REFLECTIONS FROM 1st CORINTHIANS: CHAPTER 1: DO CALLED SAINTS EVER HAVE TO OVERCOME PRIDE?

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My goal in writing reflections from 1st Corinthians are the following: First, to encourage you the reader that if you will pay attention to the words on the page and listen carefully you will mine a lot of truth for life without the need of a commentary or any secondary source.  That is, “take up and read” to enrich your soul Christian.

Second, I write to give you a model of how observations can be done in scripture that do not read into the text something foreign to the author’s intent.  This will help you experience the joy of discovery and increase your confidence in your ability to comprehend God’s word.

Third, by doing the above my hope is that you will be able to hear God’s voice all the more clearly because it is the word of God that is forever settled in heaven, and not our subjective impressions however valid they may be.  That is, we have a more sure word of prophecy according to Peter—meaning the inscripturated word of God—then a glorious experience we may claim to have (2 Peter 1:16-21).  Too often we Christians have bizarre ideas of what “God” is supposedly speaking to us and when it contradicts the Bible, be assured we are not hearing his voice.

This first letter of Paul to the Corinthian church is one of his earliest writings, occasioned by internal strife among believers fueled by pride in the creature rather than the Creator:

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Vvs.1-9) 

 

These verses let us peer into several facts about the letter, the audience and the key issue at hand.  First, as in all his letters, Paul establishes his credentials as sourced in God’s will (v.1), not mans’, so that his apostolic ministry is sanctioned by the Lord of the church not an earthly institution or movement.  Why is this significant?  Because unless one is sanctioned from above, they don’t have the authority to speak into how we come to understand God, love God, and walk humbly before God.  Paul is saying, what I’m about to deliver to you comes from the uncreated Creator through the created creature.

Second, the audience is the church of God in Corinth which means that as Christ’s prized possession, through his shed blood on Calvary have been purchased by God’s mercy and grace and as such have been sanctified in Him (v.2).  They are holy because Christ’s righteousness is theirs.  Moreover, they are saints—holy ones—by calling which means that its’ utterly God’s choosing not theirs (i.e., they brought nothing into the relationship to fulfill this state of affairs) concerning their rescue from wrath.

Again, those called, call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ which I take to mean that Jesus, because of his ontological status as Master, Shepherd, and God incarnate, is the source of all that is good.

Fourth, after describing who they are, Paul gives thanks for the grace the Corinthian church received evidenced in their speech, knowledge, and gifting (vvs.4-9) but something was amiss, there was internal strife.  Paul states:

10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. 16 Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.”   (Vvs.10-16)

Fifth, the apostle exhorts the believers not to divide among themselves over their favorite minister (e.g., Paul, Apollos, Cephas or Christ) as if they were anything special in one sense, (only Jesus Christ is redeemer and savior here, not his servants).  These divisions which must stop are evidenced in quarrels which are caused by their pride.  This problem is an overarching theme which influences what Paul says and how he says it throughout this letter.

Sixth, the contrast between the clever/foolish and between the wise/knowledgeable is also rife in the letter.  Consider how after Paul explains that his call was to preach the gospel rather than to baptize believers (vvs.14-16) and to do this in a specific way that hits a nerve with these prideful believers:

 

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.

It’s not as if Paul is denigrating the life of the mind, but for the apostle how Christ is preached, how the gospel is presented, is fundamental to what it accomplishes.  If it rests on the cleverness of speech, it certainly will make the cross of Christ void.  That is, for those who “come behind in no gift and are enriched in all speech and knowledge” (1:5), if they don’t plainly and clearly speak the truth of Christ’s cross, true conversions won’t occur.

Seventh, I don’t think Paul is calling for “dumbing down” the message so that its breadth, length, height and depth are stripped.  Instead, what he is exposing here is the motive of pride which is the cause of why people reject the Gospel message.  The preaching event involves the word of God, the preacher, the hearer and the response.  Paul notes:

18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”

 Here the same word is either devalued or valued.  If devalued this word is unable to save from God’s wrath, that is those perishing can’t receive the message and thus be rescued.  If valued, then the message utterly rescues those who embrace it for in it God’s power resides.  The same word has two different effects; it has two different responses, but why?

