Saturday, September 1, 2018

Lambs in the Midst of Wolves

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves." Matthew 10:16

Jesus speaks these words to his twelve apostles, and indeed they do have a hard road ahead of them. In Luke 10:3, Jesus uses the word "lambs," which is even more docile than "sheep." What Jesus is telling his twelve, and telling us today as we try to be living disciples of Christ, is that the world is a very dangerous place for people who follow him. How true this is, as we can see from gleaning the news each day. The world is like a horde of ravenous wolves, ready to devour the weak, and when the foes these wolves face are mere lambs, there is no sneaky pretense of kindness. The wolves will attack and attack hard.

So, Jesus gives us instructions on how to behave in such a world: "be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves." How do these instructions help us today? Well, the first thing we must do is figure out what he means, and to do that, we must have scripture illuminate scripture.

Shrewd as Serpents
Now, the first place we can think of to examine the behavior of a serpent is Genesis 3. Is Jesus telling us to behave like the devil himself? Of course not, but we can learn much from the way the serpent interacts with Eve in the garden. The primary tool Satan uses against mankind is to ask questions and make brief statements (not long-winded speeches) in order to place doubt in the first woman's head. His technique works, and he is able to change Eve's whole worldview, as well as her husband's. Being lambs in a world of ravenous wolves and being shrewd as serpents at the same time, is going to involve asking specific questions and asserting specific statements in order to change a wolf's worldview into that of a lamb's.

Second, being shrewd as a serpent is knowing your enemy. The "wolves" of the world are divided into two parts, according to scripture. In not being shrewd, we may fall into the trap of thinking there is one body of wolves: the unbelieving world. However, there is a second front against God's church on Earth, a second grouping of wolves: the false church. If we think that we are only standing up to unbelievers, we lay unprotected from a formidable foe. In Matthew 24, Jesus warns us against those who are "in" the church but not "of" the church:

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. (Matthew 24:23-28)

Being shrewd as serpents involves knowing the true church from the false one, and to know that, we must be well-versed in scripture. The Holy Bible is the only source of God's truth available to us, and we must study it well to learn the differences between the truth and a lie, especially when the lie is compelling and seemingly rational.

The third and last point about being shrewd as serpents is also the first point about being innocent as doves. Look at Romans 16:

Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. (Romans 16:17-20)

Paul here, like Christ before him, warns the true church of the false church. After Paul rejoices over the Roman church's obedience, he exhorts them to be "wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil." This is a clearer way of looking at being "shrewd as serpents" and "innocent as doves." Being shrewd as a serpent is being wise in what is good. What does that mean? It means that, as saved Christians, we are interacting with the unbelieving world and the false church--not being OF them but being IN them--and injecting, whenever possible, good wisdom. When interacting with the wolves, we do not play their game and pretend to be wolves ourselves but let our words and actions be filled with Christ's righteousness. Ask questions, make statements, know the two-fronted enemy...and wisely insert God's truth into every possible moment of your discourse.

Innocent as Doves
As Paul writes in Romans 16, innocent as doves means being innocent in what is evil. We are all sinners, yes, but Christians are penitent sinners. We repent of sin, and our desire is to not know sin anymore. That means we are not to act worldly around the worldly, but we are to plead ignorance of the world's ways, even if we know such ways personally. This is not lying, not pretending to be something we are not, but to show our denial of our past selves, to be above the practice of sin that we used to be involved in, to placard our new lives in Christ on our faces and display Christ's righteousness within us.

In Hosea 7, the prophet preaches against Ephraim, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, part of the church:

Ephraim mixes himself with the nations;
Ephraim has become a cake not turned.
Strangers devour his strength,
Yet he does not know it;
Gray hairs also are sprinkled on him,
Yet he does not know it.
Though the pride of Israel testifies against him,
Yet they have not returned to the Lord their God,
Nor have they sought Him, for all this.
So Ephraim has become like a silly dove, without sense;
They call to Egypt, they go to Assyria. (Hosea 7:8-11)

