Sunday, December 28, 2014

Doers Not Just Hearers (James 1:19 et seq)


Hearers and Doers of the Word
James 1:19-27

We receive the word of truth in salvation, but we also receive it as the guide to a life that pleases God. It works toward our sanctification. Jesus, in fact, prayed for his disciples, saying “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth”. (John 17:17)

James seems to interject a topic here with an instruction on speech and anger. Those were evidently problems in the churches to whom James wrote. They are problems in many churches today, and among many believers in general. Our spiritual maturity, our sanctification, can be measured by these things James discussed. So, James seems to say that steadfastness in faith is expressed in obedience to God’s word no matter what is going on around you or what is being done to you.

We should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. (19) Rashness or hasty speech and anger do not please God. The Old Testament teaches this also. Psalm 34:13, for example, says “keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.”

Proverbs 18:27-28 says:

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise.
When he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

James is very concerned with the tongue in this letter, making us think it was as much a problem for his audience as for us.

First of all, we should be quick to hear. Listening is a great talent. It is beneficial to your sanctification and to your relationships. We should be quick to listen to God’s word. Our first response should be to apply it to our lives, not argue with it or the one who presents it truthfully.

Second, we should be slow to speak. When you do not like what you hear, you can often benefit from thinking about it and praying about it before you respond. My family would say to “sleep on it”. Sometimes, what struck you unfavorably at first, may seem reasonable or good when thought out.

Finally, we are to be slow to anger. Anger usually impedes clear thinking and leads to speaking harshly.

The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. The NIV paraphrases this into “the righteousness life that God desires”. That captures the meaning here. I have heard horrible things said by church members “in the heat of the moment”. God is not pleased or honored by that.

I have worked to resist speaking about everything that comes up in church. I took a year moratorium from offering criticisms and suggestions. I extended it for another year. I offered a criticism that was not well received, and am now in another year of moratorium. I have found in the process that many things which initially aggravated me I did not have to bother with. Instead, I could focus on my own sanctification and ministry to others. I also resolved to not speak immediately upon every issue. I am not perfect in this, but it is what I seek to do.

I am not here speaking of confronting heresy or falsehood regarding the Bible. You are pretty much going to hear from me every time you offer that. Even then, I pray to answer with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15) But that is not the situation James addressed.

The next thing James admonishes us to do is to get rid of moral filth and wickedness. The Greek word refers to taking off these things as you would dirty clothes. If you want God’s word to have full effect in your life you have to put away your favorite sins. Those sins are rampant (ESV) or prevalent (NIV). James is saying, your reception of God’s word unto salvation is revealed in your obedience to God’s word. The saved person obeys God’s word out of love for him. The unsaved person rebels against God’s word. Jesus said we can know people by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20) A tree that bears bad fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire. That is a metaphor for the judgment of the unsaved person.

The fruit of the Spirit, the traits of the saved person, are listed in Galatians 5:22-24. The fruit of the flesh is described in Galatians 5:19-21. We may discern from a person’s character and behavior what their relationship to God is. I am not saying we will be perfect, but that the life of the believer should predominately express the fruit of the Spirit not the fruit of the flesh.

Television adds invite us to sin. Commercials for Los Vegas tell us to come there and sin and it will stay there. That is not true, of course. You will carry the marks of it.

There are common sins all around you every day and I do not need to list them for you. It is fine for the people belonging to the world to cover themselves with those sins. But it is not ok for the man or woman of God. People tell you to “lighten up” or to “get over it”. Christians will tell you it is ok to do a little. But God says to put it away. Take off those dirty clothes and put on righteous clothes.

1 Peter 1:22-2:1 takes a similar approach to James in this passage.

God takes sin seriously and he hates it. That is why James uses these graphic words here: filthiness and wickedness. Confess, repent and remove these things from your life. God does not want to hear “that is just the way I am”. He knows how you are and he wants to change you to be like Jesus.

Finally, we need to receive the word with meekness. We are open and receptive to it. We put aside pride, anger, sin and all our resistance. We hear the word and apply it to ourselves. We conform ourselves to the word. We do not change the word to fit our sin.

I have sat in many Bible discussion groups where the response to every command of God begins with “well, I don't think God really wants us to do this” as opposed to “oh no, I have to repent of this and stop doing it”.

In Mark 4, Jesus told a parable. We often call it the parable of the sower, but it is really the parable of the soils. There are four kinds of soil. Only one is described as good soil The good soil received the seed and produced much fruit. You are good soil if you received the seed of God’s word. When you do you will produce much fruit.

