Reflections From ISAIAH 3: THE LORD GOD OF HOSTS…FEAR HIM

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The topic of, “fearing God” from texts of the Old Testament are a puzzle to many of us for many reasons chief among which is the tendency to pick and choose what we like and we confuse the continuity and discontinuity of the Old and New Testament.

Preference not objective truth is often our guiding “compass”.

What I mean is that many professing believers happily embrace a God of love but one of fear and judgment they utterly reject.  If that’s you, friend, then how do you make sense out of the Gospel of Christ?

Why then was he brutally murdered on that bloody cross?  Is it not because God’s love and justice demanded it?  Is it not because the first Adam rebelled against the Holy One of Israel and plunged mankind into an eternal death sentence where the Creator became our enemy?  And was it not necessary for the last Adam to rectify this mess (which the first Adam plunged humanity into) to redeem us from God’s holy just wrath?

To fear God, among other things, means that we rightly relate to Him as Creator and understand that we are the creature (i.e., contingent, needy, and therefore dependent).  The pride in humanity pushes back and says, “I will be god, I’m self-sufficient”.  That’s the reason for wrath and the reason for judgment.

Moreover, to fear God means that those redeemed by His great mercy live according to His revealed truth because of His great love.  His word is their delight (even when it’s hard to understand and reconcile with life’s tragic experiences which are real).  Again, according to Solomon, the fear of the LORD is the pathway to knowledge and wisdom (See the proverbs).  But who is this one we are commanded to fear?

He is the changeless One (i.e., the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) in the perfections of His being.  God’s attributes of being (self-existent, omni-present, omniscient, omnipotent, omnisapient, holy, loving, etc.) are simultaneously held.  This means that because God is holy and just, the judge will rightly deal with all wrongs and make them right.  Thus, when we His followers “pigeon hole” Him and reduce the Holy One to a one-dimensional being (God is love, which He is) we miss it and misrepresent the Savior.  He is the God of love, but He is also the Holy One who will judge the living and the dead.

Misunderstanding the continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments also plagues believers.

We also have difficulty with the topic of fearing God because of a gross disconnect believers have between the Old Testament and New Testament.  What for example applied to God’s people under the old covenant that now does not apply under the new covenant?

Christ’s atoning sacrifice on Calvary did away with the sacrificial system.  From the book of Hebrews we know that the sacrifices once performed under the old covenant are now obsolete because they pointed to the reality which is Christ our “Passover Lamb”, the “Lamb of God”.  Yet, as the Law of Moses forbade adultery, God still forbids it today.   And yes for His people.  To fear the LORD under the new covenant, the keeping of said law is evidence that we love God and fear His name (in word and deed).  It is not a yoke of bondage under the “letter of the law which kills” instead it’s the way human flourishing was designed to occur.

TEXT

For behold, the Lord God of hosts is going to remove from Jerusalem and Judah
Both supply and support, the whole supply of bread
And the whole supply of water;
The mighty man and the warrior,
The judge and the prophet,
The diviner and the elder,
The captain of fifty and the honorable man,
The counselor and the expert artisan,
And the skillful enchanter.
And I will make mere lads their princes,
And capricious children will rule over them,
And the people will be oppressed,
Each one by another, and each one by his neighbor;
The youth will storm against the elder
And the inferior against the honorable.
When a man lays hold of his brother in his father’s house, saying,
“You have a cloak, you shall be our ruler,
And these ruins will be under your charge,”
He will protest on that day, saying,
“I will not be your healer,
For in my house there is neither bread nor cloak;
You should not appoint me ruler of the people.”
For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen,
Because their speech and their actions are against the Lord,
To rebel against His glorious presence.  (vvs.1-8)

When we cease to fear the LORD God of hosts, we put ourselves in a position to bear his wrath generally and his discipline specifically.  God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  In this passage God’s opposition is weighty seen through His removal of supply for sustenance (bread & water), His removal of support for safety (the warrior and mighty man), His removal of guidance (prophet and judge), and His removal of industry (the counselor and expert artisan) is simply devastating.