We are to be in the world but not of the world. Now, we are not to isolate ourselves from the world. We see what has happened in this regard in history. When the church separates completely from the world, it becomes corrupt. Why? Because, as I wrote above, the true church has forgotten to take in to account the false church, which is among them, no matter how much we separate, and a tiny part of leaven will leaven the whole lump of dough. The leaven of the Pharisees and the antinomians will destroy the whole church. We need to be in the world and interacting with it, even as we are not OF it. Now, Ephraim, according to the prophet Hosea, has done the opposite: it has mixed with the world and become worldly, like a cake cooking on the grill that has not been flipped, and so the downward side blackens. The wolves begin to devour him, because he has abandoned the true church for the lie. The wisdom of the world becomes his wisdom. The Biblical wisdom begins to leave his discourse and the worldly wisdom begins to infiltrate it. He uses worldly expressions in his everyday life. He turns his back on his Lord and forgets to seek him ever. Their world is in Egypt, in Assyria, in Babylon. Ephraim is a silly dove, without sense. This innocence actually destroys the true church, because it is not innocent of evil but innocent of good and truth. Christ and Paul encourage us to be innocent of evil, and that means not being of the world, but we are to be shrewd as serpents, which means being in the world and injecting truth and goodness into all our interactions. So, we must be BOTH shrewd as serpents AND innocent as doves. We cannot be one without the other.

Christ the True Lamb
So, being shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves is a complex and tall order, and it may seem impossible to us weak souls. But the key to success in this lesson is not in ourselves but in Christ himself. In Luke 10, the disciples return with the happy results of their excursion into the world. They were even able to fight the demons, but only in Jesus' name. Christ is the true lamb. Christ is the shrewd serpent--always injecting righteousness into his interactions with the wolves. He is also the innocent dove who knows no sin. He is wisdom of God, who asks questions of the world and makes statements of truth to the unbelieving ear. He turned high-ranking Pharisees to his cause: men like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. He spoke against the false church in all of his discourses, and he even made a point of making sure we bewared the false church over the unchurched. Indeed, when we look at Jeremiah 29 next week, we will see that we have more to fear from the falsely converted than the unconverted.

Christ tells his disciples not to rejoice that the spirits are subject to them (a prominent aspect of the false church) but that their names are recorded in heaven. Indeed, this is the foundational motivator of the true church. We don't have the power of Christ in order to wield it and wage war with the world. We have the power of Christ, because we believe, and that power comes to us through faith. We have a supreme gratitude for our names being written in heaven, and this gratitude enables us to be lambs in the midst of wolves without fear. It enables us to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves, all in Christ's name. Christ is the lamb, and we have the lambs power only through faith.

Where do you see yourself? Are you Ephraim? Mixed with the world? An unflipped cake burning on the grill? Are you commanding Christ to serve you, so you can use his power for your whims (even if those whims are honorable)? Or are so so thankful that your name is written in heaven that you gladly preach Christ until he returns, no matter what the cost?

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The True Church

Look at John 9. We're not going to look at the whole passage: everyone's heard the story of the man who was born blind, how Jesus made an ointment out of clay and gave the man his sight back. But the more important thing that I want to talk about today is the idea that there are two churches within the Christian church.

We know that there are different religions and they have different beliefs. I was talking to a couple of parishioners last Tuesday, and we decided that other religions are like "scale" religions. You have your good deeds and your bad deeds on a scale. And if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds: "woo-hoo," you're in! If your bad deeds outweigh your good deeds: uh oh, that's too bad.

So all other religions, all the philosophies, even atheistic philosophies are like, "do good deeds, and you'll be rewarded." If you don't believe in an afterlife, you'll be rewarded in this life, karma, stuff like that, or karma even extends into the religions that believe in an afterlife: you'll get good things the next time around. So you've got the scale thing going. Christianity is the only religion that says there's no scale: throw it out. Yours are bad deeds, everything you do in the eyes of God, even the stuff you do that's good. Say you go build hospitals and do good deeds. In the eyes of God, if you're not doing them out of gratitude for him, they are sin, too. There's no scale at all and Christ came to say, "there's no scale, toss it out. Believe in me. It doesn't matter what your sins are, I will save you." For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Now, our reaction to that is one of gratitude. And so we begin to do good deeds, not because we're on this scale thing suddenly. God doesn't place us on the scale spectrum where suddenly now I go start weighing my good deeds. That's off the table.

