Saturday, August 31, 2013

Holy Flotsam

Here are a few things that deserve to be shared:

  • Mike Milton's prayer for the Church in Syria.
  • Carl Trueman's reflections on what non-believers learn about our faith in our gatherings. I truly loved this. I am reminded of something I once read in Leon McBeth's Baptist history textbook (I'm not getting this perfectly, so apologies): to be Baptist is to be on the quest for a biblical Church. I am still on that journey as a Baptist...the older I get, the more important Scripture reading in the gathering becomes in my conviction...and Paul's (1 Timothy 4:13).
  • I'm currently reading Michael Kruger's Canon Revisited. Well organized, very thoughtful. It's in preparation for a time of study through the 1689, which begins with Scripture.
  • I'm currently listening to Benjamin the Equire's Lyrical Catechism. For you hip-hop fans out there, this is very good.Good enough to get shai linne fans through until volume 2 of his Lyrical Theology comes out.
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Every once in a while I work up the courage to listen to a sermon (?!) on church growth or outreach. Yesterday's attempt reminded me why I don't often do this. The speaker always spends 40% of the message giving us his church's story, 50% of the message giving us bullet points backed up by more stories from his ministry, and 10% reflection on Scripture that is more often than not self-admittedly dubious in its exegesis. Then there's the ubiquitous, "I'm not trying to get you to copy my church...many of these may not work in your context..." Sigh. I remember a heart-breaking moment in seminary in a missiology class when the professor said, "we mission guys figure out how to reach people - you MDiv guys figure out how to make it biblical."
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Speaking of Scripture-twisting man-centered religion, I actually recently heard someone use a selective paraphrase of Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 20:18 to justify gossip! How is it that if I were to behave as gossipers do, it would ruin the ministry in my temporary stewardship? Yes, I realize ministers are held to a different standard...I've often wondered how much they would have to be paid to observe a scriptural Christian lifestyle?
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I was given a mandolin this year by a dear saint whose paralysis keeps her from playing it. I've recently started using it when playing the Westminster Shorter Catechism questions with my children (Holly Dutton's songs of the W.S.C.). It's inspired my oldest son to get back to his ukulele practice. I've also started reading them The Jesus Storybook Bible. Short, sweet, very well done.
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Week one of a two-week fast from Face Book is over. We were relatively late getting on the FB bandwagon, but got in deep just like everyone else pretty quickly. It's been a good Kingdom tool and helpful to keep in touch with far-off family members, but it's been good to be able to walk away from it for a while. I Just before I shut it down, I thought of Aragorn's quote: "One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters" (Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers). It's not been a treasure, but a handy I am not interested to see turn into chains.
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One evening last April I was sitting outside with a Filipino team member in Toledo, Cebu, Philippines, talking about the need for an adaptable, cheaply reproducible discipleship guide. I just finished writing it for the churches over there. They've been heavily on my heart during the final editing and re-writing. It is a rich thing to have been blessed with a life in which I have left parts of my heart in places far and wide. God is good to me, far better than I deserve.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Long Suffering of Evil

I was reading 2 Timothy last night and noticed an idea that was repeated several times.

“But the servant of the Lord must not strive, but must be gentle toward all men, apt to teach, suffering the evil, instructing them with meekness that are contrary minded, proving if God at any time will give them repentance, that they may acknowledge the truth, and come to amendment out of that snare of the devil, of whom they are taken prisoners, to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26, Geneva Bible).

“But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of living, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, patience, persecutions, and afflictions which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra, which persecutions I suffered: but from them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution. But the evil men and deceivers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned, and which are committed unto thee, knowing of whom thou hast learned them: And that thou hast known the holy Scriptures of a child, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through the faith which is in Christ Jesus. For the whole Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable to teach, to convince, to correct, and to instruct in righteousness, that the man of God may be absolute, being made perfect unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:10-17).

