Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Are You David or Ahaz?

“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host pitched against me, mine heart should not be afraid: though war be raised against me, I will trust in this. One thing have I desired of the Lord, that I will require, even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to visit his Temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His Tabernacle: in the secret place of His pavilion shall He hide me, and set me up upon a rock. And now shall He lift up mine head above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in His Tabernacle sacrifices of joy: I will sing and praise the Lord...teach me Thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a right path, because of mine enemies” (Psalm 27:1-6,11, Geneva Bible).

Too bad David’s descendent didn’t have his forefather’s faith when surrounded by enemies.

“And in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah king of Judah, Rezin the king of Aram came up, and Pekah the son of Remaliah king of Israel, to Jerusalem to fight against it, but he could not overcome it. And it was told the house of David, saying, ‘Aram is joined with Ephraim’: therefore his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the forest are moved by the wind. Then said the Lord unto Isaiah, ‘Go forth now to meet Ahaz (thou and Shear-Jashub thy son) at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the path of the fuller’s field, and say unto him, “Take heed, and be still: fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the furious wrath of Rezin and of Aram, and of Remaliah’s son, because Aram hath taken wicked counsel against thee, and Ephraim and Remaliah’s son, saying, ‘Let us go up against Judah, and let us waken them up, and make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst thereof, even the son of Tabel. Thus saith the Lord God, ‘It shall not stand, neither shall it be. For the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin: and within five and threescore years, Ephraim shall be destroyed from being a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If ye believe not, surely ye shall not be established’”’” (Isaiah 7:1-9).

May we stand by faith and cling ever closer to the Lord, even when surrounded by enemies. Are you a David or an Ahaz? "Now the just shall live by faith: but if any withdraw himself, My soul shall have no pleasure in him" (Habakkuk 2:4//Hebrews 10:38).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Today's Gifts, Not Tomorrow's Rot

“They...fled unto Lystra, and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region round about, and there preached the Gospel. Now there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, which was a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. He heard Paul speak: who beholding him and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on thy feet.’ And he leaped up, and walked. Then when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, ‘Gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.’ And they called Barnabas, Jupiter: and Paul Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. Then Jupiter’s Priest, which was before their city, brought bulls with garlands unto the gates, and would have sacrificed with the people. But when the Apostles, Barnabas and Paul heard it, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying, and saying, ‘O men, why do ye these things? We are even men subject to the like passions that ye be, and preach unto you, that ye should turn from these vain things unto the living God, which made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that in them are: Who in times past suffered all the Gentiles to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless, He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food, and gladness’” (Acts 14:6-17, Geneva Bible).

God is the Source of all the happy things in the life of humanity, from work (“fruitful seasons”) to pleasure (“food, and gladness”). We’ve been going through Ecclesiastes the last few months, hearing the message of the Preacher about these things. “There is no profit to man, but that he eat and drink, and delight his soul with the profit of his labor: I saw also this, that it was of the hand of God...I know that there is nothing good in them, but to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man eateth and drinketh, and seeth the commodity of all his labor. This is the gift of God...behold then, what I have seen good, that it is comely to eat, and to drink, and to take pleasure in all his labor, wherein he travaileth under the sun, the whole number of the days of his life, which God giveth him: for this is his portion. Also to every man to whom God hath given riches and treasures, and giveth him power to eat thereof, and to take his part, and to enjoy his labor: this is the gifts of God. Surely he will not much remember the days of his life, because God answereth to the joy of his heart...and I praised joy, for there is no goodness to man under the sun, save to eat and to drink and to rejoice: for this is adjoined to his labor the days of his life that God hath given him under the sun...go, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a cheerful heart: for God now accepteth thy works. At all times let thy garments be white, and let not oil be lacking upon thine head. Rejoice with the wife whom thou hast loved all the days of the life of thy vanity, which God hath given thee under the sun all the days of thy vanity” (Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:12,13; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-9). Give thanks to God for His gifts to us today (work and pleasure), but don’t try to wring meaning, peace, security, hope, fulfillment, identity, etc., out of them. They are given to us today to point us to the Giver of the gifts, Who has twisted reality so that we must turn to Him in faith to find all that we seek to get out of reality (Genesis 3:16-19; Ecclesiastes 7:13). Like the manna He gave from heaven to the children of Israel in the desert, it’s only good for today’s need and happiness; hold on to it until tomorrow and it’s rot (Exodus 16:13-21). Trust Him with tomorrow. Don’t be like the Lycaonians, worshiping everything except the Giver, Who has “left not Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food, and gladness.” Give Him thanks today for the work and the pleasure He gives in the name that is above all names, the only name given under heaven by which we must be saved, the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Finishing the Sermon of Glory

I finished preaching a message yesterday that I left incomplete five years ago. There are moments in the Christian walk where you learn something from the Holy Spirit as you worship in His Word with other believers; these moments are beautiful and exhilarating...and bittersweet, as well. To have said something beautiful from the Word about our incredible God but – at the same time – leave the whole tale untold is heartbreaking. Thank God for His grace in Christ!

