New Mercies Every Day- A Thought on Lamentations 3.22-24

July 3, 2009

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’
” -Lamentations 3.22-24

The Lord is both steadfast and fresh.  His loving kindness for his people never dies nor grows old.  Those whom he predestined “in love” from “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1.3-6), daily he still has affection for.

How convicting is this?  The greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22.37) and this I can’t do for a moment even though he is so worthy.  Yet for me, God comes up with new mercies every day!  This is solely by his grace, that he forgives my iniquities and transgressions, “remember[ing] that [I am] dust” (Psalm 103.14b) and utterly incapable of showing back his love through my own power.

Father, o how weak I am!  Each hour I fail you countless times, neglecting your sacrifice and making a mockery of the cross by my selfish behavior.  I fall on my face and ask forgiveness.  Thank you for your steadfastness.  Thank you for never tiring of me, even though I tire of following you so often.  Thank you for your Son.  Thank you, Father, thank you!

Sunday Devotion- A Prayer over Joshua 10.42

June 14, 2009

And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel.” -Joshua 10.42

Look how much was accomplished with the Lord fighting for Israel!  How great is his hand and mighty are the victories that he gives to them!  Yet a time will come when God no longer fights for his people but against them, to the point where he calls their enemy, “My servant” (Jeremiah 25.9), as he leads them into exile.

Why did Israel forsake such a blessing as this?  Why did they turn to wickedness instead of following such a great God in devotion and obedience forever?

This is our estate.  This is my sin.  Easily I forsake the victorious Lord for self-defeating masters.

Who he is is clear in my head, but somehow my heart gets clouded.  I chase after worldly gain when all I need to do is call upon the Lord for all my needs.

Like Israel, I know I have victory only with God fighting for me.  But in my sin I carry on without him nonetheless.

Our Brother’s Keeper- A Devotion on Joshua 7

June 7, 2009

But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel. . . . The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned.’” -Joshua 7.1,10-11a

Even though only one man, Achan, had sinned, God views this action as a sin by the whole people.  That is because his covenant is with the whole people (Joshua 6.18) and it is the covenant which is transgressed (Joshua 7.11).  We typically say that Achan’s sin had corporate consequences, but in reality there are corporate consequences because this is a corporate sin.  Had the people held one another accountable, had the leadership shepherded the people better, knowing the ways of the individuals in their flock, they might have caught Achan sooner or removed him from the situation altogether.  This also explains the remedy.  It is not merely (or maybe at all) punishment for Achan.  Stoning him and burning him and the stolen goods is the people dealing with their own sin (contrast with the punishment of Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6.6-7).  This is a highly literal example of putting to death what is earthly in them (Colossians 3.5).

So then, how does this speak to us today?  Contemporary church and Christianity is too ready to turn a blind eye to immorality and occasions of sin among us.  We cannot stomach the transparency and accountability that God’s Word demands and thus we all become culpable when sin is allowed to occur and go undealt with in our congregations.  We expect God to only hold that individual responsible, and if the sin affects us then we are just being oppressed by someone else’s disobedience.  But we are to blame too!  We must take care with all people and not just ourselves.  We are our brother’s keeper; we need to act like it!

Revolutionary Christianity- Living the Revolutionary Lifestyle in Anger

May 28, 2009

“And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons . And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” “ – Mark 11:15-17

“And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber.” – Nehemiah 13:8

One of the more complicated issues for the revolutionary Christian to address is that of anger. When we think of anger the first image that comes to mind is of a person screaming and cussing and breaking things. This certainly is not something that would be considered Biblical. So, in understanding and trying to cope with this it is easy to construct rules which say not to get mad. In fact, in Christ’s teachings he even says that “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:22). Therefore, it can be settled that Christianity and anger are incompatible and so Christians should never be angry.

There is just one problem with this, that being, Christ himself got angry, angry even to the point that threw some tables around. I have found it to be a good marker for bad teachings, that we want to be careful not to create a theology which disqualifies Jesus. Thus, if it is not sinful for Christians to be angry, what is the right interpretation of how to behave?

