Thursday, December 30, 2010

faithlessness & the dumb things we say

She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, "Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you, 'Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin's army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand'?" Barak said to her, "If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go."
Judges 4:6-8

The narrative of the story of Deborah is one of God moving despite the faithlessness of His people. First we need to know the characters. There were good guys and bad guys. First the bad guys... Jabin is the Canaanite king who is oppressing Israel at the time. Sisera is the general leading an elite force of 900 iron chariots. He is leading the military occupation. Israel is powerless to defeat this technology.

But there are good guys. And the leader of the good guys is a good gal: Deborah. She is called a judge, a prophetess, and a "mother in Israel". She has a "court" of sorts under a palm tree and the people travelled to the hill country of Ephraim for her assistance and leadership. When things got bad enough, she called upon Barak to lead a military campaign to overthrow Sisera and Jabin. She knows it is just a matter of force, and the right leader can motivate 10,000 men to eliminate the military advantage of 900 chariots.

But Barak is not a brave leader. He is at best just a little less than confident. He refuses to take on God's call unless Deborah joins him in the battle. She does so, but warns him that the humiliation coming to him would be that the general would fall to a woman's hand.

What really bothers me when I read this passage is that Barak made this choice readily. He was willing to modify God's call due to his own fears. Think about it: a spokesperson for God (the prophetess Deborah) approached him and told him to take on this task... that God would deliver the enemy over to him. There is an army ready to be led, just the right man to do the leading was all that was left. And God chose Barak to be the commander of that army. That should have been all the confidence that man needed. But faithlessness will lead you to say some bold and defiant things. And Barak refuses the assignment UNLESS a woman goes with him. He has more confidence in the messenger than he has in the message or the God Who spoke it to him. He is really dictating to God the terms of his obedience. But Israel needs deliverance, and God graciously allows for this in His sovereign plan. It does not make Barak's lack of confidence any less disturbing. But it makes God's victory even greater.

True to the prophecy, Israel wipes out Sisera's army. The general flees to an allied city, only to find death at the hands of a woman, Jael, who offers him refuge. He meets a gruesome end with a tent peg driven through his brain by an enterprising and scheming woman who also wanted to end his oppression. The Canaanite tyranny of Jabin is ended, and God is glorified, even in the faithlessness and dumb statements of a leader named Barak.

So the real lesson is between Deborah and Barak. God will use us sometimes, even in our faithlessness. That is the lesson of Barak. God wants us to be faithful, and will use faithful people even above what we might think, as evidenced by Deborah.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

divine testing

They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.
Judges 3:4

Sometimes bad circumstances exist in the lives of God's people as an opportunity in God's plan to test our faithfulness and commitment. Israel's disobedience had led to the Canaanite nations living among them. But the text in Judges is clear with this statement that God had a sovereign purpose even in their choice to incompletely follow His command. These nations would be used to teach warfare to new generations (Judges 3:1-3) and to test the spiritual fidelity of succeeding generations of Israelites.

I am currently reading Jerry Bridges' book "Trusting God". It is an interesting and in-depth book on the sovereignty of God. That is a subject in short supply among evangelicals, at least in the sense that the scriptures treat the subject. This verse in Judges is just one example. God will have a sovereign purpose even in negative circumstances. This runs counter-intuitive to progress oriented success minded Christians today. But sometimes the greatest spiritual success comes within situations filled with physical difficulties. I am looking forward to reading on in Bridges' analysis of scriptural sovereignty. He treats the theological subject with intense practical and personal accessibility, which is the way I think all good theology should lead us.

When trusting God in the midst of trying circumstances, we must remember that none of the difficulty catches Him off guard. He is not scrambling to catch up. He is wise. He is all-knowing. And He is totally loving. Even when the consequences of our sin bring adverse circumstances to our lives, He is gracious and merciful. We can see His sovereign hand and His love even in these times.