It's faith in Christ and His works on the cross for the deliverance of you from your sins, which we all have, and they were all counting against us until Christ washed them away. Now, we continue to sin as believers. But if you have faith in Christ, your sins come and nip you, but it's God disciplining a son or a daughter and making you more into the image of Christ. Someone who doesn't believe or is working on the little scale method over here, practices sin and the punishments are the wrath of God happening in this life early. It's why sometimes it feels like "oh, there's a believer here suffering and then there's a non believer over here that's doing great!" We can't judge by what we see is happening in people's lives. But we can say, "if this person is a true believer, they're being disciplined by a loving father, to become the image of Christ." Over here, this person is prospering. But because he doesn't believe, it's all going away at some point, either in this life or the next.

In the Christian church, we have the scale religion, let's call it that.  It has always been there in some form. In the original Jewish church, at the time of Christ, the Pharisees were all the scale religion. Scale religion is, in a nutshell, "I'm not a sinner, you are, get out!"  And that's why it says here, the Pharisees were casting people out of the synagogue, probably to protect themselves, because, "I don't want to sin, and I'm not a sinner." But we are all sinners. And that's what Jesus came to tell everybody: "you're all sinners." Even the Pharisees, because they're doing ritualistic things, but their hearts are not for God. They don't love their neighbors as themselves. They're not obeying those two great commandments: love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. They are putting up an "us versus them" system. "I'm not a sinner, you're a sinner."

So when we read this passage, I want to look at the last part again. We know the story of the guy who was born blind--Jesus healed his eyes. And then he comes before the council who're like, "Oh, we know, Jesus is a sinner." Think about that. The only guy who's not a sinner! Jesus Christ did not sin. We have to have a God who did not sin, otherwise, he can't rescue people that do sin. Sinners can't rescue sinners. Only someone who is holy and righteous and does not sin can rescue a sinner from eternal peril.

So the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, "give glory to God, we know that this man is a sinner." They're saying, we know that Jesus is a sinner. Why? Because he is preaching a different religion from what the Pharisees are preaching. The Pharisees are preaching a scale religion. It's a natural state we fall into. That's why I said atheists and philosophers will do it, too. We fall into it, because it's easier to say to ourselves, "I'm saving myself, I'm doing it myself, I'm going to try and try and then I'm going to succeed, and I'm going to be a non-sinner, I'm not going to sin." And so we fall into it. It's a natural inclination. We have this desire to save ourselves, we don't want someone else to do it. It's humiliating. And that's exactly what Christianity is. It's a bunch of people saying, I'm going to humiliate myself to the Lord and have him be my rescuer. And the prayer from The Valley of Vision that I prayed at the very beginning of the service was like, "we're going to make a botch of it. If we leave our salvation to ourselves, we're going to screw it up. We need you, God, to rescue us." And that's a very humbling thing. And you think it's an easy thing to do? Oh, yeah, all I do is just "give it up." You hear that? Let go and let God: people say that all the time. People don't want to do that. It's our natural inclination to avoid doing that.

We know that this man is a sinner, they're so sure. What's the truth? He's not the sinner and they are sinners. He doesn't answer. "Whether he is a sinner, I do not know." He's not going to play on that field. The man who was once blind is not going to play on that field. I'm not going to go into that area. He said, "one thing I do know though I was blind and now I see." And we know that that physically happened. He was physically blind, and now he sees. It's also a spiritual truth. He was blind, he was a sinner. We're all blind. We're all sinners. Jesus comes and opens our eyes in many different ways, millions of different ways Christ can open our eyes. So what this once-blind man has done by saying this, is he's showing the two different religions that are in the synagogue. We can transfer that to being the church, because we still have it going on now. That happens today. There was a reformation, because the church had gone to a scale religion, weighing good and bad deeds. And then here are some things that you can do to try to tilt the scale, or you can pay to the church building fund and have the scales tip in this direction. So many things like that.

