Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Jeremiah's Turning #5: Key

Following the word “turn” (שוב) through Jeremiah’s prophecy.

“Go and proclaim these words toward the north and say, ‘Return [שוב], faithless Israel,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the LORD your God and have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree, and you have not obeyed My voice,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:12,13).

Jeremiah, in his continual use of “turn” (שוב), makes a play on words in his delivery of God’s command to a wayward people: “Return [שוב], faithless [משבה, from שוב] Israel.” They have turned away in apostasy, but God, in His great grace, commands them to turn to Him in repentance.

They must confess their sin. They must confess that they are sinners. Before the rebel can become the daughter, she must self-identify as a breaker of God’s Law. Before the enemy can become the son, he must plead “guilty” in before the righteous Judge of all the living and the dead. A people who have made a living death out of turning from God in every area of their lives must – in obedience to the command of the King – enter a real life by turning away from sin and to Him in humbleness.

Notice that the standard is God’s “voice.” This is the primary mark of God’s people – they have His Word and – together – seek to hear His voice in their midst by the proclamation of this Word. They individually and collectively submit to its power to “teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” so that they may be “equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16,17).

Those who hear His voice and obey are His sheep (John 10:26,27). All who hear His voice and obey are those who truly love Him (Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 5:10; 7:9; 11:1,13; 30:16; Joshua 22:5; Nehemiah 1:5; Daniel 9:4; John 14:15,21; 15:10; 2 John 6).

Hear His Law and repent of your violations of it (and the fact that you are a violator). Hear His Gospel and receive His free and abundant grace by faith. Repentance and belief are not two acts, but one (Mark 1:15). Repent and believe today. This is key.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Jeremiah's Turning #4: The Non-Judging Imaginary Idol-God

Following the word “turn” (שוב) through Jeremiah’s prophecy.

“Then the LORD said to me in the days of Josiah the king, ‘Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. I thought, “After she has done all these things she will return [שוב] to Me”; but she did not return [שוב], and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return [שוב] to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,’ declares the LORD. And the LORD said to me, ‘Faithless Israel has proved herself more righteous than treacherous Judah’” (Jeremiah 3:6-11).

To worship the creation instead of the Creation is spiritual insanity. Idolatry defies reason.

The Savior-God, God of grace, has issued this decree: “Then God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments’” (Exodus 20:1-6; cf. Deuteronomy 5:1-10; 1 Corinthians 10:1-33; 1 John 5:21).

Consider this parable, given over a century before Jeremiah’s word for today: “Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame. Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to no profit? Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men. Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame. The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary. Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, ‘Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.’ But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god.’ They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, ‘I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!’ He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside. And he cannot deliver himself, nor say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’” (Isaiah 44:9-20).

The New Testament continues this polemic against the blasphemy of idolatry: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 1:18-25).

“The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts” (Revelation 9:20,21).

To refuse to see the reality of God’s judgment, despite historical examples (Scripture and human history is overflowing with these witnesses!), is spiritual blindness. Imagining a god who never brings judgment for idolatry is itself idolatry.

Jesus raises the definition of idolatry far above the mere crafting of materials into an object of worship. He raises the bar so high that we are all under it!

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:19-21,24).

You may think that the idolatry of greed is something of which only the wealthy are guilty. No so. Jesus goes on to tell us exactly what He means by the warning “you cannot serve God and wealth.”

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (6:25-32). Idolatry extends to the basic requirements of human life, not just extravagant wealth!

The Law still defines the only priority for Jesus (and those who make a claim to be His followers): “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (6:33).

Jeremiah tells us that, despite the example of the northern ten tribes of Israel (destroyed in 722 B.C. by the Assyrians), Judah missed the lesson. They, in fact, surpassed Israel in their idolatry.

May we not miss the lesson.

“Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:11-14).

Monday, July 29, 2013

Jeremiah's Turning #3: A Shameful Glory

Following the word “turn” (שוב) through Jeremiah’s prophecy.

“God says, ‘If a husband divorces his wife and she goes from him and belongs to another man, will he still return [שוב] to her? Will not that land be completely polluted? But you are a harlot with many lovers; yet you turn [שוב] to Me,’ declares the LORD. ‘Lift up your eyes to the bare heights and see; where have you not been violated? By the roads you have sat for them like an Arab in the desert, and you have polluted a land with your harlotry and with your wickedness. Therefore the showers have been withheld, and there has been no spring rain. Yet you had a harlot's forehead; you refused to be ashamed’” (Jeremiah 3:1-3).

