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11.17.18 A Correct Response to Difficult Circumstances
Why do you stand afar off, O Lord?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
This passage that begins in 4:27 is bookended by two correct responses surrounding two incorrect responses. We might be tempted at this point to look at Moses’ response and think that he, too, is not responding correctly. He is, after all, complaining to God. Yet, it is precisely this, his complaint to God, that means Moses is on the right track. He is entering into a lament, much like the psalmists quoted above. He is crying out to God, which is what we are supposed to do in times of trouble.
We know that Moses is on the right track for a couple of reasons. First, as we’ve already said, the Bible is full of people crying out to God in lament, especially in the Psalms. Second, though, we can peak ahead at God’s response. No anger, no rebuke. Just an answer. It may not have been the one Moses wanted, but none-the-less, we see God not responding in anger.
But why did Moses choose this route over throwing a pity party or gripe session with Aaron? Again, I think it goes back to expectations. Moses has just come from a tense situation where he was trying to get out of an assignment, yet God was gracious to him in every question, every excuse. Moses had a track record with God of grace in the midst of excuse and argument.
And so it is natural for Moses to come to God and pour out his frustration, sadness, anger,…. Moses expectation is grounded in his previous, precious experience with God. What about us? Are we developing a track record with God? Now, I am not suggesting that we go out and argue with God about something he has called us to—remember, Moses still had to go! I am suggesting that we stop hiding our emotions from God. I am suggesting that we come to him first with our frustrations and anger and complaint instead of going to someone else. My hope is that we begin to build a relationship with the God who likes to lavish grace on his people when they need it. Moses expected God to listen to him because a relationship was already there.
This is the hard part about sanctification. It’s hard because God does not always respond. It’s hard because it’s hard to tell when he responds. It’s hard because it seems so one-way, unlike Moses’ back and forth with God in Exodus 4. Yet we are called to pursue him. We are called to come to him.
We have these stories in the Bible of God revealing himself to his people in miraculous ways. Yet, the vast majority of Israelites through the centuries never saw what the handful of stories in the OT reveal. Hundreds of years went by for the average family with nothing but the stories. And while many of them did not remain faithful, many did. The stories were told, passed down, celebrated, and people continued to walk with God through trials and heartache and pain. And it is those unnamed faithful God-followers that we are to seek to be like.
So next time you are tempted to complain to your co-worker or neighbor or spouse or stranger in the store about something, take it to God first. Tell him what’s on your heart. Ask him to intervene and bring peace.
11.16.17 An Incorrect Response to Difficult Circumstances
We have already detailed issues with how we look at life’s difficulties when we talked through Exodus 1. Remember that the Israelites were doing what they were supposed to be doing where God wanted them to be, and things still weren’t going well for them. Life is hard. Sin is real. Evil, in the form of other people, still manifests itself in our lives on a regular basis. From “small” things like a former seminary professor of mine recently having his laptop stolen to “huge” issues like natural disasters and mass shootings, we don’t have to look around too far to see tragedy, pain, and sin.
So the question that is before us is what do we do about it? And my argument in this section of Scripture from the end of chapter four through the end of chapter five has been that expectations play a huge role in our response. The facts are clear: the people of Israel complained to Pharaoh (vv. 15–16) and to Moses and Aaron (vv. 20–21). Their complaint against Moses and Aaron had a little more bite in it, probably for a couple of reasons. One, I am sure they feared Pharaoh more than Moses and Aaron. But more importantly, Moses and Aaron were the ones who promised deliverance. Yet instead of deliverance, the Israelites found themselves in harsher bondage than before. They expected release. They got punishment in the midst of their ongoing slavery.
So their expectations went unmet. And they complained.
It’s not that they didn’t believe in God’s words, necessarily. They just didn’t think he would take his time. They didn’t know that there were other, important things God was working on besides his people’s deliverance. When God’s revelation of impending action doesn’t line up with our time frame, we can easily fall into the sinful response of complaint. Their expectation was not grounded in the certainty of God’s promise but in their immediate surroundings.
This is instrumental for us. This is also the counter example of the truth that is so often spoken of in one way or another in the New Testament: set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth (see 2 Corinthians 4:16–18, Philippians 3:21–21, Colossians 3:1–4, and Romans 12:1–2). Our expectation is ultimately in our resurrection, not on comfort in this life. And when our minds are staid on the resurrection, we can wait on God much easier here.
This does not mean that we aren’t to feel the weight of difficult circumstances, nor does it mean we are to stoically bear up under them with no recourse. We will look at the correct response to difficult circumstances in the next session.
11.15.17 An Incorrect Response to God’s Revelation
In 5:1–9, we see the first confrontation between Moses and Aaron and Pharaoh, and it doesn’t go well. Pharaoh’s simple response is that he doesn’t know the Lord (YHWH). Therefore, why should he let Israel go? By saying he doesn’t know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he is saying more than that he has just never heard of him (which is most likely true). He is also saying that this God is not part of Pharaoh’s pantheon of gods. The gods of Egypt are the ones who regulate the world where Pharaoh sits supreme. No other god matters in Pharaoh’s worldview.
If you were in charge of a company, and one of your employees walked into your office and said that his uncle said he should get an extra few days of vacation, would you be inclined to grant it? Probably not. His uncle doesn’t sit on the board of directors to influence you into providing this. In fact, it sounds like this guy is just making stuff up to not have to work as much.
This is exactly how Pharaoh perceives the situation. The Israelites clearly are just trying to get out of their work. And they clearly have too much time on their hands to conceive of this kind of crazy god-spoke-to-me story. So Pharaoh hands down more work. This seemingly has a two-fold purpose: 1) It serves as a form of punishment for lying. 2) It occupies more of their time to keep their minds off crazy ideas like this.
Pharaoh ultimately ignores the request because his expectation of how life is supposed to work is grounded in the reality that he is in charge and there are no other gods outside of Egypt who have any authority in Egypt. And so he naturally rejects the request of Moses and Aaron.
What parts of our lives do we have expectations of how intrusive God can be? Are there places where we think God is unconcerned or where we have taken a God-can’t-touch-this mentality? Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
Do we know this God?
11.14.17 A Correct Response to God’s Revelation
In 4:27–31 we see the ideal setting for God’s people played out. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all acted this way all the time? Aaron obeys God’s command to wander off to the wilderness to find a brother he hadn’t seen for 40 years. This shepherd comes back telling tales of deliverance and performing signs with his staff, and everyone believes. They hear how God is concerned about their plight, and they respond in worship. Obedience, belief, and worship. What a triumvirate of responses. Oh, if we could live life with responses like that!
What were the expectations of the people at this time? They had been crying out for deliverance. They were oppressed, sorely. And I would argue they were also aware of the promises made to Abraham in Genesis 15 about the deliverance of the people. For God to have told Moses to tell the people that he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob means that the people would have understood who these people were and the context surrounding them. These stories had been passed down. So it seems reasonable that the people’s expectations were favorably inclined toward supposing that this all could be true.
I don’t mean that their obedience, belief, and worship were false, but I do believe that their expectations were related to and influenced by their circumstances. They expected God to act, and so it was not incongruous for him to say that he would. When God’s revelation of impending action lines up with a previous revelation, this often leads to worship. The people’s expectation was grounded in the reality of God’s truth.
What about us? Where do we ground our expectations? My guess is that even if they are grounded in God’s word, they are swayed by the culture far more than we realize. For example, we believe, and the Bible states, that God blesses his people (Ephesians 1:3 for example). But what does the Bible mean and what do we mean by bless? We live in a culture where independence is a corner stone for our worldview. We have enshrined in our founding documents the following phrase: “we are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” In addition to these three, the “among these” implies that there are others. Blessing is often couched in terms of the material and physical. But where exactly does the Bible speak of God giving humanity these three unalienable rights? We have allowed this document (and the ethos of the American Revolution), I believe, however subtly, to influence the Bible’s view of us as creatures, clay, dependent, and fallen. This is no different, however, than any nation or culture allowing its history and ethos to influence the people’s faith. We are prone to wander—all of us.
So the application is impossibly simple: be steeped more in the Word than the culture. And that is where the community of faith is so important. We need the correcting influence, encouragement, challenge, and rebuke of many people to keep us following after God in such a way that we respond correctly to his revelation AND so that we recognize when something is contrary to his revelation. All of this, of course, supposes we are spending time in his revelation.
11.13.17 Response to Life
We looked at Exodus 4:27–5:23 on Sunday, a set of verses that I take as all belonging together despite the chapter break. It is divided into four sections that I believe help us to see two correct responses and two incorrect responses to life. Again, the structure of the passage seems quite clear. Which means the point of the passage seems quite clear. However, the application of these truths? That is where things get a little more complicated.
First, what does the passage show us? The passage can be outlined like this:
A Correct Response to God’s Revelation. 4:27–31
A’ Incorrect Response to God’s Revelation. 5:1–9
B’ Incorrect Response to Life’s Circumstances. 5:10–21
B Correct Response to Life’s Circumstances. 5:22–23
The last section’s title might come as a surprise to many, but I think it is the right label, and we’ll see why as we work our way through the passage.
If this is the correct way of viewing the passage, then our responsibility is fairly clear: In response to God’s revelation we are to obey (4:27b), believe (4:31a), and worship (4:31b) as opposed to remain ignorant of it. In response to the difficulties of life, we are to bring our complaint to God and not to men. So as I want to follow James’s admonition to be doers of the word and not merely hearers, then I should go and do likewise! Except how exactly do I turn unbelief into praise? Or maybe a better question: Why do I tend to complain to people and not to God? Why is it easier to ignore God’s revelation than respond to it in worship or obedience? Is my faith just too small?
That is the question I want to wrestle with this week. What role does faith play in my responses to God’s revelation and/or the difficult circumstances of life? Am I like the disciples in the boat when Jesus said, “O you of little faith”?
I will argue that Jesus was referring to the object of their faith and not the amount of their faith when he made that statement. They had little faith because they didn’t see Jesus accurately. They didn’t believe that he could calm the storm. He was small in their eyes. They had great faith, in fact—that they were in perilous danger, despite his presence in the boat. So in moments when we react incorrectly to God’s revelation or to the difficult circumstances of life, I believe it is because we are viewing God incorrectly at the time. So as we walk through each of these four sections, I want to flesh out what that means for the people in the passage and for us today.
11.8.17 Exodus 4:1–26 God’s Objection
Moses now returns to his father-in-law and seemingly makes up a story about wanting to go back to see if his people are still alive. No, “Hey, God just appeared to me and is sending me back….” Did he think Jethro wouldn’t believe him? Did he think the whole thing sounded pretty far-fetched? Maybe. The text doesn’t give us anymore than this.
So he takes his wife and two children and begins the journey back to Egypt. And he gets some more instruction on the way. First, he is to perform all the wonders that God has given him. I don’t think this is just the three signs he has been given for his own people. I believe these are the greater signs that we know as the ten plagues. Then God says he will harden Pharaoh’s heart. And as I said on Sunday, I’m not going to deal with this phrase now, but I will. I think this needs some extended time to discuss and that there is a better place to bring it up. So here is the sermon version of a cliff-hanger.
Next he tells Moses some words to say to Pharaoh about the killing of his first born, and he relates it to the fact that Israel is God’s first born. And, of course, this should remind us of the prophecies discussed in Matthew: “Out of Egypt I have called my Son” (Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:15). The then in Exodus 4:22 is important, as it seems this statement is not to be made at the beginning, but after the wonders have been done.
Then we get to the climax of the story. And I wonder if chapter 4 really shouldn’t end at verse 26. We get this bizarre story of God wanting to put Moses to death—without warning or seeming explanation. It is often in the bizarreness of stories that we are to look for lessons. For all Moses’ excuses, God was patient and gracious. But now he is ready to put him to death as he’s actually on his way back.
Zipporah sees the issue and circumcises her son (the text is singular, and it’s not clear why). What is going on? We have to remember that God, up to this point, has given his people one thing to do to signify that they are God’s people: circumcision (See Genesis 17). And those who are not circumcised are to be cut off from their people. Moses was the only one in Midian, as far as we know, who would have been aware of this stipulation, and for whatever reason, he has failed as father to carry this out with his son. So instead of “cutting off” the son, God is willing to cut off the responsible party (though there is some debate about the ambiguousness of the pronouns in this passage, and there are a few who say that Moses’ son is the one who God wants to put to death).
This is informative for us. We see that God provides grace to Moses in so many areas and excuses except one: failure to be a part of God’s covenant family. Failure to do so means not only that God won’t use him, but that death is the outcome. To avoid this, conversion needs to happen, and in that day conversion meant faith and circumcision.
For us today, conversion is still necessary because we are still children of Adam. It is not that we just do a few bad things that need cleaning up. We are bad in our core and need something bigger than just cleaning up our act. We need to be changed because we are in Adam and need to be in Christ to be a part of God’s family, God’s kingdom (Romans 5:18).
Post-cross, this change comes through faith in the death of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and that God raised him from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1–4). And Paul equates this now to circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:28–29). We must be converted according to God’s stipulations and covenant requirements, or we too are in danger of death—eternal death.
The good news for us is that we can be a part of God’s covenant family. We can confidently make our way to the Church, having our hearts changed and our bodies washed with clean water (Hebrews 10:19–22) because of the sacrifice of Christ.
11.7.17 Exodus 4:1–26 Objection Numbers 4 & 5
Moses now moves to his next objection: I’m not eloquent. I am slow of speech and slow of tongue. The word translated slow here literally means heavy. We aren’t exactly sure what Moses is talking about. Is he saying that he has some sort of speech impediment? Or is he referring to the fact that he’s been away so long that he’s forgotten most of his Egyptian? Or is it like the boy who grew up in the city but has since spent years on a west Texas cattle ranch and has picked up a slow west Texas drawl? Or is it, like a small handful of scholars believe, no issue at all, and this is another in a long series of excuses?
But as with each issue, the main point is God’s answer, not Moses’ objection. And so we notice how God answers. He proclaims that he made man’s mouth. He also proclaims, surprisingly to some, that he made man deaf and mute and blind and seeing. God gives disabilities to people! While that may seem highly unfair, a careful reading cannot help to see God’s sovereignty in all of this. And one cannot help to see that what God is saying is that if he made Moses this way, that he certainly can either 1) fix him or 2) use him. In fact that is the point of this answer and this section:
I made you with certain gifts and limitation. I called you while you still had those gifts and limitations. I can can certainly use you with those gifts and limitations.
This ties in to last week’s excursion into Ephesians 4: What excuses do you have to avoid being equipped? Or to this summer’s look at Hebrews 5 & 6: “By this time you ought to be teachers.” Then we see, again, God’s persistence and consistency. “Go and I will be with your mouth.” The command hasn’t changed. God hasn’t changed. The answer to the first question was “I will be with you.” This is also the answer to this objection.
So now that Moses is out of excuses, we get to the real issue. He just doesn’t want to go (v. 13). And God’s anger burned against Moses, and yet we still see grace—and a persistence from God. If I may paraphrase: “Moses, you’re still going. But I’ll send Aaron to be with you as well and to help you speak.” Some take this as a sign that Aaron, not Moses, is going to get the glory, but I’m not so sure it’s not just yet another offer of grace in the midst of Moses’ fear and stubbornness. But Moses is not getting out of the assignment. And he is getting an assistant.
Yet what does almost derail the whole deal is something entirely different, which we will get to tomorrow. In the meantime, know that God wants to use his people and often provides far more than we need to accomplish what he has called us to.
11.6.17 Exodus 4:1–26 Objection Number 3
If you were to make a list of things that keep God from using you, what would be on it? Fears? Insecurities? Doubt? Limitations? Disabilities? Obstacles? Circumstances?
Even if God would use us, despite all the reasons we think he shouldn’t, obeying God is hard because it involves sacrifice. We would rather obey ourselves, but even if our hearts are turned toward God, obedience can be hard. For following God often exposes our fears and inadequacies. It can point out or prejudices or laziness. Ultimately, obedience forces us to depend upon God and not ourselves. Our pride doesn’t like that.
When God calls us, he ultimately wants the beauty of his grace to shine through us as his provision conquers our fears, our excuses, and our inadequacies. Yet there is one hindrance to God using us in his kingdom. And it’s not not wanting to be used. It’s choosing to remain outside of the kingdom of God, outside of the covenant family. This is not to say that God doesn’t use the actions of people outside his kingdom for the good of those inside. But to be called by God to be used in conjunction with his people is reserved in Scripture for those who are part of God’s covenant family. And this is ultimately what Exodus 4 is about.
Before we get to the details of chapter four, we need to review briefly. Up to this point Moses has asked two questions: 1) Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh? 2) What is your name, i.e., who are you? God chooses to answer both of those questions. The first he answers with “I will be with you.” In other words, “It doesn’t matter who you are since I am coming along.” The second he answers by giving Moses a name that basically means that God is the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. So we could summarize God’s answer to Moses’ first two objections to God’s call with “the covenant keeping God will be with you, Moses. Now go.”
But Moses isn’t finished with his objections. He has three more. The first is also a question—a question that God has already addressed in 3:18. God tells Moses that the people will listen to him. Yet here in 4:1, Moses is asking what will happen if they don’t. My argument all along is that Moses is fishing for excuses to just not go. Whether any of these issues are real issues for Moses or just excuses is a matter of debate; nevertheless, we see God being gracious in each of his answers to Moses. And the same is true here. God gives Moses three signs to perform for the people so they will believe that God has sent him—even though he has already told Moses that they will.
Now, I can’t turn sticks to snakes, water to blood, or make skin leprous. Nor do I know anyone who can. However, it seems a bit odd that God would send Moses with these “proofs” that God had sent him when at least two of these proofs are reproducible by the Egyptian magicians. Why would God send Moses with the “magic tricks” of the day? I believe that God knows that this is just another excuse covering the real issue in Moses’ heart. And like a small child who feels better when a band-aid is applied to a hurt—even if it is completely unnecessary—God is applying a bandaid to Moses emotions. Moses doesn’t need the signs. God can convince the people easily enough, and they are waiting for God to do something; they have been crying out already.
Sometimes God gives us what we think we need to reveal what’s really going on in our hearts because what we think we need doesn’t end up satisfying us at all, no matter how special it might be. Moses’ real need was not the ability to convince his people that God sent him. His real need is a need to want to obey.
So once again God is offering grace to Moses. He is giving him what he doesn’t need to expose the real issue so that God can deal with that.
11.5.17 Ephesians 4:14–16 Equipped for Leaving and Growing
The final two areas where we are to be equipped are leaving and growing. We are to leave spiritual immaturity. Kids are naturally immature. Intelligently, emotionally, and logically, kids are easily deceived and swayed by the things and people around us. Paul uses the metaphors of waves and wind. An immature person is like an object tossed to and fro on the waves or like a Walmart bag floating on the wind. Neither is in control; each is subject to the whims of its surroundings. We are not to be Walmart bags in the spiritual life.
Can you recognize false teaching? Do you know why the prosperity gospel is so dangerous, and can you pick up on its subtleties? Do you know the dangers of hoping in the political system instead of the Triune God? Are you aware of how easily materialism creeps into our lives and easily we rationalize our idolatry of stuff? I need you, we need each other to help us leave childhood behind.
Instead we are to grow into maturity. Growing up in all aspects into Christ is the opposite of remaining as a child. How do we do this? By speaking the truth in love to one another. We need both: truth without love is authoritarian and can lead to a legalistic worldview. Love without truth can lead to accepting all kinds of sin and lead to low expectations for believers. It takes both for us to look like Jesus. And it is this Jesus where we get our power to work together to help one another grow. As we depend upon him and serve one another sacrificially with our gifts, we develop an attractive community where maturity happens through ever deepening relationships.
And it is this type of church that the Reformation helped to bring us. It laid the foundation for a freedom from Rome that allowed us to each be responsible to one another for our spiritual maturity.