When the preacher preaches God’s word to you, your reaction should be to listen and apply God’s word to yourself. But often we want to think or speak a rebuttal. Sometimes we get angry at the preacher or teacher. If the teacher is giving you the truth of God’s word, that is not the way God wants you to receive it. It will prevent you from receiving it. As verse 20 says, it does not produce the righteousness of God in us.

Your first reaction to a lesson or sermon should not always be “I wish old so and so was hearing this”. The first application should always be to ourselves. But, it is harder to confront our sin than someone else’s sin. Yet, when we receive the word with meekness, it will change us. God will change us through it. As we change, our behavior changes. James will address behavior frequently in this letter. He is saying for us to conform our behavior to God’s standards now that he has changed us so that we can behave in a way that pleases him and brings him glory.

Notice that James calls it the “implanted word” in verse 21. The NIV says the “word planted in you”. This is another reference by James to the Old Testament. This time the reference is to Jeremiah 31:33. In that verse God said he would put his law within his people and he would write it on their hearts. God had described, through Jeremiah, all the ways his people had failed to keep his covenant and live according to his standards. He told them that he would change that in the new covenant.

So James calls it the implanted word. God has written his word, or law, into the heart of believers so we can live according to his standards. It is implanted in us. It is part of us.
It empowers us to live for God and not the world.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Repentance

"True repentance is displeasure at sin, arising out of fear and reverence for God, and producing, at the same time, a love and desire of righteousness.” John Calvin

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

NOT BY MIGHT



Zerubbabel was a descendant of David, grandson of the last king of Judah. He and Ezra led the 40,000 or so Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem after Cyrus gave them permission. He led the effort to build the altar and lay the foundation of the temple. But, after opposition arose from the local non-Jewish population, building stopped. In Zechariah 4, God gave Zechariah a prophesy to speak to Zerubbabel to get him going again. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit”.

Zerubbabel did not have the might or power to accomplish his task. But the Holy Spirit would accomplish it. It is the Holy Spirit that accomplishes the work and will of God on earth. Men and women do not have the power on their own to accomplish it. Often, men in their own strength and for their own glory build things, even impressive things, and say they are God’s. But they do not last and often are perversions of God’s plan.

When times are tough and opposition arises, take comfort in the fact that the Spirit will prevail. But take caution that you seek God’s will and glory and not your own. The Tower of Babel fell. God’s kingdom will endure forever.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

HEARERS & DOERS OF THE WORD (part 1) - James 1:19-21)











Hearers and Doers of the Word
James 1:19-25

We receive the word of truth in salvation, but it also works to our sanctification. Jesus, in fact, prayed for his disciples, saying “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth”. (John 17:17)

James seems to interject a topic here with an instruction on speech and anger. Those were evidently problems in the churches to whom James wrote. They are problems in many churches today, and among many believers in general. Our spiritual maturity, our sanctification, can be measured by these things James discussed.

We should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. (19) Rashness or hasty speech and anger do not please God. The Old Testament teaches this also. Psalm 34:13, for example, says “keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.”

Proverbs 18:27-28 says:

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise.
When he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

James is very concerned with the tongue in this letter, making us think it was as much a problem for his audience as for us.

The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God, or the righteousness God requires of us. I have heard horrible things said “in the heat of the moment”. God is not pleased or honored by that. I have worked to resist speaking about everything that comes up in church. I took a year moratorium from offering criticisms and suggestions. I extended it for another year. I offered a criticism that was not well received, and am now in another year of moratorium. I have found in the process that many things which initially aggravated me I did not have to bother with. Instead, I could focus on my own sanctification and ministry to others.

I am not here speaking of confronting heresy or falsehood regarding the Bible. You are pretty much going to hear from me every time you offer that. Even then, I pray to answer with gentleness and respect. But that is not the situation James addressed.

The next thing James admonishes us to do is to get rid of moral filth and wickedness. The Greek word refers to taking off these things as you would dirty clothes. If you want God’s word to have full effect in your life you have to put away your favorite sins. Those sins are rampant (ESV) or prevalent (NIV). Television adds invite us to sin. Commercials for Los Vegas tell us to come there and sin and it will stay there. That is not true, of course. You will carry the marks of it.

There are common sins all around you every day and I do not need to list them for you. It is fine for the people belonging to the world to cover themselves with those sins. But it is not ok for the man or woman of God. People tell you to “lighten up” or to “get over it”. Christians will tell you it is ok to do a little. But God says to put it away.

God takes sin seriously and he hates it. That is why James uses these graphic words here: filthiness and wickedness. Confess, repent and remove these things from your life. God does not want to hear “that is just the way I am”. He knows how you are and he wants to change you to be like Jesus.

