"Why so down cast, O my soul?!” ...asks the Psalmist. God wants His people to know that it is very often, maybe daily, that we allow our emotions to dictate our lives, usually without being aware of it. This is always the case, even during times of relative societal stability. Life is always hard. As Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” However, it seems and feels so much more pertinent right now in our chaotic world, especially with the terrible COVID distancing which is so painful to endure! We were not meant to be alone or separate from each other.
Let me encourage us all, with God’s help, to consider our need to bear down even harder in our effort to rely on God by considering the following practical suggestions. Often, we unconsciously let ourselves become a product of how our subconscious has been reacting recently to the difficult circumstances of our practical life. We FEEL the negative reactions we’ve been experiencing subconsciously, in reaction to the specific details encountered over the last day or two, in the various areas of our life. We feel it subconsciously, but we don’t stop to think about it. We just move on, with our day.
What we do NOT feel, is how the truths of the Bible should be making us feel! ...such as the truth that God is taking care of us right now. (John 10:28) ...or that He is so in love with us, right now! (John 15:9; Zephaniah 3:17) ...or that He is working all things for our good, to those who love Him! (Romans 8:28) These are the things that should be dictating our feelings! (Philippians 4:4) With His help we can and need to keep proactively leaning more heavily on these truths than we do on our fears from our circumstances. However, we keep forgetting and leaning more on our circumstances. This results in us experiencing what ever our latest circumstances TELL us to feel.
Well, God has news for us! That is not how He wants us to live. Far from it. Hallelujah! He wants us to live daily, even moment by moment, (as Psalm 42 coaches us) by actively redirecting our feelings away from our circumstances (along with the devil’s whisperings about those circumstances), and to redirect them instead toward the truths of the Bible. ....Jesus rose from the grave! (Matthew 28:9) ...God, our adoring Father, has adopted us and is crazy in love with us! (Galatians 4:5)
Let us, today and every day, be people who live proactively FEELING the glorious truths which God has promised to us. Let us be animated by the truth, motivated by the truth, and comforted by the truth. Jesus has overcome the world for us! (John 16:33b) He loves us dearly and is guiding our lives today. So, let us rejoice! Amen.
This month is July, the month when we celebrate the birth of what is probably, in my biased opinion, the greatest country that has ever existed. In light of this, I felt that it might be helpful to touch briefly on the Bible’s teaching regarding how to honor and support the given government under which a Christian finds herself or himself.
I want to lay out a few truths from God’s Word for us to keep in mind. These should guide our thinking about the relationship which God has ordained and sanctioned between the church and the state, and how their respective, separated roles and duties are meant by God to relate to each other.
We first need to study a few relevant passages on this subject, such as Romans 13:1-4. “1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.”
We also need to look at: Luke 3:14, 1 Tim. 2:2, Prov. 8: 15-16, Psalm 2:10-12, and 2 Chronicles 26:18.
Let’s consider a few of the amazing truths these passages give us. The first is to realize that our greatest allegiance that we ever and always need to pledge is to our King, Jesus, first and foremost. Another truth we see is that any and every government should be submissive to God because He is the rightful God over any and all governments, as Romans 13:1 says. But, what is the task of government? The Bible tells us that God Himself has given the civil government the right to promote the common good and to “bear the sword” and physical force to defend the person and good name of everyone who does good, and to punish those who do evil; while the task of the church of course is to promote and administer Christ’s Word and sacraments.
However, 2 Chronicles 26:18 points out (and other verses by implication) that church and state must always be separate in their respective duties and tasks. The church and the government are each called by God to protect and guard the freedom of the other to do its God given task unhindered. Each one is to do only it’s area of expertise and calling and not attempt to perform the tasks of the other, nor infringe on the freedom and authority of the other to perform its task. This God given system is truly amazing. It is amazing how wonderful and effective a society can work if it is only allowed to work this way.
However, regarding separation, I do have to make one clarification about this modern idea of the separation of the state “from” religion. Technically speaking, saying it that way is a philosophical impossibility, though our secular world manages not to see it, as though someone could separate their religion from anything. I submit to you that one’s religion, a person's actual convictions, by definition, is something that cannot be separated from anything that a person ever thinks, says, or does. The Bible promotes a separation, but only between the tasks which they perform. This is very different from the popular notion held in our secular world of separating “the state from religion,” which is an impossible and ridiculous idea, which no one ever actually achieves, and would be morally and psychologically dangerous to do so, if we could.
Our Savior tells us that we must “render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” But what exactly belongs to “Caesar?” “He” is ordained by God to promote the common good of people, to protect the good and punish the evil. And Christians are called on to help and pray for the government in this task. 1st Tim. 2:2 says pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” And this was said at a time when emperors were violently persecuting Christians.
So what does all this mean for us? Surely it means that we should be so incredibly thankful for the honor and blessing it has been to live in the United States of America. We should be so thankful that we live in a country that has understood its role of honoring and protecting the freedom of the church to perform its sacred duty of administering Christ’s Word and sacraments and promoting the goodnews of the Kingdom of God. Even if the day might very well be coming when this role and task of the government of protecting the church’s freedom and authority to perform its task might eventually become diminished or even lost, either way we need to keep praying as the passage above says, so that this freedom might not be lost. But, it also means that we definitely need to praise our God for the glory it has been to live under the freedoms established by this country’s great Constitution, which so powerfully has guarded us. If we’ve been allowed to freely praise our God even at all, then we should be thankful! So, it means that we need to be very thankful, very prayerful, and very actively exercising the freedoms which the church still has.
I hope this has been helpful to be reminded of the Bible’s teachings which relate to this time of year when we so joyfully celebrate and think about this great land of liberty, which we all love so much, and for such good reason, and for which even some in our own church have fought. It is surely right and appropriate for us to love this great country and to praise God for giving it to us, fragile though it may be. Indeed, one could argue given the recent rioting, protests, and tensions going on across the country, that it feels as if it has been unraveling even more in recent days. But, it is because this country has always been so great that it has always been under attack, and I believe ultimately by the great enemy of our souls who, of course, hates anything good. We definitely need to keep praying for our country and for all her many needs and responsibilities. But maybe most importantly, we the church need to keep indirectly serving our country, by exercising our part of the separation, of worshipping Christ and proclaiming His salvation. And in an indirect way, as the church does its job, that is how it serves and helps this country the most. Happy Fourth to all!! Amen.
LogCabin photo by Jeanette Anderton, Marisa Hicks, and Calvin McAllister
Given the racial tension that we are currently experiencing following the murder of George Floyd, it is appropriate to consider Christ’s teaching and even his example regarding discrimination and racism. Granted, I definitely need to acknowledge that I am certainly a product of my age and culture, being a 52 year old Gen-X’er, white male. But my hope for us, though it might be challenging, is that Christ will utilize the power of his Spirit’s conviction and his Word’s guidance, during this time of protesting racial injustice, to challenge us to grow ever more in compassion and understanding, as representatives of Christ.
It would be wise for us to use a Bible passage where Christ directly deals with a situation of terrible racial division. And we have such a passage in John 4:1-42, where Jesus gives us an example for how he approached a person where deep racially divided tensions existed, as verse 9 says, “for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans.” In this situation, Jesus was definitely not silent. He was first to speak up, in a surprising way. Instead of avoiding the racial division, Jesus hit it head on by breaking many racial, moral, and gender barriers in befriending this person, along with her whole community.
Now let me just acknowledge what hopefully most of us can generally agree on about our world here in Arkansas, which is probably not too different from many places in America. Without getting too specific, although our culture has made substantial progress from the racism of the past (we can all think of Central High in Little Rock), we nevertheless still have a system where there is still social dividedness and discrimination between whites and blacks. Racism in 2020 might be manifested in less direct ways than it was in the 1960’s, but it still exists in the experiences of what black people feel and how they are treated by our world, different from what white people feel and experience in our world.