11.3.17 Ephesians 4:12b–13: Equipped for Construction and Arriving
Ephesians 4:12b reads “to the building up of the body of Christ.” Notice that the focus is not on the individual but the whole body. The focus of this construction project is not me or you, but us. And yet, the we don’t ignore the individual because each of us needs to ask this important question: Am I willing to be equipped for the sake of the other people in my local church? Do I care about them enough that I’m willing to sacrifice my wants and desires to be equipped and trained to be the best church member I can be? Each of us needs to grow so that the body can grow. So we are to be equipped for service (yesterday’s post) and construction.
The third thing we are to be equipped to do is arrive. We are all to attain to or arrive at something—actually four somethings. First, we are all trying to attain to the unity of the faith. Now, this does not mean something about the amount of our belief, but it concerns the essentials of the Christian life: The Faith. That body of knowledge that has been passed down from the beginning about what it means to be a Christian. It concerns things like the Trinity; the nature, person, and work of Christ; the atonement; the attributes of God; the creation, fall, and nature of man; and the end times. It is the essentials of the Christian Faith. We are to move toward agreement in those things. We are not talking about the gray areas of life, but about those things that Christians have agreed upon across denominations and time and geography.
Do you know those? Can you explain them to someone else? It’s not enough to be able to recognize the right answer on a multiple choice test: Jesus is a) fully God b) fully man c) both. We must grow to the point where we firmly grasp the truths of the Christian life and their implications for living.
The second thing we are to attain to is a knowledge of the Son of Man. This is probably a subset of the first, but do we recognize that Jesus is the hinge upon which our faith turns? He opens the door to the rest of the truths of Scripture. Do we understand and can we explain the meaning and purpose behind his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and current ministry?
The third thing we are to arrive at is maturity. What does maturity look like? I think Paul fleshes this out in the rest of his letter with the metaphor of walking. Are we walking worthy of our calling (4:1)? Are we no longer walking as the Gentiles walk (4:17)? Are we walking in love (5:1)? Are we walking as children of light (5:8)? Are we walking in wisdom (5:15)? Are we walking in good works (2:10)? It should be our aim to arrive at both an understanding of these passages and at an obedience to them. This really includes an understanding of the whole counsel of God. We are not to be masters of just part of God’s word but all of it. We attended a church for several years where probably 80% or more of all the sermons came out of the gospels. While it is great to study the life of Jesus, we need a balanced diet from the OT law and history and poetry and prophecy and from the NT gospels and Acts and the letters of Paul and John and Peter. We have sought at CCC to provide teaching from each of these areas, and we have encouraged the body to spend time in God’s word outside of the Sunday morning gathering.
Finally, we are to arrive at what Paul calls the fullness of Christ. What is that? Ultimately it is looking like Jesus, but we might be tempted to think the fullness of his power, like when he healed the sick or calmed the sea or cast out demons. But the fullness of who Christ was and the fullness we are to attain to is the cross: his sacrificial love for others who did not and could not reciprocate his love that culminated with his death on the cross. That is the fullness of Christ. That is why Paul says to the Philippians that he wants to know Christ and “the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to his death” (Philippians 3:10). A sacrificial life is what we are seeking to attain to.
11.2.17 Ephesians 4:12a: Equipped for Service
Ephesians 4:12a in the ESV reads: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry…” The NASB reads: “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service…” The Greek word behind ministry/service does mean both, but I wonder if our 21st century understanding of ministry as something you do clouds Paul’s meaning here. Therefore I think service is probably a better term for our sakes because I think Paul is dealing more with attitude than action here.
As Christians we have all been called to serve after the pattern of our Lord: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And service begins, ultimately with an attitude (cf. Philippians 2:5–8). Without the attitude of service, the action that appears to be service may actually be rather self-serving.
So how does one equip or train another toward an attitude? Practice! I have heard more than one coach, stealing from the Navy Seals, I think, use the following phrase: “In times of adversity you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training.” To apply that to our situation about service: it is not natural to serve another person. Therefore, when push comes to shove, we will fall back into the flesh of self-serving unless we have been trained to depend upon the Spirit and are in the habit of dying to self.
While it may be simple there are a few things we do on Sunday morning that help to train us toward that end. First, we pray for one another weekly. As we spend quiet time praying for those who are sitting around us (and since we often sit in various places each week), the focus necessarily shifts from ourselves to someone else. We deliberately spend time thinking about the person sitting next to us and not ourselves. That may be a person that you don’t know or that annoys you or that said something insensitive recently. It doesn’t matter. At that moment we are called to pray for someone (serve them in that way) merely because they happen to be sitting in close proximity to us. We are being trained to serve.
We also purposefully don’t have a children’s church during our worship hour. While we offer a nursery, kids are welcome in our worship service. This is done for a few reasons. First, kids need to see what is expected of them in worship and how adults worship. They need to learn this through repeated repetition. It is good for them to be a part of what the adults and teenagers are doing. But it also helps us to serve. Sometimes little kids can be distracting. Are we willing to love and serve the parents of those kids by not turning and focusing on them, not glaring—and certainly not saying something negative to the parent afterward—but instead encouraging them, smiling at them, and most of all loving those kids who are “distracting” us from worshipping?
But there’s another reason we want the kids with us. We need to learn to worship, learn to pay attention, learn to pray during distraction. We live in a comfort-seeking culture. We want things to be easy, comfortable, and me-centered. The local church is necessarily other-centered. And we have to learn to worship, pay attention, and pray in times of distraction. Sunday morning is a safe place to practice that. As Christians we must leave behind the consumer mind-set that is the American life. We come on Sunday morning to give: worship to God and grace to one another. Are we practicing that each Sunday—and each day?
11.1.17 Everyone Equipped
Seeing how it is already Wednesday and we’ve only gotten to verse 12, this may bleed over into next week. While we are resuming our time in Exodus this Sunday, it may be later next week before notes from Exodus 4 are here. So with that, let’s dive back into Ephesians 4.
We learn in verse 12 why God gives these gifts to the church. It is for equipping the saints. It is easy to skip over that phrase and see what the purpose of the equipping is—we are Americans after all: just tell me what to do—but we need to think about a couple of things before we get there.
First, whatever equipping is, we all need it. Paul says these men are give to the church to equip the saints. He doesn’t say for the equipping of the adults or the mature or the wealthy or good looking or the retired who have more time or the singles or the marrieds or the immature who really need it. He says the saints. That’s just another word for Christians. From the least to the greatest, from the youngest to the oldest, male and female, rich and poor, college educated and third graders: all of us need equipping. All of us need something that we can’t supply on our own. All of us need people in our lives to train us, help us, encourage us, challenge us, and rebuke us. Choosing to be a part of a local church should be understood as choosing to submit oneself to the life-long process of equipping.
But what does it mean to be equipped? Literally, the word is a medical term that in one context was used for the idea of setting a bone. Figuratively, as it is used in Christian literature, it means to make someone completely sufficient for something or to train them. The implication is that none of us are sufficient and all of us need training. We’re all broken and need to be set right. As we will see, this training is not just in behavior. In fact, there are five things that Paul says we need to be equipped in: service, construction, arriving, leaving, and growing. We will flesh each of those out over the next five days. But I can’t emphasize enough the importance of us coming to grips with the truth of the beginning of verse 12. It is imperative that we understand our need and God’s gracious gift to meet that need. We all desperately need to be equipped to live the Christian life in such a way that others see God in us so that God alone receives the glory. God has designed this to happen in the local church. Are you availing yourself of this?
10.31.17 Offices and Gifts
In Ephesians 4:7–8 Paul begins talking about how despite the oneness we share in our relationship with God (4:4–6), there are differences. And to do so he summarizes* the teaching of Psalm 68. These gifts are really about strengthening and empowering God’s people (Psalm 68:35). Then Paul hones in on the local church and talks about five (or four) specific gifts that are given to the church: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. We are not going to go into great detail about these five gifts or offices, but I do want to make two comments: one about the beginning of the list and one about the end.
First, there is a debate on whether some of these offices continue past the apostolic age. As one goes down the list, there is less debate. I only want to deal with the first one: apostle. I do not believe this office continues today. My reasoning is based on two points: the definition in Acts 1 and the views of the early church fathers.
In Acts 1, the disciples are gathered together in the upper room and feel the need to replace Judas, one of the twelve. While I am sure there were many godly men in the room at the time, they limited their choices to those who had “accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—” After the first century, there were none left who could fill this role.
The second argument comes from the church fathers who wrote in the late 1st century and throughout the second century. None of them assumed the office of apostle continued. None of them took that role. Knowing the state of the human heart, it is rather amazing that none decided that this would be a good idea. There were bishops and church leaders, but no apostles.
And yet today the word is still used, and I would argue it is used unwisely. Most people that use it define it differently than it was defined and used in Scripture, and therefore, it seems confusing at best and deceptive at worst to adopt the term. The term itself carries a weight that its current use—often along the lines of church planter—can’t bear.
The other debate is whether pastor/teacher is one role or two. The grammar of the sentence in Greek certainly avails itself to combine the terms in some way (one article joining two nouns). The nuances are beyond the scope of this post. I tend to follow the view that teacher is a subset of pastor, i.e., all pastors are teachers, but not all teachers are pastors. From the math world, it is like saying all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares.
The main focus of our time last Sunday was not on these offices in and of themselves, but on the purpose of God giving authority figures to the church. Regardless of what one calls an authority figure, his purpose is outlined in the rest of the passage, and that is the real purpose of what I want to communicate.
* My stance on OT quotations in the NT is that the NT authors are thinking of more than just the particular verse they quote. It appears that Paul misquotes Ps. 68:18. What I believe he is doing instead is summarizing the point of the whole psalm.
10.30.17 Authority and Autonomy: An Introduction
The church—and the individuals in it—struggles between two extremes: authority and autonomy. Nothing about this struggle is new. At times the church (both local and at higher levels) finds itself in a position where it needs to assert some sort of authority over the lives of its members from situations that involved calling people to repentance to laying out policies to how a local church will handle who is allowed to teach or work in the nursery. We cannot escape authority, but at times the church can become heavy handed. It can exert an influence over its members that is neither godly nor healthy for the church or its members. A controlling mindset, a legalistic stance on certain issues—each of these can see the pendulum swing too far to the authoritative side of things.
Yet we can also be in danger of desiring too much autonomy. We are created beings after all. We all are subject to the authority of God, and God has also placed authority structures in our lives for our good. Yet, our natural tendency is to chafe at authority. We long for independence—especially as Americans who have been convinced that independence is some God-given right. When we seek to exercise that right to an extreme and fail to submit to God-given authority, we find ourselves in a position that is also neither godly nor healthy for the church or its members. We are too easily deceived to rely upon our own wisdom to always make the right choices.
Ephesians 4:11–16 is a passage that deals with both of these issues: our need for authority and how we are to responsibly handle our autonomy as we relate to others in the local church. And it is a passage to which the Protestant Reformation gave new wings. The pendulum was unhinged from Rome and the Pope and his bishops and allowed to swing again. This certainly lead to abuses of autonomy, but it also led to abuses of authority as well as the vacuum created by the weakening of Rome allowed others to step into those authority roles. Oh, to find the biblical, middle ground!
Yet as we look at Ephesians 4:11–16, my hope is that we will see the right place for authority and our role as individuals in the church to exercise responsibility toward one another as we enjoy the spiritual freedom found only in Christ.
10.28.17 Our Response
What do we do with the the wonderful truth of God’s faithfulness? First, as image bearers we need to show the world what it means to be satisfied by God alone. He should be enough for us. He should be where we find our joy and contentment, our hope and peace. For he has promised us not only salvation through faith, but his indwelling Spirit that continues the process of sanctification and is a guarantee of our an inheritance of the new heaven and earth. With all that we have, do we communicate to the world by our actions that we don’t need what it offers? Or do we show that God is not enough? Our we hoping that prestige, relationships, power, position, or stuff will bring us ultimate happiness?
Yet also as image bearers, we should be promise keepers. We should be people of integrity. Of course, we will not do this to the extent that God does for we are subject to circumstances around us. We may say that we will meet someone at a certain time, but simple things like car trouble, a wreck on the highway, or a family emergency will render that “promise” moot. God is not like that for he is not affected as we are by outside circumstances. He is independent of those things. Yet we should strive to be people of integrity. When we do that, those emergencies of life will not rub people the wrong way as they know what kind of people we are: people of our word.
Finally, the point of the passage is that Moses can obey God and go to Pharaoh because God is one who keeps his covenant. In other words, it is not up to Moses, but God. And Moses can follow God wherever he leads because the one who leads is in control. We too can be obedient to God because God is the one who is in control. And the lesson here is that we should follow God. God does not make random commands but purposefully calls his people into obedience to reveal God’s character to the world. Therefore, we need not seek excuses like Moses, but follow faithfully to God’s glory.
10.27.17 God’s Answer Part IV
Finally, notice what God does in the rest of the chapter: he continues to make promises—and rather outlandish promises at that. When does the slave ever get favor with his master to such an extent that he plunders him without use of force (3:22)?
Verses 17–22 are full of God’s promises to Moses:
I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt. v. 17
They will pay heed to what you say. v. 18
You and the elders of Israel will come to the king of Egypt. v. 18
I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt. v. 20
After that he will let you go. v. 20
I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. v. 21
You will not go empty handed. v. 21
You will plunder the Egyptians. v. 22
God was not finished making promises: promises that only he could keep. Even after he delivered them from Egypt, he continued to make promises to his people. We are beneficiaries of these promises in that we can clearly see God’s faithfulness to them throughout the pages of Scripture. Yet there is more because God has made numerous promises to us in Christ Jesus. The cross simply, yet mysteriously, continues to show God’s faithfulness to an unfaithful people.
10.26.17 God’s Answer Part III
Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.” Exodus 3:14
Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “The Lord, the God of your Fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me to you.” Exodus 3:15
I think it is fairly easy to see what God is doing. And it is all grace. I AM, as we said earlier, is a description of God’s essence. He is independent of everything. He is in no need of anything. He is complete and satisfied within the Trinity. Yet notice what is in blue:
I AM = The Lord, the God of your Fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
In verse 15, the I AM defines himself in terms of three people: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now what does that mean? What do those three have in common? They have in common a promise that God made to Abraham—an unconditional covenant that he alone ratified (See Genesis 12:1–3 and 15:5–21; cf. Jeremiah 34:18–20) and renewed with Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 26, 28).
The God who doesn’t need us chooses to be identified with people. And not just any people—unfaithful people, liars and deceivers. God chooses to enter into relationship with people who continually choose to live independently from him. And while we might be tempted to say, “Well, that is just for the Jews,” God goes on to say something even more remarkable.
At the end of v. 15 he states, “This is my name forever, and this is my memorial name to all generations.” Notice he doesn’t say to “your generations” but “all generations.” This God, this independent-of-all-creation God is choosing to identify himself with people, and he wants all people to know this and believe him to be this way and refer to him as such. This includes people like you and me who were yet to exercise our rebellion (which we did when we showed up) when God made this statement. You are I are to know God as the faithful one, the covenant keeping God and this remembrance will help us obey God when he calls us to do something. For we know that he is faithful to us.
The greatest example of this identification is Christ: “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which he suffered, he is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” Hebrews 2:14–18
10.25.17 A Rabbit Trail—the Lord
I do not want to take up the space or time to delve into all of the nuances that have to do with what we call the tetragrammaton: God’s name or YHWH
But there are a couple of remarks I want to make. First, even though we use the word Yahweh to talk about this word, we aren’t sure exactly how to pronounce it because there are no vowels associated with this word—at least technically. But every time this word appears in the Hebrew Bible, there are vowels with it. The word in 3:15 looks like this:
The word in Psalm 73:28 looks like this:
Vowels in Hebrew show up underneath the consonants (and sometimes above or in a letter), not in between like in most languages. Originally, there were no vowels written in the manuscript. As time passed and the ability to pronounce the language was slowly disappearing, scribes went back and added these dots and lines to insure that the language wouldn’t fade away. They did this to the entire OT—except in a few places. By this time, Jews were not speaking this name of God (whether they ever did is not exactly clear). And so in the margin of the text, every time one would see YHWH, there would be the Hebrew words: Ketiv qere. This means: what is written, what is said. It was a clue to the reader to NOT read the word as it appeared in the text. To allow the reader to know what to read, the vowels of another word would be placed under the consonants of YHWH. Usually the vowels were to the word adonai (Lord) or elohim (God).
So the person reading the text would see the consonants YHWH, but underneath would be a set of vowels that belonged to a different word (and were nonsense to this word), and this was the word they were to read: usually Lord. That is why the Latin, Greek, and now English translations of the OT use the word Lord in place of YHWH. And to distinguish this word from the Hebrew word for Lord (adonai), most English Bibles use Lord, with small caps.
This is also the origin of the word Jehova, which is a combination of YHWH and the Hebrew vowels of the word adonai.
10.24.17 God’s Answer Part II
The second thing he says is “I AM has sent me to you.” The same word for I AM is used here. So in one sense, despite God not giving Moses a name, God is taking this word and allowing Moses to use it as a name. “Tell them the one who exists in and of himself has sent me to you.” Or maybe, “Tell them the one who can’t be pigeon-holed has sent me to you.”
But then God does something unexpected—and I would argue full of grace. And to understand this we need to go back and think about Hebrew names in the OT again. Often the name a person gets is not exactly the word it’s meant to represent. Moses is a prime example. Moses in Hebrew is
To draw out, from where the name comes is
Moses’ name is a slight change from this word.
The same is true of Reuben’s name, but with a more drastic change. In Genesis 29 we read, “Leah conceived and bore a son and named him Reuben for she said, “Because the Lord has seen my affliction.”
Reuben = see, a son
Raabeoni = He has seen my affliction
With a few slight changes, affliction becomes son.
Those examples, then, show why in v. 15, God says to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers,… has sent me to you.’”
The word Lord is what we usually say in English yahweh from the Hebrew word .
It is derived from the Hebrew word that God used earlier to refer to himself as I AM. Tomorrow we’ll talk more about this word specifically, but I want to end by noting that it appears God is giving Moses something specific to tell the people. The problem is that we aren’t exactly sure either how to pronounce this change or what it exactly means or whether it’s even a noun or a verb. The good news is that it is mostly irrelevant because the rest of the sentence is where the real offer of grace is contained and why Christians don’t need to spend much time arguing about the meaning of YHWH .
10.23.17 God’s Answer Part I
Moses asks for a name. God gives him three answers to help him communicate to his people—and us—exactly who God wants himself to be known as. And I would argue that God’s answers to Moses are the rationale for why Moses—and we—should obey God, both in the day to day small things of life and in the big things of life as well.
He begins in verse 14 by not directly answering the question but by making a statement that defines him for Moses: “I AM who I AM.” This phrase is made up of three Hebrew words that might also be translated, “I will be who I will be” or “I cause to be what I cause to be.”
So that we can see what God is saying to Moses in Hebrew, these are the words he says, read from right to left.
ehyeh asher ehyeh
I am who I am.
This is the essence of who God is. He is. He is not dependent upon anyone else. The godhead is complete in himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; he does not need you or me. He gives Moses no name by which Moses might limit God. He gives Moses no name by which Moses might begin to get a handle on God. God is complete in himself. God is satisfied in himself. He does not need you or me to make him happy. You can’t add to him; I can’t subtract from him.
So the first thing God says to Moses, in a sense, is “Don’t define me.” And I might add, like the Egyptians define their gods.
10.19.17 What’s in a Name?
Why did Moses ask for a name and not just ask, “Who are you?” As I said yesterday, there is something about identity in a name, but I think there is more than that going on here. The Israelites has lived for 400 years in a place where the gods had names. I suppose we might say that is what they should have expected from their God. Again, while I think Moses is ultimately stalling for time here, his intuition on what his people might be thinking is probably pretty accurate.