Israel was given a chance to continue to grow in national relationship with God through the adverse circumstances of having pagan nations living among them. They could easily have trusted God and seen God deliver them from the temptations of idolatry and spiritual infidelity. The book of Judges details the struggle they had in so doing and is witness to the sovereign plan of God.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, December 23, 2010

cycles of sin

Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.
Judges 2:18-19

This is important background to the book of Judges. It should not be overlooked. It is the precursor to the narrative accounts of individual histories of each judge. It shows us a tendency that we do well to learn from. We tend to fall in the same sins over and over. The book of Judges describes this on a national scale with Israel.

Their cycle was aggravated by several factors. One was that a new generation of Israelites had taken their circumstances of favor in the Promised Land for granted. It wasn't the Joshua generation that easily gave in to the seduction of idolatry. It was the generation that had always lived with Canaanites among them. That was the second big complication. This generation was being affected by the residual after effects of the incomplete obedience under Joshua. The Canaanites should not have been there in the first place. Now that they were, they became a source of cultural temptation for the nation. And the text makes it clear that Israel chose to give in to that temptation and suffered the consequences in divine judgment.

The third complicating factor has to do with the fact that sin tends to grow stronger in cycles, not weaker. That is something I know from my own heart. I might first struggle with an angry or bitter thought towards someone. Left unconfessed and unforgiven, it will move to a wrong statement or action. That might move into a full blown conflict or hurt relationship. The same thing happens in other areas. Sin cycles can lead people to ruin their lives morally... starting with a movie scene replayed over and over, going on to pornography, and then ending in a sexual affair that ruined an entire family. They never start with the affair. They start with the thought that they deserve to fill a sensual desire. They replay that thought over and over and it grows into full grown adultery. That is the way sin works.

So really, delving into the book of Judges will be a journey into the capacities of my own broken and sinful human heart. I am willing to admit that God wants to show me some preventative measures here, by making me witness in His word scenes of spiritual devastation. The instruction in these sin cycles can break cycles moving in my own heart. And for that reason I am glad God has included this book in the Bible.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The consequences of incomplete obedience

When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.
Judges 1:28

The book of Judges opens with this description of how each individual tribe in Israel was left with challenges to complete the occupation of the Promised Land after the death of Joshua. Yet in every bit of territory, with every tribe, there was some unwillingness to complete the task. And "easier" solution was accepted, and each solution seemed to make economic sense: force the Canaanites into slavery. But this domination was not obedience.

The result was slavery, which was not God's will. God did not call Israel to be slave masters in the Promised Land. But the result of incomplete obedience was this new social system that God had not asked of them. These Canaanites grew quietly strong and resistant under a slave economy. Eventually they would rise to dominance in a generation or two, and the cycle of the book of Judges would decay Israel spiritually, socially, economically, and politically. All because they chose an expedient sinful solution that offered an easy way out.

If Israel had obeyed the military rules of engagement under Joshua (wipe out and forcefully relocate Canaanite people groups) they would not have suffered under the Judges. Incomplete obedience eventually has its painful consequences. That is a principle still bearing fruit today.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

God gets the last word

There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?
Nahum 3:19

This verse is addressed to the King of Assyria. He is the chief resident of Ninevah and as the capital of his empire fell, he witnessed the reality of the end of an era. God would bring the devastation in response to the wickedness of Ninevah. And there was no way out. God always has the last word.

When the might and the wisdom of this world confronts the finality of God's authority, deep pains will result. That is what happened in this situation. Although Nahum was written before these events took place and is hence prophetic, my perspective is that Ninevah is just a heap of ruins in modern Iraq that was only recently uncovered by archeologists within the last century. The empire fell at the crushing judgment of God. That is fact.

