Friday, May 31, 2013

Fed by the Shepherd

“I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments” (Psalm 119:176).

“For thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries...I will feed them...I will feed them in a good pasture...I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,’ declares the Lord GOD...‘Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are My people,’ declares the Lord GOD. ‘As for you, My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are men, and I am your God,’ declares the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 34:11-15,30-31).

Who is the Shepherd of the sheep promised through the prophet Ezekiel? He is Jesus, Son of God (Hebrews 1:1-13), Son of David (Ezekiel 34:24-26; Luke 1:32,33,69; Romans 1:3), Prince of life (Acts 3:15): “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice...truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture...I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep...I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd...My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one’” (John 10:1-4,7,9-11,14-16,27-30).

The Psalmist tells us the desired food of true sheep: “...I do not forget your commandments” (119:176). The Lord tells us the mark of true sheep: “...the sheep hear His voice...they know His voice...My own know Me...they will hear My voice...My sheep hear My voice” (John 10:3,4,14,16,27).

Hear the Word of God and hear the voice of the Shepherd-King as He gathers us together and leads us home.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Attendance and the Proclamation of Truth

“People are far more interested in what works than what's true. I hate to burst your bubble, but virtually nobody in your church is on a truth quest. Including your spouse. They are on happiness quests. As long as you are dishing out truth with no ‘here's the difference it will make’ tacked on the end, you will be perceived as irrelevant by most of the people in your church, student ministry, or home Bible study. You may be spot-on theologically, like the teachers of the law in Jesus' day, but you will not be perceived as one who teaches with authority. Worse, nobody is going to want to listen to you. Now, that may be discouraging. Especially the fact that you are one of the few who is actually on a quest for truth. And, yes, it is unfortunate that people aren't more like you in that regard. But that's the way it is. It's pointless to resist. If you try, you will end up with a little congregation of truth seekers who consider themselves superior to all the other Christians in the community. But at the end of the day, you won't make an iota of difference in this world...culture is like the wind. You can't stop it. You shouldn't spit in it. But, if like a good sailor you will adjust your sails, you can harness the winds of culture to take your audience where they need to go. If people are more interested in being happy, then play to that...Jesus did...”
- Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (Zondervan, 2012)

Consider Paul’s teaching on the proclamation of truth in love in the gathered Church:
  • “If I have the gift of prophecy...but do not have love, I am with the never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away...” (1 Corinthians 13:2,4,6,8).
  • “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and who prophesies edifies the church” (1 Corinthians 14:1,3,4).
  • “...if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” (1 Corinthians 14:24-26).

The goal isn’t to make people comfortable, or to give them what they want. The goal is a Spirit-empowered explanation and application of Scripture alone (a definition of biblical prophecy), motivated by a cross-inspired love that recognizes our sin and God’s absolute holiness (1 John 4:1-21). We have been gracefully loved by God through Christ, and so love others with the Spirit of truth (John 4:23,24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; Ephesians 1:13; 1 John 5:6) by proclaiming the saving truth to them.

The problem with “playing to” people’s desire to be happy is that people think being their own god and being worshiped as that god will make them happy (Genesis 3:1-6; 1 John 2:15-17). This is the primordial sin of every human being, and I’ve never seen any evidence to counter that scriptural conviction. Another problem: lost people do not love the truth. If I do not speak truth since no one else is on a “truth quest,” I have left them in their truth-hating pit. It’s a very large pit; its capacity can more than handle very large congregations that people love to attend. “...those who perish...did not receive the love of the truth so as to be order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10,12). Catering to their desire for happiness is problematic, since their desire is radically misplaced through their hatred (or apathy) of the truth. They must be saved through proclamation of the truth before their desires can even begin to be corrected. The reason catering to a desire for happiness cannot work is that wickedness (and rebellion against truth) makes them happy. There is a way of happiness that man seeks, for it seems right, but it’ll lead them to an eternity apart from God every time (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25).

I always tell our congregation that if we don’t speak the truth, no one will. It’s why we exist as the Church. “I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14,15).

If we want to get even more basic than this, the proclamation of truth is why Jesus came (not primarily to “love” apart from this proclamation, as most contemporary pop preachers would have us believe): “...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 truth...grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ...Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me...when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak.’ ...Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice’” (John 1:14,17; 14:6; 16:13; 18:37).

I reject the proposal that a commitment to truth means we will become “a little congregation of truth seekers who consider themselves superior to all the other Christians in the community.” The proclamation of truth, when done in the power of the Holy Spirit, will be loving. The risen and exalted Christ “gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him Who is the head, even Christ, from Whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16). In fact, I reject the idea that a body that does not live for the truth can be truly loving – since true love is revealed in propositions of truth counter-intuitive to our truth-hating natures (Romans 5:1-10; 1 John 4:8-10)!

Be commissioned, Church: “These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:16,19). Preach the truth, love the truth.

Remember the God Who has created you, Church: “You have ransomed me, O LORD, God of truth...I trust in the LORD. I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness” (Psalm 31:5-7). Be the Church the God of truth loves to attend.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Repent, Saints, as the World Burns

Babylon has attacked Jerusalem (586 B.C.). The City of David, the Temple of Solomon, destroyed. The land ravaged. The people killed or displaced. “O God, the nations have invaded Your inheritance; they have defiled Your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins. They have given the dead bodies of Your servants for food to the birds of the heavens, the flesh of Your godly ones to the beasts of the earth. They have poured out their blood like water round about Jerusalem; and there was no one to bury them. We have become a reproach to our neighbors, a scoffing and derision to those around us” (Psalm 79:1-4).

How do the ruined people pray?

