Friday, December 23, 2016

Something to Think About the Day After Christmas

1Pe 1:3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1Pe 1:4  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 1Pe 1:5  who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

I have just begun to preach through 1 Peter and the first thing I have noticed is that from the very beginning the epistle is packed with amazing and important truths that are being thrown at us almost like a machine gun fires bullets.  One that really caught my attention is in vs. 4 above.  There is a lot of speculation as to what Heaven and eternity will have in store for us but in reality we really are told very little.  The one thing we know is that it will involve being with and enjoying fellowship with God.  After all, Jesus taught us in John 17 that true life is to know the Father and the Son, Joh 17:3  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Peter describes our future glory as a living hope that is an inheritance that is being kept in Heaven for us and he uses three adjectives that help us grasp the magnitude of whatever eternity will be like. 

First of all it will be imperishable which means it will never come to an end.  We would expect this since by definition eternal life doesn’t end.  Next he says that it is undefiled which suggests that there is nothing evil or harmful about it.  A lot of things in this world are physically or spiritually harmful to us but in the new heavens and earth everything will be good and good for us in every way.  That is mind-boggling in itself.  But it is the third description that really caught my attention.

Thirdly it will be unfading, it will never be less than it was at the beginning.  This is something in this fallen world that we simply can’t relate to.  Like the old saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt”.  As soon as we get something we want, it loses some of its luster.  If someone drove up with a lifetime supply of ice cream it would no doubt spoil before I could eat it all and it would be bad for me and I soon would probably be a diabetic.  But worse, after a gallon or two it wouldn’t really mean that much to me.

Peter is telling us that whatever eternity will be like, it will be fully satisfying from the start and it will never be less than it was that first instant; that is quite a concept to think about.  The value of this will be illustrated by many this Sunday when their kids open the presents they begged for and in a day or two they don’t seem to care about the gifts at all.  Even adults know that after a week or two of having something you wanted real badly, often you find yourself wishing you had something else instead.

It is just the nature of the fallen, ruined world we live in.  Nothing temporal can satisfy and even the good gifts of God don’t mean as much to us as they should.  We grow bored with things as we find they never can live up to the hype they promise or our sinful hearts won’t allow us to enjoy them as we ought.  When God made man he made him to find true happiness and fulfillment in God himself.  And sin has caused us to look everywhere else but to the Lord for these things; so it is no wonder we are restless and dissatisfied with things that try to take God’s place.  As Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

But once our hearts are made right and all traces of sin are eradicated, and once temporal things are replaced with the Lord himself, Peter tells us we will never be bored or dissatisfied with being with him from the first moment and forever!  And that my friends is truly mind-boggling.  Every moment in eternity will be as exhilarating as it will be the first instant we stand and gaze upon the unmitigated glory of the Triune God.  It will never end, it will only be good and fulfilling for us, and it will always be just as “fun and exciting” as it was from the start. 

So parents, when you see your children not being as thankful for their gifts as you would like or when you maybe are a little let down with what you got let that feeling remind you of why Christ had to come to earth to begin with; to save us from our sinfulness and give us a future hope that will never disappoint.  

In this life we tend to build up things with anticipation to the point that we are usually let down when we get it.  With Heaven we tend to be so caught up with the things of this life that we aren’t driven with anticipation for glory as we ought to be.  But at the same time opening the “present” of Heaven will be the one time when the gift is better than the buildup.  May the Lord grant us the ability to live as if we are anticipating something better in the next life than we have now.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Identifying Our Enemies?

Num 13:27  And they told him, "We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Num 13:28  However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there…
Num 13:30  But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, "Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it." Num 13:31  Then the men who had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are."…
Num 13:32  So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, "The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. Num 13:33  And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them."

Someone well pointed out that Israel’s problem in refusing to enter into the Promised Land was that they didn’t realize who their real enemy was.  They didn’t need to fear giants they should have been more worried about being seduced by their gods and assimilated into the world.  Perhaps another way to say this is that they didn’t know who they should fear the most.  They feared what man could do to their bodies more than the God that redeemed them and would judge them.  If Israel had been worried about idolatry rather than physical danger their history would have been much different than it turned out to be. 

Misdirected fear and a misunderstanding of who our enemies really are have always plagued our sanctification.  For many Christians this same irrational fear of physical trials is seen in how they tend to identify their greatest enemies as communism or liberalism.  At least they seem to get much more excited over politics than doctrine and church, etc.  But we never read in the Bible where the early church identified Roman laws as the enemy.  This is the same mistake that Israel made because they are more worried about personal freedoms and the removal of persecution than they are in being godly in the “midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world”.

I mean if we are commanded to be good slaves if we find ourselves in that situation and to serve our masters as unto the Lord, then our enemy is not slavery or social injustice, it is allowing situations to defeat our ability to be godly no matter what, to demonstrate to all that Jesus is our love and life before all else.  If we can be an influence for good and justice in this world that is great, but man’s greatest need is not social justice it is getting right with God so that he will escape the just wrath of God.  Justice will be served for all someday and if we aren’t in Christ it will mean eternal condemnation.  Being more concerned with people’s comforts and freedoms than we are about their eternal souls just makes no sense.

Others identify their greatest enemy as sickness or poverty.  But it should be obvious that this makes the same mistake as earlier.  It sees temporal things that will soon be taken away from us anyway as something to be avoided at all costs.  And so they try to twist Christianity into the idea that God saves us to remove such suffering in this life.  This causes us to spend more energy to remove these problems rather than to serve well in them which completely misses the point of sanctification and Christianity altogether.  James tells us that afflictions in life are part and parcel of living in the kingdom of God.

Jas 1:2  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, Jas 1:3  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. Jas 1:4  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  Being faithful in affliction is how we are perfected and complete in serving the Lord.  So if we tell people that God wants you to have health and wealth and personal and political freedom so you can do whatever you want with no one telling you otherwise then we are systematically removing the ways to grow strong in the Lord and to glorify his name among the nations. 

Our real enemy is first of all God if we are not justified in the cross of Christ.  After that a Christian must realize that his only real enemy is whatever would lure his heart away from putting Christ first in our affections.  As far as I can see, being sick or poor or a slave or oppressed should draw me closer to Christ.  On the other hand, being healthy and rich and free to do whatever I want can easily cause me to take Jesus for granted and work to make me less dependent on him.  Our enemies are spiritual, not physical, Eph 6:12  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Tree of Life

Rev 22:1  Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
Rev 22:2  through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

It has been quite an experience preaching through the book of Revelation.  And one of the things that has been interesting is the way commentators deal with chapters 21-22:6.  Actually this composes one vision of the New Jerusalem and so there shouldn’t be a chapter division until perhaps 22:6.  Even though twice John is told that the New Jerusalem is the Bride of Christ or the church, it seems ingrained in us to want to interpret this as a picture of Heaven.  Some commentators keep insisting that there will be streets of gold even though the word street is always singular.  We won’t be walking on streets of gold because Heaven isn’t a city we dwell in, this city describes the community of the saints who dwell with God; we in him and he in us.  Some insist that Heaven will be full of parks of trees even though only one tree is ever mentioned; the Tree of Life. 

