Friday, December 27, 2013

Romans And Proverbs And The Fear Of The Lord

The book of Romans is both very plain in its meaning and message and filled with puzzles that require meditation and brain work to "solve." Paul is brilliant and logical, and is also the apostle God chose to receive a revelation of grace and of the gospel like no other. Paul truly considered himself to be the least among the apostles because of his past persecution of the church. 

But back to Romans: it's both very plain in meaning and message and in places, "hard to understand" (as Peter famously characterized Paul's writings). But not impossible. As mentioned, those places simply require more thinking, more lingering upon the text and context, more Spirit-helped brainwork. Logic is involved. (Spiritual understanding doesn't preclude logic.) It's all important, both the plain parts and the more difficult ones; all for the sake of seeing Christ as more lovely, and God as greater and more good, than ever. 

That's the way it is not only with Paul's writings but with all of Scripture. The Bible describes itself to contain, in it's wisdom, proverbs and riddles (Proverbs 1:6). To understand it, and thus God, one must "receive," "treasure up," "make your ear attentive to" and "incline your heart to" God's words and commandments. One must call out for insight, raise one's voice for understanding, seek for those things like silver and search for them like hidden treasure (Proverbs 2:1-8). This is all done because of, and in order to learn, the right and proper fear of Yahweh. To behold his beauty. 

All this is true work! God never said that insight and wisdom into his ways would be handed over easily and casually. He has always been a God who has been all about being sought as treasure, as more desirable than the finest silver or gold. That's how truly worthy he is. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Adoring The God We Behold

God deserves our adoration. He deserves, as Scripture tells us, our highest praises. What exactly does this look like, how is it accomplished, in reality?

I realized some years ago that simply saying "Praise the Lord" or "I praise you Lord" is not praising the Lord! The words "praise the Lord" in the Psalms are actually a command to God's people to open their mouths and say something about God. First of all, it is a command to open our mouths and say true things about God's greatness and goodness. Secondly, speaking these true things must spring from genuine admiration for him and thankfulness to him. And finally, we are to speak these things in this way both to others and to God himself. Praise is telling others about God, and praise is telling God about God, as we see in the Psalms.

Now, understanding that praising God consists of saying true things about his greatness and goodness with admiration and thankfulness, both to others and to God himself, we must remember something else we we learn from Scripture: it is from the abundance of the heart that we speak (Luke 6:45). If our hearts are not really filled with love and admiration for God, words of praise won't come spilling out of our mouths. We'll hardly know what to say about him. If our hearts feel stony and cold toward him, if we're hurt and confused by difficulties in our lives, for example, and we're unfamiliar with God's word and ways, this will stop up our hearts from admiration and thankfulness, and our words (or lack of them) will reflect this.

If we find ourselves in continuing (not temporary) difficulty with the biblical command to adore and praise God, the first thing to do is to realize that this is our lack; there is no lack in God's worth. If our knowledge of God through the Scriptures has not resulted in the assurance that we know him well, that we are on accepted and intimate terms with him, that he is our constant friend and ally, and that we may trust him completely with all our sorrows as well as all our joys, then our journey of faith may have gone amiss. We need to realize that it's possible to belong to him yet not know him well, if our knowledge of him has been gained through other means than a much-opened Bible and a Scripture-saturated life of prayer. If our hearts remain dull toward him, and words of praise and thanks are hard to find, then we must re-examine what we think we know of him.

The apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthian church, exhorts the people to pay close attention to the message of the apostles because they, the apostles, have been made the ministers of the new testament wherein God's glory has been most fully revealed and made known. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:4-11 that the apostle's teaching is in fact the ministry of the Spirit, revealing the glory of God through Christ in a way that far surpasses what was seen through Moses. The message of the apostles "portrays Christ" in this way (Galatians 3:1), as do the rest of the Scriptures. This is why Paul says that when the Spirit of God removes the veil that blinds, we are set free to behold the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:16-17). And it is as we behold, as we see and gaze upon this glory, that we are transformed into the same image. We become, by degrees of glory, like that which we are gazing upon (2 Corinthians 3:18).

But how do we see and gaze upon the glory of the Lord? We can put all the above paragraph in very simple terms. Paul is speaking metaphorically, but what he means is simply this: it is by the Spirit's work of opening our spiritual eyes to the Christ of the Scriptures that we come to know and admire and thank God for what he has done. We behold the glory of the Lord when we hear or read, with spiritual understanding, the Bible's testimony about Christ and him crucified.

