Saturday, December 31, 2016

Be Patient

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (James 5:7-12)

We are to be patient in waiting for the coming of the Lord, like a farmer waiting for his harvest.  This is a great image, but it doesn't refer to mere waiting.  No, we are to "establish our hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand."  How do we establish our hearts properly? 1 Thessalonians gives us a clue in 3:11-13:

"Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." We learn here:

1. God directs his Word to his children.
2. The Lord makes us increase and abound in love for one another (fellow believers)
3. This Love for one another has a goal: to establish our hearts, like it says in James.
4. Note that Paul adds something else: establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of Jesus.
5. To be blameless before God sounds like a tall order!  It sounds like a lot of work that we are going to have to do quickly.  How is this possible?  Well, remember that ours is a religion of faith, and the faith is in a particular person, and that particular person is Jesus Christ.  So, to be blameless before God is to have your faith solely in Christ's righteousness.  His blamelessness becomes our blamelessness, just as our sin is put on his head.  The only way to be blameless and holy is to be in Christ.  Listen to this benediction at the end of 1 Thessalonians:

"Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it."

God does the work.  All we need is the faith in Christ.  Of course, God gives us that, too, because he is all powerful and he loves us, and he will not let one of his wayward sheep go astray.  We want to high-tail-it and run as far away from him as we can, but he will not let us.

So, when James gives us commandments at the end of his passage--do not grumble against each other (the negative variation of the positive "love one another" from 1 Thessalonians), suffer in patience like Job and the other prophets, and above all do not swear an oath on anything--he is giving us the complete cross section of the entire Word of God.  In these three commandments we find not only Christ's command to love, from his upper-room discourse, but his point from the Beatitudes that those who suffer in patience will see God on the last day.  Finally, we bring the law from the Old Testament forward with the command to not swear--as blasphemy and lying are the most common and easily executed sins in history, including today.  What James has done here is to tell us that our faith in Christ will fulfill not only Christ's command to love, but Christ's encouragement to suffer for your faith, and Christ's exhortation that one keep the totality of the law, better than the scribes and pharisees.  This is only done through faith alone in Christ alone.

As Christ says in the sermon on the mount, "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."  Are you ready to embrace persecutions?  Are you ready to be blessed?  It is not the easy road.  It is not the wide path.  But it is the way that leads to everlasting life.  The only way to life.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Five Truths About Christmas

After making purification for sins... (Hebrews 1:3)
Why did Jesus Christ come?  Well, the world is corrupted by sin.  It is not as bad as it could be--that would be Hell--but it permeates everything, from merely putting ourselves first to outright hating our neighbor and the God who created us.  Sin is lawlessness, and God's law is spelled out in the ten commandments.  Murder can be taking a life, or it could be mere anger with your neighbor.  Stealing can be taking things that don't belong to you, or it could be wasting the time of others or even yourself.  Coveting can be desiring things that do not belong to you, or it could be jealously protecting what you yourself own.  The range is wide, and so we are all, each one of us, living under the condemnation of the law of God.  There is now escape--except for one.  That is where Jesus comes in.  He came to earth to make purification for sins.  That means he took our sins upon himself and gave us his own righteousness--because he never sinned.  Only God in the flesh could be tempted as we are and not sin.  This great exchange is the purification for sins, and only Jesus could do it.  Why?  Because he loves us. There's no other reason.  He doesn't need us. His creation certainly isn't made better by us being in it.  No, he loves us, just because he wants to.

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:30)
There is nothing that Mary did to earn God's favor.  She did not merit it in any way.  Likewise, God unconditionally forgives us of our sins.  This is grace at its finest.  We can rest assured that nothing we can do will cause him to reject us.  He chooses us of his own free will.  There is nothing we can do to stop it or start it.  He just does it.  He is a saving God.  Why?  Because he loves us.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)
This famous line is usually phrased, "peace, good will towards men," but that phrasing seems to include all human beings on earth.  We know that some are not saved, and the actual phrase as described above affirms that.  "Among those with whom he is pleased," does not mean that we have to please him before he will give us his good will.  It is his pleasure to give us his good will.  And his good will is Jesus Christ himself, and whoever believes in his holy name will have eternal life.  Jesus died only for those who believe. 

And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. (Luke 2:17)
When we know the good news, the urge to tell everyone becomes irresistible.  When we know we are Christ's own forever, we can't help but shout to the heavens with joy.  Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!  I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.

And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. (Matthew 2:11)
We persevere day to day, after we are saved, by reminding ourselves of our salvation.  We do this in three ways.  One, we get baptized, receiving the outward visible sign of the inward invisible grace that we are saved.  Two, we hear the word preached each week, to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and remember that he saved us and no one can pluck us from his hand.  Third, we partake in Holy Communion each week to take the gospel into our bodies tangibly, reminding us of our baptism, and reminding us of the gospel we heard.  Persevere with the saints!  Come into God's loving embrace through our precious savior Jesus Christ.  Hear the good news.  Find him on every page of the Bible.  Believe!  Find joy!  Be saved!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Blessings and Woes

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. (James 5:1-6)

There is a running theme in the Bible that if you are rich, you are in trouble.  Great miseries are coming upon you.  Wealth corrupts, we know.  Even the ungodly will say so.  Money rots our souls.  It seems that when we stand before the Lord on Judgment Day our wealth will be evidence against us, and we will perish.  This is not good news for residents of the wealthiest country in the world, in all of history.  A couple weeks ago, we discussed how storing up earthly treasures for yourself would be the same as to sabotage yourself.  Your soul is required of you now! the Lord may say, and all that earthly wealth isn't going to do you a bit of good!  Worse, the scriptures seem to say that because you are rich, you must have exploited the poor.  You must have defrauded them, somehow, and so they have cried out to the Lord, and their evidence is going to be used against you, too!  A double jeopardy on your soul!

We know that this exploitation does not hold true in the real world.  Just because one is poor does not mean that he or she was exploited by someone who is rich, and just because one is rich does not mean that he or she has exploited the poor.  Our success in life--this is purely from a secular standpoint--is based on our life decisions.  Good choices in life bring success.  Bad choices bring poverty.  If this is true for the tangible world, then "rich" and "poor" must mean something else in the scriptures, too.  God is truth.  If the rich aren't exploiting the poor just by being rich, then God knows this, too, and he wouldn't lie in his word.  The beatitudes help us understand the difference.  Here is the version from Luke:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-26)

The first blessing and woe seem to be monetarily matched.  Poor v. Rich in wealth.  The focus it that the poor receive the kingdom of heaven, and the rich won't. The next juxtaposition is between hunger and plenty.  The idea is that those who hunger will be satisfied in heaven, while the satisfied will lose theirs.  Next, we have weeping v. laughing.  Same upending of the status quo is going to happen in the next life.  Finally is the big one, being hated v. being loved on earth results in the opposite later.  Taking all of this together, we can see that it is not rich v. poor at stake.  It is worldly v. godly.  The worldly are usually, but not always, rich, well fed, happy, and spoken well of in this earthly life.  The godly are usually, but not always, poor, hungry, weeping, and hated by the world.  Remember, a key phrase spoken by Jesus here is "on account of the Son of Man!"  The poor that Jesus is talking about here are not necessarily monetarily poor but poor in spirit, hungry in spirit, weeping in spirit, hated in spirit, because of Jesus himself.  Likewise, the rich are not necessarily monetarily rich, but are rich in worldliness, healthy, happy, and loved on this earth--because they deny the truth of Christ.  Again, it's all about how we respond to Jesus Christ.  The rich are those who reject him, and their earthly lives improve and go well.  The poor are those who embrace Christ, and their earthly lives are filled with trials and tribulations.  The poor are not poor because they are exploited by the rich, but they are poor because they are IN CHRIST, and Christ has been rejected by the world.  If you are in Christ, you are the poor, and the world hates you and reviles you.

