Tuesday, November 27, 2012

All My Springs Are in Thee

From today's Psalm reading: “...all my springs are in thee” (Psalm 87:7, Geneva Bible). "Thee" in this passage is Zion. How is Zion the source of "all our springs"?

He is “the Lord, the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 17:13). He is the Holy Spirit, given to those who believe in Jesus, producing from those whom He indwells rivers of living water (John 7:37-39).

He is in the beginning the One Who causes living water to proceed from the place of covenant with His people: “And out of Eden went a river to water the garden, and from thence it was divided, and became into four heads. The name of one is Pishon: the same compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where is gold. And the gold of that land is good: there is Bdellium, and the Onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same compasseth the whole land of Cush. And the name of the [third] river is Hiddekel: this goeth toward the East side of Ashshur: and the fourth river is Parah)” (Genesis 2:10-14).

He is in the end the One Who causes living water to proceed from the place of the covenant with His people: “And He that sat upon the throne, said, ‘Behold, I make all things new,’ and He said unto me, ‘Write: for these things are faithful and true.’ And He said unto me, ‘It is done, I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end: I will give to him that is athirst, of the well of the water of life freely.’ And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and of either side of the river was the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and gave fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree served to heal the nations with” (Revelation 21:5,6; 22:1,2).

“O fountain of the gardens, O well of living waters,” all of our springs are in You alone Who dwells in us by the new covenant in Jesus (Song of songs 4:15). Pour forth from Your Church, Holy Spirit, and be living water to others through us this day.

Monday, November 26, 2012

7 Abominations on a Monday Morning

“He that hateth, will counterfeit with his lips, but in his heart he layeth up deceit. Though he speak favorably, believe him not: for there are seven abominations in his heart. Hatred may be covered by deceit: but the malice thereof shall be discovered in the congregation” (Proverbs 26:24-26, Geneva Bible).

One of the results of being gathered into a group is that our inner nature is eventually brought out. In the Church we are shown to be servants or power-hungry, no matter what flattery or smiles we use. Our actions and motivations will be shown. This is one of the reasons God commands us to congregate with people who are different from us in race, socio-economic status, education, entertainment preference, etc., finding our unity in a common confession of the faith alone. God uses our differences in unity to expose us for what we really are as we interact with one another in the gathering of the Church. Those who cannot tolerate this nakedness will either be increasingly shamed in this nakedness (I’m still – after twenty years – reminded of Anne Rice’s description of vampires: they don’t change, they just become more of what they are) or will depart from the congregation of people different than themselves (the more we build a congregation on elements outside the confession – or refuse to be unified by confession – the less accountability there is as we build a group of people very much like ourselves by non-confessional standards).

God commands His children congregate in Him so that the non-Him elements in the members of the congregation are revealed for what they are...so that we may grow past them together.

I am struggling in this area of discipleship this morning. I’m on my third night of sleep deprivation, taking care of little ones in their illness. My bride leads a ladies’ class on Monday mornings, so I prepared a healthy breakfast for the children. While they were eating, I mixed some green chile in with an egg and threw it on the griddle for myself. Just before I put the mixture on a tortilla, the youngest gagged and vomited forth his banana, apples, milk, and honey-bun mixture (okay, the breakfast was mostly healthy). I remained calm in this, but I confess it was a fake calmness. In my heart, I was yelling, “what?! I don’t get to sleep or eat?!” Mess cleaned quickly for the benefit of the other children. Little one bathed and re-dressed. I took out my inner anger on the now-unappealing meal, throwing it away with more aggression than necessary (out of sight of little ones). Grrrrrr...deep breath. Lord, I am an impatient man. I can fake it so many times, but I am impatient deep down...sometimes to the point of feeling pretty unloving toward folks who trigger that impatience. I am a sinner in need of a Savior at every moment, and being around people who aren’t as enlightened and perfect (read heavy sarcasm here) as I am shows this very clearly.