God decrees what will occur. That is a scriptural reality. We may feel uncomfortable with our lack of human autonomy, but nothing stops what God is doing. No force of human power on this planet will prevail against His will. God is in control. I worship the God Who always has the last word. The end of Ninevah is a stark reminder of just Who my God is, and why I ought to understand what He says.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, December 20, 2010

God against you

Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.
Nahum 2:13

Grace in Christ Jesus means that God is for me (Romans 8:31). It is a good thing to be forgiven in Christ, especially when I read a passage like this one where God is setting judgment against a people who have rejected Him. In the case of the prophet Nahum, it is the pagan city of Ninevah. This is the same city that had repented under the barely perceptible ministry of the reluctant Jonah. But now they have hardened against God as a society. And God is preparing to judge them in unique and sovereign ways.

God is against Ninevah. He would burn up their war chariots. This was the battle technology that had given them the edge all though out the ancient middle east. But this was not going to be the case any more. God was destroying their military power. He went after their symbols. The lion was a motif the Assyrians used in battle and in national monuments. But their "young lions" (warriors) were about to be devoured by the avenging justice of a holy God. They would prey on other nations no more.

God was also going to cut off the Assyrian communication network. With it they managed a far-flung empire. But no longer would the messengers bring reports to Ninevah. The Assyrian empire would go the way of the dust of ruin. They would torment Israel no more. And it was because God was for Israel, even as He judged a people that had rejected Him in Ninevah.

These are terrible words to read..."I am against you". And when scripture shows us this side of God, we should learn and respect His mercy in Christ even more!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, December 16, 2010

God is good

The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.
Nahum 1:7

This is an interesting statement to have in the midst of an oracle of judgment against a pagan nation. The book of Nahum opens with a clear statement of God's judgment prepared against Ninevah. Nahum is a bookend to the book of Jonah. In Jonah, God is gracious to a pagan nation and sent a prophet to preach a message that would result in repentance. In Nahum, Ninevah is no longer inclined to turn to God and God is warning them of the impending justice about to destroy them. Yet even in that warning, there is a message of grace that could remind them of previous repentance.

The focus of this grace is the goodness of God. He does nothing wrong or vindictive. He does everything out of perfect justice and goodness. It is who God is. He is good. God is a stronghold for those in trouble. We can run to Him and find in our relationship with Him all that we need to survive the worst that life can throw at us. He is our castle... our strength... our security.

God is also complete in His knowledge. When the text says that He "knows" those who take refuge in Him, it means that He is in relationship intimately with them. He loves them. He wants to cultivate true spiritual intimacy with them in the time of trouble when they find themselves hiding in Him. The stronghold is a place of care, growth, and maturity for those who find themselves there. It is a place not to survive, but to thrive.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

God's gracious love

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
2 Peter 3:9

It is God's desire that the world turn to Him. He gives gracious opportunity. That is His nature. He loves us... a fact forever demonstrated in the death of Christ for us. He patiently offers time for humanity to come to Him.

The image of God as a mean-spirited and capricious judge is one that comes not from the scriptures, but from those who oppose the scriptures. The fact remains that God does judge sin. In fact, the very next verse (2 Peter 3:10) informs us that a day will come swiftly when the entire universe will be remade and purged of the effects of sin. God is just patient, on our time scale, until then.

This explains why sin can seem so rampant. It is not the sin that God is allowing as much as it is the TIME to repent from that sin. He is giving this world the grace of the gospel and has commanded His church to reach it. He is sovereignly calling people and sovereignly positioning Christians to reach them because He desires that people come to Him. And He is giving us His patience, seen over time, so that people may come to Him. That is a gracious, patient, and holy love.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
2 Peter 2:1

Since sin entered the world, lies have marked the experience of the human life. It was believing a lie against the Word of God that contributed to original sin all along. And this has been humanity's spiritual struggle ever since that day. We have believed a lie, and we have perpetuated lies of our own device.

Nowhere is this more destructive than from within the church. False teaching is rampant. It has marred church history and hindered the testimony of the church throughout the ages. Part of the reason that skeptics and enemies of the faith can attack Christianity is that false teaching has led to inconsistencies and false practices in the church. It has led to greater sin. It is not just about a stack of doctrines on paper. Teaching always leads to practice. And that is what the world sees in the church.

