Thursday, July 19, 2018

Walk the Talk – Part 1

This week, Michael writes: There's a story of a group of men who called themselves fishermen. Their area was renowned for its lakes and streams filled with big and hungry fish. The men met weekly and talked about the abundance of fish and defended fishing as an occupation. They searched for new and better ways of fishing. Their slogan was "fishing is the task of every fishermen."  They sponsored councils and conventions about fishing. They built large buildings at their fishing headquarters. However, they never fished. They called many to go into the fishing business. They held meetings to find where there were other areas where the fish were plentiful. They educated many people about how to approach and catch fish. But the teachers never fished. They sent out many students to do full time fishing. Like their teachers back home, these students never fished either. Some made fishing equipment, others studied how to farm fish. After one meeting, one young man went out and caught two large fish. The chairman of the fisherman club recruited him to go out and tell others about the two fish that he had caught. The young man never fished again. 

The moral of this story is that they never followed the master's calling. The master is Jesus Christ who had said, "I will make you fishers of men." Jesus said in John 14, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." If we say that we treasure treasures in heaven instead of upon earth, then our actions will prove where our heart is. The proof is in the pudding. However, salvation starts with "confession" that Jesus is Lord. Confession means to "speak the same thing." In life, it means to talk the talk and walk the walk. As the book of James says, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves”. The question is, "What is it that you value?" For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Paul said Philippians 1:21, regardless of whether I live or die, to live is Christ and to die is gain. My life and death are for the same purpose: the furtherance of the gospel of (the good news of) my Lord Jesus Christ. We were created for God's glory, not ours. The 1828 Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “glory” as: Praise ascribed in adoration; honor of God for His divine perfections or excellence. The word "glory" in the Hebrew text means "weight." Glory is the substance of the things of weighty and lasting value. The interpretation of the "handwriting on the wall" in the book of Daniel said, "thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting." The scale is God’s standards.

When heaven is your treasure, repentance is your greatest opportunity. Repentance means to "change your mind." It means to do an about-face ... to turn from self and unto the Lord Jesus Christ. Our moment by moment opportunity is to "set our affection on things above, not on things of this earth." Our grand opportunity is to turn our eyes upon Jesus. According to Hebrews 11:1, Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  

Let's continue Michael's message on "Walking the Talk" in the next post.
In Christ, Brian

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Church and State

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature would "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” Thomas Jefferson, January 1, 1802

It seems that ever since the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision was handed down on February 10, 1947, Everson vs. Board of Education, used this personal letter from President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, reinterpreting his assurance to them that the United Sates government was constitutionally bound to the Right of “Freedom of Religion”, a division intended for government not to interfere with the free exercise thereof has been turned around to mean that government has the duty to stop religious express in any and all government affairs and institutions. It may come as a surprise but, even a cursory reading of history would indicate, the current political debates over the relationship between the church and the state are not new but have existed in the West for centuries. In fact, the issue was addressed even before the rise of Western culture, as God’s people under the old covenant also were concerned with church-state relations. An article that read stated that during the old covenant period, the people knew nothing about the separation of church and state. Instead, Israel was a theocracy governed by a king who was appointed by the Lord Himself. That has changed under the new covenant, however, because the church now exists as a sanctified (separate) people who live within societies governed by civil magistrates who are not necessarily believers.

Romans 13:1-3a “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.”

The article explained that, of course, defining the church as a separate people does not in itself explain how it is to relate to the governing authorities. We must also understand something of the nature of civil government. Simply put, government is “legal force”. It has the authority to set laws that govern our behavior, punishing its citizens when they break the law. Such is the design of our Creator, for government is His invention and not something people came up with on their own. The Lord Himself is a governing authority with the right and power to rule over what He has made. Everything belongs to Him and is subject to His sovereignty (Ps. 24:1). In His wisdom, God has delegated some authority to human beings. He instituted the first human government, which consisted of Adam and Eve, when He tasked our first parents with taking dominion over the earth.

Genesis 1:28 God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

In his City of God, Augustine says that after the Fall of Man from the Garden of Eden, government took on the new responsibility of keeping evil in check. Ideally, the civil magistrate serves to help prevent wicked people from defrauding others of life, liberty, and property. In a fallen world, government is ordained by the Lord to punish evil.

There is much to be discouraged about when we look at the unjust laws that our ruling authorities have put on the books. However, we must also understand that even the most corrupt governments are signs of God’s grace. Anarchy is much worse because the lack of civil order makes it absolutely impossible for human beings to live and thrive. We should be aware of the faults of our rulers, but we should also thank the Lord that He uses them to restrain evil and that He is ultimately in control of the affairs of both church and state.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

God Versus the Idols

Jeremiah 10:6-7“There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might. Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you”.

