An Indictment (Part Two)

Hosea 4:1-3

Cursing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery are rampant; one act of bloodshed follows another. For this reason the land mourns, and everyone who lives in it languishes, along with the wild animals and the birds of the sky; even the fish of the sea disappear (4:2-3 CSB).

Next we see that Israel was involved in multiple violations of the law covenant. Israel transgressed specific commands, and each one was a violation of her covenant duty to the Lord. Where positive godliness is absent, we may expect to find outright breaking of God’s law.

  • Cursing (Deuteronomy 5:11) – the third command
  • Lying (Deuteronomy 5:20) – the ninth command
  • Murder (Deuteronomy 5:17) – the sixth command
  • Stealing (Deuteronomy 5:19) – the eighth command
  • Adultery (Deuteronomy 5:18) – the seventh command

This sounds like contemporary western civilization, doesn’t it?

Such immorality produces a chaotic situation. Sin and peace do not agree. Where one is present, the other is not. The contempt and spurning of God’s main laws leads to the general disregard of all laws. You can’t remove the foundation of a tower from under it, and not have the tower fall upon you. Today, we experience the tragic consequences of sexual immorality and greed. How many poor people are exploited? Are you feeling the crush of the growing disparity between the rich (a few) and the poor (an ever-increasing number)? How many women have been sexually abused? What of the growing sexual and physical abuse against helpless children? Western society is running toward the precipice of total ruin.

When God and his laws are abandoned, people lose the value of human life. Self-gratification and violence against all who oppose any individual’s pleasures have become the principles of this “post-Christian” lifestyle.

We Christians have an opportunity in our day to show that God has more for people than a perverted individualism. In the church God is building a new society, in which peace is the governor (Colossians 3:15) and love (Ephesians 5:2) is the basic principle of conduct. We must take advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate what community is.

And so, old covenant Israel fell under the heavy consequences of sin. What was the reason for these consequences? God was fulfilling his threat concerning disobedience of the law covenant (Deuteronomy 28). Physical blessings were promised to Israel, if they obeyed (28:1-14). But physical ruin would surely come, if they broke God’s law (28:15-68). We need to come to terms with the Biblical idea of God’s kindness and sternness (Romans 11:22).

Sadly, Israel had nothing to expect but disaster. In poetic speech, the land itself went into mourning. All creation is affected by human sin. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places (Matthew 24:27b).

All this points to our need for repentance, individually and nationally. America is not God’s nation; instead, the church is (Ephesians 2:11-22). However, we all, from whatever countries of the world, are part of political nations that will give account to God for their wickedness. Let us turn away from the breaking of God’s laws, mourn over our people’s transgressions, and seek God’s mercy. Then may God give us grace to be faithful, to be kind, and to know him ever more richly.

Grace and peace, David

Fill Them, Lord (Part Two)

Romans 15:13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (NIV).

In our previous article on this text, we saw that the apostle Paul concluded the teaching part of the letter to the Romans with a prayer. He began the prayer with worship and then stated his request for his brothers and sisters in Christ in Rome. In this request, we discover what the Christian life should be like. Joy and peace are two substantial parts of God’s righteous kingdom. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval (Romans 14:17-18 NIV). Paul prayed that his readers would have a large amount of joy and peace. It would be a strange cake that lacked flour and sugar. It is even stranger to live as a follower of Christ and show only little peace and little joy.

Both joy in God and peace of conscience arise from a practical awareness of justification. (cf. Romans 5:1-2). Peace with God is the foundation for the peace of God in one’s life. There is still spiritual progress to be made from the time of justification, what Peter calls growth in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18). We cannot become more right with God, but we can have a richer experience of his great joy and peace.

Paul did not neglect the importance of faith in the Christian life. It is good to pray, but there must be more than prayer. We must pray in faith. Prayer without faith is a dead, meaningless ritual. Prayer with faith is living and dynamic. Consider prayer for the sick. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven (James 5:15 NIV). Faith must have the correct object: as you trust in him. We live as Christians when we take our eyes off ourselves and look on Christ (Ephesian 3:12). We need to live according to what someone called “Pioneer theology”. For example, do you view Christ as the sheriff who is out to get the settlers in town if they break the rules, or as the scout whom you gladly want to follow on the journey to heaven?

In the third part of the prayer, Paul declared his purpose. He wanted them to reflect the character of God. This is the goal of the new creation. Cf. Ephesians 4:24: and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (NIV). Let’s rid ourselves of small outlooks. Paul requested overflowing hope! Who would use an old, battered, sputtering push lawn mower if he had a new lawn tractor in the garage? Can you imagine the sweating fellow saying, “I console myself during my frustrations with the thoughts of the better one in the garage.” Silly guy! Use the new one!