Jeremiah draws from the foundational Law about divorce and remarriage (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). The covenant people had turned away from God to pursue every other false god they could find. Their idolatry had taken them down a path that caused them to be “seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron” (1 Timothy 4:2).

Twice our prophet tells us that the people’s forgetting how to blush triggered their fall: “‘Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; they did not even know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be cast down,’ says the LORD” (Jeremiah 6:15; 8:12). Now, falling, they seek to return to their divine covenant Spouse.

Yesterday I heard someone say, tongue-in-cheek, that they preferred the New Testament since the God of the Old Testament was “mean.” Well, has He changed? No.

The apostle Paul echoes the prophet Jeremiah’s heart-break over a people that claim – in name – to follow the Lord, but are better witnesses to their shameful lifestyles than for Christ: “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18,19).

They “ their shame.” I don’t know what you think of when you hear this phrase, but, as a pastor, I’ll tell you what connections I make. I think of teens and young adults (and, come to think about it, older adults) who, while making something of a claim to following Christ, brag about their libertine and lawless deeds, worldviews, and attitudes...some of them I’ve even baptized myself. I join Jeremiah and Paul in the heartbreak...but I know from the Spirit’s testimony through His Word to my own sin-struggle of a life that my heartbreak is nothing compared to the Father’s.

Lord, don’t let us forget how to blush.

Lord, let it be Your glory alone that is our singular and highest passion above all things, at any cost.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Jeremiah's Turning #2: Love without Holiness

Following the word “turn” (שוב) through Jeremiah’s prophecy.

“In vain I have struck your sons; they accepted no chastening. Your sword has devoured your prophets like a destroying lion. O generation, heed the word of the LORD. Have I been a wilderness to Israel, or a land of thick darkness? Why do My people say, ‘We are free to roam; We will no longer come to You’? Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number. How well you prepare your way to seek love! Therefore even the wicked women you have taught your ways. Also on your skirts is found the lifeblood of the innocent poor; you did not find them breaking in. But in spite of all these things, yet you said, ‘I am innocent; surely His anger is turned [שוב] away from me.’ Behold, I will enter into judgment with you because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’ Why do you go around so much changing your way? Also, you will be put to shame by Egypt as you were put to shame by Assyria. From this place also you will go out with your hands on your head; for the LORD has rejected those in whom you trust, and you will not prosper with them” (Jeremiah 2:30-37).

“Surely.” In 2:35 the people assume that God’s mercy and love trump His holiness and justice. The fiery serpents (seraphs) around the throne of God don’t eternally, unceasingly cry, “love, love, love,” or “mercy, mercy, mercy.” They cry, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY” (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). I would get in trouble from classic systematic theologians for saying this, but it is from His holiness that all other divine attributes flow. We cannot understand His love apart from His holiness. It is His consistent command to His people: be holy as I am holy (Leviticus 11:44; 19:2; 20:7; 1 Peter 1:14-16). Have mercy on us, Lord, for assuming that the incarnation and closeness of the God-with-us Immanuel means that You are no longer holy. Forgive us, Lord, for blaspheming You in our understanding and worship by thinking the King of kings, the eternal Son of God, is anything less than absolute holiness.

Jesus, the risen and glorified King over all, is holy. He has anger and hatred over sin.


“Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place - unless you repent. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Revelation 2:5,6).

The people of God should never assume that His gracious love in Christ is a license to live however we “feel led” to live (read Romans 6!!). The Lord Jesus, through Whom the love of God comes to the Church, is also the “Holy One” (Mark 1:24; Luke 1:35; 4:34; John 6:69; Acts 2:27; 3:14; 4:27,30; 13:35; Hebrews 7:26; Revelation 3:7). The Spirit Who is the very love of God in Christ poured out freely upon is Himself the “Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22).

May we become careful students and practitioners of the holiness of the Trinity, not daring to wash away His holiness in an attempt to make Him more like us, but instead grasping fearfully and hungrily for His holiness that it may be the power of our lives for His glory. And, through His holiness, we will begin to truly understand His love.