As I read along in this little study of the book of Jeremiah, I see by the relevant applications of this prophet’s message in living in today’s world. My dad’s church went through a sermon series through this book years ago and with the treasure-trove of knowledge and wisdom being presented, the benefits are obvious for each and every one of us also. The lesson explains that God, in His gracious revelation of Himself, often tells us both what to do and why we are to do it. Though He is always well within His rights to answer our questions with “because I say so,” He frequently goes beyond that to explain why serving Him is always in our best interests. Life rules with understanding the reason behind them creates personal buy-in to obey. A good example of this is the denunciations of idolatry that we find in the Old Testament prophetic books. For instance, Isaiah 44:9–20 mocks pagan idols to show us why we should not follow false gods. Isaiah tells us that a deity that we can shape with our hands from created material is no god at all.

Jeremiah chapter 10 is another passage in which the Lord gives us some reasons why we should serve Him and not other gods. He begins with the familiar Old Testament charge not to follow “the way of the nations”. We think about Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Shamanism, etc., but also “self” in money, power, position and possessions. In their original context, such charges refer to the gods and ethics of the peoples that surrounded ancient Israel (Lev. 18:24–30; Deut. 12:29–31). God’s people were not to follow the pagans in serving their deities or living according to their immoral codes. Jeremiah10:6-7 focuses mainly on the serving of other gods, particularly gods associated with astrological signs. We see this in the charge not to “be dismayed at the signs of the heavens” (Jer. 10:2). The peoples of the ancient Near East believed that their gods would move the stars and planets in the sky above in order to indicate their future plans for nations and individuals. Consequently, certain astrological configurations could provoke great fear and terror when they were interpreted as omens of doom. The frequency with which Israel and Judah descended into idolatry indicates that they were not above such fears. But as Jeremiah told the ancient Judahites, they were not to be afraid because these false gods could not do evil or good (Jer. 10:3–5). Following idols is wrong not only because they are not the true Lord but also because idolatry binds people to fear, fear that is unfounded since other deities are non-existent. What did we fear today?

Jeremiah’s call for Judah’s repentance reminded them that following God was in their
best interests; that they were to obey Him not only because He said so but because following anyone else makes no sense at all. Yahweh—the Lord of Israel—is the only true and living God. He is no dead idol or a false deity who is a fantasy but the everlasting King who made the heaven and earth by His power (Jer. 10: 6, 10–13). To fail to serve Him or seek instruction from Him is the height of stupidity (Jer. 10: 21).

The lesson concluded by stating Reformer John Calvin comments, “God renders his glory conspicuous everywhere, so that it ought to engage and occupy the thoughts of all men and women; and it would do so were they not led away by their own vanity.” Idolatry does not exist because the Lord is unclear about His existence but because of our own vain imaginations. Sin makes us prone to trust gods other than the one true Lord of all, but when we do that we become
captive to fear and the destructive results of putting our final hope in any but God.

Blessing in the One true God

Monday, July 16, 2018

Misplaced Confidence

Jeremiah 7:3–4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord’”.

Getting only part of message or information in anything can lead us blindly in the wrong direction. In this little Bible Study of the book of Jeremiah that I’ve been going through, this point is brought up in the passage above. The lesson warns us that paying attention to only part of what God says always gets us into trouble. The most important rule for discovering what this passage or any Bible verse means is to interpret the verse in its contextToday, for example, we routinely hear people confess, “God is love” from 1 John 4:8. Many who do this, however, then affirm that one can be saved apart from Christ. Such individuals might confess that even a professed atheist will go to heaven as long as he treats others kindly. These people pass over the fact that in His love, God sent His only Son as the one way of salvation for the world (John 3:16; 14:6). In not heeding all that Scripture says about divine love, they reach false conclusions about the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

The study says that modern people are not the first to read God’s Word selectively. Jeremiah chapter 7 records the Prophet’s famous sermon against those who trusted in the words “this is the temple of the Lord”. The threefold repetition of this phrase could indicate the ultimate confidence the Judahites placed in possessing the temple. Or, it could mean the words formed a mantra the people spoke whenever Jeremiah warned them of divine wrath. Either way, the Judahites thought God’s choice of the nation and His placement of the temple in Jerusalem meant He would never allow the city to fall. This selective reading of Scripture, however, ignored the Lord’s purpose in choosing Judah.

The Lord chose the children of Jacob to be a holy nation, and failure to keep His covenant would bring about the ultimate penalty of exile. Professing faith in the covenant Lord of Israel and having Abraham as one’s forefather were not enough for salvation; the people had to possess faith in the Almighty and demonstrate it via love of God and neighbor. Thus, Jeremiah told Judah that they had to care for the destitute (evidencing love of neighbor) and abandon other gods (evidencing love of God) to be preserved from destruction. Dr. John L. Mackay comments, “The Temple guaranteed them nothing if they were living lives of rebellion”.