The means is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. All progress in likeness to God is the result of the Spirit’s work within us. As we by his grace become confident of treasures in heaven, we will become better witnesses of Christ. His divine power is required in our growth in grace. He makes the new self that we are in Christ advance against the remnants of sin and conquer them. Some view the work of the Holy Spirit in the wrong way. They think his job is to make them feel comfortable with the status quo. But his goal is to stir us up so that we overcome the world by grace that is found in Jesus Christ.

Why do we need this hope? It will serve as an anchor to the soul, to keep it safe and steady, during life’s storms and tempests. To the degree that this prayer is answered in reference to any individual Christian, to that degree he or she will be holy, happy, useful, and full of love and good works. The same is true for a local church. As it is made up of people who are overflowing with hope, so it will grow and multiply. It will then be pure, peaceful and energetic “for promoting the glory of God and the happiness of mankind” (Brown).

Grace and peace, David

A Warning to Churches

img_08593 John 1:9-10

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church (ESV).

A local church is a spiritual family, a gathering of brothers and sisters in Christ, children of the Father in heaven, a temple of the Holy Spirit. These truths set forth what we are because of God’s grace. An assembly of the Lord’s people should joyfully celebrate the blessings of grace and radiate love for one another. It is to be the place where all are welcomed and accepted for Christ’s sake. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7 ESV). As the old hymn says, “When we walk with the Lord in the light of his Word, what a glory he sheds on our way!” Being with people who are jointly being transformed from one degree of glory to another should be a foretaste of heaven (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Sadly, this is not always so. The Apostle John warns us about this sad truth in the above words from his third letter. There are people, who while they profess that a local church is a gathering of believers, think it is a group of people for them to control. They love power and preeminence rather than people. John unmasks these people for what they are – they are lovers of self (cf. 2 Timothy 3:2). In their heart, they have a problem with authority, not theirs of course, but with God’s authority, which John exercised as an apostle of Jesus Christ. They refuse to humble themselves to the authority of the word and then to act with love and respect toward their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Two evils come from such wickedness, which often masquerades as holiness (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15). First, they talk wicked nonsense against other leaders in the church. They tell falsehoods about them, portraying them as out of step, outdated, incompetent, or having an agenda that won’t attract the world. Second, they refuse to welcome the brothers. Obviously, this does not refer to everyone in the church, or they would not have anyone to rule over. It means people in a local church that are not of their class, burdensome, or otherwise less than desirable. They imagine the church as a sophisticated, classy group is filled with beautiful people – in worldly eyes. They need to submit to 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. For this reason, they force out people that don’t measure up to the kind of church members they desire. Those who try to stand up to their wickedness are put out as discontents and troublemakers.

Since this kind of people worm their way into churches, the Apostle John warned Gaius against them. We should not be naïve. It happens too often. It can happen in any kind of church, organic or institutional, because pride works in all hearts. John also told Gaius that he planned to act against the wicked Diotrephes, if he could come. Like Peter and Paul, John had special power as apostles to set matters right. Read Acts 5:1-11 for a fearful example. But John did not know if he could go to help Gaius, so he hints at the action that the church ought to take against the evil man trying to rule over people.

This is an unpleasant subject to consider. At times the friends of godliness finds themselves outnumbered and their local Diotrephes acts against them. Do not be discouraged. The Lord knows those who belong to him. What we all should gain is what the Lord intends for his churches. They are to be gatherings of love, joy, and peace; they are to be partners in spreading the good news of the Lord and Savior everywhere. Pray for your group. Strive to keep it a church where the peace of Christ rules in everyone’s hearts!

Grace and peace, David

Up and Down

dscn37922 Chronicles 20:26-37

One day I took Shelby, our old cockapoo, to the vet. During the visit the doctor and his assistant asked me about my sermon title for the week. I replied, “It’s ‘Up and Down’.” And the vet quipped, what is that about—the economy?” And I responded in jest, “No, it’s about the stock market.” Actually, this article is about neither, for which I am glad. Nor is the intent to provide a segue to talk about the negativity in our culture. For example, why don’t we say, “Down and up”? We naturally say, “Up and down,” concluding with the negative. I will leave the topic for those so disposed to ponder such esoteric matters. Instead, the title simply reflects what happened near the end of Jehoshaphat’s reign as king of Judah. By God’s grace, some positive events occurred, but by yielding to wrong desires in their hearts, some negative outcomes happened.

The blessing of the Lord acknowledged and extended (20:26-30). The people responded in praise (20:26-28).