I have the honor of still having black friends whom I have known since childhood in Conway, and with whom I talk who assure me that they very much feel the unfairness of being black in our world. And, being their friend means that I have to listen to them with respect and understanding, to validate and empathize with their perspectives. However, being a Christian means going much further than that. As a Christian, I’m supposed to act like Christ. And what Christ did was he made true cross-racial friendships. He connected deeply and socially with people of a different race. He went into their homes and stayed overnight more than once. He got to know them deeply, and even identified religiously with them.
I know for many of us this might be a challenge. But it appears that God wants us to do more than just give general prayers about racial tensions. I believe God wants us, as much as we’re able, to get involved with any opportunities that we can find, to attempt the actions of: 1. understanding, 2. empathizing, and 3. even pursuing cross-racial relationships. All humans are made in God’s image and Christ gives us his example of pursuing friendships with people of other races and cultures. May Christ grant us the courage and the desire to seek out more opportunities to reflect Him in these ways. Amen.
This passage is from today's Daily Lectionary reading, 1st Peter 2:11-12:
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
RM: If you think about it, think about all the false accusations leveled against Jesus, especially near the end, Jesus was never slandered or falsely accused for doing the kinds of things that would have been the expected, religious looking actions, which he occasionally did do along side the other religious people of his day, such as going to religious festivals or obeying religious laws and such things. He was never later accused or slandered for doing these types of things that would have been the right, religious things to do of his day. The things that Jesus was accused of were either actions and behaviors that looked on the outside like immoral and sinful types of things, such as spending time with prostitutes, or for doing things that confused people, such as speaking symbolically so often of things, such as tearing down temples, etc. Let's then apply this to what our passage is calling "honorable conduct" or good Christian "deeds" which we are supposed to do in front of others, and what such actions are supposed to look like, if we are to follow in Jesus' foot steps.
People often think that what the Bible means, when it says that Christians are supposed to put their good conduct on display for an onlooking world, is referring to what you might think of as "religious" looking actions of morality. I am convinced that such actions and behaviors are NOT the type of conduct to which this passage and others are referring. I think this is a very confusing and easily misunderstood point, which is difficult for legalistic, "religious" types of people to understand.
I am convinced that true Christianity, the real essence of it, the true feel and heart understanding of it, is sadly so very different from what many evangelical people in our society believe that it is. I am submitting to you that what might be called the grace approach or gospel approach toward God is the essence of true Christianity. And if you study and follow Paul and Jesus in their argumentation in most of their dialogues in the New Testament, they were constantly trying to steer believers away from legalism much more than they spent time steering them away from base immorality.
The impulse of legalism in the fallen, human heart is the natural thrust in all of us that leads to a more self-reliant, performance based, legalistic version of Christianity, which the Bible seems to be saying is actually not Christianity at all. ("I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one" Galatians 1:6-7a)
So, then, what are these "good deeds" and "honorable conduct" which we are to perform before an onlooking world? What DOES real holiness look like? ....it looks like love. It looks like a NON-religiousy, non-condemning, warm, accepting kind of person, who is safe for bad or hurting people to confide in and rely on. It looks like a person who is willing to go far out of his or her way to help someone regardless of that person's integrity. It actually looks NOT very religious, and yet somehow it is quietly holy, in a tattered, messy kind of way. True "good deeds" put on display will look something like Jesus' life looked, which consisted in spending time with bad people. It also looks like having an understanding of Jesus' grace approach, which was often, honestly, very confusing for some people and required much more time to understand it. Jesus' conduct more often than not did NOT look like the expected religious activities of his day. To those who were a part of the religious establishment, it looked more like irreligion than anything, though of course he was constantly healing, helping, comforting, and renewing.
Let us keep fighting ourselves as God commands us in this passage, to "abstain from the passions of the flesh", and "flesh" so often means 'self-reliance,' the impulse of legalism, but of course we could also include all the other immoral desires that spring up in us as well. Let us keep fighting ourselves to abstain from any and all passions which would hinder us from giving TRUE holiness to those around us. And, as always, let us do it motivated by and based on our desperate need for Jesus' grace, which he keeps giving to bad people like us, through his act of atonement which now counts for those who accept it, hallelujah.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for loving us so much. Help us to follow in your footsteps as a church, and to have the type of "good deeds" that you had, Jesus, motivated by your grace for us, so that others might "glorify God on the day of visitation." We love you, and we need you. Amen.
A short devotional from today's Old Testament Daily Lectionary reading, Exodus 13:3-10:
3 Then Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten. 4 Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. 5 And when the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this service in this month. 6 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. 8 You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt. 10 You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year.
Again, if Jesus really is the interpretive key to the entire Old Testament, just as he said he was in Luke 24: 25ff, 44ff, then that tells us that this passage is really symbolic for Christ, and God taking us out of the greater slavery from which Jesus, the "true Moses," liberated us, the slavery of death and sin, and his making us born again, and changing each believer now from unbelief to belief, and all of the experiences and treasures and truths that come from it.
What's so important about making a choice to accept Christianity, is not the choice, but all of the benefits of salvation which come from it and after it. What the Israelites did in their liberation was fairly insignificant compared to what God did. And, it's the same for us!
Here, in this Exodus 13 passage, with the interpretive key of Christ being read back into it symbolically, as every Christian should, it is saying that it was no small thing for God to make atonement for us and to deliver His people out of their terrible slavery. Jesus said, "everyone who sins is a slave to sin" but "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:34ff)
Here's another symbolic point. The rush to eat quickly and get out of Egypt, is a warning and reminder to us personally in our practical daily lives, that we should "rush" to get out of the various and specific sins we find in our own lives. We need to think that we need to rush and fight ourselves to get out of the kinds of sins Jesus taught so much about, such as hypocrisy and performance based self-reliant religion, the sin of stinginess, the sin of impatience and non-forgiveness, the sin of non-trust and fear in Him practically today, the sin of lust and gluttony, the sin of pride and using our tongues in unloving ways. God wants us to rush and make a big deal about getting out of these things.
In fact, what you could really take God to mean when he says remember the day of His atonement, is that we, the church, need to really remember the day of our greater atonement which the greater Moses secured for us, by his passion of what happened on the week of Easter, as we all just celebrated last week. So then, symbolically, we could say that what God is saying here in this passage is that we need to make Easter a really big deal in our hearts and in our lives, individually and corporately, and never forget it or the greatness of what it accomplished for us!
Let us rejoice in the liberation and joy we have in having our sins atoned for and our perfect reconciliation and adoption by God now as our gentle, loving, and perfect Father. And, let us use all that treasure to motivate us to rush out of the various sins in our lives.
I want to encourage you now to take these beautiful truths, and spend a few moments sometime today to get alone with God and apply these truths specifically to your life, and always do it resting in the security which our greater Moses has so thoroughly secured for us. Have a great week.
"Faith" really is required in order to have any human framework of reality or existence, atheism or otherwise. All worldviews are based on faith.
There are many lines of argumentation for this. I'll give you just one. I submit to you that the concept of a "law," as in, the idea that there are "laws" of nature, is a concept that has to presuppose the existence of God.
If you don’t presuppose the existence of God, then you can’t really consider the uniformity of nature a "law" in the way that that word has been historically used. In fact, without the existence of God, there is no basis for the concept of "law" in just about any other sense as well, i.e. laws of logic or societal laws, at least not in the way that the word has always and essentially been understood.
An example which helps to get at this point is the question: on what basis can you trust that 2+2 will equal 4 every time? The CHANCE that it might have worked out in the past when you’ve tried it before, is not a basis which we would call a "law," which is a universal reality that can ALWAYS be trusted, regardless of your beliefs, which is what we mean when we use the term "law." Without a God, how do YOU account for the universality of a law to exist? And yet, we're trusting in the existence of the laws of logic and math in order to trust that it will be 4 on the next attempt. Christianity has a worldview where this makes sense. Atheism, I submit to you, does not. If you are an atheist, upon what do you establish the existence of universal laws in the first place? Is it that the attempt to do the math just HAPPENED to work before? That’s not a "law." I submit to you that an atheist cannot account for the existence of such a thing as a universal "law", if there is no God. And of course, it is irrationality to trust something without a reason or basis for it. Without a God, you can only HOPE that it will equal 4 the next time, but there could be no "law" for it.
