Thursday, July 30, 2015

You shall be holy to me.

You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.
Leviticus 20:26

God is holy. That fact is one of the most emphasized of His attributes in all of scripture. It is on display front and center in the book of Leviticus. God's holiness moved Him to set His people Israel apart to Him in holy living. And He expected His people to live differently than the pagan nations around them as a result. Personal holiness is all about that unique relationship with a holy God.

I want to live as God's set apart person in Christ. Jesus clothed me in His righteousness. I am set apart as His in the Church -- the people that are simultaneously the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ that He loves and possesses. We are to be holy... I am to be holy... because Jesus is holy. This Leviticus principle of "be holy because I am holy" is repeated in the New Testament for good reason. I also live in a pagan culture that needs to see the beauty of God's holy love and life in the Church. We are the people that will show Jesus to them. And He will be known as holy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Risen Lord Jesus

And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
Luke 24:2-3

Now risen from the dead, Jesus is Lord. His work is complete. His death secured the sacrifice for sins that forgave us and His resurrection secured eternal life to all who believe. Just as He told His disciples, He died and in three days rose again. Everything that Jesus said and did led to this reality. Death could not keep Him. The grave was just a rental. There was no body to be found, for Jesus is alive and Lord of all!

Not just at Easter does this fact change me. How often have I felt like I am in a cold tomb, needing the stone rolled back to freedom? Jesus releases me from death's captivity and EVERY captivity that sin might try to enforce. He forgives my sin. He removes me from the hard stone bed chill and warms me with the loving fire of His truth and grace.

O Risen Lord,
Death is not Your defeater and it will not be mine! We cannot be beaten by the grave. You have prepared a place for me and will receive me to Yourself because You have risen from the dead. And I can be holy, clothed in Your righteous robes, because in Your death my sinful self died. And I am risen with my Lord to walk in new life!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

a death knell for porn

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.
Colossians 3:5-6

This passage is a death knell for pornographic lust. It calls us to put to death what is core to the porn experience
1) Sexual immorality (porneia): the generic New Testament word for anything that is sexually immoral. Porn does not celebrate Christian marital fidelity. It is thus sexually immoral.
2) Impurity. Sexual lust is impure. It is not celebrating holiness. It is looking at a person who is not your spouse for the purpose of sexual lust. This is not to be confused with sexual desire which is a God-given motivation meant to drive us toward His design of being "one flesh" with our spouse for life.
3) Passion. Sexual lust is driven by sinful passion. Porn feeds this with lying images meant to inflame passion for more which makes it horrifyingly addictive.
4) Evil desire. Sexual lust is all about a desire for something. Porn is designed to incite desire for someone else to whom you are not married and this desire cannot be fulfilled by any holy means once porn incites it.
5) Covetousness. You want the object of sexual lust even though morally, legally, and biblically you cannot have it. This is the root sin of porn.
6) Idolatry. Your heart misses out on worshiping God by worshiping the object of sexual lust. Jesus promised that the reward for the pure in heart is that they will see God. Porn steals this reward from you. You miss God and replace that with fleeting glimpses of human bodies... just like idolatry replaces God with an idol.

The result of all these is that God's wrath comes to the "earthly" person  in judgment. That is the outcome of sexual immorality. Brief pleasures of sin for a season are not worth the high price. Nobody considers this when "doing" porn.

Monday, July 27, 2015

forceful shepherds

The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.
Ezekiel 34:4

This was God's evaluation of the leaders of Israel. He had made them shepherds of His flock. But they did not serve as gentle, caring shepherds. They ran roughshod over the flock, concerned only with their own selfish gain, abusing those under their care with a harsh and forceful rule. They did not care for or lead God's people.

God's indictment of them gives insight into what He expects of those who lead His people. He expects shepherds to strengthen the weak. Leaders must care enough to help those under them gain skill and strength. Leaders must nourish people to healthiness. Shepherd leaders want to see those who need healing receive it. They care for those who aren't quite well yet, patiently tending to equipping them to health.

Shepherds tend the injured. They counsel and care for the wounded and hurting so that healing and strength might return to the entire flock. Leaders go after wanderers. They lovingly restore the lost sheep back to the fold. We don't let the flock just dwindle away one by one. It is, after all, the flock of God to Whom we must give account!