  • They gathered to praise: a deliberate, planned praise. Some wrongly suppose that real praise must be spontaneous. It can be, but the Lord also delights in praise that flows from in planning, rehearsals and artistic compositions. It is good to plan special events of praise, such as a Thanksgiving Praise Service, in which everyone is encouraged to stand and tell others what the Lord has done for them.
  • They gathered to praise: an intense time of praise. Imagine giving yourself over to praise the Lord for a whole day! There could be times of singing, reading praise psalms together, and sharing about how the Lord has kept you and blessed you. Where does praise like this come from? It comes from the heart, because out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). They knew that the Lord had given them cause to rejoice (20:27). The reality of salvation from their enemies sparked this desire for praise. It is that same reality that ignites true praise in the people of God today.

How does this happen for us? It flows out from hearts thrilled by redeeming, cross-centered love, resurrection hope, and ascension joy. It happens as the Spirit of God takes what is true of the Lord Jesus Christ and makes it real, very real in our souls.

The Lord gave them peace (20:29-30). The message about the Lord’s victory produced fear in the unbelieving nations around them. God rules in the hearts of people. As he defeated the armies by a panic, so here he kept Judah in peace by producing great fear in the hearts of the ungodly. From Jehoshaphat’s perspective, the peace came as a gift from God. Every enemy is defeated, and they could rest. How we long for such days! Most of my life has been filled with two tragic wars: the Cold War and the War against Terrorism, in addition to Korea, Vietnam, the two Gulf Wars, and endless conflicts and civil wars around the world. How quickly that brief period of peace after the Cold War passed. Yet that is the character of the last days: wars and rumors of wars. Jehoshaphat and his people had a special blessing from God.

So then, we ought to praise the Lord for greatest peace, which is peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). But do you have peace with God? Or do you feel a deep unrest in your soul, wondering if God is really on your side? You may have peace by believing in Jesus who died and rose again, in order that people might be right with God.

Sadly, there were false steps at the end (20:31-37). One was the incomplete reformation of religion (20:31-34). Jehoshaphat lived rightly in many ways. He sought the Lord, kept himself from idols, and tried to lead his people into total commitment to the Lord God. However, he could not accomplish two things. He failed to remove the high places, where sacrifices had been offered prior to the building of the temple. This led the people from the purity of worship that God demanded. You see, we may not worship God as we choose. The old covenant people were required to worship in Jerusalem at the temple with the sacrifices that God required. We who are God’s new covenant people must only worship God through Jesus Christ, our better temple, perfect priest and spotless sacrifice. Christ and the gospel are the focus of our ongoing relationship with God, and not a place nor a system of rituals. Today, the Reformation is still incomplete. Far too many who call themselves Christians still focus on their own “high places”, instead of the reality of Christ. Far too many seek God through ritualistic forms, instead of according to the Scriptures alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone—to God alone be the glory! Let us pursue an ongoing reformation of faith and practice.

The real problem was that the people did not have a heart for God. The law could not give this. It only comes by grace, as the Spirit takes the Word and breathes life into people, so that they have a change of mind and believe in Jesus. Has this happened to you?

Almost unbelievably, Jehoshaphat made another alliance with the ungodly (20:35-37). You almost want to cry out as you read these final verses about Jehoshaphat, “No, he could not have done this! Didn’t he learn his lesson when he allied himself with Ahab?” Clearly, he had not learned. Does Jehoshaphat remind you of anyone you know very, very well… I mean yourself? Why are we so stubborn? Why don’t we learn? It is because we still have sin in us, and we fail to put it to death and to walk in faith, following Jesus Christ as Lord. We ought to live better, since we have the finished Bible and the indwelling Holy Spirit and the fellowship of other true believers. But too often we don’t. Jehoshaphat’s example is written for our instruction. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11 NIV).

So, what happened? The Lord sent another prophet who announced the Lord’s discipline on Jehoshaphat. His grand fleet would be destroyed by the Lord. And all his dreams of more wealth through trade disappeared! Why did he act so wrongly? This is a place where the Spirit doesn’t give us all the answers. He wants us to think. Instead of wondering why he failed, use this text as a springboard to think through the reasons that you fail.

What can we learn about such matters as persevering faith, submission to the Lord and his word, contentment with what God has supplied, and staying on mission? Look at that list and think about weaknesses on your life. Circle one of them. On your own, reread this entire account about Jehoshaphat and ask the Spirit to teach you what you need from your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

Our Great Priest (Part Two)

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Hebrews 10:21

What is the house over which Jesus Christ is the great priest? The house of God refers to the people of God (cf. Hebrews 3:1-6). In the days of the old covenant, this was Israel according to the flesh. At that time, it included all the descendants of Jacob, and it was a mixed gathering of a remnant of believers and many unbelievers. This physical nation had a physical temple or house of God. This house was only typical of the better house that Christ would build. Everything about it “came with an if”, and Israel could not keep what God by that “if” demanded.