But an even bigger implication, if you could concede the point, is that no one really LIVES as though such things are only a "hope." Instead, we are all forced to live as though there really ARE such things as laws. And we are doing this with a great deal many other things, all the time. Deep down, we really all know that there is a God, even if we are very personally committed to repressing this knowledge. We can’t help but live as though there really is a God, no matter how badly we might want there not to be.
The Bible says, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." Romans 1:18-20
Let us conclude by saying this: we should all have a lot more charity, and I'm speaking particularly to atheists here, about the fact that everyone has faith, meaning that we all have some worldview which is based on some set of unprovable assumptions, which we have to take on faith in order to hold that worldview. Christians readily admit this about their worldview, but (most) atheists have yet to see it about their own. But, then again, I'm basing everything I say on my presuppositions aren't I! And, that's the point. We all are. We all have "faith" in the assumptions our worldviews are based on. All human thinking is based on first taking by faith some set of assumptions which they can't prove. It is not possible to do otherwise. I only wish that more atheists would see this, so that they might be more humble and charitable toward other "religions."
May the Lamb, who delights to die for sinners, grant you to accept His forgiveness, that you may discover the joy and security of knowing Him personally. Amen.
Proverbs 16:33 "We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall." (NLT)
The traditional, Christian doctrine of "Providence" basically says that everything that happens, EVERYTHING, happens because God personally made it happen.
Now, this is both better and worse than the common thinking of our world which takes God out of the picture. The idea of Providence can be more comforting on the one hand, to know that a very loving, personal God is in total control of anything that might happen to you. To trust that bare fate and bad luck are not free to torture you, can be comforting. However, this teaching can also be, for some, harder, when God allows something really terrible to happen to us. We then have to process through the emotional journey that it takes to work through why this One who loves me would let such a terrible thing happen.
Of course, consistent with the doctrine, would be the idea that somehow a terrible experience would eventually serve to bring glory to God, in some way eventually, and even glorify us in some way.
It would involve having to have immense trust, that God would somehow get us through the horror and healing, and that one day, after the story is finished, after we have moved on to our next life of bodily resurrection on a new Earth, which God promises us is coming, we eventually will be actually MORE glad that it happened than if it hadn't happened. We will then be able to be honored that God used us to make an even more beautiful story of redemption out of our lives, than if he had allowed our lives to be easy and not as much of an amazing story of redemption.
The doctrine of Providence, however, is also an amazing doctrine in other ways. It can also help us wonderfully learn to appreciate that it means that the smallest of details in life, can come to life and be far better and more exciting if Providence really is true. It means that even the most mundane experiences of every day life are bristling with meaning because it means that every detail around you is personally being put there and is a personal token of love to you. Even more, it means that every detail in the blueprint of your life is actually serving God's greater purposes which will contribute to make your life into a beautiful story, which he and you are "writing" together.
This means that every detail of your life is exactly what we mean, when we feel like something was a real miracle. The truth is that everything in life IS a real miracle, in that God directly and personally made it happen. In the Proverbs verse above, it means that every pair of dice rolled around you, is God making that outcome personally happen, by His loving and personal power.
So, really, this means that all of life is personal. All of life is a personal, loving interaction between you and God. This is really exciting when you think about it, if you can imagine it, and if you can believe it.
The last thing, is that it also means, for those who are in Christ, that we never have to fear. Even if there are other forces and influences, all around you in this world, and indeed there are many dangerous forces. Providence means that when something seems to be threatening, that you can know that you have someone who is bigger, stronger, and closer than anything in this world, Who loves you. In the frightening story of Daniel 3:17ff, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego certainly knew this, even though they knew it could have gone otherwise. And, Psalm 121, a very beautiful Psalm, says that God even "will not let your foot slip." Therefore, if it does slip it means that He is doing it and you can trust that somehow in the end it will be okay. Yes, it's true, He could have some good purpose to let something bad happen to us, but even that, we should trust, will serve God's wonderful purposes, which lovingly include us.
This is what the Bible teaches.
Let us live every day, as a continual prayer, of us realizing that absolutely every detail in our life, is a joyful, loving miracle. Every detail is God interacting with us, today, even if VERY difficult, because of what Christ did for us, we can still trust that it is done in infinite love, and meaning, and purpose, and joy, and hope. Amen.
Is there some prayer request you keep making, which God seems to be answering with a “No?” Is there something in your life, which seems clear from all you know about God that it would be better if it were the way you are asking God to do something, and you just cannot understand why God wouldn’t provide it and answer it?
Consider Hebrews 5:7-9: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,”
It says that through this, Jesus became “perfect.” But of course, he was already perfect in his divine personhood, being already very God himself. But in his humanity, his development and accomplishment was not yet complete until he underwent his fullest and most difficult test of obedience in the garden and on the cross.
And in the garden, he asked the Father to remove his suffering, and it says he did so with “loud cries and tears,” though he knew from the beginning that it was his sole purpose for being born. And indeed the Father does answer his request. The Father answered Jesus with a “No.” ....which Jesus accepted.
The Father gave Jesus a “No,” which they had already agreed upon from eternity past. But Jesus cries out for mercy to the Father simply as a part of the agony of his human experience of receiving all of God’s wrath and anger, God’s crushing anger toward all our evil that was laid upon him, a separation and removal of all forms of God’s kindness, the immensity of which would be unimaginable. Jesus cries out and yet gets nothing but suffering, as a Lamb. He went through the agony of feeling the Father’s “No,” followed by a fierce anger and wrath from God on the cross.
But the reason that Jesus received that “No,” was so that you and I can be absolutely certain, from here on, that we will always receive God’s “Yes,” from our dear Father in heaven, and always have his comforting mercy every time we ask.
If there is something in your life to which God is saying “No,” some prayer request God seems to be ignoring, then we can know that because of Christ and what he’s done for us, we can have perfect assurance that, if you could know all that God knows, you would see that it is actually MORE loving of him not to grant that desire. This can be hard to trust. But we have to. Since Christ took God’s “No” in the garden and on the cross, now we can know that we are always getting God’s “Yes.” So, today, if God is withholding something in our lives, or not granting some prayer request, then it can ONLY be because it will ultimately, somehow, be better not to. When we are in Christ, God either answers our prayers with a “Yes,” or better than a yes.
With that as our motivation, let us rejoice in this magnificent love which we get to rest in and relish in every day. In prayer, let us give our lives to God. Let us give him our day today, and every day.
Prayer: Precious Lamb of God, Jesus, my sweet Savior, thank you so much, for enduring what I cannot even imagine. ...which I deserved! Thank you for taking our Father’s terrible “No” so that I can be assured of always getting your precious and wonderful “Yes.” Help me to trust you with all of my life, even those parts which seem so broken, so unredeemed, so wrong. Help me to believe that somehow, ALL things in my life are working out for my good, for my best!, and for your glory. May your glory be my aim. In your name, Jesus. Amen.
I want to open a discussion with you, about how to interpret the Old Testament, which is taught by all Presbyterians, Episcopal, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, and Catholics, and yet it may be less familiar to you. It’s about how the New Testament shows itself to be the continuation of the Old Testament. Jesus taught that his coming, he himself, his body, and the church he established, was actually the fulfillment and continuation of absolutely everything in the Old Testament. While the New Testament makes it simpler, it also makes it more full and majestic. The details of the Old Testament such as the Temple, Moses’ customs, and the Covenants were always meant to be preparing for and illustrating what the coming of Christ would bring to mankind.
