Wednesday, January 18, 2017

New Hymn based on the Lord's Prayer

This is a hymn I wrote based on the Lord's Prayer.

Heav'nly Father, We Are Blessed
       
Suggested tune: MEINEM JESUM LASS' ICH NICHT (http://www.lutheran-hymnal.com/online/aTLH_Hymns2.htm scroll down to Come, Thou precious Ransom come 55).  Based on Matthew 6:9-13.  Words: William Weber, 2017.

v. 1
Heav'nly Father, we are blessed,
blessed in Christ to be Your children.
Nothing good can we confess,
but our Lord has opened heaven.
So we pray as Jesus taught,
as Your children You have wrought.

v. 2
All things find in You their birth,
so we honor You with rev'rence.
You sustain the universe,
Maker, made, how vast the diff'rence!
Great our priv'lege then to call,
You our Father, over all.

v. 3
Father, hallowed be Your name,
for Your name is good and holy.
Give us hearts by love inflamed,
and a heart that loves You wholly.
For we want to see Your name,
on the earth by men acclaimed.

v. 4
Give to us our daily bread,
Jesus is the Food of heaven.
Christ to whom our souls are wed,
clothes us with abundant blessings.
Father, would You meet our needs,
as we serve with words and deeds.

v. 5
O forgive us of our debts;
we forgive all of our debtors.
May Your grace to us beget,
grace and love to one another.
Father, thanks to You we give,
in Your Gift of Christ we live.

v. 6
Father, O how weak we are,
lead us not into temptation.
Keep us, may we not depart,
from our Lord and His salvation.
For the devil would devour,
keep us, Father, by Your power.




                                                          




Christ in the Proverbs --- Proverbs 12:3

Proverbs 12:3
No one is established by wickedness,
    but the root of the righteous will never be moved.

Paul Koptak writes, "The presence of Yahweh [the Lord] named in Proverbs 12:2 lingers in this saying."[1]  Christ the Lord, hidden in the Old Testament, is once again revealed, for he is "the root of the righteous."   The apostle teaches this truth hidden in the Old Testament but now revealed:
"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving" (Colossians 2:6-7).

He is the vine and we are the branches.  His life-giving sap flows to his people united to him by faith.  We are eternally thankful because God the Father has given us the gift of all gifts, his Son.

The wicked cannot be established, for their thoughts and ways are always set on this world that has rejected Christ, i.e., this present evil age, which is passing away (1 John 2:17).  As Steinman says, "The sinful human nature always focuses on the world and temporal human existence and is always anxious about the loss of worldly possessions and honor."[2]  A. W. Tozer wrote, "There is no lasting life apart from the root."[3]  Bruce Waltke writes, "That which is not firmly grounded in the Holy One will not endure."[4]

We are given Christ as a gift, which causes us to abound in thanksgiving.  Nevertheless, just as the wicked seek to establish themselves in this passing world, obsessively seeking in it pleasure, power, and permanence, so we should seek to be established in Christ.  Part of this means learning "the faith," as Paul puts it above.  Learning the faith means learning the worldview of God's kingdom, as opposed to the false worldviews of this passing age.  Therefore, the apostle writes:
"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).

There are thousands of deceitful and false philosophies in this world, but only one true one, the one given us by our Lord Jesus Christ.  There are thousands of false religions (there is little difference between philosophy and religion for both answer basic worldview questions) in the world, but only one true one, the apostolic faith we find in the New Testament.  As believers, we are called to learn "the faith" so well, that we are able to spot the counterfeit faiths that abound in the darkness of this world.  If we know the genuine faith, we will be able to spot the many idolatrous philosophies and religions that surround us.

Knowledge of the faith is vital to being established in Christ.  But true knowledge is not only knowledge, but a relationship.  We must come to love Christ, filled with gratitude for who he is and what he has done for us.  His life and love must fill us as we draw strength from him.  The goal is stated by Paul in Ephesians 3:
"so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:17-19).

The world we see around us will mislead us apart from the eyes of faith.  We see the wicked prosper and we think they are secure.  And we see the Lord's people, insulted and silenced because of their faith, unwanted in the academy, the media, and the influential places in our culture.  Christ's people seem to be small minority whose situation looks far from established.

But if we have eyes of faith, we see that the situation is just as Proverbs 12:3 says.  In reality, in the light of Christ's death and resurrection, it is the righteous who are eternally secure, and the unbeliever who will never be established. 