Peter knew that false teachers would arise among the people. He warned the Christians he wrote to be seriously discerning people. Fortunately there is an accurate way to gauge the teaching of anyone who claims to be speaking for God. The words have to match the firm standard of scripture. Anything less is not the truth.

Peter warns that heresy (deviation from the scriptural standard) is destructive. He warns that it leads to a denial of Christ, and thus of the truth. He warns that it brings about the judgment of God on the false teacher and on those who will follow his instruction. The entire second chapter of 2 Peter can be outlined from this first verse. That is how serious this problem was for Peter and still is today.

Part of the reason I am committed to discipleship through the teaching of the scriptures and the training of a biblical method of interpretation of God's Word is to prevent and strengthen the church from false teaching. There is much out there today that is sloppy at best, heresy at its worst. And discernment must be taught and practices within strict biblical frameworks. We can't just believe something because we "feel" something about it. We must know it, we must understand it, and we must measure it by the clear teaching of the Word of God.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, December 13, 2010

the Word of God & moral transformation

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
2 Peter 1:3-4

I believe that this text is a key to the process of individual holiness and discipleship. It shows us just what every Christian is supposed to do. And it was penned by one of the most impetuous, and serious, followers of Jesus... the apostle Peter. In his journey from fumbling disciple to articulate preacher and church leader, Peter learned what he taught in this letter. And this is not just some theological discourse. This is the process of personal and practical spiritual maturity described from God's gracious point of view.

First, anything I can become is rooted and grounded in God's power, not my own. I lack sufficient ability to morally mature. God's power must grant me what I need. Thankfully, in Christ, God holds nothing back. The text says that He gives us "all things that pertain to life and godliness". There is sufficient information and abundant strength to become holy in Christ's power to transform my life. I have no excuse.

Secondly, there is a specific and exclusive means to this transformation. Peter does not believe nor does he teach that everything is right or that any path to God is acceptable. It only comes through "the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence". I can only be transformed by the knowledge of God in Christ. Jesus claimed to be the exclusive person through Whom the world must come to God (John 14:6). The scriptures constantly affirm this, and logically, there cannot be many ways to God when those ways contradict one another.

Thirdly, there is a clear means to know God. It comes through the Word of God, what Peter calls "his precious and very great promises". God has granted us by His grace all the instruction and examples we need to please Him in the Bible. It is a vast and complex book that I have committed my lifetime to understanding. And I am blessed by doing so. But it is the primary and exclusive way in which I can know God's thoughts, because they have been written down and preserved through the ages. This is a indeed a precious book.

Fourthly, there is a clear goal to holiness. It is nothing short of being holy as God is holy. That is what "partaking in the divine nature" is all about. Peter is not teaching some sort of "oneness" with a conglomerate God. Rather, he is teaching that God is the standard of holiness for which we must aspire, and that when we do receive that holiness in Christ and apply it in our lives, we share in his nature as we act amazingly like Him. This is transformation into the image of Christ... what a "Christian" (little Christ) is supposed to be.

Finally, there is a clear focus of this transformation into a partaker of God's nature. It is clearly a moral transformation, one that escapes "the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire". Christians are remarkably different, not so that we can play the "holier than thou" game. We are different because all people have one very deep root problem: we are sinful. And when Christians are transformed into people who truly live holy lives like God lives in the world, it will stand out in a society of sin. We swim in a less polluted stream by the grace of God. And that is a joyful gift of the transformation the Son of God and the Word of God have brought to us.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Friday, December 10, 2010

discerning innocence

For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.
Romans 16:19

Paul concludes the epistle to the Roman church with some simple final instructions that affirm the gospel he has just presented and defended. He warns against those who would distort the gospel and cause divisions in the church (Romans 16:17-20). He reminds them of the beautiful power of the gospel in a magnificent doxology that fittingly sums up the entire book (Romans 16:25-27). This charge in verse 19 carries with it Paul's ongoing prayer for these believers.