The exploitation of Israel by Egypt is a typology of the overall situation of Christians.  In Exodus 3, God tells Moses, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt (Exodus 3:7-10).” Egypt doesn't represent the rich and Israel the poor.  Egypt represents the world and Israel God's children, those who are in Christ.  Moses stands in for Christ himself, who will bring his children out of the world and into their everlasting inheritance.  What follows is a typology of the last days of earth, the ten plagues being the destruction of the world, along with it's "rich," and the protection and freedom of the "poor", the sojourners on earth, the ones who don't belong, because they are Christ's, and they are hated by the world.

That is on the last day.  That is the gathering of God's children.  Christ doesn't have to work on that day.  All he has to do is show up--arrive--and gather up his chicks, his sheep, his wheat.  Christ's work has already been done, and James reveals this work in the last verse of our section: "You have condemned and murdered the righteous person.  He does not resist you."  James is not talking about a poor man but THE poor man, Jesus Christ himself.  Exodus may point to the last days, but Jesus' work was not that of Moses, leading the people of Israel out of Egypt.  Jesus' work was that of the perfect lamb that was slaughtered and its blood spread around the doorframes of the houses of the Israelites.  The heavy work of Christ has already been done, to set apart his people for salvation by dying in their place.  God will pass over his children, his saved, when the day of destruction comes.  In Acts, Peter explains this to a crowd of people:

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. (Acts 3:13-15)

And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. (Acts 3:17-21)

The great news is that the poor and rich are not determined by outward circumstances.  The great news is that all of us are born rich, and we all are guilty of denying Christ.  But hearing the glorious gospel, such as Peter relates above, will change our hearts, if the Holy Spirit wills.  All of us are guilty, but Christ has died for those who believe in him, who repent of their sins, who turn from their wickedness and live.  Become poor, brothers and sisters.  Suffer as Christ suffered.  Cover yourself in his blood and and get "in Christ."  Reject the world and become its enemy.  Put your faith in the one who saves you.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Stones and Serpents

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:1-4)

What causes quarrels and fights among you?  One word: sin.  We all have it.  Even Christians.  the only difference between a Christian sinner and a non-Christian sinner is repentance.  The non-Christian doesn't believe he or she has done anything wrong.  There is no sin. It's "just life." According to the first letter of John, the sinner is aware of his sin and repents.

Why do we sin?  Because we are sinners.  Original sin has been passed down genetically to us through the ages from Adam and Eve.  What sin does is cause us to be extremely selfish.  We desire to satisfy our internal passions--our flesh.  We think only of attaining earthly pleasure.  We desire what we do not have, we covet, and we break the tenth commandment continuously.  That is why that "catch all" commandment is there.  Sometimes we act on it, and we commit murder.  Now, we may not have ever killed anyone, but Jesus said that if one is angry with one's brother or sister, one is a murderer at heart.  If you flippantly call another a fool, or think of someone as lower than yourself, you are committing murder in your heart.

Now, God does want us to ask for things, but there is a difference between earthly things that satisfy our passions and heavenly things that satisfy the soul.  Seeking heavenly things--the kingdom of God and his righteousness--leads to eternal life.  Seeking earthly--worldly, fleshly--things leads to eternal death and ruin. So, it seems clear that we must ask God for eternal things--heavenly things--spiritual things.  But James lets us know that you can ask wrongly for such things--by asking for heavenly things in order to satisfy your earthly passions.  What does this look like?  How does one spend a heavenly gift on earthly, worldly things?  Here is an example: healing.  God heals today.  He repairs people in the flesh.  However, these healings are temporary.  All still die.  The rate is still at 100%.  Healing is a gift from God, but we tend to seek only the temporal, fleshly healing in order to continue to live life in the way we wish.  The healing from above is spiritual.  It is the healing that lasts for eternity.  It is a healing of the soul and a restoration of the God/Man relationship.  Spiritual healing is eternal life.  Do you see how one can ask for the one but only care about the other?  If we focus on the worldly, we end up with neither the worldly nor the heavenly.  Look at some words from Jesus from the sermon on the mount: 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)

When Jesus commands us to ask, he is obviously not talking about asking for worldly things.  He has already spoken extensively in Matthew 6 about not asking for what you want--or even what you need--but seeking alone the kingdom of God and his righteousness--and God will give you what you need.  Not what you want but what you need.  Now, when we get into the next part, we believe we understand that Jesus is saying, and on a certain level, we do.  None of us would give our children bad things, if they asked for good things.  This seems clear.  But here is the issue at hand: we are all children of God, and yet we do not ask for good things.  We do not ask for bread.  We ask for the stone instead.  Why?  Because the world tells us that the stone is preferable to the bread.  Instead of a fish, we ask for a serpent.  Why?  The world has told us that serpents are cool!  No, we should ask for the bread and the fish, and God will happily give us these things, because they are good.  However, remember what James said in his letter?  We tend to ask wrongly.  We want the bread and the fish to satisfy our earthly passions.  Where have we seen this before?

In John 6, Jesus has fed the 5000 bread and fish.  They then chase him down and try to make him king!  Why?  He will be the gravy train, passing out bread and fish each day, and we can live happily ever after, pursuing our earthly pleasures.  Jesus tells them they are seeking the wrong thing.  He is the bread of life.  He is the true nourishment for our souls.  So, when we look at Matthew 7, we see that when God wants us to ask for good things, he wants us to ask for Jesus Christ himself, for he is the only truly good thing.

He has paid our debt of sin for us.  He has forgiven us our debt by spending his blood.  He has given us his righteousness, so that we may stand before the presence of God.  Without Christ's atoning sacrifice, we are still dead in our sins, destined for eternal death.  Thanks be to God for the grace which can only be found in Christ!  Repent of the world and embrace the son!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Christian Use of the Law in Evangelism

Here is a question on yesterday's sermon:

"But when someone sins against us, or we see a Christian brother in gross sin, or our children, we are to go to them and make comment, observations, give warnings, make them accountable. We are not supposed to be blind to others' sins but watch out for them just as they lovingly watch out objectively for us. We make judgment calls but we do not condemn them. When we are speaking to others in a group setting at work we talk about the sinfulness of homosexuality and abortion but not as a condemner but an observer. Wouldn't this be a correct behavior for a Christian?"

Yes, and that points out a difference between the judgment of condemnation, which I preached about yesterday, and the use of law in evangelism.  The sharing of the gospel is also for Christians, and the sharing of the gospel uses the law, which is a right judgment.  We point out to brothers and sisters in Christ where they are violating God's law, and we do so as fellow sinners who are also violating God's law, albeit in different ways.  We are both under the curse of sin, and all we can do is point to Jesus Christ as our only rescuer from under that curse.  When we discipline our children, we show them which of God's commandments they violated, acknowledging that we are sinners, too, and always pointing to Jesus Christ as ready to forgive the sins of those who repent.  Knowing that Jesus died for the sin that they just committed just breaks a child's heart, and they repent, and then they go and ask their sibling (sister in this case) for forgiveness.  This way of discipline is much more productive than condemnation, as it uses the law to point to the gospel, and not as an end unto itself.