Plainly put, I believe the solution can be found in Ephesians 4:26-27:

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”

It is alright to be angry. Anger is just one of the myriad emotions which God has created and giving to the human palatte for application. So, we clearly see that anger is not a sin in and of itself, but that we should be careful not to allow anger to lead us into some other sin.

We see an illustration of this in Nehemiah 13. In this chapter Nehemiah becomes aware that one of the priests has allowed an outsider to marry into his family and moreover has prepared for this man an apartment inside the store room of the temple. As it says above, Nehemiah was very angry and threw out all of the man’s possessions. Why? Because this was the house of God and the part which was to be used for storing the offerings to God were instead being used to house a man who by God’s decree was forbidden to join in the assembly of the Israelites. Thus, Nehemiah’s anger was towards the disobedience and irreverence being prosecuted against God. Was Nehemiah angry because some personal harm had been done to his person? No. Did he go overboard and kill the man out of rage? No. He simply got angry and cleansed the temple so that the proper respect may be paid to God, and then he let it go.

We also see an illustration of this in Genesis with the story of the rape of Dinah (Chapter 34). In verse 7 it says that “the sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done.” However, in response to this anger two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, devised and executed a plan to slay all of the peoples associated with the man who committed this act (vv.25-26). Later, when Jacob goes to bless his sons, he chastises not all of the sons who were angry but just the two who carried their anger into sin (Genesis 49:8). Similarly, we have an account in 1 Samuel where the spirit of the Lord descends upon Saul and it says of Saul that “his anger was greatly kindled” (1 Samuel 11:6). As a result of this Saul splits two oxen in half and threatens to do the same to any persons oxen who does not come to stand up against a great injustice, and because Saul acted in the spirit of the Lord all went well with him.

Therefore, as a revolutionary Christian, we must get angry when God is disrespected or maligned, or whenever a great act of injustice or tragedy is committed against our brethren, however we must be careful not to sin in doing so. Our purpose must be to see God glorified and obeyed in the proper manner and not to fulfill a personal vendetta (“‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ says the Lord,” Romans 12:19). It is okay to get angry, to teach otherwise is sheer legalism, but as with many other things, our anger must be carried out with the Lord’s prayer in mind: that God’s will be done.

Revolutionary Christianity- Living the Revolutionary Lifestyle in Accountability, Part 3

May 27, 2009

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” – Genesis 50:20

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” – Matthew 6:12

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” -Romans 3:23-25

So far in looking at how to live a revolutionary lifestyle in accountability we have discussed the need for transparency and admitting to the sins we commit and also have focused on how we can recognize Biblical repentance which leads to life versus false repentances which will lead to death. However, in this present culture of psychotherapy, antidepressants, and Dr. Phil, it is also necessary for us to discuss one last aspect of accountability, that being the avoidance of playing the victim.

I am a victim of my circumstances. Everyone has heard this, and if we’re honest, most of us have probably said a similar thing at some point in our life. These days everyone is a victim of what they don’t have. If you are poor then you’re a victim of not having the right clothes or living in the right neighborhood. If you’re rich then you are a victim of not having the right Coach purse or the right limo at prom. If you are married then you are victim of not having enough freedom to flirt with the new girl at work. If you have kids then you are victim of having to go to Disney World instead of Vegas on vacation. We can all claim some kind of victimization in our lives.

Moreover, in claiming this status of being a victim we seek some sort of compensation. This is what leads to school shootings and divorce and abortions. We feel slighted by our classmates or our spouse or by condoms and it is up to us to take care of getting retribution for the pain we have been caused. And so, the big question about all of this is “Is it Biblical?”

Is it Biblical to seek retribution for “wrongs” done against us, be it physical wrongs such as abuse, emotional wrongs likes neglect, or perceived wrongs like our upbringing? The straight-talk answer is a resounding “No!” It doesn’t take much studying to realize this either. Starting in Genesis 3, at the time when sin first enters the world, we see Adam and Eve caught up in the original blame game. God accuses Adam of sin, Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent, and God curses them all! Why? Because none were holy. Even though the temptation was initiated by the serpent, Eve sinned in her pride to seek the wisdom from the Tree of Knowledge in disobedience to God’s command, and Adam sinned first in his lack of spiritual leadership over his household and secondly in partaking of the fruit as well. All were guilty and as such all had to bear the consequence.