It may not be vomit, but being in the gathered Church means that people will do things around me and say things to me that trigger my inner un-Christlikeness very quickly. It’d be easy to leave them and identify with a group of people as awesome as myself, but I wouldn’t grow there...except in the area of my own self-worship and self-righteousness. I need you to show me to be what I am, that I may be thrown more and more upon God’s mercy and grace in Christ and molded by the Spirit into the image of the One Who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I cannot do that alone, and I cannot do that with those who are more or less clones of myself. What I am will be discovered in the congregation, that I may be conformed to the image of the Son.

On Monday mornings and many other times, there are seven abominations in me that I will never be rid of apart from the Spirit’s means of exposing them and excising them from my being: the gathered Church.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Loving Plea to Would-Be Sons of Issachar

“...the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times” (1 Chronicles 12:32).

With events in the news, Church, there are many who fancy themselves “sons of Issachar.” Let me plea for care with two points:

  • Don’t be a Harold Camping (or even a Hal Lindsey). When we link modern events in the world to Scripture and tomorrow the world hasn’t ended, what have we done to the veracity of Scripture in our pronouncements (until recently one of Camping’s damnable billboards was on the Interstate claiming he was right because “the Bible says so”)? You do realize that every generation since Jesus ascended to His throne has thought theirs was the last generation and that things couldn’t get any worse, right?
  • The Six-Day War (June, 1967). Things have escalated before in the Middle East (many, many times in the last 2,000 years, but especially in relatively recent history, with which the would-be “sons of Issachar” should familiarize themselves) and will again. I am not proclaiming “peace, peace,” when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11; Ezekiel 13:10,16). I am saying tumult is the way of this Christ-hating world, even when the headlines are not aflame with rockets.

Can we stand as witnesses to the calm fearlessness, peace, hope, and joy found in Christ alone before the storms of the world?

Let me share some of my favorite verses in the Bible with you: “For thus the LORD spoke to me with mighty power and instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, ‘You are not to say, “It is a conspiracy!” In regard to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the LORD of hosts Whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread. Then He shall become a sanctuary’” (Isaiah 8:11-14).

God of History

“Thou hast redeemed Thy people with Thine arm, even the sons of Jacob and Joseph...Thou didst lead Thy people like sheep by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (Psalm 77:15,20, Geneva Bible). God works among His people through history and real human beings...don’t miss Him while seeking a secret, individualistic mystical experience directly with an unbiblical god cut off from these things. Like our Psalmist, meditate on how the inspired Scripture describes God’s work in the history of redemption; may the Spirit guide us as we also hear those who’ve come before us in Church history and those through whom He teaches and applies His Word today. He is God of history (Who works in and through history) yesterday, today, and forever.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Study and Answer, Righteous Heart

“The heart of the righteous studieth to answer” (Proverbs 15:28a, Geneva Bible).

  • Prerequisite: “...that which is through the faith of Christ, even the righteousness which is of God through faith” (Philippians 3:9).
  • Means: “Study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, dividing the Word of truth aright” (2 Timothy 2:15).
  • Fruit: “A soft answer putteth away wrath...a wholesome tongue is as a tree of life...the lips of the wise do spread abroad knowledge...a joy cometh to a man by the answer of his mouth: and how good is a word in due season...the pure have pleasant words” (Proverbs 15:1a,4a,7a,23,26b).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Learning Devotion from a Non-Devotional Psalm

“But now Thou art far off, and puttest us to confusion, and goest not forth with our armies. Thou makest us to turn back from the adversary, and they which hate us, spoil for themselves. Thou givest us as sheep to be eaten, and dost scatter us among the nations. Thou sellest Thy people without gain, and dost not increase their price. Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbors, a jest and laughing stock to them that are round about us. Thou makest us a proverb among the nations, and a nodding of the head among the people. My confusion is daily before me, and the shame of my face hath covered me, for the voice of the slanderer and rebuker, for the enemy and avenger...Thou hast smitten us down into the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death... our soul is beaten down unto the dust: our belly cleaveth to the ground” (Psalm 44:9-16,19,25, Geneva Bible).

