Thursday, March 31, 2011

the weight of glory

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18

My sufferings are not heavy
when compared
to an eternal weight of glory
always there
pushing me forward
serving my Lord
moving onward
at His Word

I look beyond what is seen
here today
to things that are unseen
that sway
my heart in the direction
to never waver
toward the infinite affection
of my Lord and Savior

The weight of glory on me
...a burden light
the Holy Spirit in me
...a flame so bright
illuminating the journey
toward eternity
a vision always before me
my bright destiny

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

we are being transformed

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18

Growth in the Christian life is a process. Maturity takes place over our lifetimes. God does this great thing in relationship with us. As we see Him, as we come to know Him, as we follow His guidance and obey His teaching, we become more like Christ. And God gives us this great change. It is what He wants of us. He empowers us and transforms us.

I love that this is about transformation! The metaphor that Paul uses in this passage is Moses' physical transformation after coming down from Sinai with the Law. His face literally shone from being so intimately in contact with the glory of God. The Israelites were so afraid of this transformation that Moses had to wear a veil to cover the glory still radiating from him. This is the picture that Paul uses to talk about what happens in Christian maturity. We become more like Christ. We recover the "imago dei" (the image of God) as God transforms us. It is glorious.

Somehow we need to recover Paul's spiritual enthusiasm for transformation. Many times, if we are not careful about it, we make Christian maturity just another exercise in lists and exercises. I am all for spiritual disciplines, but not when they lose the image of God and the glory of Christ as their goal and directive! We must also remember that this is a lifelong process. We cannot insist a certain "transformation rate" take place. Paul would not even write about it being complete. Instead, he makes it clear that believers are in transit to this new degree of glory as they behold the glory of the Lord. We ARE BEING TRANSFORMED. Christian growth is always in process until we stand complete in the presence of our Lord.

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

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

insufficient messengers: the tension of gospel advancement

Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
2 Corinthians 2:16b-17

The work of the gospel is a humbling calling. Paul's entire point at this place in his epistle is to reiterate that God has to be doing the work of spreading His knowledge everywhere (see 2 Cor 2:14). God chooses to use human means to do so. But it is clearly God that does the work in us. We are not sufficient in and of ourselves. God is leading the triumphal procession of the gospel's advance and if we think we are leading the advance of the gospel, we have another thing coming.

The tragedy is that human egos can get caught up in the work of ministry. It was true in the first century. It is true today. Paul contrasted his own work (a self-supported passionate pursuit of God's call to preach the gospel among the Gentiles, always moving forward into places where it had not yet been preached) with the work of "so many" who were mere peddlers of God's Word, obviously motivated by self-interest or material gain. Paul warns that the gospel is preached by men with a different motivation. One that comes from God.

So there is this strange paradox that Paul deals with here. It is the tension of preaching the gospel. We are not sufficient to do so until God is doing the enabling, the commissioning, and supplying the message. When that awareness is in place, Paul says we are "men of sincerity"... moved and motivated by nothing other than the gospel itself and the compelling commission of God. Those thus consumed by the gospel "speak in Christ."

I have seen this same paradox today. Except the 21st century church has managed to reduce the ministry of the gospel down to three clear components for "successful" ministry: celebrity, curriculum, and culture. We make something of the men behind the ministry. And then the new celebrity status is driven to build the teaching (curriculum) that gets marketed and mass produced as "the answer" in the crazy Christian sub-culture. Pretty soon it can look nothing like what the scriptures teach. It is sad really. I have seen this church program machine churn out false teaching, false optimism, and pathetic self-motivated, gospel-shattering actions as the work of the kingdom. How sad! It is proof of our own insufficiency because we come up with something powerless, sugary and fluffy and tasty, but ultimately with nothing to feed and nourish the soul!

How we need to be committed to the pure preaching of the gospel! We need to repent of our exaltation of the messenger! We need to humbly commit to a life of preaching the gospel without the motivation of personal pride and materialistic success. Lord, give us again men of sincerity, for the sake of the gospel!

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

Monday, March 28, 2011

affliction's great purpose

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

God is in our affliction. He meets us in our trials and difficulties with a sweet comfort found only in Him. He does this because it is what He is. He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. Ultimately we find purpose and comfort in our difficulties because God has always planned to be there with us in those times. And it is those experiences that cause us to lean on God like never before.