Great question!  I hope this clears things up.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)

I visited a man working in his yard to ask him what he thought of Christianity.  When he saw my collar, he took me to his car, opened the passenger door, and there on the dashboard was a little sign that had a gavel with a "no" symbol over it.  He told me that he was against judgment of any kind. I agreed with him that people should not judge each other, because of what it says in the Bible, which I will delve into below.  I did not, however, go further and explain to him that the dashboard sign was a form of judgment on others.  He did, after all, see my collar and immediately take me to the sign.  Wouldn't that mean that he had judged me as a judgmental person?

Many unbelievers' favorite verse in the Bible--usually because it has been told to them and not because they have actually read it or the context--is "judge not," a partial verse. But what does that Bible actually say about judging?  Well, according to James, we are not to speak evil against each other, because speaking evil against or judging another speaks evil against the law and judges the law.  For clarification of this, we need to go, once again, to the sermon on the mount:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

There's our "judge not" fragment.  But there is the second half, too: "that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged."  We, each of us, every human on earth, believer and unbeliever, is under the law of God, exemplified perfectly in the 10 commandments.  We are, likewise, all breakers of the law.  To judge someone else who is under the law, like you are, is to say that you have an understanding of the law, and you do not break it, so you have a right to judge people by the law.  After all, the law is all we have with which to judge others.  So, by calling someone a liar, you are hypocrite, because you also are a liar.  By accusing someone of theft or adultery or hate, you are pointing fingers at yourself, because you also are a thief and an adulterer and a hater.  When I see bumper stickers that say "stop hate" or "stop bullying," I have to shake my head, because we all hate; we all bully; because we are all sinners.  In judging another by the law, which is all we have to judge with, we are putting ourselves above the law, claiming to have a perfect understanding of it, essentially judging the law itself, and by judging the law itself, we judge God himself. By putting ourselves above the law, we end up violating the same law to a greater degree than the one we are judging.

There is only one lawgiver, one who is above the law, God himself, and he is actually not above the law, but he IS the law.  He cannot change his nature: he is perfectly holy and righteous. To say he is above the law is wrong, because if he were above the law, he could alter the law.  To say he is beneath the law is wrong, because that implies another being who is above the law and God would be subject to that new being.  No, God IS the law.  He cannot change it, because it is his nature.  And there is no other law or lawgiver in existence.  This is just the way things work.

James tells us that "there is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and destroy."  There is only one in all the universe who is able to save and destroy, and this is God himself.  You cannot save another human being, and you cannot destroy another human being.  In Matthew 10(28), Jesus tells his disciples, "do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."  Only God can truly destroy.  Man can destroy the body of man, but he cannot destroy the person of man.  He cannot destroy the essence of man.  Only God can do that.  Likewise, only God can save another.  We can save someone physically or emotionally, and we talk about doing those things in our art and literature all the time, but only God can truly save someone.  Jesus tells this to Nicodemus in John 3:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16-21)

God gives eternal life through his son Jesus Christ.  Notice that Christ did not come to judge the world but that the world might be saved through him.  Christ came to save, not to judge.  All are already judged by their works and their breaking of the law, but those who believe in Jesus (have faith) have their sins taken away, and therefore there is no condemnation--no judgment upon those individuals who put their complete, penitent faith in Jesus.  But those who reject the son, they have rejected the father, too.  They are not then placed under condemnation, because they were already under condemnation, under judgment.  Jesus only extracts individuals out of judgment, he does not put them there, because our sin already has well established us there.  The only judgment that is a true judgment is the rejection of the light that has come into the world.  It boils down to one thing: all are under judgment, and anyone who grasps Christ through faith is removed from that judgment.  That is all.

When Jesus talks about the log in our own eye and the speck in our brother's eye, the removal of our log does not come through obeying the law or judging others on their disobedience.  The only way to remove the log is through faith in Christ.  Jesus said himself in John's gospel that the only way out of condemnation is belief in the son, not in any works that we can perform or any pretense of holiness we can drum up.  The log can only be removed through faith, and we can then attempt to remove the speck from our brother's eye by sharing the gospel.

What is the Gospel?  The beautiful gospel, the only truly good news there is, is that God created a way for us to be saved.  Without faith in Christ, we are, all of us, dead in our sins, and we await eternal destruction, eternal ruin.  But God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, to die in our place, to be ruined in our place, so that we might be saved from that same destruction, that same ruin.  He proved this was true by raising Jesus from the dead.  He, too, will raise us all from the dead, those who believe in Jesus to eternal life, and those who reject Jesus to eternal ruin after all.  The only judgment we really should make is the judgment that Jesus was who he claimed to be and that he is our only way to salvation.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Loving Our Neighbor

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:2-12)

This passage is quite clear on the damage that can be done by our words, but I want to focus on verse 9: "With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God."  This bears repeating: we cannot love our God in heaven if we hate other people, who have been created in the image of God.  The ten commandments have been condensed to two by Christ: love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself, but really there is one commandment: love the Lord your God.  If we do not love our neighbor, breaking the second commandment, then we also do not love God, breaking the first.  When Christ says that a "second is like unto it," he's not making the comparison between the word "love" in the first and second great commandments.  He is making a comparison in the objects: loving your neighbor IS loving God.  I'm not saying that your neighbor is God, but you demonstrate your love for God by loving your neighbor.

We learn Christ's take on this in Matthew 15:

1. The Pharisees' "Tradition of the Elders" was geared toward honoring God but not one's neighbor, even one's own parents.  Christ quotes Isaiah when he says to them, "The people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me."

2. What defiles a person is not what goes into him but what comes out of him, because the defiling comes from the heart, not from external sources.  We are not tempted to become sinners, we are sinners who feed on the temptations.

3. The ungodly are offended when they hear this truth, because they so desire to blame their sin on outside influences and environment.  "Not my fault," is the mantra repeated in hell.

4. We are to leave the ungodly alone and let them reap their reward.

5. The ungodly will lead others astray with their words, and both will be lost.

The alternative position is Christ himself.  On the cross, dying, he forgave the ones who killed him.  On the cross, dying, he made sure that his own mother was cared for after his death.  He loved his neighbor to the end.  He took a keen interest in their lives.  He made himself nothing, and made his neighbors everything.  This is how we are to live, but since we can't because of sin, we are to cling to Christ and have his righteousness escort us into God's presence with fear and trembling.

I could end there, but Matthew drives the gospel home powerfully after this segment in the following passage:

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28)

The fact that this appears right after the discussion about the sin of the tongue is no accident.  Here we have an actual sinner, an outsider, who throws herself on Christ's mercy.  The disciples try to get Jesus to send her away, but instead he tests her faith by asking her questions.  We have a demonstration here of the tongue of someone who is outside of Israel saving her from destruction.  Her daughter is healed, demonstrating that God saves all who throw themselves on his mercy.  Those who throw themselves on his mercy can only do so by faith.  She agreed with Christ about her state as a "dog," and that showed true faith.  The unbeliever will stand at the gates of heaven on judgment day and try to convince the Lord to let him in.  The believer will try convince the Lord to shut him out.  The words, "I don't deserve this," come to mind.  For the sake of his son, God brings us into communion with him, and gives us everlasting life, because we have confessed a righteous truth about ourselves (sin) and Jesus (savior).