I think the reason is found in the quote from Isaiah 29:14 which Paul cites (v.19).  Here, the prophet indicts a people who honor God with their lips but whose hearts are far from Him.  This refers to the Jews, the people of the book, who should have known better but did not.  The result was judgment and destruction.  The same end awaits Gentiles too.

Jesus applied this same text to the Pharisees when their hearts were hardened to his message and person.  The main problem here as always, is that the word of men (i.e., tradition of washing of hands) wants to take precedence over the word of God (Mt. 15:1-9).

Paul in Romans (1:18-23) explains why God’s wrath is justly revealed and why men became fools: “they suppressed the truth of God in unrighteousness and thus become darkened in their understanding.  They become fools.

James also addresses this issue in (4:1-7) where the people because they don’t love God but the world instead, live as fools because of the swelling of their own pride.

Paul’s point here is that human wisdom when compared to God’s is foolish and the reason for this is because the knowledge of the Creator is necessarily both ontologically and epistemically superior to all created things.  Ironically, the very foolishness of God in the preaching of the Cross of Christ is the remedy the Corinthian believers don’t see because of their blinding pride:

19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”  20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Of course, the world sees the Cross either as a stumbling block (for the Jew) or foolishness (for the Gentiles “every non-Jew”).  The stumbling block is understood but not embraced, it is scandalous to Jews.  The foolishness is understood but not welcomed because it’s not sophisticated enough for the “wise”.

This demonstrates human ignorance concerning ultimate issues and also explains our need for God to move on the minds and hearts of blinded people which is what takes place for the “called”.  The “called” consist of both Jew and Gentile alike, who when hearing the message of the Cross love and embrace it, they see that it is—the wisdom and power of God:

22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 

Paul continues explaining how God’s infinite superior knowledge, His epistemological prowess, supersedes the creatures finite limited knowledge and how in the simplicities and complexities of the cross God accomplished His purpose of “choosing” the proud while simultaneously crushing their arrogance:

26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God.”   

And just in case there’s any misunderstanding of how the Corinthians got saved, Paul continues:

30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Human boasting is the highway to hell.  The knowledge of God revealed to us through Christ Jesus tells us minimally the following things.

First, the knowledge of God reveals that our religious tradition is an epistemological one where we can come to know the Creator God through His son.  Knowledge and specifically of God, is a necessary condition for salvation to obtain, though it is not sufficient.

Second, this knowledge is granted to us by God which means that it comes from outside of ourselves, it does not come from within the human being.  The reason here is so that there will be no boasting before God.  Moreover, this knowledge produces trust, or faith that results in rescue from God’s wrath.

Third, this understanding reveals the human malady of pride and the necessity of preaching the cross of Christ clearly and boldly so that many called may come into the kingdom.  Human pride caused the “Fall” in the Garden of Eden and Sovereign grace has come to rectify that malady.  May we not shy away from the foolishness or offense of the Cross due to our pride, instead may we along with Paul love it and cherish it as we endeavor to be salt and light in this dark world.  Lord have mercy on us.

(SDG)

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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 “TRUE SPIRITUALITY” by Francis Schaeffer

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In True Spirituality Schaeffer considers so many precious gems of wisdom that to do it justice I would have to do a report on the book, not give a summary.  To begin with, his understanding of the gospel and its application to life are liberating because he (rightly) does not have too much of a realized eschatology.  This prevents a triumphalism from creeping in that’s so pervasive in many Evangelical circles today.  This is especially true in the areas of justification, sanctification and final glorification.

Rightly understanding the biblical teaching of the above as we rest in the power of the Holy Spirit and look to the Trinity for direction, wisdom, and instruction, there’s the opportunity for our brokenness to be healed, substantially that is.