Passages like this don’t find their way into little devotional books or onto calendars. Our song writers don’t put Psalms like this to contemporary tunes. Still, Church, we know days when things seem like this, don’t we? How does the Psalmist approach the Lord on this day? “All this is come upon us, yet do we not forget Thee, neither deal we falsely concerning Thy covenant. Our heart is not turned back: neither our steps gone out of Thy paths” (44:17,18). Faithfulness, Church, come what may. Faithfulness to the One Who leads us toward the goal: the eternal joy of His Presence.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Meditations in Slander

“A righteous man hateth lying words: but the wicked causeth slander and shame” (Proverbs 13:5, Geneva Bible).

Praying with a brother today over slander hurting his heart:
  • “Lord, who shall dwell in Thy Tabernacle? Who shall rest in Thine holy Mountain...he that slandereth not with his tongue” (Psalm 15:1,3).
  • “My confusion is daily before me...for the voice of the slanderer...yet do we not forget Thee, neither deal we falsely concerning Thy covenant. Our heart is not turned back: neither our steps gone out of Thy paths” (Psalm 44:15-17).
  • “...he that inventeth slander, is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18).
  • “Then said Jesus, ‘...those things which proceed out of the mouth, come from the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart come...slanders. These are the things which defile the man’” (Matthew 15:18-20).

Lord, may Your Tabernacle (the Church), Your rest, Your covenant, and Your paths in Christ be balm for the slander-grieved heart.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Who Are You, Church?

“‘Behold, the days come,’ saith the Lord, ‘that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, the which My covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them,’ saith the Lord. ‘But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days,’ saith the Lord, ‘I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord”: for they shall all know Me from the least of them unto the greatest of them,’ saith the Lord: ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sins no more’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Geneva Bible).

With whom does “the Lord” make the New Covenant?

“But now our high Priest hath obtained a more excellent office, inasmuch as He is the Mediator of a better Testament, which is established upon better promises. For if that first Testament had been unblameable, no place should have been sought for the second. For in rebuking them He saith, ‘Behold, the days will come,’ saith the Lord, ‘when I shall make with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah a new Testament: Not like the Testament that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt: for they continued not in My Testament, and I regarded them not,’ saith the Lord. ‘For this is the Testament that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days,’ saith the Lord, ‘I will put my Laws in their mind, and in their heart I will write them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord”: for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and I will remember their sins and their iniquities no more’” (Hebrews 8:6-12).

Who is the sole Mediator of the New Covenant (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5,6; Hebrews 9:15; 12:24)? Given the context here, Who made the Old Covenant and led the recipients of it “out of the land of Egypt (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4)? With whom does the Mediator make the New Covenant?

Again – be patient - who do these texts tell us are the recipients of the New Covenant?

Now, see yourself, beloved Church, at the Table. Hold the cup. Hear the words: “Likewise also after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is that new Testament in My blood, which is shed for you’” (Luke 22:20). “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ...after the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, ‘This cup is the New Testament in My blood: this do as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me’” (1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:25).

The cup we bless and drink together by faith is the New Covenant in the Mediator’s blood. Who partakes of this cup, beloved Church? With whom is the New Covenant made?

Who are you? Say it. This is the fullness of biblical theology, “the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not opened unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy Apostles and Prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be inheritors also, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel” (Ephesians 3:4-6).

Who are you? “Wherefore remember that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, and called uncircumcision of them, which are called circumcision in the flesh, made with hands, that ye were, I say, at that time without Christ, and were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and were strangers from the covenants of promise, and had no hope, and were without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, ye which once were far off, are made near by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, which hath made of both one, and hath broken the stop of the partition wall, in abrogating through His flesh the hatred, that is, the Law of commandments which standeth in ordinances, for to make of twain one new man in Himself, so making peace, and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by His cross, and slay hatred thereby, and came, and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were near. For through Him we both have an entrance unto the Father by one Spirit. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners: but citizens with the Saints, and of the household of God. And are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Cornerstone, in Whom all the building coupled together, groweth unto an holy Temple in the Lord. In Whom ye also are built together to be the habitation of God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:11-22).

Hold the cup of the New Covenant in His blood, hear the promise of the New Covenant to Israel, and know who you are in Christ, beloved Church: the true Israel.

