hear His teaching, drawn from the Prophets, and make our regular petition the glory of the Father through the Gospel of His Son among all the nations by the power of the Holy Spirit.
"Praying at Gethsemane," by He Qi (1999)