The Egyptians had names for all kinds of gods because they had all kinds of gods. They had a sun god and a sky god. And they needed these many gods because their gods were limited. The sun god couldn’t do what needed to be done elsewhere, however powerful he might have been. In fact we see this played out anywhere that polytheism flourishes. The pantheon of gods is made up of human like gods who display human like characteristics and behaviors. They marry and have children. They get into squabbles. There are petty jealousies. But most of all, they are limited in their ability to deal with life.
And so in one sense, in asking for a name, Moses is asking what this God of the burning bush can do. What’s his realm? What are his powers? Can he be trusted? As we will see next week, Moses is going to get an answer he probably was not expecting. Until we get to the rest of this section next week, I would encourage you to read through the rest of Exodus 3 several times between now and then.
10.18.17 Exodus 3:13 God in My Image Part II
If you are part of our church, you will know the reasons why the details of the following personal story are vague. To see people as people, as individuals instead of just humanity in general, is necessary, I think for the desire to evangelize to grow in the heart. Seeing people as image bearers in need of reconciliation with their creator, instead of just people I share the planet with is crucial. Yet in trying to do this, it can become overwhelming. I can’t comprehend this many lives, this many stories. How many divine appointments will be necessary to bring the gospel to so many people, enough people where society flourishes, where justice reigns? There was a moment last week, where that all became a little overwhelming. I couldn’t comprehend the number of people that I was seeing, and I wondered how God could possibly hear and see and intervene in all of that. And there was a moment of overwhelming despair at the thought. And in that moment I had made God into my image: an image limited by human ability.
The final example comes from our culture which wants a god who excuses sin. We want a guilt free indulgence of the flesh. Usually, religion is jettisoned from the conversation; the materialist has no god in the conversation, other than self—so of course, god is made in his image. But at times, God is brought into the conversation. When he is, he is brought in as a one-dimensional being whose only attribute is love. This love is redefined from how the Bible defines it and is placed on a pedestal for all to bow down to. When this happens, critique of a particular way of living life becomes anti-god, for this god is love—and love allows self whatever it desires. God wants man to be happy; therefore, you have no right to pass judgment on what makes me happy. And God has been made in man’s image.
I believe we are all guilty in some form or fashion of making God into our image at times—or all the time. And that is why Moses’ question—while I believe used as a tactic to get out of the assignment—is such a good one. “God, what’s your name?” It’s not, “but God you are….”
In asking his name, Moses wants to know his identity. Names in the OT tell us a lot about the people we are dealing with. From Abraham (father of a multitude), to Isaac (laughter), to Jacob (usurper), we see names both identifying and shaping who people were. And even if someone doesn’t allow the name to shape them, it shapes how we see them.
Next time, I want to look more specifically at why Moses asked for a name and didn’t just ask, “Who are you?”
10.17.17 Exodus 3:13 God in My Image
We are at times guilty of making God in our image. Instead of letting God define himself, we define him for ourselves and our happiness or we fail to let him define himself and we succumb to sinful thoughts and behaviors.
I want to detail four scenarios—from literature, from a hypothetical situation, from a personal experience, and from an observation of culture—that hopefully explain what I mean by making God in our image.
The first comes from the novel Les Miserables—a novel, by the way that everyone should read—a novel that deals with justice and mercy in a compelling story. Monsieur Madeleine is the leading citizen in Montreuil-sur-mer. He has enriched the town and surrounding region by his business sense, kindness, and compassion. Both the citizens as a whole and the citizens as individuals are shown what kindness and fairness and mercy look like. He cares for the poor and downcast and enriches them materially and emotionally. But he comes to a moment in his life where he has to make a decision: will he continue to benefit the masses or will he save one man. This is an either/or decision. He cannot do both. The decision will reveal something of his character, and on a long night of pacing and thinking, he comes to a preliminary decision by appealing to two things: his Christian duty and the sovereignty of God. By holding up one aspect of God’s character, and moving forward based on that, he has effectually made God into his image. I say this because his decision does not take into account the fulness of God’s character and who God declares himself to be, namely, a God who keeps his word. And in making this decision, Monsieur Madeleine fails to conform to God’s image, the image of Christ who gave himself up for others—you need to read the book to see the whole story!
Imagine you have an acquaintance who offends you. I am not referring to an offense that is overblown. The other person is clearly in the wrong. A normal reaction is one where justice is sought. We long for justice. We do so because God is a God of justice. He demands this of his people and especially his king, and, I would argue, of his church. The goal of society, passed down from its leaders, is one where justice reigns, where truth wins. So it is normal to want justice when injustice rears its head. And in that moment of reaction, another thought comes into your head: Jesus often put people in their place for their unjust actions! So we take our emotions, some responses that Jesus makes, and we put our acquaintance in his place in order to achieve justice. And in doing so, we have made God into our image. We did so, in part, I believe, so that we don’t have to conform to his image—the image of Christ who did not revile in return but gave himself up for others.
Tomorrow I will look at the other two scenarios and give some other thoughts.
10.16.17 Exodus 3:10–12 Who Am I?
After a two week hiatus, I am back, and before we move on to the next section, we need to finish up 3:10–12.
We return to Moses’ question: Who am I? As we think about identity, I would encourage you to go back and read the thoughts from 9/26 before we move on. This is, first and foremost, an identity question. And Americans struggle with identity. We often err on one of two sides. We either keep our options too open or we close our options.
Keeping our options too open looks like this. I don’t like to be hemmed in; I don’t like for someone to dictate to me who I am or who I am supposed to be. In addition to this current of thought, the culture has given us numerous options. This leads to a lack of commitment. And we justify this lack of commitment by appealing to our need to be happy, to be free. But because happiness is fleeting, we flit from one activity to another, from one relationship to another, from one church to another, always looking for what makes us happy and always failing to commit to the hard but joyful life of commitment.
The other side is when we close our options off. Personality tests have become popular in America. We take them to try to figure out who we are. And once we figure out who we are, we allow that determination to avoid those things that don’t fit our profile. If God’s call on our life—long-term or momentary—doesn’t fit the results of who the test says I am, then I don’t have to follow. Surely God wouldn’t call me to something that goes against the grain of who I am, right?
We can’t play the introvert card to avoid relationships in the church. We can’t play the extrovert card to avoid spending serious, quiet, devoted, solitary time with God. When Christians do that, we are doing exactly what the world does in terms of sexuality and gender. We base our response to God on what we think or feel we are like.
The reason this is a bogus way to respond to God is based on God’s answer to Moses. What is the answer to Moses identity question?
“I will be with you.”
It doesn’t matter what you think or feel about who you are. If God is with you, you can accomplish what he asks you to do.
Who am I? I am someone that God is with. The ultimate answer to this question, of course, is Jesus: Immanuel: God with us. The fullest expression of who you are is not based on the choices you make in response to some personality test. The fullest expression of who you are is realized when you abide in Christ. Our freedom in Christ isn’t a means to self-satisfy; it is a mandate to serve in the power of the Spirit.
9.30.17 Exodus 3:6–9 Who Is This?
The last thing that God says to Moses in the initial confrontation is, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” What does he mean by this? First, God is saying that he is the same one who made a promise to Abraham to bless him with a multitude of descendants, give him a land, and bless the nations through him (Genesis 12:1–3). This promise was reiterated to both Isaac (Genesis 26:23–24) and Jacob (28:13–15). Therefore, God is saying that he is the God who makes promises. I suppose at this point, Moses might be wondering if he is the God who keeps those promises as well? But God is identifying himself with the people of Israel and its founders—a people that exists only because of God creating them (Abraham and Sarah story) and saving them through miraculous means (Joseph story among others).
But it wasn’t just the Genesis 12 promise that I think God is referring to here. For God also promised Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved in a strange land and that God would bring them out after 400 years with many possessions (Genesis 15). In other words, this appearance to Moses is the beginning of the fulfillment of this promise, despite Moses trying to kick start it back in Egypt earlier.
It would be easy to say that God is the one who keeps promises. It is plastered all across the pages of the Bible. Despite his people’s rebellion, sin, and ignorance, God marches his purposes through time without a misstep. We misstep. God never does.
Like Adam and Eve in the garden, Moses hides out of fear. But God continues without dealing with his fear. He tells Moses what we already know from the end of chapter 2: he sees and knows. But more than that, he has come down to deliver his people. This is also who God is: a God who delivers his people. But God is not just a deliverer from. When God delivers, he delivers to someplace better. He moves people from slavery to blessing, from lack to plenty, from darkness to light, from death to life. And here from slavery to a fruitful land.
God doesn’t take us from slavery and then leave us to find our own way. Even if we can’t see it—which Moses surely could not (In fact, none of the Israelites alive had seen this wonderful land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)—God had a plan to take them there despite themselves, as we will see. We may not see where God is taking us. It may feel like the wilderness. But the destination is better, always better.
9.29.17 Exodus 3:2–6 Holiness
The burning bush does the job of attracting Moses’ attention. Then God speaks. And when he does, we learn three things: a better understanding of 1) proximity and posture due to 2) God’s holiness along with 3) an introduction of who Moses is to understand is speaking to him. I will look at the first two today.
We necessarily need to start with the second to understand the first. God is holy, and his holiness radiates, necessarily, to those things around him in the same way that light radiates from its source. And in the same way that light removes darkness, so God’s holiness removes that which is not holy. Non-holiness cannot come into God’s presence. We see that clearly when Israel arrives at Sinai and is ordered to stay away from the mountain. We see that clearly in what is required of the priests to minister in God’s presence.
But what is holiness? We often think, and rightly so, that holiness is separateness, otherness. God is separate from his creation; God is completely other. And for us to be holy means that we too need to separate ourselves from that which is not holy. We are to be different than the world.
Yet that can’t be all that holiness is. For God is who he is apart from his creation. His charter is eternally consistent. God was holy before creation, and before creation there was nothing to be separate from.* Therefore, holiness is more than just separateness. The other use of the term holy is devoted. Before creation Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were devoted to one another exclusively, completely. They were for one another. So when we are called to be holy, it is to be devoted to God. Vessels used in the sanctuary were referred to as being devoted to or for God’s use. They belonged to him to use however he saw fit. That idea is also in play for God’s people whom he calls to be holy.
It is because of this holiness that Moses is commanded to keep his distance and remove his sandals. In other words, his proximity to God and his posture toward God matter. He cannot be too close to a holy God in an unclean state, and even at a distance, his reverence for God matters. Whether the sandals issue has to do with a cultural understanding of feet coverings or because sandals would have been made from animal skins (dead animals are considered unclean) is not the main thing we are looking for here. Instead, we should be aware that God’s holiness does affect how we approach God.
This should cause a great sense of dread in us. Why? Because we don’t know—and aren’t told—what the rules and stipulations are here. How do we know what we can and can’t do in our approach of God? Of course, I don’t know anyone who has seen God appear in a burning bush, yet it still would be nice to know how to approach God. And we could go back and forth about the law and all kinds of other issues here, but as people living in the 21st century, there is a greater realization that should dawn on us.
First, we are no different than Moses in our ability to approach God on our own. Second, God has done something rather remarkable in Jesus. He made a way for us to come near to him. Paul says it this way:
“remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached pace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” Ephesians 2:12–22
The same God who appeared to Moses now dwells in us. And because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we, like the bush, are also not consumed.
*This thought came from Sinclair Ferguson’s book Devoted to God.
9.28.17 Exodus 3:1–2 Housekeeping
The beginning of chapter three poses a few questions for us that, while not having a great impact on the meaning of the text, could distract us from what God is trying to teach us. So I want to deal with those today, and then we’ll continue to move through the text. First, we run across two names: Jethro and Horeb.
The first, Jethro, might cause us trouble because the text says that this is Moses’ father-in-law, the priest of Midian. Yet we learn from 2:18 that this man’s name is Reuel. Whether one of these is a nickname or just another name is unclear, but this isn’t the only example in the Bible: Peter/Simon/Simeon, Saul/Paul, Gideon/Jerbbaal, Azariah/Uzziah. When I was growing up my uncle went by his first name, Mike. Now he goes by his middle name, Shane. I have a cousin who is Robert to all of us, but is Bob at work. I assume something similar is going on here.
The second is Horeb, the mountain of God. This is also called Sinai in other places without any indication of why the name changes. But again we do the same thing. Just a few miles away there is a convenience store called both the Hot Spot and The Grizzly Bear. Towns get different names as well. People know New York City by the Big Apple, Chicago by the Windy City, and New Orleans is the Big Easy. It’s also possible that Horeb and Sinai are names given to the same place by different people groups.
Finally, who is the angel of the Lord? From the places where he shows up, most notably here and in Judges 6, it appears that he is none other than a physical appearance of God himself—a theophany. Some argue that this is the pre-incarnate Christ, the 2nd person of the Trinity. Others that it is simply God appearing in some form that is relatable to humans. A smaller number see the angel of the Lord as merely an angel, who is a spokesman, so to speak, for God. You can chase these references down and compare how the Bible compares the angel of the Lord with God or the Lord in these passages: Genesis 16, 22; Exodus 3; Numbers 22, Judges 2, 5, 6, 13; 2 Samuel 14, 24; 1 Kings 19; 2 Kings 1, 19; 1 Chronicles 21; Psalm 34, 35; Isaiah 37, Zechariah 1, 3.
9.27.17 Exodus 3:1 Blanks and Detours
Before we get to God’s answer, we need to work our way through the text and notice some things. Actually, we need to notice what’s missing. As as been happening a lot at the beginning of Exodus, we don’t see any time markers here. How long has Moses been in Midian? We know that from 2:10 to 2:11 Moses had grown up, but we aren’t told (in this text) how long a time frame that was—though we know from Acts 7. And from 2:11 to 3:1, we also aren’t told how much time has passed, other than it’s enough for Moses to marry and have a kid. But how much more? If we keep reading in Exodus, we are eventually told, but it is as if the author is being intentionally vague about the passing of time.
The careful reader might just feel as lost as Moses.
And in between these gaps, we see God listening, remembering, seeing, and knowing. In the information age, we want someone to tell us what we want to know immediately. And google is available to serve us in just that way. In the process of moving to instant gratification, we’ve lost some of the ability to grow through waiting, through trusting, through longing.
When I was a kid, there was great satisfaction in a trip to Walmart to see if the latest song I had heard on the radio had made it the store yet on a 45 (some of you don’t have a clue what that is—you could google it or wait till you see me and ask). Sometimes it had, and sometimes it hadn’t. Yet the anticipation and search and sometimes disappointment made those times when I would hear that new favorite song on the radio that much more special. There was no immediate gratification.
Fast forward 35 years. A few months back, I was eating in a restaurant and heard a song that I really liked. I was able to immediately type in the lyrics, find the artist and song, and then immediately “buy” it (I still have money on my iTunes account from a gift card I received several years ago; if you think that’s weird, I also still have Christmas candy). Times have changed.
So we’re left to ponder why God chose to limit our information. I don’t know all the reasons, but one seems to bear itself out not only here but in the rest of Scripture: God works in the gaps of life. When we aren’t sure what God is up to; be assured that he is.
It’s not just in the gaps of life where God works. We also notice the transition that Moses has undergone—from being part of the palace in Egypt to being a shepherd for his father-in-law. He thought God was using him to deliver his people, and now he is leading a bunch of sheep—that aren’t his—into the wilderness to find good grass. Remember, too, we are led to believe this is the main character of the story (Exodus 2:3). This is not the way things are supposed to go for our hero. So in addition to God working in the gaps; God also works in the detours of life.
I believe if we remember these two important truths, contentment will not be so illusive.
9.26.17 Exodus 3:1–12 The Big Question
God throws Moses a curve ball after several pitches right down the middle. In v. 7 he repeats to Moses what we knew from the end of chapter 2. In v. 8 he promises to deliver them and bring them into the promised land, and maybe at this Moses is nodding and excited that God is going to do something. But then we get to vv. 10–11.
“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
Moses is having an identity crisis brought on by a responsibility that he may have one time thought was his, but now that some time has passed (we’ll talk about that—sort of—later), doubt has taken over. Now, I don’t want to read into Moses’ day some aspects of 21st century psychology, but Moses’ “Who am I?” is not just referring to Moses’ abilities or lack thereof. He will raise that objection later. It is ultimately how he views himself. And this is a common struggle for all of us and has been since the garden. The temptation was aimed at their core: “You could be like God” was what the tempter promised.
Today, our particular struggle, like in all ages, is shaped by our culture. Rebecca McLaughlin writes, “We struggle to construct our identity out of the unlimited options available to us.” Identity in the 21st century is shaped by our pursuit of freedom and autonomy that is urged on by the wide variety of choices available to us in every aspect of life. We have reached the secular fulfillment of the Declaration of Independence: “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And there would be none of those without choice. This sounds good, but the secular manifestation of these are contrary to sound biblical teaching.
That is why we butcher verses like Philippians 4:13. We think it is a blank check for God to bless whatever it is we want to do. Instead it is a reminder that we can honor God by our thoughts and actions whether we have many options or only one—and that one a poor one.
Jonathan Haidt says, “Choice and its frequent associate freedom are the unquestioned goods of modern life.” We traffic in trying to gain freedom. I called the airline and requested a certain seat because I could. People seek to amass some semblance of wealth so that they can retire and do what they want. We’ve planned lunch stops on trips before based on a place that had options. How often have you been shopping and gone to another store that had more options?
In our culture, we’ve actually gotten to the point that when our options are limited, we take it personally. It is an affront to our identity because choice has become our god. We chaff at authority when it bumps up against our pursuit of personal freedom. We are functional anarchists seeking a theocracy where self is god.
Thankfully, God’s answer to Moses’ “Who am I?” will also help us deal with ours.
9.23.17 Exodus 2:23–25
As we get to verse 23, we seem further away from a resolution to Israel’s struggles than when the chapter began. For verse 23, despite the death of Pharaoh, doesn’t change things. The sons of Israel are crying out because of their situation. In verse 22 there is a birth, and in verse 23 there is a death, and life goes on. The big picture realities of life don’t stop and take notice. The story marches past the births and deaths.
This is part of the crush of life. It is part of the failure of vacation to remedy the “need” for vacation. We may push pause; the world doesn’t. We may need the world to push pause—for a birth or death—but it fails to even give us a nod of recognition. Wars continue; natural disasters unleash fury; politicians continue to mock logic; and whole seasons can go by without our engagement in life. And while we may have many friends and family who say and do the right things in our lives, we want something bigger, someone bigger, to stop and take notice. Yet the world seems indifferent at best.
Verse 24 speaks to that longing that we all have. We get God as the subject four times. We get four verbs that describe what God is up to. And then we get three objects.
God heard their groaning.
God remembered his covenant.
God saw the sons of Israel.
God is not deaf to our cries even if he doesn’t immediately acknowledge them. When our oldest was a baby there were times we heard her cries and did nothing but inwardly grieve with her. She was not hungry. She was not wet. She was not colicky. She was not trusting her need to learn to sleep in her own bed. We heard her cries, and we waited. I fully understand that analogy doesn’t do much for us in thinking about Israel other than someone can hear and not act and not be thought of as indifferent. God is not off watching TV while Israel sighs. He hears.
He also remembers his covenant—the promise to Abraham both about blessing his people—and the whole world—and giving them a land and delivering them from slavery. He reiterated this covenant he made with Abraham to Isaac and Jacob. Now when the Bible says that God remembered, it does not mean that he remembered something he forgot. He always remembers in the same way that I always remember my anniversary. It is a statement of commitment, not of “oh, I better get busy; I’d forgotten about that.”