The Church has gone this way many times. Cults--there are lots of cults. They're a little bit more secretive than they were back then when they were obvious. They use the same language as Christianity. But how do you know it's a cult? Scales, suddenly you see the scales coming up. Let's talk about good deeds and bad deeds. What this once-blind guy is saying is, "I don't know about that scale religion stuff. What I do know is I was blind and now I see, that's it." If we want to define Christianity, we can say Christianity, instead of being a scale religion is a religion where blind people are made to see. Jesus opens the eyes of the blind. We're all blind people walking around, not knowing God. And Jesus comes in some form: could be a conversation with a friend, it could be a billboard, it could be thrown out my crazy grandma's Bible because she was some crazy Bible believer, but I'll look at it real fast: Oh! It could take anything. It takes the Holy Spirit to do it, but the eyes are now open. So Christianity is the only religion where blind people are given sight. It's not everybody, as we can tell, because everybody else is jumping on the scale religions. Christianity is the one where blind people are given sight by Christ. And once they see, they see the truth and the truth sets them free. So I was blind now I see. So he's showing the two different religions.

They said to him, "what did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" He answered, "I told you already, and you did not listen." See that there's a miscommunication of ideas, something I've been really thinking about a lot lately. I'll just insert that here. Why not? Babel, we know the story of Babel. What's happening? They're building a tower to the heavens, they're unified, all the people have the same goals, have the same ideas. We have prosperity, we have unity, we have all these things that are going well for everybody. And they're using it to build the tower. And God said, "I will confound their language." And then they're scattered, because they can't understand each other. And we always assume, and I assume this too--and I think it's true--there is an aspect of this, that we're talking about spoken language, and so that's why we have all the different languages of the world. But there are plenty of people who don't believe in Christ, who can learn other languages. There are people that know many languages and can communicate amongst people. So my idea is, what if the language that God confounded... Because what the problem was, these people will be unified, and they didn't need God, they didn't need him at all. So he's saying, they need to need me, so I will confound their language. And we think it means spoken language. What if it's ideas? What if it's economic language? Right now we have a big divide in the world: we have socialism, we have free economics, and there the two never meet. Everybody's arguing about what will work, and one side says, "this will work. It's has worked." The other side says, "No, no, ours will work, it just hasn't been tried yet." And the other side says, "Oh, yes. It's been tried many, many times. And it has resulted in mass murder." And the other side says, "that didn't happen, you know," and so, back and forth. What is that's the language that God confounded? Because one side thinks it's obvious, and the other side thinks it's obvious. What if that's what God was doing by confounding the languages: it wasn't necessarily the spoken word of everybody, because we do learn those. They're very similar. We go, okay, there's a verb, there's a noun, we can learn this. I'm trying to learn French right now. It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but I'm starting to learn that. But what if it's ideas, what if it's something deeper?

Anyway, I just wanted to share that with you. Because that's what's happening. We have two churches
and there's an obvious difference between them, but we can't figure out which one is right. But the Bible will tell us which one is right. The real church is the one of blind people being made to see. And the other church is the Pharisees who say, "we're not sinners, you are! We've proven you to be a sinner, get out!" And that's what's happening here.

I'm going to flip to the third letter of John.  What you have here is a letter from John to Gaius. It's right before Jude, which is right before Revelation. So, third-to-last book of the Bible, and I'm just gonna read it. I'll make comments throughout. See if you can see the two churches. The elder--John--to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper, and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. For I was very glad when brethren--fellow Christians--came and testified to your truth--not relativism, not his truth--that is, how you are walking in truth. The other Christians have come to me and told me that you were blind, and now you see. You are walking in truth, you are someone whose eyes have been opened. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in truth. It's essentially saying, I know that in the church of blind people, you are one that has sight, because we have a visible church, which can consist of everybody that professes to be a Christian. And then we have an invisible Church of people who actually see and God knows they see.  Beloved, you are acting faithfully and whatever you accomplished for the brethren, and especially when they're strangers. So he's taking care of his fellow Christians, especially when he doesn't know them. That's one of the big hurdles in life. We think, oh, we're all about taking care of strangers. Yeah, yeah, it is one of the largest hurdles in life to take care of somebody you don't know, to help someone you don't know. And to be able to identify if they're walking in the truth, if their eyes are open. And that's one of our goals is to help each other whose eyes are open. And they have testified to your love before the church--so these strangers, to you, have even testified to your love, and you will do well to send them on their way, in a manner worthy of God. For they went out the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Think of them. Remember, Jesus sent his apostles out and he said, "You know, if people are walking in darkness, and they reject you, just stay away. "Accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore, we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth. Think of truth being light, think of truth being sight.