One old favorite hymn, “Shall We Gather at the River” paints a picture of the river that flows by the throne of God even though it says it flows from of the throne.  God is not part of eternity, he is eternity and eternal life comes from him.  God is always on the throne and always at the center of our existence and life flows from him not by him.

In each case such descriptions cause us to think of this as a photo of Heaven rather than the glorified state of the church.  In some of these cases such interpretations clearly do more harm than good.  Let me focus on the vision of the Tree of Life that John sees interestingly enough on both sides of the river.  He sees one street with one river running down the middle with one tree on both sides of the river.  We can try to imagine this literally and just be confused or we can try to understand the spiritual types of the Bible being brought to fulfillment in eternity.

If I can briefly sum up this we might say that true life flows from God and Jesus is the only way through which this life comes.  The tree is on both sides as it is accessible to all those who have been redeemed.  But the way that John refers to the Tree of Life helps us see that he isn’t describing a beautiful park that we will stroll through in eternity but instead the tree is our access to the life we lost in Adam that has been restored in Christ Jesus.

When the NT refers to the cross as a tree the word it uses is one that literally means a wooden pole or piece of timber.  It does not use a word that refers to a leafy tree like we might think of such as an oak tree or a maple tree.  Some examples are found in the book of Acts.  Act 5:30  The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.  Act 10:39  And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.  And Gal 3:13  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"

In each case a literal translation would be that he was hanged on a wooden pole or piece of timber.  John uses the same word here so that it could be translated the timber of life or the wooden torture pole of life.  What he describes is a normal tree with healing leaves but he uses a word that can only mean the cross of Christ.  And so he is referring in one sense to the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden but explaining that the tree in the Garden was only a type of the true Tree of Life which is the cross of Christ. 

Adam and Eve were barred from eternal life, symbolized by the Tree of Life, when they sinned but in Christ we have access to eternal life by his work on the cross.  And so in one sense John’s vision is a vision of the church enjoying Christ, who is true life, as they will in eternity.  There is only one river of life (Joh 4:14  but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.") and one street or way of access and communion with God (Joh 14:6  Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.) and one Tree of Life (Joh_5:40  yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. Joh_11:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. 1Jn_5:12  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.)  Well, you get the idea.  

I personally doubt Heaven will look like a city with streets and houses because they suggest separation with walled enclosures.  In the New Heavens and Earth we might well live in a literal Garden of Eden with trees and rivers and that will be fine by me.  But John isn’t painting a picture of where we will dwell in eternity; he is telling us who we will be dwelling with, the Lord Jesus Christ.  John, in the closing chapters of the Bible, is moving all the types of the Bible into their fulfillment.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Withstanding Temptation

Gen 39:6  So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. Gen 39:7  And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, "Lie with me." Gen 39:8  But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. Gen 39:9  He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" Gen 39:10  And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

Other than the examples our Lord set when facing temptation, perhaps the above passage is the best known for resisting temptation and especially sexual temptation.  There are several ways people have tried to deal with temptation; some good and some not so good.  Origen was said to have castrated himself although that is disputed.  But it isn’t all that farfetched especially in a day when men would live on top of poles for years as a way to escape the defilements of this world.  Living in monasteries was a similar way to deal with sin and temptation.  Its problem was that it assumes sin is in those around you and not yourself.  Its fundamental flaw is that the moment you walk into the monastery you bring sin in with you.

Another more biblical sounding way is to approach sin in a more legal way.  God has told us what to do and so we obey his commands by doing what he wants us to do and not doing what he tells us not to do.  This can be effective in producing some outward morality but it also has some fundamental problems.  It often relies heavily on the strength of our resolve which is generally rather weak and it is easy to fall into self-righteous judgmentalism as we see ourselves obeying commands that others do not.  It also can easily miss the mark in motivation since without love all our good works can become legalism and self-serving as Paul teaches in Co 13:1  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1Co 13:2  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 1Co 13:3  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing

It isn’t just what I do or don’t do, it is why I obey that matters to God.  Do I do it because I love him and want to honor him or do I do it to exalt myself in some way?  Such a legalist can easily fall into the trap of obeying merely to get some sort of blessing from the Lord and it all can become rather self-serving.  Obeying God’s law is good and proper but there must be more to it than just checking off commands.  It is the love factor that I think gets to the heart of the matter which is why I quoted Genesis 39 above.  After all, if love is the fulfillment of the Law than if it isn’t the heart of what motivates our resistance to temptation then we might be moral but we might not be godly.  Jesus is our example of godliness not just because he kept the Law but that everything he did, he did for the right reason; to please the Father.

The case with Joseph deals with the first great commandment to love God with our entire being.  Joseph understood that to succumb to temptation would be a sin against the Lord.  If we approach sin as merely rules to obey or not then we can come up with any number of reasons why disobedience might be okay.  If it pleases me now and there is some vague threat that someday I will pay for it, then it is easy to just live in the here and now and ignore the consequences.  But Joseph loved God more than himself and realized that sin dishonored the Lord and that was his primary motivator rather than his immediate gratification. 

If we put it in our Christian setting; the Lord is our God but also our Savior who loved the unlovely and died for us that we might escape his wrath and enjoy him forever.   Thus, the love of Christ constrains us out of thankfulness to give our lives to the one who saved us from eternal death.  It is no accident that Paul says as much in the context of taking the gospel to a fallen world, 2Co 5:14  For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 2Co 5:15  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

If I love God then when he commands me to do something it will be much easier to obey because I know it is for my good and to enable me to honor him that he gives me each command.  This is better than just seeing God as someone who doesn’t want me to have fun which is how so many tend to view his commands.

The second great commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves.  While Joseph might have had this in mind, it is not stated but it is something for NT saints to consider.  I think that one of the most effective ways to withstand temptation and especially sexual temptation is by considering the one we will sin with.  The root of sin is putting self above all else.  If we view a person for only what they can do for me then it will be much harder to resist temptation.  But if we see the other person as a soul who needs Christ or one in which we want to grow in Christ’s service, it is going to be much harder to sin with them and against them because our goal is to see good happen to them.  True love wants its object to flourish, first spiritually before all else. 

In this way love keeps me from sinning because I refuse to see that person as an object to use or abuse but as a soul, created in God’s image that I can minister to.  I think a good example of not looking at someone the right way in this matter is Amnon and Tamar.
(II Samuel 13)  He was so attracted to her that he ends up raping her and then we read that he hated her as much as he supposedly loved her before.  She was only an object to him and since it was all about him to begin with, she is easily discarded afterward.  Had he truly loved her his conscience hopefully would have stopped him from hurting her.

It is important for Christians to keep the flames of love burning hot, first for the Lord and this will produce love for one another.  When we make decisions based on this kind of love it will be easier to resist falling into such sins.  It takes time to develop a mindset that considers the Lord and others before yourself; that controls our thinking and actions throughout the day, but isn’t this what Paul is getting at in Rom 12:1  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Rom 12:2  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  

Love transforms our minds from self-centered to God-centered.  And we need a good sense of the sinful pit the Lord took us out of if we are to love him as we ought.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Four Cursed Women

Rth 4:11  Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, "We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, Rth 4:12  and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman." Rth 4:13  So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son.