Solomon says that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and understanding and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding,” yet God’s people lacked both and the consequences were ruinous.  Brazen rebellion will always result in the Creator being against the creature.  In verses (16-24) God declares to the gorgeous women who seduce their prey that their beauty He will reduce to an ugliness that reflects their hearts toward Him:

Moreover, the Lord said, “Because the daughters of Zion are proud
And walk with heads held high and seductive eyes, And go along with mincing steps And tinkle the bangles on their feet,
17 Therefore the Lord will afflict the scalp of the daughters of Zion with scabs, And the Lord will make their foreheads bare.”

18 In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, 19 dangling earrings, bracelets, veils,20 headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, 21 finger rings, nose rings, 22 festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses,23 hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans and veils.

24 Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume there will be putrefaction; Instead of a belt, a rope; Instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp; Instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth;
And branding instead of beauty.

While we’re not Israel in America, we nevertheless reflect the bold rebellion of Jerusalem and Judah in our age.  So when the supplies run out and our support is no more and our humiliation is realized, will God act to bring His people back to Himself?  Absolutely He will but not before a severe administration of His discipline.

LORD be merciful to us, grant your people repentance, renew our love for You so that our character, holiness, love, wisdom, knowledge, beauty, judgments, compassion, ingenuity, etc. may find their true expression, the purpose for why we exist.

(SDG)

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Reflections From ISAIAH 3: THE LORD GOD OF HOSTS…FEAR HIM

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The topic of, “fearing God” from texts of the Old Testament are a puzzle to many of us for many reasons chief among which is the tendency to pick and choose what we like and we confuse the continuity and discontinuity of the Old and New Testament.

Preference not objective truth is often our guiding “compass”.

What I mean is that many professing believers happily embrace a God of love but one of fear and judgment they utterly reject.  If that’s you, friend, then how do you make sense out of the Gospel of Christ?

Why then was he brutally murdered on that bloody cross?  Is it not because God’s love and justice demanded it?  Is it not because the first Adam rebelled against the Holy One of Israel and plunged mankind into an eternal death sentence where the Creator became our enemy?  And was it not necessary for the last Adam to rectify this mess to redeem us from God’s holy just wrath?

To fear God, among other things, means that we rightly relate to Him as Creator and understand that we are the creature (i.e., contingent, needy, and therefore dependent).  The pride in humanity pushes back and says, “I will be god, I’m self-sufficient”.  That’s the reason for wrath and the reason for judgment.

Moreover, to fear God means that those redeemed by His great mercy live according to His revealed truth because of His great love.  His word is their delight (even when it’s hard to understand and reconcile with life’s tragic experiences and they are real).  Again, according to Solomon, the fear of the LORD is the pathway to knowledge and wisdom (See the proverbs).  But who is this one we are commanded to fear?

He is the changeless One (i.e., the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) in the perfections of His being.  God’s attributes of being (self-existent, omni-present, omniscient, omnipotent, omnisapient, holy, loving, etc.) are simultaneously held.  This means that because God is holy and just, the judge will rightly deal with all wrongs and make them right.  Thus, when we His followers “pigeon hole” Him and reduce the Holy One to a one-dimensional being (God is love, and He is) we miss it and misrepresent the Savior.  He is the God of love, but He is also the Holy One who will judge the living and the dead.

Misunderstanding the continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments also plagues believers.

We also have difficulty with the topic of fearing God because of a gross disconnect believers have between the Old Testament and New Testament.  What for example applied to God’s people under the old covenant that now does not apply under the new covenant?

Christ’s atoning sacrifice on Calvary did away with the sacrificial system.  From the book of Hebrews we know that the sacrifices once performed under the old covenant are now obsolete because they pointed to the reality which is Christ our “Passover Lamb”, the “Lamb of God”.  Yet, as the Law of Moses forbade adultery, God still forbids it today.   And yes for His people.  To fear the LORD under the new covenant, the keeping of said law is evidence that we love God and fear His name (in word and deed).