All these tender and intimate leadership practices go after the needs of individuals. And shepherds must know the flock well enough to spot the weak, sick, injured, and missing people. That requires time, diligence, high concern, and most importantly, cultivation of personal relationships. To replace that high standard with selfishness, harshness, or forcefulness is to invite God's judgment on the shepherd.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

blessing bringer

Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,
and one who waters will himself be watered.
Proverbs 11:25

The one who is known
as an encourager
whose smile has shown
will himself be blessed

The kind words said
to a stranger
or the good things he did
will return to him again

Those who bring blessing
will receive grace

The one who uplifts
a soul that is down
will know the benefit
of another's love
and will never be alone

The one who waters another garden
when his neighbor is gone
will find plenty of help when
he needs it as well
kindness grows to return

Those who help
will receive more

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Gladden my soul

Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Psalm 86:4-5

The way out of distress of soul is not self-made. It only comes when we look at the Maker of our souls. God can gladden the heart. David composed Psalm 86 out of his personal distress. He asked God to encourage, support, and deliver him. He wrote it feeling low, and in today's vernacular we might call him depressed.

The elements of his emotional state are expressed in his prayer to God. He is troubled (Psalm 86:7). Ungodly men are seeking David's death (Psalm 86:14), a situation David found himself confronting several times throughout his life. He saw no way to find strength, comfort, or relief except by trusting the faithful deliverance of God (Psalm 86:7, 10, 13, 15, 17).

How often is a Christian's soul troubled? Like David, we may find that such times are frequent. God does not promise us a perfect, trouble-free existence. Why would we need faith if that were the case? Jesus Himself was the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. He struggled with the weight of our sin, praying for the Father's deliverance. He told His disciples to expect trouble in this world. Yet He is also our forgiveness, mercy, and strength. He is the Father's steadfast love for us Who saves our souls from death.

When my soul is troubled, I will turn to Jesus my Lord. I will lift up my soul to Him so that He may carry my burden and gladden my soul! And like king David of ancient faith, I will trust in His faithful, steadfast love, knowing He will help me, gladden me, and hear me when I call out to Him.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lord, have mercy.

But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has he cast them from his presence until now.
2 Kings 13:23

God honored two covenants during the darkest years of Israel and Judah. With Judah he kept covenant with David to have a descendent on the throne. With Israel, He kept the Abrahamic Covenant. Here in 2 Kings the author reminds us that despite the wickedness in Israel, the Northern Ten Tribes were spared the worst of the Syrian threat because God wanted to honor His covenant with the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God is remarkably gracious and compassionate as His people repeatedly turn from Him despite prophetic warnings. The covenant is the grounds for the grace. The nation did not earn it. God chose to be gracious because He had chosen this people long ago in Abraham to display His grace to the world.

Reading the stories of God's compassion in the history of Israel and Judah is instructive. It helps me to understand just why God is so merciful to sinners today. Jesus is the mercy and grace of God for us. He died so that God's mercy might spare me from my guilt's punishment. He was raised from the dead so that God's grace might raise me up to abundant and eternal life.

Like Israel, I did not deserve this. I struggle with heart idolatries and unfaithfulness to my Lord. And yet He has compassion despite my many failings. And I must rejoice and receive His merciful forgiveness. The Orthodox tradition has an emphasis on God's mercy that I remember as I see this reminder from ancient Israel. My prayer today is "Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy." Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison.

Monday, July 20, 2015

rejecting abominable customs

So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 18:30

Leviticus 18 is a controversial teaching to pagans. In this chapter, God lists sexual activity that is a violation of the Covenant Israel had with Him. Included in the list are incest and adultery, bestiality, and same sex relations. Pagans today also reject this teaching. But for all its Old Testament restrictive examples, the reason for the teaching is clear: God is holy and demands that holiness in marriage mark the lives of His people.

Israel lived in a culture that knew all these "abominable customs". The pagans in Egypt were sexually promiscuous in their lifestyles. The Canaanites whose land God would give to Israel practiced all the things prohibited in this list. Even in the wilderness, Israel had been tempted and had fallen into some of these sexual sins (see the accounts in the book of Numbers) because of the influence of Gentiles around them. Much pagan idolatry was accompanied by sexual activity of perverse kinds. Israel would be challenged to live by a higher, God-worshiping standard and not be their most base desires.