We do not gain the righteous status by which we are justified and given citizenship in His kingdom by methodically obeying the Lord. Faith alone in the promises of God alone avails for justification, which is fulfilled as we trust in Christ alone. But the signs that we have justifying faith are true repentance of sin and a genuine, good-faith effort to follow and obey the Lord. Judah forgot this in Jeremiah’s day, but they should have known better. After all, the people’s possession of the ark at Shiloh in the days of Eli was no help to the impenitent.

The study today concluded that we must likewise be wary of misplaced confidence. Though great steps of understanding, dedication, devotion and desire, we do not rest in God’s salvation because we took Christianity 101 or confirmation classes, signed a card of commitment to Christ or saying a “Sinner’s Prayer” and going forward to receive Christ at an “altar call.” Instead, our present possession of saving faith is what assures us that we belong to Jesus. The question we must ask ourselves is not whether we “once” professed faith but whether we trust Him today and every day? Christianity is not what we did or what we do, but who children of God are and whose we are. Do we trust Christ alone this day? 


Sunday, July 15, 2018

All on Your Own

Hosea 6:7 “But like men they transgressed the covenant; There they dealt treacherously with Me.

Last Sunday, Pastor Obie continued our church’s sermon series on the book of Hosea saying that co0mmon thought is merely having a same point as others. It may not be the “right” way or the “safest” way, but it is “my way” or “our way”. How many times do we feel that we do not need instructions, directions or guidance in doing something? The negative effect can be that we end up in a worse place than where you started. 

Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?

In the Old Testament, the people of God made a covenant with God and only by the Will and Hand of God did they accomplish greatness. But, over time, they turned away from God and towards themselves. Israel’s decline led the forgetting of what God had done for them and to spiritual betrayal. God compares sin to spiritual adultery. But, the love of other gods still happens today in unfaithfulness to our heavenly Father, Creator God when we commit ourselves to our own interests, pleasures, possessions, position, money and addictions that take our eyes off the Lord and makes us prostitutes to those idols in our life. But, though we dishonor and ignore Him, God loves us despite us.

Hosea 7:10 “Their arrogance testifies against them, yet they don’t return to the Lord their God or even try to find Him.” 

Pastor Obie explained three pitfalls of a prostituted people. (1) Their pride blinds their spiritual perspective. How easily we deceive ourselves with our own abilities and accomplishments that make us blind to the things of God and His Divine hands in life and creation. All on my own. (2) They place their trust in powers other than God’s power. We put our trust on self, others and other things than Father God. We find strengths in our alliances and our armies, in our physical and intellectual strength, in our achievements; but, not in God’s. Who do we turn to when troubles appear? Do we turn inwardly, outwardly or upwardly? 

Hosea 10:13 “But you have planted wickedness, you have reaped evil, you have eaten the fruit of deception. Because you have depended on your own strength and on your many warriors.”

(3) They prioritize their pleasure and preferences over God’s. The desires of the sinful flesh for pleasure leads to turning away from God’s commandments, statues and laws, which are designed (a) to protect us, (b) to provide for us.  No Rules equates to pure chaos in life, not freedom, but bondage. God’s Way is the only way to true happiness. Spiritual adultery does not get us where we really want to be. Are we living in such a way that our life is pleasing in the eyes of the Lord?  

Ephesians 2:5-6 “Even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)
 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.”

Pastor Obie reminds us that God’s grace is greater than all our pitfalls. Hosea 11:9 
Father God teaches us (His children) how to walk in the ways of the kingdom of Heaven. He wants to see the best for us, which is when we are in the center of His love. God wants a richer relationship with us, rather than empty religion. Not just knowing of Him, good at following rules, but bad at following God, so failed even though we believed that we succeeded. God says, “I do not condemn you.” Acceptance comes before change. Like the prodigal son, we were all dead, but now alive; was lost, but now are found. Through Jesus Christ, we have come home to the Father. He is with us and we personally know Him both intellectually and relationally. This is true love.

2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Jesus Christ died for us on the cross for the atonement of our sin, while we were still sinners. We cannot make it on our own. Let His power change you.

In Christ, Brian

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Deceitful Human Heart

Jeremiah 17:9–10“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds’”.

Going through a study of the book of Jeremiah, I came across the passage above, which is one that has made a large impact on my worldview and a point of contention in this world. One of the biggest questions in the world is whether mankind (in terms of our heart) is basically good or basically bad. This passage and others like Matthew 7:13-14 and Ephesians 2:1-3 make clear the answer from God’s perspective. We need a Savior. 