His goal and purpose for His Bride, the Church, is holiness (Ephesians 1:4; 5:26,27). This is the Bridegroom's love.
"Seraph," in the Matrix Trilogy

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Jeremiah's Turning #1: Rude Wild Donkey Metaphors

Following the word “turn” (שוב) through Jeremiah’s prophecy.

“‘How can you say, “I am not defiled, I have not gone after the Baals”? Look at your way in the valley! Know what you have done! You are a swift young camel entangling her ways, a wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness, that sniffs the wind in her passion. In the time of her heat who can turn [שוב] her away? All who seek her will not become weary; in her month they will find her. Keep your feet from being unshod and your throat from thirst; but you said, “It is hopeless! No! For I have loved strangers, and after them I will walk.” As the thief is shamed when he is discovered, so the house of Israel is shamed; they, their kings, their princes and their priests and their prophets, who say to a tree, “You are my father,” and to a stone, “You gave me birth.” For they have turned their back to Me, and not their face; but in the time of their trouble they will say, “Arise and save us.” But where are your gods which you made for yourself? Let them arise, if they can save you in the time of your trouble; for according to the number of your cities are your gods, O Judah. Why do you contend with Me? You have all transgressed against Me,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 2:23-29).

The “young camel” and “wild donkey” metaphors seem crude - certainly not the stuff of nice, polite daily devotions! Yet, this metaphor very accurately describes the popular philosophy of most people (sadly, even many who confess to follow Christ). “Follow your heart,” we’re told. Did you know the Bible calls this foolishness?

“Listen, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way...he who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs 23:19; 28:26).

To follow the impulse of the heart is to follow a billion things away from the Lord. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12//16:25).

“For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully” (2 Corinthians 11:2-4). This is a sad commentary on a people who are supposed to “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Wild animals following their base instincts with the tools of manipulation and logic (the fine-tuned product of macro-evolution) or created images of God redeemed and restored to that image? Which is it, Church?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Teaching God Ordains a Teaching Church

“Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; for I trust in You; teach me the way in which I should walk; for to You I lift up my soul...teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Psalm 143:8,10).

The Triune God is a teaching God.

He is three:
  • The Father teaches (John 6:45; 8:28).
  • The Son teaches (John 6:59; 7:14,28,35; 8:20; 18:20).
  • The Spirit teaches (John 14:26).

He is one: “Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn [ילמדון, passive form of verb “to teach”] to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach [ילמדון] their children’ this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach [ללמד] you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 4:10; 6:1-4).

God’s character as Teacher is foundational to who He wants His people to be: “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated...and Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying...‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them to observe all that I commanded you’” (Matthew 28:16,18-20).

Blessed Trinity, teach Your Church today and make us learners, that we may go and teach You among the nations (starting with, but never ending with, our children and grandchildren) for Your eternal glory!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Father, Word, Spirit

“Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).

Accomplish the unparalleled work of the Word through Your gathered Church this day, great Trinity. May our words serve Your Word and not distract or supplant it. Be lifted up in all of our hearts and lives as we – together – lift up Your Word for Your glory alone.

  • “ the sentence of Scripture we are to rest, for it is in Scripture, delivered by the Spirit, that our faith is finally resolved” (1689 Baptist Confession, 1.10).
  • “The grace of faith by which the elect are enabled to believe, so that their souls are saved, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily brought into being by the ministry of the Word. It is also increased and strengthened by the work of the Spirit through the ministry of the Word, and also by the administration of baptism and the Lord's Supper, prayer, and other means appointed by this faith a Christian believes to be true whatever is revealed in the Word because this Word has the authority of God Himself. Also, by this saving faith, a Christian apprehends an excellency in the Word which is higher than in all other writings and everything else in the world, because the Word shows forth the glory of God, revealing His attributes, showing the excellency of Christ's nature and offices, and also the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit in His workings and operations. So the Christian is enabled to cast his soul upon the Truth he has believed, and to see and respond to the different kinds of teaching which different passages of Scripture contain. Saving faith equips him to perceive and obey the commands, hear the threatenings with fear and respect, and to embrace the promises of God for this life and the life to come” (14.1,2).
  • “This promise of Christ and the salvation which comes by Him, is revealed only by the Word of God” (20.2).
  • “Worship is to be given to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to Him alone...the reading of the Scriptures, preaching and hearing the Word of God, the teaching and admonishing of one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord; as well as the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are all parts of the worship of God. These are to be performed in obedience to Him, with understanding, faith, reverence and godly fear” (22.2,5).
  • “In the exercise of the authority which has been entrusted to Him, the Lord Jesus calls to Himself from out of the world, through the ministry of His Word, by His Spirit, those who are given to Him by His Father, so that they may walk before Him in all the ways of obedience which He prescribes to them in His Word. Those who are thus called, He commands to walk together in particular societies or churches, for their mutual edification, and for the due performance of that public worship, which He requires of them in the world” (26.5).