Application is unfortunately all too obvious today. I live in a neo-pagan culture that in the name of individuality, freedom and "human rights" promotes nearly every expression of sexuality as good in almost all "consensual" expressions. The taboos still left are incest, rape, and pedophilia. I wonder how soon these too will fall. Leviticus 18 is a foundational text for Christians to understand the powerful channel of the holiness of marital faithfulness as a great experience of human sexuality. But in a society were sexual energy is a flood of gross excess, that is increasingly fixated with pornification and casual lack of commitment, it is difficult to practice or understand these things. Yet sexual ethics for the glory of God can change everything for the Christian. I find that it moves me to reject culture and accept the corrective of God's truth!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

common table & the gospel

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Luke 22:19

This is the way the Lord's Table is presented each time it is remembered in the Gospel accounts and in Paul's teaching in First Corinthians eleven. There are four principle verbs that describe the way that Jesus instituted this memorial for His disciples. First, He "took" bread. He physically grabbed the loaf in hand, held it, and prepared to do the next three things. Secondly, He "gave thanks". He blessed the gifts He offered. And He recognized them as God's gifts. He blessed the bread and the wine. The word Eucharist (unfortunately not a part of my stern baptistic upbringing) beautifully emphasizes this. It simplly means "blessing". Then He "broke" the bread. This represents Jesus' own voluntary sacrifice. Unless He died, no eternal life could come to us. Unless He laid down His life, we would not be saved. And finally, Jesus "gave" the bread and wine to His disciple with Him. Just as He gave Himself for us, He wants us to give Him out in the sharing of the gospel and His table.

And it does us well at communion to remember this pattern. We take bread and wine. We bless them. We break the bread and pour the wine. We give them to each other. And we remember Jesus' death and life until He comes. It is simple. It is profound. It is our common faith and practice as Christians.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

the goal of knowledge

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
Colossians 1:9-10

One very big mistake in the study of theoloy is to assume that the purpose of studying about God is purely academic. To know about God is not the same thing as knowing about botany, protons, or geometric theorems. To know God has a higher, more meaningful effect on us. If it is just terminology or theological framework, it is trivia.

Paul prayed for the church in Colossae to know and understand God and His will and wisdom. But the results Paul prayed for show us where we should expect good theology to lead us. These are the results of truly knowing God and not just facts about God. God's wisdom leads us to live differently, to "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord". Theology leads to change in us. Orthodoxy (right doctrine) leads to orthopraxy (right living). We will be "fully pleasing to Him."

And the result of this right living? The kingdom grows. Lives are changed. We see others come to know God as we have. Our good living "bears fruit". The gospel does its work as we believe it, proclaim it, and live under it. Other people come to trust Jesus.

And this never stops. It is cyclical. The kingdom expands generationally in ways that show God to us even more. We are "increasing in the knowledge of God", which leads to even more productive spiritual progress. Paul's prayer for God's people to know Him was nothing less than a vision for the gospel to expand in lives as God's kingdom rule extends in the gospel.

Monday, July 13, 2015

God wins.

“Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus says the Lord God: 
“Wail, ‘Alas for the day!’
For the day is near,
the day of the Lord is near;
it will be a day of clouds,
a time of doom for the nations.´¨
Ezekiel 30:2-3

The "Day of the LORD" is a phrase found all throughout the Old and New Testaments. It is eschatological prophetic shorthand for God's appointed final judgment for all the nations of the earth. Ezekiel evokes that final day for a reminder to his generation as God announces through the prophet a specific judgment to fall on Egypt. It will come at the hands of Babylon. It will be severe in its effects, but even as brutal as it will be, it will not be the final "Day of the LORD". Not all judgment is "the Day of the LORD". 

Yet this destruction that Babylon wrought on Egypt over decades of war was very real. Historical records from Babylon describe the victor's account of this war in which Babylon subjugated the mighty Egyptian empire. And all of this was just a small, prefiguring picture of what the future "Day of the LORD" shall be. It will be a time of complete judgment and final dealings with nations. It is inesapable. Just like Egypt's past power could not save them from Babylon, no group will resist or escape God's final accounting. In fact, nobody puts up any resistance. God wins.