Years ago I preached on Exodus 33 & 34 a message called “God’s Glory Is His Character.” Moses, encouraged by successfully mediating between an unworthy group of idolaters in covenant with God to be His people and to be the means of Christ coming into the world on one hand, and a holy God justly offended by their idolatry on the other (Moses foreshadowing how Christ would have to intercede on our behalf today!), makes an amazing request: “I pray You, show me Your glory!” (Exodus 33:18).

Now, the folks at the foot of Sinai would have thought Moses crazy to ask such a thing. After all, God had descended upon the mountain with impressive special effects: “So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound...Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently...the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder...” (19:16-19). And Moses was in the midst of all this up on the mountain! How could he ask to see God’s glory?! Didn’t he have eyes to see and ears to hear all that surrounded him?! Moses had a vision of his knowledge of God that went beyond the special effects. These things, as impressive (and scary) as they were, did not show God’s glory.

God tells Moses he cannot see His face, for “no man can see Me and live!” (33:20). But the covenant God does show Moses His glory (which He also calls “all My goodness,” vs. 19) through almost creedal pronouncements about Himself: “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion...the LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; Who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, Who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (33:19; 34:6,7). God’s glory is His character and sovereignty, not the special effects or supernatural sound system.

That was the message I preached several years ago. It’s true and it’s awesome, but that’s not the whole story. Not by a long shot.

This invisible God revealed Himself perfectly and completely when God the Son, second Person of the Trinity (one God in three Persons), added humanity to His eternal and full divinity. The invisible God became visible in His glory:
  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God...and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:1,2,14,18).
  • “Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father”?’” (John 14:8,9).
  • “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
  • “ these last days has spoken to us in His Son...He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

The Son, through the visibility of His divinity shining forth through His humanity, showed us the invisible Father’s glory. This was a glory the Father and Son shared from all eternity, being the one true God (John 17:5).

This is wonderful and incredible...God’s glory revealed perfectly and finally in His Son Jesus. But even this is not the whole story.

Yesterday afternoon, in the CLD class I help teach for the Southwest Baptist Association, we were covering glorification (described by the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 as “the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed,” IV.D). I am thankful I got to finish the sermon left incomplete five years ago.

What is our glorification? Paul tells us. “...those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son...these whom He predestined...He also glorified (Romans 8:29,30). To be “glorified” is “to be conformed to the image of His Son,” Who is the perfect reflection of the invisible Father’s glory from all eternity. The glorious goodness and perfection of the Godhead in all its unimaginable fullness, shared between the Father and Son perfectly, is applied to us by the Holy Spirit, Who brings us into union with the Son unto eternal glory.

Father and Son share glory. Moses sees glory, of which the Law revealed through him showed all of us to fall short as sinners (Romans 3:23). The Son fully reveals glory. The Holy Spirit applies the saving work of the Son to us, bringing us into union with the Son unto glorification. We are brought into the glory of the Triune God for eternity. A full circle of glory, told from cover to cover in the Bible and made reality in our lives through the preaching of that glory.

We get to share this story, that others might by the grace of God “see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God...God, Who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One Who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4,6).

Believe in His glory through Christ unto infinitely satisfying union with that glory forever. That’s the whole story.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Rooted in God in Eternity

I'm currently reading Covenant Theology: a Baptist Distinctive (Solid Ground, 2013) - a late Christmas gift from my parents. It's short (161 pgs.) but makes the most of every page - a good review with thought-provoking ideas throughout (especially on the points of contact between Reformed Baptist theology and Calvinistic dispensationalists and Reformed paedobaptists). This does not mean that I'm in total agreement with the various contributors' efforts, though.

As I've been reading and teaching Covenant Theology, my conviction has grown that what we call the Covenant of Grace needs to be more consistently and purposefully described as an outworking of the eternal Covenant of Redemption between the Persons of the one true God (the Trinity).

