Monday, September 30, 2013

Cleansed to Come Home Forever

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Command the sons of Israel that they send away from the camp every leper and everyone having a discharge and everyone who is unclean because of a dead person. You shall send away both male and female; you shall send them outside the camp so that they will not defile their camp where I dwell in their midst.’ The sons of Israel did so and sent them outside the camp; just as the LORD had spoken to Moses, thus the sons of Israel did” (Numbers 5:1-4).

  • Every leper: “When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, ‘See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them’” (Matthew 8:1-4).
  • Everyone having a discharge: “Jesus got up and began to follow him, and so did His disciples. And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; for she was saying to herself, ‘If I only touch His garment, I will get well.’ But Jesus turning and seeing her said, ‘Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.’ At once the woman was made well” (Matthew 9:19-22).
  • Everyone who is unclean because of a dead person: “When Jesus came into the official’s house, and saw the flute-players and the crowd in noisy disorder, He said, ‘Leave; for the girl has not died, but is asleep.’ And they began laughing at Him. But when the crowd had been sent out, He entered and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. This news spread throughout all that land” (Matthew 9:23-26).

All that makes us unclean by the standard of the Law is cleansed by the touch of the Lord Jesus Christ. Put your faith in Him and be cleansed, be whole, be lifted up; in Him we are brought home into the camp of the covenant people of God, never to leave again.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Of Cleansing and Holiness

“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me [Isaiah 52:11],’ Says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1).

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, ‘Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God...the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:9-11,23-27).

What cleanses us? It doesn’t start on the outside. In fact, cleansing the outside appearance alone is the sure recipe for hypocrisy (Matthew 23:25,26). Besides, our uncleanness doesn’t start on the outside (Mark 7:18-23). We continually need Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church, to cleanse us by His Word (Ephesians 5:26; cf. Ezekiel 16:9), just as He has cleansed by His blood shed on our behalf (Hebrews 9:22; 1 John 1:7,9). “And God, Who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8,9; cf. Matthew 8:2,3; Mark 1:40,41; Luke 5:12,13; 11:39-41; Acts 10:15; 11:9).

Father, we are cleansed by the Word and blood of Your Son, applied to us by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Help us to be holy as You are holy (1 Peter 1:14-19). Give us a greater desire for You than for the things from which You have cleansed us. If it is the not the result of Your gracious cleansing, we don’t want it. If it is not Your holiness, teach us that it has no place in Your Church. Give us wisdom who know little of holiness to know it, discern it, and desire it in love and truth.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Boastful Pride of Life

There is a pride that shows itself in the Church. It is a pride over imagined spiritual maturity, based either on the amount of time a person has followed the Lord or on what they think to be spiritual depth (this is usually much greater in attitude than in reality!). They subtly – and sometimes not-so-subtly – make sure you (and everyone else) know how much more superior they are and how relatively immature you are compared to them. They do this to have a stronger voice in the group. They do this to build themselves up in their own minds (and in the minds of everyone around them). They do this to keep you in your place (below them). I know this is discouraging, especially when you’d like to “shock and awe” them into submission publicly and memorably. But this wouldn’t help them spiritually, would weaken the Church (even more than they themselves are), and most of all would not be beneficial to your own growth in the faith.

This is a foundational flaw to the sinful human being. You are not being hurt by anything novel or unique to your own experience. You aren’t even the offended party. God is. Their boastful pride is an affront to the God Who created them and saved them. You are collateral damage.
  • “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.”’ The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:1-6).
  • “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:15,16).

After the Exodus generation died in the wilderness for their rebellion, Moses renewed God’s covenant with the next generation. This generation had been raised in the wilderness and were now about to conquer the Promised Land. An offering of first fruits was commanded, with a liturgy built into it to give glory to the gracefully giving God and to keep spiritual pride at bay: “Then it shall be, when you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and live in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground which you bring in from your land that the LORD your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare this day to the LORD my God that I have entered the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God. You shall answer and say before the LORD your God, ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, and imposed hard labor on us. Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction and our toil and our oppression; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror and with signs and wonders; and He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, O LORD have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God; and you and the Levite and the alien who is among you shall rejoice in all the good which the LORD your God has given you and your household” (Deuteronomy 26:1-11). Notice the language of the liturgy. All that the worshiper has is “given” from God, not from the worshiper or from the worshiper’s heritage. In fact, the patriarchs are purposefully minimized in this liturgy: “My father was a wandering Aramean.” Israel (Jacob) is not to be the source of pride to the people. God is their boasting.