“Preach the word: be instant, in season, and out of season: improve, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Suffering the evil. Long suffering. As Paul prepares to leave this world, entrusting the ministry to the next generation of the Church, this is his wisdom. May all of us hear these words and take our stand on scriptural doctrine in the face of the pressure, persecution, and even the evil that true doctrine will stir up.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Prayer Requests Greater Than Me

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from Whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Tap the true riches of eternal, unlimited glory.
Strengthened inside by uncontainable Power.
Indwelt by One greater than the universe.
Measure, with the whole Church, the unfathomable (3:8).
Know what is beyond knowledge.
Filled up with the fullness of the Infinite.

I have yet to learn to pray like this, which means I have not yet come to desire, prize, or treasure these things. I am still focused on anchored feet and not gazing upward and homeward with all that I am.

Father, keep commanding us to pray. Lord Jesus, keep teaching us to pray. Holy Spirit, keep helping us to pray.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Jeremiah’s Turning #13: the Charge of Self-ism

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

“You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Do men fall and not get up again? Does one turn away [שוב] and not repent [שוב]? Why then has this people, Jerusalem, turned away [שוב] in continual apostasy? They hold fast to deceit, they refuse to return [שוב]. I have listened and heard, they have spoken what is not right; no man repented [נחם] of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turned [שוב] to his course, like a horse charging into the battle”’” (Jeremiah 8:4-6).

In these verses we English-speakers get an idea just how versatile Hebrew is as a language, and how important context is phrase-to-phrase. The same word, שוב, is used to mean both apostasy (turning away from God) and repentance (turning to God) in verses 4 and 5 – same word, opposite meanings!

Today we’ll focus on verse 6, where the people go boldly forth into wherever they feel like going. The refrain of Judges connects this to a lack of a king: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25).

The inadequacy is not governmental. Don’t read it this way.

Even without a human king, they had what they needed for a rule of life as God’s covenant people: “He said, ‘The LORD came from Sinai, and dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, and He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones; at His right hand there was flashing lightning for them. Indeed, He loves the people; all Your holy ones are in Your hand, and they followed in Your steps; everyone receives of Your words. Moses charged us with a law, a possession for the assembly of Jacob. And He was king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people were gathered, the tribes of Israel together’” (Deuteronomy 33:2-5). We are not to understand Judges 17:6; 21:25 to mean that the people had no light, no guidance. They had the royal Word of the Law. The problem isn’t that they were king-less. The problem was that they were sinners. This is the purpose of the Law – to show forth the sinfulness of the people and their need for Christ the King (Romans 7:7; Galatians 3:22-24).

The people’s complaint that they wanted a human king is traced back to a heart that rejected God as Savior and King. Their rejection of God led to the rejection of the prophet-judge appointed by God to mediate the royal Word of the Law to them: “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day - in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods - so they are doing to you also’” (1 Samuel 8:7,8).

Their lack of a king is a surface problem. The heart problem is a people who have the royal Word of the Law, and have a Spirit-gifted leader to lead them in that Word, but would rather do their own thing while a human king preserves their safety and prosperity. The covenant people of God are not following the Word, but are living by the creed of the world, following their hearts. “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26). They go forward boldly, as a horse charging into battle, following their hearts further and further away from the rule of their Savior-God and King.

Woe to a people who want a pastor who merely preserves the status quo of institutionalized tradition and closed social cliques.

Woe to a people who ignore the Word as the rule of life and yet seek blessing from God.

Christ is the conquering King (Matthew 28:18; Revelation 1:5), and He has given the Church the gift of those who will lead His people in the Word: “Therefore it says, ‘WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN [a quote from Psalm 68:18].’ (Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He Who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) And He 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” (Ephesians 4:8-13).

“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17).

God has given men to His Church to proclaim His royal Word as rule of life to save us from the tendency to charge forth after our hearts away from Him. Turn away from the charge into self and turn to the royal Word of the King. “And in 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).

Friday, August 9, 2013

Jeremiah’s Turning #12: Judgment's First Stop

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

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘They will thoroughly glean as the vine the remnant of Israel; pass your hand again [שוב] like a grape gatherer over the branches’” (Jeremiah 6:9).