The Roman church had a stellar reputation as a solid church (Romans 1:8) and Paul reminds them of this at the end of the book. It is a cause for his personal rejoicing. But Paul also knows that the enemy would love to subvert this testimony to his purposes. And the quickest means to do so would be through heresy and false practice to creep into the church. That is why this prayer request is so important. Discernment and wisdom to "what is good" would help them weather doctrinal controversies. And Paul's words in this book have been used by the broader church now for millennia to settle the important doctrinal issues concerning the gospel. Paul had given them a handbook on doctrinal discernment and the core of the Christian faith essentials. The book of Romans continues in that vital role even now.

The second half of this prayer request is also important. He wanted them to be innocent (not naive) about what is evil. This innocence meant that a charge of sin could not be laid against them. Again, the book of Romans serves as a great means of understanding how to live this way. The salient chapters of Romans 6-8 and Romans 12 are high points in the Christian experience. Even as they detail the struggle with sin that still continues in the life of a forgiven believer committed to the gospel.

I believe that this prayer request at the end of the book of Romans serves as the heart of any true believer for the church. It defines what I should want from myself in my walk with God. It defines what I should want from my church. It defines what others will hopefully see in me. And it is what the gospel produces in us: discerning faith that makes us wise to what is good, and innocent of what is evil.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, December 9, 2010

a personal reflection: through endurance & scriptural encouragement

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Romans 15:4

This was Paul's attitude toward the Old Testament. The scriptures existed as the source for instruction for Christians. The goal of the instruction of the scriptures was to have a real and firm hope. This was not hope in the sense we generally think of it, like "I hope I get what I want for Christmas". This was hope like a firm and unshakeable confidence. It was based on the knowledge of God in His holy Word. It is an indescribably real and sure thing, even though it is in the future and requires waiting and faith to receive.

The goal was hope, but the process was to understand and draw that hope from the things written in the scriptures. That is why I see as absolutely vital the process of doing what I do right now, and virtually every morning: I must be reading, studying, and filling my thoughts with the truth of God's Word. For me, the best time that I can achieve this is when I rise up early in the morning before the rest of my family. It would be easy to let that hour be filled with sleep. But it is best that it be filled with God's thoughts, which I can only find in an understandable form in the Bible.

I find that this practice creates regular and daily encouragement for me. There are times where I need constant encouragement. There are other times where the immediate effect is to help me encourage someone else. And there are times where sin in me keeps me from really applying the truth until I give in to the conviction of sin that the Word and God's Spirit bring, then confess and forsake it, and thus find the encouraging relief of forgiving mercy in God and sustaining grace.

All of those are experiences of encouragement and hope. And God's Word has never failed me in either category. I cannot say that about anything else in my life.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

when Christians disagree

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Romans 14:19

It is bound to happen. Christians are going to have disagreements and differences of opinion. And we are not left to our own devices when it comes to dealing with them. The God Who brought us together in the church will help us get along despite these differences. But that does not mean that the church has always done so.

One of the inevitabilities of two millennia of history as that a lot of people have done a lot of things. In the case of church history there is a lot that we have done right. But there is a lot that we have done wrong. Many of the problems the church has encountered through the centuries have been the result of not obeying the scriptures when it comes to settling disputes among ourselves. That is why Romans 14 is such a vital chapter. It helps us understand that not every Christian is at the same personal place. And some believers are weaker or stronger than others. Grace should lead us to defer to one another.

The overarching principle from this powerful yet small verse is that a driving motivation should direct the way Christians interact with one another. We should pursue peace by words and actions that encourage and build up one another. Sadly, that is not the first response we are inclined to have. There are clear cases where doctrinal heresy cannot be tolerate. And deliberate immorality is also to be clearly dealt with. But in all other situations (which is most of what we encounter in learning to get along in the Body of Christ) we are called to pursue peace. It is the defining characteristic that God wants for His church.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

...when in Rome?