The four women mentioned in Matthew 1 in the genealogy of Jesus are an interesting study.  (Bathsheba is referred to but not named outright)  Three, if not four, of them were Gentiles and therefore under a curse.  And three of them had very obvious sins that are mentioned as well.  Tamar seduced Judah, Rahab was a prostitute, Bathsheba committed adultery with David and Ruth, while evidently an upright woman was from Moab which placed her squarely under God’s curse, Deu 23:3  "No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever

But there is another commonality of all four that is even more interesting to me.  At least three had husbands who died but then they all came into contact with a man in the Messianic line that brought them into contact with the Messiah.  Whether they all were believers or not I am not sure but they are a wonderful type that we Gentiles, who were born under the curse of God due to the Fall, should be able to identify with.

We were born connected to a man who was under a curse which meant we were under a curse.  This man was Adam.  But when the Lord saved us we died to that life with its curse and were joined to a new man, the second Adam, Christ Jesus.  We now belong to a new family, the family of God and are received as sons of God.  Our destiny is joined with our current husband and not our old family.

Romans 7 says much the same thing only it has us originally married to the Law.  But the Law represents the holiness of God that is against us and condemns us as sinners; we are born under the curse of the Law, Gal 3:10  For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them."  Read the following in light of what I have said above:

Rom 7:1  Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? Rom 7:2  For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Rom 7:3  Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Rom 7:4  Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

Just as these women’s new union eventually bore the fruit of the Messiah so we who have been joined to him by the Spirit bear fruit that honors the Lord.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Joseph and the "Coat of Many Colors"

Gen 37:3  Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. Gen 37:4  But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

The following was a point made in a recent sermon:

The special favor of Jacob and the coat he gives him is an interesting study.  If we take this translation at face value as many do we might come to the conclusion that the brothers were somewhat justified at being upset with their father and Joseph for showing favoritism.  There is no doubt that this is also a failure of Jacob that leads to problems but it also plays a big part in the Lord getting everyone where they needed to be.  The question we need to ask is whether this coat was merely a fancy coat he gave Joseph because he loved him more or was there more to this than just unjustified favoritism? 

Literally it means a coat that went to his wrist and ankles, thus a tunic.  The word “colors” is somewhat of a commentary, not a literal translation.  A coat like this would be expected to be richly ornamented so perhaps colored but this is not the primary meaning.  Some of your translations probably bring this out.  Gen 37:3  Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, for he was a son of his old age. And he made a robe with long sleeves for him.  Gen 37:3  And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was a son of old age to him. And he made a robe reaching to the soles of his feet.

This kind of coat would be worn by someone who was not expected to be working but supervising.  This might explain why Joseph felt it necessary to bring his father an unsatisfactory report of how his brothers were caring for the flocks.  This has been seen as tattling but I think it is better to see Joseph as not a tattler but a truth teller doing his job.  One of the things Jesus came to do was to expose Israel’s unbelief and disobedience.  Some commentators want to make this passage all about Jacob’s favoritism or Joseph’s foolishness to speak this way to his brothers and bring their wrath upon him; but this misses the main point.  Jesus came to tell us of his special relationship with the Father and the proper reaction is to see him as our savior not to do what the Jews did and try to deny this relationship. 

So it would seem that Joseph had been given a measure of authority and prominence over his brethren.  But why are we not to assume that this was just unjustified parental favoritism?  It is interesting that one of the four times Joseph is mentioned is to tell us that probably the only land the Jacob owned was given to Joseph; we read of this in John 4:5; why?  Because of what Reuben did in 35:22, he forfeited his birthright by sleeping with Bilhah, Gen 49:4  Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father's bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch! And we also read in 1Ch 5:1  The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father's couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, so that he could not be enrolled as the oldest son. 1Ch 5:2  though Judah became strong among his brothers and a chief came from him, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph).  Judah got the spiritual blessing; Joseph the physical.  So in essence Joseph had taken the place of the eldest son!

Thus Jacob’s favor was justified; it would be like giving the oldest son controlling rights over the farm.  So the point seen in his brother’s hatred was that they hated him unjustly.  They were treacherous murders and he was unlike them; he was righteous and deserved his father’s love and the position he had.

Jesus is justly the heir of all that his Father has.  One before him, Adam, had been given charge of the world and his posterity and forfeited it by committing spiritual adultery, by desiring the glory that was his father’s alone and taking it for himself, just like Reuben.  So in another Son down the line there came one who was able to obey the Father and was given charge to take care of his brethren.

When he came to his own and told them of his glory, instead of seeing this as their hope of salvation and glory, they were jealous and crucified him.  But in that, they brought about their salvation.  In their very act to get rid of Joseph they secure their eventual salvation. 

This isn’t just a story of a father’s doting love in giving his favorite son a pretty coat.  This is the Scriptures testifying of the One who was to come!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

When We are Weak, Then We are Strong

Gen 32:25  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Gen 32:31  The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

This passage that relates Jacob’s encounter with the Lord where he wrestles with him and Jacob’s thigh is touched so that he limps for the rest of his life is interesting for a few reasons.  One reason is because it is such a clear illustration of our salvation where God comes to us and overcomes our will and we learn who God is and who the creature is.  But in the overall context we would ask ourselves why did God give Jacob a limp as he was about to meet Esau?

Jacob’s “besetting” sin seems to have been self-reliance.  He was, after all, a deceiver.  Whether it was trying to get the blessing over Esau from his Father or figuring out how to build his herds while working for Laban, or dividing his family and possessions up as he tried to manipulate his brother to avoid Esau’s possible wrath, if the Genesis account teaches us anything it is that Jacob relied on his ability to manipulate more than he did the Lord.  In fact, I think a case can be made that it was at Penuel that the Lord becomes Jacob’s God.

Key to our text are these two verses: Gen 32:24  And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. Gen 32:25  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.  It seems to be saying that the wrestling was an argument in which Jacob wasn’t getting the point.  And so the Lord weakens his hip and from then on Jacob is reminded of his weakness to the day he dies; he is a changed man from this point on.

Jacob was about to meet his brother and had been preparing for it but mostly by his usual scheming.  What the Lord does is force him to meet his brother not in any outward show of human wisdom or strength but by limping weakly up to him.  We either express to others that the Lord is our strength or that we are strong but only one way gives God the glory. 

Notice that immediately after being “touched” Jacob starts clinging to the Lord and asking for help.  Now he is in a position to trust God; after all his strength has been removed.  Paul learned the same thing in 2 Cor. 12.  After asking God three times to remove the thorn in the flesh that Paul assumed was only hurting his ministry, the Lord tells him that he is looking at his weaknesses in the wrong way; 2Co 12:8  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 2Co 12:9  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2Co 12:10  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I think one reason God comes and physically wrestles with Jacob is to impress upon him that Esau and Laban weren’t his enemies; his enemy was his flesh, his wisdom and his pride.  As long as he did things his way and not the Lord’s he was doomed for failure.  So in a very real sense Jacob’s enemy was the Lord because he was living in rebellion instead of trust and obedience.  Once he comes to terms with God and submits to him he can quit trusting in himself and face Esau confidently. 

