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7.19.17 Summer Sermon Series: Perseverance of the Saints Part IIE

6:13–20

In the final section of this digression from the discussion of Melchizedek, the writer begins by reminding his readers of God’s promise to Abraham. This was an unconditional promise to promise to Abraham, and it is the same God who had promised salvation to those who believe as Abraham did. It is because of God’s character: his unchangeableness and the impossibility of his lying that we who “have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast….”

Surely that would be enough to encourage us in the certainty of our salvation. But he goes on: “…and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered.” It is solely because of Jesus sacrifice for us that we can follow him into God’s presence. When the author says, “where Jesus has entered as a forerunner…” he is referring to Jesus being the propitiation for our sins (Romans  3:25), the final atonement for Abraham’s descendants. And now because Jesus has opened the way into God’s presence for his people through his sacrificial death, we too follow him into God’s presence as we put our trust in him, being baptized into Christ’s death, when we turn in repentance from our dead works to the living God. “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

Therefore trust in God’s faithfulness while being diligent to practice faithful perseverance.

 

7.18.17 Summer Sermon Series: Perseverance of the Saints Part IID

6:9–12

The writer of Hebrews is convinced about something. Despite the harsh warning that was just given—and to reiterate: it is a warning to those who are never maturing—he is convinced that his audience (at least mostly) is characterized by the soil that produces useful vegetation and receives a blessing. That is what the “better things” of verse 9 refer to. And it’s not just that he thinks so, he says these better things are the things that accompany salvation. So true salvation bears useful fruit. Verses 9–20 begin a clear exposition of the perseverance of true saints.

He begins in verse 10 with the 1st reason he in convinced that true salvation perseveres. God is just. This useful fruit is now described in a different way: love and work showed toward his name. In other words when our actions are done for God’s reputation and not our own, that is a sign of salvation. That doesn’t mean that our motives don’t get mixed up. That does mean we should always be aware of our motives, constantly challenging them, thinking about them, evaluating them to see why we do what we do.

And what does love and work for God’s reputation look like? The end of verse 10 tells us. It looks like serving others. And then the writer of Hebrews tells his audience to be diligent to continue in this way of life. Why? So they have assurance. If immaturity reigns, why should we have assurance? And a lack of diligence leads to sluggishness, which was the problem the writer of Hebrews pointed out at the beginning (the same word for dull in 5:11 is used here in 6:12, translated sluggish). The sluggish person is the one who needs to evaluate their life to see if they are in the faith. Instead our author wants us to imitate those who persevere with faith and patience. These are the ones who inherit the promises.

Therefore be diligent to do all that you do for God’s reputation. God’s justice doesn’t forget. 

 

7.17.17 Summer Sermon Series: Perseverance of the Saints Part IIC

6:4–8

This warning, then, is for those who appear to be continually at the starting block of the Christian life. While there is genuine disagreement here among believers as to whom the author is referring to in vv. 4 and 5 (believers or non-believers), I think that is ultimately irrelevant. The immature believer— the one who have not moved on from the basics of the Christian life—is fairly indistinguishable from the non-believer who has spent time in the church. And for those who then choose to turn their back on God (fall away = apostasy: a public statement of renouncing the need for Christ), repentance while in this state is not possible. One can’t be repenting while driving the nails in Jesus’ hands.

Aside: the second half of verse 6 is made up for two participles: crucifying again and putting to open shame. The NASB supplies the word since. But Greek participles almost always require the addition of an English word to help make the sentence sound like good English, and there are always interpretive decisions involved here. Is the participle causative, result, temporal? The footnote in the NASB offers while as an alternative, and I take that as the better option here. 

Verses 7 and 8 help us to see what is going on a little better. The writer gives two metaphors. In both, the ground represents people. Rain represents God’s grace that exists in the life of a local church. Both believers and non-believers experience this grace: the believer directly, the non-believer indirectly as discussed above. (There are benefits from spending time with believers and following the dictates of God, e.g. Exodus 9:20–21, 12:38, Joshua 2, 6:23). The believer produces useful fruit. The non-believer produces worthless things and ends up being burned. This metaphor, seems to me, to clear up the confusion that might be tied up in vv. 4–6.

But this metaphor is not the main reason to believe that vv. 4–6 refer to non-believers. Vv. 9–20 give a clear indication of the security of the believer.

So really, this warning is for those in the church—believers and those who think they are believers: First, we who think we are believers need to evaluate our own lives. We should look at our lives and see if we are maturing or merely benefiting from other true believers. Do we look like Christians because of our culture, or do we really live lives of devotion to God? Is he our motivation or is looking good before others our motivation? Do we live for God or self? Are we still dabbling with the basics and still needing to be taught the basics, or have we moved on to maturity? These are good questions that need to be asked.

Second, some are just playing church and have never trusted Christ as Savior. The warning is for them as well to take the step of repentance and faith. The writer of Hebrews knows that seed dropped in the shallow soil, eventually withers and dies—even though it sure looked promising for awhile. A consistent lack of maturity is a possible indicator that we are not really in the faith.

Mature believers eventually bear useful fruit; false believers yield worthlessness. Therefore, evaluate your fruit. 

 

7.13.17 Summer Sermon Series: Perseverance of the Saints Part IIB

On July 9, we discussed the warning passage of Hebrews 6:4–6 and the larger context of 5:11–6:20. Without this larger context, the passage in question “seems” rather straightforward. When I had been a believer for just a little over a year, I came across this passage in my reading and was troubled, not knowing what exactly the writer of Hebrews was talking about. When I discussed my concerns (fears) with a staff worker from InterVarsity, he pointed me to the larger context to explain the verse. And that is my goal here.

The writer of Hebrews has been talking about Jesus as a high priest since chapter 2, but only recently has he introduced the idea that Jesus’ high priesthood is related to Melchizedek. And thus begins a digression from 5:11 through 6:20.

Hebrews 6:1–3

Because of what he says at the end of chapter 5, he now encourages his readers to leave infancy behind and press on to maturity. The word for press on, here, is actually passive. God is the one who ultimately moves us to maturity, yet we participate in our sanctification through faith (Philippians 2:12–13). When he says we are to move on from the basic teachings, he does not mean move on as in forget or that we don’t have anything to do with them anymore. He means move on as in don’t keep rehashing these and never get beyond them.

He then details the six basic teachings that we are to move on from. They fall into three categories, two items in each: past (justification), present (sanctification), and future (glorification). The first two are repentance and faith, two sides of the same coin that are necessary to beginning the Christian life. We must have faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins. To do this necessarily requires that we turn from our way of living life to a life of dependence upon God.

The next two items deal with baptism and laying on of hands. Laying on of hands in the NT was used for giving the Spirit and spiritual gifts and for installing someone in some office. Laying on of hands signifies our dependence upon the authority structure of the church. We are dependent upon those who have gone before us to help us move toward maturity. Baptism is an outward declaration that we are dying to self to live for God. While this is a one-time act, it is also a daily occurrence. The final two deal with our hope in the resurrection and our healthy fear of God’s power and authority over our lives. There will be a final judgement. Our actions on this planet do matter in eternity.