Monday, November 5, 2012

As for Me and My House

The house of the world, Shift, where nothing is absolute: “She weigheth not the way of life: her paths are moveable: thou canst not know them...keep thy way far from her, and come not near the door of her house” (Proverbs 5:6,8, Geneva Bible).

The house of the unchangeable God (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17), the Church, where the truth of His Word is absolute: “...the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

To which house to you belong?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Gather, Hear, Walk

“...the way of the righteous shineth as the light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day...ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be ordered aright” (Proverbs 4:18,26, Geneva Bible).

To walk “the Way,” start by hearing: “HEAR, O ye children, the instruction of a father, and GIVE EAR to learn understanding. For I do give you a good doctrine: therefore forsake ye not my law. For I was my father’s son, tender and dear in the sight of my mother, when he taught me, and said unto me, ‘Let thine heart hold fast my words: keep my commandments, and thou shalt live. Get wisdom: get understanding: forget not, neither decline from the words of my mouth’...HEAR, my son: and receive my words, and the years of thy life shall be many. I have taught thee in the way of wisdom, and led thee in the paths of righteousness. When thou goest, thy gait shall not be strait, and when thou runnest, thou shalt not fall. Take hold of instruction, and leave not...my son, HEARKEN unto my words, incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes, but keep them in the midst of thine heart. For they are life unto those that find them: and health unto all their flesh” (4:2-5,10-13,20-22).

Lord, give us ears to hear, that we may walk by Your Way.

Church, gather and hear His Word together, that we may walk together in His Way.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Displaying the Cross of Christ

“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

How is the cross to be displayed in the gathering of the Church? In most congregations, it is part of the architecture, furniture, art, music, jewelry, etc.

There are two ways God uses to display the cross of His Son in the Scripture.

First, the cross is to be displayed in the preaching of the Gospel.
“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” (1 Corinthians 15:1-3; cf. Acts 2:23; 5:30; 10:39; 13:29).

Second, the cross is to be displayed in fellowship of the Lord’s Supper.
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

We should ask whether the large wooden crosses, dramatic re-enactments, and cross-songs are distractions from the means God has described in His Word for the portrayal of the cross. While it is true that He does not forbid other presentations of the cross apart from the Word and Table, it seems that in the modern Church we have placed our emphasis on these other non-scriptural means to the detriment of those means explicitly given in the Scripture. I myself have found myself in Church auditoriums disappointed to find there is no large cross prominently displayed. A friend of mine thought that “The Passion of the Christ” (2004, Newmarket Films) was going to spark a world-wide revival. Neither furniture nor film, however, should supplant the God-given means of showing forth the cross: the Word and the Table. In the hymnal of my denomination (the Southern Baptist Convention) there are many, many more songs about the cross than the resurrection (sadly, there aren’t enough good resurrection-meditating songs in any Christian tradition). As wonderful as these cross-songs – old and new – are, music is not the means of cross-telling explicitly described in Scripture. Few Churches regularly observe the Lord’s Supper, but no congregation goes without music for a meeting. Which was given by Christ? Similarly, most congregants would quickly choose 40 minutes of music to 40 minutes of cross-centered Bible exposition from the pulpit.

Paul even goes so far as to say that he refuses to “preach the gospel...in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void” (1 Corinthians 1:17). Would dramatic re-enactments, emotional music, or inspiring architecture/furniture be the equivalent to “cleverness of speech”? Perhaps we, like Paul, should consider preaching the Word without manipulation, trusting God’s power in the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18) rather than our abilities to make it powerful on our own.

Let’s prayerfully consider how the Bible tells us the cross is primarily portrayed: the Word and Table. I’m not arguing that we strip our meeting-places of crosses or quit singing songs about the cross (especially since some Bible scholars suggest Philippians 2:5-11 is actually an early Church hymn!). I would, however, suggest that we repent of minimizing and even choosing against the God-given means of displaying the cross of Jesus Christ.

Pray for a passion and dedication to the Word and Table, the simple, yet God-empowered, means of displaying the cross. May all the other things we do frame and serve these central elements rather than compete with them or even replace them!