Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Discussion about the Two Kingdoms Approach to Church, State, and Culture

I recently was involved in a discussion about the two kingdoms approach to social justice issues. I thought others might find this interesting too. It began as a comment to my friend, LaVon's posting of a quote from a book by Michael Horton, Christless Christianity. The friend who is my partner in the discussion is name David. --Bill

Church and State

"Since any number of secular NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) currently exist to lobby for precisely the same polices, why do churches believe it is within their area of expertise,much less their official mandate, to offer pronouncements in God's name on these issues? Why not allow their members to pursue the general human calling to public justice through these common grace institutions alongside non-Christians? Why must denominations commit their entire membership to very specific policies while often leaving matters of doctrine and worship more ambiguous and open-ended?

Surely the abolition of the slave trade was a noble work, yet it is interesting that in Britain it was not the church as an institution that abolished it but Christians who had been shaped by the church's ministry and held public office in the state. p214."

Michael Horton, Christless Christianity.

Bill: The issues that the state often touches are issues of life and freedom. How can churches be silent about abortion, when the Lord was conceived in the womb of the virgin? How can churches be silent when political and religious liberties are taken away, when God has granted human beings the right of liberty? Maybe Horton is right or maybe he is seeking a way that ultimately will protect Christians from persecution? I am torn to be honest.

David: Hi PW. I believe that Horton was expanding on the idea that the purpose of institutional church to preach Christ and His Gospel through Word and Sacrament. This is in contrast to the contemporary evangelical church which transformed the institutional church into a socio-political entity within our culture. Horton is basically iterating the practical realities of the doctrines of the two kingdoms and vocation.

Bill: Hi David, hope you have been well. I agree that evangelical churches often neglect or fail to do a good job in proclaiming the gospel through Word and sacrament. I also agree that the church should not become, nor is it a socio-political entity. I also must throw out the caveat that I haven't read Horton's book.

With that said, my question, I guess, is whether the two kingdoms approach is a bit too neat and tidy. When you preach the gospel, there are implications that touch real life. I come back to the abortion issue. The fact that the eternal Word was conceived in the womb of the virgin, necessarily has political ramifications. For the church to be silent about those ramifications seems terribly wrong.

Another case might be the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Sadly, many churches were silent about the Nazi elimination of freedom and its anti-semitism. I hope this wasn't because of their two kingdom approach!

I am a big fan of the White Horse Inn, and the two kingdoms approach seems generally right to me. I just wonder if it has to be tweaked?

David: Hope you been well too. I think most Reformed theologians would agree that the actually application of two kingdom theology is anything but neat and tidy. The relationships between the church, culture, and the state is an issue that the church has grappled with ever since its conception. I am of the opinion that the church, as an institution, should only speak out against extreme injustices (e.g. genocide, abortion). However, even if the church speaks against an issue doesn't mean that it injects itself into the quagmire of the political landscape. I think such injections compromise and obfuscate the Gospel, the very means that God uses to bring redemption to the world.

Bill: I think I agree with that, although what it means to "inject itself" is sort of dicey! If a minister is talking about the incarnation, which is certainly central to the gospel, shouldn't he apply that truth to the issue of abortion? If he does apply it, won't that call for Christians to do something? If they do something, won't that be criticized by the culture? If one of them goes on Larry King and speak of his or her Christian motivation for his views on abortion, won't he be dismissed, ridiculed and criticized by two kingdoms people for mixing politics and Christianity? I am pushing the envelope, not because I don't agree with you, but just because I think the issue is complicated.

David: Indeed, it is complicated. But, in fact, I think two kingdom people would applaud the individual who, as a citizen of the earthly kingdom, speaks against societal injustices. It is when the individual speaks as a citizen of Christ's kingdom where two kingdom people would be critical. Case in point, the argument from incarnation (right kingdom) would fall on death ears in the secular kingdom. But the argument from reason (left kingdom) against abortion would hold credence in the public square.

It's a fine distinction, but an important one, especially with the Gospel at stake.

Bill: Excellent! You have analyzed this really well. But this is where I am having second thoughts about the two kingdoms approach. In a sense, they are asking Christians to do what they cannot do in good conscience, namely, to speak as if they were not salt or light! The fact is, we are in the kingdom of light, and to speak from the standpoint of natural law or reason alone, seems an unreasonable, if not unconscionable demand of Christians.

David: I hear your sentiments about an "unconscionable demand" on Christians. The idea of splitting themselves is something that will probably sound odd to the lay Christians. However, I think we more or less see this model in the New Testament. One of the most clearest examples is in Acts 17 when Paul encounters the Greek philosophers. In several places we are encouraged to use reason and natural law. Practically speaking, my agnostic/atheist friends would view my argument from the incarnation as laughable. Conversely, they are more likely to engage in discussion if I argue from reason. Nonetheless, there have been many times where I've struggled with switching from one kingdom to another in my dialogue with non-Christians. But in my experience, I've been more effective when speak from the left kingdom in the public arena.

Bill: Well, this has been helpful for me. Thanks. A couple things.

First, I doubt if we have any instances of Jesus ever speaking from this" left kingdom." He certainly recognizes the authority of Pilate, but that does not mean he speaks from that standpoint.

Second, I am not sure what value the example of Paul in Athens has on the two kingdoms. He wasn't discussing social issues but was proclaiming the gospel. The end result of his presentation of the gospel was that some mocked, some wanted another hearing, and a few believed.

If something "sounds odd" to us it may be a warning bell that we are on the wrong track. At least, that is a possibility. What do you make of John the Baptist's martydom for the sake of a social issue?

God's Word and the Reality of Two Groups of People --- Search the Scriptures: Psalm 37:1-13

Psalm 37

He Will Not Forsake His Saints
Of David.