Hear the Isaiah’s warning:

For behold, the Lord God of hosts is going to remove from Jerusalem and Judah
Both supply and support, the whole supply of bread
And the whole supply of water;
The mighty man and the warrior,
The judge and the prophet,
The diviner and the elder,
The captain of fifty and the honorable man,
The counselor and the expert artisan,
And the skillful enchanter.
And I will make mere lads their princes,
And capricious children will rule over them,
And the people will be oppressed,
Each one by another, and each one by his neighbor;
The youth will storm against the elder
And the inferior against the honorable.
When a man lays hold of his brother in his father’s house, saying,
“You have a cloak, you shall be our ruler,
And these ruins will be under your charge,”
He will protest on that day, saying,
“I will not be your healer,
For in my house there is neither bread nor cloak;
You should not appoint me ruler of the people.”
For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen,
Because their speech and their actions are against the Lord,
To rebel against His glorious presence.  (vvs.1-8)

When we cease to fear the LORD God of hosts, we put ourselves in a position to bear his wrath generally and his discipline specifically.  God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  In this passage God’s opposition is weighty seen through His removal of supply for sustenance (bread & water), His removal of support for safety (the warrior and mighty man), His removal of guidance (prophet and judge), and His removal of industry (the counselor and expert artisan) is simply devastating.

Solomon says that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and understanding and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding,” yet God’s people lacked both and the consequences were ruinous.  Brazen rebellion will always result in the Creator being against the creature.  In verses (16-24) God declares to the gorgeous women who seduce their prey that their beauty He will reduce to an ugliness that reflects their hearts toward Him:

Moreover, the Lord said, “Because the daughters of Zion are proud
And walk with heads held high and seductive eyes, And go along with mincing steps And tinkle the bangles on their feet,
17 Therefore the Lord will afflict the scalp of the daughters of Zion with scabs, And the Lord will make their foreheads bare.”

18 In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, 19 dangling earrings, bracelets, veils,20 headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, 21 finger rings, nose rings, 22 festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses,23 hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans and veils.

24 Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume there will be putrefaction; Instead of a belt, a rope; Instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp; Instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth;
And branding instead of beauty.

While we’re not Israel in America, we nevertheless reflect the bold rebellion of Jerusalem and Judah in our age.  So when the supplies run out and our support is no more and our humiliation is realized, will God act to bring His people back to Himself?  Absolutely He will but not before a severe administration of His discipline.

LORD be merciful to us, grant your people repentance, renew our love for You so that our character, holiness, love, wisdom, knowledge, beauty, judgments, compassion, ingenuity, etc. may find their true expression, the purpose for why we exist.

(SDG)

Reflections From 1 Corinthians Chapter 5: HOW IS ADULTERY AN EXPRESSION OF ARROGANCE RATHER THAN LOVE? (Vvs.1-5)

 

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When it comes to any subject today, we either ground it ultimately on the creature or the Creator.  That is, someone’s “world-view” finally influences the way what is true, beautiful, and good is determined.  Today, the “same-sex marriage” is a case in point.  Two contradictory views are affirmed with this idea.  It boldly denies design on the one hand (i.e., marriage is what I the creature say it is a-la-moral relativism) but simultaneously invokes an immaterial “ought” of live and let live with those that disagree with said position.  This is problematic so I’ll try to explain.

First, “same-sex marriage” affirms that there’s no ultimate design to marriage, thus we make of it what the creature says and by implication affirm naturalism/materialsim which holds that human beings are nothing more than a body, not a mind/soul.  If humans are merely physical entities, than we have no meaning in life, since meaning is not physical, but immaterial.

Second, if one opposes the “same-sex marriage” position, they are labeled as haters, bigots, non-progressive idiots, etc.  The situation now slides into the world of “ought” of right and wrong, the immaterial world from where meaning comes.  Here in is the dilemma, on the one hand naturalism (i.e., physicalism) is affirmed which opposes any notion of mind, spirit, etcetera and simultaneously there’s the affirmation of an immaterial reality, which affirms humans are both mind and body (i.e., dualism, or substance dualism).  Whenever a contradiction arises, as in this case, we know there’s a falsehood and the “buyer” should beware.