The study pointed out that in the law of Moses, indeed in the Bible as a whole, there is much stress laid on outward behavior and how we are to treat our neighbors. Yet the Mosaic law is clear that mere external conformity to its demands is insufficient. The Lord demands an obedience that goes far deeper than that ... not what we do, but who we are. His standards must be on our heart—they must impact our motives, thinking, emotions, and everything else that we are both inside and out. This is a hard truth to grasp, which is why God emphasizes it from the beginning of His dealings with the people of Israel. The five books of Moses often stress the need for a circumcised heart (having cut off the sin skin) that is set apart to love the Lord above all else.

Galatians 5:19-21 “When you follow the heart desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, drug abuse, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

Jeremiah emphasizes the need for a changed heart by reminding his readers of our hearts’ condition apart from God’s grace. Born in sin and committing sins throughout life, our hearts are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick”. We do not, apart from Christ, love the truth. We rationalize the irrational and defend the indefensible. We harbor malice, lust, covetousness, and all manner of secret sins. We selfishly desire whatever we want, whenever we want. This is what Scripture tells us from beginning to end because of original sin. Bible commentator Matthew Henry comments, “There is wickedness in our hearts which we ourselves are not aware of and do not suspect to be there. Are we blind and conformable in our sin?Transformation

The prophet Jeremiah saw this so clearly because of the era in which he lived. During Josiah’s reign, Judah enjoyed what appeared to be a great revival, culminating in one of the grandest Passover celebrations ever. However, though Josiah had true piety, the nation as a whole experienced only a skin-deep revival. Jeremiah 17:1–4 reveals that the people never truly gave up “their altars to other gods and their Asherim (one of the three great goddesses of the Canaanite pantheon), beside every green tree and on the high hills.” The hearts of the people under Josiah were far from God, and there was only rote observation of true religion.Ultimately, the people were not trusting God and His Word, but they looked to whoever was currently in charge to direct their piety. There was no deep personal attachment to the Lord, so the people were just as happy worshipping the gods of Canaan as they were praising Yahweh. How about us?

Jeremiah 17:7-8 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Josiah was a good man, much better than his grandfather Manasseh. Nevertheless, because the Judahites trusted in the king, not in the Lord, reformation did not go far enough. It is always folly to trust mere men for one’s reconciliation to God, no matter how good and holy such men happen to be. 

There is only one man in whom we can trust absolutely for reconciliation to God, and that is the God-man Christ Jesus. No matter how pious other servants of the Lord may be, following them simply for the sake of following them is never enough to be restored to our Creator. We can obey church leaders, show up every Sunday for worship, and otherwise appear pious, but none of these things are any advantage without a true and abiding trust in the Lord God Almighty. 

Ephesians 2:4-14 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Therefore, remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.”

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Afflictions and Comforts of God’s Word

Jeremiah 23:28-29 “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my Word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”

I was reading an interesting Devotional today, which states that central to the biblical worldview is the power of the Word of God. Holy Scripture presents this truth in various ways. Isaiah tells us that just as precipitation is sure to cause plants to grow, God’s Word accomplishes its purposes (Isa. 55:10–11) – we grow from devotedly studying it. In 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, Paul explains that the Lord saves His people by means of “the foolishness of preaching”, (that which the spiritually blind believe is unnecessary, is truly a necessity). In today’s passage, Jeremiah makes the point by saying, “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29).

The lesson explained that Jeremiah originally spoke these words when he had to deal with the problem of false prophets who told God’s people that they would remain safe despite their following of their own stubborn hearts, not His law. These ungodly messengers believed that the Lord’s promise to dwell among His people in His temple meant Jerusalem would not fall. Of course, the problem with this message was not that it was wholly devoid of truth; rather, the problem was that the false prophets only believed part of what God had revealed. Yet the false prophets did not remind the people of Judah that the Lord’s presence was contingent upon faith and repentance, upon the good-faith effort to do the will of God and contrition when there was failure.

The false prophets preached only the comforting passages of Scripture, neglecting its hard truths. True, the Lord dwelled with His people in Jerusalem, but His presence was not bound to that city. Since He also fills heaven and earth, He is sovereign over space and time, and in His omnipresent lordship He could cast out the covenant community while remaining with the faithful remnant in their exile. His Word is forceful and fiery, bringing about the destruction it promises upon the impenitent and nourishing the souls of His children just as grain nourishes the body.

This same Word guaranteed that after the exile, a righteous descendant of David would sit on the throne and rule just as the leader of God’s holy people should—in justice and righteousness. The Lord would bring the remnant of Judah and Israel back from the countries to which they would be sent, and this salvation would surpass in glory the exodus from Egypt. In Christ, God has kept these promises.

Fire and hammers destroy and demolish—so we should expect the Word of God to afflict our consciences and bring us to the end of ourselves. Yet fire and hammers also refine and shape—so we should expect Holy Scripture also to purify us and build us up in godliness. As Christians, we need to experience both aspects of God’s Word, and we need to preach and teach both the afflictions and comforts of Scripture to ourselves and to those around us.

Blessed be the Word of God – the Word of Truth