1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
2For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.

3 Trust in the LORD, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.

7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!

8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
9 For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.

10In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.

12The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
13but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.

Psalm 37 is concerned with the prosperity of the wicked and the problems this raises for the righteous. Let’s break the psalm into three parts to make it more manageable.

Before we begin it is good to remember who the wicked and righteous actually are! The wicked are those who live their lives as if the Lord Jesus Christ really doesn’t matter much. The previous psalm (36) described them as people who don’t fear God.

Who are the righteous? The righteous are not those who are without sin. Rather the righteous, throughout the Psalms, are those who take refuge in the Lord. In new covenant terms, the righteous are those who come to Jesus Christ and his cross for forgiveness and justification.

Psalm 1 had given the impression, especially in verses 3 and 4 that the righteous prospered and the wicked did not prosper:
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4The wicked are not so
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
But as the psalmist looks around, he sees that the wicked seem to prosper in this life. This prosperity of the wicked causes him to be tempted to envy and disquiet (v. 1).

But there are some important things to remember about the true state of the wicked! The wicked:
  • Prosper only temporarily --- v. 2: “they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.”
  • Do wrong and hate the righteous: --- v. 7: “the man who carries out evil devices!” v. 12: “The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him.”
  • Will miss out on the new heaven and earth that the righteous look forward to --- v. 9: “For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.”
  • Do not have God’s favor in this life --- v. 13: “the Lord laughs at the wicked.”
  • Their lack of favor will culminate in judgment and condemnation in the age to come --- v. 13: “for he sees that his day is coming.”

What does this mean for us? How should we live in the light of the reality Psalm 37 shows us?

First, make sure you come to Christ for refuge. Trust in the Lord! (v. 3) The Bible is clear about the need to hide in Christ, for in him alone do we find God’s favor and freedom from the judgment to come.

Second, instead of envying and being angry with the unbelievers around us, we should have compassion on them, and seek to do them good. How awful it is for them not to know the Lord and his favor! How awful it is for them to be facing his judgment to come! We should befriend them and find ways to do them good. Anger toward them is the wrong approach (v. 11).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Calvin and Social Networking?

John Calvin: Why He Would Have Embraced Social-Networking
(and Why We Should, too) by Douglas Estes

There is no doubt that John Calvin, had he lived during our time of blogs and tweets, would have fully embraced social-networking technologies—even though he was not known to be a strongly social person.

By all accounts, John Calvin had a choleric personality. As a result, he had a passion for what he felt was truth, and an unending desire to see that truth known. At times, that made Calvin as pleasurable as sandpaper on bare skin, especially to those with whom he disagreed. Due to the success of his ministry, as well as some of his more visible personality flaws, Calvin’s detractors had a great deal of ammunition to use against him.

People with choleric personalities tend to be very invested in relationships with value. Calvin loved mentoring his students (because he valued their growth), engaging in theological discussion (because it brought greater value to our understanding of God’s glory), and promoting sound doctrine (because it brought greater value to peoples’ lives) through any means necessary. Calvin could have much more effectively accomplished all three if he could have logged onto Facebook; it is a social medium he would have definitely used had it existed in 1545.

In many ways, digital social-networking has little to do with socialness and much more to do with communication. I’m not, at this point anyway, on Twitter, though I could certainly join today and start tweeting. With no followers. What a mighty Tweet that would be! A Tweet heard ‘round the … well, nowhere, really, because at this point no one’s listening. Why do people tweet or blog or post? It’s because they want to add their opinion; they want to communicate what they have learned or come to understand.

Calvin would have been little interested in opinions, being choleric in personality. But he would have seen how powerful social-networking media is to transmit value to other people. I doubt he would have cared much about Facebooking his students about their homework, but he would have regular posted his newest discovery about God from his theological and exegetical studies, in the hopes that his students, his friends, even his detractors would be challenged because of it.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I have a choleric personality. When digital social-networking was new, I was the first to say, "This is stupid. I don’t have time for this." But the more I started to engage the new media, the less I saw it as a way to update my friends about my life’s minutiae and more of a way to promote value through what I am learning about God as I go through life. My revelation came a little late, so I’m still something of a noob to the phenomenon—but Calvin’s life situation would have driven him to it even faster.

I’m not arguing that every Christian communicator must embrace every form of digital media available today (far from it); but if we want the same things Calvin wanted, we will find a way to communicate value to our world. As a choleric, Calvin understood that the message is more important than the messenger; how important is the message God has given to each of us?
Here is the beginning of my post.

"Be sons of your Father in heaven"

Psalm 36 (English Standard Version)

How Precious Is Your Steadfast Love
To the choirmaster. Of David, the servant of the LORD.

1Transgression speaks to the wicked
deep in his heart;
there is no fear of God
before his eyes.
2 For he flatters himself in his own eyes
that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
3The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit;
he has ceased to act wisely and do good.
4He plots trouble while on his bed;
he sets himself in a way that is not good;
he does not reject evil.

5Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgments are like the great deep;
man and beast you save, O LORD.
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.

10Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your righteousness to the upright of heart!
11Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me,
nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
12There the evildoers lie fallen;
they are thrust down, unable to rise.

This psalm breaks into three parts. In verses 1-4 the attitudes and actions of the wicked are described. In verses 5-9 the Lord’s unfailing love is described. In verses 10-12 a prayer is offered for those who know the Lord.

Mark Futato comments on verses 1-4 this way: “In 36:1 the wicked in effect say,
“There is no need to fear God.” The same foundational point is made in both texts (Psalm 14 and 36): God is not a force that needs to be reckoned with in life; we can live as if he does not exist. This arrogant autonomy is “blind conceit,” a refusal to acknowledge and deal with the reality of sin in one’s own life. Such an arrogant attitude results in corrupt speech and corrupt actions.”
What is remarkable about Psalm 36 is God’s response to the wickedness of humanity. Instead of turning away from the human race, we find that the Lord extends his immense and unfailing love toward the sinful human race! In verse 6 his care is so great that it embraces both “man and beast.”

