Saturday, March 26, 2016

Prayers of the Risen Christ

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. (Colossians 3:1-7)

Setting our minds on things that are above, and not on things that are on earth, applies continually in life, especially spiritually.  Putting our hope in the next life instead of this one is a good rule of thumb to follow.  However, this also applies to scripture. Today, we celebrate Christ's rising from the dead, the firstfruits of the promise of God that we are justified in his sight.  No matter how wretched and sinful we have been in this life, if we are "in Christ," we are accepted into the heavenly places by faith in Christ alone. All the Bible is about this message, from the clear and straightforward passages of scripture to the difficult parts, which require other clear passages for interpretation.  However, when we read scripture, we tend to read ourselves into the text instead of Christ, even when Christ tells us that scripture is all about him.

I want to look at the end of Job, because this is a book of the Bible that everyone tends to read himself into. Granted, there are parts of Job that we can apply to us directly, things like the famous line from Job 19: "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth."  Like Job, we know that our redeemer lives, but even this text points to Christ.  Job prophesies that Christ will stand upon the earth long after Job himself is not.

The reason we tend to read ourselves into Job is because 1) Job is a person, 2) We are people, 3) Job suffers, 4) We suffer.  Job is real to us.  But there are some very significant aspects that point to Job being a type and shadow of Christ. 1) Job suffers undeservedly and 2) Job is rewarded at the end of his narrative with greater prosperity than he had at the start. As a man, Job is still sinful, because all people are sinful, but that's not the purpose of the book.  He is shown not to be sinful but instead, "blameless and upright."  The only one who ever walked the earth blameless and upright was Christ himself.  Also, and this is the real reason we want to read ourselves into the story of Job, his being rewarded with greater prosperity makes us believe that if we suffer like Job, we will be rewarded, too, here on earth, with wealth and health and good relationships.  This aspect of Job also points to Christ and him alone.  Why? Because Christ truly suffered undeservedly and his is the only restoration to his previous state that not only should be expected but should be encouraging to us.  We personally may be given prosperous outcomes here on earth, but if we expect an end result like Job's we will not only be disappointed, but we can even harm ourselves and others, spiritually.  We can fall away from the faith, because we never had a true faith in Christ, and we can lead others astray.

Many figures in the Bible undergo similar misreadings. Look at Joseph, son of Jacob. He is a type of Christ, a type that saves the faithful. If I read myself as Joseph, I fail. Look at David. He is a type of Christ, a type that conquers evil. If I read myself as David, I fail. Job is a type of Christ that suffers on our behalf, even though we deserve the suffering and he does not. If I read myself as Job, I fail.  Look at Philippians 2:5-11:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by 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. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is the story of Job in a nutshell: Christ as God, emptying himself and suffering on our behalf, only to have all of his fortunes restored to an even greater position than before.  This is who Job is pointing to: Jesus, not us.  But we should look at the text of Job 42 to be certain.

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,

and repent in dust and ashes.”

This first part is that of repentance.  We can read ourselves into this.  Even though Job is considered upright and blameless, he is in such awe of God by the end of this book, he can only "despise himself and repent." This is how we should see ourselves in relation to God. Remember, the worst failure of a Christian is made righteous in God's eyes by Christ, and the greatest triumph of an ungodly person is worthless in God's eyes because of lack of Christ. Only by the risen Christ is this paradox even possible.

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job's prayer.

Now, we move from Job as man to Job as type and shadow of Christ--specifically the risen Christ.  If we want to identify, let us identify with Job's friends, who acted self-righteous and dispensed wrongheaded advice to Job throughout the book.  Look at the prayer the Lord requests of Job.  This is not a prayer of need, but a prayer of salvation.  This is a prayer of intercession for redemption.  We know this because God says, "I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly." Only Christ can intercede in such a way for us. True, we can pray for people's needs, we can pray that an individual will repent and put their faith in Christ. We can pray for people to be saved.  But our prayers don't actually save people.  Christ saves people.  Our prayers ask Christ to intervene. Christ's prayers actually intervene. Also note the sacrifice of animals that points to the ultimate sacrifice.  Christ redeems people through his sacrifice on the cross.  All who put their trust in him are redeemed.  This faith, too, is a gift from God.