The chapter on Freedom in the Thought Life there’s a massive thought that, “true spirituality in the Christian life rests…in the realm of my thought life” (pg.310).  While I’m finite, my limitations don’t prevent me from creating something in the external world what my internal thoughts influence (e.g., a sculptor, painting, etc.). Yet, even though I’m a Christian, my thoughts can be a death producing machine if I yield myself to Satan instead of Christ.  Wow!

Made in the image of God, our choices determine whether or not life or death will overflow into the lives of other human beings.  Capable for committing acts of kindness or cruelty, able to create beauty or produce horror.  In this section Schaeffer concludes with three thoughts:

First, the reality of communion with God, and loving God, must take place in the inward self.  Our thought life is the proving ground.

Second, the real battle for men is in the world of ideas, rather than in that which is outward.  “Where a man will spend eternity depends on his reading or hearing the ideas, the propositional truth, the facts of the gospel in the external world, and these being carried through the medium of His body into the inner world of his thoughts…either his believing God on the basis of the content of the gospel or his calling God a liar” (pgs.312-313).

Third, the Christian life…always begins in our thought-world.  The spiritual battle, the loss or the victory, is always in the thought life.  When our thought life as believers is set Godward, substantial healing can be experienced in our psychological, personal problems, interpersonal relationships can be healed and even healing in the church can be a reality.

He concludes this book with an appendix The Dust of Life where at the end of the day we believers are called to live our lives in this present evil age in light of the future coming kingdom of God.  We are to model now what is still future.  We are to be a redemptive tool in God’s hands displaying His personal care for the souls of men and the earth in which they were designed to live.

This book is must reading for anyone in leadership or anyone desiring to go into leadership in the church.  In fact, this should be read by all who desire to glean from the godly wisdom this broken man offers.  We’ll be the better for it if we consider and act.

 

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 11-12: A WORD TO THE YOUNG AND OLD ALIKE

 

“Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.” (11:5)

The context of this passage is somewhat unclear to me.  The Preacher begins with the command to “cast your bread upon the water…” (v.1) and “sow seed” (v.6) as perhaps an allusion to the cycle of sowing and reaping which is realized ultimately through God’s activity as the sovereign over all creation.  This is the wonder of life which is designed not accidental, it’s purposeful not meaningless because God is there.  This activity is as much marvelous as it is mysterious, like the formation of a child in the womb or the course of the wind.

It seems that somehow the Preacher commands us to walk in wisdom by trusting in God’s power to multiply our efforts even if we don’t understand all the details.  He continues:

Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things. 10 So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.

 In America, there seems to be little rejoicing in today’s youth.  Instead there’s much anger, confusion and despair in a culture given over to self-indulgence, leisure and entertainment.  A life lived for others is increasingly not the norm, the pied pipers of sex, drugs and rock n roll have not helped but rather aided this cauldron of foolishness and we are not the better for it.  Included here are professing followers of Jesus who neither know his book nor his pleasure.

The point the preacher is making is that your Creator is going to personally judge your fleeting life so what are you living for?  The same applies to adults and the old who often refuse to think again in light of eternity.  Throughout this book the Preacher has emphasized the futility of life…if God does not exist.  He concludes chapter 12 of Ecclesiastes with sobering words:

In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. 10 The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.  11 The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.  13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

In the midst of his nihilism, the Preacher comes to the conclusion that God really does exist, therefore the way we live really matters for every act whether hidden or not will be judged by Him.

The way we live does truly matter, the motives of our hearts are actually laid bare before the Creator and all is therefore not vain for God as the author of all life and existence gives these meaning.

The words of this book come from Solomon, noted for being the wisest man to have lived apart from Jesus of Nazareth.  Life without God is meaningless, but because God is there, it is absolutely meaningful even though we don’t understand many things in it.

For the believer in Christ Jesus, this is a wake-up call to follow the Master even when life becomes difficult and pain starts drowning out the truth of God’s revelation in scripture.

For the nonbeliever, this too is an alarm to bend the knee to Christ who will judge the living and the dead.  Understand that the love, comfort, justice and peace you deeply long for can only be found in the Righteous One who perfectly executes justice and mercy and that…righteously!