In this world of ideas precious human beings are entangled, this is the field where life is lived and rules have far reaching consequences.  For example, naturalism affirms that there’s no God or gods, no design, and our existence is accidental and thus purposeless.  It’s the worldview that supports Darwinian evolutionary thought and the perch on which atheism rests.  If this is true why all the fuss over whether or not there’s any agreement over someone’s sexual orientation?

Again, there’s Monism which affirms among other things that everything is one, mind is core, distinctions are eradicated, and life is essentially illusory or “maya”.  This is the worldview under which Buddhism and much of Hinduism exists.  If this existence is illusory, then our experiences are essentially meaningless.  If this is true why all the fuss over whether or not there’s any agreement over someone’s sexual orientation?

Then there’s monotheism and specifically Christian Trinitarian theism that affirms a designer “God” the creator, sustainer, and author of life who grounds the meaning of what is good, beautiful and true.  This worldview affirms the physical and immaterial, it understands that we are body and soul, and it also affirms the world of “ought” of what is right and wrong, all of which are based on the Creator, not the creature.   If this is true, then all the fuss over whether or not there’s any agreement over someone’s sexual orientation is warranted.

I say these things because from the biblical standpoint, love is grounded in the Creator, never the creature.  Thus, the designer determines what real love is, not a culture that is seriously broken because of its arrogance.

In Paul’s day, he had to deal with a similar issue of making the creature the measure of all things and by default the Creator is pushed aside, slighted, minimized, scorned and belittled by the creature’s “arrogance” “pride”.  This human trait sets itself up against God, becomes his judge, and shamelessly spits on the brow of He who gives us life.  Consider what the apostle says:

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

Like Israel, the Corinthian church had crossed a line of sexual immorality that even the pagans (i.e., Gentiles) in their day would not, that is, a son had sexual relations with his fathers’ wife.  This could be a step-mother or actual, the text does not say.  The moral compass here is shattered as God’s design of sexuality is ignored and shamefully the church did nothing.

The church failed to discipline the perpetrators and thus allowed the situation to continue.  Paul says this is a lamentable occasion fueled by the Corinthians apathy caused by their pride.  This is a recurring theme in the first letter where false knowledge actually produces death in the practitioners, not life.  And this false knowledge (i.e., which is contra Christ, the gospel, and held to be true), is fueled by human pride.

Church discipline while painful to receive and weighty to administer is absolutely necessary for the health of the church, the individuals involved in the transgression, and mostly God’s honor and glory.  Several thoughts to consider:

First, the text does not say whether or not the father is alive when this act occurred, but for Paul (i.e., God’s authoritative spokesman) it seems to not matter because he passed judgment on the action and ordered the man to be removed from the assembly.  This stroke of discipline illustrates the urgency needed to act on behalf of the transgressor, for the sin reveals the grave rift that obtains between he and God.

Second, not only is the man to be removed from the local church, his body is to be “delivered over to Satan” for the destruction of his flesh (v.5), this is severe, yet the purpose has final salvation in view, not momentary grief.  The “flesh” is what needs to be destroyed so that his spirit may be saved.

Does he mean by “flesh” his sinful nature as in other places in Paul’s writings, or his physical body, or perhaps both his body and sinful nature?  It seems that it’s his body which is what Satan is to work on destroying so that he won’t be lost.  Perhaps this may be akin to the pummeling Job received from Satan.  The difference though is that Job was a humble upright and righteous man, whereas this man is immoral revealed by his arrogance and wickedness.  What we today take so lightly and as a right of self-expression Paul’s attitude is that it will damn the perpetrator, sexual immorality is lethal to the soul.

Third, Paul says that he has “decided to deliver” this man to Satan, but how is that accomplished?  Is this something only the apostle has the authority to do or for the church as well?  Contextually, I would say the latter not the former.  Could it be that ex-communicating someone from the church actually makes them vulnerable to Satanic attack and destruction?  Sometimes it seems to be the case.

This hearkens back to Romans chapter 1 where God gave over rebellious mankind to their lusts and passions because they exchanged the truth of God’s glory as Creator for a lie and worshipped the creature instead.  This state of affairs came from humanity’s futile speculations which darkened their hearts evidenced in this church goers adultery with his mother.  It’s not according to God’s design, but a perversion of His good gifts.