We also have a scene where the disciples are cursing their neighbor by attempting to send the woman away, and the woman is blessing not only God but asking for the life of her daughter, blessing her neighbor.  She accepts the curses of the disciples, confirming that she deserves to be sent away, but asks Christ to have mercy on her anyway.  He does, and he will have mercy on us, as well, but only through a faith that only God can provide.

How can we be like the Canaanite woman? Thankfully, God knows we have little faith, much less than she has.  But Christ has a God-sized faith, much more than she has.  We, being in Christ by his own will, receive his righteousness as our own, and so we look to Christ's faith to sustain us.  Jesus cries out to God on our behalf.  We are the sick daughter for whom Christ vouches.  He intercedes for us in humility, knowing we are not worthy to receive his gifts, and his faith is worthy enough to get us through the trials of this life and into his holy presence.  By his wounds we are healed, and healed eternally.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Service Not Status

"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." James 3:1

This verse is loaded with many truths about false teaching and Godly teaching.  Christ himself breaks down this verse in Matthew 23.  Here is what we can learn:

1. False teachers are incredibly "law" oriented.  Even their gospel message is actually another dose of law, usually something invented by the teacher himself to try to help his congregation continue to earn their salvation.

2. The law is good, but false teachers do not practice what they preach.  They may seem to hold fast to the letter of the law, but they do not practice the spirit of the law, which includes thought and word.

3. False teachers usually burden their congregations with too much legalism, so that they feel better about themselves.

4. Everything a false teacher does is to gain name recognition and status.

5. Names like "teacher" and "father" are not forbidden, but only when they are used to gain some kind of status among others.

6. This is crucial.  There is only one teacher, one instructor: the Christ.  Earthly teachers are only to point their congregations to the heavenly teacher, who does the heavy lifting through this Spirit.

7. As earthly teachers, we are to submit ourselves to our congregations and serve them, not reap status.  This is the main difference between false teachers and Godly teachers.

Paul has some details to add in his first letter to Timothy:

1. Godly teachers are to call out false teachers, encourage them to teach good doctrine, and exhort them to avoid worldly speculations that come from outside God's word.

2. Stewardship is to be promoted among the clergy, and this service is given to God's teachers from God himself through his Spirit.

3. Teachers must keep Christ's commandments in thought, word, and deed, through faith alone in Christ.

4. When teachers swerve from true faith in Christ and keeping his commandments, the result is vain instruction based completely on keeping artificial laws that understand not the foundation of the scriptures.

As Timothy's mentor, Paul instructed his charge to fold fast to the faith that had been handed down to him, not swerving to the right or the left but to stay focused on the God who made him.  Paul's instruction comes directly from the mouth of Jesus Christ. As perfect teacher, Christ's own teachings pointed to himself, and he submitted himself to mankind, taking the form of a servant, even dying on the cross on our behalf. We conclude with Philippians 2:6-8:

"Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God [status] a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Saturday, October 22, 2016


And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

Then the king called Ziba, Saul's servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master's grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master's grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master's grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David's1 table, like one of the king's sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba's house became Mephibosheth's servants. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king's table. Now he was lame in both his feet. (2 Samuel 9)

1. Christ typology in the Old Testament is NOT allegory.  Christ said that all of the scriptures were about him, and so, if we are able to find Christ in the Old Testament, and the doctrines that we discover in said passage are consistent with the rest of scripture, then we can reveal those doctrines to our congregations without being accused of allegorizing.

2. In this passage David is not standing in for Christ but for the Father in the trinity.

3. Saul is standing in for Adam.  He is the father of all sinful humanity.  His sin is passed down to us.  Saul sinned against God, and the kingdom was taken from him.  He was "kicked" out, as Adam was from the garden of Eden.

4. God wants to show one of Adam's progeny kindness for Jonathan's sake.  Jonathan is standing in for Christ.  Christ is also a descendant of Adam, but he is the firstborn of a new creation.  Just as David wants to show kindness to one of Saul's progeny for Jonathan's sake, God wants to show kindness to sinners for Christ's sake.  All who are IN CHRIST are included in this act of kindness.

5. This son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth, is lame in both feet.  In other words, he is UNABLE to walk in the ways of the Lord.

6. In the presence of David, Mephibosheth falls to his face.  In God's presence, his children repent.

7. David shows kindness for the sake of Jonathan, and the land (as in the promise to Abraham) is restored to Mephibosheth (through Christ).

8. Mephibosheth is to eat at David's table always.  Likewise, God's children will be eating at his table for eternity.

9. Mephibosheth calls himself a "dead dog."  Indeed, we are all dead in sins and in no way can save ourselves.

10. All that belonged to Adam is restored to us through Christ.

11. Angels will serve God's children.

12. Mephibosheth is considered one of David's sons now.  Likewise, we are adopted as sons and daughters of the most high God.  All for the sake of Christ.

13. Mephibosheth had a son, Micah, and the implication is that he was included in the covenant that David made with his father.  Likewise, our children are included in the divine covenant of Christ.

14. Finally, we are reminded again that Mephibosheth was lame in both his feet.  The most important takeaways from this chapter are 1) we are unable to save ourselves and 2) we are restored to God's grace by the merits of his son, Jesus Christ.  Only through Christ can this restoration take place.  We are lame and unable to walk in his statutes, but his obedience, even unto death on the cross, are sufficient for salvation.  Let us repent of our sins and approach the throne of grace with confidence in what Jesus has done for us.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Faith and Works

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good2 is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-26)

This passage needs a careful reading to ensure understanding.  As children of the reformation, we believe that one is justified by faith alone.  Many have tried to set up a contradiction in the scriptures here, because on the surface it seems that James is challenging Paul's "faith alone" assertions.  However, this is not the case, and a careful reading reveals this.

James is in agreement that faith alone saves you, but the question remains: how do you know you have faith?  James is saying that true faith is confirmed by good works.  Without good works, one's faith is not a true faith.  The analogy James uses is that of someone wishing another person well, but not giving that person the things he needs to BE well.  The giving of the thing is the good work that, in this case, proves that the wishing of the person well is done by true faith.  The wishing without the giving is a sign of a false faith.  "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

Now, James immediately clarifies his point, because he anticipates the next logical assertion.  The assertion is, "so, because I'm doing good works, therefore I have true faith."  This is not true, and James needs to stop it in its tracks.  Many countless people in the world then and today do good things for their neighbors without having a saving faith in Jesus Christ.  The assertion, "well, I must have a true faith, because I'm doing good works," needed to be addressed at once.  James writes, "but someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.'"  This is his way of writing that false assertion, "I must have a saving faith, because I'm doing good works."  James responds, "show me your faith APART from works, and I will show you my faith by my works."  Right.  All the good works do not matter if you don't have the saving faith.  Well, the obvious question is, "If my good works do not show you my faith, then how do I show you my faith?"  There's obviously something more needed.  The easy answer is, "does the person confess Christ?"  That's the easy answer.  Someone can build all the hospitals in the world, but if they do not believe in Jesus Christ for their redemption, then they do not have a true faith.  Crystal clear.  BUT, we have a problem.  Many confess faith in Jesus Christ AND have good works, but they do not REALLY have a saving faith in Christ.  What about them?  How can we TELL if they have a true faith?  James says, "I will show you my faith by my works."  So, the answer to that lies in the works themselves.  There must be a nuance between works that look like they are good works and actual good works.  Building hospitals and helping the homeless may be good works, but are they actual good works in God's eyes?  Anyone can do those things, even without a saving faith in Jesus Christ, so there must be ACTUAL good works that reveal a TRUE saving faith in Jesus Christ.  What are they?