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Romans 13:14

This verse makes a natural transition in the book of Romans. Paul has gone from a section detailing the practical results of personal sanctification (Romans 12) to a section describing the social impact by believers who do so (proper submission to secular authorities: Romans 13:1-7). From there he talks about how proper Christian practice ought to lead to behavior that is ultimately law-abiding and respected by the governing authority of the state (Romans 13:8-10). The chapter concludes with this verse in a context of contrasting sinful practice of the pagans with the holy lifestyles of believers (Romans 13:11-14).

It is this practical contrast that is worth thinking about. It is about replacement. The Roman believers were situated in a difficult climate for holiness. Really, any large city in the Roman empire was beset with immorality and idolatry. You can see the negative effects of this in the book of 1 Corinthians where Paul has to reprimand a church that has caved to the pressures. He has already noted that the Roman church has a stellar reputation known to Christians throughout the world. He aims to keep it that way by reminding them of the need to replace sinful behaviors with sanctified living. And that comes through their relationship with Christ. They were called to be Romans who lived like Jesus in Rome. And that meant that sinful desires could not be provided for, indulged, or exalted.

If you want to know exactly where the contrast was most apparent, just read Romans 13:13. Six distinct problems sins were to be replaced by life in Christ. And they sound like the Roman empire at the depths of its depravity: "Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy." Rome allowed for every kind of personal indulgence, particularly among the decadently wealthy. And it would easy to follow the adage: "when in Rome". But Christianity defines behavior by being "in Christ" and not "in Rome".

That principle is vital today. Every form of personal and sensual indulgence is available in our culture. How else can we explain that pornography is a multi-billion dollar worldwide industry larger than the Hollywood movie-making monolith? And sadly, Christians are being trapped by it. We have often lowered our standards at the cost of Christlike compassion and service to the world. It is time to make Romans 13:14 a meaningful commitment once again. I know it challenges me, because the lifestyle challenges of living in Rome are always present in my world. In fact they are less than a mouse click away in this digital age...

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, December 6, 2010

by testing you may discern

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

I often see the main principle of this verse as a key component of my ministry of discipleship and counseling. I am called to work with the Word of God and the Spirit of God to help mature the church of God. This means that individuals have to be taught that their natural difficulty is conformation to the world around them. God wants to change them by transformation. And the primary agent of change for this transformation is the renewing of the mind.

This makes it sound like it is just a mental process, but it is not at all. In fact if the verse ended there, I suppose we could say that. But it does not. It goes on to explain that renewing of the mind results in certain actions. The first one is to "test in order to discern the will of God". We live out what we learn. It is not just mental assent or simple Sunday School quiz facts. Paul says that if it does not pass the test of being lived out as the will of God in our lives, it is not really transforming truth.

The idea of "testing that you may discern" comes as a translation of one Greek word in the text. It is a critical word. It translates dokimazo which is a word that means to find the worth of something by putting it to use or testing it. So this is a very accurate translation in the ESV. It means that biblical truth is transforming as I accept the challenge to my thinking scripture creates and then act on it in my life to see the difference. It is a critical kind of living, not just a wishful kind of mental exercise. It is the end result of scripture creating in me a biblical worldview. I must now live it.

So in the end, good disciples are critical thinkers who take God's truth seriously enough to make real lifestyle choices and changes based upon the challenge to our thinking that is in scripture. We know its value by living it out. We discern the truth by also living through the implications of believing it. Discerning disciples test the truth and are changed by it.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Friday, December 3, 2010

where the glory goes

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Romans 11:36

You are where the glory goes
when things go well
when life seems sweet
happiness is all I meet

You are where the glory goes
when more like hell
is what I greet
pain and trouble trip my feet

You are where the glory goes
in good or bad
in joy or tears
in confidence or trembling fears

You are where the glory goes
when I achieve
more than I should
only because God is good

You are where the glory goes
when I fail
and need relief
grace, confession renew peace