For example, Earl Blackburn, commenting on Ephesians 2:12, traces all the biblical covenants back to a single biblical promise. He then comments in a footnote: "The promise, of course, being the one made to Adam in Genesis 3:15" (pg. 49, footnote 51). When we actually read Genesis 3:15, though, we see that Adam is not the one being addressed; the serpent is the recipient of this pronouncement, which is exactly what it is. Genesis 3:15 is not "the promise...being...made," but is the promise being announced in history. The promise had already been made, and it was not to the serpent, Eve, or Adam. The promise had been made in eternity by the Father to the Son. It was now being revealed as the single theme of all of Scripture - and the single purpose of all human history, in fact. The covenant of grace, as it is announced in Genesis 3:15, is not a promise given to Adam (or the serpent or Eve), but a revealing of a promise made in eternity from the Father to the Son. Fred Malone makes this point later: "...Scripture...records the progressive unfolding of God's Covenant of Grace announced [not a promise made to Adam, Eve, or the serpent] in Genesis 3:15, which was consummated in Jesus Christ and His New Covenant fulfillment" (pg. 75). This brings me to a point I'd like to make about the so-called "eternal covenant of redemption" and the "covenant of grace."

It seems to me that there's a lot commended to the idea that the eternal covenant between the Father and Son (and the Spirit Who applies it to the Father's elect in history) is actually the covenant of grace, and the application of it in human history on the pages of Scripture is the realization of that same covenant (not a separately-named covenant).

My business cards contain the following passage: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God,  Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,  but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, Who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Timothy 1:8-11). God's eternal covenant is the covenant of grace, which "has now been revealed" in human history. I don't  think we gain much by separating the eternal and temporal covenants and giving them separate titles (in fact, I believe we hide the root of it all by doing this!).

It's often said that the covenant of grace is made between God and His elect, but in making the temporal covenant of grace a revealing of the eternal covenant, we see that the actual members of the covenant are the Father and Son, and the elect are the promised of the Father to the Son in their covenant (John 6:39; 10:29; 17:2). I'm not trying to diminish the revelation, announcement, and carrying-out of this eternal covenant in history (a la John Gill's doctrine of eternal redemption), but trying to ground what happens in history in the intra-Trinitarian relationship from all eternity.

Just a thought. I love Covenant Theology, and find teaching it to be an act of worship with my whole being (and further see others worshiping through it in the Word and Spirit as they discover its simple-yet-endlessly-inexhaustible majesty). Still, I think taking this simplifying step (one not at all original to me - just sharing where I am on this) would help us naturally move from revelation history to communion with God in Covenant Theology - worship in the Word and Spirit through the Son to the glory of the Father. For this we have been made.

* * * * * * *

“This covenant is revealed through the Gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by further steps until the full revelation of it became complete in the New Testament. The covenant of salvation rests upon an eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect” (London Confession of Faith 1689, 7.3).

The Church's Joy in All Circumstances

“...they...called the Apostles: and when they had beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the Name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the Council, rejoicing, that they were counted worthy to suffer rebuke for His Name. And daily in the Temple, and from house to house they ceased not to teach, and preach Jesus Christ” (Acts 5:40-42, Geneva Bible). “Counted worthy” by whom? Not the Sanhedrin. The sovereign God Who had called them to the ministry of Christ caused their lives to be sermon illustrations of the world’s rejection of the Christ (much like the O.T. prophets!)...and this was the Church’s JOY. Why? First, the un-holiness of the Sanhedrin’s reaction to Christ highlighted the righteousness and holiness of God in Christ. Second, the hatred of unbelief is used of God to make His people more like Himself in their own experience of holiness. “Wherefore, let us also, seeing that we are compassed with so great a cloud of witnesses, cast away everything that presseth down, and the sin that hangeth so fast on: let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, and despised the shame, and is set at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider therefore Him that endureth such speaking against of sinners, lest ye should be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the consolation, which speaketh unto you as unto children, ‘My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, neither faint when thou art rebuked of Him [Proverbs 3:11].’ For whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth: and He scourgeth every son that He receiveth” (Hebrews 12:1-6). The name of Jesus, so rejected by the world, is the Source of the JOY of the Church in all circumstances.