These are the basics that every Christian should know and that should impact his or her life. And every Christian should be able to communicate these truths to someone else.

Mature believers don’t keep starting over but take part in God’s maturing process. Therefore, take an active part in God’s maturing process.

 

7.10.17 Summer Sermon Series: Perseverance of the Saints Part IIA

On July 9, we discussed the warning passage of Hebrews 6:4–6 and the larger context of 5:11–6:20. Without this larger context, the passage in question “seems” rather straightforward. When I had been a believer for just a little over a year, I came across this passage in my reading and was troubled, not knowing what exactly the writer of Hebrews was talking about. When I discussed my concerns (fears) with a staff worker from InterVarsity, he pointed me to the larger context to explain the verse. And that is my goal here.

The writer of Hebrews has been talking about Jesus as a high priest since chapter 2, but only recently has he introduced the idea that Jesus’ high priesthood is related to Melchizedek. And thus begins a digression from 5:11 through 6:20.

Hebrews 5:11–14

The writer says that this teaching is hard to explain, but the reason it is difficult has more to do with some of his audience than with the teaching itself: “it is hard to explain since you have become dull of hearing.” (cf. 2 Peter 3:14–16 on the difficulty of Scripture). The immaturity of some of his audience, he says, is evident, for enough time has passed that they should be teaching instead of needing to be retaught the basics of the Christian life (5:12). Maturity comes about through practice (v. 14). This is not the only time the writer will deal with the issue of putting into practice the truths of Scripture. He calls these people babies in the spiritual life.

An aside: We cannot put into practice the things of Scripture, if we are not spending time in the Scripture. It simply is not enough to sit and hear a sermon once a week or read a few verse first thing in the morning or before we drift off to sleep at night. We are called to devote ourselves to God’s word. It is not an option for the Christian to remain unlearned in regard to God’s word. 

Lazy listeners need constant reteaching because they don’t put into practice what they’ve heard. Therefore, don’t be a lazy listener; put into practice what you hear from God’s word.

 

7.10.17 Summer Sermon Series: Perseverance of the Saints Part I

These are the notes from our discussion on June 25.

Four views that Christians hold concerning what is commonly referred to as perseverance of the saints or eternal security. I have attempted to summarize complicated positions into short statements. Inevitably, this removes nuance and detail, but hopefully these statements—while incomplete—are not incorrect.

1. Classical Calvinism: Believers are eternally secure based on a covenant made within the Trinity before the foundation of the world to redeem a people for himself. True believers remain true believers and look like true believers until death.

2. Moderate Calvinism: Christians are eternally secure based on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (obtained by faith) and God’s promises to the believer. Behavior is not indicative of the believer’s eternal state.

3. Moderate (Reformed) Arminianism: The believer is saved by being “in Christ.” The only way a Christian can lose salvation is by renouncing his or her faith in Christ. This loss is irrevocable.

4. Wesleyan Arminianism: Faith in Christ is the key to a relationship with God. A Christian can lose salvation by unbelief or unconfessed sin. Yet this loss could be remedied by through renewed repentance.

Theologically, someone might hold to a view that true saints persevere based on these ideas:

1) Our salvation is rooted in God’s character, not ours.

2) If God is the author of salvation, we can’t write in a plot twist.

3) God is outside of time. If he chose us in a timeless state, we can’t be unchosen.

Scripturally, these passages are often used to “prove” the idea of perseverance of the saints.

John 5:24, 6:39–40, 10:28–30; Romans 8:29–31, 11:29; Ephesians 1:13–14; Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 10:14; Jude 24–25.

 

7.06.16 Psalm 111.10

10 The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.
All those who practice [his instructions, v. 7] have good insight.
His praise stands forever.

This psalm has been about God—until now. Now there is a maxim about people—you and me. The qualities and character of God have been on display, and now the character of man is touched on briefly (Ps. 112 will expand on this theme in great detail). You want wisdom? You want good insight? Walk in his ways. It is that simple and that difficult. And yet, the psalmist shows the way. It is praise. A delighting in the character of God and his works moves us from an overly developed sense that we are someone to a right understand of God has THE someone. And when we rightly align our lives in praise and the fear of the Lord, we grow wiser. We gain insight into life and how it works and how we should respond. And through trusting obedience that God does actually know what he is talking about, we gain wisdom and insight that money can’t buy.

 

7.05.16 Psalm 111.7–9

7 The works of his hands are truth and judgment;
all his instructions are reliable.
8 They are firm forever and ever;
they are performed in truth and in a way that is right. 9
He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and honored is his name.

Toward the end of the psalm, the psalmist returns to the idea of God’s name (see notes on 111:4). And here, again, it is tied to the idea of covenant. All of God’s works (v. 7) are done in a way that God’s decisions are always right. That is the gist of “truth and judgment,” a line that is fleshed out in verse 8. They also last. God’s justice is not just a one time thing, good as long as his people are good, effective as long as the right man is on the throne. No, God’s ways are always true and always right. And verse 9 adds specificity to what these right and true ways are: redemption and covenant! God desires to redeem a people for himself and in so doing he made a covenant with his people that is enduring—not on the basis of what they do, but on the basis of who he is (Genesis 15). Once again, God’s name, God’s very character is what is put up for us to trust in. It is not necessarily a physical action we may have observed; it is, instead, the character of the eternal God that we honor and put our trust in.

 

6.29.16 Psalm 111.5–6

4 Food he gives to those who fear him.
He remembers forever his covenant.
5 The power of his works he has shown plainly to his people
By giving them the nations as an inheritance.

If we back up to verse 4, we see a miniature picture of God building and redeeming the nation of Israel. He gave Moses his name and performed mighty works to be done in the land of Egypt. He provided food for the people and gave them the covenant on Mt. Sinai when the departed. And he brought them into the land and gave it to them despite the existence of other nations.

Promise. Exodus and Covenant. Inheritance.

And that is the gospel story. The promise was given in Christ (there is no other name by which we must be saved) on the cross. We repent and our brought out of slavery to sin to enter into a covenant (the new one) with God. The New Heaven and Earth is our promised inheritance.

Let us rejoice that God is faithful and as he brought his people Israel into their land, so to will he bring his Church into their inheritance as well.

 

6.27.16 Psalm 111.4

4 A memorial he has made for his miraculous acts.
Merciful and compassionate is the Lord.

There are a few places in Scripture where memorial is coupled with God’s (or someone’s) name (Exodus 3:15, Hosea 12:5, Psalm 30:4, 97:12, 135:13, Job 18:17). Some scholars see this implied here. As Alec Motyer says, “To ponder [remember] his name is to recall, appreciate and understand his works.”

So when we think about the name of God, specifically his covenant name, YHWH, that in and of itself should be enough, according to the psalmist, to cause us to remember his miraculous works. For a name is not just an identifying marker. When I think of my wife’s name, it is not just an identification tool like it might be for the DMV. There are a whole host of memories and associations that go with Dana. Her love and activities and grace and words and works are tightly joined with her name. I cannot separate them.

