Friday, October 20, 2017

no dead faith

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
James 2:17

Faith produces works that are pleasing to God. Faith does stuff in the world. It produces not just a positive energy, but new actions that do good things observable by others in the world. It changes our actions. It works because we now believe.

Now, works do not on their own save us from our sin. I cannot of my own suddenly do the right stuff and expect God to look at me in favor. My best actions, apart from salvation by Jesus, are still filthy garbage in God’s sight. I need Jesus to save me from sin. And by faith I trust His saving work in me and for my sin. From that faith procedes the proper actions that shows the change Jesus is making in me.

Just as I cannot find salvation in my works, I also cannot just live as I want if I claim to believe in Jesus. A faith that shows no change, that does not regenerate a life to do good things in the world, cannot be a saving faith. Belief is not just a cognitive intellectual exercise. Jesus changes our hearts and that transforms our lives, because the heart is the treasure chest from which we show all that we value in what we do. Faith to be real, must be known to others by how we live and not just in what we say we believe.

You have changed my heart. Through Your saving work in me, I am learning to love people as You do. You have helped me learn to live out a generous grace to know You, follow You, and love this world as You do. I can give myself to the gospel, to others by Your grace, and to the God I now love because of this change. By faith, I work!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

nails and goads

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.
Ecclesiastes 12:11

This verse at the end of the book of Ecclesiastes is a key to understanding the book. It is a book that gives us observations about life that are both goads and nails. A goad is a pointed stick used by a herdsman to provoke livestock forward. It is not an elegant instrument. It has one job: make a reluctant beast uncomfortable enough to move along. It is the ancient tool used as a cattle prod.

The nails are a different kind of pointed instrument. They are used not to move with a sense of uncomfortability, but instead to fix something in place. Nails secure something down. They hold things together. Nails build stuff. They represent truths that hold together observations in a way that make sense of a larger, useful structure.

When reading Ecclesiastes then, it is good to realize that some of the statements are meant to be goads. They prod us by brute force and poke our sensibilities forward into movement with painful reality. Where we read terms like “under the sun”, “worthless”, or (most often and to great effect) “vanity”, we can see the goad is in the hand of The Preacher (the narrator of the book), pointing right at us. We feel the business end of the goad poking at us and making us quite uncomfortable in ways we don’t particularly like. And God wants us to have that response. It is one intention of Ecclesiastes.

But scattered among the goads are also some firmly driven nails throughout the book. These statements provide security and are frankly, a welcome relief from the constant poking of the goads. For instance, the last two verses of the book (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) are perhaps the strongest nails in all the book, firmly building a structure through which we discern the framework of the book and bring it all together. God wisely gave us this unusual book of Hebrew wisdom to get our attention with goads and nails. It is brutally straightforward with its observations about life. It is brilliant in its wise advice for living beyond the uncomfortable ragged realizations. God gave us nails and goads because He knows we need them both.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

fire of irony

It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.
Jeremiah 36:3

God’s heart is not to administer punitive judgment on sin, but instead in love to see sinners repent and turn to Him. This was the hope God gave to Jeremiah as He gave instructions to the prophet to carefully produce God’s Word on a scroll. The hope was that it would be read, heeded, and in repentance God’s people would turn from sin back to God, finding His forgiveness and halting the impending fall of Jerusalem and coming captivity in Babylon.

There was a mixed response to this scroll of prophetic preaching from Jeremiah. In the temple it was well received by the religious leaders who kept it and cautioned Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch, to hide because they knew the message would not sit well if it reached the palace. And indeed, it went bad when the king fetched the scroll from the temple to be read to him in his chambers.

There, to the worst fears of the priests, Jehoiakim was shockingly dismissive and disdainful of the Word of God. As his scribe read the scroll to him, the king sliced off each finished section with a knife and dropped it into a fire (Jeremiah 36:23). This was more than just disinterest. This was an outright contempt for God’s message. He understood the prophecy from God clearly knowing it said that Babylon would destroy Jerusalem. And in the end that was exactly what happened as the king’s actions set in motion the final rejection of God and His prophet.