However, there is a pervasive teaching and view that exists now around the world in evangelical circles, because of the growth in evangelical denominations which came from the Revivalistic church growth of the Second Great Awakening in the 1800’s. Many of those churches have adopted and carried on a teaching, relatively new to Christianity, called “Dispensational,” which is a way for how to interpret the Old Testament. This has come about from the teachings of John Nelson Darby(1800-1882) along with Charles Ryrie and others, and promoted from the New Scofield Bible and other Study Bible’s which have followed in its teaching. So many people now have been influenced by these teachings which have widely promoted this Dispensational view for how to understand the Old Testament.
This view has spread so much now, that almost everyone in America it seems has been influenced to some degree by the different works which have adopted this view, such as the books of the Left Behind series that were popular in the 1990‘s.
The Dispensational view, put simply, separates what God was doing in the Old Testament from what He is doing in the New. This view looks to a very symbolic chapter of the Bible, Revelation chapter 20, and sees it as meant to be taken literally, as actual realities that will literally exist in the future, instead of seeing John’s Revelation as a series of symbolic visions meant metaphorically for how to understand our current world. It takes chapter 20 as literal details that will exist at some future event, even though it has to make allowances for some of the wildly symbolic details. This view then takes that and imposes it onto other, clearer passages in the Bible to reinterpret them into this view’s scheme for how to interpret everything. It re-interprets passages and creates a new system for how we can see a future prediction, even though there is no detail in any of these texts to tie any of it to any specific future actual event. This view then separates the church of the New Testament era to be something entirely different from a continuation of the people of the Old Testament. Dispensational teaching sees the New Testament as an altogether different program and way of salvation, from what God was doing with ethnic Israel in the Old Testament.
The Dispensational view sees God working in two completely separate ways. While the more historic view (which is now often called the Covenantal view or Reformed view) has always taken the New Testament to be the continuation and fulfillment of the Old, as taught by Jesus himself in places like Luke 24:25 where it says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
We also hear this better understanding of the Old Testament from the author of Hebrews when he says, “the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities,..”(10:1) and “They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.”(8:5) And “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.”(8:7) And then, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”(8:13)
These passages make it clear that the Old Testament ceremonial laws are now obsolete and finished, since Christ, the true form of those old shadows, has now come! These passages show us that we are supposed to see the New Testament way of worshipping and being God’s people as the ‘original’ or ‘true object,’ and that the Old Testament’s details were always meant to be seen as the ‘shadow’ that was previewing what was coming in Christ.
And Paul teaches this as well when he explains, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:11-13). Does it sound like this previous separation of Israelites from Gentiles, which has now been united in Christ, will one day be separated again, as Dispensationalism teaches? Or, does it sound like this separation is gone for good?
Jesus taught that most everyone in his day, had completely misunderstood the Old Testament, “O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”(Lk 24:25) “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”(Lk 24:45) This means that it must be easy to miss how the New Testament is the fulfillment and continuation of the Old Testament. It also means that the Old Testament, according to Jesus, cannot be rightly understood without an interpretive key. And that interpretive key is Jesus, himself. His coming and fulfilling all of the Old Testament’s pictures, needs, and promises, is the interpretive key to understand it.
When Reformed Theology came along in the 1500’s and 1600’s, it summarized these ideas which had always been believed by Christians almost comprehensively for centuries going back all the way to the New Testament times, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1643, where it explains that the ceremonial details in the Old Testament were, “…all foreshadowing Christ. For that time the covenant administered under the law through the operation of the Spirit was sufficient and effective in instructing the elect and building up their faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of their sins and eternal salvation. This administration is called the Old Testament.”
The Dispensational view, in contrast, is actually very new. It has come about in the last 200 years.
Today, The Reformed view of Scripture is found in many resources like the ESV Study Bible and The Reformation Study Bible by Ligonier Ministries to name a few, in contrast to the New Scofield Bible and newer Study Bibles that have followed in its teaching.
As I said, there’s a good chance that everyone reading these words has been influenced at some point by Dispensational thinking. So, you must judge for yourself, but I want to encourage you to consider the way Presbyterians have always understood the Old Testament, along with Episcopal, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, and Catholics, which is the more historic way of understanding it, and more importantly is more consistent with and makes much more sense of all the Scriptures.
It is how to understand the Old Testament, if you take what Jesus said and use him as the interpretive key to see that he is the continuation of the plot and one story of Creation – Fall – Redemption - and coming Consummation. The entire Bible, from Genesis 3:15 on, tells us the one story of how the ‘Second Adam’ is foretold and symbolized in all of the following covenants as the one continuing story of how this covenant mediator and head would come to fulfill and complete all of the Old Testament pictures and symbols and promises. The Christ or Messiah, and the church he established, is the continuation of those shadows that are now far simpler but far greater and more exalted.
I recommend it to you, that you would consider this Covenantal, Reformed view of how to understand your Old Testament, so that you might be powerfully strengthened for years to come, as you feast on Christ as the true message, the true hero, and the true point of the Old Testament. And may (the LORD) Yahweh feed you and strengthen you as you do!
Often the reason some decide to try out religion and consider attending a church is because there is some part of their life with which they are hoping for improvement. We try out church and God with an expectation that it will make some things better. We believe that if we can just get our family to attend a good church, that it might be a good influence on our kids, or our marriage, or our spouse, or maybe it will simply start some good habits. These are reasonable hopes we have, that church and God will help.
However, to our surprise, what we find when we get there, when God truly decides to show up and answer our hopes, is that instead of God granting the initial requests we had, which caused our openness to the whole enterprise in the first place, God ends up giving us far more than we ever expected, and also requires much more of us than we expected, as well.
As we look at this passage in Mark 5:21-42, we find two people who each have an encounter with Jesus. They each come to him asking for help with their respective problems. But what each of them receives is way more than they asked for. This is a story of two different miracles that were given to these two very different people. The link between them, however, is that they both got much more than they expected.
Jairus was a well respected Elder of Israel and leader of a synagogue, whose 12-year-old daughter had gotten sick, to the point of death. Then, there is the woman who had been suffering for 12 years with a medical blood flow that consumed all of her money and ruined her life, making her a social outcast and ceremonially unclean. Yet Jesus showed no favoritism. This no name woman was poor and morally defiled, a social embarrassment. Jairus, in contrast, was a respected and wealthy man with lots of status and moral purity, and yet Jesus values the woman every bit as much as he does Jairus.
Why does the woman sneak up behind Jesus and try to hide? It’s because she was being loving. Leviticus 15:19 shows that she was ceremonially unclean and would have had a very bad reputation from her condition and this encounter would have defiled Jesus. To protect him from ceremonial uncleanness, she tries to find her relief in a way that wouldn’t harm Jesus. She had beautiful faith, though it was not perfect. She superstitiously thought that there was some magical power within Jesus’ physical body that would cure her.
The crowd was pressing in on Jesus but when she touched him, he knew that power had gone out of him. So he asks who it was that touched him. Other passages teach us that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity and has two natures, a human nature and a divine nature. There are times when Jesus’ divine nature lets him know things humanly that he would not know otherwise, as in Matthew 17:27 or John 1:48, but in his human nature Jesus was not omniscient. The disciples constantly were making the error of taking Jesus too literally. So when he asked who touched him, the disciples responded, “Umm …. Jesus?, …lots of people are touching you.” But Jesus knew that some power had gone out from him.
God wants to teach us how to have patience from trusting God’s timing in our lives. At this point story, can you imagine being Jairus and how impatient you would have felt toward Jesus? Jesus had stopped his walk toward Jairus’s daughter, in order to spend a very long time with this defiled lady. In verse 33, the Greek says that she told him her whole truth, meaning her entire life story, and this after she had already been healed. I can picture myself staring suggestively at my watch, tapping my foot, and more likely, I probably would have been trying to drag Jesus to my dying daughter.