God comforts us in "all our affliction" according to Paul in this passage. I take that to mean what it says. There is no difficulty that can arise in our lives that is absent of God's ability to comfort. He is the God of ALL comfort who comforts us in ALL our affliction. No one can ever say that God does not care.

There is a means in which God uses us to comfort in this way. In fact, that is one purpose for affliction in our own lives. It gives us a place of identity with other sufferers, it gives us a place of ministry to hurting people, and it gives us a place to draw from the experience of comfort. We are told that one purpose of trial is so that we may be able to comfort those in any affliction with the same comfort with which God comforted us. We pass God's care along through our experience of pain and difficulty. We find a measure of peace and we share it with others in their pain.

This is why a robust theology of suffering makes sense to keep alive among Christians. The world around us longs to just make it all go away. We throw a party to forget. But that is not God's way. He longs for us to go through the pain and emerge stronger, better, and more humble... with a servant's heart that is ready to help other sufferers along the way. He equips us for ministry by being with us through our pains. And then He asks us to be available so that He can be with us to reach others in similar difficulty. We become the comfort God longs to give. It is a beautiful purpose, and we deprive ourselves of a chance to see God at work when we deliberately short circuit trials, losses, pains, and afflictions with our worldly sense of distancing ourselves from the suffering person. Jesus entered our world of suffering. And He knew our wants and needs. And He suffered greatly for us. He longs to share His peace with suffering people THROUGH us!

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

Thursday, March 24, 2011

redeemed by love

Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, "We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman."
Ruth 4:11-12

The book of Ruth ends with the joy of a wedding and a family restored. Ruth is given in marriage to Boaz, whose immediate act of serving as kinsman-redeemer serves to save Naomi and Ruth from poverty and obscurity. Everything has been changed by the grace shown by Boaz. And

Most notably there is now blessing. It begins with the elders at the gate blessing Boaz for his move to redeem the property of the family of Elimilech, including marriage to Ruth. They offer a blessing of prosperity and fame to Boaz. And in a way, that became prophetic. We have his story preserved in scripture, and from this marriage sprang forth the lineage of David. And from David's line came the Messiah and Savior of Israel.

The blessings continue when God blesses the marriage of Boaz and Ruth with a son, Obed. When that boy is brought to Naomi, the women of Bethlehem bless the baby and Naomi. They praise the noble relationship of Ruth who chose to be with her mother-in-law, and now experiences the joy of this new family in a life redeemed from her former despair.

The important change came to Naomi. She is no longer Mara (bitter). She is a content and overjoyed grandmother who gets the privilege of caring for her new grandson. Her joy is complete because she has been redeemed by love.

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My thoughts on Rob Bell's "Love Wins"

Rob Bell asks a lot of questions, and I have to admit that most of them are great questions... thought-provoking questions. In Love Wins, Rob presents a lot of questions about heaven, hell, and eternity. Ultimately he questions the very heart of the gospel and how evangelicals present it.

Let me begin with some things that I share in common with Bell. We are both human beings created in God's image. We both are educated pastors. We both grew up in the evangelical culture. But we part ways dramatically when it comes to how we view scripture and our calling to preach the gospel.

Rob is a gifted dramatist and communicator. He is an actor and an "ar-teest" (see any NOOMA video). But he is no expositor. It goes without saying he commits some humdingers of exegetical fallacy in his teaching... things like etymologies and root errors. I have seen dozens of them in his books, and I have read them all. But I doubt that he cares much for the title of "expositor" because for him it matters not whether details in scripture are accurate or truthful in themselves. It is how you feel about God at the end.

Which is why he keeps complaining about the gospel as it is being preached normally in evangelical circles. It is just not a "good story". His revision of it is to say that no one has to go to hell forever. He does not deny hell as much as he does not like eternal damnation. And hell for him is just so much misery here on earth. He cleverly keeps his ambiguous tactics in play (something he has done in all his books to date). But in the end he does not believe that a loving God could sentence any loved human being to hell. He supports a view that seems to indicate that hell is more purging than punishing, that eventually all will come under God's love and accept it.