I close with the example of Caiaphas and Jesus.  Caiaphas, you remember was the wicked high priest, who condemned Jesus to death to establish the nation of Israel:  "It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish" (John 11:50).  By his wickedness in putting the Son of God to death, Caiaphas sought to establish Israel on a firm footing before the Romans. 

From the standpoint of sight, but not faith, it appeared that Caiaphas and the nation were secure, but Jesus and his small band of disciples, far from secure as their leader hung on the cross.  But how did it end?  Caiaphas and his nation were soon to be no more.  In 66 A. D. the Romans invaded and Israel as a nation was destroyed.  The wickedness of rejecting God's Son did not establish the nation.  On the other hand, Jesus was raised from the tomb on the third day and lifted to the highest place at the right hand of the Father.  By faith we see the reality that it is Christ's people, and his people only, who are secure and established. 

Rejecting God's Son can never make a man secure.  Receiving God's Son will make a man secure, no matter how insecure his place looks on earth.  Such has always been the case, and always will be the case.  Do you see it?
                         




                                                           

                                                              
                                                           







[1] Kotak, Proverbs, 338.
[2] Steinmann, Proverbs, 305.
[3] A. W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous, 8.
[4] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 1, 521.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Proverbs 12:2 --- Honesty or Dishonesty? Favor or Condemnation?

Proverbs 12:2 
A good man obtains favor from the Lord,
    but a man of evil devices he condemns.

We have two contrasts in this proverb.  First, "a good man" is contrasted to "a man of evil devices."  Second, "favor from the Lord" is contrasted to the Lord's condemnation.

The first contrast teaches us that maybe the most important thing about a man is his honesty in relation to the triune God.  The good man is not a person of evil devices.  The good man is not crafty.  The good man is not a dishonest schemer.  Rather, the good man is honest and straight forward.

We see this connection between good and honest in Jesus' parable of the sower.  In Luke 8 Jesus teaches us that the person who receives the Word of God or the gospel, is the person with "an honest and good heart" (Luke 8:15).  A truly honest heart does not reject God's Word or God's Son.

Receiving God's Word and receiving God's Son go together.  It is impossible to reject the Word of God but receive God's Son.  Nor is it possible to receive the Word of God but reject the Son of God.  God's written Word is intimately connected to God's incarnate Word, his Son, Jesus Christ.

One of the reasons there has been such a decline in Christianity in the western world is that mainline churches rejected the Word of God as infallible and inerrant.  I suppose these churches and denominations may have thought they could keep their confidence in Jesus even if they lost their confidence in the written Word of God.  But that is not how it works.  The incarnate Word and the written Word are intimately linked together.  To reject one is to reject the other, and to love one is to love the other.

What is your attitude to the Bible?  Your attitude to the Bible determines your attitude to Jesus.  If we love Jesus, we will love the Word which reveals him to us. 

The second contrast in our proverb points to the most important question of our lives:  Do we have God's favor?  Nothing is more important than this question.  If you don't have the triune God's favor, everything else in your life is ultimately worthless.  You can be a billionaire, but if you don't have God's favor, you are wretchedly poor.  You can be loved by your family and friends, but if you don't have God's favor and know the love of the Father in Christ, you are to be pitied.  You can have great career success, but if you don't have God's favor, your life will prove to be a miserable failure in the end.

We get the heavenly Father's favor when we receive and welcome his Son into our lives.  In Proverbs 8, wisdom is personified and speaks to humanity.  At one point Wisdom cries out, saying:

            For whoever finds me finds life
                and obtains favor from the Lord,
            but he who fails to find me injures himself;
                all who hate me love death.  (Proverbs 8:35-36)

Jesus is the wisdom of God.  Everything depends on our relation to Him, whom the Father sent into the world for our salvation.  When we find him, we find life.  When we find him, we obtain favor from the Father.  But when we reject him, we injure ourselves eternally.  When we reject him we choose eternal death over eternal life, and dishonesty over honesty with God.

You and I can know the favor of God in our lives right now.  You and I can know the hope of eternal life and favor forever.  Won't you receive and welcome Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior into your heart and life?  If you do, then ultimately your life will be a success.  You might not have money, but you have eternal riches in Christ and the favor of God.  Your family might be a mess and far from ideal, but you belong to your Father in heaven, and you have the favor of Christ.  You might not have great career success, but you have the success that truly matters, favor and intimacy with the Father and the Son forever.


                                                           

                                                              
                                                           







 

                                                                                      
            

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Proverbs 11:29 --- What Will Be Your Inheritance?

Proverbs 11:29
Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind,
    and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart.