In the days of the new covenant, this is the church that is made up of both Jews and Gentiles. The church is a spiritual house or nation (Ephesians 2:11-22) made up only of believers who are in Christ. Now there is no physical temple, because the people are the temple. See also 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:4-10. This is the house that Jesus built, and he rules over it. He is the unifying principle of membership in the house (Ephesians 2:21-22 – “in him”). You must be “in him” in order to be “part of the house”. The worship “in the house” is only and always “through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

As new covenant people, we must learn to think in conformity with spiritual realities. Since all Christ’s people form the house and he has called us to peace, we must maintain peace in the house of God. This requires a conscious focus on what we share in Christ that binds us together (Ephesians 4:3; Colossians 3:15). Every gathering of followers of Christ must strive for peace in their group. How can a group attain peace with one another? Each one must “wear the proper spiritual clothing” in Christ’s house: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with others, forgiveness, and love. The church (meaning people in Christ) that demonstrates these qualities toward each other will be having Christ’s peace reign in them. Since the house or temple is formed in Christ, it is a holy temple. We are set apart or consecrated to God. Therefore, our way of life must reflect that we are set apart for the Holy One (2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1). Since it is the house of God, it is the place in which God lives by his Spirit. Therefore, we must have a sense of his presence in his house. Whenever we are with one another, we must have a correct understanding of what is real in our assembly. There should be a proper sense of wonder and awe. “Wow! This is really neat! We have gathered together and God is here!” Think on 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Matthew 18:20).

How can the teaching of this text strengthen us in the life of faith? The consideration of Christ’s greatness leads to the confirmation of our faith and the production of a proper reverence in our hearts toward him. For example, knowledge of music and the thematic structure of a musical composition lead to a greater appreciation of a musical performance. Or participation in a team sport leads to confidence in and respect for the abilities of your teammates. As we by faith meditate on the Spirit’s revelation of Christ in the Scriptures, he develops “Christ appreciation” in us, which in turn strengthens us spiritually. We do not mean strength apart from Christ, which is a trap that many fall into, but becoming “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10).

Learn to have confidence in our great high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Have confidence in the greatness of his office and the sufficiency of his sacrifice (Romans 8:33-34). Have confidence in your right to approach God through Christ (Matthew 11:28; John 6:37). What excellent promises are found in these verses!

Have confidence only in Christ.

  • Some at first see their complete need of Christ, but then they think their Christian experience will carry them through. And so they suppose that their spiritual experience and use of what are called “the means of grace” (like prayer or reading the Bible) will serve them well. And that is why some do so poorly in their Christian walk. They rely on means, instead of relying on Christ personally.
  • “No Christian can ever outlive the necessity of employing Christ as High Priest in all the steps of his life; and in the last step through death we must still lean upon this High Priest….” [Traill]
  • An evidence of spiritual life is when a person sees his need of Jesus Christ; an evidence of a growing spiritual life is to find out that you need him more and more and more! Do you sense that you need the Lord Jesus more today than last year or five years ago or ten years ago?
  • Have a joyful confidence in Jesus Christ! The bottom line of knowing that you have a great priest over the house of God is to rejoice in that great priest! Read these verses and then have a deep drink of the river of life (Philippians 4:4; Romans14:17-18; 15:13).

Grace and peace, David

The Armor of God: The Shoes of the Gospel

DSCN3842Ephesians 6:15

Some facts never change, even in a time of high tech warfare. Air and naval power may be the deciding factors in modern military campaigns, but when all is said and done, the victors still have to hold the conquered territory with their infantry. Even today the infantry must still to some degree get around on its feet, and that requires good shoes. In battle they definitely need good shoes. Part of the legend of the battle of Gettysburg, which may or may not be true, is that at least part of the Confederate army went to the village because they were looking for shoes. And in the movie Gettysburg, there is the scene that shows Confederate soldiers marching barefoot, which was true. Our Lord Jesus Christ does not send his followers out to battle barefooted. The next part of the spiritual protection concerns having our feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. Let us consider together the importance of this part of the armor of God.