There in the written word we "see" the glory of Christ revealed through the various narratives, the explanations, and the teaching; this sight causes our admiration to blossom and swell and grow for all that God has done through the sending of his Son for our sin. There we see the hope for the resurrection of the body and the final restoration of all things. There we find the strength for going on, for how and why we are to hold on to hope in God (for how he holds us!). We need both the Old and New Testament Scriptures, for both paint the epic and tragic portrait of man, and of God's dealings with man; there we learn man's true story and nature, and the greatness of God's plan of the ages for our rescue.

It is our wide and faithful reading of Scripture that enables us to obey the command of God through the Psalmist to truly praise him. Unless we have studied the portrait of Christ in this way both in the OT and the NT, unless we have gazed upon the glory we see building steadily from Genesis to Malachi, and then bursting into full view from Matthew to Revelation, we won't know the true things to say about God.

If we're only used to praising God for what we have temporally—our good health, our nice cars and homes, our healthy loved ones—then we will be at a loss when those things are taken away. We should always be thankful for our health and for what God has provided. But we very much need to set to work cultivating a taste for the things of eternity, don't we. This taste is only truly gained when we comprehend the message of Scripture as explained by his appointed ministers of the good news. We can only adore and praise the God whose glory we now behold.

Open your Bible. Go to Ephesians 2:15-23 and pray along with Paul, for yourself and for all Christ's church, that "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your understanding enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe..."

And keep reading the Scripture, fastening your gaze on the glory of God revealed there.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Way To God

"Years ago, two cousins were visiting near the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. Although they were told by their parents not to venture into the swamp, they disobeyed. As the sun was setting, they decided to head home in hopes that their absence would not be detected. Neither boy made it back. When they were found dead a few days later, a note was attached to one of the boys. It read, 'I thought I knew the way, but I was wrong'.

"Do you know the way to God? Are you sure you are right?"

I appreciate Jim Elliff and his organization, Christian Communicators Worldwide. Here is a wonderful article to share with seekers: The Way To God

Thursday, October 3, 2013

In Grief: When We Want Our Loved One More Than God

Yesterday was the "anniversary" (too light a word for loss!) of my son Joseph's death nine years ago. This annual milestone arrived exactly 37 days after the death of my dear brother, just turned 49, from leukemia and its complications. He died on August 27th of this year, and my family is all feeling much grief and sorrow over this great loss to us.

But it's not a permanent loss for his family and friends who are in Christ, as he also is. We are all heading swiftly toward the same destination- away from the body, at home with the Lord, and therefore reunited with each other. For that reason... and because we know that it is God himself who "has fashioned us for this very purpose" (to be "clothed with immortality")... and because "knowing the fear of the Lord" (that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ) we must, like the Apostle, live and speak so as to persuade others... for all those reasons, we must struggle, even in our grief, to honor and please the Lord.

I remember in the weeks after my son's death, as the initial shock began to morph into a relentless ache of grief and pain, I began to consider this. My one desire was to be with my son again. My initial desire had been to die, and be laid in the ground with him! I did not want to live in this world without him. I had other children though, and a husband, and knew I would have to go on. Knowing this, I began to consider how I would "go on"- in what manner? Begrudgingly... depressed... hopeless?

No, I needed hope, and there was hope. I was not at the place that my one, burning desire was to be with the Lord- to see him face to face, to be free from the remaining sin that so hinders our love for him. I didn't yet know enough to have the right affections, but I knew that I didn't know, and was sorry for it. I was engulfed with pain for the loss of my son, and missed him desperately. But I believed God's word, though I couldn't always feel it. So I purposely focused on the hope I could feel: that of being reunited with my son one day.

I began searching the Bible for all that it had to say about this. I came across a great book that was very helpful, Heaven, by Randy Alcorn. This book brought together many things in the Bible that are reason for excitement both at finally being with Christ and with being reunited with all the saints, including our loved ones. I didn't substitute this book or anything else I read for the Scripture. I began becoming a student of God's word, and found rich comfort there.

So for a long while, when I thought of heaven and especially of the new heavens and the new earth, it was the hope of being reunited with my son that gave the most comfort. But I began, somewhere along the line, to confess this to the Lord, who I knew to be tender to our weak frames and an understanding Father. I remember asking him for his forgiveness for making more of my son, in a sense, than I did of him. I even found myself sometimes when being tempted by some desire or another to sin, that I would think about Joseph and decide that no, I will not fall into that temptation, I'll resist and flee from it for Joseph's sake, because someday I'll see him again and I don't want to dishonor him. You see how I almost substituted my son for the affections I needed to have toward God? Yet I knew I did this, and admitted it to the Lord, and asked him to work in me so that my affections became the proper ones I should have, the ones that would most please him and would be most useful to the people left here on earth.