Those two words best summarize why "the Day of the LORD" is a vital biblical motif. We need to submit to the sovereign rule of God. He wants us to do so willingly and in repentance to know His loving care and grace. But all the earth will do so on that final appointed day as He deals decisively with all human rebellion. The Day of the LORD motivates us to reach out to those who need the gospel. And it encourages us to be confident even as evil men defy God. They will never succeed, because God has His Day! God wins.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

too much talk

When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
Proverbs 10:19

To say too much about this proverb would be to violate the wisdom it is teaching. Yet its insight is direct. Fine print usually leads to legal problems. So big talkers are probably troublemakers. Long speeches in daily discourse are bound to encapsulate sins and personal agendas. This is the real world and not a Shakespearean drama! It is not good to be talkative.

Those who say much actually have very little good to say. The wisdom of thoughtful speech is the main thrust of the pithy reminder in this verse. There are many times when a short, disciplined sentence will outweigh in wisdom the most dramatic soliloquy. It is distilled to a potent, high-octane simplicity. On the other hand, the motor mouth monologue torpedoes relationship and trust (think slick used-car salesman). The direct, thoughtful statement, even silence, can say so much more. Our culture does see much speech as a potential sales technique. And yet quietness is hard to find. And wise words are all too rare, even in the Church.

Save my mouth from sermonizing when I should instead listen to You! Keep me from bombarding people with agonizing addresses, demoralizing descants, dreadful discourses, and divergent disquisitions. Forgive me when I have harangued a brother or sister heedlessly.

There are times when a lecture is good for necessary instruction. May I hear more of them from wise people that You lead to me, and may I give less of them in my earnest, fast foolishness. I want my speech to be gospel-centered and Christocentric. May my flesh be repelled when my prideful stand-up bits make clever drivel rather than holy wisdom. I want to talk like You do, Lord.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

LORD Most High

that they may know that you alone,
whose name is the LORD,
are the Most High over all the earth.
Psalm 83:18

The psalms manage to worship God, even in complaint. In the case of this psalm by Asaph, Israel is beset by enemies. Asaph appeals for God to come to the aid of His people. His rationale is three-fold: 1) When the nations threaten Israel they are really conspiring against God and His work (Psalm 83:2-8), 2) God has handily dealt with Israel's enemies in the past and should do so again (Psalm 83:9-12), and 3) God's power should be known so that these insolent nations may know that God is sovereign over all the nations of the earth (Psalm 83:13-18).

This is all strangely confirming of Israel's mission to be a light to the Gentiles. It affirms God's sovereign care and control over all the earth. It helps us to realize God has always wanted the world to know Him. It is thus a resource for missional focus for us today.

As bad as some worldlings rail against the gospel and disobey God's truth and its most fundamental natural reality, God still loves the world. He is sovereign in both salvation and the display of His justice. He judges the souls of all men in Christ. He offers salvation to all sinners. He rewards those who come to Him in repentance and faith with eternal life. He faithfully calls us to bring and live the gospel so that people might come to repentance.

Yet we know that not all people will do this. And God will be worshiped and glorified, even in the execution of His final judgment. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. It will happen either in life or in final judgment. God is indeed the Most High over all the earth.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

half heart

But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin.
2 Kings 10:31

God wants wholehearted devotion. He deserves it. Worshipping the LORD and living to please Him is not a part-time hobby. It is not a casual amusement. It isn't a personal preference. It is a lifestyle requiring all I am. It requires all of a person's heart commitment. It is a life passion and purpose.

Jehu was chosen by God to end the wicked reign of the house of Ahab and to purge idolatry from the land of Israel. He was by his own desciption possesed by a "zeal for the LORD" (2 Kings 10:16). He wiped out all of Ahab's descendents, killed Jezebel the queen mother of Israel's idolatry, and in a shrewd conspiracy, slaughtered all the priests and leaders of Baal worship in one single day. He tore down altars to Baal and turned the temple to Baal into a public latrine. He was indeed quite the reformer. But for some reason, he did not extend his heart to repent of Israel's original defining apostasy. There were golden calves (probably somehow connected with an offshoot worship of Yahweh) in Israel used in worship in Bethal and Dan (see 2 Kings 10:29). God considered them idols. Probably because they were associated with the unique identity of the Northern Ten ribes, Jehu deliberately chose to keep these places of worship and idol structures intact, in direct violation of the first commandment.

Jehu's incomplete obedience was quite obvious. But I have to ask myself, "What about my heart?" I am no better than a calf worshipper if I treasure some possession or relationship above God! Do I pigeonhole God into private practice with no public Christian life? The fight over idolatry is a fight against half heartedness. It is a battle I must fight inside of me. It is easy to look good on the outside (particularly on Sundays), to carry the externals of a Christian appearance well. It is humbling and hard to let God have ALL MY HEART. And that is what He wants and deserves.