And yes, the catalyst of their persecution and the content of their daily teaching was Jesus Christ, but I want to point out that Peter’s defense (twice!) before the Sanhedrin was Trinitarian:
  • “Then Peter full of the holy Ghost, said unto them, ‘Ye rulers of the people, and Elders of Israel, for as much as we this day are examined, of the good deed done to the impotent man, to wit, by what means he is made whole, be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth [the Son], Whom ye have crucified, Whom God [the Father] raised again from the dead, even by Him doth this man stand here before you, whole’” (Acts 4:8-10).
  • “Then Peter and the Apostles answered, and said, ‘We ought rather to obey God than men. The God of our fathers hath raised up Jesus [the Son] Whom ye slew, and hanged on a tree. Him hath God [the Father] lifted up with His right hand, to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses concerning these things which we say: yea, and the holy Ghost, Whom God hath given to them that obey Him’” (5:29-32).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Gladness and the Church's Meals Together

“And they...did eat their meat together with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God...” (Acts 2:46,47, Geneva Bible). If life is more than food (Matthew 6:25; Luke 12:23), why did this fill them with gladness, unity, and praise to God? If “gladness and food” is God’s gift to all human beings (Acts 14:17), not just believers, why does Acts even bother to mention this aspect of the Church’s regular life? What’s different about the Church’s sharing of meals?

When the Church shares a meal, it’s a picture of living faith (James 2:15-17), and faith is the reason for gladness, unity, and praise to God. In this case their truth faith is manifested in the fact that they actually love each other enough to eat together (1 John 4:7-12,20,21).

When the Church shares a meal, it’s a picture of their true food, the doctrine of the Word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; 1 Corinthians 3:2; Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:2). Paul himself clearly connects the sanctification of normal food with “the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:1-5) to the true faith and right doctrine. His truth is the reason for gladness, unity, and praise to God.

“And the king appointed them provision every day of a portion of the king’s meat, and of the wine, which he drank, so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof, they might stand before the king...but Daniel had determined in his heart, that he would not defile himself with the portion of the King’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank” (Daniel 1:8). Eating the king’s choice food means relying on him and being in alliance with him (11:26). Daniel and his three friends, by their decision to eat uniquely together, reveal their true allegiance. When the Church eats together, recognizing God alone as the Giver of the meal, it preaches a complete reliance and submission to Him.

Gladness, unity, and praise to God in the meal (made holy by gratefulness, the Word, and prayer): a fundamental of what it means to be the Church.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Trinitarian Joy

“Ye men of Israel, hear these words, Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you with great works, and wonders, and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, I say, being delivered by the determinate counsel, and foreknowledge of God, after you had taken, with wicked hands you have crucified and slain. Whom God hath raised up, and loosed the sorrows of death, because it was impossible that He should be holden of it. For David saith concerning Him, ‘I beheld the Lord always before me: for He is at my right hand, that I should not be shaken. Therefore did Mine heart rejoice, and My tongue was glad, and moreover also My flesh shall rest in hope, because Thou wilt not leave My soul in grave, neither wilt suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast showed Me the ways of life, and shalt make Me full of joy with Thy countenance [Psalm 16:8-11].’ Men and brethren, I may boldly speak unto you of the Patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher remaineth with us unto this day. Therefore, seeing he was a Prophet, and knew that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins he would raise up Christ concerning the flesh, to set Him upon his throne. He knowing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul should not be left in grave, neither His flesh should see corruption” (Acts 2:22-31, Geneva Bible).

David, at once king, father, and prophet, gives us, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, a glimpse into the worshipful joy of the Son toward the Father, even when facing the grave. For those united with Christ by faith, there is immediate application of this worshipful joy to our lives today: “Wherefore, let us also...cast away everything that presseth down, and the sin that hangeth so fast on: let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, and despised the shame, and is set at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1,2). Whatever this day brings, hear the Spirit’s voice in the Scripture guiding you into the Son’s joy in the Father’s presence.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Professor Aronnax, Coffee, the Church

After yesterday morning’s Bible reading over coffee with Captain Nemo, I join slightly more sane company this morning aboard the Nautilus.

“When I reflect that this marvelous electric agent, after having afforded motion, heat, and light to the Nautilus, still protected her from outward attack, and transformed her into an ark of safety, which no profane hand might touch without being thunderstricken, my admiration was unbounded, and from the structure it extended to the engineer who had called it into existence.”
- Professor Pierre Aronnax, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (Jules Verne)

Christ, the Engineer of His Church (Matthew 16:13-19) and Preacher of His saving righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), brings us through the waters safely home (Psalm 65:7; Revelation 17:15). I look forward to being with His people today at the Table and in the Word, His shipbuilding means of grace (Ephesians 5:26). See it by faith, beloved (Hebrews 11:7)! May our admiration be unbounded for the Engineer and His Ark!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Captain Nemo, Coffee, Baptism

“I had done with the world on the day when my Nautilus plunged for the first time beneath the waters.”
- Captain Nemo, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (Jules Verne)

Waking up with the Captain and coffee on the through the N.T. passages on baptism, including: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you - not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Peter 3:18-22).