So LORD, help your people live in light of your existence.  Tenderize our hearts to your promptings, open our minds to your thoughts, empower our lives with your strength, so that we may live this short life apportioned to us with passion, ardor and increasing resolve for the kingdom of God and your righteousness, so that it may truly be said of us when our time is done here on earth that we were people who loved God and neighbor.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 5: HOW TO PROPERLY APPROACH GOD

This chapter starts off warning against being foolish when approaching God in worship:

“Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words.  When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God. (Vv.1-6)

Our demeanor here seems to be foolish and evil if we think that our primary function of worship is to “offer” religious duty to God (as if He needed anything from us).  The sacrifice of fools prevents them from principally “hearing” the law of the LORD when it’s read and explained.  There are several lessons I have derived from this text.

First, my heart must first be instructed through God’s self-disclosure in Scripture through my mind before any offering I give is acceptable to God.  That is, clear instruction on God’s intended meaning in Scripture precedes and is to inform the worshipper on how to approach this great God.

Second, if primacy to the aforesaid is not given, then idolatry will follow which at its core takes God’s name in vain (i.e., misrepresents His nature and character) and leads the devotee into bondage because God’s truth is substituted for a lie.  Right doctrine is necessary for right living.

Third, the fool apparently parades his folly through much “speech”.  That is, the fool has forgotten to consider that true worship can’t be bifurcated or separated from the knowing and doing dynamic.  It is the two-sided coin of acceptable worship before God for when we don’t follow through on what we have vowed (promise made), sin results.  For as the standard of truth, goodness and beauty, God always does what He says and says what He does.  His people are to follow suit.

What a difficult concept for us to consider and live out in a culture that largely de-values truth telling on the one hand (e.g., P.C. speech), but deeply longs for it on the other hand.  Jesus said that believers must be people whose word can be counted on:

33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”   (Mt.5:33-37)

The fourth lesson is that it’s better to refrain from speaking than to proceed and to sin (v.6).  I have often dishonored people and God with my speech.  This human malady has been around since the beginning of time and is out of control through our social media forums.  Believers need to be very careful how they speak about people with whom they disagree for human beings are precious image bearers not accidents of evolutionary theory.

Of all the created order, what separates human beings from it is the capacity we have for communication through words.  It is the instrumentality of words that the soul reveals ideas which have the power to either edify or decimate individuals, communities, provinces and even nations.

Like many of you, I’m prone to much speech.  My tone, timing, and audience make the art of communicating well difficult to master.  But believer and unbeliever alike will give an account to God for every idol word that comes out of our hearts.  This is sobering and worthy to consider.

(SDG)

 

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 2: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS—VANITY Part 2

In my struggle and acquaintance with failure concerning every sector of existence (E.g., moral, practical and contemplative) the Preacher’s outlook is not re-assuring but utterly depressing.

Vanity, futility, empty, meaningless are all man’s endeavors under the sun and thus so is his life.   The Preacher indulged himself with pleasure and came up empty whether sexual, intellectual or acquisitional pleasure, it’s all empty:

“I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.” And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, “It is madness,” and of pleasure, “What does it accomplish?” I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives. I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves and I had home born slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men—many concubines.(2.1-8)

He became greater than all of his predecessors and still his activities are considered useless (Vv.9-11).  There’s no boasting here but deprecation of all the things worldly men (of which I once numbered) would die for!  Wine, women and song, riches and pleasures galore—empty says the preacher!

He understood that wisdom far excels folly as the light conquers the darkness and yet even this to him is vain because like the fool so the wise man will die and his memorial will be forgotten:

“So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done? 13 And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. 14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both. 15 Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?” So I said to myself, “This too is vanity.” 16 For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die! 17 So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.”   (2:12-17)

The herald understanding his plight completely despaired of life, his legacy and his toil, the accumulation of which is vanity (2:18-23).  Yet, he reflects on the good life and considers that its basis is found in God alone and happiness is to be had in Him alone:

“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? 26 For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.” (2:24-26)

God gives wisdom to the wise and good person but for the sinner (who in this context is the opposite) their task is gathering and collecting for those God sees as good.  The struggle and restlessness this nihilistic Preacher is enduring is horrible to bear.  The Preacher is saying that existence without God is empty, a breath not worth taking, toil that leads to “nowhere” in the blink of the eye.