The previous proverb, 11:28, used two images: a building falling to its destruction, and a leaf or branch flourishing with life.  Our verse today will elaborate on the building's fall and tomorrow's verse will elaborate on the branch's flourishing.[1] 

Solomon's second collection (10:1-22:16) is not a random collection.  It is remarkable how many of these individual proverbs, although they can stand alone, are often connected to the verses that surround them.  Noticing this connection will often clarify their meaning.

The first line of our proverb in the Hebrew literally says, "He who troubles his house will inherit the wind."[2]  In Scripture the word house is used figuratively to picture our own bodies or lives, our families, our churches, or even the nation or kingdom to which we belong. 

The person who troubles his own house by doing evil is compared to a stubborn fool.  This particular Hebrew word occurs nineteen times in Proverbs.  This kind of fool is the person who "rejects good and chooses evil."[3]  Steinman writes of this word that our verse translates as fool:
"This 'stubborn fool' despises wisdom (1:7), rejoices in sin and rejects repentance (14:9), cannot control his emotions (12:16; 20:3), and considers himself clever because of his folly (12:15).  He is so caught up in his foolishness that his way of life is called . . . 'stupidity,' by the sages (13:16; 14:8, 17; 26:11).  This fool is so stubborn that he is nearly    irredeemable (24:7; 27:22).  Yet by God's grace and with the discipline of wisdom, stupidity can be driven out of a person (22:15)."

Such a person will "inherit the wind."  What does this phrase mean?  The word inherit and the connection to the catastrophic "fall" in verse 28, leads me to believe that the eschaton is once again in view.  The stubborn fool will not fare well when Christ comes to judge all people.  By sowing evil, he brings trouble to himself, and sometimes to his own body.  By sowing evil he sometimes brings trouble to others in his family, church, organization, and nation as well.  Therefore, such a man will reap judgment.  He will not stand in the stormy wind of God's judgment.

The connection between lines one and two is not easy to figure out.  Robert Alden, for example, says, "The two halves of verse 29 seem unrelated; the connection between them not obvious at all."  If our proverb is referring to the final judgment, what could it possibly mean that the stubborn "fool will be servant to the wise?"

To answer this question, I would turn to 1 Corinthians 6:2, which says, "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?"  Verses that also teach that believers, in some sense, will judge the unbelieving world, are Matthew 19:28, Jude 14-15, and 1 Thessalonians 3:13.  But what could this possibly mean to say that the Lord's people will judge the world?  Matthew Henry gives an explanation:
"They [believers] themselves are indeed to be judged, but they may first be acquitted, and then advanced to the bench, to approve and applaud the righteous judgment of Christ both on men and angels. In no other sense can they be judges. They are not partners in their Lord’s commission, but they have the honor to sit by, and see his proceeding against the wicked world, and approve it."[4]

In this sense, then, on that final day, fools will be servants to those who are wise in heart. While believers will be acquitted and clothed in glory as they stand with Christ the judge, unbelievers will stand in the subservient position in shame, awaiting sentence.  While believers in this world are considered by the world to be foolish because of their faith in Christ Jesus, one day the tables will be turned.  One day those who are despised in the world because they trust in Christ, will be exalted in blessing, while the world that rejected Christ in indifference or hostility will be in humiliated in eternal judgment.  Lazarus will be exalted, while the rich man in hell who still views Lazarus as a servant ("send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame" Luke 16:24) will be brought low.

If you belong to Christ Jesus, dear believer, you will not inherit the wind.  Instead, you will receive a wonderful inheritance that the Lord tells us about through his apostle Peter:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of     Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:3-4).





















[1] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 1, 511.  This insight comes from Bruce Waltke, who has masterfully notes a number of the connections between the individual proverbs.
[2] Van Leeuwen, Proverbs, 120.
[3] Steinmann, Proverbs, 31.
[4] Quote is from the BibleGateway website: https://www.biblegateway.com/

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Proverbs 11:27 --- Seeking Good or Seeking Evil

Proverbs 11:27 --- Seeking Good or Seeking Evil
Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor,
    but evil comes to him who searches for it.
        
All people seek something.  All people expend lots of energy on whatever it is they seek.  Proverbs 11:27 teaches us that all people seek either good or evil.

This is difficult for us to understand, because we tend to make that class or group we call "evil," quite small.  We like to shrink the category of those who could be called "evil" to a tiny group of criminals that only includes tyrants like Hitler and Stalin and those guilty of murder.  We tend to group everyone else into the nice or good category, unless they have done something to us we really don't like!