And that did happen- over time, the Lord by his Spirit used his word, which I stayed careful in making use of, he used my prayers which I falteringly but persistently continued in, and he used the passage of time, during which occurred the many testings that try our faith and make it more genuine. He used all those means to gradually change my heart's affections, to make me more genuinely loyal to him and his designs and plans and will for this life, to lift my heart and mind to heavenly things and make me want heaven! and want himself for his own beauty, and power, and holiness. Now, I can truly say that to be reunited with those I love- my son, my mother, my brother- is the wonderfully glad "icing on the cake" of the glorious prospect of seeing our Lord, of knowing him in a state that is free from the hindering sin and wrong desires that so afflict us in this life. Of being at home, brought by grace to be safe at last with him.

It is amazing to me at how unproud God is in this, that he doesn't chastise or condemn the honest heart that sees what the Bible says about loving him supremely, above all else, but struggles with their heart's affections in doing it. He knows it anyway- he doesn't want us to hide it, but to confess it to him. I used my love for my son in those early days of grief to resist temptations to sin, to build hope, to provide an interest in heaven and in heavenly things. The more I read the Bible, the greater my interest became in God himself and in his ways. My love for my son eventually took its proper place, which is the very best thing; I so wish it had had its proper place when he was alive.

I guess the point of this article is to try to help a little with this aspect of grief. For many Christians, they build their grief around the loved one they've lost, due to their faith in God not yet being what it ought to be. I'm saying, if this is the case with you, recognize and confess it early on. Do what you can, when you can, to try to move your affections along toward a right placement of them in God himself, through becoming a student of his word and by prayer for him to help you in it. Keep an honest heart about it! This above all is pleasing to God.

Here's one very practical way I moved toward this in some of the early days; it's a practice I still keep up, that of praying Psalm 119:36-38 (this Psalm is all about God's word, the Scripture, and what it is to us):

"Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to gain.
"Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Your ways.
"Establish Your word to Your servant, as that which produces reverence for You." (NASB)

The more I requested this help from the Lord the more I really desired it, and the more he supplied it. May the Lord encourage and help you on your journey through grief, may he incline your heart to his word and establish you in it, as you seek, however falteringly, to know and honor him.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

New Desires That Will Stand In The Judgment

"Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment" (Ecclesiastes 11:9).

The only thing that makes sense of this counsel— to follow your own desires, knowing that God will bring you to account for them at the last Day— is to have right desires. And the only way to have right desires is to desire what God approves. And the only way to desire what God approves is to be given new desires. And the only way to have new desires is through the new birth. 

How gracious of God that the young may rejoice and be cheerful in good ways that will stand before His judgment. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

1 Peter 2:18-3:6 (Or, Let Hope In God Make You Pretty)

Submission to your husband— a command from Scripture every wife knows is true, yet finds so very difficult, at least at times (if we're honest). Submission means so much more than gritting one's teeth and perfunctorily going along with what one's husband says or wants to do. Biblical submission is from the heart, and evidences itself in true respect and love for our husbands; but this submission is contrary to what we might think, and must be based on truth about God, not on what we see in our husbands.

Submission is based on something we know, on something from Scripture we have grasped both intellectually and with spiritual affection. This knowledge is about God and Christ. One passage that makes it clear is in 1 Peter 2:18-3:6. If what is taught in this passage can be grasped and applied, one can make a lot of headway in having the kind of attitude in marriage that pleases God and brings good to the church and family.

Peter starts by speaking of servants being "subject to" (submissive and obedient to) their masters, with all respect. God is not interested in the mechanical obedience, or lip service, of these slaves to their masters; he wants their hearts and minds engaged and doing spiritual battle so that they display all respect. This requires a change of mind and heart, which can only come about by the Spirit of God working through the word of God.

Peter wants slaves to show this submission and respect not only to the good and gentle masters but also to the unjust ones. Under an unjust master, a slave may expect to endure sorrows while suffering unjustly. When this happens, Peter says it is a thing of grace, and of credit to the believer who suffers so. It is, in fact, his calling, because "Christ also (in the same way) suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps" (2:21). Peter goes on to portray how Christ paved the way for us to learn to suffer unjustly: "When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (2:23).