And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 

Here is the danger zone.  If we read ourselves as Job for this last part, we will get the impression that if we pray for the salvation of our friends, the Lord will reward us with material blessings.  Yes, he rewards his children, but he does so with heavenly blessings, which is what our Colossians passage above is focusing on. These are spiritual blessings that come by faith.  If we fall into a "God is a genie" realm and believe that if we perform magic rituals, God will give us our heart's material desire, we end up disappointed at best and lost at worst.

In Romans 5:19, Paul writes, "For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." This sentence is referring to Adam and Christ respectively, but I have seen pastors take this verse to mean that if we are obedient, we will make others righteous. Why would I want others' salvation to depend on my obedience, when I am still a wretched sinner?  Christ is working in me, but I still have a far distance to travel.  Why would God put others' salvation in my hands? No, the truth is much more encouraging. My salvation, and yours, are in Christ's hands alone.  We are made righteous through Christ's obedience only, the obedience of a servant who gave up everything and suffered to the point of death on a cross for the forgiveness of all our sins.

This is the good news that we find in Job and everywhere else in the Bible. There is no better news.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Sea of Glass

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,

‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:1-13)

In this passage for Palm Sunday, we have the conquering king entering his city gates to many loud hosannas, and then he goes into the temple and cleanses it of the defiled market it had become. This is a passage of Christ's victory over his enemies, but we look at it in an historical context and think of it as something that happened long ago.  We try to recapture the "feeling" of the triumphal entry by waving palm fronds and shouting "hosanna" at the top of our lungs, but in the end, the scene alone doesn't seem to have any meaning for us, except to see something historical in the life of Jesus, especially knowing that he is triumphantly entering Jerusalem in order to die.  The crucifixion has meaning for us, because Christ dies for the forgiveness of our sins, but this triumphal entry seems to be a pit-stop on the way to the important event. We think, if these cheering people only knew what was going to happen to Jesus here, they probably wouldn't be cheering. However, this scene, like all conquering king scenes in the Bible, are meant to point us to something in addition to the immediate historical context. Let's look a similar scene from Revelation:

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:1-4)

Here is some "end of the world" stuff to compare to the triumphal entry. It seems different, but we do have something similar. We have voices lifted up in triumph, and we have the defeat of an enemy. If we look at this passage in context, we see that the whole number-and-image-of-the-beast reference is to worldly commerce. Also, we see that those who sing the song are the ones who conquer, or resist, that beast and his image and his number. This is an alternate vision of the joyful cry alongside the overturning of the moneychangers' tables in the temple.

A few words about Revelation in general. Revelation seems to be a very complicated and scary book, but it is actually a very simple book. It is an extended letter of encouragement for persecuted Christians in all eras. There are two groups of people: the church and the world. The church resists the world, the world attacks and persecutes the church. This is important for the encouragement of the readers: the world seems to win. The world follows the devil, ultimately, and the church follows Christ. Finally, Christ returns and the world and the church get separated, the former to everlasting torment and the latter to everlasting life. That's it. That's what the book is about, and it repeats this scenario over and over and over and over and over in a series of visions to John. Once we get past the personal addresses to seven churches in Revelation 1-3, John is shown a series of visions that represent the same event using different analogies. This is not a string of events that are going to happen in chronological order, first this happens, then this happens. The "thens" are attached to what John sees. First I saw this, then I saw that. What John is seeing is the same event happening over and over and over, each with a different spin, so that someone reading the letter in any age of the world can connect with at least one of the images and be encouraged in the face of persecution and even death. This is what Revelation is about. Now, back to our passage.