But this is not a biblical worldview.  Consider how wide the category of those called "evil" is for our Lord Jesus.  On one occasion, Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them how to pray.  At one point in his answer, Jesus said this:
"What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, who are evil, know  how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:11-13).

Jesus is talking to his disciples, and he calls his own disciples, "evil!"  It is an underlying assumption Jesus holds about the entire human race.  No father is excluded, no mother, no child.  The human race is infected with a nature that is evil.  And, even if we, like the disciples, have come to Jesus for salvation, our evil and sinful nature will still cling to us like a filthy garment we must put off in Christ Jesus each and every day, if not hour and moment.


If we seek anything less than our Lord's kingdom and righteousness, as the priority of our lives, then we seek that which is evil (Matthew 6:33).  To diligently seek good in Proverbs is to seek wisdom and the favor of the Lord with all of our heart and striving.  But Jesus is the Lord, and he is wisdom incarnate, and he is the One in whom we have God's favor.  He is the mystery that was present but hidden in the Old Testament, whom has now been revealed to us in the New.  As Paul says in Colossians 1:25-27:
"I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for  you, to make the word of God fully known,  the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.  To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of  glory." 


Paul makes known the word of God, i.e., the Old Testament.  Even more, the apostle Paul makes the Old Testament fully known, because he reveals the mystery that was hidden in it!  He reveals this mystery to be Christ, who now is in us through the Spirit who indwells in us.  Because Christ indwells us, we have the hope of glory, namely, the hope of being in his glorious presence one day, blameless and without fault, because Christ has died for all our sins and justified us with his perfect righteousness.  And so, Jude looks to this glorious hope which is given to all who are in Christ, and says:
"Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through   Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." (Jude 24-25)

This is the reward of seeking good!  And as we have seen, to seek good means to seek to glorify the Father and the Son by living righteous lives.  We seek Christ's kingdom and righteousness, not to earn his favor, but because we have his favor.  And just as good children want to please their fathers, so we want to please our Father.  And just as faithful wives want to please their husbands, so we want to please our Lord and Husband Jesus Christ.  To seek anything less, is to seek evil, and, sadly, to find evil now and in a Christ-less future.










Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wealth that Matters --- Proverbs 11:24

Proverbs 11:24
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
    another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.

Verses 23-27 form a unit.  Verses 24-26 are about generosity and its opposite.  These middle verses on generosity are framed by verses 23 and 27, which are quite similar in form and content:
                             
            23 The desire of the righteous ends only in good,
                the expectation of the wicked in wrath.
                                
            27 Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor,
                but evil comes to him who searches for it.
                                                             
This frame is important, because it will keep us from misinterpreting the verses in the middle that deal with money and possessions, which we, because of our sinful nature, are prone to interpret in a less than heavenly and unspiritual manner.

Coming, then, to verse 24, I am in agreement with Derek Kidner when he says, "This verse emphasizes the paradox that you must sometimes lose to gain.  It is drawn from the business world, not necessarily from farming . . . and its application is left quite open.  But almsgiving is an obvious example (Psalm 112:9; 2 Corinthians 9:6-9), and, more deeply, the giving of oneself (John 12:24-25)."

The paradox in our proverb is that, logically, giving something away should make us grow poorer, and similarly, holding on to what we have, should help us retain our wealth.  The problem with this calculus, however, is that it does not take into account the sovereignty of the Lord over all things!  This earthly way of doing math might work in a virtual world without the sovereign Lord, but in the real world in which we exist, the Lord is providentially in control of all things.  Therefore, he ensures that both sides of the paradox are true: "One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want."

What the literary frame helps us to guard against is the ungodly idea that we should give to the Lord and others in order to get material wealth.  Such a notion is sinful and heinous, and it contradicts the literary frame of our text, which teaches us that the desire of the righteous is the Lord himself, whose kingdom his people seek.

The righteous, those who belong to the Lord through the new birth, are not motivated by material wealth.  Rather, they are motivated by being rich toward God.  The Spirit of God has poured out the love of God into our hearts, and we live to please our heavenly Father and his Son, our Lord, and to bless others, whom we long to see prosper spiritually especially, but also materially so that their basic needs are met.

Wealth has the power of becoming a rival to the kingship of Jesus in our lives.  This is why we as believers should never hoard our wealth, but rather use it to advance Christ's kingdom.  The only way to break the power of money and possessions in our lives is through giving it away, because we love the triune God and live in him.  If we do not give our  wealth away for the kingdom of God and the blessing of others, we are in danger of being poor toward God, which Jesus warned about in Luke 12:20-21:  "But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."