God saw the sons of Israel. This adds another layer to what God is up to. Again, it’s not that he hears them while his attention is elsewhere. He’s not out in the garage fine tuning Jupiter’s orbit and in the background here’s them crying. There’s no, “Be there in a minute, got to keep this planet from crashing into the astroid belt.” God’s attention is on his people. They are his people after all. He cares about them and has their best interest at heart. Nothing escapes his notice, which should be plain from the story of Shiphrah and Puah and the story of Moses’ mother, sister, and Pharaoh’s daughter.
Finally, God knows. This is the first line where the verb doesn’t have an object. Some versions try to make the lines parallel by adding an object. But there is no object in the Hebrew text. God knew. In other words, there is nothing that God doesn’t know. He is omniscient. He knows. Not just the facts, but he also knows the heartache. He knows the pain. He knows the loneliness. He knows the longing. He knows the absence of peace and the fear of tomorrow. He knows the doubt. He knows the questions. He knows the loathing. He knows the injustice. He knows the betrayal. He knows the jeers. He knows the jabs. He knows the mocking. He knows the sin. He knows the cross. He knows.
9.22.17 Exodus 2:16–22
Moses flees for his life. What he assumed would be a role in leadership turns into fear, rejection, and failure. And I would argue this is not something that he bounced back from quickly. While we don’t know the exact time frame, several months later, he still is dwelling on his place in life as he names his son “Gershom, for he said, ‘I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.’” No, things are not all right with Moses.
Yet Moses gets a take two in how to deal with conflict fairly early in his flight from Egypt. He comes upon some shepherdesses who seem to have regular trouble with the boys, but Moses stood up to them, helped them out, and sent them on their way. No evidence of murder; no evidence of rough language. He “stood up and helped them and watered their flock.” Maybe he was taught how to behave in front of ladies or maybe he’s learned something. Regardless, the text seems to point in the direction that this was the right thing to do—as opposed to killing the Egyptian.
The father of these lovely ladies is incredulous at their lack of hospitality to someone who was so kind and tells them to go find him. He stays for dinner and gets a wife and a child out of the mix. And I think there should be some mixed feelings here for us.
First, it does appear that God has given Moses another opportunity to deal with conflict without violence. That is good news for us. We too struggle with sin, and the fact that God is willing to give us practice and put us in situations where we can overcome sin should be encouraging. We are not on a short lease. He’s not just waiting to throw down lightening at our first or second stupid thing we do. Moses at the well is a picture of grace. In a similar way, 2000 years later, Jesus would stand up at a well and confront not a group of literal men, but a group of men in a women’s past and set her free.
Yet I said we should have mixed feelings about this situation. And we should. For Moses is no longer in Egypt. Moses has “settled down” so to speak. Instead of focusing on delivering the people, Moses is now a husband and father and, as we will see, works for his father-in-law. What is going on? As I said earlier, it is pretty clear from the beginning of chapter 2 that Moses is the main character. But the main character has gone AWOL—at least in my mind.
Good thing I’m not the author of this story!
Remember, God’s timing is not our timing. God’s ways are not our ways. God’s purposes, even, are not our purposes. So feel the tension. Set your mind to wonder how God will resolve the tension. Enjoy the story, trusting that God is the greatest author of the story we’re reading and the story we’re in.
9.21.17 Exodus 2:11–15
Now we have a rather large gap. It’s like there’s a chapter missing—or two or three. What happened to the baby Moses? Did he grow up ok? What did his mom think when she handed him back to Pharaoh’s daughter? Did the king ever find out that his daughter was raising a Hebrew baby?
But we’re left with “when Moses had grown up.” And from Acts 7 and Exodus 7, we learn that he hasn’t just grown up; he’s about forty! So without trying to fill in the blanks of what God wasn’t interested in us knowing, there are a few things to think about in these five verses—and some commentary from Stephen in Acts 7.
Moses “supposed” according to Stephen that his people would know that he was going to deliver them. Instead he was rejected by them. On first glance this also mirrors Jesus. He came to his people to deliver them, but they also rejected. But that word supposed is rather important. Moses assumed they would get it. But Moses’ methods were rather Egypt-like, not Christ like. Doesn’t it seem odd that we go from an Egyptian having compassion on Moses to save his life in verse 6 to Moses showing no compassion on an Egyptian and taking his life in verse 12?
Why would Moses think this was the way to deliver his people? Why would he choose to take matters into his own hands? One wonders how much his culture—a culture of power and death—influenced him? How bitter was he inside seeing his adopted grandfather seeking to kill his people? When people are involved in a system that thrives on ruthless power, they often take on that same characteristic when they find themselves in power.
You are influenced. As Christians we must determine the source of our influencers and how heavily they influence us. Media? Entertainment? Politicians? Jesus? The neighbor? The books I read? Each of those things will influence us whether we like them to or not. But are we aware of how they are influencing us, and are we countering any negative influence with truth? Will we heed Paul’s admonition to not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds?
We cannot avoid influencers in our lives. But are we evaluating our culture and are we looking to Jesus and responding to his influence as our first priority?
9.20.17 Exodus 2:2–10
While I have hinted at this for the last couple of days, I want to make something explicit here. In this passage, we see that Pharaoh is thwarted. And I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that Moses is the only baby saved. He may have been the only baby saved in this way, but like in so many examples of ruthless leaders seeking to eliminate a population or people group, brave people step up and do what needs to be done to rescue.
Yet the bravery here is portrayed not as storming the gates or with public speeches or mass demonstrations, but with people doing what they are supposed to be doing: There is a mom caring for her child. There is a sister watching out for her little brother. There is a young woman of the palace responding to the compassion that fills her heart when she sees the helpless child.
If we add Shiphrah and Puah to our list, we get five women who are the heroes of our story up to this point. If not for the mom, the sister, and the daughter, Moses might very well not have been.
Now before we begin to re-image all of Israel’s history, let’s realize something important. God would have still delivered Israel from bondage. And he would have done so at the same time he did. He made a promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:13–14), and he would have kept it—however unfaithful his people had been or how little compassion for life they showed. If Moses is tossed into the Nile instead of rescued, deliverance would have come from somewhere else (note Esther 4:14).
But it didn’t because these women were doing what God called them to do: protect life, care about the defenseless, be a mom, a sister, a compassionate heart.
One of the old and thoughtless critiques of the Bible is that it has a low view of women. This passage—among countless others—renders that silly. What it also does is reveal God’s characteristic compassion through these women. When God made mankind in his image, he made them male and female (Genesis 1:27). And here these women shine forth God’s character brightly.
That is not all. There is trust. Without going into great detail, there is some thought that the action of the mother in making the basket and setting the boy into the reeds was sign of giving the child to God to care for—turning him over to God. When there was no where else to turn, the woman turned to God. There is also cleverness. With an expectation of what God might do, big sister hung out to watch, and her faith was rewarded. In the middle of this she used her wits to encourage Pharaoh’s daughter to act on her compassion and allowed her mother to spend more time with her child and provided some income for the family. I don’t exactly know how you word that on a résumé, but here’s someone who quickly responds with the right words at the right time.
And then there’s Pharaoh’s daughter. Maybe it’s easy in a busy palace for a daughter of the king to live a separate life. Regardless, this act of defiance against her father’s order stands out. One wonders (and hopes?) that maybe she was one of the mixed multitude that went up with Israel in the Exodus (Exodus 12:28).
What about you and me? Our application goes back to what was mentioned a couple of days ago. We have an identity problem because we tend to compare our lives to someone else’s. We look at the famous, the rich, the have-it-all-together people, and wonder what God is doing in our life. We want to be used in some significant way for God. But searching for significance through something other than a relationship with God is misunderstanding what it means to be used by God.
Our significance comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ and no where else. The question is not, “Why is God not using me like that?” The question is, “Am I being faithful where I am today?” From folding clothes to writing checks, from running a corporation to running a carpool, from teaching a Bible study to teaching kids how to read, from mowing the yard to waiting tables, faithfulness to the task at hand is a hallmark of God’s people. Contentment is a sign of trust that God can and will use my faithfulness in seen and unseen ways. And Paul says that godliness with contentment is great gain.
9.19.17 Exodus 2:2–4
Yesterday, I posted about the need for believers to make sure we are living life in the face of our culture which devalues it so heavily through removing our purpose and/or telling us to create our own. In addition to the simple, defiant act of getting married and having kids, the Israelites did much more.
We see that this nameless woman sought to both hide her son and protect him, but ultimately she entrusted him to God (though his sister wasn’t content to just let be what would be). But here is where we need to leave this family for a moment and focus on the baby, for the narrative does something subtle that does not show up in most English translations. When the mother makes a basket, the writer uses the Hebrew word tāvah. The only other place this word appears in the entire OT is in Genesis 6–9. It is the word for ark. Now, this doesn’t mean that the mom built a three-story boat for her baby to hide him in on the Nile. But this little basket—this miniature ark—would alert the reader that the one who occupies this little boat would be a deliverer just like the one who occupied that big boat. In other words, this is the main (human) character of the story. And as a child, his life is in danger.
As believers, though, we also read this and look forward. We remember another baby who would be a deliverer whose life was threatened by an evil king. And so very early on in Exodus we see that Moses points us to Jesus. Now we will also see that he points to Jesus imperfectly, but nonetheless, our eyes should be drawn to Jesus as we study the life of Moses. For even Moses said that God would raise up a prophet like himself (Deuteronomy 18:15). Jesus is that prophet that is like Moses, but in a greater way.
In every instance where we see Moses doing the right thing, we can know that this is because it is found in the character of God. And in every instance where we see Moses doing the wrong thing, we can look to Jesus to see what should have been done. We all long for leaders, for deliverers, for saviors. The world—and Scripture—will offer up men and women who will function in this role for us. But they all do so imperfectly. There are no perfect war generals or politicians or parents. Superheroes don’t really exist. And if they did, they too would have fatal flaws that would ultimately disappoint.
It is only in Christ that we find our true Savior: a true, consistent hero who always does and says the right thing at the right time. Make no doubt: Moses is a deliverer. But he is not THE Savior.
9.18.17 Exodus 2:1
We are a country filled with angst about our identity—our identity as a nation and our identities as individuals. Who are we? What is our purpose—in the greater world and in our neighborhoods? Part of the individual identity issue is the ever present opportunity to compare ourselves with others. We see others and want to be like them. We envy others’ professions, looks, wealth, and talents. We dismiss our station in life as not enough. We want more. We’ve always wanted more. Since the garden, man’s love for what he think he is missing out on pulls him away from God and toward the idols of life. We dismiss what is right before us as unimportant to what we think is our true self—something out there that we think we are or we think we’re not or that we don’t have.
Exodus 2 can help us here. It rebukes our dissatisfaction with self and preoccupation with other. And it does so right from the beginning through the simple story of a family—particularly a mom and a sister. Narrative in Scripture has much to teach us, but it is often subtle and needs attuning to carefully. So let’s notice the details of chapter two and see what we can learn. I want to chase down some thoughts a little deeper here than on Sunday morning, so this walk through Exodus 2 will undoubtedly last all week if not longer.
Remember from Exodus 1 that we can be where God intends us to be, doing what we were intended to do, and life still be very difficult. And at the end of chapter 1, Pharaoh ups the anti. He commands his people to destroy all the baby boys by throwing them in the Nile. But as we see in chapter 2, there is opposition to this. The Israelites don’t just role over and comply. I’m assuming the story of this one family in Exodus 2:1–4 is paradigmatic of many Israelite families—purposeful living that looks like defiance.
What do I mean by purposeful living that looks like defiance? First, I am not talking about the mom hiding the child in verse 2. My focus is on verse 1. The wisdom of the wider Egyptian culture says, “Bringing life into this world is foolish as we are going to destroy it.” Yet the Israelite’s culture says, “Be fruitful and multiply.” In the face of one culture of destruction, these children of Abraham are participating in another culture of life: marrying, having kids, building the community. Life is being lived. They have not given up.
Yet in the face of our culture of secular humanism—which removes meaning from the creative order of marriage, family, and community and places meaning between the temples—the birth rate continues to fall and is now below replacement level. And the marriage rate has not faired much better; though, it has remained fairly stable over the last ten years. Yet in 1960 72% of US adults were married. Today that number is about 50%. We as a country are not participating in life like we should. While there is no Pharaoh throwing babies in the Nile, our culture of destruction is just as vile in that we have removed purpose and hope by telling ourselves simultaneously that we have no purpose and that we can create our own purpose. And since man is fallen in both his emotional and mental faculties, that is a recipe for disaster.
So the church must participate in a culture of purposeful living that looks like defiance. We must be an anomaly to the culture. As Flannery O’Connor once said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.” A joyful, hopeful, God dependent living in the face of purposeless evil must be the hallmark of believers. That does not mean there is not lament—as we shall see. But it does mean we don’t cease living. And that defies the culture today as it did in Exodus 2.
9.16.17 Exodus 1:15–21
Exodus began by showing us how a small family turned into a large enough contingent of people to cause the most powerful man in the world to fear. But we really don’t know who any of these people are. Pharaoh, after all, just means ruler—we don’t know his name. And unlike the intimate narratives of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph in Genesis, we don’t know any of this multitude of Israelites. This is all big picture setting type stuff.
However, Pharaoh’s fear and irrationality affects individuals, and this section of chapter 1 shows that while God is concerned with the whole nation, that does not mean he is not concerned about individuals. And so we get the story of Shiphrah and Puah.
We should notice here that in the entire book of Exodus, Pharaoh never gets a name. We don’t know who he is. Pharaoh originally meant great house, but it came to designate the king himself. Yet here are two women, midwives, who are prominently written about, names and all. And names, as we will see, are important in the book of Exodus. Their story, in the grand narrative of Exodus, could have easily been omitted. Their story, however, is recorded.
These two ladies refuse to carry out the fearful, irrational command of the king and are blessed for doing so. In refusing to end the lives of babies, they are given lives themselves in the form of families. They were able to stand up to the king because they feared God more than man (v. 17). We are always being called to do the wrong thing—though, maybe not to the extent of the midwives. Between our flesh, the world, and the devil, there is an insistent, prolonged, and constant temptation* to find our purpose outside of God, to fear something besides God, to find joy in something outside of God, and to build my kingdom instead of God’s. Yet these ladies shunned that temptation at the risk of their own lives because they believed in something bigger.
Let’s not deceive ourselves. It’s easy to think: “Well, I wouldn’t do that!” But we would. And history has shown that humanity will do heinous things over and over again if that right pressure is applied.
So the time to prepare for that pressure is now. Are you spending time fighting the world’s pressure? Are you spending time transforming your mind by spending time with God’s people and in God’s word? Are you ensuring that the spiritual disciplines that contribute to your sanctification are a regular part of your life?
*this wording is from Sinclair Ferguson’s book Devoted to God.
9.15.17 Exodus 1:8–14
Pharaoh is not happy. In fact, he is afraid. He sees the multiplication of the sons of Israel and fears their numbers and their might. What causes this fear? I believe verse 8 tells us: He did not know Joseph. While it may mean more than this, it certainly at least means that Pharaoh failed to know or remember the blessings that came upon his land due to the people of Israel and their relationship with God. Not knowing Joseph is not knowing God. And a failure to remember that God blesses and cares for his people leads to fear. And fear leads to irrational decisions.
Notice the language in these few verses:
let us deal wisely with them v. 10
appointed task masters v. 11
to afflict them v. 11
hard labor v. 11
they afflicted them v. 12
compelled…to labor rigorously v. 13
made their lives bitter v. 14
hard labor v.14
labors…rigorously imposed v. 14
Remember, these Israelites were the people who were where God meant for them to be, doing what they were supposed to be doing. Now life is extremely difficult for these people. But this should not surprise us if we have been reading our Bibles. Jesus told the disciples that they would have trouble in this world (John 16:33). And Paul told Timothy that all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). Yet, this still comes as a surprise to us when life does not go our way. And so it bears repeating: God can mean for you to be someplace, and you can be doing what you are supposed to be doing, and life can still be difficult.
Despite this important lesson that comes from the Israelites, we learn a lot from Pharaoh in this passage as well. Instead of seeking a blessing from the Israelites, Pharaoh sought to use them for his own gain and to use them to keep from losing his power. In the face of the Israelites, Pharaoh saw his own inadequacy. And instead of turning to God to meet his need, he gave way to fear. And in that fear, he still had a chance to turn to God (and his people) for peace. But instead that fear—as it always does if not checked—gave way to irrationality. “I will be powerful,” Pharaoh says. And that power came at the expense of the innocent Israelites.
And we are not immune from this road to sin. We forget what God has done. This also leads to us coming face to face with our own inadequacy. And when we see that we can’t accomplish what we want or think we need, this leads to fear if we don’t turn to God. And fear always manifests itself in irrational thoughts and actions. At these times, we need to remember that we have one who went to the cross on our behalf and has provided through his Spirit all the resources we need to live in his resurrection life. May we remember what Jesus told his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
9.14.17 Exodus 1:1–7
Exodus begins this way, “And these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob” (Exodus 1:1). The and reminds us that we are in a story that God is telling. Exodus wouldn’t exist without Genesis. There would be no exodus for the people of Israel without an entrance. We are immediately reminded about the people—the brothers especially—who came down to Egypt with their father, and this should remind us about why they came down: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). So as we read Exodus we need to remember that God meant for them to be here. They are not here by accident. And whatever befalls them—even if it is more evil at other people’s hands—does not take God by surprise nor alter his plans. He means for them to be here (Genesis 15:12–21).
This opening line is not the only thing that reminds us of Genesis, though. Verse 7 uses language that points us back to Genesis 1:28. God commanded Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiple and fill the earth and subdue it.” The Israelites, it seems, are doing exactly that in Egypt: “The sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7). They are, in effect, doing what God has commanded his people to do. That is the purpose of this allusion to the opening of God’s story. Hundreds of years after the garden, God’s people are still seeking to fulfill his mandate. They are being obedient.
It’s not, however, just their obedience that Moses records. It is that they are obeying without their forefathers, their leaders: “Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation” (Exodus 1:6). We know that there are elders of the people (Exodus 4:29), but we are not aware of any significant individual leader prior to Moses. Contrast this with another transition that happens at the beginning of the book of Judges: “Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten.…All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 2:8,10–11).
In the opening line of Exodus we are given the picture that God has these people exactly where he wants them and that these people are doing what they are supposed to be doing. The lesson for us here is that we can be exactly where God wants us and doing what we are supposed to be doing and as we are about to learn, life can still go south pretty quickly and pretty harshly.
9.13.17 Exodus Geography
I want to add a couple of quick notes about geography as a way to outline the book. Chapters 1–12 take place in Egypt. Some, however, would include 13–15 in this section as it is not until the end of 14 that Pharaoh and his army are defeated, and 15 is the song of deliverance that the people sang afterward. But technically, the nation is in the wilderness by chapter 13. So 13–40 sees Israel in the wilderness, 13–18 before Sinai, and 19–40 at Sinai.
Either place finds Israel in some kind of difficulty. Egypt, of course, is a place of slavery. But the wilderness is a place of danger and scarcity: out of the frying pan and into the fire. The people are fearful of God, and being near God brings it’s own dangers (19:12–14). They also find themselves without water and food at times before they reach Sinai.
The Sinai portion can also be broken down into law (19–24) and tabernacle (25–40) with a brief interruption (32–34) to deal with the nation’s sin and reaffirmation of the covenant. Those markers can help us grasp the book a little better as we orient ourselves to the big picture wherever we happen to be reading.
9.12.17 Why Study Exodus Part II
Before we get to the text of Exodus itself, we are looking at why we should study Exodus in the first place. The second reason we want to do so is that this book does a great job of helping us know what to expect when hard times show up at our door. We get a glimpse of how God deals with his people in the midst of difficulties—and not just long lines at the grocery store. The Israelites faced real affliction and heartache. And God shows up.