He embraces a form of universalism, saying that Jesus is behind every religion somehow so that even those who have not heard the message of the gospel can still respond to God's love. He is really, really vague on the specifics here. To support his view, he claims that Ezekiel 16 teaches that God will restore Sodom. Rob did not even read the context. Ezekiel 16 says that, but when you read the entire text it is clear that God calls Samaria "Sodom" and then says he will restore "Sodom" (renamed Samaria). The text is very specific to a unique time and circumstance in the nation of Israel. The text is not ambiguous, but Rob is. And I have to say I found at least a dozen other examples of Rob's loosy-goosey approach to scripture. Hermeneutics don't matter because he has embraced post-modern narrative drama as his hermeneutic. He can make the text go with his feelings that way.

I am worried about Rob's small view of God. He keeps talking about how we need to "recover our humanity" in God's plan of redemption. I am hoping he means our pre-fallen humanity. The gospel does this at the moment we believe. I must live it, but I don't recover a thing... God does it. I am worried about Rob's view of salvation. He seems to put a huge emphasis on social works and very little emphasis on the redeeming work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. And I am worried that Rob's false optimism about hell might just put him in the company of leaders who "lean of God" saying "no disaster will overtake us" (Micah 3:11). It is sad to see this in a popular "evangelical" author who really draws young people to his teaching and writing.

In the end, I was disappointed that there was really no clear presentation of Rob's views. Lots of drama. Some tear-jerking, gut-wrenching stories. Some great questions that show that Rob Bell knows where to take off with theology. Too bad he just crashes with no scriptural or logical support. I am sure he feels great about it though. Unfortunately so will many who read this book

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

attraction to virtue

And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.
Ruth 3:11

This is the most moving part of the story of this book. In the third chapter of the book of Ruth, Naomi coaches Ruth through a bold marriage proposal. It hinges on Boaz already being aware of and impressed with Ruth and her situation. Naomi is already trusting God again! She moved beyond her bitterness in the second chapter, moved by the sovereign love of God at work in her situation. Now she is a woman of faith again.

Basically, the odd marriage proposal comes from Ruth to Boaz. At the threshing floor she sneaks in among the sleeping men (the men slept at the floor to guard the grain from pilfering... ironic that she could sneak up on these tough farmers!) and lays at the feet of Boaz. He awakens in the night and is startled at her presence. It is then that Ruth asks Boaz to assume the legal duties of kinsman-redeemer. She is asking the man to marry and care for her. And Boaz assures her that he will settle the matter the very next day by approaching the other "closer" relative. That is the summary of the statement in Ruth 3:11.

The concept at stake predates the giving of the law. It is the practice of levirate marriage, in which, the brother of a dead brother is bound to marry the widowed bride of his brother. If there were no living brothers, the duty to the family was passed to close relatives. This insured family inheritances and duties. And it is this practice that Ruth appeals to with Boaz. And he is honored to perform it because he is impressed with Ruth's character! She has a reputation... and it is a good one. She is a "worthy woman"... the same Hebrew phrase used in Proverbs 31:10 to describe an "excellent wife". Boaz was a man of character, and he was attracted to virtue.

How we need to recapture this sort of thing among believers! Our young people need to know that physical attraction without this character conviction is just emotional lust, and should be avoided. A good relationship is built on character commitments, not just the way a person looks or their station in life. God wants to keep building a godly generation, and to do so, He needs people of character and commitment. It starts with relationships that are committed to character, spiritual growth, and the beauty of virtue and holy lives. These relationships keep Christ central in the home and are blessed with the presence of God guiding them.

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

sovereign love

So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
Ruth 2:23

God's sovereign love began to turn Naomi's heart around. The events of Ruth 2 make it clear that God was moving in this difficult situation to bring relief and real change. Naomi and Ruth were the poorest of the poor. They were both widows with no family to support them. They were left with no other option than the welfare program afforded in the law. Ruth was more than ready to glean in the barley fields at harvest time to provide for herself and her mother-in-law. And that is where God's sovereign love begins to intervene.