Notice, what the grace and love of God did in the hearts of the early Christians in Asia.  Notice, how they saw giving as a great blessing and privilege, because they understood the idea of being rich toward God:
"We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part" (2 Corinthians 8:1-2).

These believers were generous, because they loved the Lord, and had given themselves first to the Lord.  And, if you give yourself to the Lord in view of his grace, salvation, and mercy to you (Romans 12:1), then your money will follow, not begrudgingly, but as an opportunity to show your love for Him.  Thus, we read:
"For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us" (2 Corinthians 8:3-5).

Are you rich toward God?  May the Lord give you the kind of wealth that alone truly matters.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Grotesque but Profound Picture

Proverbs 11:22
Like a gold ring in a pig's snout
    is a beautiful woman without discretion.
                            
This proverb is one of the most memorable and shocking proverbs in the entire book.  It is also one of the most profound.  It is memorable and shocking because of its bold comparison.  It is profound because of what the comparison portrays about our fallen human nature.

Let's begin by looking at the comparisons.  There are two:
                                                          
1.      A gold ring is compared to a beautiful woman;
2.      A pig's snout is compared to a woman without discretion.
                                                   
The first comparison compares the outer person.  A woman's physical, outer beauty is compared to a gold ring.  Nothing shocking about that.

The second comparison, however, compares the woman's inner nature with a pig's snout.  That is a bit unflattering and shocking, especially when we consider what pigs are like and what they do with their noses.

I grew up in large population areas, far removed from the country and farms.  So I haven't had much firsthand experience with pigs.  But one of the beauties of the internet, at least for my narrow purpose in this instance, is the ability to watch pigs online and learn about them.  I learned pigs love to get dirty.  They use their snouts to root in search for food.  They love to bury their noses in the ground almost to the point of covering their eyes, and they seem to do this incessantly.  Besides this rooting instinct, pigs also love to wallow in the mud to keep themselves cool and protect themselves from bug bites, and they do not seem to care if the mud in which they wallow is filled with swill and feces.  Furthermore, and this comes firsthand from my wife who grew up on a farm, mother pigs are not exactly motherly.  They tend to lay their large bodies on their little ones, either crippling them or killing them.

So, comparing a woman to a pig is not flattering, but it is memorable and shocking.  But why is this comparison also profound?  What does it teach us?

Verse 22 forms an inclusio with verse 16.  Two women, one righteous and one wicked, form the bookends that shelve this small group of proverbs.  Remember what we said about the gracious woman in verse 16: "Because the bodies of women are more receptive than men's, women become a better picture of discipleship."  If verse 16 is showing us a picture of discipleship, verse 22 is showing us a picture of anti-discipleship.  Verse 22 is really showing us a picture of the whole fallen human race.  Though we were created for intimate union with our Lord and Husband, to bear for him the fruit of righteousness, with the goal of obtaining glory from him, we now are just the opposite.  Having been estranged and divorced from our Lord and Husband, we root with our noses in the earthly pursuit of wicked things (or good things we turn into idols), and thus, we mar his image, and bring dishonor to ourselves, both now and for eternity.

This picture ought to grieve us.  It ought to give us a better understanding of just how grievous our fall has been.  Look at that pig with his nose buried in the ground, rooting for satisfaction from this world.  That is you and me in our fallen nature.  Look at how incessant is the pig's instinct to pursue the things of this earth only, with no thought of looking toward heaven and the Lord.  That is you and me in our rebellious nature.

We were created to be the Lord's bride.  We were created for intimacy and closest communion with him.  We were created to have the seed of his word abiding and bearing fruit in us.  We were created to reflect his image, but we have marred that image and caked it with the dirt and grime and feces of our selfishness and sin.  We have loved created things more than our Creator and Redeemer, and so our heart, our affections, our understanding, and our will, are all in pursuit of the wrong goals. 

And the pursuit of wrong goals is not a small thing.  The picture is grotesque and unfitting.  As grotesque as a pig rooting all day and every day, with his snout buried in the ground. As unfitting as a pig with a beautiful ring in its snout.  Such is the grotesque and unfitting fallen nature in man, who was made for union and communion with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, but has traded that beauty for the filth and mud of living for lesser things.

If by grace you have been united to your Lord and Husband, Jesus Christ, then no longer offer your body to the service of sin and selfishness, but rather, offer your body to him in love for his service:
"Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present      yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness." (Romans 6:13) 

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