Seven angels are about to deliver seven plagues, or another version of the same conquering event, but first John sees the result, a vision of victory. Remember our two characters, the church and the world? Here is the church standing by the sea of glass and fire. They are the ones who conquered becoming part of the world. The world follows the beast, who encourages them to worship the dragon, who is the devil. In Revelation 13 it says that no one is allowed to buy or sell unless he has the mark of the beast. Essentially, no one is worldly whom the devil has not marked as his own. The world follows the devil. What about the church? In Revelation 14 we read that the church has the mark of God on them, and instead of buying and selling and trading with the world, the church sings a new song that only the church can learn, and it is the song of the Lamb, for the church follows the Lamb.

Back to our sea of glass. This is a vision of the end. The church stands beside the sea of glass mingled with fire, singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. Where is the world, the followers of the beast, of the devil? They are drowned in the sea of glass and fire. How do we know this? Because the church is singing the song of Moses as well as the song of the Lamb. What is the song of Moses? For that, we go to Exodus 15. In that chapter, we get the song of Moses, which describes the parting of the Red Sea. Israel passes through the waters on dry land. Pharaoh's army attempts to follow. Once beside the sea, Israel watches as the waters crash back in, drowning the whole army. Then they sing. Now, even though this is an historical event, it also points to the apocalypse. The church passes through persecution on all sides and gets to the shore of the sea, and then the sea floods back in and drowns the world. Finally, there's an eternal celebration. This is encouragement for the persecuted church, or as Revelation states over and over, "Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus."

Revelation may have the same vision over and over, but the whole Bible also reveals the same story over and over. The Exodus was an historical event, but it also points to the end victory on Judgment Day. Likewise, the triumphal entry is an historical event, but it also points to the end victory on Judgment Day. The Daughter of Zion is the church, and her king is Jesus. The church sings the song of the Lamb in the words, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" When Christ enters Jerusalem, the whole city--representing the world--is stirred up, not knowing who this is, because the world did not know him. The world cannot learn the song of the Lamb. Finally, Jesus overthrows those who are persecuting the church in the form of defiling the temple with illicit commerce. God's earth is overrun with the world, which persecutes the church, the conquering king returns and sweeps his scythe over the whole earth and removes the chaff. These passages are encouraging for faithful Christians. Exodus 15, Revelation 15, and Matthew 21 all focus on that encouragement for the saints.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Updated Postcard

Click on the image to enlarge...

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Anxiety (Part I)

Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. (Proverbs 12:25)

We try everything to take away our anxieties--from prescribed medication to self-medication, which includes light stuff like going to the beach or watching TV to heavy stuff like numbing the pain with drug use or alcohol. As a pastor, all I can do is share what the Bible says about anxiety. The above proverb states that a good word will make the anxious one glad. Well, let's do just that and see what God's Word says about anxiety.

Prescribed Anxiety
Does God ever WANT us to be anxious? As a saved Christian, no, but before being saved, being anxious is important, because it is the driving force toward Christ. The problem is we have many secular, worldly ways of dealing with anxiety, and so the unbeliever will tend to choose those. One has to come through the realization that the worldly remedies do not work in the long-term (read eternal). No matter how we numb the pain in this world, if we haven't embraced Christ by faith, we will have a worse time in the next life, where there is no worldly remedy.

In Ezekiel 4, we read about the Lord instructing Ezekiel to act out a prophecy of everlasting torment on Jerusalem by making "unclean" bread and eating it before the people. In the short term, the prophecy focused on the people of Israel going into captivity among the nations, where the Lord would drive them, and they would eat unclean food there. For unbelievers hearing the Word of God preached, this text is to bring them anxiety for their eternal souls, so that they might repent and turn to Christ. For the saved Christian, these verses aid in a sanctifying repentance that reminds the believer that he is still a sinner and re-centers an already-existing faith in Christ. In brief, this is where anxiety is needed in life.