Saturday, July 20, 2013

True Spiritual Warfare: Knowledge and Obedience

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).

Spiritual warfare: contending for the truth of the faith (Jude 3) and discipleship (a mutual commitment as a community to obedience to Christ, Matthew 28:19,20). God the Holy Spirit works through the truth of the Scripture that He inspired, and His most potent, profound, and eternally fruitful battle is in the arena of false versus true in our minds and lives (John 4:23,24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; Ephesians 1:13; 6:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 4:11-13; 1 John 4:6 – note here that the Spirit of truth speaks through the apostles; 5:6).

It results in deeper submission to the authority of the apostles, the inspired authors of the New Testament (Acts 2:42): “...our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up” (2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10)

It results in the support of the expansion of Christ-boasting mission: “But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ; not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men's labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another. But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:13-17).

It results in a Church dedicated to being “as a pure virgin” betrothed to Christ, focused on “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:1-3), finding her completion in the Trinity (2 Corinthians 13:14) and a life together as unified as the one-God-in-three-Persons she worships (13:11,12).

This is the battle and fruit of spiritual warfare. May we not be distracted by other things.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

We Must Do More Than Weep

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion(Psalm 137:1).

Not all of them. Some of them assimilated into the culture and people of Babylon and vanished into history. But there were some who, despite being born in Babylon, clung to the teaching of the ways of God passed to them from their parents and grandparents... including the great leader of the return, Zerubbabel (Haggai 2:1-9; Zechariah 4:6-10), whose name means “born in Babylon” - not a good name for a Jew!

Mourn that Zion is not fully unveiled, but do not let that mourning for the apparent reign of the City of Man keep you from teaching the ways of Zion to the next generation. May it be that God raises up one “born in Babylon” who will mightily lead the children of Zion tomorrow.

We must do more than weep.

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare...when seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile’” (Jeremiah 29:4-7,10-14).

Lord, raise up from among our children and grandchildren Zerubbabels who are not at home in Babylon, but will be used of You to faithfully and powerfully lead us home to Zion.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Creator and Deliverer

Our pilgrim-Psalmist leads us in this confession this day: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8).

Hezekiah prayed to the Creator for deliverance: “Hezekiah prayed to the Lord saying, ‘O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made the heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see; and listen to all the words of Sennacherib, who sent them to reproach the living God. Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have devastated all the countries and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. Now, O Lord, our God, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, Lord, are God’” (Isaiah 37:15-20).

The Church prayed to the Creator for deliverance: “And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, ‘O Lord, it is You Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them [a quote from Nehemiah 9:6], Who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ [a quote from Psalm 2:1-2].” For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:24-32).

Church, as we gather today in His name in very different parts of this world, we are, nonetheless, surrounded by the Creation-reminder of His handiwork and its testimony to His preservation of His people.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

God of Heaven

“A Song of Ascents. To You I lift up my eyes, O You Who are enthroned in the heavens!” (Psalm 123:1).

Pilgrims, as we lift up our eyes to our heavenly God, may our eyes of faith see Him as He is through the teaching of Scripture. He is Trinity:
  • Father: “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father Who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name’” (Matthew 6:9).
  • Son: “...Jesus...because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:24-26).
  • Holy Spirit: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there” (Psalm 139:7,8).

Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other. So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you” (Deuteronomy 4:39,40).

“So Judah gathered together to seek help from the LORD; they even came from all the cities of Judah to seek the LORD. Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD before the new court, and he said, ‘O LORD, the God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens? And are You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You’” (2 Chronicles 20:4-6).

“...our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

From the "Ocular Catechism" of William Perkins (1558-1602)

“The Lord our God is the one and only living and true this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and the Holy Spirit. All are one in substance, power, and eternity; each having the whole divine essence, yet this essence being undivided. The Father was not derived from any other being; He was neither brought into being by, nor did He issue from any other being. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. All three are infinite, without beginning, and are therefore only one God, Who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties, and also their personal relations. This doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and our comfortable dependence on Him...worship is to be given to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to Him alone” (1689 Baptist Confession, 2.1,3; 22.2).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Resting on the Ascent

“A Song of Ascents, of David. O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul...” (Psalm 131:1,2a).