This is important for all of us to understand.  Our enemies are not sickness, an ungodly spouse, a lack of money, persecution, etc.  Our enemy is this flesh that wants to turn every circumstance into an excuse to sin.  This is the opposite of the health and wealth gospel that tells us that God wants us to be happy in the flesh.  What I need is not more money or a stronger body but a faith and love for the Lord that enables me to be faithful no matter what the outward circumstances are.  Jacob was never stronger than when he limped up to Esau with a limp but also in the power of the Lord. 

Gen 32:31  The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.  Now as he goes to face uncertainty he goes in the light and strength of God.  In the world’s eyes we are cripples, 1Co 1:26  For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 1Co 1:27  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  But this is the only way we can show Christ’s glory to them.  There can be no stronger person than one with a spiritual limp; who understands that the Lord is his only strength.   What a wonderful verse, as the light of God now shines in his heart, he walks in humble obedience and faith.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The following messages are from our 2016 Bible Conference with Ed Moore.  Bro. Ed is the pastor of North Shore Baptist Church in Queens, NY.

You Shall Not Lie

All Things Work Together For Good

Encouragement, Part 1

Encouragement, Part 2

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Marriage Supper of the Lamb

Rev 19:6  Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Rev 19:7  Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; Rev 19:8  it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure"— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Rev 19:9  And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are the true words of God."

Throughout the Bible God’s people are compared to a bride and the Lord Jesus Christ as our husband.  In the above text we see that the fulfillment of our relationship to the Lord is yet future when we are brought to him without any remaining sin so that we might commune with him and enjoy him perfectly. 

On the one hand we are taught that only those clothed in the garments he supplies will be admitted, Mat 22:11  "But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.  Mat 22:12  And he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless.  We know that this is the imputed righteousness of Christ given to us so that we are acceptable to a holy God.

On the other hand we are told to be preparing ourselves for our wedding day; to clean up and put on clothes befitting the wife of the Lord.  We see this in vs. 8 above.  As we said the marriage relationship is used from the very beginning to describe the church’s relationship with Jesus and so it is fitting that Revelation shows its fulfillment.

In 19:2 the picture is that of a husband who has defeated those who are trying to defile and destroy his wife, Rev 19:2  for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants."    All that has tried to cause us to be unfaithful to the Lord will finally be gone forever.  The entire plan of redemption has finally come to pass and God has shown himself to be sovereign and gracious and worthy of all praise.  We also see another contrast in that while the marriages and relationships of this world have ended, for the saint the greatest relationship is just beginning.

All this is in keeping with the way the Jews normally arranged a marriage.  The first step was to be betrothed or engaged in which the terms of the marriage were made and announced.  From this point on they were considered man and wife though the relationship was not yet consummated; they live apart.  During this time the husband would pay the dowry to the bride’s father which was sometimes services rendered.  I liken that to the church being promised to the Son from eternity; in this case it was definitely an arranged marriage, so at some point the dowry was to be “paid”.  “From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride, with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.”  Someone has said that the entire OT announces the betrothal and when Jesus came the first time the betrothal took place and we are in the waiting interval.

Next, according to custom, on the day of the marriage supper (ceremony) the groom would come to the bride’s house with friends and take her home and they would have a wedding feast which could last for days.  Is that not what we are waiting for and what the text refers to?  Is not the church, the bride of Christ, waiting for him to come and take us back to his house that we might dwell together as we were purposed to live so long ago? 

But verse 8 should not be overlooked, “it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure"— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”   During this time we are to be adorning ourselves with that which would be pleasing to our husband just like a normal bride would, Rev 7:14  I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Whatever good works we clothe ourselves in it is because they are washed in the blood of the Lamb.  Whatever righteous things we do it is due to the grace of God but fix ourselves up we must.  What would we say of a bride who didn’t try to look attractive to her husband?  In this picture the bride is in her wedding dress waiting for her groom to come get her.  Wouldn’t she make sure to keep her dress white and if it gets dirty to keep it washed? 

We must be careful of using grace to defile ourselves.  Tit 2:11  For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, Tit 2:12  training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, Tit 2:13  waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, Tit 2:14  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Paul tells us in that the grace shown to us in salvation is to make us a perfect bride for the Lord.  Yet sometimes some who call themselves Christians think that they can live for this world and be unfaithful to the One who has already paid our dowry!  In the text in Titus Paul even seems to make an allusion to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in 13-14.  He bought us to be a faithful wife to him, not to give ourselves to the illicit lover of this world. 

It is no accident that immediately preceding Rev. 19 we read of the destruction of this world which is likened to a prostitute.  This motif is laid out throughout the Word so that we are without any excuse to live for this world.  We are betrothed to Christ and our wedding day is fast approaching.  Let us be busy preparing ourselves for that day by removing from our lives anything that dishonors him, 1Jn 3:3  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Clothed in Someone Else's Clothes

Gen 27:15  Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son.
Gen 27:16  And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck….
Gen 27:21  Then Isaac said to Jacob, "Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not."
Gen 27:22  So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, "The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau."
Gen 27:23  And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands. So he blessed him….
Gen 27:27  So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said, "See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed!

There is something in this account that reminds me of my own salvation.  By birth Jacob was not to inherit the blessing; this belonged to his elder brother Esau.  Esau was not only the first born but his father's favorite particularly because Esau cooked a wild game dish that Isaac loved.  Knowing that God had ordained, before they were born, that Jacob was to receive the blessing of the firstborn his mother Rebekah cooks up a rather elaborate plan to trick Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing. 

As the verses above tell us, Jacob gets his father’s blessing by dressing up in Esau’s clothes and making himself feel and smell like Esau and bringing him a meal that tasted like something Esau would have cooked.  One can’t help being reminded that this was the only way that we are accepted by our Heavenly Father.  We must be clothed in righteousness not our own but his.  He receives us based on his love for the Son so that now when he sees us he sees the righteousness of his Beloved Son.  If we come in the righteousness that we are born with, we would be cast out because we are by nature children of wrath.  

The Bible often uses this motif to illustrate this “substitution”.  Isa 61:10  I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Mat 22:11  "But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. Mat 22:12  And he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless.

Eze 16:8  "When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine.

Now some might object with this by saying that they are uncomfortable using Jacob’s deception as a type of our coming to the Father through the righteousness of another; after all we don’t trick the Father; it is his plan all along.  But I see this as an illustration and nothing more and in my mind probably an illustration that God intended by allowing things to work out the way they do.

The OT is full of some rather unsavory accounts all given to teach us about Christ and his work and his people.  I have asked myself why did God cause Jacob to get the blessing this particular way?  Why this sordid account of a wife and son deceiving Isaac and not just have Esau die or accepting the fact that he had given up his birthright earlier so that Jacob would not need to trick his father?  Maybe the answer is that this gives us such a stark illustration of how without being clothed in Jesus’ righteousness we have no hope to approach the Father.  