Dispelled Anxiety
But aside from that particular use of Anxiety, the gospel dispels such stress and frustration in life.  As we read in Isaiah 35: Say to those who have an anxious heart, "Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you." Once again, this statement about anxiety focuses us on eternity, but instead of a dread of everlasting captivity, we lose our anxiety and gain a confidence that our God fights for us and wins. We have a faithful expectation of everlasting life. Knowledge of God's salvation takes away our anxiety.

And this is just what the Old Testament says about anxiety.  Next we will look at the New Testament.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

No Church Service on March 13

Our 10am service on Sunday, March 13, will be canceled.  This is not because we can't figure out Daylight Savings Time and will be unable to set our clocks forward, but because the Pastor and his family will be out of town at a dance competition in Rocky Mount.  We will resume services the next Sunday with our Palm/Passion Sunday service on March 20th.  Hope to see you at that time!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Knowing Scripture (Part III)

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

What can we learn about the Holy Scriptures from the above passage?

1. Martha welcomes Jesus into her home. Just because one chooses Church ministry over studying the Word does not mean that such a person is not a Christian. Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, as many do their lives. However, if we believe that works will keep us in the kingdom, we are mistaken. Good works are done from faith, and the Holy Scriptures feed such faith.  In James 2, we read in the last part of this series that we cannot be mere "readers" of "consumers" of the Word. We have to be "doers" of the Word, too, or we are revealing ourselves to have no faith in Christ.  Likewise, the reverse is true: if you are continually doing, without the Word in your hearts, you are still stuck in the old covenant of works, and the truth is not in you. Remember, faith comes from keeping the Word in your heart. Good works come out of faith.

2. Those who listen to Christ's teaching are in their right minds. In Luke 8, a demoniac was released from his possession, and when the town found him, he was clothed, seated at Jesus' feet, listening to his teaching, and in his right mind (Luke 8:35). Emotional responses are meaningless without the Word to inform them. No one watches only the end of a movie. One has to watch the build up of information that informs the mind, so that the viewer will intellectually know what is happening, and then when the emotional climax comes, it has power, because of all the information that has built up over the course of the story.  Likewise, the Word of God enters through the mind and the power comes when the mind puts everything together. Works come from the gratitude that comes from embracing the truth--the knowledge of truth by faith.

3. Christians can get distracted with much serving.  Without the Word to center us, we become overwhelmed with works and become anxious. Then we begin to blame others for our issues. The Word of God re-centers us and keeps that line of Word to mind to heart to good works strong and focused.

Look at 1 Corinthians 7:32-35:

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

Now, in context, this passage is specifically about marriage, but in a general, biblical context we can see that Mary is "unmarried" and is trying to please the Lord.  Martha is "married" and is trying to please her spouse. Who is the spouse? The Church? The World? Whatever it is, she is not putting the Lord first. She is not devoting herself to Christ and letting her service to the Church come out of that love. Anxiety ensues. Serving is not a bad thing, but Christians serve out of gratitude for Christ's sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. If we attempt to serve in order to garner Christ's acceptance, we find ourselves still trapped in the old covenant of works and still in need of salvation.

Jesus, in Matthew and Luke, tells us not to be anxious about worldly things.  All of the things you need to survive, God knows you need them, and he will provide. All else is based on want, and the Good Shepherd takes that want away. Really, the only thing we need is Christ himself, he is the only thing that is necessary, and we grasp hold of him by faith through his word. Listening to Christ's words through the Bible is what Jesus calls "the good portion" and that cannot be taken away. The enemy can take away food and shelter and clothing. The enemy gives us our wants, because he knows that they will incapacitate us. Only God gives us what we truly need, and that is Christ, and that is through his word.

Hear verses from Psalm 16:
The Lord is my chosen portion
and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Travel Back to the Days of the Reformation...