Psalm 36 is not teaching universal salvation, but it is teaching God’s love for a rebellious and sinful humanity. As Futato says, in Psalm 36, “It is quite striking that God’s “unfailing love,” typically used in reference to his salvation of his people, is used in relation to God’s general care for people and even animals.”

One implication of God’s care for the world, even a world that has rebelled against him, is to do what Jesus commends in Matthew 5:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute
you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
It is no wonder, then, that Jesus, who is “the fountain of life” (v. 9) the light of the world, and the eternal Son of the Father, imitated him by doing good when he came to this earth. Acts 10 says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good . . . .”

As Christians, we should find ways to do the same, for if we truly know the Lord (v. 10), then we must learn to care for the world, even a world of people that says there is no need to fear God (v. 1).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Comfort for the Poor and Needy --- Search the Scriptures: Psalm 35

Psalm 35 (English Standard Version)

Great Is the LORD
Of David.

1Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me!
2Take hold of shield and buckler
and rise for my help!
3Draw the spear and javelin
against my pursuers!
Say to my soul,
"I am your salvation!"

4 Let them be put to shame and dishonor
who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
who devise evil against me!
5Let them be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the LORD driving them away!
6Let their way be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the LORD pursuing them!

7For without cause they hid their net for me;
without cause they dug a pit for my life.
8Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it!'

And let the net that he hid ensnare him;
let him fall into it—to his destruction!

9Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD,
exulting in his salvation.
10All my bones shall say,
"O LORD, who is like you,
delivering the poor
from him who is too strong for him,
the poor and needy from him who robs him?"

11 Malicious witnesses rise up;
they ask me of things that I do not know.
12 They repay me evil for good;
my soul is bereft.
13But I, when they were sick—
I wore sackcloth;
I afflicted myself with fasting;
I prayed with head bowed on my chest.
14I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother;
as one who laments his mother,
I bowed down in mourning.

15But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered;
they gathered together against me;
wretches whom I did not know
tore at me without ceasing;
16like profane mockers at a feast,
they gnash at me with their teeth.

17How long, O Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their destruction,
my precious life from the lions!
18I will thank you in the great congregation;
in the mighty throng I will praise you.

19 Let not those rejoice over me
who are wrongfully my foes,
and let not those wink the eye
who hate me without cause.
20For they do not speak peace,
but against those who are quiet in the land
they devise words of deceit.
21They open wide their mouths against me;
they say, "Aha, Aha!
Our eyes have seen it!"

22 You have seen, O LORD; be not silent!
O Lord, be not far from me!
23Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication,
for my cause, my God and my Lord!
24 Vindicate me, O LORD, my God,
according to your righteousness,
and let them not rejoice over me!
25Let them not say in their hearts,
"Aha, our heart’s desire!"
Let them not say, "We have swallowed him up."

26Let them be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who rejoice at my calamity!
Let them be clothed with shame and dishonor
who magnify themselves against me!

27Let those who delight in my righteousness
shout for joy and be glad
and say evermore,
"Great is the LORD,
who delights in the welfare of his servant!"
28Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness
and of your praise all the day long.

I read Psalm 35, this morning, and quite frankly, I couldn’t really relate to the kind of thing David was going through. I don’t have anyone who is seeking my life (v. 7), nor do I know of anyone who is slandering me (v. 11). No one I know hates me without reason (v. 19).

Lately, I have been discouraged. I came to the Word, this morning, discouraged by my sin and failure --- discouraged because of my lack of fruitfulness. I came to the Lord, this morning, like someone who has been defeated by life.

So how do I relate to David in Psalm 35? The answer is that we are probably making a mistake in our reading of Scripture if we associate ourselves with David in this psalm. It is Christ, not us, who is to be associated with David. It is Jesus who endured contradiction from sinners --- who was hated without cause, whose life was sought, and who was vindicated before God after his suffering.

Who then do I relate to as I read Psalm 35? I relate to the “poor and needy” of verse 10, for that is where I am at. Verse 10 speaks of “delivering the poor . . . from him who robs him.” I think we as human beings are like the man Jesus describes in Luke 10:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.”
The human race has fallen. We have fallen from the height of Jerusalem, the Lord’s dwelling place, to the depth of Jericho, the lowest place on earth. Sin has ravaged our souls. It has left us half-dead and naked. We are in great need of rescue. In other words, we are poor and needy.

The other group we could relate to in Psalm 35 are those who hate the Lord Jesus Christ without cause. Jesus taught us that Psalm 35 found its fulfillment in him, when he said, “But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause’” (John 15:25).

I would rather side with the Son of God than with those who sought his life and refused the gift of the Father. I would prefer to find joy in Jesus Christ who has won a great victory for the poor and needy, like myself. In him I am justified from all those things the law could not justify me from, and in him my sinful nakeness is clothed with his robe of righteousness. In him I can rejoice, even though I am poor and needy in and of myself. I prefer to side and see myself in that group which is described once more in verse 27 of this psalm:
Let those who delight in my righteousness
shout for joy and be glad
and say evermore,
"Great is the LORD,
who delights in the welfare of his servant!"
Maybe you are discouraged like me about your sin, your failures, and your lack of fruitfulness. While that may be very true, yet in Christ we are blessed for he came to save the poor and needy. Let’s rejoice in his victory and his righteousness.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Preaching the Gospel to Ourselves Each Day --- Search the Scriptures: Psalm 34

Psalm 34 (English Standard Version)

Taste and See That the LORD Is Good

Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.