So there's the church. Now, I wrote something to the church, John is saying, but Diatrophes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. He sounds like a leader in the church doesn't he, Diatrophes? He loves to be first among them. He does not accept what we say. And this is John who was with Jesus. If anybody has authority in the church, it's John. But here's this guy Diatrophes in the visible church. And whenever somebody comes to him like the blind man and says, "Hey, Christianity's about blind people seeing," he's like, "get out of here. That's not what we are. We're scales." He does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words. And not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so, and puts them out of the church. It's interesting how the people who were blind and now see don't go about the business of putting the people who are still blind out of the church. (This is different from church discipline in Matthew 18 and properly approaching unrepentant sinners). The idea is to help those blind people see, but the people who are blind and are in a different religion, their goal is to get the people who see out of the church: it's a one-directional thing. One side is pushing the other side out of the church. The other side is trying to help those people see, so that they can be seers of Christ, too.

Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God, the one who does evil has not seen God. Notice he didn't say, the one who does good is of God, the one who does evil is not of God. That would have been very parallel. But he says, the one who does evil has not seen God, is still walking in darkness from birth.

And then he talks about another person: Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone and from the truth itself, and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true. So don't be discouraged. Here's another person in the church with you, Gaius. He is also walking in the light. Stick together, become light. As Jesus said, he wants us to become light for others in the church. We think, "oh, we're all here in the church. Let's go out and get these people covered. But there's housecleaning to do, and we don't want to make waves. So we don't we stray away from that. But it's not making waves, because they're the ones that are making waves by trying to push people out. Our waves, and I'm preaching to everybody here, as if we are all people walking in the light, our way is to be light in the darkness and get people who are walking in darkness into the light, too.

Think of yourself. Self examine? Are you someone who has been walking in darkness and are now walking in light? Or are you someone preoccupied with figuring out, "Am I doing more good deeds than evil ones?" This stops becoming an issue because, I've been there. I've said, I'm a Christian, but I'm really worried about whether my good deeds are outweighing my bad deeds. Because that's the religion that we're fed. You have to change your thinking, convert your thinking to, "we are members of Christianity, a religion where blind people see, are made to see by Christ's spirit," and suddenly everything changes: the way we behave, the way we think, the way we speak, the way we act, because we're no longer focusing on, "are my good deeds outweighing my bad deeds? Am I going to get into heaven because of this?" Christ died on the cross. It's already done. He died for your sins. That's happened. Being someone who lives who walks in the light, walks in the truth, is all about gratitude, repaying Christ for what he's already done. If you're worried about the scales, you're not believing that he's already died for your sins, because you're worried about trying to get your sins off the scales, you're trying to save yourself. If you have faith that Christ has already accomplished that on the cross, this goes away, and it becomes nothing, and then it all becomes about walking in the light and showing light to others, and obeying the law but out of gratitude for Christ's sacrifice for you. That's already been done. He doesn't have to do it again.

Amen.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Life and Death

According to Romans 14:7-9, not one of us--us being Christians, professing Christians who have a penitent faith in Christ--lives for himself, and not one of us dies for himself. Those without a penitent faith in Christ do live for themselves, or they live for an idol or idols, but such cannot die for themselves, for they cannot save themselves. Christians live for the Lord. Everything we do, we filter through the lens of God's will. Christians die for the Lord, we die to preserve his holy name, and we die satisfied that we are his, and that to die is not eternal death but the start of an eternal life in which we know God forever. So, there is no living for the Lord with the idea that our relationship with the Lord ends at death. We are the Lord's in both life and death. And we aren't just living for the Lord in order to achieve some kind of benefit after death. We love the Lord, and our relationship with him begins in life and that same relationship continues into death and life after death. The Lord owns us now, and he will continue to own us forever. Otherwise, why are you willing to be the Lord's if not forever?

This is the reason for the resurrection. Christ is Lord. He is Lord of the living and the dead. His resurrection showed us--irrefutably--that death was not the end. He rose again from the dead to show us that we, too, will rise from the dead. That all who have faith in him will rise from the dead. When we have faith in him, it means that he owns us. We are Christ's and he owns us, because he paid for us with his blood. We cannot buy ourselves back, because we cannot afford it, and why would we want to buy ourselves back? Being owned by Christ is the ultimate state of being. God put the Christ--the messiah--in place to be our Lord and Savior, to not only save our souls from destruction but to be our Lord and Master, sanctifying us by his Spirit, and changing us into his likeness. Only a Lord and Master has the authority to do that with those whom he owns.