What a dark hole his soul sank into, what an empty chasm he’s fallen into, what a dingy dungeon is his abode, the abyss has (almost entirely) swallowed him up.

God and the meaning of life is the question for the man who has wandered from the paths of righteousness.  His plight is a warning to all who do shun God, deny his existence and indulge in fleeting pleasures—emptiness is the reward.  Why?  Because all pleasures in life that put God at the periphery are vain being He is the giver and sustainer of life in whom there is no darkness at all.

The Preacher is warning me to flee all pleasures that have not God at the hub, to consider the vanity of life without Him and to pursue Him in my gloomiest hour for He alone will not disappoint.

(SDG)

Reflections from ESTHER: THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD THROUGH A PAGAN RULER

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            The book of Esther is another marvelous account of the annals in the mosaic of Israel.  The book reads like history, not fantasy where Jewish enemies as in the past sought to destroy them, but God in his providence rescued them through a non-Jewish king named Ahasuerus.

This is a colorful account of a young beauty named Esther who was taken into Mordecai’s home after she became an orphan.  She was left with no kin to care for her, nevertheless God’s sovereign hand was moving behind the scenes.  Today we don’t talk much about God’s providence in the Church and for that matter in the world at large.  We prefer to use words like “chance” or “fate” or “karma” to describe uncanny situations that seem to be going one way, but turn instantly on a dime.

God’s providence among other things concerns the attributes of His power, knowledge, wisdom and goodness that for reasons unknown to creatures He performs for His names sake.  That means that at the center of all divine activity is the renown of the NAME, for unlike the creation which is finite and needy, the God of scripture is infinite and self-existent.  Thus, to attach supreme value to anything other than the ultimate is ultimately irrational and absurd, it is sinful and God is perfectly holy, without any sin.  That is why God does everything for the renown of the NAME.

I’ve read this account several times and peculiar to this book is the mentioning of the Jews but never of God’s name.  It’s as if Israel’s redeemer is preaching to the nations through them with a specific message that needs to be heeded but so often neglected.  The truth is that Israel’s history is the story of God’s dealings in space and time with a particular people to preach a specific message.

This message is one of favor being bestowed on them through a pagan ruler, the king of the land whose heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD, for He turns it wherever He wishes.  Among other things, this is a reminder to God’s people that even if rulers despise God, they are not ultimate God is.  This means that God will see to it that His hidden purposes are established while simultaneously working through the creature.  The scriptures teach that when a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at piece with him.

America needs a move from God in order to deliver us from our own cultural captivity of irrationality grounded in a darkened mind because of our many stony hearts to His law and ways.  God have mercy on your people, including those who have been grafted into the vine by Christ’s great rescue on Calvary’s bloody cross.

(SDG)

Reflections from NEHEMIAH 5-8: THE NEED FOR A RIGHTEOUS GOVERNOR

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            In a day when just (righteous) rulers are needed, our land in America is in a deep drought and famine.  The truth of God is twisted, it is suppressed in unrighteousness and the prevailing “wisdom” calls “right” wrong and what’s “wrong” right.  We are at the cliff’s edge and don’t realize the peril that awaits our steps.  This is difficult to bear.

Israel, God’s people who rebelled, went into exile and now returned to their home land, but they needed to get their lives in order.  This occurs by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly before Almighty God.  To do this, they had to secure their borders first and make sure that they treated their Jewish brothers as covenant people and not strangers of their common wealth (5:1-13)

Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live.” There were others who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine.” Also there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.”  Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words.I consulted with myself and contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, “You are exacting usury, each from his brother!” Therefore, I held a great assembly against them. I said to them, “We according to our ability have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?” Then they were silent and could not find a word to say. Again I said, “The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? 10 And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury.11 Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will give it back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say.” So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise. 13 I also shook out the front of my garment and said, “Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said, “Amen!” And they praised the Lord. Then the people did according to this promise.