Hey, if you are uncomfortable saying that out loud, that is fine with me.  But either way it illustrates the way we are saved nonetheless and causes me to rejoice in the glory of the gospel of grace and I hope it does you too.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Ultimate Answer to Every Question

Rev 12:7  Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back.

Don Carson makes a great point while dealing with chapter 12 in Revelation and I thought I would pass some of it along.  This chapter begins the second major section in the book which gives us a behind the scenes look at the spiritual world which helps us understand what is going on in the physical realm.  I chose vs. 7 because it speaks directly of the war in the spiritual realm and how that affects things on the earth. 

It is essential for Christians to keep in mind that there is more to this world and life than just what they can see and feel.  One way to see this is by pointing out that for every question that has ever been asked from the beginning of time there is always two answers; and this gets back to what Carson said.  If you asked me why I have blue eyes we could answer that it is because of my parent's genes and go into all the biological explanations for how some genes are dominant and others are recessive. 

If we asked how is it that Hitler was able to rise to power in Germany there are plenty of historians who could explain all the politics of the time and the moral vacuum in Europe after WWI, etc.  If someone asked how is it that Jesus came to be crucified one could speak of the political intrigue in Judea at the time and how crucifixion was the form of punishment for sedition, etc.

But on one hand those are all surface level explanations.  At best they are secondary causes but there is a more important and fundamental answer to all questions and that is, “Because God did it”.  The first answer is the means by which he accomplishes his will.  And it is extremely important for us to never approach any question in life or any event or circumstance by merely being satisfied with the first answer.  I would say that if we don’t understand the second answer, the first explanation really doesn’t matter.  If we make everything about the physical world we end up dismissing God and the spiritual as if they don’t matter.

It is how the world lives to only look at surface level explanations for everything and there are two fundamental sins that result in this.  First of all, to look at this world by only being concerned with the secondary causes you have no reason or opportunity to give God glory or thanksgiving in everything.  If I am able to get a better job and I don’t acknowledge God as being behind it, then I might boast on my abilities or how lucky I was but I sin in the most fundamental way by not acknowledging that God is behind the supply of every need I have.  To rob God of the glory he is due is just another reason why we are all born deserving of his wrath.

Secondly, when we only acknowledge the physical realm we assume that there is no higher purpose than our physical needs and this causes us to demean the purpose of everything from something that is to be used to serve the Lord in the Kingdom of God to using everything to serve man.  So, for instance, someone discovers a cure for a deadly disease and it is used to save lives but the lost can see no higher purpose than saving human life whereas they should want to save human life so that those humans can serve the Lord.  It always ends up making man the highest purpose for everything.  (To be honest, there are plenty of people out there who see animals and the planet as more important than human life but that is another subject)

This again is one of the worst sins mankind is capable of because not only do they not give God glory but they don’t even acknowledge him as the ultimate reason for all things and in most cases don’t acknowledge him at all. 

So for us saints it is imperative that we never look at anything only as how it affects us or as if it was just a coincidence or as if there is anything that really has no meaning or purpose.  We must always understand that God is behind everything, the good and the bad, the painful and the pleasant because there is nothing that happens apart from his eternal counsels.  Even when the wicked rebel against his revealed will, it is merely because he has allowed it to serve his eternal purposes.  This will cause us to worship him in faith and thanksgiving and also cause us to use everything as an opportunity to serve him and not just ourselves and it will certainly help stop us from complaining about the providential workings of the Lord.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Aaron's Rod That Budded

Num 17:8  On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. Num 17:9  Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the LORD to all the people of Israel. And they looked, and each man took his staff. Num 17:10  And the LORD said to Moses, "Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die."

The occasion that brought about Aaron’s rod that budded is one of the most tragic in all the years of Israel’s wilderness journey.  It begins in chapter 16 where the sons of Korah decide that they are just as holy as Moses and Aaron and should be able to be priests also even though they were not of Aaron’s line but instead only from Levi.  They served as Levi’s but were not priests.  We can hear their arrogance in Num 16:3  They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, "You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?

There are two problems with their attitude.  First of all they have no regard for the God ordained authority in their lives.  This is something I have seen over and over again in my years of ministry.  People, both men and women but usually men, who decide that they are as qualified as those ordained into the ministry and called by the church to lead  because they cannot submit to God’s way of doing things.  But the men of Korah’s problem was that God had already chosen a leader and priest and so whether they could do the job or not was not the issue.  In rebelling against Moses and Aaron they were in direct opposition to God.  They tell Moses and Aaron that they have “gone too far” in taking upon themselves the leadership roles which of course was not true as Moses tried to get out of it but the Lord made it clear that he and Aaron were the men to do this work.  Moses later turns it around and tells them that in fact they have gone too far in usurping the authority that God had ordained.

The second issue here is that they were challenging the typology of the priests under the Old Covenant.  Two hundred fifty of these self-ordained leaders brought their own censors to burn incense before the Lord at the Tabernacle which was something reserved only for the priests.  So over the next couple of days the Lord deals with these rebels by swallowing up the men and their families and their possessions.  Their rebellion had destroyed their families as well.  I have seen this also when men who feel they must be the sole authority in their own life and cannot submit to the church and certainly their wives cannot submit to the elders of the church so take them away that they can be their own “priests” for their families and rule them in their arrogance.  Often they destroy any healthy spiritual atmosphere.

The next day we see that even watching the earth swallow up all these people isn’t enough of a warning for some.  The congregation accuses their leaders of killing the people of Korah as if it was Moses and Aaron and not the Lord that opened up the earth and sent fire down to consume the rest.  The influence of the malcontents has rubbed off on them and the Lord almost destroys them all but stops through Moses’s intercession.

And so in chapter 17 God proves once and for all that Aaron and his family alone is to be priests by having leaders of all the tribes bring their walking sticks and lay them up before the Tabernacle and the one that buds the next day is to be considered proof that that family alone is to be the priests. 

It is here that we see how all this points to the importance of the type of the High Priest.  It has always been a temptation for some to think that they can come before God and do the work of atonement and intercession on their own.  But Act 4:12 says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."  Just as God said only Aaron was to be the High Priest so Jesus was proclaimed to be the only savior.  The budding rod shows why Jesus alone is our Redeemer.  We are all dead in trespasses and sin but only One was sinless and died and came back to life and that was Jesus Christ.  Just as there was only one rod that had life in it so Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. 

There were three objects placed in the Ark: the tables of stone, the bowl of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded.  It wasn’t the stone tablets first given to Moses as he broke them to symbolize the people breaking the Law even as they were being given.  This was the second copy which speaks of Jesus perfectly obeying the Law when we could not.  He is also the heavenly manna, the Bread of Life come down from Heaven.  And the rod speaks of his identity as the only High Priest. 

It is a tragic sin to reject any authority that God ordains but when you reject the One ordained from all eternity to take your place under the judgment of God, you “go too far” and you have only the judgment of God to look forward to.  May the Lord give us hearing ears to understand and obey his Word.