And just at that moment messengers come from his house to say there’s no need to bother the teacher further, because she had just died. That is when Jesus stared right into Jairus’s eyes and said, “Do not fear. Only trust.” Isn’t it comforting to know that God never needs to hurry, and is never caught off guard. Is there something in your life to which you feel God needs to hurry?
Let us consider now what God was doing for both of these people, and not in spite of the delay, but because of the delay. He was giving both the woman and Jairus much more than they had asked.
We need to stop thinking that we know better than God and stop being angry at God. When it seems as if He’s giving us His worst, He’s giving us His best. For Jairus, look at how much his faith and relationship grew with Jesus because of this encounter. Previous to the encounter, Jairus had only enough faith to ask for help. But once Jairus had seen Jesus’ eyes search deeply into his own, and say, “Trust me,” for the rest of his life he would know that trusting Jesus is true wisdom. The woman, just as she was healed, probably thought to herself, “I am better! I am out of here.” But Jesus wouldn’t have it. She was not encountering a superstitious force, like a vending machine that we put in our faith and out pops our request, she was encountering a person. Jesus grows her faith beyond her shallow beliefs, and forms her into a healed life follower, in a relationship forever more with the person of Jesus. Jesus turned the woman and Jairus into followers. He brought them into a whole new universe, of joy and love.
Is there anything in your life right now that you feel as if you understand it better than God does? Is God delaying something that you think He should not? The reason that we can trust him, and the reason God keeps loving us when we fail to trust Him, is that Jesus did this for us. Did you see the subtle foreshadowing that occurred on Jesus when the woman was healed? What happened to Jesus? There was a “cost” to him for healing her. It says that power went out of him. This is a foreshadowing of the Cross, when, not partly, but all power went out of him. It is a small picture of when he would give up everything and fully sacrifice his life, for us to be healed.
An encounter with Jesus is so much more than we think at first. We go to him with one or two small requests, only to find a God who has planned so much more, to make us so much more beautiful, faithful, and more capable of experiencing life, joy, and love than we ever expected. Jesus delights to do this for us and yet it cost him everything. Let us give every part of our lives into his hands and trust him. Let us not fear. Let us only believe.
Prayer: Father, thank you that you make so much more of my life, than I would even ask. Thank you that you are so much bigger and more loving that I would ever dare to dream. Please help me to trust you with the things in my life that I wish were different, and can’t understand why you would allow them. Help me to see that you took far worse than I am enduring when you took the cross, and that I can trust you, with every last part of my life. I love you, dear Father. In Christ’s name I pray, Amen.
Psalm 80:17-19 “Strengthen the man you love, the son of your choice. Then we will never abandon you again. Revive us so we can call on your name once more. Turn us again to yourself, O LORD God of Heaven's Armies. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved.”
I feel as if God has been prodding me as a pastor to talk about one of the basics of Christianity, the idea of surrender. The challenge is that this is one of those basics, to which we persistently have to keep coming back. We have to keep RE-surrendering our lives to God, and, as time moves on, that can get difficult.
The reason for this necessity is grounded in the challenging but surprisingly illuminating doctrine of Total Depravity. By that, I mean that even after we have become Christians, even decades and scores later, we still have our fallen nature that keeps hanging on. We still have this residual nature as descendants of Adam, from the historic Fall of mankind, a fallen nature which will keep resisting surrender. We all want to stay in charge of the ultimate direction of our lives, a tendency which, unfortunately, never goes away in this lifetime.
It makes me think of a song written some years ago by a contemporary Christian group, DC Talk. One of the verses says, “I’m learning to give up the rights to myself, the bits in the pieces I’ve gathered as wealth, could never compare to the joy that you bring me. The peace that you show me is all that I need.” It is that continuing call by God to keep giving up our rights to ourselves, that continuing necessity, which honestly, gets old.
During my years of being in ministry, I’ve heard lots of strong Presbyterian “types,” Reformed types talk down about Baptists and “revivalistic” kinds of churches, about their tendency constantly to give people “alter calls,” an invitation by the pastor to “come on down, to the front of the church, and recommit your life to Christ!”
Now, indeed, I would discourage us from feeling like the merit or importance, in such a moment, is grounded in our actions of recommitting or making a decision, and would instead encourage us to keep trusting that the merit and importance always is solely in what Christ has done in the atonement and in what He is doing in me now, by his Spirit moving and convicting me. Indeed, we should not place so much of the importance on our choice to come to God, but instead to put all of our hope and confidence only in God’s grace to us in Christ and His moving us to it. However, while having clarified that, this Presbyterian pastor doesn’t mind sounding a little “revivialistic,” in that the Bible seems to be calling all Christians to practice “re-commitment!” We need to have a Grace Presbyterian Church revival every day! …So that we could recommit our lives to God, everyday!
I think it actually is right to recommit our lives to God, and not just every once in a while. Even seasoned Christians need to start each day by starting over, by converting again to Christianity (if I may put it that way). We need continually to do the persistent work of giving up our “right to our self,” again, each day. Every day we need to become a Christian again! We have the freedom to celebrate and rejoice in the truth that yesterday, no matter what it involved, is in the past and is totally forgiven and wiped away. At least, as far as God is concerned it is.
With the gospel of grace, each day is a fresh start, a clean slate! And, it is not that we have to earn anything from here on. It is free! In the confidence that we are a cherished son or daughter of God, with a perfect record from what Jesus did for us, which we already and fully have as our own, God wants us to freely and joyfully be able to make each day a new beginning with Him.
Recommit your life to God today! This gentle, loving Father gives us this freedom! If you are like me, in the busy-ness of the past week, you too have probably taken back your rights to yourself without knowing it. Being a Christian means continually starting over. On the basis of grace, we get the freedom to “get right with God” again, each new morning.
And you know what can motivate us to do this? It is when we realize and believe that God does the exact same for us. Jesus recommits his life to me each day. Today, he does! Jesus re-gives away his rights to himself for us, to be at our access, to be at our call, to be the Spirit and power inside of us. He recommits to it every day! Let us do the same for him. Let us RE-surrender to God, today and every day.
Prayer: Lord, I’ve been away from you for a while. Thank you for earning me the right to freely come back to you. I want to give you my life, again, God. Help me today, to surrender every part of my life, every task, every responsibility, every desire … to you again. Thank you, God. In Christ I pray, Amen.
I want to share with you a story which at one point in my life, when I heard it, really turned on the lights for me and gave me a deeper understanding for what gospel transformation looks like. It was a story from a woman who had gone to a Christian conference called “Sonship,” (for both genders!) which is one of my favorite studies. It was started by one of my favorite heroes of the faith, Jack Miller (C. John Miller), a Presbyterian pastor, author, missionary, and seminary professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, in Philadelphia.
The story of this lady’s experience, now included in the Sonship materials, reveals that Christianity has to be more than just a “head-knowledge” thing. It has to change us internally and take root deep down or it is possibly not the real article. Until grace starts to deal with things deep down in us, it is possible that we are just being “religious” and do not truly know God, personally, as He truly is.
The following is what she shared at the conference:
“The Holy Spirit really dealt with my husband and me at the Sonship week conference in answer to many prayers. I am seeing that as good as theology and teaching techniques are, it is the Holy spirit alone who changes my heart. He tears down the idols and pride and replants the simplicity of faith in Christ. I realized that my greatest sin was unbelief and so lightly esteeming all God has given me in Christ.
“One day when I was very young, I saw my older sister hanging up my father’s white business shirts on the clothesline to dry. I was suddenly filled with the urge to hang up one of my daddy’s white shirts. He was my daddy too, and I was his daughter; I loved him in my childlike way and wanted to express it. I couldn’t reach the clothesline. It was too high, but I saw a wheel barrow in the yard and its handles were just the right height for me. I didn't notice how rusty it was and I rather joyfully clothes-pinned the wet shirt to the handles.