But the Word of God did not fail. Jeremiah again dictated a second scroll and Baruch faithfully wrote it down. God’s Word survived while the king fell and his city burned in a fire that really started with the king burning holy scripture in contempt. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

spirit and truth

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
John 4:23-24

God is spirit. He is not limited or localized in a physical body. He is everywhere present, above, beyond and in the created universe. He is the only being this way. He made this universe yet He can be known, but those who worship Him must realize this about God. He is always with us and we cannot escape His presence or person. We worship God in spirit, which means that we can acknowledge or turn to Him anywhere. There is no need to pilgrimage to any one holy place according to Jesus. Our worship comes from anywhere we are, and the sanctuary of worship must first be our own hearts. That is how we begin to worship God in spirit.

God is truth. When we look for a standard, a rule of life, we must look to God. And that truth is known in what He has revealed, most clearly in the Holy Scriptures — the Bible, and in the Living Word — Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In Jesus, the Word (the truth) became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory (John 1). In the Holy Bible we have clear, understandable, searchable, readable truth in its pages, and they always point in some way to Jesus and the story of our salvation brought in Christ. To worship God in truth means that the Bible saturates our time in worship, the gospel comes into focus, and Jesus is praised, believed, and obeyed.

In spirit and truth, I worship You, my God. And in Your Word I see You as spirit and truth. And from my heart’s sanctuary I give You my praise, confession, dedication, and love, O God of spirit and truth known in Jesus my Lord and Savior.

Friday, October 13, 2017

wandering sinner

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
James 5:19-20

This admonition to go after wandering sinners with the gospel give unique insight into the make-up of the early church. James was perhaps the first epistle written chronologically to the Christian community. And it ends with this admonition to go after anyone “among you” who “wanders from the truth”. This would seem to have been a known sinner, not a hypothetical illustration, and this was important enough to caution the entire church with a precedure to assist in this type of situation. It seems this type of thing was something Christians faced. Apparently the very early church welcomed people who weren’t quite settled into Christian belief but were under the preaching of the gospel.

I see two classes of people addressed in this passage: brothers and sinners. The “brother” is exhorted to go after a wandering “sinner” who had once been a part of Christian community and the brother is told to seek to restore the wandering one with the gospel. It is clear this “sinner” is not a believer because his soul is in danger of death, and that can only be the second death, or hell, that is the peril. After this restoration a “multitude of sins” is covered, which implies atonement by Jesus at conversion.

The early church did not take for granted that all among them were truly converted. They had this admonition to follow in cases where clear gospel conversion needed still to take place. And the way such people were “brought back” was through the gospel being believed resulting in true forgiveness of sin, release from their guilt, and deliverance from hell. The gospel is how we deal with wandering sinners. It is our only message and hope.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

patience, not pride

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Ecclesiastes 7:8

At the start
of something new
my foolish heart
may not trust God through
but try to do
a thing alone
and caught up in the new
stray far from my home

But the end comes
all too soon
and if my plans run
ahead of God, Who
sees all things and knows
their end for His name
I can miss what He shows
is His glory and fame

Better is the end
of a thing I see
for God can send
comfort and security
from start to finish
Jesus is Lord
nothing should diminish
His power and Word

Future glory awaits
me if I will see
that heaven’s gates
will open to perfect glory
God made beginning and end
for the praise of His grace
my will should then Ben
to look at His face.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

faith and faithfulness

I have not run away from being your shepherd,
nor have I desired the day of sickness.
You know what came out of my lips;
it was before your face.
Jeremiah 17:16

These statements come in the middle of a prayer by Jeremiah asking God for deliverance from persecution. The people of Judah just despised Jeremiah. The whole of Jerusalem seemed set on opposing the messages that God gave to the prophet. And his response was to run to God for the counsel, care, encouragement, and refuge that he needed at that time.

Jeremiah remained faithful, proclaiming messages that God gave him that were extremely unpopular and pressing on despite the hatred he received in response. He did not falter. He bravely stayed the shepherd God made him. He did not even take a sick day (to use a modern equivalent) during this difficulty. He may have felt like giving up, but he did not give up.

A big reason why Jeremiah stayed faithful in persecution can be found in the last half of this verse: He knew God knew His faithfulness. God knew His prophet had declared His message exactly as God desired. God knew that every word that came out of Jeremiah’s lips was faithful to what God had sent him to say. All that Jeremiah had done was not hidden. And that is why he could pray for deliverance with such confident passion. He believed God would be righteous in all things, even toward Jeremiah’s faithfulness under persecution.

Faith believes God and is not distracted by circumstances. Faith commits to being faithful to God’s Word. Faith trusts God despite outward difficulties, knowing God is faithful to those who trust Him for salvation.