1I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
4I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
5Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.

8Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
9Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
11 Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12 What man is there who desires life
and loves many days, that he may see good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Turn away from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
16 The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
20He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
21 Affliction will slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22The LORD redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

I am convinced that to live as a Christian we must learn to preach the gospel to ourselves each day. By preaching the gospel to ourselves I mean rehearsing the good news of what God has done for us in Christ, and who we are in him.

Each day when I read God’s Word I am looking to see the gospel. I want to bring again before my needy soul the good news of Christ. As I read different portions of God’s Word, different aspects of the gospel are brought before my eyes to strengthen my faith. It’s like looking at a diamond from different angles that show forth its beauty.

Looking at Scripture this way doesn’t mean we should ignore the historical context of a passage. But it does mean I want to go beyond what the text says to its original audience to what it says to me right now as I read it. We serve a living God who gives us a living Word, and that Word comes to us personally from the Lord.

In Psalm 34 the context is David’s deliverance from Abimelech, which was the standard name for a Philistine king, much the same as Pharaoh was the standard name for the Egyptian king. Psalm 34 shows that David depended on the Lord to get him out of that mess which is described in 1 Samuel 21 and in the title of this psalm. But depending on the Lord did not mean that David did not also use a bit of human ingenuity. Mark Futato says:
“Together, the original story and the psalm demonstrate a balance of human ingenuity and dependence on divine aid. The whole of the Christian life is one of balance: being 100 percent faithful to carry out our responsibilities, while depending 100 percent on the Lord.”
In other words, we pray and work. If we are sick, we go to the doctor and we pray. The Lord heals, but he heals through means. The Lord will deliver and help us, but he often uses our work to bring his help to us.

But how do we see the gospel in Psalm 34? In Psalm 34, David is teaching us how to know the Lord’s blessing in our lives. The word blessed in verse 8 is the same Hebrew word that was used in Psalm 1:1. Here is how Futato define this word:
“The first word of the psalm (1:1), ’ashre (traditionally translated “blessed”), is a key word that runs through the Psalter from beginning to end. No single English word captures the full sense of ’ashre. Those who are ’ashre are in a state of total well being: They lack nothing (34:8-10), are delivered from trouble (41:1-2; 94:12-13), and are wealthy and have successful children (11:1-3; 128:1-4; 144:12-15). No wonder they are so happy! The Psalms are about how to experience this profound happiness: Yahweh must be your God (33:12; 144:15; 146:5), and you must trust him (40:4; 84:12) and delight in obeying his teaching (94:12; 106:3; 112:1; 119:1). Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes complements what the Psalms express with ’ashre.”
In preaching the gospel to ourselves from Psalm 34, one of the first things we might remind ourselves of is the great blessing of those who have sought refuge in Jesus Christ! Psalm 34:8: “Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” Do you see yourself as greatly blessed in Christ?

All our blessings come to us as believers because Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. We “taste” the Lord’s goodness (v. 8), because Jesus Christ was willing to taste and drink the cup of God’s wrath on the cross! Verse 20 and the reference to the righteous who are preserved from broken bones, reminds us of our Lord’s suffering. When the soldiers came to break his legs, they found it was unnecessary (John 19). Thus, Scripture was fulfilled and testified to Christ’s righteousness. Christm the righteous one, alone makes it possible for us to be classified as one of the righteous and to enjoy the Lord’s deliverance and blessing.

Tasting the Lord’s goodness does not mean that Christians have no troubles in their lives. Verse 19 says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” But knowing the Father because we have received his Son means that we can be sure the Lord is on our side in the midst of our troubles. We are given the assurance in verse 19 that the Lord delivers us out of all of our afflictions. This is surely the case, even if sometimes that deliverance must come about in the next life. This assurance that the Lord is for us, and not against us, is an assurance unbelievers, sadly, cannot have (v. 21) until they come to Christ in repentance and faith.

Having preached the gospel to ourselves from Psalm 34, then, let us rejoice that we are so blessed in Christ. To have God for us, and not against us, is wonderful to know. Let us be thankful and joyful to the Father for giving us his Son, who drank the cup of God’s wrath so that we might taste the Lord’s goodness forever. May we meet whatever lays ahead for us this day in the blessing of this wonderful gospel of grace.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

False Confidences --- Search the Scriptures: Psalm 33

Psalm 33 (English Standard Version)

The Steadfast Love of the LORD
1 Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
2Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
3Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

4For the word of the LORD is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
5He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.

6By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
7He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
he puts the deeps in storehouses.
8Let all the earth fear the LORD;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
9For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.

10The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

13The LORD looks down from heaven;
he sees all the children of man;
14from where he sits enthroned he looks out
on all the inhabitants of the earth,
15he who fashions the hearts of them all
and observes all their deeds.
16 The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.

18Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19that he may deliver their soul from death
and keep them alive in famine.

20Our soul waits for the LORD;
he is our help and our shield.
21For our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
22Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.

This psalm exposes the false confidences many people have today. It teaches us that the Lord is trustworthy and the Lord is sovereign.

I watched television last night as the president of the United States tried to sell his plan for socialized health care. Part of his problem in selling his plan is that he has already gone back on his promises several times. He promised not to raise taxes but has. He promised his stimulus bill would prevent unemployment from exceeding 8%, but it is already near 10%. He now promises that the take over of health care will not raise the deficit, but his bailouts and budget have sent the deficit through the roof. So, naturally, his words seem less than trustworthy when he tries to take over another large portion of our economy.

In contrast, “the word of the Lord is upright” (v. 4). There is no disconnect between what the Lord says and what the Lord does. When the Lord speaks, deeds result! “He spoke and it came to be!” (v. 9).