Friday, July 29, 2016

We are Either a Jacob or an Esau

Gen 25:29  Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. Gen 25:30  And Esau said to Jacob, "Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!" (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Gen 25:31  Jacob said, "Sell me your birthright now." Gen 25:32  Esau said, "I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?"
Gen 25:33  Jacob said, "Swear to me now." So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Gen 25:34  Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

I find this account very interesting in that it puts before us two types of people.  One can make a case that the Bible contrasts these two types throughout its pages.  In this case we have Jacob who is concerned for his future and does what he can to secure it and Esau who lives for immediate satisfaction with no regard to his distant future.  He is like the worldling who lives for the next “fix” or pleasure.  They will do anything to have it and will sell their own souls to get it.  Implicit in the text is that the birthright isn’t just concerned with their inheritance from their father Isaac but their connection to the Messiah and ultimately their salvation.

Notice some things in the above verses.  In vs. 30 Esau models an example for us that we must be careful to reject.  A Christian is to be moderate in all things so that nothing holds such power over us that we cannot serve God.  It would appear Esau was not used to saying no to himself.  He could have eaten a lot cheaper if he had waited a few minutes.  The writer of Hebrews bears this out when he states that Esau sold his birthright for a single meal.  His lack of discipline is amazing in that he didn’t even take the time to compare the value of one meal with his natural and spiritual inheritance.  But how many do this today?  For a fleeting moment of pleasure they will trade their family, job, and even their souls.  It is an investment in which there is no return.  The name Edom was a derogatory name which means red.  For some red stew he sold his inheritance.  It is foolish to live for that which you cannot take with you.

In vs. 32 we see his lack of control and rashness by him overstating his condition.  We should be careful of overstatement.  He was not about to die.  We sometimes use similar phrases, “I am starving to death”, “It was the worst thing that ever happened to me”, “I hate him”; “I love that more than anything”.  It is a sinful flaw in us when we overstate the importance of temporal things.  Even if he was about to die he shows his disregard for the promises made to his grandfather concerning the coming Savior.  When we Christians use such over statements we are in a sense denying our faith; certainly our faith in the Lord.  Such temporal things are not the “worst” thing that ever happened to us; we are not to love temporal things that much.  How different are the glorified saints in Revelation described, Rev_12:11  And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

Christianity is not putting the flesh first but our God; it is not being rash, uncontrolled and overly emotional and unthinking but bringing every thought captive to Christ.  Notice vs. 34, once he gets his fix, he is off again like nothing happened.  What a cheap price for his inheritance.  How animalistic; how ungodly; how sad is his life.  It is one of the saddest verses in the Bible.

I mentioned that the Bible contrasts these two types of people throughout its pages; those that live for eternity with God and those that live for the momentary, passing pleasures of sin.  We see this in Revelation 13.  In that chapter there are those that worship the Lamb who was slain and those that worship the Beast who slays.  Of the first group we read, Rev 13:9  If anyone has an ear, let him hear: Rev 13:10  If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.  Earlier Jesus tells those who will not love their lives unto death but instead live for eternity, Rev 2:7  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.'  Jesus says in chapter 13 that the suffering for living for the future and not the immediate is going to come and so it is a call to persevere.  We only need persevere in things that are difficult, not easy.  Perseverance is living in the opposite way Esau lived.  It is to accept hunger for future reward.

It is said of the other group, Rev 13:15  And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Rev 13:16  Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, Rev 13:17  so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name

The world will do whatever it must to survive until the next day, to have as much fun as it can from day to day.  This is what it means to receive the mark of the beast.  Being able to buy and sell and keep this body alive is more important than thinking about where their souls will spend eternity.  And so we see Jacob and Esau contrasted in Revelation 13 just like we do in Genesis 25.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Do You Believe in Karma?

Rev 20:11  Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. Rev 20:12  And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. Rev 20:13  And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Rev 20:14  Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. Rev 20:15  And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

The above passage sets forth the basic biblical teaching of the general judgment that awaits all mankind when Christ comes back.  It is pretty plain that those saved by the grace of God in Christ Jesus will live forever with God and those whose names are not found in the Book of Life will spend eternity in the fires of Hell.

Unfortunately America has become thoroughly secularized so that if you ask people on the street if there is a judgment or hereafter or any accountability after death by far the answer you will get the most will not be based on the Bible at all.  Listening recently to just such a survey all the answers either brought in a sense of Karma or just a sappy, “If I do more good than bad, I will be Okay”, or both. 

It is amazing how even those who call themselves Christians will refer to Karma as how life and death generally work.  They assume that what goes around will come around when it comes to the hereafter.  Of course, they have neither studied Karma nor the Bible and so even though they are nominal Christians, their doctrine of the judgment is thoroughly pagan because humanism and paganism is allowed to be taught in the schools and airwaves but not the Bible.

The next time you hear someone say they believe in Karma ask them to explain Karma to you.  You can pretty much be sure you will hear an Americanized form of it that isn’t biblical and isn’t Hindu either.  The fact is that Karma teaches that one pays for past life’s sins in the following life until you finally are freed from earthly existence entirely after countless life cycles.  But here is the kicker.  If one is suffering in this life it is because of something they did in a previous life and so to be relieved of suffering means that you will have to suffer at some point in the future or you will never move to a higher level of existence. 

This helps explain why social conditions in a place like India have always been so deplorable and continue to be so.  Karma works well with the caste system or we might say the caste system is a result of Karma.  Charity work was pretty much unheard of before the English brought Christianity and reform to India.  That is because if you see people who are suffering you mustn’t give them relief because you aren’t allowing them to pay for their sins.  On the other hand if you are born into wealth, you must have deserved it and so it is perfectly acceptable to look down on the less fortunate. 

In other words, what forms the basis for western civilization when it comes to human rights and charity is turned on its head in societies that hold to Karma or a system of judgment similar to it.  So the next time you hear someone say they believe in Karma find out if they do or not and you have an opening to give the gospel of grace.  Karma is just impersonal law keeping in which grace has no part.  Some mindless, nameless force makes sure that every bad thing we do will be paid for with no hope of escape.  Grace is God paying the price for our sin so that we can escape the punishment. 

And by all means let’s make sure we don’t use terms like Karma that just causes more confusion and darkness in a world that is too dark to begin with.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Controlling Nature of Sin

Gen 19:9  But they said, "Stand back!" And they said, "This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them." Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down.
Gen 19:10  But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door.
Gen 19:11  And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.

Perhaps no passage in the Bible depicts the controlling nature of sin like the account of the homosexuals of Sodom.  As the two angels come into town to rescue Lot and his family the entire male population, “down to the last man” saw the visitors as merely sexual objects.  It didn’t matter that they were human being created in God’s image, as they would have assumed they were human; they saw them only as something to use and discard.  And of course, this is common with all sexual sin. 

But it is the above text that is truly hard to believe.  As they are trying to beat the door down to get at these men, they are struck blind.  Now you have to put yourself in their shoes.  It is dark and perhaps they had torches but all of the sudden you can’t see anything.  You might at first think that someone put out the torches but in a second or two you realize you can’t see.  You yell for help, telling anyone who will listen that you can’t see.  At the same time everyone else is relating the same thing. 