This isn’t a mystical quietism; after all, this is a song being sung, set in the midst of a collection of songs to be sung. They are to be sung on a pilgrimage commanded by the Law, the heart-meditation of God’s covenant people (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; 119:97; 1 Timothy 4:13,15). This is not a mystical quietism.

This isn’t a refusal to grasp for God with the mind – such would be a violation of the command to “love the Lord your God with all your...mind” (Matthew 22:37//Mark 12:30//Luke 10:27). In fact, David himself will give charge to his son Solomon to “know the God of your father, and serve Him with...a willing mind...if you seek Him, He will let you find Him” (1 Chronicles 28:9). This is not a falsely humble (read: lazy) refusal to think.

So what is David’s song teaching us as pilgrims wandering this world toward the fullness of Zion?

“ a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forever” (131:2b,3). Nourished to healthy growth and yet still relying on the presence of the parent in unwavering love and trust, this is David’s song for the people he is shepherding as king.

So, Church, grow. Grow, though, without losing your loving dependence on your heavenly Father. Humbly learn from the Spirit by the Word every day as He is conforming you (including your mind) to the image of the Son (1 Corinthians 2:16).

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil...beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking this way. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end [of the “Ascent,” of which our song today sings], so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 5:12-14; 6:9-12).
"Fish and Her Baby," by Vera Viglina

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Song of the Waking Dream

“A Song of Ascents. When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting...the LORD has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psalm 126:1-3, New American Standard).

“We were like those who dream.” This phrase has a strong pastoral-emotional impact to me. It reminds me of the many times I have read Scripture to those on the verge of leaving this life, those whose consciousness was not full; for them it truly is “a song of ascents.” Despite my heart’s reaction to this Psalm, I don’t want to lapse into a mystical emotionalism. So we go to other Scripture to see how this home-going Psalm of dreamy wonder fits in with the testimony of “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, Geneva Bible).

This isn’t a pure mysticism that fails to impact our lives. It is a waking dream that moves us homeward in holiness and ever-increasing dedication to both the Law of the Lord and the Good News of His absolute reign over all: “Awake, awake, clothe yourself in your strength, O Zion; clothe yourself in your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city...shake yourself from the dust, rise up, O captive Jerusalem; loose yourself from the chains around your neck, O captive daughter of Zion...therefore My people shall know My name; therefore in that day I am the One Who is speaking, ‘Here I am.’ How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness [quoted in Romans 10:12-15], who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, they shout joyfully together; for they will see with their own eyes when the LORD restores Zion. Break forth, shout joyfully together, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God. Depart, depart, go out from there, touch nothing unclean; go out of the midst of her, purify yourselves [quoted in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18], you who carry the vessels of the LORD. But you will not go out in haste, nor will you go as fugitives; for the LORD will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard” (Isaiah 52:1,2,6-12, NAS).

This isn’t, though, a being spiritually awake that ceases to be mystical or spiritual at all. It comprehends the truth revealed by the Spirit in the Word of God that shows us the Son to the glory of the Father. In the waking dream of pilgrimage home, it sees clearly yet doesn’t lose the wonder of the dream. It knows truth, but marvels at it: “I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, that Father of glory, might give unto you the Spirit of wisdom, and revelation through the knowledge of Him, that the eyes of your understanding may be lightened, that ye may know what the hope is of His calling, and what the riches of His glorious inheritance is in the Saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us, which believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and domination, and every Name, that is named, not in this world only, but also in that that is to come, and hath made all things subject under His feet, and hath given Him over all things to be the head to the Church, which is His body, even the fullness of Him that filleth all in all things” (Ephesians 1:16-23, Geneva Bible). There is no conflict between real intellectual knowledge of spiritual, mystical truth: “...we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hid wisdom, which God had determined before the world, unto our glory. Which none of the princes of this world hath known: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, ‘The things which eye hath not seen, neither ear hath heard, neither came into man’s heart, are, which God hath prepared for them that love Him.’ But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man, which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have receiveth not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit, which is of God, that we might know the things that are given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things” (1 Corinthians 2:7-13, Geneva Bible). The way home is definite, according the Word alone. Yet it is wondrous and Spirit-given.