God leads Ruth to the one place where one relative could make all the difference. The text says with a wink that Ruth "happened" to glean in the fields own by Boaz (Ruth 2:3). This was the first event that would lead to a dramatic change in circumstances for both women. God was in control, even in the bitter circumstances that Naomi and Ruth were currently experiencing.

But there is more to the story in chapter 2. Boaz takes notice of the hard-working and industrious young Moabite woman, Ruth. He instructs his harvesters to make sure she gets to eat with the crew, and personally instructs Ruth to be sure to get water at the official "station". He also instructs his workers to deliberately leave stalks behind for her to glean. Something's up in the mind of Boaz. He is filled with a concern for this woman and admires her determination and hard work.

When Ruth returns home with nearly six gallons of barley from the days gleanings, Naomi is astounded. This might be the amount of grain expected at the end of a week of gleaning. Ruth has it in a day. And when Naomi realizes in whose field Ruth has been working, she turns to hope again. Boaz has instructed Ruth to glean only with his workers for the entire harvest of wheat and barley. It is clear there is care coming from God for Naomi and Ruth, through Boaz, and it is turning their situation around. Naomi's attitude is one of hope. God's sovereign love has captured her heart and begun to redefine her situation.

God will do just that for us. He won't let us despair forever. Certainly in Christ I find God's sovereign love at work for me at all times. And in that love I know that He is taking care of me, no matter what.

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

Monday, March 21, 2011


She said to them, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?"
Ruth 1:20-21

Life circumstances can be hard. That is the case with Naomi. She is in pain. She is emotionally and spiritually wasted. She is worn out and tired, filled with the bitter sorrow of constant loss. It began with a famine. It is now at this point in her story consumed with an emptiness she cannot contain inside any longer.

Her story started with a forced relocation. Famine in Israel led Naomi and her husband Elimelech to move from Bethlehem in Israel to the country of Moab. There they sought a new life where at least they could find food. While in Moab, there was a period of continued trial. Elimelech dies there. Still, Naomi finds some blessing in her sons who marry Moabite wives. But then, before those new marriages are even blessed with children, both sons died, leaving Naomi in the worst of situations: she is a widow with no adult children to help support her. It is then that she hears that famine is over in Bethlehem. She decides to return home, and one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, tenaciously chooses to follow in care for this tired, broken, and wounded woman. God would use this least likely of relationships to bring restoration to Naomi. But it would involve an equally bizarre set of sovereign plot twists.

The book of Ruth is really about Naomi. She is the person who is transformed by the sovereign grace of God. We see her now filled with only the pain and heartache of unfathomable personal loss. She is defined by her pain and can only talk about her life in those prospects. She is drowning in a cold river of bitter tears. Even as she has returned "home" to Bethlehem, it is a return devoid of joy. She is a widow and a grieving mother. And it is this pain that God longs to heal in her. He does not turn His back on her bitterness. Instead, He quietly cares for her to transform her circumstances and her heart. It is beautiful to see not just Ruth find a husband, but Naomi find that God will capture her heart again!

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

Thursday, March 17, 2011

repentance & steadfast love

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.
Micah 7:18

This final chapter of the prophet Micah is a chapter of repentance. In it we see that even though God is stern in justice and judgment, He is also steadfast in his unfailing love. This chapter is very personal, and I think it is Micah's personal response to the message God had given him to proclaim. And as such, it may have been a personification of what God wanted to see His people do.

There is a strong reaction of confession in the first six verses. Micah goes so far as to keep it just between himself and God. But it is clear that repentance is in view and that repentance would gain the attention of the God Who saves (Micah 7:7). A quiet trust in the coming of salvation and restoration of fortune is the theme of this last part of the book.

God is always ready to pardon sin and to respond to real repentance. That does not mean that all consequences of past sin are eliminated, but it does mean that relationship is restored. Chapter seven reminds Israel of the covenant blessings that God wants to restore to His people. God's steadfast love follows our sincere and solemn repentance. God is delights in loving us this way. He does not want to be the sin punisher. He wants to grant pardon, new life, and joy! Those who have been forgiven know this and grow closer to God.