The invading nation is God’s tool for bringing judgment on His people in this passage (speaking of the repeated Babylonian attacks on Jerusalem in the 6th century B.C.). Phew. Thankfully that’s the God of the Old Testament. The God of the New Testament doesn’t bring judgment on false confessors and sin-riddled churches, does He?


By lying to the Church about giving, Ananias and Sapphira lied to God (Acts 5:4) the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3) and paid the ultimate price. In the New Testament. In the age of the New Covenant (under which we also currently live): “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.’ And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:1-11).

By taking part in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, some in the Corinthian church were struck with illness and some had even died (do you take the Table this seriously?! God does!). In the New Testament. In the age of the New Covenant (under which we also currently live): “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

Then there’s the list in the Revelation, in the letters given by the glorified Lord Jesus Christ to the churches. In the New Testament. In the age of the New Covenant (under which we also live):
  • To the church in Ephesus: “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 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” (Revelation 2:4,5). He has explained the symbol/metaphor of the “lampstand” in 1:20. It is the right to be a “church.” Jesus can remove that. You may still have your incorporation status, your cool name, your building, your website, etc., but Jesus can decree that you are no longer a church. Repent!
  • To the church in Pergamum: “But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth” (Revelation 2:14-16). Yes, doctrine and theology is vitally important, because it leads to our practice (this is the progression, by the way, in 2 Timothy 3:16,17, where discipleship in the Scripture precedes and leads to “every good work”). Blurring the lines of holiness between God’s people and the world is exceedingly popular and common (more time and mental ingenuity is expended trying to justify worldly doctrine and practice in the Church than teaching on biblical holiness by far!). I used to think it was something only teenagers did in the church. I know better now. They learned it from us. Repent!
  • To the church in Thyatira: “But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds” (Revelation 2:20-23). Why doesn’t God kill all false teachers quickly before their poison causes so much confusion and hurt? He gives them time to repent. But notice the spiritual application of generational sin (Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Leviticus 20:5; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9) here: the “children” (disciples or followers) of the false teacher “Jezebel” will be killed as a lesson to the churches. I think God takes our doctrine and theology (and the resulting practical fruit) seriously. Repent!
  • To the church in Sardis: “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you” (Revelation 3:1-3). In this case, the teaching of the church is and has been good (He calls them to “remember” it and “keep it” in their repentance). “Prove yourselves doers of the Word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). Repent!
  • To the church in Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15,16). A reliance on the ways, wealth, and wisdom of the world as opposed to full reliance on Christ for everything seems to be something that the Lord of the Church strongly opposes. He is saying this to them in love (3:19), but love’s message is “repent!”

I end up today with a verse that my pastor mentioned to us frequently the years I sat under his teaching: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). That ought to be a sobering thought, especially with all the passages from Revelation above. We teach Revelation as a warning shot of promised judgment on the nations, but that’s not where the judgment starts, is it?

Take the King of the Church seriously, believer. Take the Lord of the Church seriously, churches. Repent!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Jeremiah's Turning #11: Hard As Stone

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

“O LORD, do not Your eyes look for truth? You have smitten them, but they did not weaken; You have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent [שוב] (Jeremiah 5:3).

They became like what they worshiped: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but they cannot hear; they have noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but they cannot feel; they have feet, but they cannot walk; they cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them” (Psalm 115:4-8).

The Lord responded to this hardness in two ways:
  • The prophet preached a message that went unheard by the decree of God: “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.” Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed’” (Isaiah 6:8-10). By this way, this passage is one of the most-quoted in the New Testament (Matthew 13:14,15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 28:26,27; Romans 11:8). The principle does not change between the Testaments because God’s plan to save a small group of the elect from the mass of idol-worshiping humanity does not change (neither does their idolatry change). “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).
  • The prophet was made just as hard as they were: “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them. For you are not being sent to a people of unintelligible speech or difficult language, but to the house of Israel, nor to many peoples of unintelligible speech or difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. But I have sent you to them who should listen to you; yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to Me. Surely the whole house of Israel is stubborn and obstinate. Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint I have made your forehead. Do not be afraid of them or be dismayed before them, though they are a rebellious house.’ Moreover, He said to me, ‘Son of man, take into your heart all My words which I will speak to you and listen closely. Go to the exiles, to the sons of your people, and speak to them and tell them, whether they listen or not, “Thus says the Lord GOD”’” (Ezekiel 3:4-11). John the Baptist was raised up to be this kind of preacher. His message was not vanilla, easy-listening, and it certainly didn’t tickle the ears (2 Timothy 4:3).