This entrusting of oneself to God is the key. Peter says that it is in this same way that a wife is to go about submitting to her husband. Even a Christian husband may sometimes fail in obeying God's word; his wife may suffer unjustly sometimes because of it. When that is the case, the wife has an example to follow: the Lord Jesus Christ! He has both set the example and made it possible. "Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps... when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly."

Just like Sarah, as Peter explains in 3:5-6. "For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening." If you know anything about Abraham's failure in passing Sarah off as his sister, you see that Sarah's hope in God (not in Abraham's stellar performance) brought her through some harrowing times. Hope in God creates in us "the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious"— makes us pretty in an eternal and imperishable way. Moths and rust can't corrupt such beauty.

Hope in God and in all his promises is what frees wives to biblically submit to and respect their husbands. If we suffer sometimes because of their failure to obey God's word, we are only being given the privilege of following in our Master's footsteps. And one important thing to remember: unlike our Master, "who committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth," we wives are not innocent! Christ's guiltlessness is our boast and our hope, but we have many remaining faults and failures, which should keep us humble and realistic if we are sometimes called to suffer. Most of the time I can see twenty ways in which I've also inflicted suffering upon my poor husband!

Just become a regular reader of Proverbs, and you'll see what I mean! :)

Now go out and adorn yourselves with what really makes you pretty.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Salvation Is Of The Lord

Michaelangelo's Jonah on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling

"I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD" (Psalm 118:17).

"'But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD.' And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land" (Jonah 2:9, 10).

God kept Jonah, who thought he knew better than God and who thought he could get away with it, safe in a death trap— the belly of a fish big enough to swallow a man whole. Three days and three nights in a horror of darkness were required in which Jonah learned to fear God, to "remember the LORD" (repent), to be brought to a vow. To see what before had only been heard of: that salvation is of Yahweh.

Then and only then did the fish spit Jonah out upon the dry, ready land.

(Here's a nice article on Michaelangelo'splacement of the painting of Jonah in the Cistine Chapel: Jonah, The Lynchpin Of The Cistine Chapel Ceiling. I think Michaelangelo understood.)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Truth Was From The Beginning

I voraciously read a lot of books on doctrine and theology in the first years of a 'personal' reformation. God was good to show me how to better know Him from His word, and those books helped clear up a lot of wrong notions. Nothing wrong with good, sound theological books.

But I see arguments about doctrinal things (mostly on the Internet) in which the arguments are being based on what this or that author has said, rather than on the Scripture. Some who are advocating for their views refuse to go back to Scripture for honest, heartfelt searching.

So, came across this quote from Matthew Henry this morning. It's in reference to Matthew 19, where the Pharisees were questioning Jesus on divorce. They had the same problem as do modern advocates for their pet position. Because of their hard hearts, the Pharisees didn't really want to hear what God has said about it.

"Corruptions that are crept into any ordinance of God must be purged out by having recourse to the primitive institution. If the copy be vicious, it must be examined and corrected by the original. Thus, when St. Paul would redress the grievances in the church of Corinth about the Lord's supper, he appealed to the appointment (1 Corinthians 11:23): 'So and so I received from the Lord'.

"Truth was from the beginning; we must therefore enquire for the good old way (Jeremiah 6:16), and must reform-- not by later patterns, but by ancient rules."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Jesus' Use of Apologetics

In Chapter 12 of Matthew, Jesus has several encounters with the jealous Pharisees. They had taken issue with his hungry disciples plucking heads of grain to eat on a Sabbath, and with Him for healing a man's withered hand on the same day. Jesus, after reasoning briefly with them from the Scriptures, exposed their hypocrisy by showing them that their hard-heartedness was foreign to God's intentions. It is lawful, he showed them, to show mercy and to do good on the Sabbath. What is more, he made a startling claim: "The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath".

Aware of their conspiring to destroy him for this, Jesus withdrew from there, but of course the crowds followed him and he continued to heal them all. When a demon-possessed man, blind and mute, was brought to him, he healed him too, and the amazing story soon reached the ears of the Pharisees. Their response to the story: "It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons."

To this hard-hearted way of thinking the Lord is quick to reply. His reply was interesting to me this morning as I read, because I saw that he was willing to reason, to a point, with their words; but then quickly and surely came to the gospel warning that they needed. I think it may be a wonderful example of how we are to do apologetics.