Soldiers need to have their feet protected. Think about conditions that require correct coverings for their feet: the weather, the terrain, and other problems like exposure to filth, insects and disease. But proper footwear offers a great advantage—readiness. When you put on a good pair of walking or running shoes, they put a “spring” into your steps. Do you know the feeling? Even a guy with bad knees can feel like he wants to run! The shoes of the soldier “‘equipped him for long marches and a solid stance… They prevented his feet from sliding’” (Barth quoted by Stott). The good news of peace with God produces assurance of God’s favor and a cheerful readiness for the Christian in the face of the darkest foe. Without this blessing, we would tend to stumble and slide in doubt and despair in the midst of spiritual conflict.

Every follower of Christ needs the readiness that the shoes of the gospel of peace provide. Proper shoes must be formed out of the correct materials. Hiking shoes and dress shoes are not made out of the same materials and with the same design. Both must be made in conformity with their purposes. In the same way, God makes armor for the Christian out of materials suited for his purpose.

God’s purpose is our holiness in order to glorify his name (Ephesians 1:3-6; Romans 8:29; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:3ff; 2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 3:3). Since that is so, let us think about the materials that are used to form either “religious shoes” or “gospel shoes”. Why should we think about this? We need to because some suppose that they are wearing “gospel shoes” when they are only wearing “religious shoes”, and so they aren’t equipped for spiritual warfare.

Religion based on human opinion assumes that peace is formed out of actions like ritual and morality and spiritual feelings. For example, some think that attending church and doing worship provides them with the “shoes” they need. Others assume they are well equipped by keeping a short list of commands or standards. (Many think of holiness as keeping the Ten Commandments.) For now, let us think briefly about reliance on spiritual feelings. Some suppose that feelings of a flippant confidence or a happy light-heartedness are the same as boldness and joy. But the former spring from the events of religious “success”, while the latter come through union with Jesus Christ. Think of the “Christian cool” saying of “praise the Lord anyhow!” or the irreverence that at times characterizes how people speak of the Lord. While God wants his people to see him sitting on a throne of grace, some would do well to remember that it is still a throne! In reaction to “Christian cool”, some promote solemnity and gloom and quietness, as if such emotions were holiness personified. A hollowed out sound of “let us worship the Lord” is supposed to be a mark of spiritual maturity, while it may only be a sign of those playing at holiness.  Proper religious emotions do not come from attempting to produce anything. Instead, they are the response of the soul to God’s reality and God’s gospel actions in our lives: love, sorrow, joy, calmness, confidence, and etc. will all be present. That kind of response glorifies God.

True Christianity is based on God’s purpose of grace and Christ knows that God’s peace comes from God’s great love for his people and his zeal to uphold righteousness. And it knows that both of these find a happy meeting place in the cross. Since this is so, the true worshipper knows that he or she has been “rooted and established in love” (Eph 3:17), and the hearts of people who are firm in Christ delight to trace their peace back to God’s love for them in Christ. This glorifies God. Also the true worshipper views the cross as the highest expression of God’s holiness, because there the brightness of God’s glorious holiness is most clearly seen. What was required to satisfy the righteousness of God? Only the substitutionary death of the spotless Lamb of God could pay our penalty and bring us peace (Romans 3:24-26; 5:1, 10). When by faith we lay hold of the Father’s gift of love in his Son, we will find that the Lord of peace will give us peace at all times and in every way (2 Thessalonians 3:16). What is your experience of God’s peace? Think of what this is saying to us! If we put on the shoes of the gospel of peace, we will have peace in the midst of conflict. This glorifies God.

God’s order in putting our shoes together is important to attain his end. If you have ever had a part in manufacturing or building anything, you know that order is important. One summer I had a job as a “placer” in a factory that made electric motors. The wires in the armature had to be placed on the com in a certain order. If the right order was not followed, the motor would not operate. True holy and godly living is impossible without the basis of the peace of the gospel for a couple reasons. First of all, godliness consists of a loving approach to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How can you love God if you are at war with him? Second, unless you know that God accepts you by grace, you will always be trying to earn your way into his favor. Third, the Spirit of holiness does not live in the hearts of the unforgiven, and only he has the power to produce holiness and godliness in us. “The divine order then is first pardon, then holiness; first peace with God, and then conformity to the image of that God with whom we have been brought to peace… Reconciliation is indispensable to resemblance; personal friendship must begin a holy life” (Bonar, God’s Way of Holiness, p. 34).

Peace with God is the immediate possession of the believer at the time of salvation. It is not the fruit of a long course of successful spiritual warfare, but a direct blessing of saving grace. Anything else turns the gift of God into a work. It is this peace that must rule in our hearts and in every gathering of Christ followers (Colossians 3:15). Christ’s people will make progress in spiritual conflict as a body when we together put to death the acts of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21), and when we experience the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in our gospel partnerships. May we fully know this blessing of peace!

Grace and peace, David