“When my dad got home and saw the shirt on the wheelbarrow, he became very angry with me and punished me severely for ruining his shirt. I had not realized, the impact that event and others like it had made on me. However, as I was repeatedly convicted during the Sonship conference for not believing God concerning his delight in me and in the gracious nature of my relationship with him, this memory returned to me. Now, you cannot hardly get through 24 hours of a Sonship conference without realizing that your own heart is as murderous as anyone else’s, so I wasn’t primarily focusing on only being the innocent victim of my father’s cruel anger.
“As I remembered these scenes from the past, I saw that through the years I had not been believing that my Father in heaven was any different than my earthly father. I had not been listening when he described himself. In short, I hadn’t been believing the gospel, that by faith in Christ and his perfect atoning sacrifice, he now loves me, and is forever for me and delighted in me. In Christ, he has made me beautiful and pleasing to him forever.
“So the next morning I told our counselor that I thought I was beginning to understand. I told him the memory and said that I guess if the Father saw me standing next to the wheelbarrow with the ruined shirt on it, he would forget the shirt and hug me. “You still don’t understand fully,” Jeff said. “God would not overlook the shirt, but take it, put it on, and wear it to work. And when someone commented on the rust marks, he would say, ‘Let me tell you about my little girl and how much she loves me!’” I was overwhelmed with that realization.
“I am beginning to realize that my Christian life has been a continual effort to earn God’s pleasure by “getting the shirts hung up right.” God would answer if my prayer was right. God would smile upon me if my theology was correct. And since I knew how I had failed day by day in my works, I sort of snuck them up on the line and tried to be away when God got home, so to speak. Someone at the conference said something that seems to apply here. He said, “God will not despise the tainted love-gifts of the sinner who looks to Jesus.” My entire Christian life had been oppressive. I did not know how to live, day by day, without an overwhelming sense of failure to perform up to what I thought God demanded. With that came a sense of God being disappointed and even disgusted with me.
“How overpowering it is now to realize that because of Christ, I can experience a daily freedom to move out into people’s lives. I can love others. I can obey God with my heart because I don’t fear that he will be furious with me if I “get the shirt a bit rusty.” There is a freedom to love that I have not known since the moments before my father got home that day long ago.”
Prayer: Lord, search me. Help me to let your gospel dig deeper into my heart and transform possibly deep patterns that I’m not even aware need to be changed. Amen.
1 One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. 2 He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”
5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn't catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” 6 And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! 7 A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.
8 When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” 9 For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.
RM: Not all of the twelve Apostles were fishermen by trade before Jesus called them, but many of them were.
But the impact that Jesus made on them was so radical and profound that it caused them to be willing to leave everything in their lives and follow him. What was it about Jesus that could make them be willing to leave everything and follow him?
I want to answer three questions about the disciples following him. Where? How? & Why?
Where did they follow him? Jesus used their vocation as symbolism for where he was going. He said, “from now on, your mission will not be catching fish, but catching people. The Mission of the church … is to catch people.
What this means is that it’s not unchurched people’s responsibility to come to us. It’s our responsibility to go to them. The disciples were not allowed to stay on the comfortable shore. Jesus made them go out. The fish were not going to jump up onto the shore. The disciples had to go get them. And that is where the church must go.
God is calling us to be a church “not for ourselves.” That is what this passage is about. We call it the Great Commission. "Reaching the lost," as Jesus phrased it, needs to be at the center of our church. If we want to follow Jesus, that is where he’s going. The mission of the church is catching people.
The next question is, How? How do we catch people? First, we catch people by realizing that it’s actually only Jesus that catches people. The disciples realized that they didn’t ultimately catch the fish. Jesus did. They couldn’t have done it without his miracle. And neither can we. We don’t have the power to catch people. God might use our words and efforts in someone’s journey, but it’s only Jesus that makes it work. It’s always literally a miracle when anyone becomes a Christian. Only Jesus can bring a person to believe in him and follow him.
Secondly, Jesus does, however, call us to cast our nets. He calls us both as individuals and as a church.
As individuals, the New Testament teaches so much about the importance of practicing intentional hospitality for those who don’t yet believe, courageously and creatively making safe places in your life for people who don’t yet believe, reaching out to an unchurched acquaintance, not to invite them into your church since that might scare them, but just inviting them into your life, starting a friendship, intentionally, to just serve them and get to know them. What would it look like for us to practice intentional hospitality to a non-churched neighbor?
God also calls us to cast our nets, as a church. We need to adapt every space in our church, every ministry, to make every part of our church be an attractive and safe place for unchurched people to come and feel welcome and make sense of things, for them to be welcome as they consider the message, even though they may not yet believe.
In 1st Corinthians 14:23, St. Paul teaches us that the church as a whole, even in the way that we worship, needs to be adapted intentionally for the “outsider” (it says), so that he or she can relate with it, and make sense of things here.
That’s how we cast nets and catch people! As a Church and as individuals, the Bible is teaching us to adapt ourselves to reach out to unchurched people, to go to outsiders and not expect them to come to us.
The last question is, Why? Why would we be willing to do this? We are never going to be willing to do something so radical as leave everything and follow Jesus to catch people, until we find our real happiness no longer in our comfortable, suburban lives, living for our routines and our own families. We won’t be willing to follow Jesus into Mission, not authentically, until we find our deepest fundamental happiness in Him.
In verse 8, when Peter realizes that Jesus is God, from his performing a miracle, Peter felt profound shame at first. He said, “Go away from me! for I am a sinful man!” (i.e. “I’ve been living for things other than God. I’ve been living for myself!”) He felt guilty. And what was Jesus’ response? “Don’t be afraid! I’m not going to condemn you. I’m going to forgive you and love you! Not only am I going to cover your shame, I’m even going to make you my partner! ...to do Mission together!”
Peter (and the others) found their happiness, their security, their identity and meaning, in a new relationship with this gracious God who dies to be with us.
When we find our deepest happiness and identity in Jesus, that’s what makes us willing to let go of our lives, and follow him with our whole life and help him catch people! …to cut back on our comfortable lives and routines and scale back, so that we can carve out time for hospitality, and even be willing to readjust our church to be geared for people who don’t yet believe. Jesus’ loving grace is the reason that we would follow Jesus into his Mission…the mission of catching people.
Prayer: Jesus, I want to be totally open and honest before you. You know that I really prefer to live a comfortable life that serves me most. But show me what the disciples saw in you. As John Donne says, “Ravish me!” Let me see your beauty, your acceptance of me, the joy and adventure of knowing you, so that it will motivate me to live for you, from here on. And let me and all of us at Grace Presbyterian Church get courageous in our desire to live a life in mission with you. Let us even get risky in our endeavor to catch people. Amen.
Today's Gospel passage is Luke 6:13: "At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles. Here are their names..."
RM: It was not until I learned to see the Covenant view of the Old Testament and the Covenant of Grace as the interpretive key to understand how the new is the fulfillment of the old, and with that then how to interpret the book of Revelation. And in the pictures you get in Revelation, if you understand it in the Amillennial way, the Reformed theological, Covenantal way, that's when you can appreciate the meaning of it in this way, and when you see the symmetry involved of having 12 representatives of people before Christ comes and then 12 continuing representatives of God's people after Christ comes. ...24 in all, which represents the totality of the fullness of the 12 before and the fullness of the 12 after which is the one full and complete story of Redemption.
That being the case, you have here in this recording of this setting and point in history, standing around without much awareness of their significance, 12 unsuspecting individuals who have just been chosen by this mysterious character, not realizing that they are indeed the twelve pillars upon which the rest of human history shall be represented, just as you had the 12 sons of Jacob before.
That's exciting because what it means is that Jesus very fully and totally understood the significance of the number of 12, that these 12 chosen by him were the symbolic 12 pillars and 12 representatives, of all of God's people from this point on until the end of time. Surely at this point they would not have understood the total significance of all that they were representing, in being 12 in number. They could not have fully appreciated that they were the fulfillment of the final age of God's people and the continuation of ALL that Israel was in the past and even more. That they were the headway and beginning of the last and greatest manifestation of Israel, the continuing Israel in the New Covenant era.