"Knowing their thoughts, he said to them [reasoning now with them], 'Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no house or city divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan [as the Pharisees were claiming], he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?

"'And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?'" [They probably had had no real success at casting them out, but the Pharisees couldn't afford to admit this. Oh, the brilliance of our Savior!] "'Therefore they will be your judges.

"'But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you!'" [First salvo fired over the bow, in mercy.] "'Or, how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house'" [as He'd just done in healing the demon-oppressed man].

[And now— again in merciful severity— the sober warning]: "'Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come'" (Matthew 12:22-32).

See our Lord's use of apologetics. He uses logic in verses 25-29 to expose the fallacy of the Pharisees' accusation. He does this in mercy, surely. The text doesn't tell us whether this mercy is extended toward the Pharisees, or whether it is all for the benefit of the crowd standing about, or only for his disciples standing by listening (and later for us, reading). I'm sure that in some sense, it is meant for all. Surely this is what apologetics is for: the merciful use of logic and reasoning to soften hearts in preparation for what is next.

But then must come what is next: truth that warns. The Pharisees, sadly, were unimpressed by the truth that their words constituted a blasphemy for which they would never be forgiven. Jesus said it anyway, and he did not mince words. How could he, when his goal was the repentance and salvation of his hearers? He speaks in no uncertain terms, telling the stark and terrible truth that eternal condemnation is coming to those who continue to do and speak evil— in this case, who blaspheme God's Spirit. This is always the pattern of the Lord. In mercy he reasons, in mercy he warns.

I enjoy listening to and reading Christian apologists. I see from Scripture and from human nature that we need to learn to use logic, and to reason with people's wrong ideas about God. But I see from our Lord and from his apostles that biblical apologetics is a precursor to gospel warnings that must be spoken. I think this is where Christian apologetics may be falling short. I've never seen a debate where at the end, after all was said and done, the apologist for sound orthodoxy turned to his opponent and offered solemn warnings to them about eternity and the coming judgment.

Just an interesting thought and observation from this morning's reading. I'd be interested in hearing from others about this.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Prayer And Listening To God Part 7: Three More Commonly Misapplied Texts

(This is Part 7 in a series of posts on Prayer and Listening to God. Click here for Part 1).

A while back, I began writing a series of articles on the idea of prayer and listening for God's voice. This is a teaching that in the last 20 or so years has exploded into popularity in churches, such that it's now simply a given for most Christians that this listening is what the Bible teaches us to do. I've been arguing that not only is this kind of listening not taught in the Bible, but it's actually a harmful teaching because of how it leads people away from Scripture as the place to hear God speak and come to know his will.

The last post on it, here, tries to show how the idea of listening for God's "still, small voice" came about, and I tried to show how that passage (1 Kings 19:9-13) is not teaching us to listen in that way at all. Before I finally move on to how we ARE to listen for God's voice, and how we ARE to understand how God guides us, I thought I'd look at three other texts Christians commonly claim as Scriptural support for the idea of listening for God's voice. These misapplied texts are the basis for such statements as "God gave me a peace about it," "I feel led," and for the idea of waiting or being still in order to hear from God.

Remember, please, as you're reading this unfortunately necessary "de-bunking," that there is much better, really better news about God's guidance, though it may not seem so at first. It may seem overly picky or even unspiritual, trying to dismantle the wrong thinking, and it would be except for this— God has something better for us than trying to figure out his will!

God Gave Me A Peace About It

Many people who employ this check for decision-making may think of verses like Colossians 3:15, "let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body" and Philippians 4:7, "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." The Greek word translated "rule" in Colossians 3:15 is brabeuo, meaning "to be an umpire." So the idea has sprung up that God will give us a feeling of peace if we are heading towards the right decision, but will "overrule" by taking away our peace if we make the wrong one.

The problem is that these Scriptures aren't talking about a feeling or about decisions. Checking the context on both of these verses, we see that Paul is speaking of something entirely different than a feeling of peace to guide us in decision-making. In Colossians, Paul is talking about the peace we are called to with one another; the "state of harmony and tranquility between individuals" (from Strong's concordance). Remember how important context is in reading the Bible (or any literature). Accordingly, the preceding verses in that passage (Colossians 3:1-15) show Paul's meaning. We are to let this peace with one another rule the day in our behavior toward one another.