Sadly, our modern world has no confidence in the Lord, and the result is misplaced confidence. The world has replaced the doctrine of creation with evolution. But now that people have put their faith in blind chance, they begin to worry about things like ocean levels. They have no confidence that “he gathers the waters” and sets their boundaries (v. 7).

The modern world also has no confidence in the Lord’s knowledge of the human heart. In verse 15 we learn that the Lord has made the human heart, which means he understands it perfectly. But the modern world turns to its own wisdom (psychology) and its priests (psychologists) in its search for happiness, rather than the Word of the Lord.

In our society, people also believe that international politics is where the real action is and where blessing is located. Watch any national newscast, and the focus is on the heads of nations and leaders of the world. But Psalm 33 warns us that “the Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing.” Instead, there is a nation above all nations which will outlast all of the temporary nations we see around us. To be in this everlasting nation is to be truly blessed (v. 12).

In verses 16-17, we see another false confidence. We think that military might is enough to secure a nation’s future. But what we forget is that internal corruption and change can ruin a nation as much as any military defeat. In our nation, we are watching the freest nation on earth forfeit its economic and political liberties at an alarming rate, proving that trust in military might rather than the Lord is a misplaced trust.

This has been a bit more political than my normal devotions! Maybe that is a mistake. But I think it is important to see that trust in the Lord and his Word has ramifications that affect how we view the world around us. Christ’s people are a peculiar people, not because we are peculiar (at least I hope not!) but because we belong to the age to come, and that affects how we look at this present evil age.

One big difference between Christ’s people and the people of this world is also struck in this psalm, and that note is joy. I read a quote yesterday from G. K. Chesterton that wondered at the lack of singing in modern society. Here are his words:
And at the end of my reflections I had really got no further than the subconscious feeling of my friend the bank clerk—that there is something spiritually suffocating about our life; not about our laws merely, but about our life. Bank clerks are without songs not because they are poor, but because they are sad. Sailors are much poorer. As I passed homewards I passed a little tin building of some religious sort, which was shaken with shouting as a trumpet is torn with its own tongue. They were singing anyhow; and I had for an instant a fancy I had often had before: that with us the super-human is the only place where you can find the human. Human nature is hunted, and has fled into sanctuary.
Christians are a joyful people because we have a leader and king who is completely trustworthy. He loved us so much that he came and died for us, and now his steadfast love is upon us (v. 22). Is it any wonder, then, that “our heart is glad in him.”

The Sola Panel | Why we don’t sing

The Sola Panel | Why we don’t sing

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The Sola Panel | Jesus IS a Jew

The Sola Panel | Jesus IS a Jew

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Living as "Weak-Strong" People --- Search the Scriptures: Psalm 32

Psalm 32 (English Standard Version)

Blessed Are the Forgiven
A Maskil of David.

1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

5I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,"
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

6Therefore let everyone who is godly
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him.
7You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

8I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.
11 Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

C. John Miller speaks of what he calls “weak-strong” men. By this phrase he means people who are “weak before God, deeply conscious of their sinfulness, but also strong in the continued, fresh discovery of the pardoning grace of God as revealed in the cross.” It seems to me that this is the sort of person Psalm 32 presents as the “blessed” or happy person.

We all tend to be too “strong” in our approach to God. We mistakenly assume that the person who dwells near the Lord is the good person. However, the problem is that there really are no good people! This is why Jesus said to the rich, young, self-righteous ruler, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19).

Why are there no good people? Because all of us sinned in Adam. Adam’s guilt, corruption, and death have been passed on to all of his descendents. Even little babies die, proving that they are Adam’s heirs, and have incurred the penalty of sin.

There is a remarkable question in the Heidelberg Catechism. It begins this way:
60 Q. How are you right with God?

A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.

Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God's commandments and of never having kept any of them, and even though I
am still inclined toward all evil . . .
Talk about being weak before God! In this catechism question, we (Christians) confess that we have sinned against all of the Ten Commandments, that we have never kept any of them, and that we are, at this very moment and will continue to be, inclined toward all evil!

You see, we never approach God or live in his presence on the basis of our goodness. The Lord is too holy to accept us on the basis of our pretended righteousness. Habakkuk 1:13 shows us why we cannot live near the Lord on the basis of our own righteousness, when it says of the Lord, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.”

We need to live honestly before the Lord like David did, as weak men, not strong men. Notice David’s honesty before the Lord in verse 5:
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,"
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
When David stopped covering his sin before the Lord, that’s when he found the Lord’s covering of his sin in verse 1:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
In other words, David was a “weak-strong” man. He was weak before the Lord because he was deeply conscious of his sin. But he was strong before the Lord because he knew the blessing of forgiveness, justification, and the presence of the Lord.

So if the basis of our acceptance into God’s presence is not our own righteousness, then what is the basis? How can we be sure we are forgiven? How can we be sure we are justified? How can we be sure we are dwelling in God’s presence?

The answer is given in the remainder of the question from the Heidelberg Catechism:
"nevertheless, without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me."

All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart."
The basis for my acceptance before God is never anything I am or do. Rather, my acceptance by the Father is all about “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ.” It is because Jesus satisfied God’s holy law by bearing its penalty that I am forgiven. It is because Jesus lived a righteous life that met the law’s demands that I am justified through Christ’s imputed righteousness. When you and I believe in Jesus Christ, his blood and righteousness is imputed to us, so that God views us as if we ourselves died on the cross and lived a righteous life. In union with Christ through faith we are forgiven and justified.

Are you living as a “weak-strong” person? Weak before the Lord as you honestly and regularly confess your original and actual sins before the Lord. But also strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 2:1), delighting in his forgiveness, justification, and blessed presence. Knowing in Christ the steadfast love of the Father and the happiness that comes from a washed conscience and his presence in our lives.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"It is the Sick who Need a Doctor" --- Search the Scriptures: Psam 31

Psalm 31 (English Standard Version)

Into Your Hand I Commit My Spirit
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

1 In you, O LORD, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me!
2Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!

