Thursday, July 2, 2015

Windows Open Toward Jerusalem, Beloved

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case 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 we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, Who said [in Genesis 1:3], ‘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 4:3-6).

I think we repeatedly forget the spiritual element to the conflict the world has with Christ (their conflict with His Church is secondary, John 15:18,19). Paul wasn’t exaggerating when he said, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). I’m sure Bible-believing Christians (the only kind of true Christian) believe Paul, but there seems to be a disconnect between confessing belief in Ephesians 6:12 and our discussions and emotional reactions to world events.

Opponents to the Church – her enemies – are blind slaves. Their only hope is not our vitriol or sarcasm (no one’s ever been saved by being told they were an idiot), but the Gospel and the Gospel alone. We must become a praying people who rely on prayer as our primary armory. I’ve been thinking of Daniel. I preached on Daniel in 2012 to remind our people of the parallel reality between earthly conflicts and spiritual conflicts, and that the Lord God is King and Sovereign over all. After hearing a discussion last night about politics and national events, I wonder if it’s not time to revisit the lessons of Daniel again. The conflicts between Babylon, the Persians and Medes, and eventually the Greeks and Romans are all described in Daniel’s visions, but also the parallel spiritual conflicts engaged by beings described as “princes” (10:13,20,21; 12:1). Daniel’s response is an impressive devotion to prayer (6:10; 9:3) and the Word (9:2). We could all use a little soul-humbling fasting in this generation.

The conflict is a spiritual one, and therefore we are the only humans with the knowledge and ability to engage in it. How? Before the 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 passage I quoted at the top, the apostle Paul gives us a help: “Therefore, since we have this ministry [την διακονιαν, “service”], as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1,2). Let me underline this point: we are the only humans equipped with the knowledge and power to counter this blindness. If we ignore it and attempt to engage in a baptized version of worldly battle tactics (I speak metaphorically), the only effective means of wrestling will be abandoned. Sitting in a prison cell awaiting execution many decades later, we find that Paul hasn’t changed his mind on this topic: “...refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:23-26).

I hear a lot of frustration from my fellow believers. I understand it, but there is a creeping toward “losing heart” in their anger and fear. Paul battles this tendency with a meditation on the service and great mercy God has entrusted to believers. Then he purposes to not fall into the techniques of the world (and worldly false churches): “...we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God.” The sinful motivations of humanity (no different than the desire to be God we inherited from our first parents in Genesis 3:5,6) are at the root of all efforts to redefine, “free” (an illusion), etc. We must be intentional in turning from this foundational sin motivating all human “heart-following” and decision-making. We will not play their games on their terms. We will consider what God has given us and walk in His character (as revealed in the Scriptures alone) by the power of the Holy Spirit given to those who believe in Jesus Christ. We submit to the Scriptures and do not twist them to our agenda. God is observing us as we conduct ourselves in this arena.

After 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (again, quoted at the top), where Paul reveals the spiritual battle and spiritual blindness of our opponents, he gives a key to remaining encouraged: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:7-11). It’s not just Paul’s preaching that is cross-centered (1 Corinthians 2:2), but his attitude – dare I say, his feelings. He embraced opposition because he saw it as embracing the very cross of Jesus Christ.

On the other side of the cross is the resurrection: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Meditate on the Gospel. I’ve said many times before that we need to preach it to ourselves every day (every hour!) to fight tendencies to self-righteousness and Pharisaism, but we also need the Gospel to know how to react to opposition from the world. For the joy set before you, endure the cross, despise the shame, for there is a place beyond all this futile game-play where the true King reigns uncontested (Hebrews 12:2 – go on to read the rest of the chapter for some great application!).

Besides, preaching the Gospel to yourself on a regular basis will make it easier to preach to others. It is your greatest weapon (far greater than legislation, polemical blog-writing, political rant-sessions, or pic-posting on Facebook!). Proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written [in Psalm 116:10a], ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He Who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:13-15).

The battle is spiritual. If we are to stand, we need God’s armor (Ephesians 6:13-20), which culminates in the Bible and prayer (for God’s help in proclaiming that Bible). Please, Church, don’t forget this, but get deeper into it and show by your actions that you take this biblical truth seriously! The goal is “the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” If our focus is on anything less than this, then we’ve lost the battle, no matter what laws we might overturn or elections we might win. Windows open toward Jerusalem (Daniel 6:10), beloved – the one above which is free, our mother (Galatians 4:26).

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Earth to Heaven to Ethic

Once upon a time my pastor told me that Scripture trains the mind to recognize analogies and patterns. In this way, the mind is sharpened and continually grows as we read the Word and meditate on it. I thought of that this morning as I read – over the rim of a coffee cup – Psalms and Proverbs.