Monday, July 6, 2015

the leper

And the rest of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed, to make atonement for him before the Lord.
Leviticus 14:29

like oil running down the head
of a grateful leper cleansed
Your Holy Spirit, Lord
anoints Your written Word
blessing me

I was dirty, broken, scarred and sore
until You found me and gave me more
grace transformed my leper's skin
so I can serve You as I am
You healed me

and I am now whole and clean
before You I stand redeemed
made holy, righteous, true
to live to honor You
service comes from me

ten lepers Jesus once made clean
but only one returned with thanks to bring
my grateful heart daily sings Your praise
for holiness and a life now saved
overflowing me

Thursday, July 2, 2015

don't confuse kingdoms

He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”
Luke 20:25

And in this painfully simple reply, Jesus set the standard for how His followers should respond to human government. There are things that are the duties of and to governments... things like taxation, civil obedience, protections of citizens, policing of laws, and overall citizenship. Those are the things that should be rendered to Caesar. And then there are things that belong first to God exclusively: worship, devotion, our sense of purpose, the defining realities of our lives such as personhood, marriage, family, or a fulfillment in this present life and for eternity.

To confuse these responsibilities is to either commit idolatry (making human government a functional god in our hearts) or disobedience (making human government nothing and despising an institution set up by a sovereign God). Either extreme does not follow Jesus' own example. Jesus said these things about the repressive empire of Rome (the government that executed Him and posted a guard at His tomb to ensure no resurrection). It was an empire that brought peace at the cost of oppressing the Jews. He told those under forced occupation to pay taxes to Rome. These are not the words of a political liberator. 

Today I see American Evangelicals confusing government issues (free sppech or second amendment gun goofiness) with legitimate biblical concerns (the redefinition of marriages and families or clear moral distinctions) The messy blend is then wrapped up in conservative red, white, and blue (usually Republican politics) and served up as the gospel culture, often by evangelical leaders who ought to know better! It really ratchets up in political rhetoric during the build up to a presidential election. It confuses the kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of Christ.

Christians are not of this world. Get that. We. are. NOT. of. this. world. So when governments redefine biblical standards we stick to God's truth. When governments collect taxes of us (and the rhetoric has already kicked in that since the Supreme Court has made same sex marriage the de facto law of the land, and since Christians WILL defy this, churches should lose tax exempt privileges), we should heed Jesus' words. Imagine that. Imagine if churches actually DID what Jesus said and gave to Washington the taxes that they oppressively may demand in the near future. It just might make us the people He envisioned! Pay the taxes and hold to Jesus' values without compromise.

Remember this: It was Christianity over generations that eventually defeated Roman oppression, not just in Palestine, but in the entire Western world. Christian faith proliferated wildly under government policies that executed leaders of churches, split up Christian families, and burned copies of the Holy Scriptures. Jesus' words will never be stopped by human action. He knew what He was doing (and what He expected of us) when He gave Caesar back his own denarius.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

the surpassing value

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
Philippians 3:8-9

Paul understood the value of knowing Christ. He ordered his life around the pursuit of being found solely in His Savior. He traded it all for that eternal, abundant life in Christ. He was possessed by Jesus as His Lord and sought only to possess Jesus. He let everything else go and found everything through faith in Christ.

Paul was a man before he met Jesus who seemeed outwardly to have it all together. He was a wildly successful religious Jew, rising to leadership as a young man in Judaism. He was zealous for God's Law, but when Jesus got a hold of him on the Damascus Road, it all came crashing down as a righteousness of His own apart from Christ. And from that moment on, Paul sought to find the righteousness that alone comes from Jesus by faith. He was turned from self-driven religion in his thinking to faith in the saving work and life of Christ.

I too must see Jesus as my surpassing value. He is more important than my sense of usefulness in ministry, more important than my family or home, more important than how people see me. More important than money, or possessions, or fulfillment by people. Jesus is what I want. His surpassing value makes everything else a garbage dump for me. I want to be found in have my life in Christ. This is true Christian "spirituality" -- life only in Christ filling my life in all ways, at all times, so that all I have is only valuable because He is in it. Christian living lives with Christ as the focus of life in every way possible.