You are where the glory goes
when morning's light
shines a new day
promising to guide my way

You are where the glory goes
when weary night
takes me to bed
with You I rest my head

You are where the glory goes
loving the story
saving faith in the WORD
saving life in my Lord.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, December 2, 2010

the heart of belief

...because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Romans 10:9-10

This is one of the most encouraging and motivating of all the scriptures for me. This is not because I consider myself any kind of stellar evangelist. I find it to be core for my experience of commitment as a follower of Jesus. It begins at the very core of who I am as a person. I am first and foremost a sinner who needs to confess surrender to the Lord God my Creator and Savior. Without that kind of simple start, all my priorities are out of whack. With that confession, life starts to get into proper perspective.

The scary part of confession is that there is a public element to that to one degree or another. While it is true that I may make that confession in private before God, ultimately, it will show. Others will know by what I say and what I do that I confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Master of my life. And that will put me under scrutiny by those who aren't serious in that matter before God, at least not serious enough to let it reorder their relationships, commitments, priorities, and lifestyle. But confession of a Savior is supposed to be the start of that new life. And it has to be known to some degree to truly be a confession "with the mouth".

The second personal element in this passage is the heart. It is the center of personal belief. I believe that something fundamentally and monumentally important happened with Jesus' death on the cross. This is evidenced by the resurrection. Paul makes it clear that it is the resurrection that is the centerpiece of faith. If I believe God has raised Jesus from the dead, then I accept that as validation of everything He said and did, taught and modeled, including His claim that His death would accomplish an eternal atonement and solution for the sin problem for humanity at an individual level. That is why atheists and skeptics want to attack the resurrection, even more than any other Christian doctrine. It is the blood and marrow of our faith. Remove it and we are just dry, stale, and lifeless.

A final point of observation from this passage: We act in confession and faith, but then God acts upon that. We actively believe and confess, but then we receive salvation. And that is the greater work. We still depend upon God for our salvation even when we take those steps of faith and confession. Paul does not try to settle the tension of that truth. He simply states it as fact. None of us could be saved from death and hell by our own belief alone. But God will not save someone who does not confess and believe either. Both are what is necessary for the gospel to impact us for salvation.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

the ultimate determiner: a merciful God

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Romans 9:16

Human will, though powerful, is not the final master of our destiny. Where we are, who we are, what we are and how we are... belong to God's grace and mercy. We cannot save ourselves. We are limited. God is not. And it is His mercies that give us the lives we have.

Paul is talking about the really big picture when he says this. Romans nine through eleven deal with God's overarching purposes for the nation of Israel. Paul chose to talk about this to Rome, the center of the Gentile world, because he wanted them to understand that God moved on cosmic and grand scales, not just on the personal level. And Rome represented the grandeur of imperial power. It was the center of the political and military world of its day. And God was bigger, as evidenced with what He was doing with His people Israel. The only reason anyone receives any chance at life that pleases God is because God is first merciful. That is the initial understanding of His sovereignty that all of us need to know.

Paul does not negate human will by this teaching. He just sets it in its place. The main problem with human beings is that we tend toward a pride that makes us think we are the penultimate deciders of our own fate. But being mortal, that cannot be. Being moral creatures, that cannot be. We must answer to our Creator.

I do not believe that God's mercy or His will prevent us from exercising and knowing true free will choices. But I also do not believe that any human choice or set of choices ever catches God by surprise or is beyond His power. He is merciful to us, allowing us much freedom in our lives, even to the point of having a will that can choose to disbelieve Him. But He is still sovereign over even human sin and disbelief... which is why Hell is a real place. Christ in His mercy died to take the keys of death and Hell in grasp for us. But our hope and faith and future depend on God's mercy ultimately, and not our own efforts to correct sin in us. And I am thankful for that, because I know my efforts in that regard are weakened by a sinful flesh to the extent that without God's mercies, I would never stand a chance of living the life I have in Christ. Thank God He is merciful. The gospel abounds with it!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13