“The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.
For He has founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the rivers.
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
And has not sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face - even Jacob. Selah” (Psalm 24:1-6).

The meditation on creation in 24:1,2 leads to a consideration of heaven (24:3,5,6), the fruit of which is a godly ethic (24:4).

“My son, eat honey, for it is good,
Yes, the honey from the comb is sweet to your taste;
Know that wisdom is thus for your soul;
If you find it, then there will be a future,
And your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 24:13,14).

As in Psalm 24, the meditation on creation (yummy honey) in Proverbs 24:13 leads to a consideration of heaven (“...a future...your hope,” 24:14) and a godly ethic (“wisdom”).

As we walk the world this day seeing, touching, eating, drinking, smelling, feeling, enjoying, molding, making, wrestling, and resisting, let us not stop there, but lift our considerations to the Presence of the Maker of it all. Desire Him above all He has made, and seek conformity through His Son with His will (as it is revealed sufficiently in His Word by His Spirit).

Good day to you. I'm going to go work honey into breakfast. With another cup of coffee.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Ancient Paths Lead to Jesus...and Rest

“Thus says the LORD,
‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths,
Where the good way is, and walk in it;
And you will find rest for your souls’” (Jeremiah 6:16).

“At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and [as it is written in Jeremiah 6:16] you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light’” (Matthew 11:25-30).

So, are the prophet and Lord in conflict over where rest is to be found for our souls? Is it looking back to the “ancient paths,” or looking to “the Son” alone?

When we read the entirety of Matthew 11, I think we find that there is no conflict between Jeremiah and Jesus. Earlier in the chapter, John the Baptist sent his disciples to inquire as to whether or not Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus highlights Himself by pointing to the “ancient paths.”

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and report to John what you hear and see: [as is says in Isaiah 35:4-6; 42:6,7; 61:1-3] the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me’” (11:4-6).

After this compilation of Isaiah quotes (that point to Jesus Himself), Jesus then goes back to the “ancient paths” to describe His forerunner, John the Baptist: “This is the one about whom it is written [in Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1], ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before You’” (11:10).

And then He continues: “For all the prophets and the Law [the Old Testament!] prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah [foretold in Malachi 4:5] who was to come” (11:13,14).

Jesus doesn’t just look to the “ancient paths” for promises of His own coming, but utilizes the examples of the past to show God’s righteous judgment and the greater stakes in His visitation: “Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you’” (11:20-24).

There is no conflict between Jeremiah and Jesus. The “ancient paths” to which Jeremiah points lead us to Jesus, in Whom alone we “find rest for your souls.”

The response of Jeremiah’s generation was, “we will not walk in it” (6:16). And they were judged (as was Jesus’ generation).

What is your response? A day is coming...and we have proof in what has come before. Turn to Jesus alone for your soul's rest and salvation.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Broken Tablets, Broken Society

We’re reading through Jeremiah in Wednesday night Bible study (chapter 5 this week). The more I read the Old Testament, the more I see its similarities with the New Testament. The God of both is the same. His requirements of humanity are the same (belief from the heart in His Word resulting in obedience and faithfulness to Him). His perfect attributes are the same.

This week we saw the parallels between the prophet Jeremiah and the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. When the first tablet of the Law (our duty to God, Exodus 20:1-11//Deuteronomy 5:6-15) is destroyed, the second tablet (our duty to each other, Exodus 20:12-17//Deuteronomy 5:16-21) crumbles.

The prophet describes the failure of the people in their duty to God:
“Why should I pardon you?
Your sons have forsaken Me
And sworn by those who are not gods” (5:7).
They violated the first three of the Ten Commandments.

Spiritual adultery results in physical adultery. Marriage collapses in the society. The violation of the seventh commandment becomes commonplace, and the people are driven solely by a continual lusting:
“...they committed adultery
and trooped to the harlot’s house.
They were well-fed lusty horses,
Each one neighing after his neighbor’s wife” (5:7,8).

Then comes the refrain of this chapter (it’ll occur again in verse 29):
“‘Shall I not punish these people,’ declares the LORD,
‘And on a nation such as this
Shall I not avenge Myself?’” (5:9).

Destroy the first tablet of the Law, and the second crumbles. This is exactly as the apostle Paul outlines in Romans 1. With the failure in duty to God (Romans 1:20-23) comes a failure in duty to fellow human (1:24-32). This is why “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18).

Back in Jeremiah 5, we see another example of what Paul teaches in Romans 1. The LORD highlights this same principle using two different examples.
“‘Do you not fear Me?’ declares the LORD.
‘Do you not tremble in My presence?
For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea,
An eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it.
Though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail;
Though they roar, yet they cannot cross over it.
But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart;
They have turned aside and departed’” (5:22,23).