In John 20, the gentiles begin to seek Jesus, and he knows that the time has come for his death and resurrection. All the world needed to see what eternal life looked like, even though many would--and still do--reject the offer. Jesus told his disciples that anyone who does not die to himself is isolated from God. This is hell--eternity without God. However, if we die to ourselves, if we give up all the pleasures of worldly living and begin to live for God, we will bear much fruit for the Lord, fruit that carries over into the next life.  Jesus said, "he who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal." Since Christ owns us, we must serve him, and that means following him: living for him and following his path. We are talking about a literal following of him, so that where he is, there we be also. This is not a head-only acknowledgement of Christ's Lordship. He is our master, and so where he tells us to go, we go, and that means following him to the grave. We die to ourselves. No man can serve two masters. Only master Jesus is possible. The result is the Father honoring that servant with everlasting life.

Are you living for Christ? Are you ready to die for Christ? Are you following Christ's rule? Are you being a citizen of his kingdom by obeying his every command? Are you bearing his fruit? Have you killed the worldly life in you? Have you disowned all but Christ? Are you serving him and him alone?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

God's Works

Plenty of evidence points to God's existence, especially creation itself, but so many do not believe in God at all (even though he has placed knowledge of his existence in the hearts of all people). With all the obvious evidence, still many do not believe. We try all kinds of proofs, all kinds of brain exercises to logically infer God, and yet those techniques still do not work. I read CS Lewis' Mere Christianity and was convinced of the truth of the Christian God, but I know of many who have read the same book and were not convinced at all. What we need is not a brain-knowledge of God but a heart-knowledge. Striving to understand God's essence is not effective, but contemplating him in his works is very effective. God will seem true and near to us when we study his deeds.  This is why the Bible is mostly about what God DOES in history, and even what he SAYS is about what he DOES.

David tells us that we should meditate on his works in Psalm 145. God is too vast to adequately grasp, but if we look upon his works, we will grasp him sufficiently for salvation. We can look at creation itself, the impossibility of all this happening by accident. We can look at the miracles of the Old Testament: the flood and rescue of Noah, the Tower of Babel, the providence of Joseph, the exodus from Egypt, the preservation in the wilderness. We can look at the miracles of the New Testament: the incarnation and wonders of Christ, the resurrection, the salvation of Paul. We can look at the deeds of God in history, like the reformation. Finally, we can look at the wonders of God in our own lives, like the healing of my daughter's eyes, or his saving even me from destruction.

What does such knowledge do? This heart knowledge of God's works leads us to worship and hope of the future life. All of his works on earth point to something greater to come after this world passes away. The persecution and suffering of the pious and the success and prosperity of the wicked also points to an afterlife of perfect justice, where the pious are rewarded and the wicked get their just desserts. So, in the end, we cannot look at each of God's works individually and then stop looking.  We must look at ALL of his works as a whole, as if looking at a massive painting, to see where they all fit together. When we focus on one thing, like say the conquest of the promised land, we tend to get mired down in God's essence again: who is God at his core? When we look at all of his works together, we see God's work in the salvation of his people, the righteousness, goodness, justice, and mercy for his people. We see an heroic epic.

In Psalm 40, David says that evils beyond number surround him, and even his own sins have gotten the better of him, and he is unable to see his savior clearly. The heart love that he has for his Lord seems empty and insufficient. God is far away. But he looks at the big picture.  He looks at the way God has saved his church from destruction. He has saved the bride of Christ by saving Christ from destruction. His church is wed to him, and so the church gets saved, too. We are in Christ and Christ in us.

See the big picture. See the salvation of the Lord. Are you hung up on trying to understand a presence more vast than all of humanity put together? Are you nitpicking God's individual deeds in order to find fault with him? Or are you looking at the big picture, seeing the face of the Son who died to save us all? Are you looking at the fullness of time and seeing God's intercession in history through Christ the savior, who saves his people from their sins by his death on the cross? Do you see in all the Old Testament the foreshadowing of the big picture? Do you see in the New Testament the description of the big picture itself? Is knowledge of the Lord present in your heart by meditation on his mighty works?