Now I am pretty sure that as a Christian who is pretty familiar with biblical morality; if I found myself engaged in a questionable activity with some others and we are all struck blind at the same time that the first thing I would think is, “maybe someone is trying to tell us something”.  But these men obviously didn’t have the Holy Spirit indwelling them and their conscience had been seared long ago in all likelihood. 

Being struck blind is merely seen as an inconvenience in their attempt to commit sexual perversion.  Instead of trying to make it home safely they actually wear themselves out looking for the door.  This has to be one of the starkest accounts of sinfulness that is found in the Bible.  It should remind us of how sin can control us and dupe us into thinking that what we want is more important than anything or anyone else no matter who we hurt. 

Unfortunately the controlling nature of sin is something that Christians must be aware of and do battle with.  I can think of plenty of times in which I wanted something so badly, whether it was my way or some object, that I had little regard for Christ’s will or how others were affected.  While it is easy to point a judgmental finger at these guys, it is easy to see that I sin in similar ways all the time. 

In fact, in this account we see righteous Lot showing a rather unbelievable lack of faith in verses 16-20.  He sees how wicked these guys are first hand, he is reduced to offering his daughters in exchange for the angels, he sees the angels strike the men of the town blind and yet he is hesitant to leave. 

Then apparently after being miraculously lifted and carried outside of the city he then proceeds to argue with the heavenly messengers that he knows best where he needs to flee.  Evidently God was smart enough to save him from Sodom’s destruction but not able to take care of him in the place where he tells him to flee.

But that is what sin does; it has us believing that we know better than the Lord.  I have had people come to me for help with the results of years of sin in their lives but when I direct them to church and to listen to what God tells them to do, they want none of it.  They might be miserable in their sin but one thing they know is that they are not going to give up their sin and certainly not submit to God.

And it is particularly sad when Christians’ pride and lusts have such control over them that no matter who they hurt and how much their lives fall apart they only get angry if you try to direct them back to where the Lord would have them.  They will argue with you and tell you that your theology is wrong but their view isn’t helping them at all!  

Yes, this chapter teaches a lot about sexual perversion but it teaches more about the deceitfulness of sin that we all are only a step or two away from.  May God grant us a tender conscience and a repentant spirit so that we can recognize when our sin is controlling the way we are living.  I think too often I see myself in this chapter more than I see the sin of homosexuality.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Christian Logic

Heb 11:17  By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, Heb 11:18  of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." Heb 11:19  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back

The account of Abraham rising up early in the morning in obedience to the Lord to offer his son as a sacrifice has to be the quintessential example of faith in the Bible and surely why it is used here in Hebrews 11.  At the heart of his faith and obedience to such a difficult task is simply that he believed God and so he believed what God said about the reality of things and acted accordingly.  This sounds simplistic but I think it is something that we all struggle with more than we might think.

In verse 19 the word for “considered” is an accounting term.  Strong says it literally means to take inventory but there are several ways to use it.  Perhaps we can sum it up by pointing out that Abraham took all that God had said and all that he had done and came to the only biblical, godly conclusion he could have.  This is biblical accounting or math.  It is to believe what God says about our lives and act accordingly. 

As he leaves for Moriah he expects his son to come back with him because God has told him that in Isaac’s offspring all the nations shall be blessed.  So whatever happens, even if he kills his son, he knows that God will have to raise him up from the dead because God doesn’t lie and he hadn’t lied to Abraham for a 100 plus years and so he wasn’t going to start now. 

His faith wasn’t some vague idea of what he thought God should be like but his faith was based on what God had revealed about himself.  He took God’s word seriously and acted accordingly.   The commands and promises of God are what we build our life upon and are what guides us when making decisions and all of the cries of this world to do what they say and not what the Bible says has nothing to do with how a Christian is to think.  The reality of the true God always trumps the logic of the world and the flesh. 

But too often when God leads us to make such a painful sacrifice we assume that God must be erratic, but this had not been Abraham’s experience with God.  His experience had been that everything God had said came true and that God was able to do whatever he had promised and so the wise thing to do was to obey him.  So sure was Abraham of God that he was willing to plunge a knife into Isaac and live with that picture in his mind for the rest of his life because he knew that God would bring him back to life.  So Abraham acts in a way that is consistent with his knowledge of God.  He doesn’t question but waits to see how God would work things out.  No doubt this is what enables him to get up early to obey God.  Too often we would assume God is not being fair; we would make it clear that we will not be full of joy and contentment and will not give all glory to the Lord.  We will sit at home and mope or lash out at our loved ones or be generally unhappy but the question should be will we rise up early to fight the good fight?

Are we willing to do biblical accounting by adding the truth of the Word up with the promises of God in Christ Jesus and live in light of the results?  Even though Abraham fully expected the Lord to raise his son back up, he would never forget seeing the blade cut into his son’s body and his life ebb away.  Yet he accepts this and rises early.  Remember verse 3 says that Abraham split the wood that would burn his son’s body; he didn’t have the servants do it.  How could he have done this without going mad?  He had to know that God would have a resolution to this.  This is the only thing that will keep our minds when God would take away our loved ones or send some other severe trial.  Our God will make all things right.

Part of the idea with this word “consider” is thinking logically about something.  He worked all this out in his mind and his understanding of God.  After all, God is not a liar and his salvation lay in Isaac’s descendant.  Therefore, his son must live again!  He wasn’t working with numbers but it is the same principle. 

Just like 2 plus 2 will always equal 4 so the Lord says that when we obey it will always work out for good.  It means that his ways are the right ways and our ways will always end in failure, Pro 14:12  There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.  This isn’t fuzzy logic, God’s reality doesn’t change, whatsoever a man sows, that will he reap.

Have we learned to think according to God’s principles or do we think this world and our flesh know best?  To be willing to think before we act and react takes discipline.  It is much harder than just living in the flesh and doing what everyone else does but one way glorifies the Lord and the other glorifies our sin and ends in a miserable life and eventual death.  Is this how we think as we journey through this life?  Do we take what we have learned about God and make decisions and react accordingly?  If we react rashly, emotionally erratic, if we are overcome with depression or anger, if we act in any other way than total submission to God, if we do anything other than rise up early in obedience, there is room for growth in our faith and love for God.

If you are saying to yourself, “There is no way I would or even should do what Abraham did, then you don’t have the faith of Abraham and you don’t know the God of Abraham.  When you come to know God as your loving Heavenly Father, who cares for you more than any earthly father ever could, you can give Him everything in your life and know that He will not abuse you, in spite of how circumstances may appear. 

When we see God’s great love for us as seen in His not sparing His own Son, but giving Him up for us all, our response should be, as Isaac Watts put it, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” Give yourself and all that is precious to you to the Lord. He will bless you and give you great joy.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Praying for the Kingdom of God

Mat 6:10  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Rev 4:8  And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"
Rev 4:9  And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever,
Rev 4:10  the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
Rev 4:11  "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."

