Friday, September 30, 2011

Missing the Visitation

I've been reading the prophet Joel today. God uses a foreign army to both judge His people (8th-6th century B.C. Judah) for a particular sin and to remedy the sin itself. What is the sin? They forgot that God was in their midst.

"Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and there is no other...then you will know that I am the LORD your God, dwelling in Zion" (2:27; 3:17).

God gets their attention through a foreign army of invaders (1:6), which He calls "His army" (2:11) and "My great army" (2:25). It's interesting that, without the words of the prophet, the people would have regarded the invaders as their biggest problem. In reality, their biggest problem was that they had forgotten the presence of God in their midst.

I started reading Joel today for the same reason I always read Joel: Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost. The apostle explains the Spirit's gift of tongues and the "speaking of the mighty deeds of God" by quoting Joel. "This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:1-16). The sin of Joel (forgetting the presence of God) is also the sin of Judea on the day of Pentecost.

"If you had known in this day, even you, the things which may for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another because you did not recognize the time of your visitation" (Luke 19:42-44).

After wandering in that spiritual wilderness 40 years that generation was destroyed for not knowing the God in their midst (40 years from Christ's ascension to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70).

Church, may we not get so distracted by the "enemies" in our culture and political systems that we forget the greater reality of the God in our midst. Saint, distraction is one of my greatest enemies - if it's yours, as well, let's pray for each other that we don't forget the greatest blessing imaginable that is ours now and forever in Christ: the presence of God Himself in the Person of the Holy Spirit!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Outer Darkness

The Gospel of Matthew has a lot of judgment announced against those who are not part of the New Covenant with God through Jesus Christ. While my understanding of the context of the New Testament finds these passages as references to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, I don't imagine that the King has changed His attitude or judgment against the spiritual children of those who are now weeping and gnashing their teeth in the outer darkness.

"Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:10-12).

"The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:41,42).

"So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righeous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:49,50).

"...when the king came into look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:11-14).

"Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that evil slave says in his heart, 'My master is not coming for a long time,' and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 24:45-51).

" everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:29,30).

So, be forewarned:
- It is a humbled ("Lord, I am not worthy," 8:8) faith in Jesus that will include you in the blessings and family of "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," and nothing else.
- God takes "stumbling blocks" and "those who commit lawlessness" seriously. They will not be allowed to remain in "His kingdom" (13:41,42). And everywhere is under the authority of Christ's Kingdom: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (28:18).
- "The wicked" will be taken out "from among the righteous" (13:49). So much for that "carnal Christian" garbage. Fruitless professors of Christianity are false professors of Christianity.
- Those who show up at the "wedding hall" without "wedding clothes" will not be provided a complimentary necktie (22:11,12). John sheds some like on this parable later: "Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints" (Revelation 19:7,8).
- Those who do not feed the saints (saints only have one food) and abuse them will be surprised (24:45,48,49).
- The slave who bears fruit is "good and faithful," and will be welcomed into the Master's joy (25:23). The fruitless slave will lose whatever he has.

The outer darkness. I'm reminded of two passages that express the same reality.

"...Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness" (Leviticus 16:21,22). Outside the camp of God's people is to be away from the Source and Creator of life.

"Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying" (Revelation 22:14,15).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The "Seed" in Genesis & Blessed Assurance

Following the “Seed” Through Genesis:

In the first hint of the Gospel – 3:15.

How God provided when the son of the earth (Cain) killed the faithful son of God (Abel) – 4:25.

God enters into covenant with Noah and his seed – 9:9.

The covenant promises between the LORD and Abraham/Abraham’s seed – 12:7; 13:15,16; 15:5,13,18; 16:10; 17:7-10,12,19; 21:12; 22:17,18; 24:7.

The covenant promises between the LORD and Isaac/Isaac’s seed – 26:3,4,24.

The covenant promises between the LORD and Jacob/Jacob’s seed – 28:4,13,14; 32:12; 35:12; 48:4.

* * * * * * *

READ Luke 3:23-38 to see how God brought forth the “chosen seed,” Christ, throughout the history of humanity. Matthew 1:1-17 connects Christ to Abraham, the receiver of the promises.

READ Galatians 3:16 to see how Paul claims the true descendant of Abraham (and inheritor of the promises to him) is not the Jewish people, but Christ. Paul makes much of the singular “seed” in this argument.

* * * * * * *
If, throughout the Genesis narrative, God had Christ in view, despite the sin and challenges that faced every generation, can’t we trust that He will bring about His purpose in Christ today among believers?

If God was able to bring about the birth of Christ (which He planned from before the foundation of the world) despite the war, cataclysm, etc., in every generation, then can’t He faithfully birth Christ in us (Galatians 4:19) despite whatever’s happening in our lives?

If everything before the Incarnation of Christ was leading up to His coming into the world, then can’t God bring about His ultimate goal of “the summing up of all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10), no matter what happens in the world or in our individual lives?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sparrows & Mud

We found this fragment of a hymnal under a garage we were dismantling last week in Minot, North Dakota. The flood waters had lifted the garage and pushed it against the house at an awkward angle. We demolished the garage, carried the debris to the side of the road, and uncovered this testimony to God's goodness-in-difficulty:

"His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me." The author of the poem, Civilla D. Martin, gives this testimony to how she wrote the hymn: "Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle - true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle's reply was simple: 'His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.' The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn 'His Eye Is on the Sparrow' was the outcome of that experience."

The Lord loves His servants dearly, and they are never out of His sight - even in difficulty and challenge.

"What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him Who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a sent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. Therefore every who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father Who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father Who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:27-33).