  • A unique experience on the Outer Banks
  • Small, quaint, and intimate sanctuary, not intended to grow huge but to be a personal church
  • Hymns are sung from the 1940 Hymnal to guitar and flute accompaniment; Psalms sung each week from the Scottish Psalter of 1650
  • Reformed Anglican liturgy from 1662, aimed at worshiping the Jesus of the Bible
  • Preaching of biblical sermons containing both law and gospel, sin and grace, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins
  • Children participate in the whole service
  • Communion each week with actual bread and wine
  • Weekly discipleship groups that study God's Word
  • By scripture alone, we experience God's grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone
  • Sundays at 10am: Church of the Good Shepherd, Central Square, 2910 S Croatan Highway, Unit 1, Nags Head

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Knowing Scripture (Part II)

As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28)

Sometimes we are so moved by Christ, we stand up and cry out our gratitude to him.  Sometimes we stand up and cry out our gratitude with others nearby.  Sometimes we are on fire for God, and we don't care who knows it.  However, if we don't have a deep and working knowledge of scripture, what we shout out could be theologically wrong.  Even saved Christians are still sinners, and without the inward working of the Holy Spirit, whose primary function is to interpret scripture properly for us, even we will gravitate toward falsehood.  So it is with the passage above.  A woman is so moved by Christ's words about spiritual warfare, that she stands up and praises his...mother, his family, his lineage.

At first glance, this seems to not be an error, because Mary herself sings in the Magnificat: "For behold, from now on generations will call me blessed."  But look at Jesus' answer to this other elated woman: "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" It's not that Mary isn't blessed.  She surely is. But when it comes to the Word of God, and we are talking about knowing the Word of God in this sermon series, Jesus' correction makes perfect sense. He is laying down scripture as he speaks.  He is correcting the false teaching of the people who watched him cast out a demon.  He is providing a bedrock of truth for his disciples.  There can be no distractions.  When it comes to Holy Scripture, the attention cannot be suddenly directed towards Christ's mother.  Jesus correctly directs us back to not only God's Word but also the obedient keeping of it.

1. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the Bible to others. The Word of God cannot be kept to oneself. Getting scripture into the ears and hearts of others is very significant.  Even softening the language of the Bible to "make it palatable" to others is watering down the Gospel, where merely reading scripture aloud can soften hearts and regenerate souls. Studying the Bible with others doesn't require a seminary degree. One only needs an inquisitive attitude, a mouth to read, and ears to hear.

2. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God.  The ones on the receiving end of scripture read aloud or a sermon preached benefit from the supernatural Word of God coming into their lives.  So many say that they know what is in the Bible, and yet they cannot remember what the verses say, and if they do, they are unable to interpret them correctly.  Correct interpretation is a gift from the Holy Spirit, and even then, our Lord is not bringing out nuance, he is only stripping away our worldly preconceptions and revealing the plain meaning of what is there.

3. Blessed are they who guard, keep, and obey the word in their hearts.  It's not enough to just hear, but one must incorporate what they hear or read and allow it to change him or her.  Of course, we aren't really allowing anything. God himself removes our hearts of stone and replaces them with hearts of flesh, so that we can keep God's law in our hearts as saved Christians of the new covenant.

4. Never add to the Word of God.  From the last verses of Holy Scripture, in Revelation 22, Jesus tells John to write that one must never add to scripture.  The early fathers and the reformers are only revealing their interpretations of what is already there in scripture in the volumes of their writings.  Nothing new is being added, only vivid images to help get scripture into our hearts more easily.  Beware when someone provides new information that is not revealed in scripture, vain speculations that twist and spin the Word of God into something that it wasn't intended to be.

5. Never take away from the Word of God.  Also beware of those who cut from Holy Writ anything that they do not like.  Many a man has decided that he was superior to God and has engaged in removing anything that was personally offensive, for the sake of "saving" scripture.  All of scripture needs to be retained, even the parts that we don't like.  And those parts must be wrestled with and understood in the light of the other scriptures.  Usually the hardest parts of the Bible to understand are the parts that we haven't discovered Christ in yet.  Once we find Christ, the problem of the text vanishes.