Fourth, note that this discipline is to be done in Paul’s absence and in the power and name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is a sobering solemn act, not one where song and rejoicing is expressed.  It is Jesus who is brought to center attention since it’s His church which He has purchased with his blood and is continuously building.

We have here a model for church discipline done by the church, the Body of Christ Jesus, so that the Head of the Body (Christ Jesus) may be honored through His people’s holiness, rather than ravaged by its wickedness.

It’s not loving to commit adultery but arrogant because its contra God’s design and plan for human flourishing.  What we believe is either grounded on what the Creator has revealed or what the creature says.  Thus, if God has spoken, how then shall we live?

(SDG)

Summary of “DEATH IN THE CITY” by Francis Schaeffer

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In his book Death in the City, Schaeffer accentuates six sobering observations.  First, the reason for why there’s death in the city is that we have turned away from our Reformation roots.  God has been discarded by not only our culture but also by many professed Christians. The propositional force and nature of the Scriptures is what has been abandoned and what we must return to in order for life to spring forth in said desolation.

Second, just as the God who is there exists, it follows biblically that He is both holy and gracious in revealing to us His propositional truth.  To neglect Him and thus His self-disclosure (which we have) is to fall into judgment.  Jeremiah  wept for the church and the culture.  We must also.  His message was one of truth and grace.  When said truth is trampled, judgment follows.  Nothing has changed.  To speak prophetically to our culture it will require us to preach the two sides of the same coin with humility and love.  That’s a tall task and one which God enables us to accomplish.

Hence, there must be a dual weeping, a knowing that preaching judgment is hard but indispensable.  For where false religion, adultery, extortion, lying, and the oppression of the poor by the powerful exist, there’s judgment.  We must call sin, sin; beware of our affluence and its trappings, and put our hope not in man’s power but God’s strength ultimately.  If we preach this way coupled with humility and love, then the world might start taking us seriously.  We’re truly in Jeremiah’s days.

Third, are we perturbed that the message of judgment is ever lingering before men but do we love God and people in such a way that we cry out with the truth compassionately?  Jeremiah did and his message of judgment on both great and small brought a price on his head.  The people wanted him dead.  Nothing’s changed, people want us dead as well.  Disdain for God’s word is ever real, nothing new and always our doom.  God help us in our weakness.

Fourth, in light of the aforesaid, persistent compassion is vital and yet costly.  Jeremiah illustrates the physical and psychological price that will be paid by those who follow in his footsteps.  Like Jeremiah we must:  a) preach the truth of judgment, b) recognize that our country is already under God’s judgment, c) practice the truth, d) know it will be costly, e) persevere doing the above regardless of the price.  When historically the church fails to do the above, defection is followed by destruction.

Fifth, the man without the Bible will be judged according to his own standards which he has broken.  The man with the Bible will be judged according to the light of Scripture which he has broken.  The fact is that all are under judgment.  But in Christ, God’s rescue is available and can be realized by the compassionate clear preaching of the Gospel.  We are debtors to the lost and often we don’t feel this.  God help us here.

Lastly, we must live as Christians before the lost.  This includes a life of dependent prayer to the God of Creation who is there.  He will hear the cry of our hearts and respond to believing supplication.  And when He is silent, we must continue to trust the Faithful One who is amazing.

Summary of “THE MARK OF THE CHRISTIAN” by Francis Schaeffer

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In his book The Mark of the Christian Schaeffer points out the great Commandment to love God and neighbor is at the core of our message and it must be lived out if two things are to occur.  First, if men are to know that we are Christ’s disciples, there must be the humble preference toward one another that Jesus demonstrated to the disciples when he washed their feet in (John 13).  Love among the brothers lets the watching world see if we actually belong to Jesus or not.

We may very well be his, but if our actions are contradictory then the unbeliever has the right given by God to judge us.  This kind of life is costly, painful and accompanied by great loss, but our love for the Savior and for the lost must be what motivates us.