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

the essence of doing good

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8

This is probably the most familiar verse in Micah, and perhaps for most people who are reasonably aware of the content of the bible, it is the most familiar verse of the minor prophets. I know that I have known about this verse since I was a teenager and we sang a praise chorus that was a direct quotation of this passage. But I must confess, I have never really taken a good look at it in its context. It becomes even more striking when viewed this way and it is lifted from its "poster child for social justice" status into something much more powerful.

The verse is a question that answers a question. In that sense it is a literary device meant to compel the reader into thinking about meaning. The initial question is found in Micah 6:3, and it is a question to God's people asking them to recount His acts of saving grace to them. In fact, Micah 6:3-5 detail a short overview of God's work on their behalf and implicit in it is His discipline of them in the wilderness, along with His saving of them from Egyptian slavery during the Exodus. The point being made is that sometimes God's judgment is the best thing He can do to bring His people around to Him.

Then there is a second series of questions being asked in Micah 6:6-8. They begin with asking how God's people should come before the Lord in worship and sacrifice, showing that the act of sacrifice alone is not sufficient. Verse nine is meant to show that the attitude behind the sacrifice will be backed up by actions of personal character and commitment. Then... and only then... God will be worshiped.

So the preceding context shows us that the acts of doing justice, loving God's lovingkindness, and humble walking with God are the proper spiritual response to God's redemptive grace. And they must accompany and precede any other sheer obedience to His commands. God wants to be worshiped by a heart that wants to live and love what God does. God is all about His justice and mercy ruling in the world. The essence of doing good is living that way as well.

But we must keep that in context. So far, we have only looked at half of Micah chapter six. Micah 6:8 is the hinge on which the message turns to God's plans for a disobedient nation that would not heed to His call to "humbly walk" with God. Micah 6:9-16 delivers a list of devastating pronouncements against the specific injustices and unmerciful attitudes and actions of God's people. God had shown them what he required in relationship with Him. They had disobeyed. He would judge such gross sin in the nation. If you want to get an idea of what "doing justly" looks like, look at the list of injustices God took Israel to task for: 1) Dishonest business practices (Micah 6:10-11). 2) Violent oppression (Micah 6:12). 3) Lies in daily dealings with people (Micah 6:12). 4) Sinful modeling of the wicked culture (Micah 6:16). The resulting judgment would visit these sins back upon them as only God can do in absolute justice.

So seeing the passage in its entirety helps me understand that doing good as God defines it is the way in which my worship really matters. And it matters to God that my authentic faith drive my relationship with Him. It means being honest with those around me. It means being truthful in how I deal with people. It means opposing violence and oppression with the gospel message of peace and hope. It means turning from the influences of sinful culture that mock righteousness. God has the right to discipline those who fail to understand this truth.

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

always a remnant

Then the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the LORD, like showers on the grass, which delay not for a man nor wait for the children of man.
Micah 5:7

One of the features of biblical prophecy in reference to Israel is the continuous presence of a "remnant" of faithful believers. Throughout every phase of the history of Israel, God has managed to keep at least a faithful few in worship of Him. And He preserves His promises to that faithful core. God can use that faithful remnant for His glory.

That is what this passage is about. Even though much of the second half of Micah five is about God's burning judgment, He makes it clear that a remnant of faithful Jews would still reside among the peoples of the world. Their presence is a refreshing dew or rainfall. God used them for His glory and the world would know Him through that faithful core that remained.

For me, the very existence of Israel, of the Jewish nation and religion in general, is an apologetic for the existence of God. I don't think there has been any more persecuted or hated group in the world today. Even today, the passions of the Middle East burn around the fate of Israel. Yet God is faithful to His promises. The Jews endure under His care and concern because God is faithful and keeps the remnant going.

He blessed the world forever through Israel in the coming of the Messiah. In Jesus the world has been offered a deep relationship with God. The remnant has refreshed us. And God still plans to keep honoring His covenant with Israel. It is clear that the future of this world revolves around what will happen in Israel and with the Jews. And one day Jesus will return to set up His kingdom among the remnant in Israel. That will be the ultimate fulfillment of Micah 5:7.

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

God's plan: a call to balance

But they do not know the thoughts of the LORD; they do not understand his plan, that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor.
Micah 4:12

This passage lets us peek a little behind God's shoulder. It assures Israel that even when their enemies seem poised for victory, God is behind them, protecting them, and assembling the enemies for defeat. The major disadvantage of the enemies is that they do not know the mind of God and do not obey Him.