Christ's words are important, not his lineage.  At one point in his ministry, Jesus' mother and brothers, by blood, came to him, but could not reach him because of the crowds.  Jesus was told that they were waiting for him, but he did not come out.  He said, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."  Knowing Jesus in the flesh is not important.  In fact, we cannot know him in the flesh, and those who think they know him in the flesh are on a doomed path.  We must know Christ by faith, in our heart, and the sign that we have saving faith is our obedience to Holy Scripture, his words.

Active obedience is proof that we have faith in Christ. If we are not active in our obedience but merely hear the truth, nod our heads, and maybe give it lip-service, we are deceiving ourselves.  James describes being "hearers only" as staring at your own face in a mirror.  When you walk away, you cannot remember the details.  But he who not only knows the word of God but obeys it through action, he will retain the word in his heart, because of a deep muscle-memory that only comes through actively obeying the law of God, as believers in Christ who are within the new covenant of faith.  Remember, God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt BEFORE he gave them the Ten Commandments.  Likewise he delivers us out of the old covenant of works and into the new covenant of faith before asking we keep the law.  Only though faith can we keep the law. 

Blessed are those who keep the law and walk in the ancient paths of the Lord.  Blessed are those who keep the Word in their hearts, and seek the kingdom of God with their entire being.  This is only possible by reading, hearing, and keeping God's Word in your heart.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

From "Evangelical Religion" by J.C. Ryle

Let us remember, not least, the enormous injury which we may do to souls, if we once allow ourselves to depart in the least degree from the simplicity of the Gospel either in our doctrine or in our worship. Who can estimate the shipwrecks that might occur in a single night, and the lives that might be lost, if a light-house keeper dared to alter but a little the colour of his light?—Who can estimate the deaths that might take place in a town, if the chemist took on himself to depart but a little from the doctor’s prescriptions?—Who can estimate the wholesale misery that might be caused in a war, by maps a little wrong and charts a little incorrect?—Who can estimate these things?—Then perhaps you may have some idea of the spiritual harm that ministers may do by departing in the slightest degree from the Scriptural proportions of the Gospel, or by trying to catch the world by dressing simple old Evangelical Religion in new clothes. J.C. Ryle

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Knowing Scripture

Knowledge of Holy Scripture is the most important thing in this life?  Why? Because it has everything necessary for our salvation, and salvation is the difference between everlasting life and everlasting death.  Jesus said in his upper-room discourse: "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3)." The Bible contains everything we need to know God. First John 5:9 says, "this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son." So knowing God is the same as knowing Jesus. Finally, the Bible also contains how we are to respond to this knowledge.

They who reject this knowledge, who detest it, are those who have been absorbed into the world. Much like a man who knows nothing but fast food will reject a gourmet meal when it is served to him. The fast food has spoiled his taste, and it will eventually kill him, whereas the nutritional meal will keep him alive.  When we are sick, even the most delicious meal tastes foul.  It's not because the food is bad, but the sickness in us taints the taste.  So God's word tastes horrible to the unbelieving soul, not because it is false, but because the soul who hears it is unregenerate. Unrepentant sin is a sickness of the soul that will dwell within us forever unless the Holy Spirit takes it away.

Jesus himself said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).’ So, let us look to scripture for salvation, both Old and New Testaments, and not to the world, not to traditions, not to the imaginations of others. Only Holy Scripture shows us what to embrace and what to reject, what to love and what to hate. We see the trinity in full view. We see ourselves truthfully exposed as wretched sinners, and we see God presented as holy, righteous, and good.  We see how he takes us out of the first covenant that leads to death and moves us to the new covenant in Christ that leads us to life.

The uneducated child can find the beautiful gospel in its pages, and the ivory tower scholar can read the Bible cover to cover, never discover the good news, and think it's not there at all. The dead soul can hear the words of Holy Scripture and be made alive. Hard hearts are softened. The poor in spirit are comforted. Those rejected by this world are accepted in the next one. The Bible teaches truth and exposes false doctrine. It rebukes vice and commends virtue. The scriptures feed the soul and gives it life.