Second, we must be unified with believers so that our evangelistic endeavors are not hindered and the world may know that the Father sent the Son (John 17).  This unity must be evident in word and in deed.  Even when there are differences among us, and there will be, it’s critical that forgiveness, repentance, humility and kindness be evident when we part ways with our brothers and sisters.

This unity, according to Schaeffer, is not organizational, nor our mystical union with Him, it’s not our positional unity in Christ, not even a legal unity before Him.  But it’s a real, observable, practical unity that practices both God’s holiness and love.  Schaeffer rightly accentuates that this unity is never to be separated from His propositional truth (scripture) for it is these propositions that believers are called to live out before the world.

Summary of “THE CHURCH BEFORE THE WATCHING WORLD” by Francis Schaeffer

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In his book The Church before the Watching World, Schaeffer makes as some very penetrating observations concerning the Christian in this world.  First, in the chapter Adultery and Apostasy: The Bride and Bridegroom Theme he insists that we remember our union to the Bridegroom and consider how we live in light of our loyalty to our husband—Christ Jesus.  To commit apostasy is equal to spiritual adultery, which is to be whoring around, and this grieves God, it saddens Him and often dooms us forever.

Second, in the chapter Practicing Purity in the Visible Church, he holds that to practice purity in the visible church, three things are essential which if removed, then the practice of purity can’t be realized.  First, there must be church discipline for those who hold not to historic Scriptural orthodoxy and the creeds.  Second, exiting the church or the denomination has its place (Mic.6:8) and third, we must remember that the world is under God’s judgment—on fire!  So, we must exemplify a commitment to scriptural historic Christianity, a commitment to courageous loving discipline, a commitment to a winsome departure when necessary, and a commitment to a lost and dying world.

Third there are Absolute Limits that must be maintained if our witness will remain faithful to Christ.   There are again three essential pillars that must be upheld for our view to be truly Christian.  They come under the pre-fall and post-fall categories and can be stated as Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.

Pre-Fall: First, The truth of the Trinitarian God who is there, who is the ultimate Creator and sustainer of everything that exists.  Post-Fall: Second, Human rebellion is real and consequently needs genuine rescueThird, the God/Man is the Redeemer of man by virtue of his life, death, and resurrection and his work secures the believers hope.  Lastly, final judgment is assured.  For believers this means life, for non-believers eternal torment.

To jettison absolute truth is to dispose of the Historic Christian faith as a system of thought.  Hence while disagreements obtain among true believers, there still remains a circle of orthodoxy that has boundaries.  These lines must be clearly maintained so that the essence of Christianity is not lost.

Summary of “NO LITTLE PEOPLE” by Francis Schaeffer

IMG_20170911_104919This is one of Schaeffers’ most powerful books.  In No Little People he focuses on the significance of the smallest details both in the life of God’s servants and the places in which they find themselves.  According to the Bible says Schaeffer, “With God there are no little people” (pg.5).  He then considers how significant a simple stick of wood was to become in Moses hands as a source of judgment—plagues, deliverance—Red Sea, and supply—water from the rock.   This stick, something “insignificant” became the rod of God.  As this rod became God’s, so to must the believer.  Essentially there are no little people, only those that are and are not consecrated to God.  That’s sobering!   At the end of the day we as believers must follow Christ’ humble approach of service, nothing else.  In fact, humility is not an option for honoring Jesus, but a requisite.

In the chapter The Weakness of God’s Servants, attention is given to just that—their weakness.  I found this sobering and encouraging.  It’s sobering because I can identify with my own struggles with sin.  It is among other things refreshing to know God reveals our heroes faults—to embarrassing heights often.  Why?  Because the Bible is a realistic book with flesh and blood, sweat and tears, highs and lows revealing the “mannishness” of man.  We even in the church are sometimes too blinded to this reality.  Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Joshua, Gideon, David, Solomon, Elijah, Peter, Paul represent different aspects of our common problem: sin before a holy God.  Honestly, I’m glad my name’s not in the bible and my deeds on display for all to see.  They may one day however, and that’s scary.

Lastly, not because there’s not much more to consider, but in the chapter David: Lawful and Unlawful Vindication the hard lesson is that personal sin can and too often does paralyze our duty to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before God.  Post Bathsheba and Uriah, David’s life was never the same.  Being in leadership is no small task however great or small the band may be.  Our actions have far reaching consequences the likes of which can be utterly daunting to consider.  Nonetheless, ponder I must for the sake of the Name of God.