It would follow then that the major advantage of God's people is obedience to the revealed will of God. From that position they are aware of enough of the thoughts of God to please Him. And God's tender words of protection for Israel come only after He has taken them to task for their disobedience to Him. So God is honoring His covenant with them with this promise of protection, even as He disciplines Israel back to a place of obedient service.

Evangelicals tend to think of God's plan in terms of His love and grace. And that is certainly biblical. But it may just be part of the story. By telling even unbelievers "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life", we may be only proclaiming a half truth. The reality is that God has plans for justice and judgment for those who reject Him (as evidenced in this passage), and we would be remiss not to point out this aspect of God's will.

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

Thursday, March 10, 2011

false optimism

Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the LORD and say, "Is not the LORD in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us."
Micah 3:11

There is always money to be made in making people feel good. That is what Micah takes the leadership of Israel and Judah to task for in this passage. They were more than willing to disobey God with selfish motives, all the while proclaiming a message of peace with God. This was the kind of thing that kept the nation from repenting. They had no reason from the leaders to do otherwise. A false message of comfortable optimism made the leaders complicate in a spiritual conspiracy.

And this kind of thinking still goes on. Every year Christian publishers put out more books than I have time to count, let alone read. Many of them are perfectly fine. It is the best sellers that can be bothersome. We have evangelical leaders embracing a life of ease, and a theology that Christianity is best satisfied right now. There is no serious thought that God is working a plan for His glory for a future kingdom. When was the last time a Christian bestseller centered on the judgment of God? We have a practical denial by omission of any future worth working toward. We have books that make sensual pleasure a spiritual reward. We have books that deny much of what scripture teaches. And the church at large just vacuums it all in.

We are suckers for false optimism. It is what got us in trouble with Satan's first lie to humanity: "You shall not die, but be as God knowing good and evil". And we have been falling for that line ever since, in one new shade or another fresh nuance that deceives us.

The text warns that the leaders who were doing this were "lean"ing on the Lord. They were presuming on God Who at the moment was preparing judgment against them. They were not doing anything for God, just content to prop back against a comfortable theology that denied His right to judge. And they would be the first to suffer under His correction. That is the destiny of false optimism. We would do well to look to it.

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

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

embracing overindulgence

If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, "I will preach to you of wine and strong drink," he would be the preacher for this people!
Micah 2:11

God was taking Israel to task for their cushy overindulgence. They did not care who they hurt. There were those who kicked back and in affluence planned their next attempt at evil (Micah 2:1). These were the kinds of people who wanted to be encouraged for their self-driven lifestyles. And they would find ways to be motivated in their sin.

The sad matter is that it is easy for God's people to go here. If we think that God is only interested in our personal satisfaction, we will fall for the wind and lies of a pampered life. The sarcasm of verse eleven might mark us. In fact, in some evangelical circles, it already has. Christianity has been reduced to a self-help therapeutic feel-good harmless philosophy. And all I reap from it is personal affluence.

But there is more to real Christian spirituality than this. God wants us to step beyond ourselves and our desire to have it easy. Jesus taught that a rough and narrow road awaited those on the path to life. (Matthew 7:13-14) It is in hiking this strenuous thin path that we find life. And the exhilaration of the journey and the views along the way are worth the effort. There is nothing overindulgent... not wind and lies to deceive us. Just the assurance that Jesus has walked this kind of focused path before us.

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

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

God's right to judge

All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel. What is the transgression of Jacob? Is it not Samaria? And what is the high place of Judah? Is it not Jerusalem?
Micah 1:5

Some of the most awe-inspiring pictures of God in all of scripture come in the prophets as they describe the ways in which God will deal with the sinful idolatry of Israel. It is clear that God is serious with His people. He will not stand for the treachery of divided loyalties. He is what He told Moses He is: a jealous God. He will not give His glory to another.

In the book of Micah, an opening description of God shows Him coming down in full power and judgment. He is so intense that the earth literally melts beneath Him in the imagery of judgment. Why is God's wrath so strong? It is directed at Israel and Judah because His people have turned from Him. God is coming to judge the transgression of Jacob and the sins of the house of Israel.