3For you are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
4you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.

6I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
but I trust in the LORD.
7I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul,
8and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.

9Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also.
10For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
and my bones waste away.

11Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach,
especially to my neighbors,
and an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12I have been forgotten like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13For I hear the whispering of many—
terror on every side!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.

14But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, "You are my God."
15My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
16 Make your face shine on your servant;
save me in your steadfast love!
17O LORD, let me not be put to shame,
for I call upon you;
let the wicked be put to shame;
let them go silently to Sheol.
18Let the lying lips be mute,
which speak insolently against the righteous
in pride and contempt.

19Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of the children of mankind!
20In the cover of your presence you hide them
from the plots of men;
you store them in your shelter
from the strife of tongues.

21Blessed be the LORD,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was in a besieged city.
22I had said in my alarm,
"I am cut off from your sight."
But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy
when I cried to you for help.

23Love the LORD, all you his saints!
The LORD preserves the faithful
but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the LORD!

In this psalm, David is suffering. He suffers because he is being falsely accused (v. 17-18). He suffers because he is ostracized by the community (v. 11-13). He suffers because of an illness, and his illness is connected to his sin (v. 9-10). Futato breaks the psalm into two parts: verses 1-18 --- petition and trust; verses 19-24 --- thanksgiving and encouragement.

When I read the psalms, I have to admit that I probably tend to move too rapidly to Christ, without adequately considering the historical situation of the psalmist. I am particularly tempted to do so in this psalm, because of the line from verse 5 which was spoken by Jesus while on the cross:
“Into your hand I commit my spirit.” In Luke 23:44-46 we read: It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,
45while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last.
If David is the righteous sufferer in this psalm, then Jesus is the righteous sufferer par excellence:
  • David suffered from false accusations, and so did our Lord.
  • David suffered ostracism. Jesus was ostracized from the community, and even bore the Father’s ostracism as our sin was laid on him.
  • David suffered an illness due to his own sin. Jesus suffered because he was made a sin offering, not for his own sins, but for ours.
  • David trusted the Lord and offered prayers to him in his suffering. Jesus trusted his Father even on the cross, and offered prayers not only for his deliverance but for the deliverance of his enemies.
  • David found refuge in the midst of his suffering by hiding himself in the “sanctuary” or shelter of God’s presence. By his death and resurrection Jesus leads us into that heavenly sanctuary above --- a place the world cannot touch in its hostility against the Father and the Son --- a place of abundant goodness (v. 19).

All of us in this life are sick because of our sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). The way to receive healing from Jesus is to admit our soul-sickness caused by sin, and to look to the cross where Jesus was made sick so that we might be healthy forever.

What keeps us from the health of salvation is not ultimately our sin, but our refusal to admit and confess our sin as we come to Christ. Life in the present age is a life of continual confession and repentance, turning again and again to Jesus Christ and his cross for our health. In the age to come we will experience full health in resurrected bodies. But until that time, we are sick and must learn to look day by day and moment by moment to Jesus Christ lifted up for our healing on the cross.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reversal! --- Search the Scriptures: Psalm 30

Psalm 30

Joy Comes with the Morning
A Psalm of David. A song at the dedication of the temple.

1I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up

and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
2O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

4Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

6As for me, I said in my prosperity,
"I shall never be moved."
7By your favor, O LORD,
you made my mountain stand strong;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
8To you, O LORD, I cry,

and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
9"What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me!
O LORD, be my helper!"

11You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
12that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Psalm 30 is a psalm of reversal. David is sick. He is close to death (see v. 3 and 9). The Lord in his mercy brings healing to David, and this healing causes David to give thanks (v. 4 and 12).

David’s sickness in this particular case was the result of his sin. We see his sin in verse 6. David was guilty of autonomy. His confidence is was in himself and not in the Lord.

The sin of autonomous self-confidence is a sin our culture glorifies. The goal of 99% of secular psychologies is self-actualization. People live for self-fulfillment. Self-indulgence is the prevailing attitude in America. But Jesus taught a different ethic. He taught his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” He also said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

I realize that the sins of autonomous self-confidence and self-indulgence are slightly different. But they are certainly related. In our therapeutic culture the goal is to live for self, rather than the Lord, and to depend on self, rather than the Lord.

Sin is certainly not always the cause of sickness. But sometimes in Scripture, sin is the cause of sickness. Think of how Paul mentions, in 1 Corinthians 11, that the sickness of some Christians, and even their deaths, was the result of their lack of self-judgment in their participation of the Lord’s Supper! Here in Psalm 30, David’s sickness was the result of his sin.

The good news in the Psalm, however, is that the Lord in his mercy longs to bring a reversal in our lives, and through our repentance, he will! Listen to Mark Futato describe this reversal:
"David’s thanksgiving had a cause: reversal. The Lord had reversed David’s circumstances. Favor had replaced anger, and the joy of the morning had replaced the weeping of the night. Dancing had replaced mourning, and garments of joy had replaced clothes of mourning. Health had replaced sickness. Dependence on God had replaced autonomous self-confidence. God’s presence had replaced his absence. As a sick body had been symptomatic of a sick soul, a healthy body now spoke of a healthy soul (see 3 John 2) focused on the praise of God.”
Ultimately, David’s reversal points to a greater reversal: the reversal of David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ. On the cross all of our sin was laid on Jesus Christ. Because of our sins, Jesus experienced the opposite of God’s favor, namely, his wrath. The face of the Father was hidden from the Son, and this abandonment was expressed in Christ’s cry from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But Jesus experienced the great reversal on Sunday morning when the Father raised him from the dead.