James affirms this line of thought by writing, "You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe--and shudder!"  You see, the demons believed, but they did not have a saving faith in Christ.  So, one who confesses faith in Christ may be like a demon: having belief but not a true, saving faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.  So, now, James is going to reveal a couple of true good works as examples to us, so we will know what a true, good work actually is.

The first example is Abraham and Isaac.  His offering of his son on the altar to God was a work, but James lets us know that Abraham's faith was active along with this work, and his faith was COMPLETED by his work with Isaac.  James writes that this act shows true belief.  He believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.  Now, this verse in Genesis happens before the attempted sacrifice, so Abraham had the faith already, but this act completed and fulfilled his true faith.

The second example is that of Rahab the prostitute in Jericho, when she protected the Israelite messengers from her people.  Her life was spared by the act, but this act is also to have had a true faith supporting it, and the act COMPLETED the saving faith.  Now, let's look at what is similar between these acts.

Let's look at the Rahab event first.  From Joshua 2, we learn

1) Rahab was a prostitute, a sinner.  In God's eyes, we are all prostitutes.

2) Rahab takes God's church into her home.

3) The unbelieving world demands she betray the church and give it up.

4) Rahab lies to the world to protect the church.

5) Rahab fears (has a penitent faith in) the Lord, because she has heard the gospel through the details of the Red Sea event and destruction of unbelieving kingdoms, and her heart has been melted.

6) Rahab confesses God as the one, true God.

7) Rahab pleads for mercy for her family.

8) The church agrees to save her and her family alive.

9) Rahab helps the church escape persecution.

10) Rahab ties a scarlet cord to her window and gathers all of her family in that one dwelling.  Everyone in that room (ark) is protected from the destruction of Jericho (flood).

11) Rahab keeps the truth in her heart.

Going over to Genesis 22, here is what we can learn from the sacrifice of Isaac:

1) God tested Abraham by commanding him to take his son and offer him up as a burnt offering.

2) Abraham did not hesitate to obey.  What follows is a "dress rehearsal" for Christ's crucifixion.

3) Abraham did not withhold his son from God, but he knew that God would provide a lamb for the sacrifice.

4) The ram that God provides foreshadows his sending his son Jesus to be a pure sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

5) Because of Abraham's obedience, his spiritual posterity will be saved.

Let's see if we can find some overlap between these points.  Where are the good works located?  In the Jericho event, Rahab does two main things: she protects the church and the is obedient to the church's instructions.  In the Moriah event, Abraham obeys God directly.  So, the overlap would be obedience to God.  But there is a crucial detail about the obedience that I think is important.  The obedience involves a pre-creation, a foreshadowing of Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf for the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation.  So, if we simplify this, then it must mean that any "good work" is going to involve presenting the gospel.  Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac was an elaborate demonstration of what God would do for us on Calvary. Rahab's tying of the red cord to her window revealed her faith in Christ to come and saved her family from destruction.  Any good work that we do today, be it helping the downtrodden, rescuing someone from danger, or building a treehouse for a kid: to make it a "good work" one has to attach the activity to Christ's gospel.

It may seem like a daunting task, but remember that Christ always did it.  He taught in parables that compared the kingdom of God to everyday things and activities.  He healed and helped others always as a demonstration of the physical side of the gospel, foreshadowing everlasting life.  And he sacrificed himself on behalf of others, which we do in little ways for the ones we love.  To show that one has true faith, one attaches the gospel message to his or her good work.  Christ shared the gospel with us in everything he did.  We share the gospel with others out of great love and respect for the one who died for us.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:12-13)

This pair of verses in James is so important to understanding how Christianity differs from every other religion in the world.  Two ideas need to be defined: the law of liberty and mercy.  The former we discussed in detail a few sermons back, but in short it means that the law we are under before salvation is a law based on works and merit, a failing attempt to save ourselves.  After salvation, the law we are under is a law of liberty, Christ's commandments carried out because of gratitude.  Christ liberates us from death and hell, and we respond by being obedient to his commandments.  Only through faith is this possible.  If we don't believe, we won't respond.

The same goes for mercy, and this is the key to understanding how Christianity differs from all the other religions.  All other religions say, "if you are merciful, then God will be merciful to you."  Indeed, there are places where it seems Christianity is saying the same thing.  Matthew 6:14 has Jesus saying, "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you."  This is one of those places in scripture where it is best to know the Greek over the English translation.  Many will take this as a call to salvation by works, but such a work as mercy or forgiveness is only possible through grasping Jesus Christ by faith.  The only way to grasp Christ by faith is to believe the Gospel, which states, "he first forgave us."  Believe this and you will live.

The best place to explore the difference between Christianity's view of showing mercy and the other religions and philosophies is where an incorrect view of God is revealed--Job.  In Job 22, Eliphaz chastizes Job in the following manner:

Is not your evil abundant?
There is no end to your iniquities.
For you have exacted pledges of your brothers for nothing
and stripped the naked of their clothing.
You have given no water to the weary to drink,
and you have withheld bread from the hungry.
The man with power possessed the land,
and the favored man lived in it.
You have sent widows away empty,
and the arms of the fatherless were crushed.
Therefore snares are all around you,
and sudden terror overwhelms you,
or darkness, so that you cannot see,
and a flood of water covers you. (Job 22:5-11)

Eliphaz is telling Job that God is punishing him because of his lack of showing mercy to others.  In other words, like all the other religions, unless we show mercy to others, God will not show mercy to us.  Remember, Eliphaz is WRONG!  God chastises him later.  Eliphaz is wrong about Job and about God.  Job was blameless, and God wasn't punishing him for not being merciful.  God was showing his sovereignty in that only he has the power to give and take away.  Only he protects.  Only he saves.  Eliphaz is practicing a different religion.  He is worshiping a different God.  He is worshiping the false god that all the other religions worship, the god of karma, the god who visits punishments on those who deserve them.  But mercy is NOT getting what we deserve.  And grace is getting what we DON'T deserve.

I keep returning to the parable of the unforgiving servant (the end of Matthew 18) because it is the best example in scripture.  The king forgives the servant's debt FIRST.  The servant responds by showing NO MERCY to someone who owes him.  The king responds to the unmerciful servant by withdrawing his mercy.  In life, forgiveness of debt is extended to all people, but many reject it, because the only way to accept it is by faith in Jesus.  The fruit of faith in Christ is continual repentance which manifests itself in love for neighbor--mercy towards one's neighbor.

So, in Matthew 25, when the sheep and goats are judged at the end of the age, the ones who show mercy inherit the kingdom.  But they inherit the kingdom not because they showed mercy, but because they believed the gospel, which declares that God showed mercy to us through his son Jesus Christ.  The inheritors of the kingdom respond to God's merciful sacrifice in Christ by repenting and putting their full faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of the their sins.  This belief manifests itself in mercy and forgiveness towards our neighbor, even our enemies.