But this book also shows us what to expect when our hearts are hard. Hard times and hard hearts are the two things we face in this world that cause us trouble. And the bigger and more important of the two are our hard hearts. And because a hard heart is more important to our relationship to God, we need to know how to deal with it. Exodus will help us in that if we have ears to hear. I know for me, I think knowing God’s response in hard times is more important, but that simply is not the case. Faith can still flourish in the midst of hard times, even when God is silent. Faith cannot flourish in a hard heart.
It is not, however, just knowing what to expect in those hard times and when I have a hard heart, but Exodus teaches us why God intervenes in those times. I want to give you two examples from the book of Exodus to whet your appetite. But these also help us see some big picture ideas in the book of Exodus as well.
First, why does God intervene in Pharaoh’s hard heart? Well, he tells us specifically in Exodus 8 and 9. Four times God says that he will do something so that Pharaoh may know something. In 8:10 it is that he may know that there is no one like the Lord. In 8:22 it is that he may know that the Lord is in the midst of the land. In 9:14 it is that he may know that there is no one like the Lord in all the earth. And in 9:29 it is so that he would know that all the earth is the Lord’s. Do you see the progression? One of the problems in Pharaoh’s life was that he didn’t recognize God as the supreme ruler. He failed to acknowledge this truth in favor of continuing to hold on to his local deities. And yet in the succession of plagues, God wants Pharaoh (and us) to know these truths about himself. There is no one like him, and this unique one is present in Egypt, but he’s not just another deity. There is no one like him in all the earth. But it’s not just that he’s just the strongest of all the local deities, he’s the creator and owner of all. Everything, including Pharaoh, is subservient to God.
This is what every hard heart needs—a recognition of who God is. Hearts become hard when we set them up us supreme in our lives. We fail to honor God and give thanks to God, and thus we are given over to this self-worship, which leads to an ever thicker callous on our hearts. Only the blood of Jesus can dissolve such a callous.
The second example I want to look at is why God intervenes in the lives of the Israelites who are enslaved in Egypt. It’s not, ultimately, to deliver them from slavery. If that were the case, Exodus would have ended in either chapter 13 or maybe 15. But it goes on for another 20+ chapters. And this continuation is the clue as to why God intervened. It was so that they could worship him. Once the nation reaches Sinai, they are instructed in how they are to respond to God’s gracious salvation, and they are instructed how they are to construct the tabernacle: the place of worship. The book ends with God coming down and dwelling with his people so that they could worship him.
So this book teaches us that God doesn’t deliver us from hardship so that the hardship will end. He delivers us from hardship so that we will worship.
9.11.17 Why Study Exodus Part I
We are going to spend the next several weeks at CCC looking at the book of Exodus. But before we get to chapter 1, I want to take a few minutes to talk about why we should study the book of Exodus. I have been in some churches where the vast majority of sermons came out of the New Testament. While studying the life of Jesus or the rich theology and practical life guidance found in the epistles is always beneficial to our faith, God gave us an entire Bible to immerse ourselves in. And because God gives good gifts to his children, we need both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Therefore, we study Exodus because it is a gift from God to us.
Paul writes to the Romans that, “whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). The OT was written for us. That’s rather amazing. And we see here that it was given for instruction and encouragement so that we might have hope. Hope is at times difficult to find. But the Bible offers it to us when we come looking for it.
Paul also writes to Timothy that, “all Scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped or every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). My hope is that all of us will be taught. We need to understand ourselves, God, and this world really well in order to live the lives God wants us to live. But I also pray that all of will, when necessary, be rebuked. We should want to know where our lives don’t match up with Jesus. And I pray that will lead to repentance when it happens. But it’s not just pointing out where we are wrong. We need to be show how to get back on track. So we also need correction. We need to see what a godly life looks like and how to depend upon God for that kind of life. Finally, we need to be trained in righteousness. The world is busy training us to obey it’s commands and ways of living life. We need to have constant retraining for the godly life. It is so easy for us to confuse niceness for righteousness or patriotism for devotion to God. It is easy to mix up our own hearts desires for God’s desires for us.
Paul also wrote the Corinthians about some situations in the Old Testament and said, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:11–13a). Because the temptations we face our common to all men, we can and should look to the Old Testament examples of people who failed to take heed so that we can learn the outcome of our foolishness.
The Scriptures are a gift from God to us. Will you devote yourself to enjoying this gift and to being transformed by this gift?
9.9.17 End Times Part V
Finally, I want to talk about what we should do in response to the theology of the end times. First, we encourage one another. The writer of Hebrews says, “Do not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25). He ties our encouragement to other believers with the coming return of our Lord. Why? Because we need it! Don’t you need encouragement? Why would you not offer it to someone else. And the encouragement should be based on real hope: God is a God of justice and love who will set all things right.
Second, we wait eagerly for this day while living holy lives. This is different than obsessing over it. We don’t waste our moments trying to figure out how it all works, but we do live our days longing for God’s return, looking for this blessed hope, and encouraging others to do the same. Notice what Peter says in 2 Peter 3: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” Peter closely ties our waiting and our living. And we should too. As we wait, we long to be the bride that he is making us into, pure and spotless and expectant.
Third, don’t be crushed by present suffering. Paul, if anyone, should have been discouraged by his life. It was full of pain, both emotional and physical. But he tells the Romans, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” Romans 8:18. And he tells the Corinthians, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). And Peter tells the churches, “In this [God’s final salvation of believers] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6).
The New Testament, from beginning to end, acknowledges that life is difficult and painful. But it also repeatedly point to Jesus as the focus of our lives in the midst of the difficulties. And specifically, it points to Jesus as a returning Judge and King as to why we can persevere through those difficulties.
Fourth, because this world is not all there is, we should invest in eternity. Jesus says as much in Matthew 6:19–21. The souls of men and God’s word are what last forever. So it is in those things that we should invest. It is in knowing God better through his word and loving people that should take up the bulk of our time, energy, and resources. Paul writes to Timothy to remind him to pass on the teachings to faithful men: “And the things which you heard from me, these things entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
Finally, is our focus on Christ? He is the center of the story. He is the one through whom and for whom it has all been made (Colossians 1:15–20). He should be our anchor in the storm, our joy in the triumph, and our peace and hope until he returns.
9.8.17 End Times Part IV
The real question for believers is not when and how is all this going to take place. The real question is what do I do—or not do based on the truths that Jesus is going to return as both Judge and King.
The first think I shouldn’t do is ignore this part of theology even if I don’t understand it. Here is the end of the spectrum where I usually fall. And I do so because I have seen and experienced first hand this part of God’s wonderful truth abused and used to manipulate others. It’s easy to allow end times conversations to bring fear. But that is not its purpose. Its purpose is to bring hope and life change here and now, but not out of fear. It is because people abuse and misuse this area of theology that we must speak the truth about what God’s word clearly says and tread lightly about what we are not sure about.
Second, we must not obsess over it. People—and I have experienced this too—spend countless hours watching Youtube videos about the end times, demons, signs, and dates. They obsess over, and are often led astray by, the desire to get everything right. And then when they feel they have it all figured out, they are part of a rare group of people who “get it.” But what really happens is that pride is inflated and Jesus is relegated to just another character in the end times show instead of the main character in all of life. A study of the end times and what God will do through his Son should move us to be more involved in this life, not less.
Third, we must not fear—unless we don’t know Jesus as Savior. For those who have been sanctified, we trust that he will be faithful as he always has been. We trust that God will set all things right and the eternal weight of glory will far outweigh the trials and tribulations that we face today or might face in the future.
Finally, we need to avoid getting the Bible to say more than it does. You can, again, find people who have matched up obscure verses with current events to show that Jesus is coming on such-and-such a date. You can find people with little knowledge of Hebrew and Greek explaining what the Hebrew and Greek “actually mean” to show that Jesus is returning on such and such a date. And you can find people who rip verses out of context to get them to say what they want said. We must be careful readers of our Bibles, diligent students of the Word, to avoid falling into the traps that are laid—often for the purpose of selling a book. And when these “proofs” lead to date setting, you can be sure that they are foolishness. Avoid them. Don’t waste your time on them.
9.7.17 End Times Part III
Christians agree on lots of things. We do not, however, agree on everything, and today I want to walk through some of those disagreements concerning the end times. One of the biggest disagreements centers around what the we call the millennium, the thousand year time period spoken of in Revelation 20:1–6.
There are three main views on what this looks like. Entire books have been written not only about each view but about particulars concerning each view. So I will hardly be exhaustive, but I do want to give you the basics.
The first view is the anticipated or pre-millennial view. The chart* below summarizes this.
Those who hold this view take Revelation 19–22 as chronological and see the 1000 years as a literal event that will happen on earth. After Christ’s return, he will set up a kingdom on earth over which he will reign with the saints for a 1000 years.
The second view is the realized or a-millennial view.
Those who hold this view see Revelation 20, not as sequentially following 19, but as a new vision. The first resurrection is what Paul refers to in Ephesians 2:5. It is, in a sense, our salvation. We are “seated with him in the heavenly places” in a spiritual sense. This “reign” precedes the 2nd coming, which is viewed as happening at the same time as the judgment of 20:11–15 (in other places in Scripture, the 2nd coming is often tied closely with this judgment).
The third view is the anticipated or post-millennial view.
In this view, Revelation 19 is not Christ’s return but the spiritual conflict that began with Christ’s first coming and continues on to this day. His actual return does not happen until 20:11. Revelation 20:1–6 is achievable through the witness of the church, and Christ’s return will happen after a long period of relative peace, justice, and prosperity as Christianity gains supremacy as a world view on this planet.
These are the main three views of the when, and Bible believing Christians have held to these views for a long time. None of the three is considered unorthodox.
* These three charts and summaries come from Holstein, Nathan and Michael Svigel, editors. Exploring Christian Theology Vol. 3. Bethany House. 2014. pp. 176–179.
9.6.17 End Times Part II
Despite the many differences on some of the details of when and how concerning Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the dead, there are several points that believers have agreed upon across time, geography, and denomination. That is the focus today.
First, Christ will return physically as Judge. His return is not simply spiritual. Jesus Christ is the God-man. And he maintains his resurrection body, and his return is bodily (Acts 1:11). The second advent of our Lord will not be like the first in that he will come again as a baby, but it will be like the first in that he will come in a body. And in that body, he will judge (2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5).
Second, there will be a bodily resurrection (Acts 26:6–8; Romans 8:20–25; 1 Corinthians 15; 2 Corinthians 5:1–10) of the dead to either eternal life or eternal condemnation. We do not believe that our resurrection is merely spiritual. We will not be disembodied spirits floating around with the clouds. After the resurrection we will eternally (Luke 18:30, among many) dwell in glorified bodies in the physical New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10ff). The Christian life (both now and for eternity) is tangible if it is anything.
Third, Christ will reign eternally as King (Daniel 7:27, Luke 1:33, Revelation 11:15). Jesus will for eternity get his due. His time on earth was full of misunderstanding, opposition, and defiance. His reign in heaven will be one of knowing, worship, obedience. Should we not seek to mirror that reign in our lives today?
Finally, sin, death, and suffering will be no more (Revelation 21:4). God will set all things right. Perfect justice and love will prevail. The curse will be wiped away. A new garden where God reigns and sin is banished will be the dwelling place of God’s people.
That is the basis of what Christians for all times and in all places have believed. The other things about whens and wheres are debated and have been debated for centuries, but those things do not change these. And we can unite around the truth that Jesus Christ will one day return to set all that is wrong right again.
9.5.17 End Times Part I
We are ending our Summer Sermon Series on the topic of the End Times. And before getting into the nitty-gritty details (though we will be looking at generalities more than details), I want to talk about why we should study the end times.
Surprisingly, with all of the Revelation’s talk of wars and beasts and tribulations, the end times is a great source of hope for the believer. We like to find hope in all kinds of places. We look for hope from our political and military leaders. But Psalm 33:17 says, “A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.” More often than political strength, we like to find hope in our own strength or efforts. But Proverbs 11:6–7 warns us that our strength is extremely limited. It ends completely at our death. Do we really want a hope that is based on something finite?
Sometimes we put hope in material possessions or money. Yet Paul warns Timothy to “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” In other words, get your hope off of what is unsure and fix it on what is: God.
There are numerous other things we might fix our hope upon, but none of them will ultimately satisfy the longings of our heart. We chase peace, joy, justice, and love; God is the only one who offers those perfectly. And it is in the study of how God will finally usher in his kingdom that we see where our hope really lies: in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Or as Paul would say, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
This foundation needs to be realized and embraced before we go any further in our look at the end times. It is easy to get off track when we think about what is to come. From becoming fearful to ignoring it all together, the end times brings out all kinds of emotions in us. But if our life is centered on Christ, we can see the beauty and good and encouragement that comes from knowing about that time in history when God will set all things right.
9.4.17 Summer Sermon Series: Prayer Part VIII
God gives good things to those who ask. Humility is a prerequisite to asking, and boldness is encouraged in the asking. But what are we to ask for? In the parable the man asks for bread. In the explanation that follows, the son asks for a fish and an egg. But Jesus ends the story with what our real need is: The Holy Spirit.
We need to back up a bit first. In the Lord’s prayer, we are instructed to pray that God’s kingdom would come. That’s a good grounding prayer, and one we should say often because our natural bent is to build our own kingdom. I want to be king of my little fiefdom, and I will do anything, if left on my own, to grow and protect that realm, however small or large it is.
What’s worse, I will convince myself that I can accomplish this task of kingdom building on my own. Even if I thought God was interested in helping me build my kingdom (which I do from time to time), I really wouldn’t need his help in doing so because I am strong enough or smart enough or cunning enough.
But hopefully somewhere along the way, God will reach down in his mercy and transfer us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. And here is where the real battle begins. For I come into this kingdom with my habits and patterns of kingdom building often very much in play. And even though I may recognize that I want to build God’s kingdom now, I might also think that I am smart enough, strong enough, or cunning enough to build his kingdom on my own as well.
But I can’t.
His kingdom is a spiritual kingdom (that has practical, physical, real effects here and now) that grows as hearts are changed. And so we are very much like the man who has a traveler show up at midnight. We don’t have the ability to give anyone what he really needs. And he needs Jesus. Here is where the end of the story comes into play because God tells us what are real need is: The Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the one who takes the death and resurrection of Jesus and applies it to our lives. And we have nothing to offer the people around us if we don’t have God’s Spirit. So we ask. We ask—boldly with great humility—that God would allow us to share his Spirit with those around us, for that is their greatest need. They need the death and resurrection of Jesus applied to their lives. And this is not just a salvation issue—though it is that too. It is an every day issue. When we meet a man struggling in his marriage, struggling to love a difficult wife, he needs the death and resurrection of Christ applied to his life so that he can love his wife “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
When we seek to minister to the least of those around us—orphans and widows and people caught up in their own disfunction—we need the death and resurrection of Christ to show us that we can give of ourselves in greater ways than we may want to and that it is not death to give up ourselves for the sake of someone else.
I need the Holy Spirit because I am comfortable and satisfied building my worthless kingdom. So I need, you need, to ask God to equip and empower us to build his kingdom. Kingdom building without the Holy Spirit is foolishness.
9.2.17 Summer Sermon Series: Prayer Part VII
God is good. So we should ask. He gives good gifts, so we should not be afraid of getting something we don’t need from his hand. He longs to be generous, so we should not be afraid of being turned away—even at midnight. The parable in Luke 11:5–13 is about the goodness of God. But that’s not all it is about.
It also teaches us how to ask. And it does so by presenting a problem. The man does not have what he needs to take care of a guest at midnight. And that is what we are like. We do not have what we need to minister to others. We just don’t. But in Jesus’ story, the visitor needed bread after a long journey, and everyone we encounter on their journey on this planet needs the bread of life. And we are not it. We can’t buy it at the store. We don’t create it or bake it. We are needy beggars, and the only way to get what we need is first admit that we don’t have what we need. Humility is a prerequisite for prayer.
The man had a choice to make: he could be a poor host or a bad neighbor. Despite the fact that the neighbor should have helped, it’s still not a good thing to disturb a whole house in the middle of the night (houses were small; families often slept in the same room on large mats in the floor). He could be embarrassed in front of his friend or remain prideful and let his guest suffer. And he chooses humility. He willingly admits his need. And this willingness to do so gave him a boldness in front of his friend. What an odd pair: humility and boldness. The ESV says that it was the man’s impudence that forced the neighbor out of bed. It’s a word that means shamelessness or willingness to go against convention. What the man saw was a need greater than his own. He was willing to experience shame for the sake of someone else. And this got his friend’s attention. The friend was not going to let him experience further shame by turning him down.
Jesus is encouraging boldness here. Yet the boldness is wrapped in a great cloak of humility. It is a boldness that only comes from a sense of great need. And this should be our attitude about prayer. Prayer is coming to God with our need exposed to the only one who can help us.
So ask. Seek. Knock. Recognize your true need and ask.
But before we can become shameless enough to boldly ask, we need to know that we have a need and what our need is. We’ll talk about what that true need is next time.
9.1.17 Summer Sermon Series: Prayer Part VI
Growing up, I played golf—a lot. And growing up, it was not unusual for me to play with other adults. Their kindness and willingness to allow me—who was not very good as a young kid—to tag along was a great encouragement. But it was not until junior high that my golf game actually improved a great deal. I began to have aspirations of playing on the high school golf team, which meant I began hanging out with the high school golfers, which meant I began hanging out with the high school golf coach. And I noticed that he could do things with a golf ball that were rather amazing. And so I began to do something I had never done before: I started asking this adult how he did what he did.
And Coach Burris was kind enough to show me. I had found the expert; and the expert was willing to share his wisdom. That should be the way life works; we should all be able to learn from experts. Fortunately, when it comes to most of life, we have an expert: Jesus. And he is willing to show us, model for us, and explain to us the ins and outs of life. And since we are talking about prayer, we ought to see what he had to say.
The disciples figured out this secret as well. They saw him praying and realized, apparently, that they had much to learn so they asked him to teach them. Now, these disciples were no slouches in the spiritual life, even though they were immature at times. If Luke’s gospel is chronological, then these are the same guys who have just returned from being sent out and to whom, “even the demons were subject to [them] in [Jesus] name.”
And so Jesus begins to teach them, first with a model prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer and then with a parable. It is the parable that I want to look at today in Luke 11:5–13. Jesus begins with a question. A rough paraphrase goes like this: Which of you has a friend who would turn you away when you came to his house at midnight in need of food so that you could be hospitable?
And the expected answer for anyone listening in this culture would have been “no one!” For hospitality was a community effort in those days. This is why the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah and the sins of the inhabitants of Gibeah in Judges 19 are so heinous. Instead of showing hospitality to strangers, they sought to use their guests for their own pleasure. To avoid shaming the host, the community, even if asleep, would do what they could to allow one of their own to maintain their honor in providing for a guest—even at midnight.
But this man is unwilling to do so, and Jesus’ audience would have known that this would not be normal. Everyone knows that a friend helps a friend. But Jesus expounds on this in the second half of the passage by giving a scenario where a son asks a father for food and the father gives him what he asks for instead of a dangerous animal. Again, everyone listening knows that this is the right thing to do. And here Jesus makes his point. Even men, who are evil, know what it means to give good gifts. And if that is the case, how much more will God, who actually is good, give good gifts.
One point of the parable is that people should ask because God is the one who truly knows how to give good gifts to his children—us. He’s not the friend who tells his neighbor to go away because it’s too late and the kids are asleep. So ask. Seek. Knock. The Father is good and he wants us to come to him with our needs—even if it appears to be an embarrassing need of bread at midnight. God longs to bestow our needs to us. Trust him to give you what you need.
And this brings us to the second point of this passage, which we will get to tomorrow: what is the manner of our asking?
8.31.17 Summer Sermon Series : Prayer Part V
We have looked at what we are to pray for according to the NT epistles. That was not an exhaustive list, but it should give us thought for how we pray for one another in a way that is biblically sound and glorifying to God.