How exciting it could be if we could time travel back to this point knowing what we know now and could have been there with them, knowing the excitement and honor just bestowed on them, that they were the ones replacing the 12 tribes of Israel to become the new 12 tribes of Israel continuing in a more fulfilled, simpler version but a more final and universal version of Israel. How excited they would have been if only they could have known!
Psalm 97:7 says, “All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods!”
RM: Why does the Psalmist here tell the “gods” to worship God? Isn’t there only one God? Isn’t the Bible a monotheistic religion? What does he mean by gods? The Psalmist seems to be slightly ambiguous, in not clarifying whether he’s referring to angelic beings in whom there shines forth some small portion of divinity and who all rightly worship God even though they are themselves so majestic and powerful, or whether he’s referring to the fictitious false gods which we form in our hearts. It is as if he’s saying, whatever objects and hopes that we adore or hold as a god must quit their place and renounce their claims, that God alone may be exalted.
The author is drawing our minds to imagine the exalted worship which all the powerful angelic beings in heaven are giving directly and exclusively to God, as a way to highlight the point that only God deserves to be worshipped. This point is made right after it gives us a huge challenge, of turning anyway from our idols and not giving in to our tendency which is to find our happiness in things other than God.
After the fall of Adam, humanity’s basic orientation changed from naturally desiring God as preeminent to instead have the tendency to satisfy our deepest longings, not with the personal fellowship, love, and adoration of our Creator, but instead with ANY picture of the good life from this world we tend to think will give us the deep longing and satisfaction for which our souls are longing.
In my experience, both with myself and with others, I have come to realize that for us to “make our boast in worthless idols,” as this verse puts it, is the most natural and constant impulse of the human soul, whether we be believer or nonbeliever. Although as believers, by the aid of the Holy Spirit giving us the eyes to see it, we can now see this tendency of ours in action, it is nevertheless pulling us into it at all times, even in the believer.
Because of the fall, we are now so bent that we would prefer to find happiness from any situation that we believe can give us the blessings of this world, rather than from merely knowing and delighting ourselves in the personal presence of God himself.
This is why we are supposed to fight our souls regularly to keep letting go of these specific desires which we convince ourselves we desperately need, which are different for different people. Each person’s idol is specifically any reigning drive that happens to take hold in each person’s heart at any given moment. And God calls us regularly, daily, to kill these idols, and to replace our idol of the moment with the alternative belief, that to have only God as our possession, right now, would be the most satisfying of all possessions....even practically speaking, right now in this moment.
This is what this verse means and what our God is calling all human creatures to practice and fight in themselves, moment by moment in our lives, that we might keep turning away from the specific things to which our hearts keep wanting to turn, and in which we keep placing our trust.
We thank God for his grace, who relentlessly keeps forgiving us and letting us come back to him, “free of charge,” because of the finished work of Christ on our behalf.
Let’s all take the time, in prayer, to do this today, and every day. Amen.
Pastor Rusty Mosley
RM: As a “good” Presbyterian, I have to admit that I occasionally do enjoy a good beer, to the glory of God, and believe that it is no sin, as such. Out of love for my Savior, however, I make sure never to abuse alcohol and I try not to be insensitive and drink in front of a “weaker brother,” but the truth is I really do enjoy a good, dark, rich tasting beer every now and then....to the glory of God!
I remember when I turned 21 years old and I could first get into a bar. I remember the serious feeling of showing my I.D. to the door guy, and even standing up a little straighter as I confidently presented it!
It seems that God must not be too far from this protocol, because if you observe this passage, in Matthew 22:8-14 it says,
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
A valid driver’s license to get into heaven is surely not what’s in view here, but apparently.....wearing some necessary wedding garment is! It certainly was for this unfortunate and negligent guest! What is this special clothing which is so important? And is this important item still available somewhere, so that I can get one?! The Bible teaches that we need a “robe of righteousness.” This wedding garment is a metaphorical way of illustrating Jesus’ substitutionary performance of his own obedience and death, which “covers” us.
It makes you think of Rev 6:11, a very symbolic picture of the souls of believers in heaven who are given white robes to wear, symbolizing the clean absence of any stain of moral guilt which covers and secures us. It makes you think of Adam and Eve in the garden, so sadly trying to self-justify their own moral guilt and cover their resulting naked shame with sad little fig leaves. And how God responded so mercifully and graciously by providing coverings for their shame, a seedling promise of the Lamb to come, by sacrificing an animal to cover them with skins. Or you can think of Isaiah 61:10 which says, “I am overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God! For he has dressed me in a robe of righteousness.”
This is the symbolism and meaning behind this garment, which one needs to “wear” in the King’s presence and banquet. The Bible teaches that Jesus came to this earth in order to earn and finish our obligation to obey God and also to pay our debt of not doing so, as a free gift. In doing this he has won us as his celebrated bride, the Church. A gift we receive merely by reaching out and accepting it by faith, before Him and His people.
This is apparently something that we ought to value above other things, with it’s naturally produced effect of having a desire to love and obey God, though not always perfect, and with a joy naturally produced in one’s heart when truly received.
And Jesus’ point with this parable, is that this act of faith, of receiving God’s free gift of covering forgiveness, should not just be a meaningless addition tacked on to some religious compartment of our otherwise busy and contented life. It’s apparently supposed to be each person’s grand celebration. The proof that we’ve freely received this gift of Jesus’ shame covering “wedding garment,” is if we have a deep awareness and recurring joy produced by relishing our admittance and inclusion into this party and gathering.
In fact, there’s a very somber note here. In this parable, Jesus is actually warning us....begging us to take seriously.... that our obligation to accept this gift is no small matter. For those who miss it or over look it, he warns that it will be a matter of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
So then, together, let’s make sure that we answer Jesus’ “last call” and receive this free gift of being covered by him with our very own wedding garment, by faith....with gladness.... entering this banquet confidently and joyfully, where all the drinks are on Jesus....to the glory of God! Amen.
Pastor Rusty Mosley
RM: Do you remember as a kid playing the game, Simon Says? It was always fun but a little frustrating. Remember it? "Simon says,.....'touch your nose!' ...now.....rub your stomach!" It was really fun to try to remember, but it was also a little frustrating. How about Red Light, Green Light? ".....Stop!.........Go..Stop!...." They were fun games where someone randomly led you along.
I think these games might feel a little bit like what God's providence sometimes feels like. It often seems like God is either random in his guiding of our lives or that he's having to work around circumstances outside of his control to which He is having to yield, to some degree.
Recently I was reading the daily lectionary, in the O.T. passage, Numbers 9:15-23. In it the children of Israel are wandering around the desert of Sinai. In this part of the story, God appears to set the duration of how long their camp would stay in a given place in a totally random way. Sometimes it would be for a couple of days, sometimes a couple of months, and sometimes a couple of years. And still sometimes it would be just over night, and without any explanation as to why. Could they possibly have gotten a little frustrated?
Why lead them this way? Was God being random? Was God being controlled by outside circumstances? In many verses of the Bible it assures us that this is not the case. In Matthew 10:29, Jesus said not a single sparrow falls to the ground outside of your Father's will. Proverbs 16:33 assures us that "we may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall." (NLT) So then, why this seemingly random divine game of stop and go in the desert? Is God really just playing Simon Says?! It seems like it.
One thing you realize as you read the passage and imagine this divine training operation, practically speaking, is that it definitely would help to train a group of people to loosen the natural tendency, which all of us have, which innately resists following another person's lead (which the Bible teaches is at the root of our fallen, corrupted nature). Imagine if you had been there in this random exercise of unpredictable stop and go. Surely it would have at least helped you to get into more of a life habit and routine of letting God lead, knowing you could pick up and go at any time.