Similarly for us, irregardless of what may have happened to us, and I don’t want to seem incompassionate because some people have terrible things happen to them which should never be done to any person, but we are nonetheless not holy either. David says in Psalm 58:3, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” Here the wicked applies to all of us, for as we recall from Ephesians 2:1, we are all dead spiritually prior to God’s gift of regeneration.

Thus, as we see in Romans 3:23-25 and in 1 John 4:10, we are sinners separated from God, deserving of His wrath. We have sinned against God, and because He alone is holy, then He would be just to punish us for this sin. Yet that is the wonderful gospel! God’s wrath was averted by Christ’s atoning death on the cross. He was our propitiation, which literally says that His death was the means by which God’s wrath towards us was satsified. God took all of the horrors that were rightly ours because of our sin and executed them upon the Son, who stood as our substitute so that we may live. So, in light of this, what right do we then have to crucify someone else for the sins they commit against us?

This teaching couldn’t be anymore clear, and yet we quickly fall into the mindset of deflecting our own shortcomings onto others in attempt to make ourselves look or feel better. But, in order to exercise revolutionary Christianity we must reject this way of thinking. We must be accountable to our sins and not get caught up in playing the blame game to try and portray a false piety in front of the world. If we truly desire to be a revolutionary like Christ we must be accountable for our own sins and quick to forgive the sins of others against us, for as has long demonstrated, God is powerful enough to take that stuff which is meant by man to be purely for evil and use it for His greater purpose in the salvation of the elect.

Revolutionary Christianity- Living the Revolutionary Lifestyle in Accountability, Part 1

May 25, 2009

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” – Psalm 51:1-5

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” – Romans 7:15-20

“For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” – 1 Corinthians 15:9

One of the great plagues of our present age is the complete lack of accountability among all citizens of the earth. Thus, even more should the lifestyle of revolutionary Christianity be about being accountable, both to God and to each other. When the world around us deflects and hides and puffs up against the negative images which they wish to oppress, we as Christians must embrace our failings and bring them before God in a spirit of humility to be redeemed.

As exemplified by Paul, we must admit that there is nothing in us apart from God which seeks to do that which is holy. As his words in 1 Corinthians 15:9 and 1 Timothy 1:15 show, he is fully aware of his guilt in the persecution and murder of Christians prior to his conversion. This is because, as he states in Romans 3:10-18, there is no one which is righteous, no one who seeks God. Or, as John says in 1 John 1:8,10, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word in not in us.”

This is most passionately proclaimed by David, who in anguish over his sin with Bathsheba composed the 51st Psalm, saying “I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.” David was king of Israel and yet, under conviction of his utter depravity and wickedness, falls on his face and cries out to God for forgiveness, acknowledging that he is a sinner and wholly worthy of God’s judgment.

Therefore, we too must be ready to admit where we have failed in our obedience to God’s commands, being overwhelmed with a godly grief which “produces a repentance which leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corithians 7:10). We may take comfort in the verse sandwiched between two earlier verses, 1 John 1:9, which says that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from unrighteousness.”

The life of a revolutionary Christian is not one lived in the shadows, one eclipsed by the massive sin which we hide or leave unconfessed in our hearts, but instead is one characterized by a transparency and genuine sorrow over our disobedience. If we wish to see the world convicted of their sins then we first must be willing to confront our own, no matter how ugly or embarrassing they may appear.

“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” – 1 John 1:6-7

Revolutionary Christianity- Living the Revolutionary Lifestyle in Public

May 19, 2009

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ “ – Like 19:5-8

“As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’ “
– Matthew 9:9-13

When Christians discuss Jesus and His life and ministry, so many want to focus on His parables or on the conversations He had with the disciples. However, only focusing on that stuff, as wonderful and beneficial as it is, neglects another very worthwhile portion of Jesus’ ministry: Jesus hung out with sinners! And no, not just in the “we are all sinners” way, but Jesus actually spent large amounts of time with the greedy, loose, drunken, and morally corrupt! He spoke at a well with a serial divorcee who was living in fornication with her current partner (John 4). He called a money-grubbing tax collector out from the collection tables to follow Him as a disciple (Matthew 9). He allowed a sinful woman to approach Him and wash His feet as He ate with a Pharisee (Luke 7). In short, Jesus didn’t shy away from sinners, but instead He embraced them and loved on them, and through this loving, He was able to effectually rebuke them and bring them to a saving faith (Luke 7:50).

So then, why as Christians today are we so afraid of the world? Why are we so afraid to go to the movie theaters or to be seen in places where *gasp* people drink alcohol? Why have we adopted the attitude of the Pharisee who says, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”?

To follow Christ is to be revolutionary in our public behavior. First, we are to be revolutionary to the lifestyle of religious people. As a true follower we must fight against the mindset which says we have to sit at home on Sundays or homeschool our children. For we see that Jesus healed on the Sabbath (“it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath“, Luke 9:12), and that Daniel accepted the schooling of the Babylonians, more opposed to God than any present-day public school, without religious conflict (Daniel 1). Jesus even makes a point to tell the religious people that “the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31), because the sinners, though sinful, have realized their need for a savior and repented to follow, but the religious people in their piety are unable to accept Christ as Lord.

Second, we must be revolutionary to the lifestyle of the world. Though Jesus ate with the sinners, socialized with the prostitutes, and partied with the drunkards, He did not partake in their sinful lifestyles (Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22). Moreover, Jesus, in His righteousness, was able to call these people out of their sin and into eternal life (Luke 8, John 4). In such a manner, we too are led. As quoted above, the apostle Paul makes it clear that we should use our freedom as Christians to better acquaint ourselves with unbelievers so that through our efforts some may be saved. Don’t get me wrong, if a brother struggles with alcohol, he shouldn’t minister in a bar. However, if a man is able to do so with a clear conscience, then a bar would be a great place to make friends with unbelievers. We must be revolutionary in our behavior, not acting like every fool with an STD and a lampshade on our head, but as a joyous, sanctified creature, fully intoxicated on the glory of Jesus Christ and longing to peer pressure non-believers into trying some too.

Christ was a revolutionary in His public and social life. His conscience was clear and His purpose was sure. He longed to meet sinners where they were and call them to repentance through a relationship with Himself, and He could not have cared less what the legalistic religious people said.

Steps to the Dark Side, part 3- Some Theological Abuses that Lead to Christian Universalism

May 8, 2009

Today I am going to briefly hit the final part of my argument over the four theological errors that are leading or contributing to a rise in Christian Universalist beliefs among traditional evangelical circles by discussing the denial of the doctrine of a literal hell.  Following today’s post I will take a day or two to jump back into the What We Believe series going through the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 and then at the start of next week I will return for one last post over what the evangelical church can do to combat against Christian Universalism in its midst.

Whenever I consider the denial of the doctrine of a literal hell my first thought is always over this quote from Brian McLaren which has appeared numerous times on my blog:

Tony [Campolo] and I might disagree on the details, but I think we are both trying to find an alternative to both traditional Universalism and the narrow, exclusivist understanding of hell [that unless you explicitly accept and follow Jesus, you are excluded from eternal life with God and destined for hell] . . .   Although in many ways I find myself closer to the view of God held by some universalists than I do the view held by some exclusivists, in the end I’d rather turn our attention from the questions WE think are important to the question JESUS thinks is most important. (Brian McLaren, Christianity Today5 May 2006)

This quote, in my mind, was the rallying cry for an acceptance of Christian Universalism into the mainstream.  McLaren’s writings are readily available in any bookstores ‘Christianity’ section, so his name, combined with the long-standing platform of Christianity Today among the evangelical community, makes this a powerful statement.

For clarity’s sake, when I say that someone is denying the doctrine of a literal hell, what I mean is that they deny the doctrine of a literal, eternal separation from God.  Many people want to quibble over things saying, “No, I don’t believe in a place of eternal darkness,” or “No, I don’t believe in a place of fire and brimstone,” but this is avoiding the point.  I do not care to argue over if hell is a fiery place, a cold dark place, if it is a place under the earth, an actual lake of fire, or maybe just New Orleans; that’s all of no consequence.  What matters is whether you believe in a “place” where God eternally punishes those who have not come to him in faith?  If you do then you believe in a literal hell; if not then you don’t.  

Now you may ask, why do I call this literal hell?  I mean, some Christian Universalists say things like, “The Universalist regards hell as signifying the consequences of sin, severe but salutary, to endure as long as sin endures, but to end with the reformation for the sinner.”  Does that not mean they believe in a literal hell too?  No, because they do not believe in hell in the way that the Bible believes in hell, which is where the “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9.48) and where people “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1.9).  The only literal hell is the one that is spoken of quite literally in Scripture.  (Of course, many will argue that the Scriptures are not so clear on this, but how many ad hoc arguments and hand-waving exegeses will we listen to before saying enough?)

So, is it obvious enough why the denial of a literal hell is a major contributer to Christian Universalism in evangelicalism?  

Looking at it again, there is one thing I agree with McLaren– the opposite of the denial of hell is exclusivism: “Although in many ways I find myself closer to the view of God held by some universalists than I do the view held by some exclusivists . . .”  What I mean is that ANY religion which believes you can be saved by some means outside of faith in the vicarious atoning death of Christ and his resurrection is functionally Universalism.  All other means are a lie and heresy just like Universalism and believing that one thing else can save you is for all intents and purposes a belief that anything else can save you.

I will probably have more to say about the denial of hell after reading the two chapters on it in Dr. Mohler’s new book The Disappearance of God, but I think this will do for now.

Instead of a Show- What God Seeks and Has Always Sought from His People

May 1, 2009

In my lessons for Sunday School I have finally come to the end of Isaiah (no, I didn’t teach the whole thing.  We’re on the LifeWay plan which only covers about 10 chapters) and this week will be teaching out of Isaiah 66.  As I read through this I was immediately struck by the first four verses and decided that was where I would camp out for the week.  Here’s what it says:

Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be,declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.”

The first thing we need to remember in looking at this passage is the context.  It is being delivered as a prophecy through Isaiah to a collection of Old Testament Jews.  These were Jews who both had the temple in front of them and were fiercely committed to the Levitical law.  Then armed with that information, standing in the sandals of 8th century B.C. Israelites, to hear God say, essentially, that the temple is foolishness and those who make sacrifices are wretched must come off as quite a shock.  It doesn’t take much searching to find the places in Scripture where God actually ordained these things in the first place (cf. 2 Samuel 7.12-13 and Leviticus 1-7 resp.).  So, what gives?  Why do we now find the same God who instituted the temple and the sacrifical offerings calling them out as inadequate and evil?

The key of course comes in what is said at the end of verse 2:

“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

In this verse God is giving us the (new?) criteria by which he judges the works of our hands.  He will not accept them unless proffered by those coming in humility and contrition (specifically in light of their personal sin and unrighteousness).  We see this same thought echoed elsewhere in the Old Testament:

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God area broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51.16-17)

Still, in light of the fact that we understand why he says this now (in Isaiah 66), the question remains over the seeming about face from earlier in his commands.  Does God now (in the Old Testament) not only seek offerings but also seek the right spirit in offering them?  Well, yes and no.  To some extent this is new, but to another it is the way things were always meant to be and through God’s progressive revelation of the truth it just took time for it to be expressed physically, even though it was always expected.

Most importantly, it points them forward to the New Testament and the final sacrifice for sins that will eternally satisfy God– that being the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  Hebrews 10.1-7 speaks loud and clear about this event and how it was shadowed by the instructions for the Old Testament period.  Thus, it is an abomination for us to perform sacrifices for iniquity by our own hands since “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10.4), yet this is exactly what the offering of Christ on the cross accomplished.

But still there is something remaining.  Christ satisfies the sin and guilt and peace offerings (cf. 1 John 2.2, Colossians 2.13-14 and Romans 5.1-7 resp.), but there is one sacrifice which is left for us to perform: the thanksgiving sacrifice (Leviticus 7.12-15).  This is our responsibility to offer as mentioned in Romans 12.1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  Of course, the same restriction applies.  We must bring forth our offering in humility and contrite spirit for it to be acceptable to God; yet this is exactly what we can and will do “by the mercies of God,” who gives us hearts which can see beyond the darkness of ourselves and into the light of his glory.

Looking at this I am excited by the language of the Old Testament and the pictures it leaves which now, on the other side of the cross, we can look upon and see what God had intended through their use all along.  There can be no doubt that God is sovereign over all creation and has divinely appointed all the times and seasons from before the foundation of the earth when one looks at how clearly God’s heart for his people in the New Testament was revealed to those under the law in prior days.  God is good!

I will close by leaving for you guys a video of Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman singing a very appropriate song entitled “Instead of a Show.”

A Challenge from the Prophet- Reading Elijah’s Actions onto Our Own Ministries

April 28, 2009

I was reading the passages composing the life of the prophet Elijah this morning (roughly 1 Kings 17 through 2 Kings 2) and as I was reading I highlighted two verses that I want to share with you here.

The first verse occurs in the introductory account of Elijah, as a prophet who comes bringing a drought, only to find himself later bringing new life to a widow’s dead son.  After this event, that being the resurrection of the widow’s son, Elijah presents the now-living offspring to its mother leading to the following reaction:

And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” (1 Kings 17.24)

Elijah’s spiritual gifting of raising the dead boy confirmed to the widow that this message of God he was proclaiming was the truth.  Not only was he speaking of God (cf. v.18) but he was speaking a true word of God, which God was delivering through him, about the Lord’s power in regards to life and death, to fertility and infertility, over and above the power of the foreign gods and Baal.  Elijah’s message was true and his actions confirmed this, to which all the widow could reply is, “The word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”

What does it take to hear people say this of us today?  This makes me think in particular of the issue we raised concerning Rick Warren a few weeks ago.  Pastor Warren had a message that he was delivering with strength and integrity, that God’s intention for marriage is one man and one woman, and for the state to sanction elsewise, for the individual to support a statute declaring elsewise, was a stance in clear violation of God’s revealed word.  But then he wavered.  Instead of providing a firm resolve leading people to declare that “The word of the LORD in [his] mouth [was] truth,” Pastor Warren hedged and qualified and basically lied trying to ingratiate himself to a population which stood opposed to God on this issue.  He had a large enough platform to cast a decisive vote in favor of God’s design in marriage, and instead he squandered it for the ability to be liked by people in high places on the other side of the aisle, which one can only conclude hurts his position with both sides in the end.

We must live in such a way that the word of the LORD from our mouth is undeniably true.  Second, we find this statement from Elijah’s encounter with the priests of Baal in front of the people of Israel at Mount Sinai:

And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. (1 Kings 18.21)

Huh, interesting!?!  Here we find Elijah standing before the people of God confronting them with a decision to follow either God or Baal, and the people come off dumbfounded.  His proposition is priceless: “If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”  You better choose.  If you truly follow God as you say, then follow him and leave off this crap with Baal.  But if your god is really Baal then quit running around telling people that you serve the one true God.  

It is certainly no stretch to imagine Elijah saying the same thing at any church in America today only to receive the same response.  Our churches and schools and televisions are littered with people who claim to follow God (or God through Christ), only to later demonstrate that they are following Baal or some other pagan good of personal satisfaction and desire.  Our message gets watered down, our witness destroyed and our patience tried, watching people who don’t know Jesus from Beyonce claiming allegiance to Christ.  Yet we accept it without a word.  We let it be done without confrontation, and as such we see God’s name dragged through the mud of pop culture tolerance while the truth remains unproclaimed.  Elijah did not leave the people of Israel this option.  He said first and foremost that all cards were on the table.  Either you follow God or you follow Baal.  No one gets to ride the fence.  If only we had such courage in the culture today, to call out the hypocrisy of our nation instead of placating their sins and abusing the notion of grace as to not look intolerant to the world.  Who cares what they think?  Certainly not the incomparable God we serve.

So, here we have two strong statements from the life of Elijah.  Now let us seek to find them true in our own lives and ministries.