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Three Psalms on God's Glory

I want to look at three Psalms on God's glory. One is about how we can experience God's glory from creation itself. The second one is how we can discern God's glory from man's stewardship over nature. Finally, the last one is on how we see God's glory in his sovereignty over man's salvation. What we have is an increasing pull-back from nature to man's place in nature to God's rule over all things, all of which glorify God.

Psalm 104

What we have here is a description of what mankind has been doing since the beginning: assigning physical attributes to the invisible God using nature as descriptors. God clothes himself in light, stretches out the sky like a tent, and uses the waters as a housing structure. He rides on the clouds like a chariot (do you see how man corrupted these images into false gods like Zeus?), stands upon the wind, and uses the elements to communicate with humanity. No true Christian thinks of God as an old man in the sky, despite what the ungodly tell us what we believe, but when we know that God is sovereign over all of nature--even the unpredictable elements--it's hard not to imagine the power of the almighty God behind a chaotic thunderstorm and realize that he is communicating his glory to us. In fact, this is what we should do. We should think of God as all-powerful and potentially destructive to the evil that man has brought about. If we live in awe and fear of God, we will respect him and put our faith in him. Read the rest of the Psalm and know that God is in control over all the seemingly random things in nature:

He established the earth upon its foundations,
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
The waters were standing above the mountains.
At Your rebuke they fled,
At the sound of Your thunder they hurried away.
You set a boundary that they may not pass over,
So that they will not return to cover the earth.
He sends forth springs in the valleys;
He waters the mountains from His upper chambers;
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
He made the moon for the seasons;
The sun knows the place of its setting.
You appoint darkness and it becomes night,
O Lord, how many are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all;
The earth is full of Your possessions.
There is the sea, great and broad,
And Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it.
They all wait for You
To give them their food in due season.
You give to them, they gather it up;
You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.
You hide Your face, they are dismayed;
You take away their spirit, they expire
And return to their dust.
You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
He looks at the earth, and it trembles;
He touches the mountains, and they smoke.

Psalm 8

Here is where we see the glory of God through mankind. He made man's mouth for singing his praises, even from infancy. The Psalmist tells us that with all the works of nature that we read about in Psalm 104, there is no need for God to even create man in the first place.  So much glory of God lies in nature, that it almost seems that mankind is an afterthought. But no! Man is God's crowning achievement, and God has made him to be a steward over majestic creation, representing God as like a regent, taking care of the kingdom until the true king can step into the role. All of creation is put under the dominion of man, and our job is to glorify God by taking care of such. Do we succeed? No, which is why we need to read the 107th Psalm.

Psalm 107

Finally, we have the ultimate Psalm of God's glory--God being glorified through the redemption of mankind. He put us in charge and we botched it. We let the enemy in through the gates, and we have no life in ourselves. God created nature, then he created a reasoning creature to take care of it--both for his glory. Then the reasoning creature fell into sin and death, and now God gets to be glorified by recreating all things, beginning with the reasoning creature.

Man has starved himself by cutting himself off from God's life. He cries out to the Lord who delivers him. Man is in the desert. God steers his way to a majestic city of eternal life. Mankind consists of rebels in chains, prisoners in misery, lost laborers. Mankind cries out to the Lord who saves them. God sets man free from his bonds and brings him out from under the shadow of death. Man lives under a self-imposed plague, and the Lord heals man with his word. Mankind has made shipwreck of our faith. We plunge deeper and deeper in misery. The very nature we were commissioned to subdue has overtaken us. We failed in our stewardship and nature has ruined us. But the Lord stills the storm and hushes the waves. He guides us to the desired haven.

God created everything. He sustains all things. He controls all things. He will recreate all things. He has already begun recreating all things, beginning with you. You dwelt in desert places, because of your sin. God delivered you from sin though Jesus Christ's death on the cross. Your faith in this particular deliverance determines your re-creation. Are you being recreated into the likeness of his son? Are you being recreated for the new heavens and the new earth? Are you being recreated for everlasting life? Or are you still under the shadow of death? Are you still sinking into the dark of the deep, drowning in sin and misery? Have you embraced the son? Or are you to wander in the desert for eternity?