God's Terrifying Judgments Are His Kindness.

Often when we read of the judgment and condemnation of God, we shudder with fear at how the eternal wrath of an infinite being might be experienced. Throughout the Old Testament, God warned his sinful children of Israel that they would experience his great wrath because of their disobedience. As you read through Jeremiah, it is impossible to miss that God not only describes his terrifying judgment at the hands of other nations (particularly Babylon), there is also explicit description as to God’s true perception of those who are supposed to be His children. They are a faithless whoredom who have placed stone and wood above His own majesty. They have made their own gods and followed after the false gods of other nations. This has resulted in an unimaginable depravity of people who are supposed to reflect God’s glory.

God chose a young man by the name of Jeremiah to go to the people of Judah and warn them of their impending demise. His words are clear and brutally descriptive of their coming plight.

Jerermiah 7:33-34. And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste.

When you read these verses, it may be difficult to acknowledge the kindness of God. From a human perspective we hear nothing but a horrific future and tragic demise. Reading these words has led many people to think about God as unloving or to consider that the God of the Old Testament is somehow different to the God of the New Testament. Not so!

Intertwined throughout the horrific judgments are statements that call Judah to repentance.

Jerermiah 7:3, 5, 23 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. ... 5 "For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, ... 23 But this command I gave them: 'Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.' ...

Whenever we hear the prophets speaking judgment upon God’s disobedient people, we should not overlook that mixed in these warnings are calls to repent and obey and to put their trust in the one true God who has power to both judge and save. Judah did not heed these calls and as a result were taken into exile by Babylon who destroyed their cities. Even so, Judah could not sit in captivity and say that God was not just or kind. They had ample warning from a God who faithfully keeps his promises. In warnings of judgment, there is the kindness of God.

Jesus gave these same warnings to his disciples. In Matthew 7:21-23 he warned that many who call themselves Christians would one day stand before Him and find themselves condemned to eternal punishment. His warning to us as Christians today is that lip service is not the same as saving faith. His warning is a kindness for us to turn to him in urgency before we stand before him “on that day.”

Romans 11:22. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

Detecting a Wolf the Right Way.

Jesus told us to beware of false prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

I have a reasonable knowledge of the people who attend my Church and even though I cannot see their hearts, I have confidence that there is not a wolf among us. Even so, Jesus told his disciples to “Beware” of wolves and gave them guidelines to recognize them (Matthew 7:15-20).

The description of false prophets being wolves in sheep’s clothing should help us to discern that false prophets often look and sound just like sheep. Often when evangelical Christians have thought of the description of false prophets, we have pictured the tele-evangelists who have fleeced millions of dollars out of people to buy their new personal jet. They are most definitely wolves, and they do use Christian rhetoric and biblical text as their tools. For most believers, the mega star wolves are easy to detect, but the fact that Jesus has to inform us of how to recognize them leads us to believe that they can be very subtle and not so easy to detect. Jesus says that we are to know them by their fruit. This is not restricted to what they say, but also how they live, their allegiance to Christ, their attitude of repentance, and their pursuit of holiness. Sheep should have fruit that reflects a regenerate nature. If a wolf can be that subtle, how can a church be on alert without raising suspicion and pointing fingers at every single action or statement that does not match up with the regenerate nature of a sheep? If we cannot take every sheep at face value, how do we live together without being everyone’s personal policeman? How do we acknowledge that sometimes even sheep sin, even grievously, in their pursuit of holiness?

The beautiful thing about God’s Word is that it is always authoritative in both truth for orthodoxy and orthopraxy. That is, we have Scripture for both the truth we uphold and the way we uphold it. This includes the way we live out being alert for wolves. Let’s think about some factors to consider.

1. While in Matthew 7:15 Jesus tells us to be alert for wolves, we should remember that Jesus has already told us not to be defined by a condemning spirit (Matthew 7:1). The grace of God we have received generally helps us to realize that we are not to walk around with a judgmental attitude. If we see a wolf like characteristic in someone, we will be careful to watch and listen more before we pounce.

2. Paul’s genuine love for the church at Corinth caused him to have a “divine jealousy” for them. He did not warn them of the “super apostles” from a desire to be right in exposing their error. His motivation was the love of the church. If we have this type of love for the church, we will act out of protection of something we hold dear rather than exposing something we simply know to be wrong. (2 Corinthians 11).

3. In 2 Timothy 2, Paul warns Timothy of some false teaching among them in Ephesus. In the instruction he tells Timothy not to be quarrelsome, but to make sure he can teach truth and correct with gentleness. Paul also says that God may give grace to help them see the error of their ways and lead them to repentance. If this actually happens, we are obviously not dealing with a wolf. (2 Tim 2:24-26).

4. In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus tells his disciples how the church is to deal with sin and error by approaching a brother or sister one to one with a view to win them. We should see this as the goal of our approach. If someone might be won personally or even if it takes two or three witnesses, the goal of winning a brother or sister defuses the pride of correcting or judging for our own personal motives.

5. Love! In the beautiful love passage of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul tells us that we can have all the oratory gifts and even speak in the language of the angels but if we do not have love we are just a clanging gong. This means that even if we do detect a true wolf, we cannot expect that person to hear us if we just sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Without love, our words of correction will be useless.

6. Most of all, we should acknowledge that Jesus gives this command to his disciples. Throughout the New Testament, we see that the church as a body, particularly in its local context, is responsible for upholding doctrine and protecting purity under the headship of Christ. It is only in the local church context where correction and discipline can happen in a way that there is real concern for the soul and an ability to reinstate where repentance is a reality. The church has something that non-church ministries and blogging can never accomplish no matter how helpful and good they are. The local church is able to carry out good judgment in the active truth and love of inclusion and exclusion in the protection of purity.

Wolves are real, and Jesus says that they are seriously dangerous. We do have to beware and realize that there is a great history of churches being ravaged by wolves. From Roman Catholicism to Liberalism to prosperity doctrines, practices and propagation of heretical ideas have first formed in the minds and mouths of individuals in churches who looked and sounded just like us. We do have to beware. We do have to be on alert. In doing so, we apply a biblical balance of grace and the right motivation to please Christ and love his bride.

Choose Life!

Deuteronomy 30:19-20: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."

There were two distinct ways that God had put before his chosen people.  Be my people in obedience and faith and you will enjoy the possession of the land.  Be disobedient and faithless and you will know death and curse.  Anyone who knows the history of Israel realizes that Israel was a disobedient and unfaithful people.  They suffered exactly what God had promised and saw the devastation of death and exile from the land. 

The fact that God gave this command to “choose” one way over the other seems an uneasy consideration for some.  If we accept that there is a responsible choice to be made, are we denying the sovereignty of God in his electing grace? In the case of Old Testament Israel, one might attempt to argue that this people were already the elect of God.  It is true that God had chosen Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and that this people was a product of his electing love, but it is also true that Israel as a national people of God was filled with both believers and unbelievers. The individual responsibility for each person to live in obedience to God’s covenant was an undeniable reality. While the call to Israel is a national call to choose life, it had to be enacted individually. To faithfully obey the command of God is an individual responsibility even if it is a corporate call. 

We who live in the New Covenant live in the reality of Jesus who is the only human being to have kept God’s covenant and he did so on our behalf.  We stand before the judge of the universe and we are all individually responsible for our sin and our acceptance of Jesus who has kept the covenant on our behalf. Jesus is our only way into the promised land.  He is our only gate to life.  Therefore, just as Moses said to wandering Israel, Jesus says to us, “Choose life.” 

Jesus used different words than Moses, but it is the same call and appeal to our responsibility before God.  Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. ” (Mt. 7:13). The appeal of Christ is for us to forsake all else to trust and obey him as our King. 

We know that in the wider teaching of Scripture that Jesus also tells us that all that the Father gives him will come.  He tells us that he already knows each of his sheep by name and that his lost sheep must be found. Paul tells us that we are saved by grace through faith and that this is not of our doing. Yet, none of the Scriptures that emphasize the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation undermine his instruction that we are responsible before him and called to choose and enter the only way of life.  

Biblical balance is the only balance we can maintain.  The fact that humans cannot understand how to make human responsibility and God’s sovereignty meet does not mean that one must triumph over the other.  Every human being is responsible before the Lord.  The Lord saves by his electing love those who he has predestined and called. Human responsibility points us toward response.  We stand before the God of the universe and we must choose life and we must enter. This is an impossible task except for the grace of God, but it is not our responsibility to consider whether that grace has been applied to us.  It is our responsibility to enter.  It is our responsibility to repent and believe. In doing so we must thank God for his grace. 

Social Gospel or Social Imperative?

There are some statements in Scripture that we love to either put in the too hard basket or simply skip over because we deem them less important than others.  One of those statements is made by John the Baptist as he was preparing the way for the Messiah, Jesus.  

Luke gives us very detailed information about how John described what repentance looked like for the Jews that were watching him baptize and listening to him preach.  Luke reports in 3:8-14, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." And the crowds asked him, "What then shall we do?"  And he answered them, "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise." Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than you are authorized to do." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation and be content with your wages."

While the Jewish elite were claiming their physical heritage in Abraham, John was reminding them that the true family of God is identified in the fruit of repentance in our life.  John then describes what that repentance looks like.  It is a love that treats people with dignity and respect and is interested in the needs of others and does not act unjustly.  This echoes the type of complaint that many of the Old Testament prophets had with Israel as they had dismissed the love of God and were treating the poor and needy in despicable ways.  Whether we want to admit it or not, John is saying that true repentance and faith is going to be reflected in the way we live out the love of God in our life toward others.  We have received mercy and we must show that mercy.  

Some people gloss over these words because many of us have been fearful of the appearance of a social gospel. However, this concern is easily accounted for if we just read some of the other statements that John had already made. A few verses earlier, Luke had already recorded John as saying that we need repentance for our sins, that his job was to make way for the coming Messiah “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' (Luke 3:3-6)" John (and Luke) were very concerned about salvation from sin and not just social welfare.  So, while we can be sensitive to the fact that some people have wrongly attributed social justice and welfare as the contributing factor to salvation, John and Luke have identified the social imperative as an outworking of true repentance and saving faith already obtained.  It is the outworking of that which reflects that we are already the true people of God. We love and have compassion like God has loved and has had compassion upon us. Justice and compassion are attributes of the heart of God that can be seen in the Old and New Testament.  They are attributes we must reflect as his sons and daughters.

In his book, “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism,” Carl Henry wrote, “The social spirit of John’s preaching was not contrary to Jesus’ own message. Replying to the imprisoned forerunner’s inquiry concerning the Christ, Jesus endorses a particular expectation about the Messiah which the Baptist had doubtless gleaned from the Old Testament: “Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matt. 11:4-5, Luke 7:22). In view of so central a passage, it is difficult to find room for a gospel cut loose entirely from non-spiritual needs. It is true that the New Testament repeatedly employs phrases like the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, and the dead receiving life, in the figurative sense of spiritual regeneration.  But that cannot be said for the lame walking, nor for the lepers being cleansed; furthermore, Luke definitely prefixes Jesus’ reply to John with the comment that “in the same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight.” (7:21). There is no room here for a gospel that is indifferent to the needs of the total man nor of the global man.” 

So, let’s not skip over these verses that give us an uneasy conscience.  Yes, salvation is all of grace, only through faith and in Christ alone in his redeeming work of the cross. But that salvation that brings the dead heart into life is a salvation that reflects the life-giving love of the Father to all to whom we come into contact. For the Christian, loving our fellow man is not negotiable and neither is it cut off from the only saving message of the cross.  Uneasy? That’s ok, think it through. Those uneasy verses are still there. 

Do You Pass the Hyper-Critical Test?

Jesus talks to his disciples about their judgmental attitudes.  He tells them that the way they judge others will come back on them when they stand before him on judgment day. In Matthew 7 we read, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” This seems serious and something of which all Christians should take careful note.  

As you continue reading Matthew 7, it is obvious that the essence of Jesus’ concern is that we should be led in humility. We should have a priority concern about the way we approach making judgments just as much as the accuracy of the correction itself. The fact that Christ is more concerned about the log in our own eye compared to the speck in somebody else’s tells us that humility and approach is as important to him as accuracy. Hyper-critical people tend to focus much more on the accuracy of dogma than the approach.  They are more concerned with people being corrected and the truth being proclaimed than they are with how it comes across.  Jesus seems to be equally concerned with both dogmatic accuracy and approach. We see this clearly shown in many passages. 

1.    Matthew 7:3-5. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Jesus is clearly showing that it is right and good to approach a brother or sister about error or sin in their life.  He is also showing that it is only right and good if that approach has an air of humility with a desire to prioritize your own sin. When we only see ourselves in the right, we are blind guides to anyone we seek out. 

2.    Galatians 6:1-3. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
Paul encourages the Galatians to restore brethren who they find in sin.  It is not simply a matter of telling them that the bible teaches that what they are doing is sinful, but Paul exhorts the Galatians to approach the situation with gentleness. If they ignore the approach that Paul is talking about, they will run the huge risk of falling into sin themselves.  They are not to simply correct dogma but to actually come alongside the sinning brother or sister and bear their burden as they seek to repent and obey their Savior. 

3.    2 Timothy 2:24-26. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
In his instruction to Timothy, Paul encourages him to keep away from quarrels, be kind, be patient, and use gentleness.  Of course, also within this text are the words, “teach” and “correct.”  If those words are separated from the approach, Timothy will be disobeying Paul’s command as an Apostle of Christ. 

Sometimes I have heard the objection from people that Paul was firm and hard-hitting when he needed to be.  This has often been used an excuse for our own lack of gentleness. The fact that we have a description of Paul’s words in apostolic authority to churches to deal with issues among them does not negate that Paul also tells the churches how to do it. Often when you read more carefully and fully, you find that Paul is gentler than these critics give him credit.  After all, he opened his toughest of all the letters by calling the Corinthians his brethren. They were in an obvious mess but his love in the first chapter simply leaps from the page. 

Criticism/correction is not wrong, but it can be.  These texts clearly show that correction is wrong when it is not accompanied with a humble attitude of gentleness and love even if the dogma is accurate. If we are concerned for the authority of the Scriptures, then correcting dogma is only one aspect of the realm of that authority.  If we camp on correction, we will be hyper-critical.  If we are serious about the authority of the Scriptures, we will also obey that authority when it comes to approach.  We can turn the hyper-critical attitude into one that sincerely loves the object of the correction and is willing to do the hard yards in walking with them in their journey. This is the only way we can truly claim biblical authority – if we are willing to submit to both its teaching on dogma and approach. 

Remember one other thing that Paul says. If we have all the rhetorical ability in the world and even able to speak with the tongues of angels, and do not have love, we are just a clanging gong. We are a loud noise that means nothing.  So instead of speaking out about everything and everyone that is wrong, how about exchanging a hyper-critical approach for a biblical one.  How about sitting down with the wrong-doer and loving them as you speak truth in a way that edifies. How about living out the full scope of the authority of Scripture. 

When Scientific Explanations Don't Cut It.

Imagine a life without wonder. Wonder is something fabulous and brings an exciting flavor to life. Wonder sometimes helps us to place higher value in its object.  We wonder in beauty and value it higher than ugliness.  We wonder in excellence and intrigue and power and splendor. All these things cause us to wonder because in each object of wonder there is something beyond us. If we could all paint like Michelangelo we would simply see his work as ordinary.  Wonder brings fascination and awe. In terms of God, wonder helps us to trust. 

When Job was suffering in loss and sickness, his three friends came along side and gave explanation.  Their explanations were devoid of wonder.  They believed they had the answers for Job’s condition but were only exacerbating his pain and sorrow. Job desperately needed something to hold on to in the midst of his trouble.  He was steadfastly attempting to trust God while his friends were wearing him down with accusation and explanation. Job was fraught with sorrow and without answer. In stating his innocence, Job seems to stray in not acknowledging his own human sinfulness in the presence of God.  He later repents of his attitudes about himself and God. 

One of Job’s friends, Elihu, brings an argument about God’s wonder.  In the presence of God’s wonder, Job should realize whether he is innocent in this particular circumstance or not, he falls short of the glory and awe of the Creator.  Elihu says, “Remember to extol his work, of which men have sung. All mankind has looked on it; man beholds it from afar. Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable. For he draws up the drops of water; they distill his mist in rain, which the skies pour down and drop on mankind abundantly. Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds, the thunderings of his pavilion? Behold, he scatters his lightning about him and covers the roots of the sea. For by these he judges peoples; he gives food in abundance. He covers his hands with the lightning and commands it to strike the mark. Its crashing declares his presence; the cattle also declare that he rises.” (Job 36:24-33). 

Perhaps you might remember back to your primary school years and think of the first time you learned about the water cycle. Sometimes it seems that when know more about something the less wonderful it becomes in your ability to explain it.  We might be tempted to say that Job and Elihu had not really studied the scientific realities of the water cycle and therefore attributed natural explainable phenomena to God. Elihu wrote of clouds and rain and wondered in something that we can give natural explanation for today. This would be a mistake. Firstly, the bible clearly shows that human beings were created without any lack of human intelligence and ability to scientifically reason beginning with our first parents. We should also be careful never to be so arrogant as to use a scientific explanation to deplete the glory of God.  On the contrary, the more we know about something the more we should be amazed at the brilliance of our Creator who has made it possible for us to understand a minute fraction of an infinite amount of information. God is the God who created the water cycle.  Regardless of our understanding of general operations, we must always acknowledge that God ordains every crack of lightning and every roar of thunder.  He is in charge of every rain drop and sovereignly ordains each and every high and low pressure system. The clouds, thunder, lightning, wind, rain, hail, snow, clouds and the sky itself is his creation and is ordered and sustained by his hand.  We might understand some of the operation of cloud formation and weather systems, but we are not the creators of them.  We are not sovereignly using them for our eternal purpose.  We cannot explain their origin or the establishment of the very laws that govern them. All of this must cause us to wonder.  

For Job, this is the defining argument by which he truly trusts God in his most trying time of life.  Elihu’s statements in Job 36 are a mere forerunner to the two chapters of questions God asks Job about his creative power in order to bring Job to his knees in wonder and to repent of any arrogance in the sight of God. 

This same argument extends to us today.  Jesus says to his disciples that if God provides food for the birds, how much more will he for us.  We should wonder.  Birds survive under the providence of God.  If we are more important to God than birds, the wonder that we see in his provision for them has even greater significance for us.  Wonder takes away the pettiness of our earthly worries to help us see that the God who loves us is infinitely more awesome than any of our human explanations. God IS the explanation for all that we cannot explain.  He is our only point of worthy trust and our only point of hope beyond the explainable frailties of this world. We need a God of wonder beyond our explanation otherwise there is nothing else to live for and no answer for our troubles.

Jesus is Coming, Ready or Not.

Jesus is coming back.

Does this statement make you nervous or joyful?  If you are in Christ, you should have a joyful anticipation in confidence of a glorious eternity.  I propose that your joyful anticipation will be proportionate to your readiness for his return.

Matthew 24 and 25 can be summed up in two words, “Be ready.” At the end of Matthew 24 Jesus tells his disciples that no one knows the hour or the day when the Son of Man will return.  Jesus further tells them that there are two types of servants (Matthew 24:45-51).  There are those who are authentic servants of their master who serve their master well and the master is pleased with them upon his return.  There are others who claim to be his servants and yet have nothing to do with serving their master while he is away.  They are banking on his delay and desire to live according to the enticements of the world rather than living to please him. The master returns when the wicked servant least expects him, and this servant suffers the ultimate consequence for his hypocrisy. The point that Jesus is making is that when it comes to being in the kingdom of Christ, there is no such thing as delay. We must be ready.

In Chapter 25, the parable of the ten virgins again teaches that five were ready for the bridegroom and five were not. It was too late at the last minute for the five foolish virgins to be ready.  Once again Jesus informs us that we should be ready and keep watch for we do not know the hour or the day of his return.

Following the discussion of the ten virgins, Jesus told the parable of the talents.  Two of the three master’s servants used the gifts given them to please him upon his return.  One foolish servant did nothing to serve his master with the gift he had been given. He lost all that he had been given.

In the whole gospel of Matthew, we are continually pointed to faith in Christ alone as the way of salvation.  This section in Matthew 24-25 is not contradictory to this but does point to the fact that the fruit of faith is evidence of a transformed life.  There are many who claim Christ but seek to live their life for the kingdom of this world rather than the kingdom of heaven. It is in the remaining section of Matthew 25 that we find that Jesus will one day sort out the true sheep from the goats.

While these chapters may make some readers nervous, their purpose is actually to point the true believer to confidence in joyful anticipation of Jesus’ return.  While it is true that many will be found to be false believers who had no real concern for Jesus, we also read of true servants of Christ who will be rewarded with great joy. The faithful in Christ are encouraged toward confident, joyful anticipation in readiness of the return of Christ.  We should see these following words leaping from the pages of Matthew 24 and 25.

Mat 24:46-47 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.

Mat 25:10b …the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.

Mat 25:21 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'

Mat 25:23 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' ...

Mat 25:29a  For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance

Mat 25:34 Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Can you even imagine what it will be like to enter the joy of our Master?  Let us put our faith in Jesus and let’s live by faith in the Son of God who died for us and loves us.  Let’s live today with a desire for our eternity with him.  Let’s live with the confident, joyful anticipation of his return. Let’s live with eyes focused on Christ and his kingdom rather than this world that is hurtling toward destruction.  Let’s bring as many with us as we can.

Should We Call God "Daddy?"

I am a Father. I love it when my son calls me, “Dad.”  I loved it when I ran around the house with my daughter because she wanted to play ‘chase and tickle’ with Daddy. I miss the days of a little hand tugging on my shirt as the word was repeated over and over, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” But is it appropriate for us to use this term “Daddy” for our Father in heaven? 

When the Jews referred to God as a father, they were referring to God’s sovereign authority over their nation.  He was the Father to be revered and to be feared when they sinned against him.
Deuteronomy 32:6 Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your Father, who created you, who made you and established you?
Psalm 103:13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
Isaiah 63:16 For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.
Malachi 2:10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?

The Jews revered God as their Father through his mighty acts of creation, compassion and redemption. God was known as the One who is superior to Abraham as the living God of his covenant people. In every sense of thinking of God as their Father, the Jewish people understood him to be the transcendent God to be revered.  You might note with all of these verses quoted, though God is being described as Israel’s Father, he is not being directly addressed as “Father.” When the Old Covenant people approached their God, they did so only through the access of the temple where God placed his presence and name. 

When Jesus came and preached to his disciples, he referred numerous times to their “Father in heaven.”  Jesus told his disciples directly that they might approach their Father in prayer by saying, “Our Father…” (Matthew 6:9). I am sure that this would have been a shocking thing for these Jewish disciples to hear.  How can we approach this sovereign Creator in such a direct manner?  The consideration of this one little phrase of direct address was most probably a jaw dropping moment, but Jesus was sitting right in front of them. He is the fulfilment of the temple and being a disciple of Christ brings direct access to the transcendent God of the universe.  

What has changed for the New Covenant people of God? I propose that we first realize what has not changed.  God, The Father, is still the transcendent God of the universe.  While the Scriptures show that God is both transcendent and immanent, we must not forfeit his transcendence to enjoy his immanence. Both in the Old and New Testaments, God is described in his transcendent holiness as a consuming fire. 

The change for us comes in the ransom that has now been fully paid on our behalf through Jesus Christ in his work on the cross. This payment has secured not only our salvation, but our adoption as sons and daughters of the living God.  This adoption is most notable in us when we can have such intimate access to God in that we may directly address him as ‘our Father.’ I believe this is the intimacy that Paul is speaking about when he says in Romans 8:15 that we have, “received the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry, ‘Abba Father’.” Paul is describing a new intimacy that the Old Testament people of God could never know without the sacrificial work of Christ and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit upon conversion.  While it is true that the term “Abba” brings a sense of intimacy with God, it is an intimacy that says more about the new covenant than it does about how much familiarity with which we can address God. Because our direct access to the Father is through Jesus Christ, the New Covenant Church has become the temple of the Holy Spirit and this is an intimacy unknown before the cross. 

To suggest that “Abba Father” means “Daddy” is to humanize and possibly even trivialize an intimacy that is so much more gloriously understood in the spectacular blessing of being in the New Covenant. It is so much more glorious when the intimacy is understood through the work of the cross rather than a designation we give to feeble human Dads. 

Should we call God, “Daddy?” Well, it wouldn’t be my suggestion to do so. What we can do, is come to the transcendent God of the universe who cannot be contained by highest heaven and actually call him “Father.” We can do this because Jesus has signed our adoption papers in his blood and the temple curtain has been torn in two.  The dwelling presence of this awesome God is with his children who we know as the church.  The regenerate people of the New Covenant in Christ. In Jesus, God is our Father.  Our glorious, transcendent, immanent Father.

Finding Freedom in the Fear of God

Christians lose freedom every time we fear something more than God.  When children are most concerned with the affection of their parents, they become enslaved by that perceived need.  When Parents are most concerned with gaining respect from their children, they become enslaved by that perceived need.  When a wife is most concerned with receiving love from her husband, she becomes enslaved by that perceived need.  While it is not a bad thing to desire affection, respect or love, when we place any other human being as our source of satisfaction we are saying that we fear man more than God.

The Old Testament has countless examples in the lives of patriarchs, judges, priests, prophets and kings where we can see that the fear of man results in disappointment and even tragedy compared to the blessing that comes from fearing God.  As an example, just look at the life of King Asa in 2 Chronicles 14-16.  Asa is known as a good king who did right in the eyes of God.  He commanded Judah to fear the Lord and he took down the places of worshipping false gods (14:1-4).  As a result of this beautiful fear of the Lord, we read, “And the kingdom had rest under him. He built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest. He had no war in those years, for the LORD gave him peace.”(vs. 5b-6).

The point here is not that when you fear God, you will never have troubles.  Asa had his fair share of problems to deal with.  He was King of Israel when God’s people were known in national identity. The peace and freedom of this kingdom was noticeable when Israel feared God over the nations.  One way we particularly see this is when Ethiopia came against Judah with 1,000,000 men.  That’s right, One Million! Judah had a maximum of 580,000 men.  They were out-numbered by this impressive army by two to one. Asa feared God.  He did not go to the other pagan nations for backing. He did not make treaties to bolster his forces. He sought out the Lord who he feared, and God gave victory.  The point is that his fear of God gave Asa confidence that he was already on the winning team. His God was bigger than the nations. Many people would be shivering with fear and enslaved to worry.  Asa was confident in his God and free to trust. 

If you turn to the end of Asa’s life in 1 Chronicles 16, we find a different king.  Asa was threatened by the northern kingdom of Israel.  Instead of seeking out the Lord and fearing God, Asa feared man and sought the help of Syria.  Asa then received a very profound rebuke. “At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, "Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars."(2 Chronicles 16:7-9).  Asa spent the remainder of his life enslaved to man-fearing and didn’t even seek the Lord when he was struck with disease.  He became an angry man who treated people with cruelty in his final days. Surely Asa could tell us something about the freedom in fearing God compared to being enslaved to our sinful desires in the fear of man. 

True freedom comes through living a life where you are not anxious about your reliance on other humans but by having complete satisfaction in God who provides all and generously loves. It comes through knowing that everything we ever need for all eternity is found through the cross of Christ. When we forget God, men and women become bigger in our eyes than they actually are. Freedom is being able to serve God and rely on the concrete hope we have for eternity.  It comes when God is the biggest most glorious focus of our life. When that happens we can actually say, “What can mere man do to me.”  That is freedom. 

Matthew 5: Poetry in Mountain

This week our church comes to the end of Matthew 5.  Here are some poetic reminders of the truths we have been through in this first chapter of Jesus' great sermon. I suggest you have your bible open as you read.  I hope it blesses you. 

In timelessness and wisdom full,
The counsel of The Triune God,
Determined for His glorious good,
To be with man on earth to trod.
Revealed to us, created ones,
A grace too great for minds to hold.
The Unique Son is God with us, 
His Kingdom come as once foretold. 

Matthew 5:1-2
He sat upon the great ascend,
Amidst the crowd He gathered some.
To those who knew Him to be true,
He taught them of this Kingdom come.
Embody now contented joy,
To hear from lips, anointed truth.
Oh blessedness to us employ,
The sense of our eternal youth.

For Christ is King, and Kingdom sure,
His blessings far too much to count.
He teaches life beneath His throne,
In this great sermon on the mount.

Matthew 5:3
Oh joy and bliss to start this word,
That comes from depths of great despair.
For sin revealed in perfect light,
Is more than mortal man can bear.
One vision of the King with crown,
Will bring a sinful man to grief.
But cross and empty tomb exchange,
The curse of death for true relief.

Matthew 5:4
And of this sin, rebellion’s pride,
Our sorrow will not pay its toll.
Be dead to sin and mourn its grasp,
Flee from its power and control.
My feeble will is impotent,
Forgive me Lord, I seek Your face.
Gratitude for Mercy mine,
The comfort of extended grace.

Matthew 5:5
All earthly conquerors and kings,
Who think they have a reigning role,
Has not The Christ enthroned above,
Placed them according to His scroll?
And yet this station now is mine,
Deserving not this crown received,
Inherited from God alone, 
And none of self yet be deceived.

Matthew 5:6
This Kingdom not just moral good,
But justified by pure Divine.
A holiness that none can know,
Unless our hearts to Him incline.
More as the deer will thirst and pant,
That I will seek my daily fill,
Rejoicing in the promise true,
That He will give His heavenly will.

Matthew 5:7
Living in eternal grace,
His mercy covers guilt and shame.
How can this be? A wretch is free?
When bound to sin I am to blame.
Oh Mercy true and flowing full,
The one who wrongs is sure to know,
A pardoned stamp upon my head,
When mercy now to him shall flow.

Matthew 5:8
A heart of sin now beats for Him.
My eyes are poised on His embrace.
For gift of joy and joy of need,
Complete in gazing on His face.
Forbid me now to look abroad,
To seek the things of temp’ral earth.
But look on Him and know in full, 
The wonders of a greater worth.

Matthew 5:9
Restore my love for those at war,
The traitors of our conquering King,
It once was mine, the traitor’s fight,
But now Your love and peace I bring.
You promised peace in gospel news.
This peace so infinitely priced.
For living in my Father’s will,
The peace I bring, is peace in Christ.

Matthew 5:10
This Kingdom Christ has taught is true.
No earthly gain can near compare.
However man may cause us pain,
Know this, that Christ had more to bear,
In face of persecution’s fire,
Deny the cross or lie in tomb.
My Kingdom is beyond this world,
And entrance from a virgin’s womb.

Matthew 5:11-12
Oh blessedness oh joy Divine,
Secure in Him there’s none can hurt.
Kingdom has come and Christ is King.
My joy is not in dust and dirt.
I stand accused by what men say,
Attacked because I claim my Lord.
Desire and fear is not in man,
But in my God is my reward.

Upon this truth is more to come,
For those of old have testified.
They sought Messiah’s truth to tell,
And for it suffered scorn, and died.
But do we dread for those before,
Who lived to tell the Savior’s tale?
They do not weep beyond the grave.
They too were saved by cross and nail.

Matthew 5:11-16
Rich in act and rich in words,
Upon the rock of truth imparted,
Christ has taught a Kingdom joy.
A teaching for the heavenly hearted.
For this on earth we have a season.
Salt to give this world some flavor.
Living out this grace of Christ.
Exhibits of electing favor.

How does one taste a human salt?
This allegory worth its weight.
How does one stand in front of friend,
And spread a season on his plate? 
In every task, event and time,
Display of Christ is ample.
Gospel grace in human sight.
Gospel grace in sample.

My Lord may I be used in grace,
For earthly citizens to see.
When those who come intend to harm.
May I show mercy as your plea.
But Lord forbid that I should act,
Just as the world would now expect.
For then they should not taste your love,
And Your gospel not detect.

Lights should shine as beaming rays.
Not hidden in the dead of night.
Christ should gleam with radiant love,
Glory full and glory bright.
Sheep are lost and Shepherd seeking,
Sends us out with torches lit.
With light in us will quicken death,
And save them from eternal pit.

Matthew 5:17-20
This glorious life in Christ our King,
Tis not defined by points of law.
He did not come to add this weight,
To echo that from Moses jaw.
Our Lord is man in sinless state,
Fulfilling all from Scriptures past.
Our Lord is God in ruling reign,
Perfection His with which to cast.
Can there come a change in law? 
This flag that flew from Israel’s mast? 
Can Decalogue be done in time? 
Have Moses words now been surpassed? 
Tis not abolished from our time,
Nor ceases to expose our guilt,
But in The Lord personified,
Perfection past the law is built.

Beatitudes have shown the way.
The glory of the Christian life.
Rich in Christ, our standard set,
Church as bride, obedient wife.
Pharisees and Scribes of old,
Could not breathe with Moses breath.
If we cannot then better this,
We too, dance, the dance of death.

Comes the One in humble light.
Keeps each jot and breaks no tittle.
Comes the all-perfecting God.
In Him alone is our acquittal.
Comes the one we must adore.
Shows us more than law itself.
Comes the Everlasting Lord.
Our greatest reach, our highest shelf.

Matthew 5:21-26
Do you say then “Do not Murder”? 
Is this but now enough to live? 
BUT HE SAYS “Don’t even hate them”
Yet be ready to forgive.
Is your sin upon the paper? 
Or is it written on your heart? 
For if we curse the one we hate,
Sin and we are not apart.

If we with swift and fast paced action,
Meet the one who hurts us most,
Does this not show within our spirit,
This is He in Whom we boast?
If all the world will wait and linger,
‘Til a time is set in court,
Our salt and light then comes apparent, 
If peace instead is used to thwart.

Matthew 5:27-32
To take the woman not your own,
To lead her in forbidden lust,
The consequence is deep and wide,
The breaking of a wedded trust.
BUT HE SAYS “don’t you even look”
An eye of lust will cause you sin,
And take away that thing that tempts,
That lustful thought where you begin.

Cut it off and cast it out.
Whatever leads you to despair,
For paths to hell are on this road.
There is no place for peace down there.
Salt and light works differently,
Like Joseph with his master’s wife.
Fleeing from temptations arms,
And keeping family tree from strife.

But more than this, don’t have a door.
An opening for your excuse.
Divorce on paper might seem right,
But with The Lord it has no use.
When Christian couples say “I Do”
They willingly are bound till death.
What thing can Christ not overcome,
To keep them till their dying breath?

If one has then already done,
This deed with woman not his own.
The marriage bed has been defiled.
The sin to break already known.
Even then don’t flee to friend,
And marry with a second vow.
The salt in works can bring repair,
Seek The Lord to show you how.

But it should not then go unsaid, 
That many who do not have life,
Are married to a Christian man,
Or married to a Christian wife.
If they are then to go their way,
To take their leave from marriage bed,
Let them go to where they will,
Tis Christ’s to deal with them instead.

Matthew 5:33-37
What better way to taste the salt,
Of Christ’s elect in practice true.
When grounds of trust are built and firm,
Integrity is clear in view.
But need of oath to say your piece,
And truth becomes a nervous guess.
BUT HE SAYS “need ye not of this”
But simply let your yes be yes.

Matthew 5:38-42
When stricken by aggressor’s doom,
Or one who steals your shirt and tie,
Will striking back then seal his fate,
Or eye for eye or death to die?
BUT HE SAYS “give that man your coat”
Give them more than they desire.
“What salt is this that tastes so good? 
That sets my conscience well on fire?”

And to the need of him who comes,
Insulting need for more of much,
To him give more and then again,
Whatever he can hold and clutch.
Is it yours to hold it back? 
For meaning of these words are great.
Christ owns us and is on display,
Revealed within our generous trait.

Matthew 5:43-48
And speaking of one hard to like,
What comes of them we call our foes?
Our friends we seek so soon to love,
But those who hate seek to oppose.
BUT HE SAYS “love your foes as well”
You may win them for your King.
His providence grows their grass too.
They have a winter and a spring.

Again the world will tread our salt,
And notice not the richly taste,
If all we do is just like them, 
To fight our foe with fear and haste.
Is love of friend a true reward?
Or is there better to receive?
When Jesus seeks to save our foe,
To leave his sin for Christ to cleave.

Why Your High View of Marriage Is Not High Enough

It is very easy for Christians to fall into the simplistic, moralistic trap as we live in a world and culture that has distorted God’s natural order.  We see our culture’s approval and legalization of same-sex marriage and think we have a high view of marriage simply by stating that marriage is “one man for one woman for life.” While I hope we can stand strong in this simple statement, I would also argue that this statement is missing the new covenant emphasis that marriage is a picture of redemptive hope. This is where marriage finds its greatest definition in the whole spectrum of redemptive history. 

It is no doubt true that God created marriage as part of his perfect order.  In Genesis 2:24 we read, “Therefore, a man shall leave his mother and father and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” The pre-sin creation of the natural order gives us a perspective that a man and woman should come together as one in their calling to reflect the glory of God as they spread and multiply across the earth. This is a picture of joint worship and obedience in a one-flesh union with a ring of absolute permanency. Even from Genesis 2, when we simply identify that marriage is one man and one woman without also identifying the context of joint worship, we miss a large part of God’s initial purpose in the compatibility of their roles to serve and honor their Creator. 

With the introduction of sin in Genesis three, comes the introduction of not only the distortion of the one-flesh male and female union, but mankind’s denial of God to worship self. No wonder today we see all sorts of distorted definition for marriage. However, one thing we must never overlook, is that God’s divine sovereign purpose from before the foundation of the world is the glorification of his Son through the work of the cross (Eph. 1:3-4).  Even as we read Genesis 2, we must keep in mind that this marriage of Adam and Eve, in the timeless mind of the sovereign Creator, was always going to be about Jesus. 

Therefore, there are three reasons in Christ that we should view marriage redemptively rather than simply moralistically.  To help us, let’s engage the words of the Apostle John in Revelation 19: 6-9.  “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure"-- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are the true words of God."

1.    We have been taken off the market. 
Revelation 19 has a ring of victory to it.  Babylon has been defeated and the smoke of her ashes goes up forever and ever (vs. 1-3). God’s people have been saved out of Babylon.  We are no longer of the world and instead we are a great multitude around the throne giving praise to our God and Savior. We are no longer available to be lured by temporary sensualities of this world. Babylon is dead to us, her smoke is rising, we have no need for her.  We are betrothed to Christ. Marriage is not just a fact that we have become unavailable to other men or women, but that we are a picture of no longer being available to Babylon. The Church is a new bride awaiting a wedding day to a husband that is not of this world. 

2.     We are preparing for the big day. 
One day the church will stand before Christ, face to face, in front of his unveiled glory and in the ecstasy of eternal joy and satisfaction. The words given to John from Jesus are that this is like a bride preparing herself for a great wedding banquet. Marriage is worshipful. It is supposed to be a picture of the holiness of worship as God’s people are being sanctified to meet Jesus face to face. Whenever we see a young lady carefully arranging her hair and flowers and dress and make-up (and everything else) for her big day, it should remind us that Christians are also preparing as we anticipate the coming of our King. As husbands and wives come together in betrothal and ceremony and in a life of mutual edification, they should do so intentionally as a picture of our anticipation of future consummation.  The bride in Christ is seen in the splendor of fine linen, bright and pure. 

3.    The Bride price has been paid. 
We cannot read past these words in Revelation 19 without also seeing that the wedding banquet is attributed to the “Lamb.”  Every time we see this description of Jesus, it must remind us of his ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. We are a bride that has been purchased at great cost.  The sacrificial love of Christ for his bride is depicted in the reality of the eternal righteous judgment of God being poured upon him in furious holy wrath. The love of Christ is inexpressible in a sacrifice that is unfathomable. This is why Paul says that a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25). While this kind of love is completely unachievable for any of us, our marriages have this as our standard of love that points to the redemptive act of our Lord to whom all Christians are ultimately betrothed. 

Do you really have a high view of marriage? It is more than a man and a woman for life.  It’s a man and a woman in Christ. 

Christians Can Watch Something Better Than Hamilton

I went online to look at ticket prices for Hamilton.  When a live performance is done well, especially when it has historical value, I really love them. I soon realized that I didn't love them enough to spend over $300 per ticket. But there is a greater live drama that is totally free.

This week our church has a live drama that exceeds everything the world has to offer. We are having a baptism Sunday. I was considering the solemn importance of this ordinance that was given to us by our Lord. Let’s think for a moment about what is on display, namely, the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the declaration of the gospel through faith. This is not any declaration, but it is the acting out of the most central and important point of human history.  While people are paying over $300 to see an extraordinary life portrayed in musical theater, this week our church will watch a re-enactment of the pinnacle event in all time and space where death and sin were conquered and the head of the greatest enemy of humanity was crushed. 

For our baptism service this week I simply want to answer two big questions and give one big invitation. 
1.    Are you the sort of Christian who says, “It’s just a baptism service?”
If you are the sort of person who says this, then by default you are also the sort of person who says, “It’s just the gospel.”  This is not saying that I believe you are at all saved by baptism.  The text of Scripture is clear that we are in God’s family through faith, and baptism is a visible declaration of this (Galatians 3:26-27, Colossians 2:11-12). However, baptism is a visible enactment of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We will watch and hear a person testify of their faith in Christ.  We will understand their hope in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. We will watch them taken under the water that signifies the waters of judgment over them much like the flood of judgment in Noah’s day.  We will think upon the horrific event when Christ was drowned in the eternal furious wrath of God on our behalf.  We will think of him buried in a tomb as the body will be submerged under the water.  We will think of Christ’s glorious hell conquering resurrection as the one being baptized emerges. We will leap in our hearts because this is a visible testimony of another one who has been grasped out of the pit of hell to declare that they are one of us. 
2.    Are you the sort of Christian who has excuses for not being baptized? 
If this is you, I would encourage you to think through the answers to these questions.  How excited are you about being saved? What value do you put in the cross? How much do you appreciate that the church was bought with the blood of Christ? Is the gospel beautiful enough for you to act it out in visible recognition that you too have claimed Christ? Are you linked to Christ in the way that you wish to be identified with his bride in local visibility where we gather? Bottom line, if you love Christ, you have no option but to identify with all the others who love Christ. That identification in Scripture first happens with baptism. While baptism is not necessary for salvation, it is still important and commanded in our declaration of salvation. 

So, this is the invitation for every single baptism service our church will ever have. Come and watch the most magnificent re-enactment of the most vitally important historic event in the history of the universe. Come and see that this event is not just a piece of history to be dramatized before you, but it is the declaration of the transforming effect it has already had on the one who will be baptized. And…..it’s free. 

Is Your Heart Dusty or Muddy?

John Bunyan believed that a muddy heart is better than a dusty heart. 

If you have ever read Pilgrims Progress you may remember that at one point, Christian was led into a parlor that was very dusty and a Sweeper began sweeping.  The dust in the room rose into the air and Christian began to cough and splutter under its dominating effects. 

The Interpreter helps Christian to understand that the dust is the sin in our hearts. When the sin in our hearts is stirred, it causes great discomfort and is impossible to remove. The Sweeper is the law.  The law has no power to remove sin but causes further discomfort as we see the effects of sin and find that we are powerless to remove it.  We are tarnished by a dust that will never leave and we cough and splutter because of the impotent discomfort of law. 

This is the same idea that we get from Paul in Romans 7:23-24. Paul says, “but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (cough, cough, splutter, splutter). The whole intention of Paul in Romans 7 is to make sure that we know that the law has no transformation power. It stirs up a whole lot of convicting uncomfortable dust making it really difficult to breathe. 

Christian then finds relief when a young damsel comes to sprinkle some water in the room.  The water has the effect of subduing the dust and allowing the room to be cleaned.  This is the effect of the gospel in our lives.  While the law stirs up the uncomfortable awareness of sin in our hearts, the gospel is the only way of salvation that overcomes the tragedy of sin. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sweeps the dust of sin as he quotes the law as taught by the Jewish leaders.  The disciples have all heard the law preached and have grown in a culture of meticulous law keeping. The dusty hearts of the Jewish leaders were on display in their impotent self-righteousness that only stirred up the dust in others.  Jesus wanted the disciples to know that their law keeping does nothing for their hearts of sin.  Their actions only prove that law exposes a sinful heart. This is why Jesus focuses on helping his disciples to understand that their inability to perfectly keep the law is nothing compared to the state of their hearts due to original sin. Bottom line, we need the water of the gospel. 

The big solution for us all is that Jesus fulfilled all the teaching of the law and took his perfection to the cross where he substituted himself for us.  The eternal wrath of God was poured out on Christ so that we might be found righteous through faith in him. This is transforming. 

Jesus says that breaking the laws of murder and adultery are only symptoms of our hearts of anger and lust. He sits in front of the disciples as their only solution. In Romans, Paul answers his question about being delivered from our bodies of death.  He says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” And then he starts the next chapter by saying, “There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” 

Christians will continue to struggle with sin in this lifetime, but we will also know that Jesus has sprinkled the water of the gospel on the dust of our hearts.  He is transforming us into his image and the Spirit is dwelling inside giving us the power to say no in the new life we have been raised to live. We no longer sweep dusty hearts. We live in the transforming sprinkler of the gospel. 

If I sound like a broken record, it’s intentional.  Our answer is only always Christ. 

When Your Anger Becomes Beautiful

God is a perfect being of unlimited glory. There is not a single aspect of God’s being that is not perfectly glorious, and God has not made a single mistake. He is without error and incapable of it. Yet it is not simply that he is without fault, but that he is positively glorious in all he is and does. The words we tend to associate with God’s perfect glory are “holy, pure, righteous, and good.” It is equally important to associate some other words…..“angry, wrathful, and furious.” 

Maybe you are comfortable associating the word “love” with God’s glory but not so much the word “anger.” This is because we often see anger as something that is wrong because we are most often sinfully angry.  Our anger is regularly a response to not obtaining our own selfish desires. We get sinfully angry because we desire our own glory. God is righteously angry because he desires his own glory. The reason this is not a contradiction is because we are creatures and God is the Creator. Only God is God. All glory is God’s glory and all adoration and praise is attributable to him. For God to attribute even 1% of his glory to another is to admit that only most of the praise belongs to him. This cannot be. God is the self-existent, eternal source of being, wisdom and power. His excellences are unlimited, and his beauty is beyond grasping. He basks in the limitless explanations of the wonder of his glory. He is right to do so. It belongs to him alone. Any attempt to rob God of that which can only belong to him is not only doomed to failure but must be an offense of the highest magnitude. 

This is why it is no surprise to read that which God spoke through the prophet Isaiah. “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:11)  
God’s anger is absolutely beautiful. He pours out his fury in the Divine protection of the greatest prize in the universe, his glory. It cannot be shared or divided or taken or stolen or diminished.  Any attempt at grasping God’s glory for ourselves is an attempt at undermining the very definition of glory and placing its limitless definition in God to a finite definition in fallible, fallen creatures. HOW DARE WE! And…Why would we want to devalue a glory that we can bask in for all eternity and never reach the heights and depths of its wonder and riches? Shouldn’t we be just as angry at every attempt to diminish God’s glory to the futile accomplishments of fallible man? Shouldn’t we be just as angry when we acknowledge it in ourselves? 

This is the anger that is beautiful. The anger that says God’s glory is my one great desire. I am jealous for the protection of my God’s glory.  It is everything to me because it is my greatest enjoyment that is eternally satisfying and exponentially enriching. 

We are all guilty of attempted theft of the most valuable treasure in all space and time and beyond. Our attempted theft of God’s glory amounts to the worst kind of treason. The fury of his wrath upon us for all eternity would be the beautiful outworking of his protected glory. But there is something that should amaze us even more.  God’s eternal fury was poured out on himself that he might also display, to his glory, his unlimited mercy and grace. Oh, the wonder of God’s anger. It means so much in so many ways. 
It means that we too can have a righteous anger. Through faith in Jesus Christ, God brings a regenerating work to the heart of traitors. We repent of glory theft and seek to delight in the bliss of God’s glory. We seek to worship God and not man. It also means that we hate the attempted theft of God’s glory in each and every sin in us and others. 

But it also means that our fury acts in the same way as our Savior’s. God acted toward us by initiating and implementing the gospel. When we are sinned against or when we see sin in our life or in others, our anger should act in the same way. We respond with the words and actions that point to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We don’t condemn, retaliate, punish or take revenge.  It’s not our glory at stake. Our anger over sin must point to the only answer for it. 

What would it be like if all Christians lived out this kind of anger?  

If you just read this and realized you are falling way short, join the queue. It’s a long one. Even as we fail at righteous anger, the gospel is also for us in this very failing. Let us not forget that the power of the cross and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit also empowers us to be obedient in the right application of anger that pleases God. So, let’s get on our knees and then use our feet, mouths and actions to be angry in a way that loves our Savior the most. Let’s run to the saving fury of God poured out on Christ in atonement. Let’s marvel at mercy and grace. Let’s glory in his glory alone…. for all eternity. 

Are You a Smelly Christian?

I could also ask if you are a tasty Christian, a shining Christian, or an audible Christian. 

Human senses are gifts allowing us to experience life with vibrancy.  I am sure we all know somebody who has lost the use of one or more of their senses.  Often when this happens, the other senses are heightened in their increased dependency. Our senses help us from being numb to the world around us.  We see the grandeur of beautiful wilderness, but we also see the sorrowful effects of poverty and injustice.  We hear beautiful music and the disturbing rhetoric of evil dictators. We can smell the fragrance of fresh lavender and the pungent aromas of a refuse tip. We taste the exotic flavors of Indian spices and curries and gag at a mouthful of milk well past it’s used by date. 

The Scriptures tell us that Christians should be experienced like human senses.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that Christians should be seen as the beautiful lights of a city on a hill.  We should be visual standouts.  Jesus also says that we should be the saltiness of salt that is well distinguished from the bland tastelessness of the world. The proclamation of the gospel demands that we should be the sound of hope in a hopeless world. In 2 Corinthians Paul tells us that we should be the beautiful aroma of Christ. 

“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” 2 Corinthians 2:15-16

The common denominator in all that we bring to the world’s senses is that our light, taste, sound and smell are all life giving.  We bring a distinct sense to a dark world and that sense is Christ. Most of the time the world will not enjoy our fragrance.  In fact, most in this world will take a small whiff of the gospel in our life and words and seek to run from or eradicate the essence. The Apostle Paul is never ashamed of his Christian aroma.  It is an aroma that, to the world, stinks like the foulness of a sewer. Paul knows that those who believe his fragrance to be this putrid are not rejecting him but are rejecting Christ. 

It also tells us something of Paul’s purpose.  Paul is not an air-freshener in the world.  He is not trying to make the world smell better.  Sometimes Christians can fall into this trap. We can prioritize motivations to make the world a little less smelly.  This is never the intention when Christians are likened to smells, tastes, sounds and sights that impact the senses.  Paul emphatically states that his fragrance will either be from death to death or from life to life. People will snort out his fragrance in disgust or breathe in the fresh aroma of salvation, the aroma of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. 

When the Lord moves in the hearts of men, your aroma is enjoyed, your taste is savored, your light penetrates, and your proclamation is heard and believed. We live out our lives in this world proclaiming the gospel so that the elect in Christ will be given a new heart, new sight, new ears, new mind, new taste and a new sense of smell. They are the ones who will experience the new sensation in an ever-increasing human experience for all eternity. 

Pain Management for Pilgrims

Suffering is hard. If you are reading this because of the title, then perhaps you are a Christian who is suffering right now. What you will read in here is no new strategy or miracle cure that will take your physical or emotional pain away. In this fallen world, we don’t have any of those promises. It’s even possible that you are suffering in pain from something that is yet to increase in intensity. The Question is, how are you managing it?

The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to the church spread across the region of modern day Turkey. He called them exiles. People who were not in a land of their own and suffering under the Roman rule of the brutal emperor Nero.  Peter was writing to these persecuted Christians to encourage them to persevere and to give them hope in the midst of their pain. Part of his message might initially sound a little discouraging to us.  He says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12)

There are two points that Peter makes in these verses.  1. Pain in this world for the believer is normal (especially due to persecution). Peter talks of suffering that should not surprise us.  When we are saved into the Kingdom of Christ, it does not mean that we are indestructible or super human as we live in a fallen world.  We will still suffer as Christians and it is most likely that we will suffer under different forms of persecution, including whatever Peter means by the fiery trial. Pain and suffering is a normal occurrence in a sin cursed world and persecution is a normal occurrence in a world that hates Christ.

2. Peter makes the point that we can actually rejoice in the degree to what we are suffering because of what is ahead of us. This is where Christians might find our ultimate key to pain management that unbelievers can never know.  Our eternal reward in Jesus Christ is a certain hope that only increases in joy as we experience even more pain in this world. The greater the pain, the greater reason we have for joy.  Not because we love pain, but because our anticipation of our reward increases and our delight in our future with Christ is enhanced.  When all the glory of Christ is revealed to us in all of its majesty, we will stand before him in even greater ecstasy having had greater anticipation for our eternal deliverance.

This is not something that just happens.  The more we live with an eternal view and hold on to our eternal hope, the more our delight moves away from this world and to the glory of our reward ahead.  Don’t you think it is strange that Christians for the most part do not do this well? Puritan Pastor, Richard Baxter, wrote a book to help Christians with this very issue.  It’s called, “The Saints Everlasting Rest.” Baxter writes, “O my soul, let go your dreams of present pleasure, and lose your hold of earth and flesh.  Study frequently, study thoroughly, this one word – eternity. What! Live – and never die! Rejoice – and ever rejoice.”  The bliss of this subject that brings these words to Baxter can be the bliss for our meditation for our harshest moments of pain.  Our hope is great, and the anticipation of our glorious reward increases our joy as we think more upon the eternal rather than the temporal. In Christ alone, our increased suffering results in increased anticipatory joy and greater ecstasy in the receipt of our eternal reward that he alone has paid for.

When we see that Peter wrote this to exiles, it has even greater significance to us.  All Christians are exiles.  We are all sojourners in a land and country not our own.  We all belong to a greater Kingdom and we all await the day that our Citizenship is stamped into the perfect glory of the new earth.

Let me encourage you today, to be more heavenly minded.  Let me encourage you to use this for the sake of your joy in suffering.  In Christ, the greater our suffering in this world, the greater our anticipatory joy for the next.  Now that is pain management.

Are You Peacemaking or Punishing?

This is a lesson hard learned and this author is very much still learning it.  It is the lesson that is needed because we find ourselves leaning more toward punishing than peacemaking.

Punishment is the easy road because it is where our emotions tend to immediately drive.  When we are wronged, we think retribution.  The term theologians use for this is “Lex talionis.” It means that the punishment must fit the crime and anyone who has read Exodus 21:24 understands the phrase that there is an eye for an eye and tooth for tooth. We have a deep concern for justice, but mostly it is a special kind of justice – OUR justice.

While our sinful little hearts want to use Israel’s national judicial system as our own personal quest, we need to be very quick to correct ourselves.  Our peace is not obtained by seeing perpetrators suffering in our swiftly enforced retribution. Revenge is never as sweet as the movies say it is.  Just ask any bitter person living in the hollowness of their own hate.

As Christians we want to be biblical people, but in this area, it can be one where we so easily use the Scriptures as our own tool of retribution. A great indicator of whether you are jumping into punishment or peacemaking is to consider whether you are considering Scripture in the big context of its redemptive theme.  We can find any number of passages to fit our desire for judgment rather than redemption and reconciliation.  We can show people how their gossip and slander is wrong.  We can rebuke liars.  We can put people in the categories of evil doers, transgressors and sinners. We can even show Scriptures that rebuke God’s people for being indifferent, unjust, and divisive.  We can even remember the three-step process to get someone kicked out of the church. All the while forgetting every passage that reminds us of the mercy, forgiveness, and lavishings of grace that we have received in the cross. All the while forgetting that all those other scriptures also point to our own need for the cross.

When our first thought is the cross of Christ, we see all of these other passages in their redemptive context.  Yes, sadly sometimes the church has to discipline and sometimes we have to stand before each other and call a sin a sin.  But when our motivation is to imitate Christ, we seek peace through the cross rather than punishment at our hand.  We realize that but by the grace of God I would be walking toward an eternal hell and fully deserving of it.

One commentator has said “that we are always living in the midpoint between mercy received and mercy yet required.” That is so true. When the central theme of the cross of Christ is in our mind, we can think less of “Lex Talionis” and more of the sacrifice and mercy that we can make to bring reconciliation and peace. We think more of how we might imitate the mercy that has been shown to us.

When we are offended, our sinful hearts so easily want to forget the cross and our hands want to pick up the gavel of justice. Mercy replies, “Justice has been served on another.” Peace replies, “My own Son was treated as an enemy so that you might be reconciled.”

How will you reply?  How will I reply?

Colossians 1:20-22 “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

My One Defense Is Not My Righteousness

When Matt Maher described his reason for writing the song “Lord, how I need you,” he talked of being inspired by the writings of C S Lewis.  Lewis wrote of a type of love for God that is completely born out of our very great need for God.  We see ourselves in our hopeless and helpless state and cry out for mercy and grace as we rely on God’s saving love to redeem us and reconcile us to himself through the cross.  Yes, we need God. We need the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are like me, then you love the sentiment in this song from Matt Maher even as it echoes that classic old hymn which compels us to “need Thee every hour.”

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
Where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

I have often sung these words in church and come to one line that I simply have not been able to sing as written.  The sentiment is there, but the words betray the sentiment. The song is saying that we do not have anything in us to save ourselves or to live in holiness.  The only hope we have is that we have a God who we need.  Agreed.  Even so, I have often found myself refusing to sing the line that would be totally out of place if we did not thoughtfully apply it to the intended context of the song.  “My one defense, MY righteousness.” If you think through the context of the song carefully, you do see that it is intended that it is Christ who is our one defense and it is Christ who is our righteousness.  In fact, in the final chorus, Matt Maher has even inserted the words, “You are” my one defense, my righteousness.  So, why do I struggle singing that one line at every other time? Right now, you are probably thinking that I am being very picky. But here is a test.  Just sing through the words of the song and ask yourself as you sing the words “my righteousness” if you are just a little bit tempted to think there is some good in yourself. This is why every time I have sung this song, I change the “my righteousness” to “Your righteousness.”

Righteousness is not an insignificant word.  The true definition of righteousness is something that can only be found in the very character of God.  His words are always true and right.  God has no capacity for lies and no ability for error (Psalm 19:8). When God judges, he does so only with a perfect standard and his justice is the very outpouring of his holy perfection in righteousness (Gen 18:25). God will never act outside of his righteousness and every action of his sovereign will is in righteousness (Deut 32:4).  God is right, only does right, and cannot do wrong.  This is the opposite of who I am and who you are.

Because of God’s grace, he has given all those who trust in Christ a righteousness that is not of their own.  Because of the great exchange in the cross we stand in the righteousness of the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Because of God’s saving grace, we are concerned to live in a righteousness that can only come from him. In faithful obedience to Christ, he works his righteousness out in our life and grows us more into his image day by day. Without Christ we are defenseless without any righteousness of our own. 

My one defense, YOUR righteousness, O Lord how I need you!

Do You Hate Sin Enough?

I can answer this question for you.  “No.” 

Honestly, how can any human on the face of the planet answer yes to this question?  If we could answer yes, we would be sinless, or we would be lying.  John tells us quite plainly that “if we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:20).  Nobody is sinless. 

Through the illumination of the gospel and power of the Holy Spirit, we finally become somewhat aware of the sinfulness of sin.  As we grow in Christ and God’s holiness we become even more aware of the sinfulness of sin. This is because we become more aware of the awesome wonder of the Holy God who saved us.  God’s hatred for sin is often described in ways that hit us where it hurts. “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.” (Psalm 5:5). If we call ourselves God’s children, then God’s sentiments must become our sentiments.  “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.  Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13). 

Jesus told us that those who mourn over sin will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). Sometimes it’s easy to read over such statements, especially the pithy little statements in the beatitudes, and not think seriously through their meaning.  What sin should I mourn? How should I mourn? The more I think about this statement, the more I realize that it is a lifelong activity that looks toward an eternal comfort.  Even though we can take great comfort in the forgiveness that is given to us in Christ right now, our groaning in this sin cursed world has Christians yearning for ultimate comfort at Christ’s return. Until that day, we mourn sin actively in our own lives, in the lives of others, in our churches, and in our world in general. 

Here are just some of the ways that Scripture talks about mourning sin. 

We mourn our own sinfulness: Psalm 51:9-12.  Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.

We mourn over sin in God’s People: Ezra 10:6  Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib, where he spent the night, neither eating bread nor drinking water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles.

We mourn over sin blatantly overlooked. 1 Corinthians 5:1-2  It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 

We mourn for lack of repentance of sin. 2 Corinthians 12:21  I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

We mourn sin that drives the world toward God’s judgment. Galatians 5:19-21  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

We mourn friends who will not recognize their sin and need for salvation. Philippians 3:18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.

This list could continue for quite some time, but I hope you get the idea.  The wide-ranging devastation of sin is in us and all around us.  Sin is a comprehensive problem for all humanity and if we are numb to any aspect of sin we offend the perfect holy God who judges us by his perfect holy standard. Sin has ruined us, but much more than that, sin has made an impassable canyon between humanity and our Creator. “…but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2). 

But as all-inclusive as that devastation is, we have hope in the only human to ever live without a sin nature and without committing one single sin. If there were no Jesus, there would be no comfort.  Our comfort is in his great discomfort. He took the eternal wrath of the Father for us so we might be declared righteous. God looks at those who trust Christ and see the spotless lamb in their place. We are eternally comforted in the cross.

Can we possibly hate sin enough? No.  But let’s try.  Out of sorrow for displeasing our Creator, let’s try.  Out of gratitude for the sacrifice of our Savior, let’s try. Out of compassion for the lost, let’s try. Out of a desire to see the church look like Jesus, let’s try. And…knowing that with mourning sin comes the promise of eternal comfort through the cross of Christ, let’s utterly hate sin in all its forms. 

Sometimes Those Red Letters Do Serve a Purpose

The most famous sermon in all of history was preached 2000 years ago by God who put on human flesh, being born of a virgin, living a sinless life, fully God and yet fully man, who walked up a mountain and opened his mouth

Matthew gives us this small phrase seemingly of no major consequence.  “He opened his mouth.” The special revelation of God in the flesh opened his mouth to preach a sermon of which we have at least the recorded highlights in the special revelation of the Word of God.  The Word gave us the Word via the preaching of a sermon as a fellow human being. If this is not astounding to you, then the wonder of revelation has not sunk in

If you have the same high view of revelation as I have, then you would agree that there is not a word in the bible that is not from Jesus. He who is God has revealed himself to us in the entirety of Scripture from the first verse of Genesis to the last word of Revelation.  When I am reading the law in Leviticus it is no less the words of the Son of God than the words preached in Jesus’ great sermon. In this way, sometimes I find the red letters in bibles to be somewhat unhelpful. Yet, they are often very helpful

If you are reading Matthew chapter 4 in a red-letter bible, you will see that the red letters highlight the ministry of Christ.  He preaches, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and he calls to his disciples, “follow Me.”  These two statements are then the epitome of all of the color red saturating the pages in the following three chapters. The One who calls his disciples teaches his disciples about the gospel of the kingdom. God, who spoke the whole universe into existence, breathed out through human vocal chords a message that helps us understand who we are, who he is, and how to authentically follow him

Just think about it for a moment. Yes, those red letters are just as much a part of Scripture as any other section.  But they do remind us that God actually revealed himself to us with such humility that he became one of us, lived with us, and spoke to us through an open mouth. We certainly read of other instances in Scripture where someone opens their mouth to say something important. Even so, are you not amazed that God did it right in front of us in the flesh? Perhaps you reply, but it’s equally amazing that we have his Word through Paul and Peter and Moses and others.  Yes! And yet when Jesus speaks in those red letters it is the Word of God TO us from the Word of God WITH us. Are you grateful that God delivered this one in person? I am

For the next couple of months, our sermon series and these blogs will highlight the beauty of our Savior’s sermon. I hope you can take the time to meditate on the glorious beauty of the words spoken as Jesus opened his mouth and uttered that first phrase, 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
In timelessness and wisdom full,
The counsel of The Triune God,
Determined for His glorious good,
To be with man on earth to trod.
Revealed to us, created ones,
A grace too great for minds to hold.
The Unique Son is God with us, 
His Kingdom come as once foretold. 

Matthew 5:1-2
He sat upon the great ascend,
Amidst the crowd He gathered some.
To those who knew Him to be true,
He taught them of this Kingdom come.
Embody now contented joy,
To hear from lips, anointed truth.
Oh blessedness to us employ,
The sense of our eternal youth.

For Christ is King, and Kingdom sure,
His blessings far too much to count.
He teaches life beneath His throne,
In this great sermon on the mount.

Matthew 5:3
Oh joy and bliss to start this word,
That comes from depths of great despair.
For sin revealed in perfect light,
Is more than mortal man can bear.
One vision of the King with crown,
Will bring a sinful man to grief.
But cross and empty tomb exchange,
The curse of death for true relief.