Through our repentance and faith we are joined to Jesus in his great reversal. Through our union with Jesus Christ in his death, the Father views us as if we ourselves had died, bearing the guilt of our sins. Through our union with Jesus Christ in his resurrection, the Father views us as if we ourselves had lived a life of perfect righteousness, which merits the favor of God. Through faith in Jesus Christ we already experience this reversal of Jesus Christ in his favor and joy, and one day that favor and joy will find its perfect consummation in a new heaven and earth.

In the meantime, let us live in deep thankfulness to the Father for the great reversal we participate in through his Son, Jesus Christ. Let the favor and presence of God in our lives lead us to lives of thankfulness and joy, but also lives of dependence and self-denial, rather than the autonomous self-confidence and self-indulgence that are so displeasing to our God and bring death into our lives.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Psalm 29 (English Standard Version)

Ascribe to the LORD Glory
A Psalm of David.

1Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
2Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.

3The voice of the LORD is over the waters;

the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters.
4The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
5The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;

the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.

8The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth

and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, "Glory!"

10The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
11May the LORD give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with peace!

In this psalm the Lord is pictured as present in a storm that sweeps over the countryside. The storm begins in the Mediterranean Sea and comes inland toward Lebanon and Kadesh. The Lord's voice is likened to the thunder and lightning in its power that shakes the wilderness and strips the trees of their foliage.

The storm is a picture of the Lord's glory, majesty, and power. But the line I find intriguing is verse 9: "and in his temple all cry glory."

It is possible that this reference to the temple is a reference to the heavenly temple above, where the angelic beings of verse one dwell. However, in context, it seems that the temple is located in the same place where the storm has occurred, that is, the earth!

If that is the case, then, this world is to be likened to the Lord's temple. You and I as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are priests in his temple/earth, and are called upon to bring him glory. Our purpose on this earth as Christ's disciples is to bring him glory. As 1 Peter 2:9 says, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."

Part of our role in bringing glory to Christ is to evangelize and make disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to do this we proclaim both the law and the gospel.

The law can be known in creation. Something of God's glory and majesty can be seen from the creation itself. A thunderstorm, for example, shows us the might and majesty of the Lord.

But the law can only prepare a person for salvation. The law cannot save a person from the guilt and power of sin. For this salvation we need the gospel, and the gospel is only known through the special revelation of the Scriptures.

In this psalm, the God's glory is seen in creation. In creation we can still hear the thunder of God's law. But a far greater glory came into the world when the Son of God entered the world bearing our human nature, and even more, our sin. In Christ's coming, we hear the gospel, which is able to bring us forgiveness and a right relationship with the God of glory.

Have you let the law and the gospel do their work in your soul? Has the law shown you your need of God as it exposes your sin and guilt? But, even more, have you turned in your need of forgiveness to the gospel of Christ's death and resurrection for sinners? Have you embraced Jesus Christ by faith for forgiveness and a right relationship with Christ's heavenly Father?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Intimate Connection Between Christ and His People---Search the Scriptures: Psalm 28

Psalm 28

The LORD Is My Strength and My Shield
Of David.

1To you, O LORD, I call;
my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if you be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.
2 Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
when I cry to you for help,
when I lift up my hands
toward your most holy sanctuary.

3Do not drag me off with the wicked,
with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors
while evil is in their hearts.
4 Give to them according to their work
and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
5Because they do not regard the works of the LORD
or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more.

6Blessed be the LORD!
For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
7The LORD is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.

8The LORD is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
9Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

In verse 8 we see how intimately connected are the anointed king and his people. We see this through Hebrew parallelism, which is the way Hebrew poetry was constructed. In verse 8, notice the parallelism:
The Lord (a) is the strength (b) of his people (c)
he (a) is the saving refuge (b) of his anointed (c)

Notice how the Lord's people are placed in a parallel position to the Lord's anointed. By this device David is showing us how closely connected the king is to his people. The people's welfare or lack of welfare is intimately tied to the welfare of their king.

Since David, the Lord's anointed, is a type or picture of Christ, in fact, christ means anointed, we are justified in seeing Jesus Christ and ourselves in this verse. In an even more intimate way than David and his people, disciples of Jesus are united to him. In Christ's welfare we find our welfare!

Why are we forgiven? Why are we justified? Why are we adopted into the heavenly Father's family? It is because of our intimate connection to Jesus Christ.

By his resurrection the Father showed that he was pleased with his Son's work on the cross. By his resurrection Jesus was justified or vindicated, for his resurrection says that he is the righteous sufferer. By his resurrection Jesus was declared to be the Son of God. But joined to Christ through faith we are forgiven. We are counted righteous. We are adopted as sons. Just as it was in the Old Testament, our welfare is tied intimately to the welfare of our king, and our king is Jesus Christ.

How are you doing today? What kinds of trials and difficulties are you facing in your life? No matter what those trials are in your life, you can always take comfort in the fact that your welfare is tied to the welfare of Jesus Christ. Through faith in him, you are forgiven, justified, and adopted into the heavenly Father's family. Yes, our earthly pilgrimage may be filled with trials, but we are well because our Lord is well, raised to die no more. As Horatio Spafford wrote in his famous hymn:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Search the Scriptures

Psalm 27 (English Standard Version)

The LORD Is My Light and My Salvation
Of David.

1The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
2When evildoers assail me

to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me,

my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.

4 One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to meditate in his temple.
5For he will hide me in his shelter

in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.
6And now my head shall be lifted up

above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the LORD.

7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
8You have said, "Seek my face."My heart says to you,
"Your face, LORD, do I seek."

9 Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off;
forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
10For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the LORD will take me in.

11 Teach me your way, O LORD,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.

13I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!