The kingdom of heaven is at hand!  Repent and believe the gospel!  Show mercy as you have been shown mercy.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. (James 2:8)

We've been exploring what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.  It depends on our definition of "love," but we need to know the Bible's definition of love to be certain we are loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Go to Leviticus 19.  This is the chapter after the infamous Leviticus 18, which deals with unlawful sexual relations and includes child sacrifice (sacrificing one's child to Molech in OT times, but abortion would fit nicely in that passage today).  Chapter 19 deals mostly with theft and ripping others off.  What 18 and 19 have in common is loving one's neighbor as oneself.  If you love your neighbor, you do NOT have immoral sexual relations with them, of the kind described in chapter 18, and you do NOT take advantage of their class and financial difficulties, as described in chapter 19.  Here is the part of Chapter 19 that deals with robbing one's neighbor:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.

“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.

“You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:9-18)

Punctuated with God's holy name, the laws come tumbling in: we are not to steal, to deal falsely; we are not to lie; we are not to swear by God's name falsely. Profaning the name of the Lord by swearing falsely by his name can be connected with the same Hebrew language in chapter 18: child sacrifice also profanes the name of the Lord.  Why? Because when one takes the life of a child, one is calling into question God's judgment in giving life to that child in the first place.  This is the same as swearing falsely--blasphemy.  We are not to withhold earnings that another deserves by working.  The pair of commandments about the blind and deaf show how we can take advantage of the weaker members of society.  We are not to drag others into court.  We are to show partiality neither to the poor NOR the rich.  We are to judge others righteously (note that we are still to judge, but righteously).  Next, there is another verse about NOT standing up against the LIFE of your neighbor.  See how loving one's neighbor involves standing up for LIFE, not death?  Finally, God begins to add murder into the mix (hating your brother in your heart). We do not argue, either, but reason frankly.  We do not take vengeance, but we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  See how we stretched out over many of the ten commandments, including the fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth?  If we include the verses in Leviticus 19 not covered here, loving our neighbor includes keeping ALL of the commandments.  And we know that by loving our neighbor, whom we have seen, we prove that we love God, whom we have not seen.

But there is this one place at the beginning of the passage that we have not covered, and to leave it out would be to feed you all law and no gospel.  The passage in Leviticus 19 begins with a positive command, and it's one that is both easy and difficult to keep.  It also points us to Christ and what he did for us as our kinsman redeemer.  The verses in question are 9&10: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.  These are beautiful verses because they speak of giving of oneself to the needy, in a charitable way, of course, but not in the way that we are used to.  We don't live in an agrarian society anymore, and the parts of our society that are agriculturally based do not follow this gentle command at all.  We are a consumer-driven society that uses things up at a very quick rate under the guise of "not wasting."  God counters this concept with, "you cannot waste, because everything is mine."  We may not have a crop, and we may not have a harvest (and if we do, we tend to not let any part slip through the cracks), but we do have stuff that wears out and gets thrown away or sold (instead of given away), and we do have food leftovers that get thrown away or stashed in the fridge, where they are forgotten about and eventually thrown out.  This is what we all do.  But this passage is telling us that we should let things go and give them away.  We should not care about getting our money back, or some part of it, but give away what we don't need, to show the sojourner that we care.  To love our neighbors as ourselves.

Now look at Ruth 2.  Ruth is "gleaning" in Boaz's field (collecting the leftovers that God instructs us to leave behind in Leviticus 19).  Listen to verses 14-16: And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”  Boaz goes beyond the gleaning rule.  He even pulls some of the already-bundled barley out and lets her have it.  He even gives her roasted grain.  He even gives her bread and wine (Holy Communion!).  He goes far beyond what we would, because Boaz is a type and shadow of Christ, who loves his church and gives far beyond what is expected to satisfy it.  Just as Boaz redeems and marries Ruth, so Jesus redeems and marries his church.  Psalm 34:22 reads, "The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned."  Our God is the God of Life.  He gave us life, and he died to save our lives.  Put your faith in him, take refuge, and you will not be condemned.

So, in answer to James' implied question, "how do I love my neighbor as myself?" the answer is to allow your neighbor to glean.  Give away what you don't need.  Jesus, however, gave to us more than we could ask or imagine.  We begged for bread, and he gave us the bread of life.  We prayed to glean, to eat the crumbs from his table, and he gave us life everlasting, the kingdom of heaven, eternal relationship with the triune God in Heaven.  The least we can do in response is to love our neighbor, allow our neighbor to glean.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Poor

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? (James 2:1-7)

Remembering that James is addressing Christians, he reminds his audience to show no partiality between classes of people.  Why?  Well, first, God shows no partiality (in either direction; rich or poor).  Now, this letter assumes that any partiality will be for rich over poor, and indeed that slant has been the case throughout history, although these days we tend to politically slant in favor of the poor, just because of the class itself, in order to earn merit with our fellow men, and oftentimes we can earn a great deal of wealth from championing the poor.  God judges the heart of a person, and so should we. Not all poor are righteous, and not all rich are unrighteous.  Historically, and even today, the rich have a more difficult time being rich in faith because they have the obstacle of wealth.  Wealth and its benefits are able to block a person's spiritual development, and keep them away from a close communion with God.  So, we are not to judge on appearances but on the fruit of faith, a righteous judgment that God approves of.  The fruit of faith is easy to detect in rich and poor.  It comes out in behavior that keeps or violates God's commandments.  Unfaithful rich are easy to pick out, because they violate the commandments by outwardly oppressing others.  The rich are usually the oppressive ones.  They are usually the ones who sue others, and they are usually the ones who blaspheme God, Christ, and Christians in thought, word and deed.  However, the poor class can violate the commandments, too, usually in the realm of self-abuse, which is the inward sin manifesting itself in the flesh.  And one does not need wealth in order to blaspheme God.  Many in the world today, rich and poor, disgrace the name of God with their tongues.

Now, let's look at this a different way.  The pharisees were usually wealthy people.  They were legalists, in that they kept the letter of the law, but not the spirit, and they judged others on whether they kept the letter of the law or not.  At the same time, they were antinomians in spirit, because they did whatever they wanted to, violating the spirit of God's commandments, and encouraging others to do likewise.  These are the people who persecuted Christ and stirred up the Gentiles in order to have Jesus crucified.  Christ was poor in class, and so were his followers, but Christ was rich in faith.  He was sinless, and he had the deepest of connections with the Father.  Christ was judged on his appearance, but the pharisees never were able to condemn him on his thoughts, words, or deeds.  However, due to their sin, the pharisees oppressed him.  They captured him and took him to court, where the blasphemed him and persecuted him.  Later they would do the same to Christians.  They killed Christ, and they rallied up the rest of the world to participate in his crucifixion. 

Christ is "the poor." We are not to be partial to the poor class because they are poor.  We are to be partial to Christ because he is The Poor.  The second part of the Trinity volunteered to be the poor, in order to be rich in faith and the heir of the kingdom.  Anyone IN Christ is "the poor" as well and will be an heir of the kingdom through Christ.  This he has promised to those who love him.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Religion Pure and Undefiled

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)

Psalm 39, one of my favorites, is a perfect illustration of what James calls the difficulty in maintaining true religion.  The sentiments of this psalm work in any time period. We are always in a struggle to, as James tells us, bridle our tongues and practice pure and undefiled religion before God the Father.  Remember that sin covers thought, WORD and deed, so violating God's law is not restricted to just acting.  Murdering someone with your hands is prohibited, but Jesus said that being angry with your neighbor falls into the same category.  All ten commandments can be broken by deed and thought.  The tenth commandment is a violation of thought in and of itself.  All ten commandments can be violated by word as well.  So, lying is directly prohibited by the ninth commandment, but slander violates the sixth and perverted speech violates the seventh.  Talking disrespectfully to your parents violates the fifth.  Of course, there's blaspheming God, either directly or through bad worship.  The point is that the spoken word can be just as sinful as any physical act.