They later needed to be reminded of their humble origins: “Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem, ‘Your origin and your birth are from the land of the Canaanite, your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born. When I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’” (Ezekiel 16:3-6). The people needed to be reminded that they have just as much in common with the ungodly pagans of the land as they do with the faithful wanderers who were their fathers. This is true for us, as well. We still have much of the old humanity dwelling in us (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9), though we have put on Christ by faith (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10) and are in union in Him. The problem here is that some – God forbid it is us – have much more of the ungodly character inward, masked by a mask of mature Christianity. They can spout Scripture, have mastered the voice and language of a deep disciple (sometimes they do a good imitation of spiritual humility), but their motivation and words have a thread of serpent in them. Boastful pride of life, built on putting you down. And keeping you there. Sadly, other believers will buy their act.

This is not the attitude of true believers. If anyone would have reason to boast, it would have been Paul. He wrote significant portions of the New Testament! Top that! What was Paul’s character? Boastful? “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, Who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:12-17).

Jesus taught that this attitude is the heart of what it means to be God’s faithful servant: “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and be planted in the sea”; and it would obey you. Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, “Come immediately and sit down to eat”? But will he not say to him, “Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink”? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done”’” (Luke 17:5-10). Notice that Jesus taught this to the disciples in response to their request to grow in faith. A deep faith doesn’t seek honor or glory for service to God. This is deep faith: a faith that obeys God without expectation of reward, blessing, or honor.

May those who are boastful in their spiritual pedigree, imagined maturity, or history of service take heed to the warning of John the Baptist: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father”; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire’” (Matthew 3:7-12). God creates His children. They do not earn this badge through their own efforts. They do not keep this label through their own efforts. He creates us, as it were, from mere rocks. He will not permit it that we boast in our own spiritual self-creation.

Pray for them. It doesn’t work out well for those who are taking pride in their spiritual standing. Eve. The Jerusalemites to whom Ezekiel was speaking. The scribes and Pharisees to whom John the Baptist was railing. We don’t wish this upon people, even those who are hurtful and damaging to other believers. We don’t desire to see them fall away, but pray that their eyes are opened to their pride: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Remember that God takes stumbling blocks in the midst of His people exceedingly serious (Matthew 18:1-10).

Use their example of pride as a warning and continual opportunity to take stock of the remaining pride in your own life. You have pride. I know you are being hurt and oppressed by those boastful souls who are being prideful, but this doesn’t make you a pure innocent. Prayerfully dig deep. It’s there.

Stay focused. These boastful ones have got it into their minds that we are gathered by God as the Church for their self-esteem and their social agenda. Trying to put them in their place or continually trying to counter their barbs, attitudes, and sneaking whisperings will only distract the Body from its calling. When these try to push the Church off-track, consider doubling down on the Commission of the Church to pursue missions, evangelism, church planting, and discipleship. These who are doing the work of the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10) must be opposed by weapons – but not physical weapons. Get on-mission even more than you are. Encourage other believers. Pray. Stay in the Word and under its faithful teaching. Get out there with “the whole message of this Life” (Acts 5:20), even if “out there” is your own household. How far can you go for the proclamation of Christ?

Give God praise for all that He has done in saving you and adopting you as His child through Christ. Give Him thanks for His Spirit and the Bible. Through the words of your mouth and meditation of your heart get the focus where it needs to be – on your great God. This is the needful discipline for you in this moment of trial. His Church will prevail and grow stronger, but only if the true disciples in its midst live in simple, faithful obedience to His Word, by the power of the Spirit, through the lordship of the Son, to the glory of the Father.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Holiness and High Places

  • “In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash became king, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. Jehoash did right in the sight of the LORD all his days in which Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Only the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places(2 Kings 12:1-3).
  • “In the second year of Joash son of Joahaz king of Israel, Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah became king. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Jehoaddin of Jerusalem. He did right in the sight of the LORD, yet not like David his father; he did according to all that Joash his father had done. Only the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places (2 Kings 14:1-4).
  • “In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Azariah son of Amaziah king of Judah became king. He was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem; and his mother's name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem. He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. Only the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places(2 Kings 15:1-4).
  • “In the second year of Pekah the son of Remaliah king of Israel, Jotham the son of Uzziah king of Judah became king. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and his mother's name was Jerusha the daughter of Zadok. He did what was right in the sight of the LORD; he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done. Only the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places(2 Kings 15:32-35).