Repentance is the gift of God (Acts 5:31; 11:18), enabling His elect to respond to the preaching of His Good News of salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross alone (Acts 2:36-38). The gift of repentance is the blessing of God given through His Son (Acts 3:26).

Though salvation is impossible to achieve by human beings (Matthew 19:25,26; Mark 10:26,27; Luke 18:26,27), God is able to bring anyone to repentance. So we prayerfully and lovingly – but immovably in the truth of the Word – appeal to the human rocks with the Gospel, hoping God will use the Word to bring them to repentance and faith: “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Jeremiah’s Turning #10: Creation’s Undoing

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

“I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens had fled. I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a wilderness, and all its cities were pulled down before the LORD, before His fierce anger. For thus says the LORD, ‘The whole land shall be a desolation, yet I will not execute a complete destruction. For this the earth shall mourn and the heavens above be dark, because I have spoken, I have purposed, and I will not change My mind, nor will I turn [שוב] from it.’ At the sound of the horseman and bowman every city flees; they go into the thickets and climb among the rocks; every city is forsaken, and no man dwells in them” (Jeremiah 4:23-29).

There are some passages that are perfect instruments of our great Teacher, God the Holy Spirit. For example: 2 Samuel 22//Psalm 18. When we compare the context of the Psalm (“the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul”), and compare it to the cataclysmic heaven-rending events in the song, we are taught how to understand such passages. Where in the historic narratives of David’s life do we see anything like 2 Samuel 22:8-16//Psalm 18:7-15? We are taught by this to understand this language as descriptive of the spiritual battles paralleling the physical struggles of God’s people in this world (see also Judges 5:20 and compare it to the narrative of the battle).

Our passage from today is another of those great teaching verses. Jeremiah purposefully uses language in his description of Jerusalem’s destruction at the hand of the Babylonians (586 B.C.) that is only used in one other place:
  • “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:1,2).
  • “I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light” (Jeremiah 4:23).

Jeremiah describes the destruction of Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple in terms of the undoing of all of Creation. This is not the only place where the Temple/Jerusalem is compared to “the heavens and the earth.”
  • “But chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which He loved. And He built His sanctuary like the heights, like the earth which He has founded forever” (Psalm 78:68,69).
  • “I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, ‘You are My people’” (Isaiah 51:16).
  • “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing and her people for gladness” (Isaiah 65:17,18).

In addition, the New Testament makes a parallel between the “elements of the world” and the ceremonies/regulations of the old covenant:
  • “Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world [τα στοιχεια του κοσμου]. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things [στοιχεια], to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Galatians 4:1-11).
  • “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world [τα στοιχεια του κοσμου], rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
  • “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world [των στοιχειων του κοσμου], why, as if you were living in the world [κοσμω], do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) - in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?” (Colossians 2:20-22).

So, if we’re being consistent about letting the Psalms, Prophets, and Paul teach us to understand scriptural language, how does this affect our reading of 2 Peter 3:10-13? Is Peter teaching a cosmological destruction or the end of the old covenant era with the destruction of the Temple at the hand of the Romans in A.D. 70?

Let God the Holy Spirit teach you how to read Scripture, regardless of how this messes up your systematic theology...especially your eschatology.

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As far as the turning mentioned in this verse, note again that when God purposes to punish His people, it will happen.
  • “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).
  • “This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles. Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:1-4).