In Philippians 4:7 Paul is also speaking, not of guidance, but of God's peace of mind and heart available to us. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5b-7). This is peace from anxiety, born of hope in the Lord's soon return and of our confident access to him for "grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16). This peace will guard both our thinking and our desires in the days of adversity.

So we see that the teaching to make decisions based on inward feelings of peace is not based on these verses (or any other). Now, hang in there with me! The truth about how we are to hear from God and get guidance from him is BETTER than what we've been told. And I will get to that, I promise. But first, another concept erroneously taught as the way we are to receive guidance from God:

Feeling Led

The concept of "feeling" led apparently comes from various texts that speak rather in terms of "being" led by the Spirit. (No text speaks of "feeling" led.) These texts include Matthew 4:1 and Luke 4:1, which describe Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness temptation; and Romans 8:14, "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God," and Galatians 5:18, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law."

To Paul, being “led by the Spirit” means that one is a believer, an adopted son of God (Romans 8:13-14) and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Born-again people are led by the Spirit, in contrast to unbelievers, who "live according to the flesh." Paul uses other phrases that mean the same thing as being led by the Spirit: "walk according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:4); "live according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:5); "set the mind on the Spirit" (Romans 8:6). Being led by the Spirit is the same thing as "by the Spirit putting to death the deeds of the body": "For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:13-14).

In talking about being led by the Spirit, Paul is not talking at all about inward guidance for decision-making or an inward voice of God. B.B. Warfield said of this phrase that "the spiritual leading of which Paul speaks is... to enable us to conquer sin." "Led by the Spirit" means that we belong to God and that through his indwelling Spirit, have the power to overcome sin and temptation.

In Matthew 4 and Luke 4, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. This does indeed mean that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness! But we must realize that the account is not teaching us to expect anything of the sort in our own lives. Jesus is God, the second Person of the Trinity. His travail in the wilderness was part of what he endured in order to secure our salvation. This was no being led to decide correctly on a car purchase. This was a matter of his perfect obedience to the Father— and his relationship to the Father and to the Spirit was, and is, unique to him.

We are not to use this passage to make the case that we all should experience such direct guidance by the Spirit. We mustn't trivialize such a solemn and weighty event by using it to claim such experiences for ourselves. (For more on the problem with using narrative passages to teach us what to expect in guidance, see this, scrolling down to "Descriptive passages do not teach us to expect the same").

Waiting in Silence and Be Still and Know

These and similar phrases in Scripture have, at times, been misunderstood to mean that God’s people should listen for him to speak as they wait in stillness and silence. "For God alone my soul waits in silence..." (Psalm 62:1a) is one such phrase that has been used in that sense. But the very next half of the verse shows that David is not waiting to hear God's voice inwardly, but is waiting for rescue: "... from Him comes my salvation" (Psalm 62:1b). Psalm 62 is a song about God’s deliverance from the schemes of wicked men. It proclaims that God is the only Savior: "For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is in him" (verse 5). God has revealed to His prophet David that He has all power, and David proclaims it.

Similarly, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a) is another text sometimes misused to teach listening for inner guidance from God. In Psalm 46, “be still and know” is a plural command, as God is speaking to the nations among whom he will eventually be exalted, as the context of the Psalm shows. He is reassuring his people that although "the nations rage, and kingdoms totter," his people can rest, knowing that their God will finally make the kingdom of this world to become his kingdom alone (Revelation 11:15). Psalm 46 speaks of the greatness and of the final exaltation of God among the nations. It is not a text modeling how to get inner guidance for decisions or problem-solving!

Well, these three examples, combined with my other posts on the topic, I hope have instilled real doubt as to whether the Bible really teaches that we are to listen inwardly for God's voice, whether in prayer or at any other time. Now it's time to bring out the good news, the positive: how ARE we to be guided by God? How ARE we to hear his voice? I will address these good and important questions in the next post. The answers are good news because it is the truth that makes us free, and his word is truth! (John 8:32, John 17:17)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Don't Be An April (Or A May Or June Or July!) Fool

Solomon, son of David, King of Israel, did not want his son (or me or you) to be fooled (or fools). In Proverbs 1:1-7, he begins his collection of "the sayings of the wise" by expressing hope that the reader will:

  • "know wisdom and instruction and understand words of insight" (verse 2)
  • "receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity" (verse 3).

The words of these sayings, says Solomon,  are able to

  • "give prudence to the simple" and
  • "knowledge and discretion to the youth" (verse 4).

The challenge of Solomon to the reader is this:

  • "Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a figure [an enigma], the words of the wise and their riddles" (verses 5 and 6).