Hear the refrain: “Only the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.” Doing right but still loving the world is never enough.

“Now it came about in the third year of Hoshea, the son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah became king. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him. For he clung to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses” (2 Kings 18:1-6). For the people of God, a love unto obedience (Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 5:10; 7:9; 11:1,22; 30:6; Joshua 22:5; Nehemiah 1:5; Daniel 9:4; John 14:15,23; 1 John 5:3) must be joined with a holy refusal to love the things of the world (2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1; 1 John 2:15-17).

A people passionate for obeying God from His Word and remaining faithful to Him alone says, "I love you" louder to our Lord than a hundred thousand crying and singing the latest worship tune in a stadium.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Need to Play Tree-Fort

“I wish I could go all the way with you to Rivendell, Mr. Frodo, and see Mr. Bilbo,” said Sam. “And yet the only place I really want to be is here. I am that torn in two.”

“Poor Sam! It will feel like that, I am afraid,” said Frodo. “But you will be healed. You were meant to be solid and whole, and you will be.”

* * * * * * *

As Paul walked in the Lord’s ministry for his life, he frequently felt a desire to be with the Church as it gathered in far places (Romans 1:11; 15:23; 2 Corinthians 9:14; Philippians 1:8; 2:26; 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:17; 3:6,9,10). My heart has resonated with this idea the last few months. I’ve been thinking about brothers and sisters overseas and longed to see them. The Lord is full of comfort, though. Last week, as I stood at the Lord’s Supper Table looking at the congregation, their communion in the “sharing in the body of Christ” in the “one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16,17) was a easing salve to this pilgrim’s soul.

I am unashamed to confess that I need your coming “together as the Church” (1 Corinthians 11:18). It is that picture of the Home to which we are all wandering. Whether in open-air buildings surrounded by crowing roosters in the jungle or in the comfortable, HVAC’d confines of the gathering in the cities of the U.S.A., it’s all booths...the momentary congregating of a people eternally unified by a Savior-God, adopted by the Father-God, and indwelt with the Presence-God...all three Persons one God...all people in all congregations everywhere one Body...

I need the Gathering more and more and more as I go along.

“Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the LORD. On the first day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work of any kind. For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the LORD; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work. These are the appointed times of the LORD which you shall proclaim as holy convocations, to present offerings by fire to the LORD - burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each day’s matter on its own day - besides those of the sabbaths of the LORD, and besides your gifts and besides all your votive and freewill offerings, which you give to the LORD. On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God”’” (Leviticus 23:33-43).

One day the sojourning Church will be Home, and the wandering pilgrims will enter the City of their citizenship, and the memory of the days of travel will be like the child-like fun of building a fort from sticks in the back yard on a lazy summer afternoon...and we shall rejoice before the Lord our God forever.

Before It's Too Late

“Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE [Leviticus 26:12]. Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE [Isaiah 52:11],’ says the Lord. ‘AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN [Isaiah 52:11]; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ Says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God...I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1,9,10).

The call to repentance and the promise of Presence.

  • The call to repentance: “‘Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.’ Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil...blow a trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room and the bride out of her bridal chamber. Let the priests, the LORD's ministers, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, “Spare Your people, O LORD, and do not make Your inheritance a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they among the peoples say, ‘Where is their God?’”’” (Joel 2:12,13,15-17).
  • The promise of Presence: “Then the LORD will be zealous for His land and will have pity on His people. The LORD will answer and say to His people, ‘Behold, I am going to send you grain, new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied in full with them; and I will never again make you a reproach among the nations’ not fear, O land, rejoice and be glad, for the LORD has done great things. Do not fear, beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness have turned green, for the tree has borne its fruit, the fig tree and the vine have yielded in full. So rejoice, O sons of Zion, and be glad in the LORD your God; for He has given you the early rain for your vindication. And He has poured down for you the rain, the early and latter rain as before. The threshing floors will be full of grain, and the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil. ‘Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the creeping locust, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied and praise the name of the LORD your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you; then My people will never be put to shame. Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and there is no other; and My people will never be put to shame. It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days...and it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD will be delivered; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls’” (2:18,19,21-29,32).
How would this look in the life of a people hungry for worship-as-emotive-entertainment? Or a people desiring practical times of pop-psychology teaching? What will have to happen to bring First Church of Babylon to its knees and send it on its pilgrimage to Home?

Call us to Yourself, O God, before it's too late!