But is just knowing the words to say sufficient? If I mimic the biblical words and persevere in saying those each day, is my prayer life what it should be? Not at all. I suppose the first question we should ask is, “Who are you praying to?” If I am praying the right words to my cat, little will happen in my heart or anyone else’s. Talking to my cat will not engender faith.
So the one we are communicating with is important, but God himself laid down some stipulations about prayer that we need to heed. First and foremost, you will have no prayer life outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is only through him that we can approach the Father. If the blood of the cross has not been applied to your sin through faith, you have no access to the Father.
So when Jesus says to ask in his name, he actually means that. To ask in his name is another way of saying to ask in his authority or upon his reputation. It is only through his authority that we can approach the Father. So do that. Pray in Jesus authority. You may think it’s routine or powerless to keep repeating “in Jesus’ name.” It’s not. But if that bothers you for some reason, then end your prayers differently.
In the authority of Christ my savior I pray.
By Christ’s power.
Because of Christ’s blood.
But don’t just say Amen. And don’t be vague. When we say, “in your name,” who are we referring to? The Father, to whom we began praying? Or the Son, whom we have not mentioned at all? We are praying to the Father through the Son. We are not praying to the Father through the Father. Don’t be afraid of invoking Christ’s name. He told us to. It’s not a magic formula, but Jesus is the only source of our power in prayer.
Finally, what hinders our prayers? Well, not praying for one. You actually have to pray. You have to make time to pray. A lack of prayer is simply pride. Not praying to begin your day screams that you have things under control. Yet prayer is sign that we know our dependence upon God. And when we don’t pray, we live a life that doesn’t need God. That’s not Christian.
But our behavior can also hinder our prayers. Not treating your wife the way the Bible says to do so hinders our prayers, men (1 Peter 3:7). Not being self-controlled and sober minded hinders our prayers (1 Peter 4:7). A lack of self-control is a sign of self-absorption. We are too focused on ourselves. And when we are too focused on ourselves, we will not sit and depend upon God to give us all we need for the day. And don’t think that you can do better. Don’t believe the lie that you can, on the one hand live an uncontrolled life in regard to some sin and on the other hand depend upon God in prayer. You won’t do it.
If you are not disciplined in life, your prayers will be hindered. If you think you will get to it later, your prayers will be hindered. If you don’t make time to pray, you won’t pray.
“Well I’m too busy.” Then you’re too busy. Let go of something.
“Well my schedule won’t allow it.” Then change your schedule.
A life of prayer is not an optional add-on to the Christian life, like a sun-roof. It is the Christian life. Look at Jesus. If the God-man prayed, why do we think we can get by in life without it?
Next time we will look at one of Jesus’ teachings on prayer.
8.30.17 Summer Sermon Series: Prayer Part IV
I’m going to look at the last two main categories that the disciples prayed for: evangelism and wisdom/understanding.
The apostles were serious about the need for the gospel to spread as far and as wide and as deep as possible. For they knew that the only way to change culture was to change hearts. And the only way that hearts might change is through the power of the gospel—the willing-to-die-believing-in-resurrection way of life. There were prayers of thanksgiving that people’s faith had spread (Romans 1:8), prayers for the salvation of others (Romans 10:1), prayers for opportunities for the gospel (Colossians 4:2–4), and boldness in proclaiming the message (Ephesians 6:19).
What if our church committed to pray these things for one another: that our faith would spread, that any unredeemed among us would come to a saving faith, that God would give us opportunities to share his love, and that God would give us boldness and the words to say in those opportunities? Would you be willing to commit to pray these things for one another?
Even as we pray these prayers for one another, might the way we look at the people around us change? Might we look at each person as a person, someone made in God’s image, but who needs the restoring power of the gospel in their lives? And might we begin to look for more opportunities to share God’s love with others?
Finally, the NT authors prayed for wisdom and understanding. For example, in two places it was for a greater understanding of Christ’s love. Why is that? I believe we don’t buy it at times. We just don’t think God can love us too. We just don’t believe that he is that loving, that forgiving, that kind, that patient. Maybe with someone like Moses or Abraham, but not with me. And that is where we need to read our Bible more carefully. Those people that we have records of that God was loving and patient and kind with are scoundrels and numskulls. They are just like you and I. That should give us great joy and insight into God’s character. If he could love Jacob, …
Those are six big categories of prayer found in the NT. Will you incorporate those areas of prayer in your life? Use them as guides to help you pray for people. Don’t feel like you have to pray every one of those every day, but use them to bathe the people you know in biblical prayer.
Next time we will look at what empowers our prayers and what hinders our prayers.
8.29.17 Summer Sermon Series: Prayer Part III
I’m going to look at two more categories today that the apostles prayed for or asked others to pray for: deliverance and behavior.
The apostles prayed for and asked others to pray for deliverance. This could be from illness or prison or hardship, but there is a consistent pattern in the NT epistles that prayer for deliverance from difficulties is common. What is also common, however, is that the apostles were ok with not being delivered. And here is the crux of much of our prayer. We ask; we should ask; we are told to ask. And in the same breath we trust. The apostles new that hardships, including persecutions, were a normal part of the Christian life. We are told to expect them. We should expect the normal. So prayer in the midst of hardships is a sign of obedient trust. We ask God to deliver us, knowing that he might not, that what we are in is for our growth or the growth of the kingdom or probably both. They prayed fervently with the full knowledge that “no” might be the answer.
God is not like a fast food restaurant, where we order and expect the answer, the correct answer, right away. We were traveling one time and stopped at a McDonalds late in the evening for a quick bite to get us to our destination. They were out of french fries. While disappointing, it was not the end of the world. But to one little girl with another family, it seemed to be. A fit was thrown over no french fries. That scene should not be what our prayer life is like.
Instead it should be like the three Hebrew boys in Daniel who were confident that God could save them from the fiery furnace, but even if he wouldn’t, they were unwilling to bow down to the idol. Do you pray with a “but if not” attitude?
The fourth category the apostles prayed for was people’s behavior. This is the biggest category besides thanksgiving in the NT epistles. Doing right, being blameless, living holy lives—all of these are part of the prayer life of the apostles. In addition, the apostles touch on the fact that unrighteous behavior can hinder our prayer lives (1 Peter 3:7, 4:7).
God actually wants us to look like him, to model him to the world around us. He doesn’t want us to behave for behavior’s sake, but so that the world might know him and what he is like. Our behavior should be both a response to God’s goodness (Colossians 1:9–13) and what brings him glory (Philippians 1:10–11).
Satan, our own flesh, and the world want us to look and act contrary to God’s ways. For example, the world shows us that the best response to injustice or harm is anger. Yet God would say that “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20) and that “a gentles answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Our weekly behavior that does not line with up our Sunday proclamation renders us functional atheists. And so the apostles prayed that we would walk in a manner worthy of our calling.
8.26.17 Summer Sermon Series: Prayer Part II
We are going to look at prayer in the same way that we looked at the role of the Spirit in the life of the church a few weeks back, by looking at references to prayer in the epistles. What did the apostles pray for and ask people to pray for? There are 60+ references to prayer after the book of Acts and those can be sorted into various categories. I am going to talk about the six biggest categories, which make up over 75% of the references to prayer. Each of these is important because they each deal with the human condition and our relationship with God.
The largest category is thanksgiving. I don’t necessarily want to say that quantity equals importance; however, in this case, that might be true. Thanksgiving is a sign of humility. Thanksgiving—with God as the object of thanks—is a sign that we look at this world not as the result of man’s efforts but of God’s creative powers. We don’t see ourselves as ultimate providers; we see God as the ultimate provider.
Thanksgiving is vitally important in the life of the believer. When we fail to give God thanks and honor him for his place as both creator and sovereign, we begin the downward spiral of sin described in Romans 1, a downward spiral that begins by taking God out of the center and placing ourselves there. So the apostles gave thanks—a lot. And thanksgiving should be a major part of your prayer life.
Second, the apostles prayed for abstract qualities like love, peace, joy, hope, and assurance. I believe this is so prevalent in the NT because these are so lacking here on earth. The world, our flesh, and the devil will seek any opportunity to get us to chase these things by putting stock in something that will not provide. For example, peace is hard to find. We are constantly at war with ourselves, other people, God, or our surroundings—if not all four. And we know, deep down, that we are supposed to have peace. And the only place that true peace comes from is God.
Hope and joy are two attributes that shine as bright as the sun when someone is undergoing hardships and difficulties. When money is scarce, job prospects are dim, relationships unravel, and appliances quit, hope and joy can easily fade. But if our hope and joy are in something besides circumstances—which is where the world gets its hope and joy—then our life becomes attractive to those around us as we have an anchor much more sound than the current state of affairs.
Love for one another is what ultimately shows the world that we belong to Christ (John 13:35). And our love for others is only as deep as our understanding of God’s love for us. That is why we read of prayers that we would both understand God’s love (Ephesians 3:18–19) and show God’s love to others (1 Thessalonians 3:12).
As you pray this week, will you review your life and thank God for his many blessings? And will you pray that others would know and experience the qualities of peace, joy, hope, and love?
We will look at two more categories tomorrow.
8.25.17 Summer Sermon Series: Prayer Part I
When Hezekiah faced an insurmountable force of 185,000 Assyrians intent upon besieging Jerusalem, he turned to God for help. He didn’t muster his troops, count and recount. He didn’t call a council of advisors on plans and fortifications. He didn’t send to Egypt for aid. There were no beacons to light to summon aid from afar.
Instead he took the threatening letter he had received from the king of Assyria, went to the Temple, spread the letter out before God, and prayed. It is the content of that prayer that I want to focus on today. It is found in 2 Kings 19:14–19.
First, he acknowledges God’s position as sovereign. But he is not just the sovereign of a small backwoods monarchy that is under attack (15a), he is the sovereign above even the angels (15b) and indeed all the kingdoms of the earth (15c). He is not, as the king of Assyria claims, just another local deity who has no power.
And speaking of power, the second thing Hezekiah acknowledges is that God is creator (15d). If God is the creator of all, then he is in control of all. In other words, Hezekiah is saying that the king of Assyria has no more control over the situation than I do. But Hezekiah believes that he is talking to the one who does have control.
With this lofty and correct view of God in place, Hezekiah boldly asks this one who is creator and Lord of all to listen to him (16a). And even in asking him to listen, he does so in a humble way: “incline your ear,” Hezekiah says. He knows that for God to interact with man, he must condescend to do so. He is so far above that he must, metaphorically speaking, stoop down to listen to our insignificant selves.
Do we recognize that outside of Christ, we have no right to approach this God? Do our prayers acknowledge that God is above all things, especially us, and that we only can approach him because he sought to condescend to us in Christ (Philippians 2:6–8)? And do we recognize the reality of the miracle of prayer itself? We have the ability to actually communicate with the God of the universe—our creator? Has a chair ever communicated to its maker? What about a serving bowl. Sure we make electronics that can inform us of things: one of my cars tells me when it’s time for an oil change. But it’s not communicating. It’s just reacting to a stimuli that was dictated by the manufacturer. We are unique in creation in that we can talk to our creator.
But what he asks God to listen to is not ultimately about Hezekiah’s position at all. He asks God to listen to the words that the king of Assyria has sent to reproach God. Despite facing certain, slow death, Hezekiah’s prayer first and foremost is about God’s reputation, not his own life (16b). Is your prayer life centered on God’s reputation or yours?
Next, Hezekiah acknowledges Assyria’s power over man (17), but then he does something different. He repudiates the king’s claim that he has power over spiritual forces. The “gods” that Assyria has defeated have been the mere work of man—wood and stone (18). Hezekiah knows that despite Assyria having the ability to defeat them from a human standpoint, Assyria has no power over spiritual forces. Their victories over the gods of the nations is a farce because those gods are a farce.
Finally, Hezekiah does ask for deliverance, but he does so not for his sake, but that the other nations may know that the God of Israel is alone God. From beginning to end, this prayer is about God: his power and his reputation.
And this prayer leads us to some questions:
1) Who are you praying to?
2) Why are you able to pray to God at all?
3) For what purpose do we ask for God’s help?
8.24.17 Summer Sermon Series: Our View/Treatment of Sin Part VII
I realize that this topic has gone on for awhile, but I also think it is important for us to think about sin seriously and think about our response to it seriously. One of the areas that the church has not thought seriously enough about is how we view and treat sexual sins. We have been guilty of nodding and winking at some and maligning others, tolerating this sin, and seeking to shame that one.
I believe two big reasons for this is a failure to read all of Scripture carefully and a failure to keep ourselves unstained by the world. I will begin with the second.
A look at how Christians have responded to different sexual sins over the years seems to indicate that we think some are worse than others. If we were asked to rank just these sins: pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexuality, and pornography, how would you do it. Unfortunately, I think we would try. I’m not sure we have biblical warrant to do so.
And part of the reason we would try is because we have been influenced by the world in this area. We have allowed what we watch, what we listen to, and who we hang out with to influence our views of how bad certain sexual sins are. We have learned to laugh and see romance in certain sins that have softened our hatred of those sins. The culture says it’s ok, because the culture has learned through media that some really nice people can be engaged in some really seductive sins, and they still seem to be ok and even nice. Yet nice people commit sins all the time. We’ve also gotten to know people really well who commit sexual sins, and we’ve found out that they can be friendly, offer good advice, are fairly normal—just like people in the church. And we begin to think that maybe some sins are not as bad as we were led to believe.
The second big reason is that we fail to read Scripture carefully. We fail to see that Paul says that the will of God, when talking to the Thessalonians, is that they be sanctified. And the only specific item he gives them here is there sexual behavior. Now think about that for a moment. How important is this to God if this is the only thing that Paul mentions here? And notice he doesn’t distinguish one type from another. Sexual purity is the expectation for Christians (1 Thessalonians 4:3–8).
There’s also the issue of shame. We’ve been shamed into not naming certain things sin because it can shame others. Yet sin is utterly shameful. There should be shame in sin (but see the previous post about how one goes about dealing with sin in others). There should be an understanding that sin affects not only individuals but communities and therefore we have a right to speak truth into someone’s life even if it makes them feel bad.
Or take Acts 15. The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem are discussing the recent conversions of Gentiles and what to do about them. What do they need to know, to do? Is there anything besides repent and believe that they should be required to do? What comes out of that meeting is that, yes, there are some things that they need to think about in terms of behavior. Some of which are pre-law mandates from God that deal with eating blood. These apply to all humans, not just God’s people. There’s also the issue relating to idol worship. But then an interesting item appears. In addition to these basic things, abstaining from sexual immorality is included. And again, a distinction about what specific kinds of sexual sin to avoid is not mentioned. It’s all to be avoided.
One final note. I have avoided, up this point, talking about how the Christian culture in this country actually ranks sexual sin. Maybe you have done this in your mind, and that wouldn’t be surprising. Christians like to compare sin. But one sexual sin, in particular, seems to be at the top of most Christians list as the worst, and that is homosexuality. While I would argue that from a damage-to-others perspective, that is not the worst, the church has viewed it that way, I believe, based on a single story from Genesis.
We read in Genesis 19 that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. And we read into the story that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their homosexual practice. The Bible, however, tells a different story, which is why we have to be students of the whole Bible, and not just parts of it. In Ezekiel 16, God is comparing Jerusalem to those around here, and chastising her for doing as others have done. And in comparing Jerusalem to her “sister Sodom” he says, “this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and the needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me” (Ezekiel 16:49–50).
Pride, comfort, ease, selfishness: all of these led to all kinds of sin because there comes an expectation that we deserve whatever we want and that other people exist to serve us. And in Sodom—and in our own country—it has led to the belief that we have a right to sexual satisfaction in whatever form we choose. Of course, we’ve also tied our sexuality with our identity to double the strength of the lies we’ve told ourselves. But the root is pride. The root is a failure to believe that God has given us all that we need. We have become gods.
Paul would concur in Romans 1. When he lists homosexuality as a sin that God gave people over to, it is not the beginning sin. It is the result of pride, ultimately. The people failed to give thanks and honor God. And, of course, this results in a belief that self is god and feelings are god and so the pampering of those feelings are paramount in our minds. Homosexuality is not the worst of sexual sins, it is just another form of the selfishness that drives us to believe we are god.
And we are easily deceived. We are told that there are no lasting consequences to these types of sins—from pornography to pre-marital sex to homosexuality. The reality is quite different. Each of them has a lasting impact not only on us but on those around us. Sexuality is a huge deal in the Bible because violating God’s commands in this area have huge impacts on everyone involved.
8.23.17 Summer Sermon Series: Our View/Treatment of Sin Part VI
We encounter sin in the church. This should neither surprise us nor paralyze us. It should, however, lead us to action for the sake of our erring brother or sister and for the sake of the body as a whole. And Jesus is quite specific about what we are to do when a brother or sister falls into sin. I will quote Matthew 18:15–20 in full.
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.
This is not a suggested way of doing something. Jesus actually expects us to follow this pattern in the church. The first reason he does so, I believe, is that we are to love one another well enough that we take care of sin without resorting to spreading gossip around. If Bill knows that Joe has sinned, Bill needs to confront Joe in a loving way about that sin. He does not need to go to someone else, including the pastor, to get them involved—at least not yet. This protects the sinner and the one who is aware of the sin as well as their relationship.
Just to be clear: when you become aware of another’s sin, don’t call the pastor. That’s not a loving response to Bill, and it’s disobedience to Jesus. Your goal, instead, is to lovingly convince Bill that he is at fault in not bearing the image of God to the world. If you convince him and he repents, you have participated in the reconciliation process with God, and no one else needs to know.
Now, this brings up the second reason I believe Jesus demands this route. He expects his church to be ever maturing. He expects the average, run-of-the-mill Christian (we wouldn’t need this description if the church took maturity seriously) to be able to lovingly confront a brother or sister in sin and using biblical wisdom to encourage them toward repentance. I think sometimes we don’t do this because we feel we can’t do this for lack of knowledge. This is still no reason to default to the pastor or someone else.
A quick aside: there are situations where the safety of another person is at stake, and in these situations, others—usually local authorities—should be brought in. As I former teacher in Texas, if I ever became aware of a dangerous situation involving a student, my legally required response was two-fold: notify my principal and then call the appropriate authorities. Note, it was not my principal’s job to notify the authorities, but mine. Thankfully, that only had to happen once in my fourteen years of teaching.
But sometimes people are stubborn in their refusal to give up sin. If Bill chooses his sin over repentance, then it is time to bring others into the conversation, one or two others. At this point, the language Jesus uses moves this from a personal issue to more of a legal proceeding. Facts are to be confirmed—no gossip, no insinuations, no hearsay. And the others you take with you should be consistent in the message: sin requires repentance and a turning back to Jesus as the source and authority of our life. I’m not convinced this is just a one time conversation. It may be that it takes more than one conversation to deal with Bill’s heart. Much prayer (among those two or three) needs to take place.
But if Bill, in the end, refuses to repent, then the church needs to be aware that Bill is professing to be a believer while acting like a non-believer (true believers don’t refuse to repent). But this is not the end of the mater. Notice that Jesus says, “if he doesn’t listen to the church….” This implies that the church is continuing to pursue Bill in seeking repentance. How long this pursuit is to go on, Jesus doesn’t say. I am sure different situations require different responses and lengths of time. The wisdom of the church elders will have to come into play in this situation.
There does come a time when the church has exhausted its ability to draw Bill back into repentance. It is at this time, that the church then lets him “be as a Gentile and a tax collector.” The short of this is that the church officially declares Bill to not be a believer. That is confirmed by the binding and loosing language. Of course, this really is not the end of the story. There is still a desire for Bill to come to repentance, but Bill is no longer considered an erring brother. He is considered a non-believer, regardless of the language he may use—or another church he may attend. Now the task of the church is to pray for Bill’s salvation and interactions with him are not to get him to repent from a particular sin, but to get him to repent from unbelief and trust in Christ as Savior.