Luke 10:38-42:

38Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40But 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." 41But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."

One thing David asked for. One thing Jesus said was necessary. What was this one thing?

A comparison of David and Mary points to this one thing consisting in three parts:
  1. Presence: David's desire was to dwell in the house of the Lord. Mary's desire was to dwell near Jesus. You and I are "in Christ."
  2. Awe: David was in awe of the beauty of the Lord. Mary sat at Jesus feet in humble reverence. We behold the glory of God in Jesus Christ through the gospel.
  3. Learn/know: David longed to know the Lord, and to this end he meditated within the temple, which revealed the Lord and his ways. Mary longed to know the Lord and to this end she learned from Christ and his teaching. We long to know the Father and to this end we learn of him as we read, meditate, and study the Scriptures which point us to Christ, the Father's true temple.

In the temple there was a sacrifice for forgiveness; a laver for washing; a light for seeing; bread for nourishment; garments for beauty and glory, and the presence of God in glory and grace. In Christ all of this is ours. In him we are forgiven; in him we have the washing of regeneration; in him we see the Father's glory; in him we find spiritual food; in him we are satisfied with his beauty; in him we are given abundant grace.

Is it any wonder, then, that we seek but One thing: to live in Jesus Christ, the One who satisfies us all the days of our lives?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Befriending Sinners? --- Search the Scriptures: Psalm 26

Psalm 26 (English Standard Version)

I Will Bless the LORD
Of David.

1 Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
2 Prove me, O LORD, and try me;
test my heart and my mind.
3For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in your faithfulness.

4I do not sit with men of falsehood,
nor do I consort with hypocrites.
5I hate the assembly of evildoers,
and I will not sit with the wicked.

6I wash my hands in innocence
and go around your altar, O LORD,
7proclaiming thanksgiving aloud,
and telling all your wondrous deeds.
8O LORD, I love the habitation of your house
and the place where your glory dwells.

9 Do not sweep my soul away with sinners,
nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
10in whose hands are evil devices,
and whose right hands are full of bribes.

11But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity;
redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12My foot stands on level ground;
in the great assembly I will bless the LORD.

Psalm 26 presents us with a couple of problems. The first problem is the problem of self-righteousness. At first glance David comes off as self-righteous. Is that a fair charge?

C. John Collins, who wrote the study notes for the EXV Study Bible answers this accusation well:
“Some have taken the claims of innocence here as a kind of self-righteous boasting, but this is a mistake. First, the mention of God's steadfast love and faithfulness (26:3), a clear echo of Ex. 34:6, shows that divine grace is the foundation for holy living; similarly, the references to worship in God's house (Ps. 26:6–8) indicate that the covenantal means of grace, with their focus on atonement and forgiveness, are in view; and third, singing this psalm serves to enable worshipers more and more to like and embrace the ideal of faithful covenant membership—but it does not make achieving that ideal a precondition for true worship.”
The second problem is the problem of association. What does the psalmist mean when he says:
4I do not sit with men of falsehood,
nor do I consort with hypocrites. . . .
and I will not sit with the wicked.
How do we square this with the New Testament teaching found in Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:
1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

9I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you."
Here Paul urges us not to separate ourselves from sinful people in the world. Jesus himself associated himself with notoriously sinful people in the world (Mark 2):
And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 17And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
Jesus was against the self-righteous separation from sinners that the scribes and Pharisees practiced. Jesus believed and practiced the truth a friend of mine likes to call, “mixing it up with the lost.”

So is there a conflict between David’s attitude and the attitude of Jesus and Paul? Can David’s attitude be reconciled with the attitude of Jesus and Paul?

Here is how Gerald Wilson looks at the admonition of Psalm 26 not to associate with the wicked. He says, “If one is walking ‘continuously’ in the presence of God’s reliable love, then the lifestyle of the deceitful, hypocrites, evildoers, and the wicked is no longer attractive.” Mark Futato writes, “While self-righteous separation is an abomination (Luke 18:9-14), ‘there is a legitimate form of separatism.’ God ‘hates those who love violence’ (Psalm 11:5), so those who submit to his sovereignty ‘hate the gatherings of those who do evil’ (Psalm 26:5). We hate sinners in the sense that we do not choose their sinful ways.”

But just because we, by God’s grace, are more and more finding the wickedness of sinners unattractive, does not mean we should not associate with them! My friend is right, Christians are supposed to mix it up with sinners, and are not to condemn or judge them while we do. We are to leave their condemnation and judgment to God. We are to love the sinful people in the world for Christ’s sake. We are to befriend the “sexually immoral,” “greedy,” “swindlers” and “idolaters,” as Jesus did, even while we love God’s and Christ’s “habitation” (Psalm 26:8).

Those who refuse to make nuances and fine distinctions, which Jonathan Edwards called the epitome of intelligence, will be frustrated with the fine distinction I am making. But it is a true distinction, nevertheless. David is not at odds with his Lord or the Lord’s apostle.

In summary, let us not make the mistake that the apostle warns about in 1 Corinthians 5. Let’s go out of our way to associate with unbelievers. The Father did not send Jesus into the world to be cloistered away from unbelieving sinners. In the same way, Jesus does not send us into the world (“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” Jn. 17:18) to be secluded from it. We are to befriend unbelievers with the hope and prayer that they might eventually be led to Christ.

But while we are to love sinners, we are not to love the wicked things they love. The lifestyle of wickedness is no longer attractive because we have found something better. The flip side of loving righteousness is hating wickedness.

All of this is complicated, but we won’t go wrong if we imitate our Lord Jesus Christ who loved and befriended sinners, even while he did not choose or love their sinful ways.

The Sola Panel | Improve your biblical word power 1: Righteousness

The Sola Panel Improve your biblical word power 1: Righteousness

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