This book is must reading for anyone in, aspiring to, or presently going into church leadership for it gives in my view a sober and realistic assessment of our human plight even though we are part of the covenant people.

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 6: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS Continued

“There is an evil which I have seen under the sun and it is prevalent among men— a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires; yet God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This is vanity and a severe affliction.

What is this evil that one with the power resources bring, lacks the ability to enjoy its treasure?    It seems that the Preacher is alluding to something that both the rich and the poor lack: the gift from God to not only be stewards of their lot in life but also to have the capacity to enjoy it.  I think he is saying that the ability to enjoy what we have is not earned, but granted to us by our maker.  Perhaps the reason so many people are miserable is precisely because God has not gifted them with the capacity to enjoy their station in life.

What lessons are here to learn?  First, it seems that to have God’s gifts but not the capacity to enjoy them is evil.  It’s not the way things should be but they are.  So if I don’t know how to enjoy what things I have, either God has not granted me the gift, or He has and I’m too stupid to get it.

Second, this gift as I’ve said before does not come from within me, the creature, but from the Creator.  Here again we are reminded of our finitude and contingent existence which is so needy and the pride within suppresses that truth.

Third, to possess riches and honor on the one hand and to lack the goods enabling us to enjoy them is a severe affliction, it is misery.  Yet the poor can’t relate here in one sense to the burden of the rich.  Perhaps that’s why in the book of Proverbs there are many warnings to cease the pursuit of riches, for without God riches are a cruel abyss of unfulfilled desires.

Lastly, I think we need God’s strength, even though we may not be rich, to enjoy our lot in life by remembering that it is God alone who gives life and possessions meaning.  May we delight in the LORD today, as we seek Him for our own good and the good of others.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 3: THE PREACHER ON TIME & ETERNITY

“There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven__” (3:1).  This chapter doesn’t feel as gloomy as the first two but he considers the issue of “time”.  What is time in this context?  According to the Preacher, time is a successive series of events which begin and end (e.g., a time to give birth, a time to die 3:2).  There are several aspects I want to consider.

First, there once was a “time” I did not exist, then came the time of my birth, and a day awaits when I will finally die.  One day, life as we experience it and know it will no longer be.  But will “I” or “we” cease to exist?  There are some who would concur that eventually we go out of existence.  However, according to the Scriptures and especially in the Gospel accounts (i.e., Mathew, Mark, Luke and John) you and I will either live forever in the blessed presence of Christ or in the eternal wrathful presence of God called hell.

Second, the Preacher acknowledges that God has made all things appropriate in their time (v.11) and He has also set eternity in the hearts of men (v.11b).  What’s interesting to me is that God, “in” time, which will never end, has placed eternity into men’s hearts.  I’m not altogether certain why that is but the purpose seems, “so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end” (v.11c).

This beginning and end seems to refer to “everything under heaven or the creation”.  Eternity here can very well be the state in time where man will forever gaze into the works of God, eternally beholding the Master’s handiwork in order to marvel at the immensity and the intricacies of His glory.

Third, the preacher knows that rejoicing and, doing good in one’s lifetime is the ultimate goal for existence (v.12).  This after all is in the contexts of eating, drinking, and laboring.  The one who recognizes that these activities are good must then acknowledge that they come from God.  This is not luck, fate, karma, nor destiny.  Instead, it’s the kindness of the Creator toward the creature who too often does not give honor nor give thanks to Him.

It’s been my experience even as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, that I have not found any delight in work but rather loathed it.  I often have not been thankful nor appreciated the skills for earning wealth I possess.  Perhaps you can relate friend to this kind of experience.  We need to pray that these three activities are seen for what they are—good.

This is important because too often, we tend to miss the splendor of the mundane by longing for the splendor filled day.  According to the Preacher, (v.22) “…nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities because that is man’s lot….For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?” The three activities (of eating, drinking, and laboring,) apportioned to us (by God) are our lot.  Enjoying them now is all that we are assured.  For when we die these activities, like our lives will cease.