So, here is Psalm 39, a wonderful psalm, and it covers the struggle that we undergo to attempt to follow God and not the world.  We try to not sin with our tongues, especially in the presence of the ungodly.  They will either suck us into their way of life, or they will ridicule us as hypocrites.  Either way, this disrespects God.  Have you noticed how our language changes, depending on the company we keep?  The scriptures tell us to keep silent in the midst of the wicked.  But this becomes a struggle.  Even David had trouble keeping silent and "hold his peace."  But his distress increased, because the world will never stop attacking us in its attempt to either suck us in or show us up.  David responds to his agony with a direct prayer to God.  Is the prayer for the power to keep silent?  No, the prayer is for an acute awareness of how short his own life is.  By being always mindful of how fleeting life is, he puts more hope in the Lord, and this sentiment culminates in the line, "I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it." (39:9)  Obedience to the Lord comes from maximizing the Lord himself, seeking out his glory and righteousness, and minimizing ourselves as sinners in need of salvation.  When Christ's glory is made paramount, obedience to God's word necessarily follows.  This is how we keep ourselves "unstained" from the world.  It's not about trying harder to resist, but putting our focus on Christ and his glory, and only thinking of ourselves as wretched sinners in need of salvation.

Notice that in the practice of pure and undefiled religion before God, the qualifier "the Father" is added.  Why that singular aspect of the trinity?  Well, let's understand what orphans and widows means.  Elsewhere in scripture, orphans are more referred to as "the fatherless."  Widows are, of course, without husbands.  In both cases, there is a male, guiding figure missing.  We know from the scriptures that the father/husband is supposed to fill in Christ's role for the family, guiding the members in godly instruction and leading them to salvation, reminding of them the gospel of grace.  Many fail in this role, but this is the godly role of the man, a great burden that holds them accountable for the well-being of their families.  So, to visit widows and orphans in their affliction means what?  To restore the missing Father/Husband.  To show these people Christ, and to instruct them in biblical principles.  To re-establish a right relationship between these people and God.  With this in mind, even though we are to aid and support actual widows and orphans (as our neighbors), however this opens up the category to everyone: all are without fathers, if they don't have Christ, and all are without the guiding husband of Christ, if they are outside the true church.   

So, in Matthew 25, when Christ talks about visiting the "least of these" in their affliction--clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, giving drink to the thirsty--an implied aspect of "visiting" is sharing the gospel in order to restore the "father/husband" relationship to that person.  In preaching Christ, and through the repentance of the one in need, he or she is born again as a child of God and as a member of the universal, invisible church.  Just providing for the needs of the people is not enough.  Without Christ preached, the ungodly remain ungodly.  Christ came to save sinners.  Without an awareness of sin and a need for Christ, the most physically cared-for person on earth will be lost forever.

Finally, remember that Christ himself practiced pure and undefiled religion before his Father in heaven.  Psalm 39 can be read from the mouth of Christ.  He visited the widows and orphans in their affliction, those widows and orphans being all of mankind, who are without the God figure in our lives.  He restored our relationship with God the Father and as members of the church with Christ as the head, our husband.  He restored this relationship by temporarily breaking his own relationship with the Father.  That is why we see Jesus cry out in Mark 15, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  He took upon him the punishment that we deserved, breaking his bond with the Father, in order to seal the bond between repentant sinners and the Father they had lost.  Jesus never opened his mouth.  He kept himself unstained from the world.  He never tried to "play along" and he never opened his Father up to attack because of foolish talk.  Jesus never sinned.  He was a perfect, obedient servant.  He was everything we fail to be.  Thanks be to God for his grace and mercy through is Son Jesus Christ!  We can be forever connected with our Father and restored to our Husband.  All thanks to Christ's perfect life and redeeming sacrifice.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Law of Liberty

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25)

1. Be doers of the word.  Is this Law?  No, this is living in the new covenant of grace, because anyone still living in the old covenant is unable to be a doer of the word.  Look at what Jesus says about being a doer of the word: 

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21:28-32)

The first son, who did the will of his father, was a doer of the word, because he not only heard his father, he took in the truth of his father's word in his heart.  Even though he spoke with his lips that he did not wish to go, he went anyway, because the truth of the father's word compelled him.  Doing the word is not an act of man, but an act of God.  Likewise, those with faith in Christ will be saved, because their faith is a penitent faith that comes from a broken heart from sin, a deep repentance that brings them into doing the word, not to earn God's favor but to express gratitude for Jesus saving them.  Only sinners can express such gratitude.

2. Looking intently at our natural faces.  This is essentially desiring to please man rather than God.  We are exercising the original sin of Adam, to live without God and to put ourselves first in all things.  See what Paul says here to the Romans:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:21-23)

All man-made successes in this life, all philosophies and religions, are futility.  It is as if one looked into a mirror at oneself and then forgot himself, because he had denied the truth.  All of our operations are a turning away from God. They are futility.  Turning to God's truth, incorporating it in our hearts, will turn us away from the mirror, away from ourselves, and turn us towards God's word.  Jesus said the truth will set us free, and the truth is found in Jesus himself. 

3. What is the Law of Liberty?  The best answer for this can be found a little further down in James.  Remember, Jesus saves us of his own will and choice.  We contribute nothing to our salvation.  We did not earn it.  How do we react to this truth?  With gratitude, with love for God.  How do we show and invisible God that we love him?  By loving those we CAN see, those whom God has made.  James 2:8 reads, "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well."  Jesus told a parable that really brings love for God home:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35)

The unforgiving servant was only a hearer of the word.  He did not DO.  What does DOING look like?  Forgiving his neighbor would have shown the king his love for him.  Do you see?  God is invisible but our neighbor is not.  When we show our neighbor that we love him, we show God that we love HIM.  The doing is compelled by the love that is brought forth by the Holy Spirit in all whom Jesus has saved.  That is why many will hear the gospel, but only some will truly follow Christ.

4. The Law of Liberty is freedom.  Peter summarizes everything I said above with these two verses: Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:16-17)  Christ has set us free, from sin, but if we continue in unrepentant sin, then we never incorporated that freedom into our lives.  How do we know someone whom Christ has set free?  By his love for his neighbor.  The unrepentant sinner will only use his freedom as a cover to continue sinning.  This one has not been regenerated at all!

Think of your sin.  Think of the debt you owe to God.  Realize that you will never pay it.  Now realize that Christ has paid the price for your sin.  You are free, but true freedom is loving your neighbor and not a continuance of selfish living.  Being a doer of the word--only through the act of Christ on the cross and the response of love in your heart by the Holy Spirit--will truly set you free.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Implanted Word

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:19-21)

Here is some godly advice from James that seems so simple on the surface, but our sinfulness keeps us from properly exercising it:

1) Be quick to hear. Hearing isn't just listening.  It's taking what you hear and storing it in your heart.  It's following godly advice and rejecting ungodly advice.  It's forming a deep heart knowledge that changes us.  As Christians, we have been opened to the truth.  The Holy Spirit causes us to thirst for truth.  It is food for our souls, and so we must receive it with meekness and quietude.  We can't hear anything, if our mouths are open and running.  Ecclesiastes 5 reads, "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil."  We are so desperate to prove ourselves to God that we just barge in and begin to offer ourselves.  First we must listen to his words, because his is the purest of wisdom and can only be the most helpful of advice.  Chances are, what we were about to say becomes unnecessary.  We didn't need to say it.  "Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth."  Know where you stand.  The greatest of earthly wisdom is but the braying of a donkey compared to the least wisdom from heaven.  God is omnipotent.  Of course we must listen to him before attempting to offer him anything we may have figured out on earth.  "Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool's voice with many words." We feel we need to defend our positions to each other and to God.  This advice goes against our grain.  Shut up and listen!  Let your words be few, if any!