Both the fulfilling of the grand purpose of Solomon's collection of proverbs, and the success of  the reader's efforts, depend on one thing: the reader (student) having the "fear of Yahweh":

  • "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction" (verse 7).

What characterizes the one who has the fear of the Lord? If the fool "despises wisdom and instruction," then the characterizing mark of the one who fears the Lord is the love of wisdom and instruction. But not just anything sold as "wisdom" or "instruction" will do. Solomon, and all the Scriptures, teach that there is one and only one source for true wisdom: the Scriptures themselves.

This is what God says concerning the Scripture (his words):

  • "All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word" (Isaiah 62:2).

Proverbs appeals to the simple to find prudence, to the youth to gain knowledge and discretion from instruction. It challenges the wise to hear and increase in learning, and offers ever more guidance in understanding to the one who understands these things. Proverbs makes the appeal to remain always and foremost a true disciple, a learner. Do you want to be one on whom the Lord will cast his approving eye? Become more and more a student of God's word, and learn more and more what it means to tremble at it; for this is how we learn, more and more, the fear of the Lord.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"You Shall See"

In Isaiah 66, God tells of the wonderful, glorious consolations coming to His children upon the resurrection of the body, in the new earth. The descriptions make one's heart ache with longing to see it all come true. These glorious promises having been shown to Isaiah, and Isaiah having written them down for our hope and encouragement, we are left with the solemn promise that "You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice..." (Isaiah 66:14).

The time is coming that God's people will physically see all the things that Isaiah was shown, the things we now "see" by faith. Our faith shall become physical sight; the veil (our frail mortality) that now hinders, the glass that we now see through only, comparatively, "darkly" will be transformed. "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).

The same solemn assurance that all these things will surely come to pass is given at the close of the canon of Scripture when the angel says to John, "These words are trustworthy and true... the Lord God... has sent His angel to show his servants what must soon take place" (Revelation 22:6).

He sent his angel to show, and what John saw was recorded in words, and through faith we see these words to be true. And that is all we need; it's enough for now. But the day is coming for a different seeing— our physical eyes shall behold it all. "You will see, and your hearts shall rejoice."

Come soon!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Making God's Thoughts Our Thoughts

    "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
        neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
    For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
        so are my ways higher than your ways
        and my thoughts than your thoughts"
(Isaiah 55:8-9)

"'For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:16).

It struck me (anew) this morning how important the scriptures are in our knowing God. When God said through Isaiah that his thoughts are not our thoughts, he wasn't saying we can't know his thoughts (you can really see this when you read that chapter in its entirety). He is saying that the thoughts that spring up in our minds from our own desires, from our own schemes and ambitions, fall far short of his plan; we should abandon them! It's like what happened with dear Peter. "From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:22-23).

The great thing is that we can learn (as Peter did!) what God's thoughts are and what his ways are, and start to think with his thoughts and ways--we can have, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians, the mind of Christ. All the Scriptures are Christ's words and mind and thoughts, recorded for us to read and understand by the help of his Spirit within us. Remember that God is trinitarian-- He is three Persons in one essence-- and all three persons of the trinity are at work to help us have the mind of Christ. God wants us to know and understand him, and he has decided that we will do so through the words declaring his thoughts and ways in the Scriptures.

His thoughts are not our thoughts, how true! So let's be about the work of recognizing this, and of trading our poor thinking and ways (as wonderful as we once thought they were) for the far better thinking and ways we learn through the words of Scripture. "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Figuring Out Why

Do you ever wonder about (1) your purpose in life, or (2) God's purpose in allowing hardship and sorrow into your life? I've been thinking about this, and it seems to me that Christians of yesteryear didn't overly concern themselves with those questions. I think the reason is that more of them were acquainted with the big themes of Scripture, which end up answering those questions very satisfactorily.

The Bible had taught them that their purpose in life as the redeemed of God was to let their lights so shine before men that men would see their good works, and so glorify their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16); to tell to the next generation the glorious deeds of God, and his might, and the wonders that he has done (Psalm 78:4); to love one another, fervently and from the heart, rejoicing with those who rejoiced and weeping with those who were weeping (Romans 12:15). Stuff like that. And all that stuff was summed up in Romans 8:29, which told them that God was at work through all things to make them more like Christ. They knew that their purpose in this brief life was to sojourn faithfully, as pilgrims and aliens "looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). They were to help each other along this troubled (but blessed) journey, and they were to bring along as many as they possibly could, strengthened for the task by God himself. That's quite a purpose!