The apostle Peter teaches us that there is a type of judgment that will come upon the Church, and the apostle teaches us that there are those within the Church who will deny this judgment and live in open rebellion (even leading others in the Church to follow them). Be warned. God may wait, but His judgment does not turn away from false confessors in His Church.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Jeremiah's Turning #9: Supernatural Evangelism

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

“‘If you will return [שוב], O Israel,’ declares the LORD, ‘Then you should return [שוב] to Me. And if you will put away your detested things from My presence, and will not waver, and you will swear, “As the LORD lives,” in truth, in justice and in righteousness; then the nations will bless themselves in Him, and in Him they will glory.’ For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else My wrath will go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds. Declare in Judah and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say, “Blow the trumpet in the land; cry aloud and say, “Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities.” Lift up a standard toward Zion! Seek refuge, do not stand still, for I am bringing evil from the north, and great destruction. A lion has gone up from his thicket, and a destroyer of nations has set out; he has gone out from his place to make your land a waste. Your cities will be ruins without inhabitant.’ For this, put on sackcloth, lament and wail; for the fierce anger of the LORD has not turned [שוב] back from us.” (Jeremiah 4:1-8).

God commands that His people be a repentant people, a people who do not mingle the world with Himself. What’s at stake? The Gospel fulfillment of the promise to Abraham:
  • “ you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
  • “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU’” (Galatians 3:8).
  • “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth’...after these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 5:9,10; 7:9,10).

“And you will swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’ in truth, in justice and in righteousness; then the nations will bless themselves in Him, and in Him they will glory” (Jeremiah 4:2). This is God’s Gospel promise through a repentant, faithful people. No where in this does the Gospel promise extent to a worldly entertainment or gimmicky strategy for drawing the lost. God attaches a promise of supernaturally successful evangelism to a faithful, holy, and repentant people. The "then" is God's promise.

The only alternative to being a people of circumcised heart is being a people under the wrath of God.

This is how the nations will be blessed by the Gospel, and this is how God will ultimately receive the most glory in their sight.

Repent, Church. This is what the unbelieving world needs.

“Saving repentance is an evangelical grace by which a person who is made to feel, by the Holy Spirit, the manifold evils of his sin, and being given faith in Christ, humbles himself over his sin with godly sorrow, detestation of his sin and self-abhorrency. In such repentance the person also prays for pardon and strength of grace, and has a purpose and endeavor, by supplies of the Spirit’s power, to walk before God and to totally please Him in all things. As repentance is to be continued through the whole course of our lives, on account of the body of death, and the motions of it, it is therefore every man’s duty to repent of his particular known sins particularly. Such is the provision which God has made through Christ in the covenant of grace for the preservation of believers in the way of salvation, that although even the smallest sin deserves damnation, yet there is no sin great enough to bring damnation on those who repent. This makes the constant preaching of repentance necessary” (1689 Baptist Confession, 15.4-6).

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Jeremiah's Turning #8: the Wound

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

“‘Surely, as a woman treacherously departs from her lover, so you have dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel,’ declares the LORD. A voice is heard on the bare heights, the weeping and the supplications of the sons of Israel; because they have perverted their way, they have forgotten the LORD their God. ‘Return [שוב], O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness.’ ‘Behold, we come to You; for You are the LORD our God’” (Jeremiah 3:20-22).

Jeremiah’s not the only prophet to describe the waywardness of the covenant people as their greatest disease, infirmity, or injury.

“Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him. Where will you be stricken again, as you continue in your rebellion? The whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head there is nothing sound in it, only bruises, welts and raw wounds, not pressed out or bandaged, nor softened with oil” (Isaiah 1:4-6).

What do you think the greatest problem is in your life? How high on that list is the progress of your discipleship, your sanctification? I often compare our “prayer requests” with those described by Paul in his epistles. He top prayer request is for sanctification. He doesn’t use that word, but that’s the request. Growth in faith, an increase in love for one another, a deepening of the knowledge of God in Christ, a conquering grace in the proclamation of the Gospel to the unbelieving world...these are the apostle’s requests. Paul never lost sight of the fact that our greatest illness is the remaining sin in our lives that keeps us from growth together in the fullness of Christ. It’s greater than financial debt, physical complications, perceived persecutions, etc. Our sickness is defined – by Paul and the prophets – and whatever is between us and our God.