We notice that Jesus spent time with both Gentiles and tax collectors, but it was always to call them to repentance and faith in himself. They were not part of his inner circle. And Bill would not be welcome anymore to participate in the Lord’s Supper, nor should Bill be a part of anyone’s close circle of friends, as hard as that might be. The goal of excommunication, however, is always reconciliation. But as Paul makes clear from 1 Corinthians 5, bad leaven will eventually spread throughout the lump of dough. We remove leaven from the body of Christ that we might be acceptable to him. And this includes not including Bill in the life of the body of Christ.
8.22.17 Summer Sermon Series: Our View/Treatment of Sin Part V
As a quick reminder, when we encounter sin, the goal in terms of this person’s relationship to God is always reconciliation. The goal in terms of the person’s relationship to the state depends upon whether the sin is illegal or not. Finally, what is our responsibility in terms of the person’s relationship to the body of Christ?
First, if the person comes in repentance, we must forgive. The Bible is very clear along these lines. Jesus even raises the bar higher than we can meet referring to multiple offenses and repentances in the same day (Luke 17:3)!
But there is something that forgiveness does not mean. All sin leads to the death of something: a relationship, trust, even physical death. And forgiveness does not necessarily mean that full restoration of that trust has happened. You can genuinely forgive someone and still have the need to erect barriers or restrictions.
An abuser can be forgiven and yet still be given restrictions as a safeguard for others and for himself until a greater maturity is gained. Repentance does not equal instant maturity. A habitual gossip may repent, but forgiveness does not mean that we are not cautious about what aspects of our lives we share until a track record of maturity is shown. This often can seem harsh from the perspective of the repentant one. They may complain that we have not really forgiven them if we don’t allow them full cooperation in the life of the church. But this is simply not true.
I think Moses is a good example for us here. I have no doubt that Moses was forgiven by God, yet his sin at the rock disqualified him from leading the people into the Promised Land. Forgiven yet restricted. We can’t assume that God doesn’t care about the continued effects of our sin upon others.
One final thought. Forgiveness on our part implies, it seems, a desire for complete restoration. Obviously each individual situation is different, and there do seem to be at least a small number of situations where permanent disqualification is demanded. However, to make a blanket statement about restrictions based upon a certain sin does not seem to be in keeping with God’s high view for reconciliation. At the same time, we must be aware that maturity is a sometimes-slow process, and our goal is also to help people move toward maturity (Ephesians 4:13, Colossians 1:28, Hebrews 5:14ff).
8.21.17 Summer Sermon Series: Our View/Treatment of Sin Part IV
Sin happens in the local church; big sins and small sins manifest themselves in the lives of individuals as well as the congregation as a whole. So the question comes up: What do we do when we see our brother or sister sinning? What is my responsibility? And does it depend upon what kind of sin it is?
We as members of a local church do have a responsibility to act when we see a fellow member in sin, but our specific actions do depend upon what type of sin it is. For example, what if you become aware that one member of your church has engaged in gossip and another member has committed murder? In both cases, you are to act, but how you act will differ.
As I have said, first and foremost, sin is an offense against God. So in the case of both gossip and murder, while others are certainly harmed in different ways, both are a sin against God and a relationship with God has been damaged. So for both sins, our response in relation to that person’s relationship with God is the same. Confrontation with the desire for repentance is necessary. The gossip needs reconciliation with God just as much as the murderer. In a later section, I will walk through the steps related to that reconciliation, but for now, we need to know that both sins need to be treated as damaging to a relationship with God that needs healing. Therefore we go after both with the truths of the gospel and the expectations of how a professing believer is supposed to walk in this world.
But when we think about these two sins in relation to the state, our actions will look very different. One is illegal. The other, for the most part, is not—I will not get into the difference between gossip and slander here. If I know someone has committed a murder, it is my responsibility to report that murder, or I too become guilty of sin. That is the law. However, it is not my responsibility to report someone for gossip. It is not against the law for Jane to tell me that Joe has been staying out too late at night, even though in most cases, it is wrong for her to do so (again, we’ll get to when it is right to bring in another person when sin is experienced). So I treat those two sins very differently in terms of the state.
In the next section we will look at how we treat sin in terms of its relation to the body of Christ, mainly in the realm of future trust.
8.19.17 Summer Sermon Series: Our View/Treatment of Sin Part III
We are going to take a small detour from our specific topic and talk about—well, actually, we are still talking about how we view sin and how God treats sin. We will get to how we treat different sins soon, but our relationship with God is paramount to get right first. So we are going to talk about what the Lord’s Supper has to do with all this.
The Lord’s Supper teaches us much. One of the things it teaches us, as we partake of the Supper together, is that all of us are in great need of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. No one needs more or less of what Christ has to offer. Jesus suffered the wrath of the Father on the cross because of sin. It was judged there. He became the atoning sacrifice for everyone. He did not atone more for me than for you. He did not atone less for me than for you. He suffered the death that all of us deserve. And he offers life—his righteousness to all who will repent of themselves and trust in the death and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
And when we partake together, we proclaim our common identity and our common need. The small token of Christ’s body and blood unites us all as equals: equally helpless, equally trusting in Christ’s grace.
8.18.17 Summer Sermon Series: Our View/Treatment of Sin Part II
Paul reminds us that God does not leave us in our state of sin. He pursues us. And remember, this is front loaded in this passage. Romans 1:17: “For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed.” Then after the exposition on sin from 1:18–2:3, Paul says something rather remarkable: “Do you think lightly of the riches of his kindness and tolerance and patience?” He will go on in 3:24 to tell his readers that the justification that God offers is a gift. And he will add in 6:23 that eternal life is a free gift. We deserve wrath. God offers a gift because of the nature of his character made available through the cross of Christ where justice and wrath and mercy and love came together perfectly on the person of Jesus.
So what do we do with this character of God? Paul tells us in 2:4 where the first part is worth quoting again, “Do you think lightly of the riches of his kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” We are meant to repent. That is the proper response to our sin and God’s kindness. It is such an important part of the Christian life that Jesus both begins and ends his ministry with this word.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17
“Thus is is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations.” Luke 24:46–47
So despite the fact that all sin deserves wrath, there is hope. But that hope is only grounded in the belief that all sin requires repentance. It is not just the “bad” sins that need turning from. It is ultimately that we need to turn from ourselves—the belief that we can live life without God. We must turn from making ourselves a priority, from thinking we are most important, from independence.
8.17.17 Summer Sermon Series: Our View/Treatment of Sin Part I
Before we can talk about the differences among various sins, we need to talk about what all sin has in common: from wishing you had your neighbors car to murdering your neighbor and stealing his car. Every sin is first and foremost a sin against God. Every sin says that we are not satisfied with God’s sovereignty of his world and that we think we could run it better, including making ourselves worthy of his love.
The Bible is very clear on this. In Romans 1 Paul says, “In [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” Notice that the righteousness of God is revealed. It is not earned or worked for. And it is revealed in the gospel, which is the death and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It is revealed there, not in man’s good deeds or thoughts or best efforts. We only see it clearly in the cross. We never see it clearly in fallen man.
Paul goes on in the next verse to talk about something else that is revealed: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, …” So wrath is revealed against unrighteousness. And what are these unrighteous people doing? From the last part of v. 18, we see that they are suppressing the truth. And maybe at this point we breath a sigh of relief because we don’t believe we are suppressing the truth. We might be neutral in this whole for/against God thing, not speaking for him, but certainly not speaking against him and not keeping others from doing so.
Yet Paul begins to explain what he means by suppressing the truth. And what it turns out to be is not suppressing the truth in others or keeping others from seeing it, but suppressing the truth in ourselves. For Paul begins talking about how creation clearly shows God’s attributes, power, and nature. And not only does creation show these things, people understand that it shows these things. And people, knowing these things, fail to give thanks to God or honor him. That is suppressing the truth. It is the epitome of pride to see the clear works of God and fail to give him thankful credit, as though we were someone able to pull off life without him.
God calls these people fools and their thinking futile. And further down in v. 32, he says these people are worthy of death. And just so we make sure what kinds of things these people are guilty of, he makes a list—though certainly it is not a comprehensive list. And the list includes the things we might think belong there: murder, inventors of evil, wickedness. But it also includes some things we might not think are worthy of death: gossip, envy, disobedience to parents.
The totality of mankind’s unworthiness is clearly contained in Romans 1. Paul will go on in Romans 2 and 3 to make sure his readers know that he is referring both to Gentiles and Jews. And he sums up his argument in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
And this begins Paul’s great exposition on the grace of God as demonstrated though the cross of Jesus Christ. For in the cross both the righteousness of God and the wrath of God met to administer both perfect justice and perfect love. And because people sin differently—from an outward appearance some people’s lives look pretty good compared to others—the cross is proof that all sin is abhorrent to God. We know this because it is not just the really bad people who are called to repent. Everyone is. Therefore every sin is worthy of the wrath of God. Every sin marks its possessor as worthy of death. Every sin suppresses the truth that God is Lord of creation and has the right to make the rules of how his creation is supposed to function. Every sin by those made in the image of God mars what God truly looks like because it fails to express perfectly who he is.
8.16.17 Summer Sermon Series: The Devil and You Part IV
I want to end this section by briefly talking about condemnation vs. conviction. We can seek God’s cross as an antidote to the first and as a resolution to the second. The first is false; the second is from the Holy Spirit and seeks to move us in line with the truth of who we are. Both may feel similar. But Paul also tells us how to differentiate between the two.
Before getting there, a note about sin: Regardless of how condemnation or conviction manifests itself in our feelings, we must take sin seriously. It must be repented of quickly. It must be fought. It must be mortified in our flesh. We cannot hope to play around the edges of it and not be caught by it. It too is seeking to master us (Genesis 4:7). And sin wants to master you by making you believe you are the master. Feeling bad about our being bad is not condemnation.
But in 2 Corinthians 7, Paul gives us a look into the workings of our feelings: “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
I believe what Paul is saying is that the sorrow from God (feelings that follow conviction) lead us in the right direction, i.e., repentance. But the sorrow from ourselves, the devil or others (feelings that follow condemnation) only lead further to death. One turns us to God; the other turns us to ourselves. One frees through repentance; the other enslaves through shackles of self-loathing.
But we also have to be careful here. We can acknowledge our sin, even talk about how bad it is in the currently popular fad of being authentic. But being authentic about our sin without repentance from our sin makes on idol of our sin. We become proud that we acknowledge our sinfulness before men and wear it as a badge of proper self-realization. In the end, however, we come to worship it rather than repent of it.
So in conclusion there are three remedies against condemnation. First, know the truth about sin, repentance, grace and forgiveness, and the cross. Second, if there is sin, repent. And finally, keep gazing on Christ, our faithful High Priest who stands ready to defend his children.
8.15.17 Summer Sermon Series: The Devil and You Part III
I ended last time saying I would be more concerned with whether I am renewing my mind through spending time in God’s word over whether the devil could read my mind. In the same vein, I am more concerned with self-condemnation and condemnation from others in the church than condemnation from the devil.
But let’s not fool ourselves here. While I don’t believe the devil can read your mind, he and/or his demons are seeking to devour you (1 Peter 5:8). And while that can take many forms, the common denominator of devouring is getting us consumed by something. That might be some addiction, whether socially unacceptable like drugs or pornography or socially acceptable like entertainment or our phones. That might be consumed with ourselves in pride whether in arrogance or a woe-is-me mentality. But another way we can be consumed is through false condemnation. What is interesting, however, is when the devil is shown in Scripture condemning someone, it is before God. Zechariah 3 is a prime example. The folly of this attack by Satan (against us before God) is that God knows the truth. “The Lord rebuke you, Satan.” And if we are in Christ, we have a great High Priest who intercedes for us. What all that means, I can not begin to fathom, but I do know that he stands up for me if I have placed my faith in the death and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. We have an advocate before the Father.
But the bigger issue is condemnation from ourselves or from others. Paul, in Romans 7, understands that. He does what he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do what he knows he should. And he ends this monologue of frustration with, “Wretched man that I am.” But then he gives us the key to fight this condemnation whether from self, a friend, or the devil: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Are you thankful for what Christ has done for you? (Remember it is unthankfulness that begins the downward spiral in Romans 1) He goes on to remind his readers through the whole of chapter 8 not only that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but why. If you struggle with condemnation, Romans 8 is a good passage of Scripture to memorize.
Finally, we can be condemned by others. And yet Paul’s advice is quite similar. In Colossians 2 Paul tells the church not to let another act as your judge in regard to gray areas in the Christian life like food and festivals. The end of the matter for Paul is to “keep seeking the things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1–4).
Do you see? Condemnation from others is in the end powerless. If Christ is our life—you have turned from your sins in repentance and believed in the death and resurrection of Christ as sufficient payment for the forgiveness of your sins—then God will raise you up. That is how we fight condemnation, regardless of the source. We keep coming back to the truth of the cross. Any other way will ultimately lead to trust in self or man which will fail.
8.14.17 Summer Sermon Series: The Devil and You Part II
As we said, Satan is a created being. But what exactly is he? Man? Superman? In 2 Peter 2 (and if we take Ezekiel 28 as referring to Satan) we learn that he is an angel—a fallen angel. So it might be helpful to look at whether angels can read humans’ minds. Looking at the almost 300 references to angels in the Bible, we don’t see them doing this ever. While at times we might think they seem to know a little more than they should, with a careful reading, it becomes clearer that they could have just observed the situation or in fact that God has told them something.
While lack of evidence is not proof, it does make us wonder where this idea of Satan reading our minds comes from. So we continue our search in the Bible for references to Satan, the devil, the evil one, the accuser, etc., and the same thing emerges. There are no references to Satan reading our minds. While I am not going to go through all of those references here, I would encourage you to get a concordance and do that study for yourself. See who this enemy actually is. Knowledge can drive out unnecessary fear.
So I want to note a couple of things. First, don’t give Satan too much credit. Satan is a created, finite being, as are the demons. I wonder if we don’t relegate too much to him. He is, after all,
not capable of being everywhere at once. He is not omnipresent, nor omniscient. Don’t attribute to Satan what you are quite capable of doing on your own. Second, don’t give him too little credit. Don’t discount the presence of demonic temptation as something out of fashion in the 21st century. He is cunning. While I don’t believe that either Satan or his demons can read your mind, he can listen, observe, and remember your inclinations and predispositions. He is certainly aware of what you have done before and might do again in the future based on certain circumstances. But don’t attribute mind reading to a creature who just observes.
And one more point about the devil’s mind reading or lack thereof. What if he could? Would it change they way you go about life? Should it change the way you go about life? God can read your mind; he knows your thoughts before you think them. Does that change the way you act? Are you more fearful of Satan or God? And yet, let’s think about God’s promises. God promises in his word to give us all that we need for life and Godliness (2 Peter 1:3). If it was important for us to know whether Satan can read your mind or not, don’t you think that God would tell us and tell us what to do about it? God loves his children and hasn’t forgotten any of the details we need to serve him.
Are we willing to be obedient to the things God has told us in relation to our mind? Are you renewing it regularly through sacrificial obedience and time spent in his word? If I were you I would be more concerned about that than about whether Satan could read my mind.
8.5.17 Summer Sermon Series: The Devil and You Part I
There are two related questions that both deal, in some aspect, with the character of Satan. One, can Satan read your mind? In other words, does he have an unfair advantage in offering up the right temptation at the right time? Two, how do we fight condemnation from the devil. We could reword these two questions like this: Can the devil get info out of my mind, and what do I do when the devil puts condemning info into my mind?
To answer these questions, let’s think about the nature of Satan. To do that we need to do some observation. In the same way that I need to observe carefully to see who is eating okra leaves in my garden (deer, rabbit, some bug?), we need to look at the Bible carefully as well.
First, in Genesis 3:1, we notice that Satan is a created being. I think sometimes we get our cues about the spiritual battle going on from pop culture. We think about God and the devil in terms of The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars or even Narnia. Somehow there are these two evenly matched forces at work, and tension exists as to who will come out on top: Sauron or the hobbits (and in this case, the evil side certainly seems much stronger on the surface of things); Darth Vadar or Luke Skywalker; and even in Narnia, both the white witch and Aslan appear as created beings. In the movies, at least, we don’t get all the background story to show us something other than a woman vs. a lion.
But that is not reality at all. God is infinitely more powerful that Satan because Satan is merely a creature. And Satan is not like God. God is sovereign. God wins. Actually, God has won, decisively. That doesn’t mean evil is not still present, but it’s not two equally matched foes duking it out. We don’t put our hopes on a hobbit, but on the cross of Christ, on Jesus slain before the foundation of the world and resurrected in power. We’re resting our hope on the sovereign, faithful creator of the universe.
This is the most important piece of background information there is. One that should engender trust and not fear. For that is what the two questions ultimately deal with: Can I trust God or do I fear Satan?
8.4.17 Summer Sermon Series: The Armor of God Part VI
Don’t forget your helmet! Remember, put on the full armor of God. The helmet might have been the most uncomfortable piece of armor. Hot, stuffy—and it messes up your hair. Nevertheless, it is vital to protect your head. A lot of decisions go on up there in the midst of battle and not all of them are based on facts. Fears come; doubts intrude; emotions are all over the map. So we need protection. Without it, we are easily conformed to the thinking of the world. Yet Paul warns us in Romans to “not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” And it is a helmet of salvation, for in the midst of battle this is another truth that we need to make sure is in place. We are his. Sometimes, in the midst of the difficulties of life—and I don’t mean difficulties like long lines at the grocery store, but the pain from abandonment or abuse, the grief of loss, the constant difficulties of chronic pain—we can doubt God’s goodness and his plan. Yet we must hold to the truth that he has defeated death for us in offering salvation to us through the cross of Christ.
Finally, there is a sword. Maybe many of us hoped this would be first. Let’s wade into the battle with our sword swinging! Yet here it is at the end after all our defenses have been prepared. And again, this sword is in the hand of someone who is standing firm. So let’s think about Jesus’ use of God’s Word when he was in the wilderness. He used it to stand against the temptations of the devil—three times quoting from Deuteronomy to counter the subtleties of Satan. He stood on the truth of who God is and who the Father called the Son to be, each time getting to the heart of the matter, not just a simple solution.
And throughout his life that is what Jesus did: he got to the heart of the issue. He didn’t just throw out impressive zingers. He sought to turn conversations in the right direction, heal hearts and call people to himself. And that is how we are to use Scripture as well. But to use Scripture, we must know Scripture. We must spend time, prayerful time, in God’s word to use it effectively. We cannot pick up a sword just every once in a while and assume to be proficient in it so that it is helpful in our lives. We are told that God has given us all we need for life and Godliness. Yet that is not some automatic download that happens at salvation. We must practice with the gifts he has given us or they become a hindrance instead of a help. Do you know God’s word well enough to fend off Satan’s attacks?
8.3.17 Summer Sermon Series: The Armor of God Part V
Are you ready? What makes us ready? It’s not just the words used here. We can know what peace is, but not experience it. The gospel of peace is what makes us ready. So what does that mean? We are not ready unless we know the good news of having been reconciled with God through Christ. As Paul says in Romans 5, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Therefore in the midst of attacks from the enemy (or friends), we can remain at peace because our security is in Christ, not our arguments or rhetoric or abilities. But it’s more than that. We should also be ready at all times, not to walk over someone, but to know that we have the only thing that will bring peace into the relationship and into their lives. I don’t think this is the main point of what Paul is after here, but I do think it is part of the whole equation. We must be ready, therefore, not just to maintain peace in our hearts, but to seek peace. That is our MO, not attack, not vengeance, not retaliation, but peace. God sought peace with us. We are called to do the same with others, which necessarily means dying to self. So we can approach each encounter secure in Christ’s protection and desirous of peace.