They repent of their own sins, appealing to the mercy of the God of salvation for the sake of His glory and name, vowing to offer Him thanks and praise throughout future generations: “Do not remember the iniquities of our forefathers against us; let Your compassion come quickly to meet us, for we are brought very low. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name; and deliver us and forgive our sins for Your name’s we Your people and the sheep of Your pasture will give thanks to You forever; to all generations we will tell of Your praise” (79:8,9,13).

Remember: our hardships and trials in this world don’t atone for our sins before a holy God. He hears the prayers of those who repent and call on His name. “Repent” is His first command to us in the Gospel (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Luke 13:1-5; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20; Romans 2:4), and it is the gateway into His deliverance.

Gather with His people in Christ this today and praise Him with great praise Who grants us the gift of repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18) and abundantly pours out His mercy and grace for His great glory.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ode Against the Great Enemy

“God is known in Judah; His name is great in Israel. His tabernacle is in Salem; His dwelling place also is in Zion. There He broke the flaming arrows, the shield and the sword and the weapons of war” (Psalm 76:1-3).

The ancient Greek translators of the Old Testament called this Psalm the “Ode Against the Assyrians,” assuming it described God’s miraculous destruction of Sennacherib’s army outside the walls of Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:13-19:37//2 Chronicles 32:1-22//Isaiah 36:1-37:38). This was not the last time God conquered the enemy of His people outside the walls of Jerusalem.

  • “The LORD God said to the serpent...‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel’” (Genesis 3:14,15).
  • “And Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, “Father, save Me from this hour”? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself’” (John 12:23,24,27,28,31,32).
  • “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him” (Colossians 2:13-15).
  • “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14,15).
  • “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8b).
  • “And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death’” (Revelation 12:9-11).

His people know this God the Victor, and recognize His name (Jesus) as great, and dwell in His peaceful (Salem) presence. He has won the victory on His cross, triumphed in His resurrection, and reigns in His ascension. Rejoice!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Unavoidable Revelation of My Pride

“We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks, for Your name is near; men declare Your wondrous works. When I select an appointed time, it is I Who judge with equity...‘I said to the boastful, “Do not boast,” And to the wicked, “ not speak with insolent pride.”’ For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the desert comes exaltation; but God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another” (Psalm 75:1,2,4-7).

“Jesus said to them...‘You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned’” (Matthew 12:25,34-37).

I’m better at “careless words” than I’d like to be – particularly those woven from threads of “boasting,” “insolent pride,” and self-exaltation. I know the heart from which these words arise. I know the Judge (John 5:19-30; Acts 10:42,43; 17:30,31) – Who is also the Lord and Savior of the confession that will save on the last day (Romans 10:9,10).

Words of “EXALT ME” (no matter how craftily they're disguised) and words thankfully declaring Christ’s wondrous saving, ruling, and judging works don’t belong in the same heart or the same mouth. It is not just enough to be silent; the “evil treasure” is still there down deep. The “good treasure” of God’s truth in His Word needs to be driven deep by the power of the Author of that Word, the Holy Spirit. It is on Him I am desperately leaning more and more these days, prayerfully filling my heart with Christ, Christ alone, Christ crucified and risen and ascended and ruling from on high. Only then will any declaration of His “wondrous works” be more than a shallow echo.

“For consider [often and deeply!] your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world [the reality that counters my prideful self-image] to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world [the reality that counters my prideful self-image] to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised [the reality that counters my prideful self-image] God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, Who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD [Jeremiah 9:23,24].’ And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:26-2:2).

Monday, May 13, 2013

Welcome Home

How our Psalmist defines “Israel”: “God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart” (Psalm 73:1).

I know my heart. Not as well as God, but I know my heart. This would be a definition excluding everyone (especially me), were it not for the message of the Gospel of a God Who gives new hearts to His people.

  • “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10).
  • “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
  • “After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the Word of the gospel and believe. And God, Who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are’” (Acts 15:7-11).

So, whereas once I was “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12), now I hear this promise: “ Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ...for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in Whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in Whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (2:13,18-22).

The Psalmist’s first line is, for those in Christ, a definition of absolute exclusion made possible only by the grace found by faith in Christ alone. Welcome home.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

God Over Even Death

“ GOD [יהוה] the Lord belong escapes from death” (Psalm 68:20).

  • “...Jesus answered and was saying to them...‘For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment’” (John 5:19,21-29).
  • “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies...’” (John 11:25).
  • “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14,15).
  • “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:17,18).

Who is this God יהוה Who has power over death? It is Jesus, God the eternal Son, fully God and fully man, the only Savior, Judge, Lawgiver, Lord of the heavens and the earth. Humble yourself before Him in faithful obedience and know life, life, eternal life.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

When the Music Fades?

Praise & worship is a confession commanded by God to strengthen the Church: “When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification [of the body, not the individual - the context of 1 Corinthians 12-14] filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs...let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:18,19; Colossians 3:16). Praise & worship is vitally horizontal by the decree of God Himself – may we be just as careful to make sure our lyrics are scripturally accurate as we are opinionated about melody or musical style!

Our Psalmist today does his part, teaching the Church this confession through the choir director: “My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psalm 62:1,2).

Out of the worship-confession of the congregation the Psalmist teaches us to continually sing the confession to ourselves: “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken” (62:5,6). This is another reason the words matter so much more than our culturally-bound pickiness over style & melody: truth taught to the heart will move us to endure much more than a catchy tune on the lips in the day of difficulty: “How long will you assail a man, that you may murder him, all of you, like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence? They have counseled only to thrust him down from his high position; they delight in falsehood; they bless with their mouth, but inwardly they of low degree are only vanity and men of rank are a lie; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than breath. Do not trust in oppression and do not vainly hope in robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart upon them” (62:3,4,9,10).

Sing it to the Church, sing it to yourself: “My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken” (62:1,2). Lyrics matter.