The issue is the degree of offense and the right for God to judge. The Israelites were in covenant with God. It began for them at Sinai, even though it began for God much earlier with His promised covenant with Abram. The terms of the covenant were summarized in the first covenant: you will have no other gods before me. The exclusivity of the worship of Yahweh was essential for Israel. And that had fallen away for generations. God was coming to bring the curses of the covenant upon His disobedient people. He had the right to judge.

When we understand the offense against a pure and holy God, we can begin to process the enormity of His holy wrath. God does not get mad like we do. He is incapable of being capricious or arbitrary. He is not able to fly into a rage. He is holy, loving, gracious, merciful, sovereign and all powerful even in His wrath and judgment. He cannot be just part of who He is... ever. So His wrath is holy. And when we sin against Him, we sin against what is best in the universe. It is a high offense.

It is only when we have a low view of God that we place ourselves as "judge" over His right to exercise judgment. This is true in both this world and the next. God is truly the only person who can truly judge sin. We can in confidence know what sin is by reading what He has revealed as sin. And there are times where we are told to know that, like when Jesus said: "By their fruits you shall know them".

But we only know sin and judgment by God's revelation. That is why it is so tragic to disregard what He has in a loving relationship told us we should do in relationship with Him. And to do so puts us in a position where God has every right to judge us. Fortunately, for the child of God in Christ, He also disciplines in love to see us restored. But even Christians can disregard the correction to the point where God may choose to take us home. Paul warned the Corinthians about this possibility in 1 Corinthians 11. There is a lot to think about when we read the minor prophets. They aren't just angry little books. They are windows into a greater view of God.

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

Monday, March 7, 2011

grace strength

By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.
1 Peter 5:12

Peter calls everything that he has written in this epistle "the true grace of God". His final appeal is to "stand firm in it". That is the great purpose of Christian living: to stand firmly in the grace of God. I find it incredibly motivating as an encouragement for serious Christian commitments.

I easily succumb to temptations to pander to selfishness and ease. It is part of my sinful, self-focused, sinful nature. But when I align my thoughts and attitudes with teachings such as this one, I am challenged to live differently. And it is not easily done. It is quite humbling to let the "true grace of God" lead me. It means admitting that God can use whatever He wants to get me there.

I have had a month like that recently. I have seen my failings in quite a few areas. They have not been pretty to look at, but I know that the Holy Spirit has used them to move me. I have taken a lot of my Christianity for granted, thinking that coasting on doctrinal knowledge would get me through. But I have seen where that has done damage to key areas. Christian worldview has to end in Christian lifestyle. And it has to be more than what I have shown, especially in key areas of my life.

I have got to break out of the normal Christian culture bubble to know this. And I think God is showing me ways to stand firm in His grace. But I will have to make some serious changes with how I live, who I share this life with, and where I spend my time, energy, and ministry opportunity. And it is not going to be easy to say and do it. But already a strength from this grace is fortifying my inward man for what must be done. And what must be done will be filled with the grace of God, which from my experience, is always a fantastically good thing!

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

Thursday, March 3, 2011

eschatological motivation

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
1 Peter 4:7

Peter believed that since all the events in God's salvation plan were fully accomplished in Christ, the return of Christ could occur at any time. It is what we think of as "imminence". The ESV Study Bible provides good insight into why this thought was important for Peter to share at this point:

"4:7 'The end of all things is at hand' does not mean Peter was expecting Christ to return in a few weeks or months. It means, rather, that all the major events in God's great salvation plan--culminating in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost--had already occurred. Therefore Christ's return could happen at any time: it was "at hand" in Peter's day, and it still is today. But the imminent arrival of the end is not a call simply to look into heaven and wait for Jesus' return. Instead, believers are to be self-controlled and sober-minded , so that they may be devoted to prayer and maximize their usefulness in God's kingdom."

I don't believe that we have to walk around with placards declaring that "THE END IS NEAR". That is really the opposite of what Peter is driving at in his command. Rather, we should live each moment in careful expectation, serious motivation, and personal integrity, knowing Christ could surprise us with His return. So we better be about being the people He calls us to be. And we better be about sharing His message with the world.