2) Be slow to speak. Proverbs 10:19 reads, "When words are many, transgression is not lacking," showing us that the incessant talker is ever closer to sinning than the quiet one. "But whoever restrains his lips is prudent." Proverbs 17:27 reads, "Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding."  Talking is like a leak in a balloon.  The more air comes out, the smaller the balloon gets, until it is completely deflated.  We open our mouth to prove ourselves, and the nonsense comes out, and then all of our knowledge and understanding goes with it.  In a world where we are encouraged to defend and prove ourselves, this seems like contrary advice.

3) Be slow to anger. Notice anger and incessant talking are linked.  Have you ever heard someone talk constantly and not stop?  It seems like they are angry, even if they aren't.  Proverbs 14:29 reads, "Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly."  Listening and hearing and storing truth in your hearts does not provoke anger.  It calms you.  So, we have three things linked on each side of the line.  On one side we have talkativeness, anger and foolishness, and on the other we have silence, righteousness, and wisdom.  Let's add a fourth thing:

4) Filthiness and rampant wickedness is the seed of foolish talk and anger.  The following passage (Colossians 3:1-10) brings much clarity:

"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator."

Sin, folly, anger, and loquaciousness are linked, but what of the opposite?  If sin brings out rambling, anger, and foolishness, what brings out peace, wisdom, and righteousness?

5) The Implanted Word is the source.  Whereas the former things are symptoms of an unchecked sinful life, the Bible itself is the source of righteousness and wisdom.  All truth is in the pages of scripture, and we need to be silent and calm to receive it.  We receive God's Word with meekness, not anger.  An angry babbler cannot even hear a voice calling out to him, much less implant God's word in his heart.

James 3:13 reads, "Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom."  The gospel saves our souls. 1 Cor 15:1-2 reads, "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain."  The end result is the saving of our souls, which glorifies God, so be silent and listen.

Having trouble yet?  Of course, because our sinful nature is tearing at us, getting us to open our mouths and defend ourselves, angrily for effect!  But God has given us his gospel, and all words in the Bible point to his gospel.  The focus is Jesus Christ alone, and when we look at his life, we see that to follow James' commands in this section is to be in Christ:

Jesus was quick to hear.  He listened to everyone who approached him, even his enemies.  He only spoke truth.  He never let anything false come from his lips.  He was slow to speak.  He didn't even defend himself to Pilate, and Pilate still found him innocent.  When he did speak, everything he said was Biblical and true.  Jesus was slow to anger.  The only incident we have of anger, really, is when he cleansed the temple.  This, of course, was foreshadowing the day of wrath, when he cleanses the earth of all the ungodly.  Jesus' anger is a righteous anger, without malicious intent or foolhardiness.  His is an effective anger, a holy anger, a heroic anger, the climactic ending of an epic story where the evil and wicked finally get their comeuppance, and the ones who stood on the side of their righteous leader when he was ridiculed are saved forever.  Jesus was without sin, so he had no source of foolishness, rambling, or petty anger.  Jesus himself IS the implanted word.  He is the righteousness of God.  God plants him in our hearts.  We receive him with meekness, not anger.  His glory calms us, prevents us, stops our mouth.  The gospel silences everyone.  Jesus opens our ears; he opens our hearts.  He bestows wisdom upon us.  Right and wrong become easy to discern.  Jesus saves our souls.  He snatches us from the fire.  He lay down his life on our behalf.  He died in our place, and we live because of him.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

And All Jerusalem

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1-12)

I was reading this passage to my little ones, and the doctrines of grace just came flooding out so clearly, that I had to share.  Remember the acrostic TULIP.  It is

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

You are wretched sinner, but God chose you before the foundation of the world, died on the cross for you, and now his Holy Spirit has brought you to faith and repentance in Christ, and he will never lose you from his grasp.  This is a beautiful message of redemption that should give peace to all who hear it.  This passage from Matthew also gives amazing encouragement to our hearts today when we read it, because

1) Wise men from the east are gentiles, born in the flesh outside of God's covenant people, and yet he has included them in the new covenant in Christ.  God has chosen people outside of the lineage of Abraham and has died for them.  They are sheep that were originally outside of the fold, but they have now been included in the fold, just like you and me.  The Holy Spirit has filled them with an irresistible grace that has brought them in search of Jesus.  We, too, when we are converted, seek Jesus with all of our hearts, and we find him in the pages of scripture.  We follow the star of the word of God to where it leads: the Christ of the Bible and no other.  We know Jesus through worshiping him in truth and love.

2) The unbelieving world is outside the covenant of grace, and it becomes troubled when it hears about Christ.  Notice the words "and all Jerusalem with him."  This isn't the rejection of Christ by one depraved individual.  No, this is the whole community of people who believed themselves to be inside the covenant.  All of Jerusalem was troubled. We know from scripture that many Jews came into the new covenant by faith, but many did not.  Here we have all of Jerusalem standing in for the unbelieving world.  Likewise, our current world--the secular world and the false church--not only rejects Jesus but tries to figure out how to do away with him altogether.

3) The false church attempts to flatter the people of the new covenant, so that many will fall away.  Remember from Daniel 11: "Many shall join themselves to them with flattery, and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white..."  The wise men are flattered but they withstand the temptations.  Likewise, the false church attempts to sway true believers to its side, but we persevere.

4) Although we are wretched sinners, when we lay hold of Christ, we rejoice exceedingly.  He has saved us from our sins.  We are forgiven!  Our only true response is worship!  We lay our gifts--ourselves, our souls and bodies--at his feet as an insufficient sacrifice.  It's all we have, it's tainted by sin, and yet God accepts it on the merits of his son. 

5) God keeps us from falling away himself.  The wise men are warned in a dream not to return to Herod.  Likewise, God's spirit within us keeps us from aligning ourselves with the false church.  Our ears become stopped to the syrupy sweet words.  Our hearts withstand all temptations to save ourselves by our own efforts, and we only make any move toward Christ because God has drawn us out of our selfish grave clothes like Lazarus hearing the powerful words of his Lord and Savior: "Come out!"

6) Finally, Christ shows us the way to live.  It is narrow and difficult, but it leads to our own country.  The wise men were shown a safe way back to their country, and that country is owned and ruled by Christ.  It was a place once excluded from God's kingdom, but now it is included, while his own city of Jerusalem has rejected him.  Likewise, God sets up his residence in the hearts of the faithful, who have been chosen from before time began, and he lives there forever.  He changes our wretched hearts of stone into palaces of light, worthy of holding him.  His blood washes away all of our sins, and we fall to our knees in thankfulness due to his irresistible grace.  Finally, we persevere to the end, because his will is all-powerful, and not one of his children will be lost.