So Jeremiah speaks of God’s promise, upon repentance, to “heal your faithlessness.” This is our greatest need.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.’ It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears” (Hebrews 12:1-17). I love this whole section of text, and especially the use of “healed” here in verse 13. The worst thing that happens to us in this world is not physical infirmity, but any struggle with sin that causes us to walk away from the promises of God toward those who persevere (Revelation 21:7).

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Jeremiah's Turning #7: His Promise to the Gathering

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

“‘It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘they will no longer say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again. At that time they will call Jerusalem “The Throne of the LORD,” and all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the LORD; nor will they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart. In those days the house of Judah will walk with the house of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers as an inheritance. Then I said, “How I would set you among My sons and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful inheritance of the nations!” And I said, “You shall call Me, My Father, and not turn [שוב] away from following Me”’” (Jeremiah 3:16-19).

What promises to the gathering Church!

The place of God’s presence with His people is where God reigns over all as King! “And Jesus came up and spoke to them,saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth...I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18,20).

The place of God’s presence with His people is where the elect from all the nations is gathered! “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (Revelation 5:9,10).

The place of God’s presence with His people is where all God’s people will eventually be counted – not one will be forgotten or lost! “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day...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...of those whom You have given Me I lost not one” (John 6:39; 10:27-29; 18:9).

The place of God’s presence with His people is where God’s people enjoy the privilege and right of adoption by His great grace! “ many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God...He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (John 1:12,13; Ephesians 1:5,6).

The place of God’s presence with His people is where God’s people are assured preservation unto perseverance for eternal salvation! “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:29,30).

Where is the place of God’s presence with His people? The old covenant shadow, earthly Jerusalem, passed away with that covenant: “...believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21; cf. Galatians 4:22-26). The place of God’s presence with His people is in Christ alone! The fullness to Whom the old covenant shadows and types pointed is here! This is the age of His Gospel, the age of the new covenant sealed in His blood!

“...My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him...if anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him...abide in Me, and I in you” (John 6:55,56; 14:23; 15:4).

Friday, August 2, 2013

Magnificent Theft

I have the opportunity to preach this Sunday at a mission church with which our home church has some connection, so our family made the 8-hour trip a few days early to spend time together. While in this area, we checked off a destination that’s been on our list for over ten years: the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. It’s truly awe-inspiring, and well worth the long wait to see it (I got to summit the second-largest dune in the park – 650 feet tall...amazing and literally breath-taking!).

While waiting in the Visitor’s Center for a summer storm to pass, I saw this sign out on the overlook and ran outside between lightning flashes to get a pic of it:

The sand dunes exist and are remarkably stable through a confluence of geography and weather...just incredible. But “coincidence”? With the addition of the adjective “magnificent,” what we have here is a worship statement exulting in chaos or chance. It is a sad theft. Unsurprising, but sad. Glory has been stolen from the Son of God: “ these last days has spoken to us in His Son, Whom He appointed heir of all things, through Whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:1-3).

I say “unsurprising” because, of course, this is exactly what the Scriptures say humanity does: “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” (Romans 1:18-23). This sign at the overlook is a nice, clean, modest example of the willful suppression of “the truth in unrighteousness,” a sign of the present and abiding wrath of God against all who, in seeing an astounding display of “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature,” steal His glory and give it away to randomness.

When truth-suppressors give themselves to “all his thoughts are, ‘there is no God’” (Psalm 10:4), they set themselves up as the highest intelligent, willful organizing agents in the universe. There is no higher intelligence, so all balancing acts in Creation (like the Great Sand Dunes National Park) are the products of happy chance. We can climb, play, “wow,” but miss the whole point. In the video in the Visitor’s Center, there was more than one clip showing someone sitting high atop a sandy ridge looking meditatively off into the distance. In fact, we saw several people doing just that in person. So close...brought to the edge of the contemplation of truth, but for the most part missing it. Admiring the great signpost, but missing where the arrow is pointing.