And: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.’ And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’” (Acts 2:37-40).

And: “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

And: “...having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, Who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).

His promise in baptism is sure in Christ, no matter what the world throws our way, Church.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Gnawing on Manna, and My Twisted Teeth Hurt

Warning: this post is the result of a convergence between a recent post by Paul Levy and my life as I preach through Ecclesiastes. And the fact that Facebook just asked me "what's going on?" Well...

Well, things generally seem to be going well (code: God's covenant community here is headed in the right direction, so don't interpret the following as a critique of them or a hint that I'm updating my resume!!). I've noticed, though, as I preach through Ecclesiastes that God is testing me with my own words. How confounded am I by the "vanity of vanities"? Am I taking His gifts to me day by day and trusting Him with everything else? Or am I typically me - quickly overwhelmed when problems crop up in an otherwise charmed life?

I wonder if the Preacher (קהלת) of Ecclesiastes, as he preached to the gathered (קהל) covenant people of God, heard the words "vanity of vanities, all is vanity" echo back to him with every word he preached to the people?

"Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I. Send me!' He said, 'Go, and tell this people: "Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand"'" (Isaiah 6:8,9). Not exactly an inspiring call to ministry, is it? What I can't help but notice is that Isaiah has already self-identified with his people ("I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips," vs. 5). I wonder if that was true of his own inability to hear himself preach at times? I also can't help but notice how many times these verses are quoted by Jesus (Matthew 13:14,15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40) and Paul (Acts 28:26; Romans 11:8). If it were just my people that weren't hearing the sermon, I could - with some weird prideful boasting - feel pretty smug about standing with the Lord and the apostle on this. But it's me not hearing. That's awkward.

What about Ezekiel? I love Ezekiel. His commission's not much better, is it? “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!’ As He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me. Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. I am sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD.” As for them, whether they listen or not - for they are a rebellious house - they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, neither fear them nor fear their words, though thistles and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions; neither fear their words nor be dismayed at their presence, for they are a rebellious house. But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious’” (Ezekiel 2:1-7). I am that prophet proclaiming the Word of the Lord, and I am that rebellious, stubborn, obstinate, and deaf child. Surely that's not what God meant when He later tells Ezekiel, "Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces and your forehead as hard as their foreheads" (3:8). Or, on those days when Ezekiel preached a good sermon, he then hears this message from the Lord: “But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, ‘Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the LORD.’ They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them. So when it comes to pass - as surely it will - then they will know that a prophet has been in their midst” (Ezekiel 33:30-33). I wonder if Ezekiel was ever both the one who preached the good sermon and one who nodded his head and tapped his foot listening to the catchy tune, only to forget it when the next song came on the radio? I have been.

I know what God's doing in Ecclesiastes - and in reality through the "vanity of vanities." I see God blessing man (as male and female, Genesis 1:27) by giving him the commission to "be fruitful and multiply...fill...subdue...rule" (1:28). I see the Rebellion and the curse that matches the commission: "...I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth...cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (3:16-19). I know that, as a result, everything is "subjected to futility" (Romans 8:20). "Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent?" (Ecclesiastes 7:12). I KNOW, I KNOW!!!

But knowing doesn't take away the "vanity of vanities." That's where we were last Sunday in Ecclesiastes 3:1-15. Confess the absolute sovereignty of God over everything that happens in our lives (3:1-10). I do. Still get frustrated by the "vanity of vanities" (3:11)? I do.

I'm living the sermon, I suspect. Nasty joke there, God. Except that I know it's not a joke. I know what You're doing, even in the midst of this stress. "I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him" (3:14). You're teaching me to fear You more. Which means You're teaching me wisdom and deepening my daily faith, trust, and thankfulness in You as You continually give me the gifts of work and pleasure (2:24,25; 3:13; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-9; 11:8,9). You give me the manna for this day alone, and I fume (Exodus 16:1-26; Numbers 11:1-35). My own mouth, graciously used by You to feed Your people from Your Word, aches. This set of teeth made by the "vanity of vanities" hurts as I try to gnaw the same food.

Well, from this place in the middle of the week (between the sermons), I've also been burdened with a new prayer for Your people: may they hear better than their preacher and get it the first time. Please.