Holy Spirit, open our sleepy eyes wide enough to see the true home to which we journey, but not so wide that we lose our wonder in its truth. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:5,6, NAS). Full love is founded upon the Spirit-inspired Word.

“I was asleep but my heart was awake. A voice! My beloved was knocking” (Song of songs 5:2, NAS).

P.S. David Crowder* Band's album A Collision (sixstepsrecords, 2005) was a powerful soundtrack in my ministry through a dark time of death. The song "Come Awake" seems an appropriate postscript to this entry.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Covenant Faithfulness: No Greater Lesson

Foundational spiritual truth and commandment: “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:1-9).

Application of this spiritual truth and commandment: “Now then, my sons, listen to me and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Keep your way far from her and do not go near the door of [the adulteress’] house” (Proverbs 5:7,8).

Covenant faithfulness to God alone is expressed in covenant faithfulness to our wife alone (Ephesians 5:22-6:4). Both must be unceasingly taught to every generation. It is our highest calling.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Few Reflections on the 4th

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States...” (Declaration of Independence of the U.S.A.).

Jesus Christ is the “Supreme Judge of the world” (Matthew 16:27; 25:31-46; John 5:19-30; Acts 10:42; 17:31; Romans 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5).

The Founders created a nation and, in its declaration of independence, recognized that it would one day stand with all other nations to be judged by the only Judge of the world.

* * * * * * *

Who has been moved to tears and strong feelings of loyalty over the Church? Where is there anything like a “Pledge of Allegiance” to the Church?

It’s not that I’m against patriotism or responsible citizenship; I am. What concerns me is that the songs, pledges of loyalty, and fierce self-identification of Christians is focused far more on national patriotism than the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus – God the Son – shed His blood to purchase His Church (Acts 20:28). This is not said of a nation. Jesus – bridegroom of the Church – loves her, gave His life for her, and is lovingly dedicated to cleansing her by “the washing of water with the Word” (Ephesians 5:25,26). With His blood Jesus purchased His Church “from [εκ, “out of”] every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

So how is it that we are not moved to a Christ-like love and allegiance to His bride, but on days like today we will passionately express our national patriotism? How can we grieve over the waywardness of this nation from the most basic moral standards of God’s Law (somehow separating an ideal vision of the nation from its current reality), but readily trash the whole Church for the sin present within it? Most of us can sing the numerous patriotic tunes in our churches’ hymnals (!) almost entirely from memory, but sing the few good songs about the Church with nothing near the same passion or enthusiasm.

May our “patriotism” become more Christ-like, putting the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ as primary over a dedication to country. The country, after all, is not eternal. The Church is. "It is He Who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings...the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes...the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Daniel 2:21; 4:17,32), but concerning His Kingdom (the Church) He has said, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever... His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom And His dominion is from generation to generation...His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation...He is the living God and enduring forever, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, and His dominion will be forever...behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed...the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom...the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him” (Daniel 2:44; 4:3,34; 6:26; 7:13,14,22,27).

* * * * * * *

“All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth...God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power” (Baptist Faith & Message 2000, XV, XVII).

Did you see it in there? “Church and state should be separate.” The one phrase in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 that virtually no Southern Baptist affirms in their ideas of patriotism. Being citizens of heaven and earth requires some careful thought, both scripturally and confessionally.

* * * * * * *

Is your eschatology linked to your patriotism? Can you conceive of the end of the U.S.A. (a popular topic for conjecturing among conspiracy theorists and "end time experts") apart from the "end of the world"? Does your eschatology allow for a possible passage of the U.S.A. into history (as many much older countries have since Jesus left the earth) and a continuation of world history? Is your reading of "end times" passages and your patriotism linked - that is, is your understanding of Scripture that it was written uniquely for your generation?

* * * * * * *

One more thing: “Then the LORD appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, ‘I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land’” (2 Chronicles 7:12-14). Context, friends. Who are “His people”? What was “their land”? God’s old covenant people lived in a land that was an expression of that covenant. The new covenant people of God in Christ have no such expression of the covenant. The land in which God’s new covenant people (the Church) live throughout the world is not connected to their covenant with Him in Christ. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

A better, more contextually faithful, statement on prayer is found in Jeremiah 29. “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare’” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).