Perhaps that's the point. ...to let God lead and to realize that the Sovereign God really is in control of all things, even though He has chosen to set up the world in a way that looks like things run either randomly or on their own.
The Bible acknowledges that God has clearly set up the world to run by cause and effect (which the Protestant Reformers called "second causes"). And yet, He also asks us to trust that He, at the same time, is the "First Cause" behind all things at all times. So then, we're supposed to believe that there is a first cause....and there are second causes...and that there is no difficulty in this, from God's point of view. God is free to work with or above or even against his second causes. And, not only does this not harm the reality of second causes, it actually establishes them. As Colossians 1:17 says, Christ "holds all creation together."
This is what God is asking us to believe. And this community exercise here in Numbers 9, of seemingly random stop and go, was training them and preparing them to live out the life habit of following, yielding, and submitting to God....in total, willing, and loving trust.
And God has not changed. He still wants us to practice a life of surrender to him, though indeed in a world that looks like it's out of his control. He wants us to trustingly follow him.....even in circumstances which look like they are being guided either by bad luck, or bad people, or both. God is asking us to trust that He is always the First Cause behind all circumstances.
And if He is, which the resurrected Christ assured us that he is, then it means that choosing to follow him and trust him, no matter what, ....is the wisest of all moves.
Pastor Rusty Mosley
RM: This past month, in the daily lectionary readings, it took me through the Old Testament prophet, Micah. And as I read and reflected on it, I got a few reflections that I wanted to share with you. I think it's important for people today who are studying this and other Old Testament books to consider that God intends for us to hear these truths and consider their applicability, even for today, though they were written so long ago, 800 B.C. Paul tells us in the New Testament that the Old was “written for us.” And, I’m suggesting that Micah is perfectly relevant for you and me, right now.
I feel like a lot of Christians today read an Old Testament book like this and feel honestly that it was written in such a different time and maybe even that this God speaking was some primitive view of the much nicer, more modernized God of the New Testament, or that maybe his responses to them were appropriate for that time because they were dealing with such different matters and had different dynamics relevant to their circumstances and lives.
However, I want to suggest that our circumstances and dynamics today for the individual Christian, and how we are to live our lives, couldn't be more similar, and therefore that what we hear (the same) God saying, even in his tone and emphasis, is exactly what our New Testament, modernized ears need to hear today, through this book of Micah.
God gives two main messages through this prophet: Judgment and Forgiveness. But we need to understand that even His judgment for his people, the true believers that would have been first hearing this prophet (like good king Hezekiah), is actually loving discipline, a "severe mercy" some call it, which always serves to make us even more faithful and beautiful in the strength we gain through his fatherly discipline of us. And I submit to you that believers of our modern day need the same courageous love of our God, fearlessly pursuing us, gently but occasionally painfully, in order to make us more aware of our blind spots, our true hearts and pursuits, to keep working into us that which is so vital and yet can be so underdeveloped, which is a deeper trust and love and abandonment for God.
And what scares me, in our day of severe political correctness, is that we have attained a low threshold of tolerance toward a more robust spirituality like this and toward a stronger Fatherly view of God like this. We can be tempted to feel now like the only credible version of God that we should listen to is a wimpy expression of Christianity, which is then less effective in really causing lasting, needed change, digging deeper inside of us, calling us to more honesty, and instead results in less transformation. ...as Micah is calling us to in his letter.
We should not be offended by the God who tries to speak to us today through Micah. We should listen, trusting in his tenderness and in his willingness to go to the Cross for us. ...and trusting that God's correction is wonderfully going to lead to more growth, liberation, and joy. It's just so easy to be blind and unaware of how desperately we might still need a much deeper and much stronger trust and love for Him. Our God is a strong and tender Dad, not imperfect like our earthly versions, but perfectly loving, always sacrificing himself in his fatherly pursuit of our growth and ministry. He intends to find a way to get maturity and joy into his true children. Father help us. We trust you!
So, if you haven’t read Micah in a while, I recommend it and beg you to trust as you read, that this is the true God, speaking to you, his true child of today. And that he says it, in his perfect and beautiful love for you.
Your servant and friend,
Today's Old Testament daily lectionary reading is Numbers 13:27-31:
This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!
. . . But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!” But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!”
See also. . .
Matthew 19:11 - “Not everyone can accept this statement,” Jesus said. “Only those whom God helps."
RM: This Old Testament verse is interestingly coupled with Matthew 19:11 on the Daily Lectionary, where Jesus points out that Spiritual realities (such as this crazy idea of simply embracing a confident certainty and trust which would say something like, .... "of course God will supernaturally take care of all of our impossible obstacles and dangers for us! Of course!! ...easily!" ) simply can't be understood, nor lived out, by people who don't have the holy Spirit giving them the ability to come awake to and see and think like people whom God makes spiritually awake, which would then naturally give them the eyes to see and therefore have the motivation and courage to live a God trusting kind of life.
That's why natural humans do not have the ability to accept God's things and ideas (as the people in this passage couldn't fathom going into a land with giants). Unless God helps us by supernaturally opening the heart and eyes, we CANNOT accept it because we haven't yet seen God's revealed reality for ourselves. That's why Caleb, Joshua, and Moses we're voting, yes, to going into the land, and everybody else was voting, no.
Whoever you are, today, right now, stop what you're doing and talk to God. Humble your heart, even if you've been a Christian for years, and ask God to give you "eyes to see him" and ears to hear and a heart to understand. Only then can we have the supernatural motivation to do the impossible, to walk on water, to see his reality so certainly that it would motivate us to live what others would call radical, but God calls normal. I believe he wants to give us his Holy Spirit like this, but we must ask. Let's all ask today. Amen.
Image courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Art
Psalm 42:1 - "As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?"
RM: I think this passage really brings out how continually and deeply desperate our hearts naturally are, for being filled with meaning, and beauty, and companionship, and comfort, and adventure. In fact, it's excruciatingly painful when our hearts have nothing inside them to feed on. Just like a stomach that feels pangs when it has nothing in it.
And I think it's actually the person who is really seeking and working hard everyday to not find our satisfaction in the things of this world as his or her first level pursuit of life, though they are so beautiful and glorious and promising as secondary level pursuits, but it's that person who truly is seeking to be satisfied on a first level from only having Jesus, who feels the most schizophrenic and depressed, on a regular basis.
I remember hearing stories about how Luther (and other church history heros) was depressed to the point of being bedridden, which he would feel regularly. Well I now think that this was not some psychosis or physical malady. I now think it is a natural result of a heart that seeks to be satisfied on Christ, and yet is fallen and naturally keeps needing a fresh portion and supply of manna everyday, every hour, and the reality is that we're just not that good yet at maintaining this, because, of course, we're not yet at our final condition, when we will have the capabilities that come with having resurrected and holy hearts and bodies on a new Earth.
Therefore, the Christian life for the moment, as St. Paul says, is not easy. (2nd Tim.4:7 - life is a "fight"; Rom.8:23 - and a "groaning") It's a matter of fighting our souls each morning to let go of the temporal things that are so promising, things we long to latch on to, that seem to be the answer honestly, which we so desperately want from this world. The Christian life is a fight to let go of our trust in these things and to instead fight ourselves to go to what might honestly feel like an empty endeavor, of having to resort to and make due with the person of Jesus, whom we only connect with through these old means of prayer and Scripture and connecting with other believers in sharing, all in order to, like this poor deer in verse 1, get our hearts satisfied with the only thing that can truly satisfy our hearts, which is the power, the beauty, the embrace and the tenderness, and the adventure of the person of Christ, who is with us and living in us through his Spirit.
Let us keep being honest, like this Psalmist, about our deep longing. We deeply long for satisfaction....and comfort.....and beauty....and adventure. ...just like a deer dehydrating to death.
Go to prayer. Go to his Word. Drink. Eat. And be satisfied.