Is it the same with God? Is the name God or Lord simply a moniker that gets attached to a prayer that has no history, no meaning, no associations? Or does the name God carry with it a great multitude of miraculous works, first and foremost the miraculous work of my salvation, that which brought me from death to life, that which granted me repentance from dead works to walk in newness of life through my unification with him? That is the idea in the first half of this verse.

And that is coupled with the idea that the Lord is merciful and compassionate. And that too should be the overwhelming understanding of what God has accomplished in the world for his people. He is merciful and compassionate toward us in numerous ways. From the very air we breathe to the abundance of grace that is ours to the promised inheritance of the New Heavens and New Earth.

Maybe the psalmist could have asked these questions: When you think Lord, do you think mercy and compassion? Do you associate your very life with that name?

 

6.24.16 Psalm 111.2–3

2 Great are the works of the Lord
They are studied by all who delight in them
3 Splendor and majesty is his work
And his righteousness endures forever.

The works of God are in view here—no details yet, just adjectives and definitions and responses. First, they are great. Next splendor and majesty is his work. These aren’t adjectives. They are nouns. God’s work is splendor; it is majesty. Whatever he is doing, that is splendor. Whatever he is about, that is majesty. Sure we might ascribe a sunrise as splendorous. We might see the Grand Canyon or a brilliant waterfall after a long hike as majestic—and there I go making nouns adjectives again. No. The creation of the sunrise is splendor. The forming of the rocks is majesty if we know God is behind it all, every drop of water, every particle in the atmosphere, placed where it needed to be placed to create the canyon and make the sunrise brilliant, intoxicating.

But it is not just the visual wonders of God’s work that we should say: Splendor! Majesty!

The process of sanctification of the saints: Splendor! The slow, methodical, sometimes halting building of the church: Majesty! The redemption of another bent and broken soul: Splendor! Majesty! God at work here, today, this moment doing and working and being God as he has always been God.

And what is our rightful response to this? If we delight in what he does, the psalmist says we continue to study, to look into them. Some versions say “sought out.” While not incorrect, this can be a little misleading. We can seek for something that is lost. That is not quite the idea here. Here is it to keep going back to what is known. For in that we find life. For the works of the Lord are ultimately the redemption of mankind for his glory. And we should never cease to be amazed at the continual miracle of the splendor and majesty of seeing one dead come to life. Of seeing one captive set free. Of seeing one blind obtain sight. Of seeing one broken be made new.

Great indeed are the works of the Lord. Will we look into them, study them, delight in them?

 

6.23.16 Psalm 111.1

1 Praise the Lord (hallelujah)
I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart
In the gathering of the upright and the congregation.

Certainly we are to be a people who give thanks at all times (1 Thessalonians 5:18), but here in this psalm of praise, the psalmist declares his intention of thanksgiving to happen particularly in the gathering of God’s people (the upright). “The gathering of the upright” and “the congregation” are in parallel here and refer to the same place and same group of people. This gathering is described by a word that literally means straight (As we will see on Sunday, Habakkuk uses this same word to describe the proud as being not this way).

Thanksgiving, then, is happening in the midst of the gathering of God’s people. What a blessing to be able to give thanks to God with a group of people who are like minded, who understand deeply why we would give thanks to God. And I would contend that it is a blessing to gather with others. To isolate oneself from the gathering of God’s people on a regular basis is to miss out on both the privilege and the responsibility to give thanks to the Lord in the midst of other believers. It is also to miss out on others’ giving thanks. This worship-through-observation allows us to see that God is not silent nor inactive in the affairs of men. It reminds us of his goodness. It encourages us on our walk of discipleship, a walk that necessarily entails giving thanks along the way.

When we are discouraged and the world seems to have gone askew, hearing others give thanks can reorient us to a proper perspective that God is still in control. And when we give thanks in the midst of believers, we can be that encouragement to someone else. Will you say with the psalmist, “I will give thanks to the Lord, gathered with the people of God”?

A note on Psalm 111. This is an acrostic (or alphabet) psalm, each line beginning with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. “I will give thanks” begins with the letter aleph. “in the gathering” begins with the letter beth.

 

6.22.16 Psalm 36:12

12 There the ones who practiced injustice fell; they were thrust down and were not able to rise.

The ones who plotted injustice in their bed, the ones who set themselves on the wrong path, these eventually take that path if there is no repentance, and now the final end is known: they fell. Even more so, they were thrust down. It is not just that their actions “caught up with them.” They were judged. David seems to have one example in mind as he says, “There.” We don’t always get to see what God is doing, how God is judging the wicked, how their doing injustice eventually runs out.

But whether we see it or not in this life, the cross is a clear indication of God’s seriousness in judging sin. And sin was judged on the cross, and now the question: what will you do with Jesus? Will you except his payment for your debt, exchanging his life for yours? Or will you continue on, thinking either 1) I can manage my sin on my own or I can make God pleased or 2) Sin is a construct that is only culturally defined. I don’t need to fear some God in the sky who makes right and wrong.

The truth is—and it is not a mystery—that neither is how we actually live. We believe there are right and wrong, we feel a sense of injustice, and until we have hardened our heart, we know that we do not behave, think, and speak as we ought all the time.

If God did not spare his own Son…

The grace and judgment that line contains.

 

6.21.16 Psalm 36:9–11

10 Because with you is the spring of life. In your light, we see light. 11 Stretch out your faithful love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright of heart. 12 Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked make me homeless.

As Psalm 36 winds down, David switches from third person to first person. It is not just everyone else who benefits from the Lord’s goodness. David, and those with him, personally benefit from God’s faithfulness.

The spring or source of life is found with God. The wicked find their source for being within themselves, they are ruled by the bentness of their own heart. It is only in the light (not darkness, signifying sin) of God that we can actually recognize true goodness. God alone reveals what is good and all that is good comes from God (James 1:17).

And then a request: David knows he needs God’s love and righteousness, but he also knows he needs protection from the wicked, who seek to drive him away from his place. So David prays for God’s presence and protection. He knows he needs both the positive aspects of his character and his strength to defend against the negative aspects of his enemies. And that is the goodness of our God in Christ Jesus, who because of the cross gave us his righteousness and keeps us—if we are in him—safely in the palm of God’s hand.

 

6.14.16 Psalm 36:7–8

7 How precious is your faithfulness, O God, so that the children of men take refuge in the
shadow of your wings. 8 They are refreshed from the abundance of your house, and from the river of your delights you provide them drink.

And here we get some more specifics of what this saving looks like; and therefore, we get a glimpse into what our behavior toward others should look like as well.

Our faithfulness should appear precious to people. Our faithfulness to our spouses and families should be the norm. Despite the fact that marriage is hard, our commitment should never be in question, and the world should see a marked difference in how we steadfastly care for and are committed to our families.

Our faithfulness at work should not come into question. Do we have others’ best interests in mind or our own? And because of our faithfulness, others should be able to take refuge in the wisdom we have for how this is done—abiding in Christ, of course, should be the answer!