As I was preaching through Revelation 4 Sunday Matthew 6:10 popped into my mind.  John sees in his vision, among other things, Cherubim standing by the throne of God.  Ezekiel sees them in his vision of the throne of God back in Ezekiel chapter 1.  In both cases the prayer that the Lord taught us to pray comes to mind. 

In Ezekiel these living creatures appear to be inside of wheels that turned in every direction.  When the Spirit of the Lord gave a command they flashed away like streaks of lightning without turning.  I take this to mean that their obedience was instantaneous so much so that they didn’t even have to turn around; they just went.

What we find them doing in Revelation is constantly proclaiming the holiness of God along with his eternality and omnipotence in their praise in verse 8.  It appears that every so often at some prearranged signal the elders (who I take to be angels as well) join them in verse 11 and proclaim that the Lord God deserves all praise and honor and power because of his right as the creator of all things.

In Matthew 6 Jesus tells his disciples that the first things they should pray for is the proper respect for the Father’s name and that his will would be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  From Ezekiel and Revelation it would seem that God’s will is being done instantaneously and everything that is being said and done ends up in worship and honor of the Lord. 

To see this as merely praying that the Lord would come back and set up his kingdom on earth I think pretty much misses the mark.  First of all, his kingdom has already been established on earth but I will not take time to develop that thought.  I see his kingdom being established on earth as it is in Heaven in a two-fold way.
First of all in an evangelistic sense.  The world of the lost is not obeying or honoring God at all.  And so one way we see the kingdom advancing is when souls are brought into the kingdom by the preaching of the gospel and all of the sudden where you had rebellion you now have obedience to the will of God.  And so we are to pray that the Lord would use the gospel to convert sinners, subdue their hearts and bring peace and holiness to their lives where before there was conflict and unrighteousness.

But an even more practical way to ask for this kingdom on earth is to ask God to work in our hearts so that our obedience and worship looks more like what John sees in Revelation and less like what we see in the world.  I think the thing that hit me while I was preaching was how unlike the throne room my life really looks.  I do not see the constant worship of God in my heart as I ought; too many times my prayers do not have the glory of God as their focus; too often I make my normal decisions during the day based on what pleases me in the immediate and I don’t stop and consider what would bring the most glory to the Lord nearly as much as I should; too often my obedience is not immediate but only after I make some initial unfortunate remark or display some ungodly attitude. Then I remember that it is not I that am to be served but the Lord and then I obey but not nearly as soon as I should have. 

So while I want the Lord to come back and set up the consummated kingdom soon, I have much more pressing things to pray for.  I need to be burdened for the salvation of the lost so that more and more sinners are saved from Hell’s fires and are transformed into Christ’s image.  But really my first prayer needs to be that my life, my heart, my mind becomes more and more a place that looks like the very throne room of God in Heaven.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Who Controlled the Writing of the Word of God?

2Pe 1:21  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

One thing I have learned in 37 years of preparing Bible lessons and sermons is that most doctrines relate in some way to the attributes of God.  If we get the doctrines of the person and nature of God wrongly we many times will develop shortcomings in other areas of the Bible.  Most notably when we see the Lord as anything other than absolutely sovereign in all things or that he hasn’t ordained every detail of history to work out exactly as he has determined before the world began.   If instead one assumes that man or Satan or nature can act independently of his decrees so that at times things happen that he does not want to happen but was unable to control, we find ourselves unable to deal biblically with his providence because we don’t see trials as providence but bad things overcoming the providence of a loving but weak God.

When we deny God’s sovereignty in every detail we also set ourselves up for weakness in another area; the infallible, inspiration of the Bible.  To be fair there are plenty of people who deny God is sovereign in all things that do believe that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, but their doctrine of God makes them inconsistent.  Many more, because they don’t really believe God can do what the Bible says he can do assume that the Bible is merely a few men’s attempt to write down some things they experienced but we should not think that God actually led them to write down only what he wanted them to, no more and no less.  This second group is consistent, the first group is not.  Let me try to explain.

While the Calvinist states that all men are dependent on the Lord initiating and effectually calling, saving and justifying them and that left to their own devises no man can be saved, the Arminian argues that all men have a morally free will that can tell God no or choose to believe but that it is the individual and not God that makes the final determination.  This is an old debate and I will not address it in this article but let me say that this position causes another problem.

If man can resist the sovereign leading of God then who is to say that the writers of the Bible didn’t add a few of their own thoughts while writing their books?  If they didn’t add words how do we know that they didn’t delete a few ideas that they didn’t like?  Once you take a position that God cannot force anyone to do his will, even by making him willing, you undermine the infallible, inspiration of the entire Bible.  You can’t have it both ways; we can resist the Holy Spirit’s sovereign role in saving the elect one moment but that God can absolutely make sure we do just what he wants us to do the next moment. 

It is a little like the atheist who wants to live with a moral worldview that he owes to the God of the Bible while he denies the very God who has given us our sense of morality.  So the Arminian wants to believe that God is sovereign to move men to write down his infallible words and make it to Heaven someday but refuses to believe that he is powerful enough to overrule the affairs of men and angels.  But the fact of the matter is that the only way God can know how the history of man was going to end thousands of years into the future is if he is in total control of every detail, at all times and in all things.  This is the God we worship when we gather at church and I don’t think worship that robs him of his power and glory is worship worthy of our Lord.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Root and the Shoot

Isa 11:1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. Isa 11:10  In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

Rev 22:16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."

There are many ways the divinity of Jesus and his eternal nature are taught in Scripture.  Some are rather obvious as the prologue of the Gospel of John and others are mentioned in an almost matter of fact way couched in a metaphor as in the above verses.  What I like about these verses is that it shows the unity of the Old and New Testaments as they teach the divinity of Jesus.

In Isa. 11:1 Isaiah prophesies that the Messiah shall shoot forth as a branch from the dead stump of Jesse.  After the Babylonian captivity the kingly line all but disappeared from the world stage.  The Monarchy was for all appearances dead.  But when Jesus came to earth born of the line of Jesse, the stump all of the sudden is alive again.  In this case Jesse was the root from which Jesus sprung forth as Isa. 11:1 states as well as Rev 5:5  And one of the elders said to me, "Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."  In Revelation David is the root or progenitor of Jesus’ humanity.

But in Isa. 11:10 the Messiah is all of the sudden referred to as the root of Jesse!  So who is coming from whom?  Isaiah didn’t make a typo nor was he confused because Jesus as the eternal Son of God is the source of all life and yet in the incarnation he was born of the virgin Mary of the lineage of David. 

But just to seal the deal Jesus at the very end of the Bible brings this all together in Rev. 22:16 above where he states plainly that he is at the same time the root of David and yet a descendant of David; he is the root and the shoot!  He isn’t just saying that he existed before Jesse and David which could be taken to mean at some point he came into existence before they did.  By saying that he is the root he is claiming that Jesse and David came from him thereby claiming to be the God of creation.  If that wasn’t enough back in vs. 13 he says it another way, Rev 22:13  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."  He couldn’t have come into existence because nothing was before him.  

No wonder all creation gives him the worship reserved for God alone in Rev. 5; Rev 5:12  saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" Rev 5:13  And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" Rev 5:14  And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped.