Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Not a Master or an Expert

“Master of Divinity.” A few months ago I heard someone comment on the massive overstatement in that graduate degree’s title. Similarly, I recently saw a seminary advertise its Doctor of Ministry program with a slogan something like “Becoming an Expert.” I told my bride I needed to return my degree if that was the intended outcome of the program.

The men in our congregation have a monthly fellowship. We met last night, and one of our guys had us read Psalm 19:7-9. I’ve taught this passage so many times over the years; it’s my go-to passage when I’m introducing the idea of biblical parallelism to people. I know this passage. Still, two things were pointed out to me that I’d never noticed before. First, there is the six-fold repetition “of the LORD.” Can you believe I never really noticed that? I was simultaneously excited to see it and a little sheepish that I’d never noticed it! Second, a brother pointed out the creation elements in 19:1-6, and the further creation aspect in our “soul” (19:7), “the heart” (19:8), and “the eyes” (19:8). Not only is God Personal Creator of the heavens, but of us as individuals, and His glory shows in it all. Wow.

Second, my bride pulled together two verses that I’d always separated in my mind (foolishly): “…in Him all things hold together. He is also the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:17b,18a). Wow, again. I can’t hold “all things…together,” including “the church.” I needed to hear that. Seriously. I needed it to the core of my being. My bride was used (once again) by the Holy Spirit, through the Word, to provide a much-needed balm for my soul.

Regardless our years of experience, and in spite of the pieces of paper matted in frames on our walls, we need each other desperately in the Church, especially in the area of the ministry of the Word. My dissertation, in partial fulfillment of that latest piece of paper, emphasized the “prophethood of all believers” and the role all believers must have in the Spirit-empowered, Christ-centered ministry of the Word. Yesterday the Holy Spirit convicted me anew that the dissertation wasn’t just a hoop to jump through to graduate; it is the great need of the Church in this day. It is the great need of this pastor, who is far from being a “Master” or an “expert” in anything.

We need each other.

Got home after sunset following our men's meeting.
Enjoyed the message of God's glory the sky was preaching
while I let my dogs run a little.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Foundation of the Pilgrim Song

“A Song of Ascents.
In my trouble I cried to the LORD,
And He answered me.
Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips,
From a deceitful tongue.
What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you,
You deceitful tongue?
Sharp arrows of the warrior,
With the burning coals of the broom tree.
Woe is me, for I sojourn in Meshech,
For I dwell among the tents of Kedar!
Too long has my soul had its dwelling
With those who hate peace.
I am for peace, but when I speak,
They are for war” (Psalm 120).

This is the first of the Songs of Ascent, a series of Psalms (120-134) to be sung on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Pilgrim, sojourner: the biblical attitude for the believer in this world (Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:1-3; Hebrews 11:13-16; 1 Peter 2:11), whether a king in a palace (1 Chronicles 29:15) or a persecuted saint (Hebrews 11:37,38).

Hear the song. Regardless of the voices around you, be for peace (Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14). Speak for peace. It is found only in Christ (Isaiah 9:6; 53:5; John 14:27; 16:33; Acts 10:36; Romans 5:1; Philippians 4:4-7).

This song reaches back to the beginning of the Bible, and forward to where it intersects us at the end of the Book. “Meshech,” in the tribe’s earliest description, is associated with the name “Magog” (Genesis 10:2; 1 Chronicles 1:5; Ezekiel 38:2). Rather than trying to relate these names to modern groups (which I think just clouds the point of the text and relies on conjecture), hear the Psalmist’s cry. He is surrounded by those who speak lies and hate peace – and therefore hate those who speak the truth of God and proclaim the peace of God in Messiah, the Christ, the Prince of peace.

This aggression is found in the last pages of the Book: “When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog [relative to Meshech], to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city” (Revelation 20:7-9).

In other words, no matter where you are, no matter the neighbors or co-workers, speak the truth and peace as it is found in Jesus Christ alone. This is the foundation from which the pilgrim sings and longs for home with the Lord.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Lake Taneycomo (Missouri) morning...within
the hour Table Rock Dam began generating,
and the stillness was gone.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Child's Prayer Request

On a Lord’s Day a few weeks ago, one of the children in the congregation I pastor submitted this prayer request:

I try to regularly tell the members and guests that prayer requests submitted to us are taken seriously. This one made quite an impact on me. The “Maranatha” (“Come, Lord”) of 1 Corinthians 16:22 and the promise made to “all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8) immediately came to mind.

As a pastor, I try to be encouraging to the congregation. A brother I love and respect calls himself the “Chief Encouragement Officer,” and I’ve taken that to heart. We just finished worshiping through Ecclesiastes in our Lord’s Day evening service. Over and over again the Teacher of Ecclesiastes calls us to enjoy the good things God gives us here on earth (2:24; 3:12,13; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-9; 11:8,9). Encouragement here is important, and enjoying God's good provision here is biblical. But this prayer request was a needed spiritual balance for me.

I went back to the Word and re-read verses familiar and less familiar, being reminded by the Holy Spirit that the attitude of the believer in this world is that of the exile. The longing is for the return of the Lord.

“If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen” (1 Corinthians 16:22-24).

“…you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, Who rescues us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9,10).

“…I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

“…the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14).

“…now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him(Hebrews 9:26-28).

“…the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:10-14).

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Revelation 22:20,21).

I love the congregation I am serving. Still, it’s only been six months, so we’re still learning how to dance together. Being amillennial in my eschatological convictions, I know I hold a minority view. That’s okay. As I like to say, if you want everyone to agree with you, you’ll get lonely pretty quickly (a happy, humble, rigid ideologue is like a jackalope). Last night I stepped into those “end times” waters a little in our Wednesday night Bible study. The dry erase board got messy…almost as messy as my handwriting, but it was a sweet time magnifying Christ. My excitement came from a love of the Word. The affection behind it, though, came from a child’s prayer request – one of the most scriptural I’ve received in a long time, and used of God to provide balance to this shepherd’s walk.

Come, Lord.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The "Better" of Ecclesiastes Helps Us Read Proverbs

I recently finished teaching through Ecclesiastes for the second time. As I taught through it, I appreciated anew the spiritual depth to which this work leads us, and how vital its wisdom is for living as God’s covenant people this side of Genesis 3. In fact, I asserted over and over that Ecclesiastes is an expansive meditation on Genesis 3:17-19. Much of how I taught Ecclesiastes stayed the same as when I went through it with a different congregation five years ago. There is one aspect to Ecclesiastes, however, that I realized this time around was key to a proper understanding of biblical wisdom, and, in particular, the book of Proverbs.

The element of Ecclesiastes to which I am referring is the concept of “better.” It’s just “good” in the Hebrew (טוֹב), but “gooder” has never taken root in the English language, despite the best efforts of all of us in the first years of learning the language.

Ecclesiastes opens with the statement הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים, variously rendered “absolute futility” (CSB, the translation I’m using in this post), “meaningless! Meaningless!” (NIV), “everything is meaningless” (NLT), and, most popularly, “vanity of vanities!” This is the seemingly senseless repetition of the days of our lives that is all undone and must be done again, over and over. It is the reality that “what is crooked cannot be straightened” (1:15), and that it is God Who has done the twisting (7:13). The cursing of creation in Genesis 3:17-19 (see also Romans 8:20) set up the comprehensive and total frustrating of every human being on the face of the earth. Human beings were created to “rule” (Genesis 3:26) and “subdue” (3:28) creation, but, after the Fall, God caused creation to resist and war against human beings. To live in this world is to live frustrated. All that we do is temporary and must be endlessly done again. Having just moved to southwest Missouri from southwest New Mexico, the “absolute futility” for my family is mowing. By the time we finish mowing the property, we already see signs that we will need to be mowing again very soon. It must be done, but there is no endurance to the results of our effort. And God is the One Who has decreed it.

Believe it or not, this “absolute futility,” this twisting of all creation to fight against beings made to subdue creation, is an act of grace.

If all done “under the sun” wasn’t endlessly futile, I wouldn’t seek an eternal satisfaction in the only One Who can provide that for me. If, after the Fall, the creation yielded perfectly to me, I would create a substitute heaven here, and wouldn’t long for the one created for me in eternity by my Jesus.

My frustration here for a few brief moments of life is promised to be utterly eclipsed because of the re-making that Christ will bring about.

But, as a child of God in Christ, I am still in this world, still daily moving through this “absolute futility.” How then shall we live? The answer of the wisdom works of the Bible is found, at least in part, with the idea of “better.”

“There is nothing better for a person than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work. I have seen that this is from God’s hand” (Ecclesiastes 2:24).

“I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life” (3:12).

“I have seen that there is nothing better than for a person to enjoy his activities because that is his reward” (3:22).

Better is one handful with rest than two handfuls with effort and a pursuit of the wind” (4:3).

“Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts” (4:9).

Better is a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer pays attention to warnings” (4:13).

Better than you do not vow than that you vow and not fulfill it” (5:5).

“A good name is better than fine perfume…” (7:1a).

“It is better to listen to the rebuke from a wise person than to listen to the song of fools” (7:5).

“…a live dog is better than a dead lion” (9:4b).

“Wisdom is better than strength” (9:16a).

“Wisdom is better than weapons of war” (9:18a).

There are plenty of other verses that carry a similar idea without using the language. While we cannot undo the twisting of creation, we are nonetheless called to daily attempt to bring it into order (we can’t help it…it’s hard-wired into us). Ecclesiastes is written by “the Teacher, son of David” (1:1), who concludes that all true wise “sayings are given by one Shepherd” (12:11). The book begins and ends leading us to the final “the Son of David,” Jesus Christ, Who is also our “Teacher” and “Shepherd.” How do we walk through this world as citizens of another without falling into a paralyzed fatalism?


With “better” are not promises of “best” or the total undoing of “absolute futility”; in fact, there are no this-world promises at all with “better”! As the people of God in this twisted world, though, it is “better” for us to live in obedience to God’s wisdom than otherwise. Will we still have to deal with the consequences of living in this “absolute futility”? Yes. Ask Job. But following the Lord’s Spirit-given wisdom in the Scripture is “better” than doing otherwise.

Here’s what I realized this time around in Ecclesiastes: this doctrine of “better” helps us rightly read Proverbs. We tend to read Proverbs as a series of iron-clad promises. Wisdom literature doesn’t speak in iron-clad promises, though. Wisdom literature speaks honestly and deeply about living as God’s children in a fundamentally messed-up world. We are called to the “better” of God’s wisdom, recognizing that everything will fall apart on a daily basis, and that all things in this world are temporary.

I can give one illustration: “Start a youth out on his way; even when he grows old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). How many parents do we know that did all they could to bring up children “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) only to see them wander as far away from it as possible? How many, reading Proverbs 22:6 as some sort of guarantee, therefore beat themselves up because of feelings they must have failed, given the result?
When we plug the “better” of Ecclesiastes into our reading of Proverbs, something helpful happens.[1] The world cursed by sin doesn’t go away, but a way of living “better” than eating thorn sandwiches appears. It is God’s way in Christ, Who is the fullness of God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:24,30; Colossians 2:2,3). If trusting Jesus exempted us from a daily living in the “absolute futility,” it wouldn’t be long before we would decide we didn’t need him, heaven, or a resurrection. Instead, we are reborn by faith in Jesus Christ, but still find ourselves beating back the thorns in a million areas in our lives. But we do it, not only because we can’t help but do it, but because we are doing it in Christ, Who leads us to push back briars in a way “better” than the world does it.

There is a beautifully hopefulness in this way: the “better” of today in Christ among the thorns will one day be eternally transformed into the infinitely, unimaginably “best” in Him. I can’t wait. But, until then, may we day-by-day continue on in this “absolute futility” walking in Jesus in the “better” that He has mapped out for us in this world.

[1] For occurrences of “better” in Proverbs, read 3:14; 8:11,19; 12:9; 15:16,17; 16:8,16,19,32; 17:1; 19:1,22; 21:9,19; 22:1; 25:7,24; 27:5,10; 28:6. Beyond just the actual instance of the word itself, I hope you see the principle I’m driving at!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Reading Proverbs 4 in Jesus

Let me offer a few principles on reading Proverbs 4 in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Old Testament points us to the fullness of the New Testament’s revealing of Jesus. All reading of the O.T., in other words, should lead us to the N.T. and its unveiling of God’s fullness in Christ His Son.

The O.T. Law points us to the perfection and wisdom of God revealed in Jesus (Matthew 12:42//Luke 11:31; 1 Corinthians 1:24,30; Colossians 2:2,3).

The O.T. promises of long earthly life point us to eternal life in Jesus. O.T. material blessings/promises are sacramental, representing the eternal and spiritual blessings realized in Christ. For example, the “land” promises to Abraham (Genesis 12:1; 15:7,18-21; 17:8) pointed Abraham to the true inheritance they represented: a city built by God Himself in a heavenly country (Hebrews 11:9,10,13-16).

The O.T. passing of God’s wise truth to the next biological generation points us to the New Testament’s passing of God’s wise truth in Jesus on to the next spiritual generation (which includes and surpasses in scope the biological). Life comes through the passing on and receiving of God’s Word (Romans 10:14-17).

The O.T. command to obey and live is revealed in the New Testament to be the fruit and evidence of a life lived by faith in Jesus (Hebrews 5:9).

“Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father,
And give attention that you may gain understanding,
For I give you sound teaching;
Do not abandon my instruction
[תֹּֽורָתִי, “my Law”].
When I was a son to my father,
Tender and the only son in the sight of my mother,
Then he taught me and said to me,
‘Let your heart hold fast my words;
Keep my commandments and live;
Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding!
Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will guard you;
Love her, and she will watch over you.
The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom;
And with all your acquiring, get understanding.
Prize her, and she will exalt you;
She will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a garland of grace;
She will present you with a crown of beauty.’
Hear, my son, and accept my sayings
And the years of your life will be many.
I have directed you in the way of wisdom;
I have led you in upright paths.
When you walk, your steps will not be impeded;
And if you run, you will not stumble.
Take hold of instruction; do not let go.
Guard her, for she is your life.
Do not enter the path of the wicked
And do not proceed in the way of evil men.
Avoid it, do not pass by it;
Turn away from it and pass on.
For they cannot sleep unless they do evil;
And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble.
For they eat the bread of wickedness
And drink the wine of violence.
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
That shines brighter and brighter until the full day.
The way of the wicked is like darkness;
They do not know over what they stumble.
My son, give attention to my words;
Incline your ear to my sayings.
Do not let them depart from your sight;
Keep them in the midst of your heart.
For they are life to those who find them
And health to all their body.
Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you a deceitful mouth
And put devious speech far from you.
Let your eyes look directly ahead
And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.
Watch the path of your feet
And all your ways will be established.
Do not turn to the right nor to the left;
Turn your foot from evil”
(Proverbs 4:1-27).

Reading Proverbs 4 in light of the whole Bible requires three levels of meditation:
1. I cannot live Proverbs 4 perfectly and will inevitably “stumble” because I am a son of Adam, inheriting the “spiritual DNA” of rebellion against God. I own it fully. Christ lived Proverbs 4, and all of God’s Law, perfectly. By faith in Christ His perfect righteousness is credited to my account and I am, now and forever, right before God by faith in His Son’s accomplished work alone. I deserve eternal and just punishment from God for my rebellion against His Law; Jesus paid that price in full on the cross in my place. His righteousness in perfectly living Proverbs 4 is credited to my account by faith in Jesus, and He paid the price for my rebellion against the principles of Proverbs 4.
2. The temporal and material promises/blessings of the Old Testament are typological (they point forward to a future reality), leading us to eternal and spiritual blessings in the heavenly land, sharing truth forward with spiritual children in the faith. When I read the promises of long life in Proverbs 4, I know the fullness is eternal life through faith in the Son. The temporal of the O.T. points to the eternal in the N.T. of Christ.
3. By the indwelling power of the Spirit, Who is mine by faith in Christ, I am desirous and empowered to live out the commands of Proverbs 4 as I am being conformed to the image of the Son of God.

Reading Proverbs 4 without the fullness of God’s revelation in the Person and work of Jesus Christ is, at best (and it’s a damning “best”), moralism. At its worst it is a devil-religion, anti-Gospel and conforming to the false creed of the world since the Fall: work hard, do good, and you will be blessed now and forever. Don’t read without the Gospel. Don’t read without Jesus.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Meditation: Ecclesiastes through Isaiah for Today

“Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’
For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this”
(Ecclesiastes 7:10).

Life is not back there.

The mercy, grace, peace, joy, belonging, and hope you need aren’t back there.

“Behold, the former things have come to pass,
Now I declare new things;
Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you.”
Sing to the LORD a new song,
Sing His praise from the end of the earth!”
(Isaiah 42:9,10a)

What was the purpose of His former works? To show His providential hand over the events of human history. They are not meant to stand as nostalgic idolatry.

“Thus says the LORD,
Who makes a way through the sea
And a path through the mighty waters,
Who brings forth the chariot and the horse,
The army and the mighty man
(They will lie down together and not rise again;
They have been quenched and extinguished like a wick):
‘Do not call to mind the former things,
Or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.
The beasts of the field will glorify Me,
The jackals and the ostriches,
Because I have given waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My chosen people.
The people whom I formed for Myself
Will declare My praise’”
(Isaiah 43:16-21).

The LORD identifies Himself as the God of the Exodus, then says, “forget about it. Something greater is coming. I will provide for My people through a new, miraculous Provision.” The “roadway in the wilderness” language echoes 40:3-5, which is quoted in Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4-6; John 1:23 in reference to the coming of Christ prepared by John the Baptist. Christ is the greater Way, the greater Provision than the Exodus. Quit looking back.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing
And her people for gladness.
I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people”
(Isaiah 65:17-19a).

Gladness and joy are found in His new creative work in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Even in Isaiah 46:8-11, where the LORD commands, “remember things long past,” it is to assert His authority over history, and His sovereign providence over the end-goal of all that happens.

“Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today’ [and allusion to Psalm 95:7-11], so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14).

We must help each other today not to sit in the aging ashes of yesterday either in grief or wistful false worship.

Life is not back there, beloved. His aim in Christ is to work in you today “until the end.” Come on. Let’s go with Him toward the goal.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Reading Hosea While We Wait

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared…” (1 Corinthians 15:1-5).

“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”

“He was buried.”

“He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

These days leading up to our Lord’s Day remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, consider reading the prophet Hosea.[1] In the heart of that prophecy is a statement of faith about the third day:
“Come, let us return to the Lord.
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.
He will revive us after two days;
He will raise us up on the third day,
That we may live before Him.
So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth”

On the cross Jesus suffered in our place as the sinless substitution. He received the fullness of God’s righteous wrath against our violation of the glorious God’s Law.[3] For followers of Jesus, though, the cross also becomes a pattern of our lives in this world (Matthew 16:24//Mark 8:34//Luke 9:23; Galatians 2:20; 5:24; 6:14). This in no way replaces or eclipses Christ’s atoning work in His death, but displays that atonement in a life humble before God and at war with sin.

With Hosea 6:1-3 as the center, consider a prayerful read-through of the prophet these moments leading up to Resurrection Day.

As you read of the spiritual harlotry of God’s old covenant people (the point of the illustration of Hosea’s own marriage), repent of your own unfaithfulness. What do you place above God in your life? What gets more time, passion, priority, thought, etc., than He does? In what areas of your life are you willfully in rebellion against His Word (to rebel against His Word is to regard Him as less than the supreme authority of your life)? I would add that this doesn’t just mean outward behavior, but inward attitudes and thought-strongholds. What lies are you believing and/or feeling that contradict His Word? Are you ignorant of His Word because of personal neglect and/or isolation from the gathering of the saints in the Word?

Harlotry and unfaithfulness are themes used in the prophets to describe God’s people’s neglect of their covenant Husband and their replacing Him with infinitely lesser things. We still do this today. We worship, obey, love, fear, and exalt countless things (including ourselves) other than the One Who alone is worthy.

When reading of these themes in Hosea, take up your cross and prayerfully repent of the areas of idolatrous harlotry in your life. Crucify these idols. Give thanks to God that Jesus paid the price for your unfaithfulness on the cross by His wrath-absorbing death.

“I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from Me;
For now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot,
Israel has defiled itself…
…a spirit of harlotry is within them,
And they do not know the Lord”
(Hosea 5:3,4).

When you read of the wrath of God, take it seriously. If you don’t know His wrath, you don’t know Him. If you don’t acknowledge His wrath against violations of His Law, you don’t understand the cross, the Gospel, Jesus, or the Scriptures at all. Some believers love studying the names of God. They enjoy praying, singing, and claiming those names. Hosea gives us names and descriptions of God in His right wrath against our lawlessness.

“On them I will pour out My wrath like water” (5:10).

“I am like a moth to Ephraim
And like rottenness to the house of Judah”

“I will be like a lion to Ephraim
And like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear to pieces and go away,
I will carry away, and there will be none to deliver”

His wrath is just. It is deserved. It is eternal, for He does not cease to be holy, righteous, and pure – all that is does not perfectly reflect those glorious and beautiful attributes is a blasphemous slander of Him. He is wrathful against all that is not Him, for He alone is perfection, beauty, right, good, purity, true love. He is infinitely and eternally passionate for all He is in His absolute perfection.

All He is, we are not in our rebellion, self-centeredness, self-will, lawlessness, and sin. We deserve wrath. We deserve to be drowned in it, eaten away by it, destroyed.

Christ did that in our place. When you read of His wrath against sin, give thanks for Jesus. “…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:8-11). Unless you live in the texts that drip with His wrath, you cannot adequately worship Him through the texts that describe the rescue from that wrath.

Read of wrath, confessing, “I deserve this.”

The same is true for God’s removal, His hiding, His forsaking:
“They will go with their flocks and herds
To seek the Lord, but they will not find Him;
He has withdrawn from them…
…I will go away and return to My place
Until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face;
In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me”
(Hosea 5:6,15).

Jesus took the forsakenness we deserve in our place (Matthew 27:46//Mark 15:34). For believers in Christ, we are filled with the presence of God the Holy Spirit. We are never forsaken or alone.

“When Ephraim saw his sickness,
And Judah his wound,
Then Ephraim went to Assyria
And sent to King Jareb.
But he is unable to heal you,
Or to cure you of your wound”

Repent of exalting other help, assistance, or strength from sources other than the Lord. This doesn’t mean that we neglect earthly means. We should see them as instruments of God’s power and grace, though. Our prayerlessness reveals our true beliefs. When I trust earthly means more than I trust the Lord, it is revealed by the fact that I make no appeals to the Lord for help through these means. Repent of seeking help from the “great king” (which takes many forms in our lives) instead of God.

“What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
For your loyalty is like a morning cloud
And like the dew which goes away early”

I am not as faithful as God deserves. In a world of distractions and idols, I wander and bow down on an hourly basis. No doubt, many more times than I’m even aware. There is One Whose name is Faithful (Revelation 19:11), and it’s not me. Repent of the wavering nature of your loyalty. Give thanks for Him Who is Faithful, and that, by faith, you are inseparably united to Him.

“Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of My mouth”

The word of God is meant to take us apart, undo us, dismantle us, strip away our pretensions, hypocrisies, masks, self-righteousness. Submit to that. It is ultimately the most ideal healing for our souls because it humbles us, and prepares us to receive more grace upon grace in Christ (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

“For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice,
And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”

Jesus wanted the religious to know this passage well (Matthew 9:13; 12:7). It’s far easier to do religious acts than to be inconvenienced by people needing help. It’s easier to revel in my self-righteousness than extend grace to those in need. It’s easy to negate the truth of the Gospel in my life by thinking I can do good things to outbalance the bad things I’ve done.

“But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant;
There they have dealt treacherously against Me”

This is not just a behavior problem with us, but a sick root. We are born in Adam, and need to be reborn in the second, or last Adam (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:22,45).[6]

“Gilead is a city of wrongdoers,
Tracked with bloody footprints.
And as raiders wait for a man,
So a band of priests murder on the way to Shechem;
Surely they have committed crime”

You are violent. Jesus says you are a murderer (Matthew 5:21-26); James says the same thing (James 4:1-10). Confess your part in the brokenness of your relationships.

I hope you see what I’m trying to do. Read through all of Hosea, following the above examples and finding new areas in your life where repentance is needed.

Go back again and again to the promise of the third day (Hosea 6:1-3). That promise, like all the promises of the Bible, are yours in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). He satisfied the demands of divine justice in your place. You don’t do that. He, being innocent, defeated death (the penalty for sin) and rose victoriously over it. His life as a real human being was unique since it was lived in perfect obedience to God’s Law. He was the only perfectly holy, righteous, and obedient human being, and so alone merits all the promised blessings of God. They are ours only by faith-union with Him.

Read Hosea, confessing your sin and humbling yourself before God.

Read Hosea, seeing its pronouncements of just punishment not poured out on you, but on Christ in your place.

Read Hosea, and rejoice in the third day resurrection. It is yours because it was first Christ’s.

[1] This is not in place of careful grammatical-historical-theological reading. We must do this to rightly understand the Scriptures. We must remember, though, that the Prophets spoke and wrote the way they did (inspired by God the Holy Spirit) to move the hearts of the covenant people. We must make room for liturgical, prayerful, worshipful reading that impacts our hearts. Study that improves the mind but doesn’t touch the pride of our hearts is incomplete. We need both.
[2] The use of the increasing numbers “two…third” is called a graded numerical sequence (sometimes referred to with the formula n, n+1). This pattern occurs several times in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 17:6; Judges 5:30; 2 Kings 9:32; Job 5:19-22; 33:14-22,29; 40:5; Proverbs 6:16-19; 30:15-31; Ecclesiastes 11:2; Jeremiah 36:23; Amos 1:3,6,9,11,13; 2:1,4,6). It does not mean something different happens on the second and third days. It is a Hebrew poetic device for building or progressing the author’s thought. The focus is on the last number; the previous number is given to build into it.
[3] We usually associate the wrath Jesus bore with the Father, but the Triune God is undivided in His wrath against sin and lawlessness. In fact, the Son, being fully God, can be said to suffer His own righteous wrath against lawlessness, since He hates it (Hebrews 1:8,9) and cannot abide the lawless in His presence (Matthew 7:23).
[4] I took a class on Hosea in seminary under George Klein about 17 years ago. He observed how scandalous Hosea’s prophecy would have been to devout Jews; for God to call Himself “rottenness” is pretty edgy in light of the commandment to honor His name.
[5] “King Jareb” (מֶלֶךְ יָרֵב) matches no known historical figure. The translation “great king” is preferable (CSB, ESV, NLT).
[6] “In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation” (Baptist Faith & Message [2000], III).

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Order as the Remedy to Legalism

“…no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day — things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from Whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) — in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Colossians 2:16-23).[1]

This is Good News. We are freed from the rituals of the ceremonial Old Testament Law because they existed only to point to Christ and His saving work. With that work accomplished and the all-sufficient Word concerning it complete (the New Testament), this Law is fulfilled. Along with it, all of the man-made traditions and additional rules formerly chained to the ceremonial Law by legalists are dead, as well.

One of the things about being human between the Fall and Heaven is that we just aren’t stable, generally speaking. We have difficulty achieving a right balance, even when attempting to be careful to live in obedience to the Scripture. This is one of those areas. With the fulfillment of the ceremonial Law on the cross of Christ, it is easy to go overboard and abolish any command or structure. As a wise deacon once told me, people are like pendulums – we never stop in the middle. The abolition of legalism becomes antinomianism – lawlessness. The Bible has some pretty strong things to say about legalism. Jesus hates it (Hebrews 1:9), and will cast those who practice it away from His presence (Matthew 7:23). We don’t want that.

When we read the beginning of chapter two, we read Paul’s words of concern, prayer, and praise concerning the Colossians (and Laodiceans, for that matter): “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline [τὴν τάξιν, from τάξις] and the stability of your faith in Christ” (2:1-5).

This word, τάξις, is used of the Jewish priesthood in the Temple (Luke 1:8) and the priestly order prescribed by the Old Testament (Hebrews 5:6,10; 6:20; 7:11,17,21).

But it’s also used to describe the orderliness God desires in the worship of the Church: “…God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints…all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner [τάξιν, from τάξις](1 Corinthians 14:33,40). The verb form of τάξις, τάσσω, is variously translated “determined” and “appointed” (Matthew 28:16; Luke 7:8; Acts 13:48; 15:2; 22:10; 28:23; Romans 13:1; 1 Corinthians 16:15). The semantic domain of this word family, in other words, describes order. This is the dedication to right structure that moved Paul to rejoice over the Colossian congregation before warning them about legalism.

Anonyms of τάξις with the α privative occur in Paul’s letters to the Church in Thessalonica. In his first letter, he commands them to “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly [τοὺς ἀτάκτους, from ἄτακτος], encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). In his second letter, he wrote: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly [ἀτάκτως] life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined [ἀτάκτως] life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12). The pattern is “the tradition” received from the apostles; that’s another way of saying “the New Testament scriptures.” Paul tells the Thessalonicans not to have fellowship with those leading disordered lives, those whose disorder spreads into the lives of others either through nosy meddling or from a refusal to work. The integrity of the congregation is maintained by order not just in worship, but in all of our individual lives as disciples of Jesus.

All this is to say that the opposite of legalism is not antinomianism, libertinism, chaos, or “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). The remedy for legalism is not a free-for-all. The opposite of legalism is biblical, theologically sound order. That’s not the remedy we’d offer, is it? This is exactly why we need God’s Word to think His thoughts after Him and follow His will. We must pursue God’s order for His people in worship and in their daily lives, as ordained in His Word.

Having written this, I am immediately aware of the temptation for some to use this principle as an excuse to build a new legalism (the pendulum doesn’t stop). “Order” becomes a tool for putting their own preferences in place for the Body. We must be diligent not to give our preferences or personal convictions above and beyond the clear teaching of Scripture equal weight with the ultimate authority of Scripture. This is difficult. It is the easiest and most natural thing for our legalistic hearts to attempt to achieve conformity to our will by linking our preferences with Scripture. And it’s also satanic; the tempter used Scripture in the desert with Jesus (Matthew 4:5-7). This is why the phrase “as ordained in His Word” is vital. Taking a good, biblical principle to a logical conclusion past the dictates of the Bible is a false teaching. It starts well, is aimed using good reason, but without the guard rails of Scripture it ends up in the ravine. Stick to the Word in your order. Adding to the Bible in the Church or your personal life is a confession that the Scripture is not enough. Hold to the whole, unfragmented Bible with proper theology (not reinstituting Old Testament practices fulfilled in Christ, for example, Hebrews 8:13). Proper theology is learned and maintained in the community of faith, growing together in the Word. Let us regularly engage in humble self-examination as the Church.

May we be constantly reforming not just the doctrine, but the practice of the Church, beloved. This is the responsibility of every generation of believers. May we reject man-made traditions, the unnecessary, and all that it is added to the practice prescribed in the New Testament. Let us rejoice in good, theologically sound, and biblical order.

[1] Concerning the “worship of angels,” I believe Paul is being sarcastic concerning the legalists; there are several N.T. passages that describe the Law of Moses as having been given by the angels (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2).