Our walk with God and the wisdom and joy we obtain from it should spill out in our conversation and be to others as a delightful feast for a hungry man and a much needed drink for the parched soul.

But lest we think this psalm is all about our response, do we know that these truths are true of our God? Do we rest in his faithfulness? Do we feast on his wisdom and gain nourishment from his presence and become refreshed by His Spirit as by a cool drink of water on a hot day? If not, we will have nothing to offer the rest of the world. Delighting in God is the only way for us to have a life that others will be curious about in a way that allows us to speak rightly of God.

 

6.13.16 Psalm 36:5–6

5 O Lord, your faithfulness is to the heavens; your trustworthiness is to the clouds. 6 Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord.

Now the contrast to the wicked: God. Loyal, faithful, trustworthy. And righteous, as sure and stable and firm as the mountains. His judgments—the fairness of them, it seems here—like the great deep, never run out. God will not one day wake up and change how he judges. We can rely upon him. We can rest in him.

And this surety, righteousness, faithfulness of God is not just pie-in-the-sky sentimentality. God saves his creation. He cares for it. He cares for you.

For us to bear his image, we should seek to live consistent lives of faithfulness and righteousness toward others. People should not doubt our word; our conduct on main street should not vary from our conduct in the office or at home or at church. While none of us will do that perfectly, inconsistencies should be aberrations. And thanks be to God that he has sent his Son that we might gain his righteousness and not have to have our own. May we live out of that joy each day.

 

6.10.16 Psalm 36:1–4

1A word of transgression to the wicked from the depth of my heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. 2For he flatters himself in his own eyes so that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated. 3 The words of his mouth are injustice and deceit. He has ceased to have insight, to do good. 4 He devises injustice on his bed. He takes a stand in the way that is not good. Evil he does not reject.

The word that David speaks to the wicked (and us) is one of warning: “You do know where wickedness comes from, right? We can’t blame others or our circumstances.”

Two main ideas start the warning off. 1) The wicked does not fear God. 2) The wicked is really good at self-talk. Instead of following after God and learning from him, the wicked convinces himself that all is well. And even if he is confronted with the badness of his actions or words, he no longer hates them because he’s made his deeds a part of who he is. To hear truth should force us to hate our sin. But if we rationalize long enough, we convince ourselves that we’re right. When we reach this point, we no longer have any wisdom, and we no longer do good.

Finally, the man takes a stand in the path of life that leads to evil. Instead of rejecting it through the fear and knowledge of God, the wicked ignores God and embraces evil. The first section of this psalm paints a bleak picture. The second section will highlight what God is like and paint a picture that hopefully will attract the wicked away from flattering himself.

 

6.08.16 Psalm 36:1

1Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. (ESV)

1An evil man is rebellious to the core. He does not fear God, (NET)

1An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. (NIV)

1The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes. (KJV)

Why the disparity in translations? The beginning of Psalm 36 contains a couple of difficulties in getting the translation exactly right; however, the gist of what David is saying is clear enough. The issues, which come out if you look at several translations, are what to do with the first word in the verse and whether the text says “my heart” or “his heart.”

Is David proclaiming what is in his heart? That the wickedness of men testifies to him that they do not fear God? Or is David saying that wickedness ultimately comes from man’s heart (Jesus taught this same truth: Mark 7:21) and that not fearing God is ultimately a heart issue.

Whether David is speaking from his heart or speaking about the heart of man, the message is the same: when the fear of God is absent, transgression is present. Paul would say the same thing using different words: “Walk in the Spirit and you will no carry out the desires of the flesh.”

The other issue is what to do with the first word of verse 1. It is a noun which is almost exclusively used in the OT to mean oracle, a word that introduces a prophetic utterance. If this word is taken that way, then the passage starts out literally: “an oracle of transgression to the wicked in the midst of my [his] heart.” Some scholars, however, take the first word as part of the heading to the psalm: “To the choirmaster. Of David, the servant of the Lord. An oracle.” This is the way the NET takes the passage (remember, there were no verse markers in the original text). Most, however, accept that this word belongs in verse 1. Some (KJV) use it as a noun; others (ESV) give it more of a verbal aspect.

Again, these differences don’t ultimately cloud what David is doing, but it is helpful to understand why our translations differ so much here.

We will look again at verse 1 some more as well as vv. 2–4 next time.

 

6.07.16 Psalm 41:11–13

11By this I know that you delight in me: because my enemy will not shout in triumph over me. 12And as for me: you have grasped hold of me in my integrity, and you will set me in your presence forever.

13Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and amen.

David here is relying solely on the promises God made to him and his people. God called Israel to integrity, to holiness, and he promised them blessings based upon how they followed God. David here knows that ultimately, God will vindicate his people. Even though his circumstances now indicate that things aren’t right—he is sick and his enemies are making noise—temporary setbacks are not eternity. David looks to the promises ahead; he looks for the way things will be. He knows that today is not all there is.

While we may in some aspect follow the mandate to “seize the day”—we are, after all, to be good stewards of the time God has given us—we must also hold today loosely knowing that it is ultimately God’s, not ours, and that today is not the end all of existence. Eternity with God is. When we believe that today is all there is, evil times can leave us paralyzed with doubt about God’s goodness.

So we live fully today, but our goal is not to live fully for today. We live fully for God. He blesses.

One final note. We do not live under the Mosaic covenant. We are not promised enjoyment of the promised land based on following God’s law handed down on Mt. Sinai (see Deuteronomy 27 & 28). We live under the promise that as Christians we are identified with Christ in his death and resurrection. In this life—Jesus promised—you will have trouble. Period. This is nothing to do with our behavior and everything to do with the fact that we have identified with Jesus. He suffered. His body will suffer on this earth. But we will also share in his resurrection and his glory. This world is not our home.

And so we come to the end of Psalm 41 and the first book of the psalter. It is quite possible that verse 13 is the conclusion of not psalm 41, but of the first book. (Notice the way the other books end: Psalm 72:20, Psalm 89:52, Psalm 106:48, and possibly all of Psalm 150 as a conclusion to the entire psalter.)

 

6.06.16 Psalm 41:10

10 But you, Lord, show me favor, and raise me up; and I will punish them accordingly.

Despite what the enemies’ taunt, David turns to God for help. He knows—we should know—that it is only God who ultimately raises us up and shows us favor. Man may be gracious to us, but it is not ultimate grace. Man may favor us with kind words or accolades or prestige, but it is only so from a limited and biased source. Man cannot see the heart. Favor may ultimately be undeserved. Graciousness may only be to gain favor for oneself. God is impartial, his favor is always handed out with perfect justice and for his glory.

David’s response might seem a little unexpected. Maybe we are looking for the meek, “Be gracious to me, and I’ll be gracious to them.” However, as king, David has an obligation to administer justice: graciousness and punishment. It is with the scepter not the shepherd’s crook that he speaks here, it seems.

 

6.04.16 Psalm 41:7–9

7 All who hate me whisper together over me; over me they imagine evil for me: 8 “A deadly thing is poured out on him, and from where he lies, he will not rise.” 9 Also, my close friend, whom I trusted—he ate bread with me!—has lifted his heal against me.

The taunting continues, and we learn—it seems—that David is indeed sick in bed. Is God not protecting him after all? But it’s not just that his enemies are kicking him when he’s down. A close friend has turned away.

How easy it is when the going gets tough for us to switch allegiances. Maybe whoever the friend was sees that all is not well with his friend and fear of the future in the death of David scares him. Maybe he seeks to align himself with what he thinks is the more powerful faction. The details are not entirely clear, but the pain David feels (we ate meals together!) is palpable.

May we maintain our allegiances even in hard times, especially to our Savior, the true king. When it looks like his church is waning, when it appears his people have slacked in their zeal, may we remain true to the one who has always been faithful to us.

 

6.03.16 Psalm 41:5–6

5My enemies speak evil against me: “When will he die and his name perish?” 6And if he comes to see [me], he speaks emptiness. His heart gathers iniquity; he goes abroad; he speaks it.

And what does seeking forgiveness bring? Taunting from his enemies. If we remember verse 2, the Lord will not give the one who considers the poor over to his enemies. Yet that does not mean one will not have enemies. But David knows that because of God, the enemies’ threats are emptiness. There is no substance; it is just the outflow of the evil in the heart. Our enemies’ outward actions ultimately are merely natural consequences of the state of the heart. Like a bad well producing bad water, so to will an evil heart produce evil words.

The question for us as believers, however, is: Will we recognize that our battle is not against flesh and blood? The battle is not over the words spoken, but for the heart of the man who speaks them. Our battle is not to defend ourselves from slander and threats through a sure-fire rhetoric, but to trust God to glorify himself through us—as Paul would say—whether in life or in death as we honor him with our response to the evil, a response that always points back to Jesus.

 

6.02.16 Psalm 41:4

4I said, “God, show me favor: heal my soul because I have sinned against you.”

After detailing what it means to be blessed—devotion to the needy—David turns inward. Before moving on to pleas to God for help against outside forces, he knows that his greatest need is inward. His heart is not right before God. We don’t know the details: has he not cared for the poor like he should have? If we put the end of verse 2 with verse 5, we might come to this conclusion. Regardless, he seeks God’s favor through confession. No justification. No self-righteousness. No blaming or avoiding. David plays his cards for all to see. And he looks to God alone for healing and help.

Regardless of where we find ourselves, confession is the starting place for an abiding relationship with God. We cannot bear fruit without coming to him in complete honesty and dependence. We will not experience the joy of our salvation if that salvation is based on something besides repentance and faith. We must turn from ourselves and trust that God alone can heal our sin-sick souls.

 

5.18.16 Psalm 41:1–3 Part II

To understand this psalm, we must understand how God related to his people in the OT. There was an explicit cause and effect relationship between the behavior of God’s people and consequences of that behavior given from God (Deuteronomy 28). So it is quite natural for David to write in Psalm 41 that the one who considers or understands the poor will be protected from enemies and disease. However, in the NT, we should not necessarily expect this one-to-one correspondence in life. People who care a great deal about the poor are marginalized in this society. People who devote their life to the helpless find themselves martyred, abused, and taken advantage of. Why the difference? Has God changed? Did he realize one day that the carrot and stick way of motivating his people no longer worked?

No, instead, Jesus happened. The incarnation ushered in a whole new way of thinking about life. When we unite ourselves with him through repentance and faith, what we find is that we are in Christ (see Romans 6), and that we are now treated by the world the same way that we treat God all the time—regardless of how perfectly we may keep the law of God’s love. Jesus was not protected from his enemies, nor was he delivered in the day of trouble. For he was the sacrifice for all men, caring for and dying for the helpless.

But then, because we are united with Christ, we also experience a far better consequence than just being delivered from our earthly enemies or being physically sustained through hard times: we receive eternal deliverance, and our souls are protected through the power of the Spirit, kept united with Christ by the promise of the Father.

But it’s not just as if all these “blessings” have just been kicked down the road to some obscure eternity. We do receive comfort in sorrow now through not only the Spirit of God but also his church. The physical presence of God’s people should be an ever present reminder of God’s gracious care for his people. Do we recognize that we who are in Christ have a responsibility to not only care for the poor and helpless but protect our fellow believer, blessing and helping to sustain others through difficult times (2 Corinthians 1:3–7).

 

5.09.16 What the Blessed Understand Part I

Psalm 41:1–3

1Blessed is the one who understands the poor
In the day of trouble the Lord will deliver him
2The Lord will protect him and keep him alive
He will be blessed in the land.
And you will not give him to the soul of his enemies
3The Lord sustains him on a bed of sorrow
All his bed you turn in his sickness

The end of book one (Psalm 1–41 comprise book 1 of the Psalms) begins with the same word that begins book one: blessed. Here, though, it is not who one does not associate with, but who one does associate with that renders one blessed. While understanding and associating with are not quite the same (I can understand a situation and do nothing about it), here that is not quite what the psalmist is talking about. For one of God’s people to truly understand the poor means to understand not just their point of view, but God’s as well. The one who follows God understands how God feels about them, understands the way God considers them. And because this one is one of God’s people, action would necessarily follow. Therefore this is not mere mental understanding. It is understanding with a purpose. While the psalm does not mention this directly, it seems there should be two responses to understanding. First, we pray. God cares more about the poor than we do; his wisdom is beyond ours; he has resources beyond ours. So we must seek his direction. Second, if it is within our ability, we must act. For biblical understanding leads to compassion.

 

5.07.16 An Antidote for Arrogance Part III

Psalm 131:3

Israel, wait upon the Lord
From now to forever.

Patience is hard. Our timing for things seems to always be what we think should be. And when others seemingly get in the way of our plans, patience fades, action takes over, relationships are thrust aside, and progress is made. Except the progress that is made is often in outward appearances instead of inward transformation. Patience is hard.

And so the command from David to wait upon the Lord is especially hard. For waiting often looks like submitting to people who aren’t going the same speed we are. Waiting often means submitting to circumstances that we’d rather not. And we don’t like submission. Yet that is what Christ modeled for us and expects from us. We are to submit to one another. It is a mark of walking in the Spirit (Ephesians 5:15–21). Going our own way, not waiting on the Lord, not submitting to one another—no matter how spiritual it may look, no matter how productive it may seem, no matter how much one thinks he has heard from God—is not what God’s people are to be about.

 

4.29.16 An Antidote for Arrogance Part II

Psalm 131:2

Certainly, I have soothed and quieted my soul
Like one who is weaned upon his mother,
Like the weaned child is my soul within me.

The baby, no matter how cute, when hunger strikes is in gimme mode. The baby wants to be fed. A soothed and quieted soul is not what we envision at 3:00 in the morning—for us or the baby. Yet the child who is satisfied—and there is debate whether this word here means weaned or recently satisfied after nursing—can rest quietly, can be content to lay upon his mother and drift back into the peaceful sleep of childhood.

And David, whose vision and emotion have not run away with him and whose attitude is one of letting God deal with the great things, can now rest in God’s care. The second does not come before the first. If we really don’t believe that God is sovereign, we won’t be able to rest. We must do something—and often we must do it now, at the expense of someone else.

But a child at rest in his mother’s arms is not concerned about the chaos around him. The child at rest in his mother’s arms is not worried that some people are not doing what the mother wants. The child at rest does not stress (or get angry) that the woman in the pew two rows up is more of a cultural Christian than a vibrant Christian. The child at rest does not worry (or get impatient) that some people don’t seem to “get it” about evangelism or disciple making. The child at rest trusts God to work, sometimes slowly, sometimes imperceptibly. The child at rest doesn’t have to fix the situation.

David is not talking about inaction. I am not talking about “let go and let God.” This psalm is talking about an attitude of trust that does not take matters into one’s own hand to the detriment of others, no matter how fruitful the results might appear to be. God’s people need to learn to rest in him, trust in him, believe that he cares more for the redemption of his people than we do, and allow the steady moving of God’s Spirit to penetrate the lives of his people for his glory.

 

4.28.16 An Antidote for Arrogance Part I

Psalm 131:1

Lord, my heart is not haughty,
And my eyes are not arrogant.
And I do not concern myself with great things
or with things I don’t understand.

David, in Psalm 131, seeks to slay our can-do attitude. We in the church sometimes believe that we can do anything we set our minds to. We even quote Bible verses to back up our assertion of what we can accomplish: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). The problem with quoting that verse is that Paul was using it in a way much more in line with Psalm 131 than with the idea that God will strengthen you to do what you want to do. Philippians 4:13 is hardly a blank check. It is, though, a great encouragement when the bank account is empty.

And David seeks to instill the same ideas in Psalm 131. He begins with emotion and vision—two things that many in the church today thrive on. I’m not opposed to emotion nor to vision unless they override God’s ways of building his church. When our vision and the emotion behind it short-circuit what God is up to because God is moving slower than we would like, the emotion becomes haughty and the vision turns to arrogance.

This haughty arrogance steps on others, distances itself from fellowship with certain saints, and sees no other way to build God’s kingdom than the way it is taking. All else is wasted time. Instead of cheering on the church in its many forms, scorn is heaped on all the “wrong” ways of doing things.

One may wonder why I am connecting the first two lines of Psalm 131 with arrogance in terms of building God’s church. This comes from the connection between Psalm 130 and 131. In 130:7–8, Israel is told to wait on (or hope in) the Lord for redemption at the right time. The same phrase (wait on the Lord) is used in Psalm 131:3 as a continual attitude to have. The implication is that God’s redemptive plan is something we trust in not just for the current season but for all times, including now and how he builds his church.

And David says no to the arrogance of not trusting in God. He does not concern himself with great and wonderful things, i.e., the things of God and his ways in redeeming his people in his time. This does not mean we ignore the Great Commission. It does mean that God’s ways, even though much has been revealed in Jesus and in God’s word to us, remain mysterious and that building God’s church does not happen in just one way. And for that we can be thankful.

David begins with how we are not to respond. He takes up how we are to respond in verse 2.

 

4.27.16 Flourishing 

Psalm 92:12–15

The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree,
He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Planted in the house of the Lord,
They will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still yield fruit in old age;
They shall be full of sap and very green,
To declare that the Lord is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

In verse 7, the wicked were like grass. Grass is transient. It may be, like my yard in summer, seemingly thick, hard to mow, ever growing, and healthy looking. But winter shows another side to it: it is fragile and easily comes to nothing. A cedar, however? Winter does not phase it. Its roots go deep.

And notice, again, who is the provider of this: the cedar is planted. The righteous man does not plant himself. It is God who does the work, like in Psalm 1. We must choose to avoid sin and delight in God, but God does the planting. God provides the growth.

But it is not just that God makes them secure. The righteous yield fruit in their old age. The Bible thinks very differently about age and usefulness than our culture. As Alec Motyer says, “The world’s ambition is to ‘stay young’; the Bible’s, to grow old fruitfully.” It takes many years to make a stately cedar. It takes a few days to make a lush, grass-filled yard. It is the cedar that the Bible praises. The slow, steady advancement of maturity and the gospel are hallmarks of God’s presence. The flash, the excitement of new, the gimmicks, the business strategies, the latest—and certainly the thriving wicked—will not produce the cedar.

And what is the purpose of this longevity, this flourishing (v. 14b)? The mature righteous declares that the Lord is upright, that he is the stability and soundness of the righteous, and that no unrighteousness exists in God. That is our purpose as we mature.

We do that through contentment in our circumstances. We do that through our behavior as we bear his image to the world. And we do that through passing on what we have learned to others—yielding fruit in old age.

 

4.25.16 God, the Actor

Psalm 92:10–11

But You have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;
I have been anointed with fresh oil.
And my eye has looked exultantly upon my foes,
My ears hear of the evildoers who rise up against me.

In the meantime—here in time—God prepares his people for the works he has for them to do. We are strengthened (the word horn symbolizes power); we are anointed for the tasks that God has called us to. God, not us, provides this power and sanctifying work. If the Holy Spirit does not work in us, any work we do will be for naught. So we can rest, knowing that God is the main actor on the stage.

Knowing that God’s enemies will perish certainly means that we know our enemies (if we’re on God’s side), will also perish. The NASB’s “looked exultantly” is probably over translated. The idea is more of relief (which certainly can bring joy) than boasting. Because God is judge, we can live in peace, even when we hear of our enemies rising up against us. For eternity goes on without them. The pain, the evil, the injustice will come to an end one day.

 

4.22.16 Why?

4.22.16 Psalm 92:5–9

How great are your works, O Lord!
Your thoughts are very deep.
A senseless man has no knowledge,
Nor does a stupid man understand this:
That when the wicked sprouted up like grass
And all who did iniquity flourished,
It was only that they might be destroyed forevermore.
But you, O Lord, are on high forever.
For, behold, your enemies, O Lord,
For, behold, your enemies will perish;
All who do iniquity will be scattered.

We are, all of us, deficient when it comes to knowing God as we should. God’s thoughts are indeed very deep. God’s works are great. What we see is, as Alli Rogers says, “like watching dancers through a crack in the door.” We know something beautiful and majestic is going on, but we only catch snippets in our time bound existence. And we ache for more.

But it’s not just the majestic that escapes our full understanding. We ache to understand evil. I don’t mean what evil is; we experience that well enough, and I hope we attribute it rightly. But why does evil exist, and who will do anything about it? And in this, God does not want us to be mislead or fail to see what he’s up to. The heights that the wicked attain my overwhelm us. Yet God is on high forever. And because of this we can confidently rest in his justice. He will end the tyranny. He will destroy the abuser who does not repent. Death was defeated on the cross, and those who trust in his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins will experience that deathless life one day. The enemies of God will perish, finally and forever.

As hard as it might be, the truth is that we need to trust that this world is not all there is and that God is indeed just and that forever is a long time. Except that’s only trying to describe the intricacies of a dance through a crack in the door. Time bound people can only catch glimpses of timelessness. So we use words like a long time, eternity, 10,000 years. And that hardly manages when it comes to being in the presence of God. How great are your works, O Lord!

 

4.21.16 Sing

Psalm 92:3–4

…With the ten-stringed lute and with the harp,
With resounding music upon the lyre
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by what you have done,
I will sing for joy at the works of your hands.

Music: a response to God for what he has done. I realize that’s a rather odd definition, but in one sense, it is correct. True joy in the living God must bubble over somehow, and in humans, music is often the medium that reveals this joy.

Yet, yesterday I said that giving thanks is good whether we feel like it or not. And music is doubly hard to engage in when feelings of sadness, doubt, and despair have settled in our soul. And yet this is where the psalms can help us most. While Psalm 92 is a joyful response, many psalms relate anguish, grief, fear, and loneliness. The testify to the myriad of experiences that produce song in humanity. One does not have to sing for joy at the darkness, but one can respond to God in music where we are—or at the very least spend time in the psalms to see how others have dealt with the common human condition of a world out of kilter.

But here is a response of joy with music to God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness from v. 2. So, what does your response of joy look like? Granted, many people don’t just have musical instruments lying around to pick up and play—and if they did, many more (like me) don’t know how to make them sing. So what about us musically challenged folks. First, a lack of musical talent should not prohibit a musical response to God’s goodness. Anyone can sing to God. While it may feel uncomfortable, it nevertheless seems to be a normal response to God. We may just need to get over ourselves and sing.

Second, do you join others in corporate worship? Whether you like the preaching or the type of music or even the people sitting next to you, do you make it a normal and regular part of your walk with God to join with others in singing to the Lord? To be honest, I can’t find in Scripture anywhere a permission for God’s people to regularly forgo corporate worship. It gives us an opportunity to sing to God because of what he has done, namely, sacrifice all through Jesus that we might have life.

 

4.20.16 Give Thanks

Psalm 92:1–2

It is good to give thanks to the Lord
And to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
To declare your lovingkindness in the morning
And your faithfulness by night.

We are commanded to give honor and glory and praise to God. One day, every one will do so (Philippians 2:11). But Psalm 92 does not command. It encourages: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.”

It is good for us to give thanks to the Lord. We need reminding—continual reminding—that all we have is from God. It humbles us and grounds us in the right place of dependence.

It is good for others when we give thanks to the Lord. When our perspective is in the right place, others benefit because when we are dependent upon God, we do not need others to be a certain way for us. Instead we can love and serve them.

It is also good for others when we give thanks to the Lord because they hear the testimony of God’s goodness to us. Both a heart that sings and lips that proclaim are a light in a dark world. And singing reveals that this is not just rote thanksgiving, mere words to parrot when we rise and when we go to sleep. Singing springs from a joyful heart overflowing with God’s goodness.

And it is good in general to give thanks to the Lord because it is the right thing to do. Whether we feel like it or not, God has sustained us through the night so that we can give thanks in the morning. Whether we feel like it or not, the sun setting is evidence of his sovereign control over not only the great movements in the sky, but the minutest movements of the cells in our bodies that keep us breathing and thinking and moving and giving thanks.

Yes, even our ability to give thanks is made possible by God.

 

4.09.16 Between Greatness

The big three heroes of the Old Testament are Abraham, Moses, and David. While we may have our favorite Old Testament character, God set these three men apart to receive a covenant that God made with his people. And how good we are in putting favored men up on a pedestal. Make  no mistake; they are favored men: God allowed them access into his thoughts and plans and spoke to them in great detail about what would be. Surely each of these men caught echoes of Eden—what it must have been like to walk with God.

But each of them had serious flaws. Abraham’s fear led to lies. Moses’s fear and pride led to others receiving honor that was meant for him. David’s lust sent his family into chaos. Real men, real heroes, real tragedy.

And then there are all those other Old Testament characters, made alive to various generations through flannel graphs or Veggie Tales or summers of VBS. But those others are neither Abraham nor Moses nor David. 

And yet faithfulness still reigned in many of them—more so than the big three it seems, yet with little fanfare. Caleb, the main spokesman and advocate for following God at the rebellion at Kadesh Barnea, gets to watch Joshua take control over the nation. Opportunity for bitterness? Certainly. Evidence that it existed? None. I certainly don’t claim that he was perfect, but when the Bible goes out of its way to highlight the egregious evils of its main characters, one would think a line or two about a bad temper or an impatient spirit might be in order to even the field.

And what about Joshua? His beginning might have been a little prideful, but from his sale into slavery, he is clearly cast as a savior of the nation, an exemplar for not only his own people, but for us as well. But he’s sandwiched between the greats. And when God is spoken of in relation to his people—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—why doesn’t that list include Joseph? Surely, of those three, Joseph excels them in character. Would one more generation have been that hard to include in the list? Where’s his due?

Can you see what God is doing by what and who he includes in his story? With God’s people there is no opportunity to boast because God uses whom he wants, when he wants, and how he wants. He makes heroes out of scoundrels and sticks godly men between the broken, great ones.

And that is both good news and a warning for us today.

It is good news because God clearly uses broken people in astounding ways. It is rather unfathomable to think that an adulterer and murderer could be a hero in God’s story. We should be in awe every day that God can and does use fallen people, and we should be ecstatic that God desires to use us as a picture of God’s grace and love to Cherokee County.

But it’s also a warning—in two parts.

First, we need to be careful how we think about people. Do we assume that certain people can’t be used by God? I’m not arguing for a lackadaisical attitude toward putting people in positions of leadership. The New Testament is very clear about expectations and qualifications. But where do we put our focus on discipleship? Do we want all men and women to grow in godliness or just those few who display a certain outward inclination to leadership? The metrics for usefulness have little to do with personality type. Spiritual gift inventories at times rely upon a modern understanding of business. An entrepreneurial spirit does not mean one is automatically qualified to lead God’s people, however qualified he is to lead a business. Instead, usefulness in the kingdom depends upon whether or not we are filled with the Spirit. And in choosing whom we might disciple, one should look for faithfulness, availability, and teachableness over any outward manifestation of leadership skills or a certain personality.

Second, we must not seek the limelight. It is not our place to plan for or shoot for being included in some list of faithful people. God chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as men whom he would identify himself with. Neither Joseph nor Caleb (or a host of others) were included in that list. If God wants our names in lights, he can make that happen. But each of us has a sphere of influence over which we can have great impact as we walk with God. The world may never know our names, but we are called to magnify the name of Jesus not our own. May all of us be content to live between greatness, knowing that in Christ we have all the greatness we need.