In addition we take up the shield of faith. The shield is actually what covers all the other pieces of armor. It is an added layer of protection that blocks the arrows from even reaching our breastplate or anything else. Faith is what does this. Belief that God is trustworthy, belief that God is all powerful, belief that we are forgiven. Notice that faith doesn’t stop Satan’s attacks, but it does put out their potency. The shield extinguishes the flaming arrows. Shields were often soaked in water before a battle for just this purpose. Faith does that, quenching the fires of temptation that come our way. It is not by accident that the Bible says more than once that the righteous will live by faith.
Therefore, believe in God; it is the only true defense against the devil’s schemes.
8.2.17 Summer Sermon Series The Armor of God Part IV
When life comes at you full force, where do you center yourself? Where do you anchor your soul? The first piece of armor mentioned is the belt of truth. The belt is what every other piece of armor attaches itself to; it holds everything together. This is the role of truth. Jesus Christ is this truth. He is the one that holds all things together. If our life is not centered around him, the rest of these pieces of armor won’t be able to function as they should. Is your life centered around Christ? Are the decisions you make influenced by the finished work of Christ on the cross and his resurrection, the work that says God really does raise the dead so it is ok to give freely? Are your motivations in life grounded on that same principle that Paul speaks of in Philippians: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility regard one another as more important than yourselves….” We must center ourselves on Christ; and to know him and what that looks like we must spend time with him in his word and prayer.
Paul quotes Isaiah 59 when he talks of the breastplate of righteousness. In that context, the one wearing this is the one who will bring justice to a situation in which truth and justice have fled. This one clothed for battle is the one who will bring vengeance. It is easy in the day to day battles of life to want to prove that we are right, to want to win, to want to take vengeance even. Yet putting on the breastplate of righteousness means we are to guard our hearts from all forms of superiority. For Paul to quote Isaiah 59 here seems to mean that we are to trust in the only one who is righteous as our defender: both as the one who can defend us from belittling remarks and unjust accusations and ill treatment, and the one who ultimately settles all issues of injustice. Having Christ’s righteousness covering us means we can face whatever unjust attack we face, knowing that it cannot remove what Christ has freely given. And it means that we believe God cares more for the injustices of this world than we do and has defeated them on the cross and will finally end them upon his return.
With these pieces of armor firmly in place, we can enter the world not as an us vs. them contest, but as an us for them mission of reconciliation.
8.1.17 Summer Sermon Series: The Armor of God Part III
It is the responsibility of every Christian to be strengthened in the Lord. That is the gist of 6:10. In verse 11 Paul uses a phrase that he will repeat twice more in the next three verses: stand firm. And he says that to do this we need to put on the full armor of God. And I believe he means full as opposed to part of. We don’t show up to play baseball dressed in our uniform and cleats and not have a glove. If so, we might look nice, but we will be sitting on the bench during the game.
And yet we can easily live each day distracted by our own anxieties, misgivings, fears, busyness, and sins. And God’s armor—which is another gift of grace—resting neatly in the corner is ransacked for something we think useful on our way out the door. Or maybe it is neglected all together as we spend time surfing the web, making sure we don’t miss the latest breaking news story, or engrossed in the next must-see TV show. But probably the biggest reason that God’s armor is neglected is our lack of understanding of our need.
The reason it is required is that in all of our relationships we really face a spiritual, not physical, battle. Any disagreement, conflict, misunderstanding, or insult we might face is a battle of the heart—ours and the other person’s. If the battle were just physical—against flesh and blood—we could use human armor, ingenuity, our own strength even. But ultimately we are up against our own heart and the hearts of other people who are all influenced by spiritual forces.
Do we see each issue we face in this life as spiritual? Do we see each issue we face as one that ultimately gets to the heart, ours or someone else’s? And if that is so, will we handle this situation with worldly wisdom or spiritual wisdom? That is what Paul is getting at here. For we have a great need to resist, not the other person we might be in conflict with—our desire there is always reconciliation—but the devil. And to resist the devil requires the ability to stand firm protected completely by God’s armor.
Standing firm means not retreating nor attacking. And one can only do this with God’s armor, fully assured that nothing can come against us, but also knowing that it is not our job to attack. God, ultimately, is the only one who gains ground in the battle for the advancement of the kingdom. We are his servants that he uses from time to time, but God is the one who changes hearts.
In the spiritual realm, standing firm means at least three things in the midst of conflict with others. First, we do not give in to sin. It is easy to become angry, prideful, sarcastic, … in the midst of strife, but standing firm means we do not give in to where our heart would like to take us. We stand firm, confident that God’s armor is sufficient for whatever we face and that my sin cannot change another’s heart.
Second, standing firm means we do not compromise our beliefs. Compromise can be a wonderful thing, but not when it comes to the truths of who God is or how his world works. We stand firm on the sound doctrine of God, never giving away part of what we believe in order to gain peace.
Finally, standing firm means we do not fear man over God. Being fearful of what man will say or do will lead us to retreat from our position. Being fearful of how we might look will also cause us to abandon our position. When we are more concerned with what other people think, we will not stand firm.
7.31.17 Summer Sermon Series: The Armor of God Part II
When Paul says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might,” he is communicating two critically important things. First, the strength to fight the questions from what I discussed in part I only comes from God. We do not have the strength in ourselves to fight someone taking advantage of us when we are honoring God by being obedient to his call to submission. We do not have the strength to fight when doubts about God’s goodness and love and salvation come flooding in. We do not have the strength to fight our own stubbornness at God’s commands to be generous, edifying, kind, forgiving, and always thankful. Oh, we might be able to fight; but it is useless ultimately, for our strength cannot chase away the darkness in our hearts or anyone else’s.
Be strong is a passive verb. It might have a greater impact on us if it were rendered be strengthened, as the New English Translation has it. I think in the Lord does the trick also, but here every little bit would help us independent, pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps Americans. We have to be convinced that Jesus actually meant, “Without me you can do nothing.”
But we don’t believe it. And we have proof. We’ve made it through an activity without praying. We’ve accomplished a task without depending. I hoed weeds out of the flower bed the other day without praying. See, Jesus was wrong. Except he wasn’t. While a nicely weeded flower bed might look good to my eyes (or even the neighbors), a weeded flower bed done without depending upon God has no eternal value, no fruit that glorifies God.
There is another discussion embedded here about aesthetics and the value of beauty, but that is for another time. I’m merely talking about personal righteousness and personal ability to live in this world, not God’s sovereignty over my messes and independence and his working for his glory despite me. In other words, a weeded flower bed is a good thing in and of itself and does, I believe, bring glory to God. My non-praying participation in that weeding process, however, will not bear any spiritual fruit or glorify God.
So despite all this walking we have been commanded to do in the previous two chapters, here we are told that the strength we need comes from God. But that is not the most profound thing that Paul is doing here. The most profound thing is what he actually means by strength.
The second thing that Paul does is tie this passage back to Ephesians 1:19 by using the exact same wording as he did there. The repeated phrase? “…the strength of his might.” Well what is this strength we are to be strong in? It is the strength “which he brought about in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” It is resurrection power. It is the power to submit to someone else knowing they will take advantage of us because we know that God will always justify those who trust in him, and ultimately he will raise us up as well. The last shall be first, etc. We can be humiliated, defeated, taken advantage of, killed even—all joyfully—because we believe that God raises the dead. We can face doubts confident in God’s promises that we have been given the Spirit as a pledge of our inheritance, i.e., a resurrected body enjoying God and his goodness forever—all based on faith, not what we can muster in the “good” department. And this is precisely the point Paul is making here. None of what Paul has asked the Ephesians or us to do is possible if we don’t believe that death really brings life. We do not die to self in vain. So take resurrection power and purpose into life. That is the final word that Paul wants them to have.
If I were to paraphrase v. 19, it would sound like this: I want to leave you with this: depend completely in God’s resurrection power for every part of life.
7.28.17 Summer Sermon Series: The Armor of God Part I
Before jumping in to Ephesians 6:10, we need to look at what comes before. Paul did not write a bunch of mini, unconnected sermons and then put them together in a letter to the Ephesian church. Instead he wrote a coherent letter that communicates a message. So we need to see what Paul has said up to this point to make sure we understand how 6:10–17 fits into the letter as a whole.
Paul spends the first three chapters talking about the benefits of being in Christ—Paul’s term here for what it means to be saved. Those who have trusted in the death and resurrection of Christ for their salvation are “in Christ.” In chapter one, he lists numerous spiritual blessings that we have related to the work of the Father (vv. 3–4), the Son (vv. 5–12), and the Spirit (vv. 13–14). He then spends the rest of chapter one praying for the Ephesians for understanding and insight into these and other truths.
In chapter two, Paul details the gospel story. We were dead, but we are now alive by grace through faith. And in the second half of the chapter, Paul talks about how salvation is not a Jewish or Gentile thing, but salvation brings us all into the family of God as someone different—we would call that different man a Christian.
In chapter three, Paul addresses his own ministry and the blessing it is to have such a magnificent ministry to get to share the “unfathomable riches of Christ.” He ends chapter three with another prayer for understanding God’s great love.
With all of these blessings and benefits explained, Paul then launches into a proper response to these blessings in chapters four through six. And to do this he uses the metaphor of walking to describe how we are to live the Christian life. Walking is a means of getting from point A to point B. It is not necessarily fast, but it does make progress. So Paul is looking for progress, not perfection, in maturity in these issues based on what God has done for us.
He speaks of walking in a manner worthy of our calling (4:1) [our calling, being the blessings and benefits of being in Christ from chapters 1–3], the main point of this being unity in the church. He says we should not walk as the Gentiles do (4:17), which means replacing old habits with new ones. We are to walk in love (5:2) as a sign of Jesus’ love toward us. We are to walk as children of light (5:8) and not in deception. And finally we are to walk as wise people (5:15), not as unwise and make the most of every opportunity.
He then transitions and begins talking about the work of the Spirit in our lives, which ultimately leads to an attitude of submission in all our relationships. He then highlights 3 sets of relationships where each person is to submit in a different way. This seems counter-intuitive to our culture where someone has to be in charge. Paul is not saying that no one is in charge, but he is saying that in every relationship we have, we need to die to self for the good of the other person, even if that other person takes advantage of our “submission.”
From husbands and wives to parents and children to slaves and masters, Paul deals with the main relationships of the day, calling each side to die to self in some way to love the other better. And in each case, if the person called to die to self, does so, there will be a chance that the other one will take advantage of this love. That is the nature of biblical love, and that is what we are all called to.
So there is a very personal aspect to our relationships, one in which we look at the other person as a person, seeing them as made in God’s image. The natural question that arises, though, is, “Paul, what do I do if the other person does take advantage of me? What do I do if there is conflict?” And a wider question in terms of the whole book is, “Paul, what do I do when other people don’t seek unity, don’t seek honesty, don’t seek to walk as you’ve called us to walk? And what do I do when I begin to doubt these truths you’ve presented?”
And I think one of the purposes of 6:10–17 is to answer these questions. And Paul does so with a different metaphor: stand, instead of walk. In the next section, we will look at this change of metaphor and what Paul means for us to do.
7.27.17 Summer Sermon Series: The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Believer Part IV
Finally, the Spirit is involved in our unity. Since Jesus says that the world will know we are Christians by our love for one another, this is critical for Christians to understand. The Spirit is the one who empowers us and equips us for this unity. In 1 Corinthians 12, we see that the Spirit is the giver of gifts for the good of the local church, the united community of believers who depend upon one another. In Ephesians 4:3, Paul encourages the Ephesians to preserve the unity of the Spirit, not their man-made unity, but that which is from the Spirit. The same is true of Philippians 1:7. (there is some disagreement as to whether this is just synonymous with the next phrase, “one mind,” or referring to the Holy Spirit). And in Jude 19, the ones who are devoid of the Spirit are the ones who cause divisions, implying that the Spirit brings unity. While the references to unity and the Spirit are not as numerous as the other areas mentioned earlier, nonetheless, we must keep in mind that unity is critical for us to shine Christ’s light into the world. When Christians can’t get along, it is a sign to non-believers that we are no different than the world, that the resurrection really doesn’t make us into new creations, and ultimately that God himself, whose image we bear, is not a unified whole. Our lack of unity directly affects people’s understanding of the Triune God.
May we all live by the Spirit that God might be glorified in all that we say and do.
7.26.17 Sumer Sermon Series: The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Believer Part III
So what is the Spirit up to in the church today? From looking at the references to the Spirit’s work in the NT letters to the various churches, we see a small handful of things that the Spirit is doing. First, the role of leading us into truth, as Jesus promised, does not change. The Spirit is still doing that. The following verses are a sample of that:
1 Corinthians 2:10–13, Ephesians 3:4–5, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, 2 Timothy 1:14, 1 Peter 1:12
The next three ideas may fall under the first in some sense, but I have broken them out because they deal with the basics of the Christian life: our salvation, sanctification, and the eternal state.
First, the Spirit seals our justification. In other words, if we are not sealed by the Spirit, we are not saved. It is through the work of the Spirit that salvation is applied to the believer. And the Spirit is given that we might know that to be true.
Romans 2:29, 1 Corinthians 6:11, 12:13, Galatians 3:2–3a, Ephesians 1:13, Titus 3:5, Hebrews 10:15
Second, the Spirit empowers and works in us for our sanctification. You cannot move toward more Christ-likeness without the Spirit. Without the Spirit’s enablement, our efforts are utterly worthless. Anything we do that might look good to the world actually has no spiritual if not done in the Spirit.
Romans 7:6, 2 Corinthians 3:6, Galatians 3:3, 5:16ff, 1 Thessalonians 4:7–8, 2 Thessalonians 2:13
Third, the Spirit guarantees our future inheritance. It is also his desire to give us a current hope of this future in the midst of difficult situations.
Romans 8:23, 2 Corinthians 1:21–22, Galatians 5:5, Ephesians 1:14, 1 Peter 4:14
The Spirit also declares our sonship/relationship with God. It is through the Spirit’s testifying work in our lives that we are children of God.
Romans 8:16, Galatians 4:6, Ephesians 2:17–19, Philippians 2:1, 1 John 3:24
When we live in these truths, we reveal God to the world. When we depend upon God for every facet of our lives, we show that the power to live Godly lives comes not from ourselves, but from God. For example: because he is our creator and sustainer, it makes much sense to honor him by making him the only one through whom we have new (eternal) life.
When we highlight God’s role in sanctification, testifying that he is the only one who makes us holy, and anything we do well is only because of what he has first done in us, when we are dependent upon him, then we show him to be the holy one he is. The one set apart as we are set apart from a broken and dying world. We are necessarily to look and act and talk differently than the world.
When we live in the hope of a new creation, testifying that God will done day make all things new, we show the world that satisfaction comes from God alone, that he is sufficient for all things, that he does not need anything else to be joyful. When we are content him him, trusting in his promises of a better place, we show the world that this world’s offerings don’t actually meet our deepest needs, but God does.
When we highlight our relationship with him as our loving Father, we give the world a glimpse of his love, his compassion, his pursuit of his people, a picture of what people know deep down exists. One of the reasons child abuse is so heinous is that we know it ought not to be that way. It traps, it kills, it hides, it manipulates, it enslaves, but God is freeing, life-giving, a speaker of truth—always. I’m not suggesting that our embracing of God as Father will take away all the damage done through abusive situations, but I am saying that our delighting in being children offers hope and continues to point out the best in light of our world’s continued pursuit of the worst. We must continue to hold up the example of perfection in God’s fatherhood as our culture continues to push the boundaries of what is acceptable. If you don’t think we can get to the point where child abuse becomes acceptable, you have not been paying attention.
There is one more aspect the Spirit helps us with that is most important in showing the world the character of God. We will look at that next time.
7.25.17 Summer Sermon Series: The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Believer Part II
In the gospel of John, Jesus talks about three things the Holy Spirit does and one larger all-encompassing purpose. The first thing is found in John 14:26. The Holy Spirit will teach the disciples all things and bring to remembrance all that Jesus said. The second thing is in John 15:26. The Spirit will bear witness about Jesus. The third thing is the Spirit’s convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment in John 16:8–11. Then John 6:13 repeats the first thing. And John 6:14 adds the overarching idea of the Spirit glorifying Christ.
With this in mind, let’s look briefly at the book of Acts. There are so many miraculous things that happen in Acts, yet for all the movement of God and/or His Spirit, what we see is an actual lack of consistency. God acts in many different ways. In Acts 5, sin is dealt with by death. In Acts 8, it is dealt with by rebuke. In Acts 12, Pete is rescued from prison by an angel. In Acts 16 Paul is delivered by an earthquake. Some people traveled by normal means, but in Acts 8, the Spirit moves Philip rather miraculously. Some people speak in tongues upon receiving the Spirit and others don’t (Acts 10:44, Acts 8:39). What is consistent in Acts is the Holy Spirit giving people words to say and leading people where he wanted them to go.
Since Jesus, the miracle worker, was absent, the Spirit worked miracles among his disciples as they sought to spread his truth wherever they went. Without the establishment of a mature church, the miraculous was used to draw people to hear the message about God. Yet speaking in tongues, healings, miraculous interventions are not the greatest sign of God’s power. No, Jesus told his disciples in John 13 that the world would know they were his disciples by their love for one another. And what we will see in Part III is that the role of the Holy Spirit seems to have dramatically changed from the book of Acts to the letters to the churches written by Paul, Peter, and the rest. The purpose of the Spirit is still the same: bringing glory to Christ. But how this works itself out in the church looks much different than it did in the book of Acts. The reason this is so is because the greatest miracle of all is people who are vastly different coming together in love around the cross of Christ.
7.24.17 Summer Sermon Series: The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Believer Part I
“Wherever the Holy Spirit is present, He makes men of gold out of men of clay.” -John Chrysostom
While the purpose of the Spirit in the believer’s life does not change, the way that the Spirit went about effecting that purpose did change with the establishment of the local church.
Before we can think about the Spirit’s purpose in our individual lives, we need to think about God’s purpose in all of creation.
1. God wants his name (reputation) to be spread throughout the earth.
– “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) Why were they to do this? Since we are made in God’s image, he wants his image to spread throughout the earth.
– Abraham was called for the purpose of blessing the nations (Genesis 12:3). And we know that this blessing ultimately came through the nations knowing God through Christ—thus exalting the Son and glorifying the Father wherever his name is proclaimed.
– In Egypt we see that in the beginning Pharaoh wouldn’t let the people go. One of the reasons was that he didn’t know (or acknowledge)God: “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord” (Exodus 5:2). God did what he did so that Egypt would know that God is the Lord: “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst” (Exodus 7:5).
– At Mt. Sinai, we see the same thing. The Israelites were to be for God a kingdom of priests because all the world is God’s (Exodus 19:5–6). A priest was to represent God before the people. The Mosaic law was to be followed to show God’s character to the nations.
– In the same way, God gave the Holy Spirit to the church to reveal his character through us as we are conformed into the image of Christ and as the church spreads throughout the earth (Romans 8:1–4, 28–30).
– We are to proclaim God’s excellencies to the world (1 Peter 2:9).
2. God wants people to know him.
– He desires all people to be saved (Ezekiel 18:23, John 3:16–17, 1 Timothy 2:4,
2 Peter 3:9)
– We are to be a light to the world (2 Corinthians 4:6. Philippians 2:15)
7.19.17 Summer Sermon Series: Perseverance of the Saints Part IIE
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 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
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). Sluggish people need 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
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 has 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. But I fully confess that decision is at least partially driven by my understanding of the text as a whole.
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.
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.
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 verses 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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 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!
…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
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
“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
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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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 a dynasty
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.
1st Sunday in Advent
“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.