One of the inferences that humanity should universally draw from nature is that of law (which requires a Law-Giver). If there are laws of nature instituted by the Creator of nature, then there are logically laws of morality/ethics instituted by the Creator of humanity. The very fact that humans devise systems of morality/ethics and build laws to reflect those systems is proof of this reality: “...when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:14-16).

The second illustration is still from nature, but it is closer to home and little more practical:
“‘They do not say in their heart,
“Let us now fear the LORD our God,
Who gives rain in its season,
Both the autumn rain and the spring rain,
Who keeps for us
The appointed weeks of the harvest.”
Your iniquities have turned these away,
And your sins have withheld good from you’” (Jeremiah 5:24,25).

From gravity’s effect on bodies of water to the seasonal rains for crops, God’s “invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature” should be “clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:20). Instead, the people have rebelled against the knowledge of God as it is revealed in creation, and actively and continually “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18). Paul describes this progression exactly as Jeremiah does.

After Jeremiah’s two illustrations from creation (5:22-25), what should we expect to see when people deny the authority of the God of creation? When the first tablet of the Law (our duty to God) is destroyed, the second tablet (our duty to each other) crumbles.

“For wicked men are found among My people,
They watch like fowlers lying in wait;
They set a trap,
They catch men.
Like a cage full of birds,
So their houses are full of deceit;
Therefore they have become great and rich.
They are fat, they are sleek,
They also excel in deeds of wickedness;
They do not plead the cause,
The cause of the orphan, that they may prosper;
And they do not defend the rights of the poor” (5:26-28).

With the denial of the first tablet and the crumbling of the second tablet, the refrain from 5:9 returns:
“‘Shall I not punish these people?’ declares the LORD,
‘On a nation such as this
Shall I not avenge Myself?’” (5:29).

In Jeremiah, this principle is in the context of old covenant Israel. In Romans, this principle is applied to all of humanity. In Athens, Paul had previously described this change: “...having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man Whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30,31).

He is a merciful God. This is seen in the first statement of the Ten Commandments: “I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2//Deuteronomy 5:6). Break the first tablet, and you destroy this statement of grace. The second tablet (societal stability and safety) cannot be maintained without the first. And it’s all built on the saving God of grace.

It is the Gospel of this God that must be preached again and again by the Church. Without faith in the God Who alone can rescue “us from the domain of darkness,” and transfer “us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13), and the two tablets of the Law built on this gracious Gospel, no other attempts to save a society or nation will be fruitful.

The Gospel of God’s grace→our duty to God→our duty to fellow man. This is the only biblical solution. Therefore, do not forget your calling, Church. Do not cease from giving the call, louder and more frequently: “Now all these things are from God, Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him Who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Father, grant the grace of repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25) and bring revival through faith in Your Son alone.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Remember Your Baptism

I was recently asked what I thought my greatest failure in ministry has been. I immediately knew the answer. It went something like this: “I remember every person I’ve baptized who is no longer part of the Church (I keep a picture of me baptizing one by my desk as a reminder). I remember every couple I wasn’t able to help in marriage counseling. I consider it my failure that a greater percentage of the congregation doesn’t participate in Bible study or prayer meetings – and, directly related to that, I grieve that many of them have not embraced God’s commandments for their lives in the Word.” Alright, it probably wasn’t as well-organized as that, but that’s the gist of it.

That baptism thing gets me. A few years ago I had a tract (maybe a pamphlet) made in the form and size of a folding business card concerning baptism. I wanted to have it around for those times when I visited or ran into someone who had forgotten their baptism.

Here’s the text:

Remember your baptism.
 It is the response of one who has heard the Gospel, repented, and put faith in Christ alone for salvation (Acts 2:37,38; 8:12,35-38; 18:8).
 It is a God-given picture of the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:20-22)
 It is a God-given picture of new life in Christ, free from the bondage of sin and free to serve God will all you are (Romans 6:1-23; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:10-12).
 It is the first step of obedience to the Church’s Commission to “make disciples.” It is followed by a life-long learning to obey Christ together as the Church (Matthew 28:18-20).
 It is unifying, since through one baptism we are united to one Lord and His one Church (Ephesians 4:5).
 It is the means by which God the Holy Spirit brings those who believe into His Church (Acts 2:41-47; 1 Corinthians 12:13).
  Does your life reflect these truths of your baptism? If so, pray the Spirit will help you to continue growing in this reality proclaimed by your baptism. If not, humbly ask the Spirit to make your baptism the reality of your life and renew your fellowship with His Church.

Well? Do you remember? I hope so, because the man who baptized you and has been charged to keep watch over your soul (Hebrews 13:17) remembers.