So that's the purpose for every Christian; but what about God's purpose for allowing all the hardship and sorrow in our lives? The Bible had given those stalwart saints of yesteryear all they needed to know about that, too. It's important to know that they didn't ask for tailor-made answers to their individual circumstances... they understood that the only real answer to "why" came from Scripture, and though it was the same answer for all believers, it was wonderfully sufficient.

The Scriptures told them that not only was their purpose to live a life of increasing conformity to Christ, but that God's purpose in it was for a very exciting outcome: "So that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7), and so that they may be presented "blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy" (Jude 1:24). God's main purpose for them in this life, having delivered them from the domain of darkness and transferred them to the kingdom of his beloved son (Colossians 1:13), was to prepare them, through this (comparatively) "light, momentary affliction", for "an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17). If we are God's children then we are heirs with Christ to this eternal weight of glory, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:17). God's purpose in our suffering? Future glory with him!

Christians of yesteryear understood these things, often going back to the message of patient Job, who did not, in this life, know the full story about why the hard trials had to come his way; but who trusted the God who knew. These saints of old didn't fret it, and neither should we. "Farther along we'll know more about it... farther along we'll understand why." God has given us his word to cheer us on our way as we travel with hope toward the coming resurrection of the body and of the glorious new heavens and new earth, where righteousness dwells-- where we shall no longer see as through a mirror, dimly, but shall at last see "face to (beloved!) Face". "Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What The Bible Considers "Trouble"

"No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble" (Proverbs 12:21).

When the Bible talks about the follower of Christ being free from trouble, it isn't talking about temporal trouble. Jesus promised his disciples in John 16:33 that "in the world" they will have tribulation. What the Bible is saying is that the Christian will not be ultimately harmed but will be brought safely through all the trials of this world and into Heaven at the last.

The Bible also does not say that "the wicked" (all of us who scorned and rejected Christ) will necessarily lead troubled and unhappy lives on this earth. But the Bible does make clear that the rejector of Christ is '"storing up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will appear" (Romans 2:5). In this way they are "filled with trouble" and this trouble certainly begins in this temporal life, even though it may not be outwardly apparent.

This is a brief, brief life; begun and then quickly over, and then eternity, and the great settling of all accounts before God. The righteous will suffer no harm in that accounting, because they have placed all their hope for rescue from wrath in the work of Christ on the cross.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Proverbs 9: Two Feasts

Wisdom's feast is set. She has already done it all: slaughtered her beasts, mixed her wine, and set her table. All is prepared and waiting; this is Wisdom's feast, not to be confused with other feasts that are set before men and women. Great care has been taken. Now she has sent out her young women (not to be confused with other young women) to call out from the highest places in town, "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!" To him who lacks sense she entreats, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight."

On the same highest places in the same town, a woman named Folly has taken her seat. She also has spread a table. She also is calling out to those who pass by (and her voice is loud, and she is seductive), "Whoever is simple, let him turn aside here!" To him who lacks sense she purrs, "Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant!"

The simpleton-- the one passing by, the one just going along straight on his way, hears the two voices entreating him to turn in. One offers bread and wine, life and insight. But to have it, she says, he must leave his ways (ways that he is very attached to, actually...). The other, loud voice offers him, if he will just turn aside from his straight way to see, something a little more enticing, a bit more exciting: Stolen water. Bread eaten in secret. Something is alluring about that. Something compels the simple man to turn in here, to know what this woman is offering: to taste, and to see.

Poor simple man. He didn't understand one very important thing before he turned aside to Folly's feast, and it was this: only the dead are there. Her guests are all in the depths of Sheol (the grave, or Hell). It is a ghastly feast; there were no slaughtered beasts, no mixed wine or even beautifully set table, at all. All on her table was death and corruption, and he found out too late that there was also no escape. Pity this man. He only wanted satisfaction for his desires and his senses-- he only wanted what seemed most natural to him to want. And he got it.

And Wisdom grieves for him, and sends out her young women to the highest places in the town again the next day, and the next, to proclaim her compelling message of life and of escape from death, sin, and folly. She will keep on sending them until there is no more Today, because she knows that a simple young man, here and there, will hear the voice of Wisdom and believe the invitation is true, and see that Life! Life! is only to be found at Her table; and he will turn in, and he will have escaped the grave and Hell forever. And oh, what a feast there will be.