This is why we must preach the Gospel. General, or natural, revelation is powerful and helpful, but it does not save the truth-suppressing human soul.

“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. Although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God so much that man is left without any excuse, they are not sufficient to provide that knowledge of God and His will which is necessary for salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal Himself, and to declare His will to His church; and afterward, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church, protecting it against the corruption of the flesh and the malice of Satan and the world, it pleased the Lord to commit His revealed Truth wholly to writing. Therefore the Holy Scriptures are most necessary” (1689 Baptist Confession, 1.1).

This is why Paul, in his last will and testament to Timothy, as he passes the baton to the next generation of the Church, adjures him: “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 3:14-4:5).

We must continue in the Word. We must teach, reprove, correct, train, and work out of the Word. We must preach the Word.

And, when standing before and exploring an unbelievably beautiful signpost to His absolutely wonderful “invisible attributes...eternal power and divine nature,” we must praise Him with great praise for His magnificent glory.

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Third "Must" of Biblical Interpretation

I've just finished re-reading the seventh section of Louis Berkhof's Principles of Biblical Interpretation on "Theological Interpretation." I can't recommend these 33 pages enough. Much of what is taught here I've had to struggle toward slowly on my own - it would've been great if someone would've drilled these ideas into my head in seminary or elsewhere.

The first two requirements of biblical interpretation are historical and grammatical, but the third "must" of theological interpretation is consistently ignored or unhelpfully assumed (and therefore hidden from scrutiny). Berkhof, though, asserts that purposefully and openly pursuing theological interpretation is to "refuse to place [the Bible] on a level with other books," since the Bible is an organic whole, has a Divine Author, and is intrinsically theological.

While I don't agree 100% with Berkhof's conclusions on when prophetic language is literal or figurative (I think he fails to adequately address Hebrew parallelism of thought - sometimes parallelism is the tool that shows something to be a figure rather than an explicit statement introducing a figure), almost all of the rest of this material is well-organized, adequately defended, abundantly illustrated from Scripture, and is irreplaceable in its value for the student of biblical interpretation.

If I had to strip my library down to what I could fit in a backpack, this book would make the cut (and not just because it's small!).

Jeremiah's Turning #6: Pastors for the Remnant

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

“‘Return [שוב], O faithless [שבב, from שוב] sons,’ declares the LORD; ‘For I am a master to you, and I will take you one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding’” (Jeremiah 3:14,15).

Baal, the false Canaanite god with which the idolatrous Israelites were so enamored, has its name from the word for “husband” (בעל for both “Baal” and “husband”), or “master” as it is translated above. The Lord will later, when promising the new covenant, identify Himself as the sole husband of His people: “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband [בעל] to them," declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:31,32). The new covenant, in which God is still husband to His people, cannot be broken, for its faithfulness was gained through the imputed righteousness and active obedience of Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom (Matthew 22:2; John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:7-9; 21:9).

This is a passage about the remnant. Jesus will draw on this language in the “Little Apocalypse” (Matthew 24:40,41; Luke 17:34-36), which I believe describes the gathering of the Church by the effectual calling of the Gospel in that generation between the old and new covenant (up to the final destruction of the Jewish Temple in A.D. 70). Our Jeremiah passage and the Matthew/Luke references are consistent with how the Prophets used the idea of “remnant.” God called His elect-who-would-be-faithful from among those who were His in name only.

God calls His people by the “shepherds” (pastors) He gives His people as gifts (Ephesians 4:7-11). These are the “messengers” of Matthew 24:31//Mark 13:27 (αγγελος, translated “angels” in our English translations) who are used of God to gather and feed the Church by the proclamation of the Word. They give the Church the needful food for its survival, “knowledge and understanding.”

And so we preached, praying even as we speak forth the call to gather from the four winds: "...we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:9,10).