What a challenge to be in the moment and maximize our joy in these activities, rather than squander the opportunity “in the time” allotted to us.  These are all gifts from God.  Today LORD God, give us your people the wisdom to live in light of eternity in this present fleeting life.  Teach us LORD to be happy in the lot you have determined for us to experience by keeping us from forfeiting said delight through actions and thoughts that dishonor your name.

(SDG)

 

 

Reflections From EZRA 7-10: THE ROAD BACK TO WORSHIP HAS MANY OBSTACLES

Artaxerxes_I

          The story of God’s people is an amazing drama in scripture where the faithfulness of God is placarded behind the backdrop of a rebellious and wayward people who don’t know their left hand from their right.  However, in spite of the dark times, God always seems to exalt a leader whose life is dedicated to the LORD in word and deed.  Ezra was one such man.

A scribe skilled in the Law of Moses who not only studied it but practiced and taught it as well:

 This Ezra went up from Babylon, and he was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given; and the king granted him all he requested because the hand of the Lord his God was upon him. Some of the sons of Israel and some of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers and the temple servants went up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes.  He came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. For on the first of the first month he began to go up from Babylon; and on the first of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, because the good hand of his God was upon him. 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel. (Ez. 7:6-10)

Ezra was called by God to restore worship back in Israel for those who returned to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity.  God’s favor was on Ezra to such an extent that all the needed resources for worship would be granted by King Artaxerxes (7:11-28).  This is an example, among other things, of how there is a time and purpose for everything under heaven (even the restoration of worship after God disciplined His people), of how the income of the wicked is laid up for the righteous, of how the kings heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD that He turns it wherever He wishes, and of how the earth is the LORD’s and everything in it.

Not everyone returned to Israel, but those who did have their names recorded in the genealogies.  Those who did not return valued more their possessions, lands and established relationships over against the God of Israel.  Sadly, their names are not recorded nor remembered in the annals of history, but God knows and named those who are His; and for this reason they will never be forgotten (8:1-14).   Before crossing the river to go back home, Ezra has those traveling camp out for three days in front of the river.  There are many reasons for this, but what’s most obvious is the need for the people to trust in God, not the arm of man, for a safe journey home:

Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions. 22 For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, “The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him.” 23 So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty…31 Then we journeyed from the river Ahava on the twelfth of the first month to go to Jerusalem; and the hand of our God was over us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the ambushes by the way.32 Thus we came to Jerusalem and remained there three days. (8:21-23; 31-32)

Note that in order for Ezra to speak to the king about the God of heaven who protects His people and executes judgment on the wicked (E.g. Parting the Red Sea; Crossing the Jordan), Ezra had to trust that this was true (which he did from scripture).  Yet the temptation to doubt the creator and fear the creature was very real.  Nevertheless, the God of heaven heard their cry and responded to their desires.  Ezra and the people had to choose in whose word they were going to ultimately place their trust—God’s or humanity’s.  Nothing has changed.

Part of worship involves those with whom we are most close.  The issue of mixed marriages and the named offenders is a radical account of Israel’s faithfulness to the LORD.  That is, they were not to intermarry with foreign women, not because of their intrinsic value as human beings, but for a very practical reason—the foreign women would lead the households to serve the false gods of the nations (which took place in Israel and said idolatry lead to the Babylonian Captivity).

Part of worship that’s acceptable to God is demonstrated by His community through not marrying those outside the faith.  The reason for this again, is not because God’s people are more intrinsically valuable than those outside the faith—we all share equally the image of God which makes humanity the pinnacle of God’s creation precious.  The fact remains that marrying non-believers “usually always” leads God’s people to worship “gods” that promise much and deliver nothing but death at the end of the day (Ezra 9-10).  Note that while most did put away their foreign wives, some opposed including leaders (10:15) which reminds us that there will always be opposition to God’s will among His people.

May the LORD’s strength and goodness be our delight today as we seek to honor and cherish the One who is always good, beautiful and true.  May we say to him as Christ did in  the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father Your will be done, not mine”.

(SDG)