4th Sunday in Advent

Peace

Isaiah 55:10–13

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Peace. One day, it will be our constant companion. The New Covenant, which Isaiah 55 refers to and fills out in metaphors, promises peace. For the New Covenant was inaugurated by the Prince of Peace. Jesus, whom the Father exalted because of his obedience to death, will give us all peace because he will rule with complete justice. Peace does not exist now because too many rulers—you and I included—are vying for too many thrones. And none of us rule justly. But one day Jesus will reign as exalted king. Sin will be no more. Death will be no more. And all will be made right because God the Son came to earth as a baby. The incarnation speaks to this peace.

3rd Sunday in Advent

Joy

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

David’s joy in Psalm 16 rests on the promise God made to him in 2 Samuel 7: “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” What an inheritance that is—a never ending kingdom! David knows his name is secure, and in this he rejoices. But I often wonder if David ever connected the promise God gave him to the promise made to Abraham. David’s prayer in 2 Samuel, doesn’t give any hints. His prayer mainly focuses on God’s love to David and to David’s people. The idea of blessing all the nations seems far removed from David’s mind. David was content knowing that God promised him a posterity that would endure forever. He was pleased knowing that joy is found in a relationship with God: “In your presence is fullness of joy.”

I don’t know if David envisioned you and me or not? God did, though. The promise to David was related to the promise to Abraham in that they both looked to the same person. A king who would bless. To bless all the peoples of the earth would require a special king! No one has ever come close to ruling all the people’s of the earth, and those who have ruled large swaths of land and peoples have rarely done so in a way that was a blessing. Who could do such a thing? The irony of it all is not the who but the how. It wasn’t through a rod of iron that the blessing would come, it was through the cross. Jesus’ obedience to death made it possible for us to experience the joy of being in God’s presence. The incarnation speaks to this joy.

 

12/09/15

“In the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord” Exodus 16:7.

This announcement from Moses followed the Israelites complaint that God had brought them out of Egypt to starve.

What was the glory that the Israelites saw? A thundering voice of judgment?

“…in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat’” Exodus 16:13–15.

I don’t know what you think when you think about the glory of the Lord, but I’m inclined to believe that I might have had the same reaction as the Israelites: “What is it?” And I’m not sure I would understand bread as glory.

1500 years later John would write in reference to Jesus, “We have seen his glory….”

But when Jesus walked on earth, I’m not sure people thought of him as glory either. But as the Bread of Life, Jesus was far greater than manna, for he nourished far more than people’s bellies. The incarnation, like the manna in the wilderness, was glory.

 

2nd Sunday in Advent

Love

Exodus 34:1–10

The Lord said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain. No one shall come up with you, and let no one be seen throughout all the mountain. Let no flocks or herds graze opposite that mountain.” So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

To Moses, the Lord proclaimed that he was abounding in steadfast love. But how do we know? Anyone can say they love. But the context of this passage is rather telling. Moses had been with God on the mountain for 40 days. While he was away, Aaron and the rest of the people got tired of waiting and created a golden calf to worship. In anger, Moses, upon seeing this display of faithlessness, threw down the stone tablets on which God had written his law. How would God deal with a rebellious, idolatrous people and an angry, impatient leader? With love. God calls Moses back up to start over again. The mere fact that God didn’t wipe out either the people or Moses is a testimony to God’s love. God didn’t need to say it. His actions proved it.

And God continues to prove it. Most of all by sending his Son to take on the form of a servant. In the same way as the Israelites, we have been rebellious. In the same way as Moses, we react to situations incorrectly. Yet God just didn’t give us a second chance on the mountain. He sent his Son to solve the sin problem for good. The incarnation speaks of God’s love for his people.

12.4.15

Psalm 47 begins with a command:

“Clap your hands, all peoples;
Shout to God with a voice of joy.”

Why would all the peoples do this and not just God’s people Israel? And why at the end of the psalm do we read:

“The princes of the people have assembled themselves as the people of the God of Abraham?”

Why the God of Abraham? Why not the God of Moses or the God of David? This psalm reaches back to the promise made to Abraham that all the peoples of the earth would be blessed and looks ahead to that day when God through his Spirit inhabits people from all nations because of the sacrifice of the Son. The incarnation makes Psalm 47 possible.

 

 

12.2.15

Abraham had faith, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. But we have to back up a bit. For Abraham, before and after he demonstrated faith, was a scoundrel.

“Hey, Sarah. Tell ‘em you’re my sister. Um, no telling what they’ll do to me otherwise” (Genesis 12:13, 20:2).

Is that faith? Wouldn’t it be hard for Abraham and Sarah to have the promised son if he were dead and she were married off to someone else? But on a starry night, somewhere between those two scenarios, Abraham believed; he took God at his word. Abraham was not righteous. But God was. And belief made Abraham righteous as well.

The incarnation makes Abraham’s story possible for so many others. Paul picks up this idea when he quotes Genesis 15:6 in Galatians 3 as he talks about how all the nations will be blessed in Abraham (Genesis 12:3, Galatians 3:8). And how will that happen? Having faith that we too will have a miracle baby when we’re 100? No, it happens when a person repents and places faith in the death and resurrection of Christ as the only means of forgiveness—the same faith that Abraham had between his scandalous acts. Only the incarnation makes that possible to all the nations and all the scoundrels in them.

 

 

11.30.15 

Monday gets a bad rap. Since our culture starts the work week on a Monday and since we have a poor theological understanding of the significance of vocation, our culture tends to frown upon this once a week occurrence. When people near retirement or vacation, the number of Mondays left is often announced. Few people announce the number of Saturdays left. We wait in hope of something better by ticking off the Mondays remaining.

Abraham waited through 1300 Mondays for something better.

For twenty-five years, Abraham waited for God to make his name great through a promised offspring—one who would begin the fulfillment of the promise to bless all the families of the earth, the miracle baby who would change the course of history. But Isaac finally came because God promised he would.

And then the descendants of Abraham waited

—through slavery
—through wandering
—through anarchy
—through a dynasty
—through captivity
—through silence.

Another 100,000 Mondays. But the promised Messiah because God said he would. The miracle baby who would change the course of history. And the incarnation of God the Son was worth the wait.

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1st Sunday in Advent

Hope

Romans 4:16–22

“That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’”

When we exercise hope, we are in good company. Abraham hoped, and he hoped against all odds. The idea of children was laughable—and he did laugh. But he also hoped. The too-good-to-be-true promise tugged at him, sitting just out of reach. So he continued to hope. And he was blessed with a child not because he hoped it would happen or because he had faith but only because God is faithful. He was blessed because God made a promise. And the belief in that promise was enough to gain the righteousness of God. God did the impossible and gave a barren couple a child. But it wasn’t just the promise of a son that God fulfilled. God also began to fulfill the promise that in Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed. And God did the impossible there as well. He sent his Son, a descendent of Abraham, to bless all who would take up the faith of Abraham and believe the impossible: God became man in Jesus Christ. Jesus took the sin of man upon himself and offered his righteousness to all who would believe. And to those who believe, God promised an eternity of fellowship in glory. This is the message of amazing grace, a grace not earned. This is the message of Christmas. The incarnation speaks to this promise, and it is in this promise that we hope.

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