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

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

pain: a moral evaluation

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
1 Peter 3:17

When Peter wrote these words, Christians were in danger of death. He has just advised his readers to respect the emperor (1 Peter 2:13-17), and now addresses the problem of suffering. Why? Because Roman authorities had begun to persecute both Jews and Christians at this point. The fire was not burning at its fullest, but it had started burning. And some Christians were dying at the hands of this persecution. So the "suffering" being talked about here was very real, and very dramatic.

The reason Peter could encourage his readers in the midst of this time was that they were suffering "well". It is good to suffer for doing good. That goes against modern sensibilities where personal satisfaction and pain free living are expected. We have exalted personal rights to such a height that we no longer consider suffering as a noble experience. But we should not cringe when Christians suffer for their faith. We should rejoice that God has counted them worthy, we should denounce their persecution while commending their faith.

There are places where this admonition, and unfortunately, this experience still goes on. Most notably in the muslim world, Christians face severe persecution. Right now there are all kinds of atrocities being committed against good people whose only "crime" is being Christian. This is happening in Iran, in Afghanistan, in Saudi Arabia, and in India and Pakistan... just to name a few hotspots of persecution. We need to be praying for the brothers and sisters who daily face such antagonism.

If the new atheists had their wish fulfillment, we'd see something of the same in the Western world. Driving through idyllic little Lawrence Kansas this winter, I saw a bumper sticker that read, "I wish they still fed Christians to lions". There you go. For no other crime than belief, "foolish" "backward" Christians are hated for faith. It seems that even liberal tolerance can be riddled with hatred.

It would actually not be a "bad" thing if persecution continued to ramp up against Christianity. It thrived and grew and eventually won over its persecutors in Roman times. It took a few hundred years,,, but eventually suffering well became a testimony to persecutors. The same could happen today. I imagine that if it did, initially some of the smiling prosperity theologians would be shut down, but the hardy stock of honest faith that remained would be well served by suffering for doing good... if we could shed our cushy American sensibilities of an easy life. Peter's words remind us that indeed, suffering for doing good is a good thing indeed.

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

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

battle on an alien planet

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
1 Peter 2:11

Two ideas grip me from this verse. The first is the concept of my relationship to this world as an alien. When I am born again, I am born into a new life and a new relationship with this world. I don't belong in the world system any longer. I am now a pilgrim on a journey. My hope is fixed on that destination. The result is that I am in exile here in this world, longing to reach home again someday, in God's timing. I am not at home here. That sense of longing for home should pervade my life. It does not mean that I ignore those around me here in this world. It does mean that my soul should "not quite fit" with things here. I am a resident alien, but my home is God's country.

The second idea is that of wartime preparedness. Peter says that the passions of my flesh will wage war with my soul. So I live in a strange land where I am at battle with sinful passions. Not only am I a pilgrim, but I am also a soldier. And the stakes of the fight are high, and very personal: my soul is at war. The command here is to be self-sacrificial... to not give in to the passions of the flesh. That involves discipline, direction from God, and attention to His commands for me. As an obedient soldier, I should let God's Word train me for the campaign against the passions that war against my very soul.

This passage uses two very personal metaphors to get my attention. An exile never feels at home in the land of his exile. He longs for home. There is always an aching pain for the way God wants it to be. And I will know that when God gets me there: a new heavens and a new earth - the home of righteousness. A soldier often does battle far from home. But he does have not only the interests of being home at heart, but also self preservation and protection in mind as he does battle with the enemy. That is the mindset that I must take against my temptations. For the soldier, such discipline is necessary if he is ever to see home again. For me, it is that mindset that God uses to give me strength in the battle against sin on this alien planet.

Do you feel the tension, do you?
Do you feel the grind?
Do you see the battle 'tween this
Flesh and soul of mine?

'Cause there's a war inside of me
Between who I want to be
And who I am

I do what I don't want to do
And don't do what I mean
I end up chasing all my nightmares
abandoning my dreams

Who I am is not who I want to be
Shackled like a slave when I know that I'm free
Wrong and right, truth and lie, death versus life
Everything in me is choosing sides
And the showdown begins

Do you feel the tension?

"War Inside" by Todd Agnew

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