There’s also the need for a governor like Nehemiah whose heart fears God (5:14-19), so that when men threaten the people’s welfare, it is God who these rulers seek for victory, not mere creatures (6:1-14).  This event is not a myth, but written in space time history demonstrated in the census where the names of the sons of men are counted (7:1-73).  Then there’s the need for the Law to be read, explained and understood so that the people may worship the One True God.  This was a radically God centered event in the history of wayward Israel (8:1-12)

And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place.They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.

Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.

So, what do I perceive?  I perceive that the hearts of men are hopelessly broken and in need of the Great Physician to restore them to health.  I can see that Godly leadership is essential for this healing to occur and that a nation is always better off with these than with self-absorbed rulers.  I also recognize that part of what it means to get our lives in order includes performing our civic and religious duties from a Word, Scripture centered point.  Neglect these and the tapestry begins to come apart at the fray.  God, help us your people be like Nehemiah in word and in deed.  (SDG)

Reflections from NEHEMIAH 1-4: RESTORING WORSHIP IS COSTLY BUSINESS

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Our rebellion results in the desolation of our souls.  Only after contrition and repentance before Yahweh is complete are we His people ready to rebuild that which our sin decimated.

Nehemiah loved God’s people and Jerusalem, for biblically, worship and the land are always closely linked.  The land prospers when the worship of Yahweh obtains but desolation is assured when idolatrous wayward people have their own way.  Nonetheless, God’s promise of returning back to the land from Babylonian captivity after seventy years had come to fruition.

As the kings cupbearer, Nehemiah had favor with Artaxerxes such that he was granted royal support to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild its walls:

And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.” And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.

Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel. (2:1-10)

And yet, Nehemiah had enemies that would linger whose sole purpose was to mock, threaten and discourage the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls and infrastructure:

“Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?”Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders.” (4:1-5)

 Nehemiah, like a recon man, did not show his hand in the land until after he examined the damage that needed reparation (2:11-18).  Among those involved in repairing the broken down walls were priests, goldsmiths and perfumers yet the nobles did not support the work (chapter 3).

Opposition is often manifested through mockery fueled by anger.  These two go hand in glove by those who hate righteousness and laud wickedness (4:1-3).  The way to combat such spiritual warfare (and it is spiritual wrestling) is sometimes through imprecatory prayer directed to Almighty God.  This type of intercession is pivotal for combating the dangers we His people confront.  When our passion is the renown of God’s Name, He hears our cries evidenced in Nehemiah’s experience (4:7-14).

In order for the work to continue, the laborers needed protection and this through swords, spears and shields.  That is, after the intercession was offered, the people still needed to arm themselves:

“When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. 17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me. 19 I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. 20 At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” 21 So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.” 23 So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water.”  (4:15-23)       

I have often felt that that the walls have been torn down in the American church because the culture, not the scriptures, are what dictates to many professing Christians what they believe.  Included in the range of issues are: the issue of origins (a-la Darwinism), the status of the unborn (Abortion), the meaning of marriage (a-la same-sex “marriage”), embracing a pluralistic view of salvation (a-la any religion can lead you to Jesus), etc.  It’s only because of His great mercy we’re not wiped off the face of this earth.

Personally, I’m often overwhelmed and burdened with the sin of unbelief that keeps me from pursuing God in the midst of my anxieties, fears and doubts.  Fortunately, God’s word here in Nehemiah reminds me that where God guides He will provide the necessary resources to accomplish the tasks put before us.  So LORD we look to you to be our strength, light, and courage as we your people endeavor to be salt and light in this land.  Help us be faithful stewards of the gifts given to each one of us for the common good of the Church and our Neighbors.  Give us a renewed vision of your Holiness!

(SDG)