Finally, we need to receive the word with meekness. We put aside pride, anger, sin and all our resistance. We hear the word and apply it to ourselves. We conform ourselves to the word. We do not change the word to fit our sin. I have sat in many a Bible discussion group where the response to every command of God begins with “well, I don't think God really wants us to do this” as opposed to “oh no, I have to repent of this and stop doing it”.

When the preacher preaches God’s word to you, your reaction should be to listen and apply God’s word to yourself. But often we want to think or speak a rebuttal. Sometimes we get angry at the preacher or teacher. If the teacher is giving you the truth for God’s word, that is not the way God wants you to receive it. It will prevent you from receiving it. As verse 20 says, it does not produce the righteousness of God in us.

Your first reaction to a lesson or sermon should not always be “I wish old so and so was hearing this”. The first application should always be to ourselves. But, it is harder to confront our sin than someone else’s sin. Yet, when we receive the word with meekness, it will change us. God will change us through it. As we change, our behavior changes. James will address behavior frequently in this letter. He is saying for us to conform our behavior to God’s standards now that he has changed us so that we can behave appropriately.

Notice that James calls it the “implanted word” in verse 21. The NIV says the “word planted in you”. This is another reference by James to the Old Testament. This time the reference is to Jeremiah 31:33. In that verse God said he would put his law within his people and he would write it on their hearts. God had described, through Jeremiah, all the ways his people had failed to keep his covenant and live according to his standards. He told them that he would change that in the new covenant.

So James calls it the implanted word. God has written his word, or law, into the heart of believers so we can live according to his standards. It is implanted in us. It empowers us to live for God and not the world.

Monday, December 15, 2014

HOW SIN HAPPENS - James 1:13-15


How Sin Happens
James 1:13-15

Every trial brings temptation to sin. In contrast to enduring tests to receive the blessing of God, some may fall into sin and blame God for it. James tells us that is incorrect because God cannot be tempted by evil and does not tempt us to sin. (13)

God cannot be tempted by evil because he is completely good. Psalm 86:5 says “For you, O LORD, are good and forgiving”. Jesus said “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.” Matthew 19:17

Since God is good, he has nothing to do with evil. He is not tempted and he does not try to lure us into sin. He tests us to build our Christian character, but he does not tempt us to sin or evil.

So, then, how is it we fall into sin? James told us. We are lured and enticed by our own desire. It is a fishing metaphor. Bait lures a fish, then it is hooked and dragged away. As fallen, sinful beings, we have a heart full of sinful desires. A sinful desire is a longing for what God said no to. So, 1 Peter 2:11 says “abstain form the passions of the flesh with wage war against your soul”. God Gave us the Ten Commandments because he knew we had sinful desires in all of those areas.

It is not a sin to be tempted. Jesus was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

For example, God said not to covet your neighbor’s stuff, including his house. (Exodus 20:17) It is a sin to covet someone’s house. I used to covet other people’s houses. I thought I deserved a better house. I wanted a better house for selfish reasons: to look as successful as other people and to fit in with them. I tried to sell my house and buy another one. God said no. I persisted. He brought about a housing down turn and my house would not sell. He said no. I decided to make it work anyway. I picked a house in a cool neighborhood, wrote a contract, obtained financing and pushed to make it work. I was not doing this to honor God, but myself. I sinned. I coveted the houses of others in that neighborhood, including those of people I knew, and tried to make it happen. The result: the owner died and it got tied up in probate and I lost my financing. It was a huge disappointment.

But God did not tempt me to buy the house. I drove around and found one I wanted and went for it. My desire for a house like my friend’s lured me into sin.

Not only does God not lure us into sin, he provides protection for us. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God will not let us be tempted beyond what we are able to bear. Rather, he will provide a way out for us. In my case God forced the way out by keeping me from buying it. If I had bought it, I would likely have added the sin of pride to my sin of covetousness. God saved me from myself.

You might ask, if that is true, how can we fall into sin? It is because we refuse to take the way out. In my house example, I had many possible outs as difficulties arose. But I refused to heed them. My heart was so overrun with covetousness that I refused to take any of the ways out I was given. David had the opportunity to avoid sin when his servant pointed out that Bathsheba was married. But he refused the way out and he committed multiple, grievous sins.

Peter’s sin in denying Christ is another good example. Jesus warned Peter that Satan wanted to sift him like wheat. (Luke 22:31) He even warned him that Peter would deny him before the rooster crowed. (Luke 22:34) The warning was a way out. Peter could have swallowed his pride, confessed his weakness and allowed God to give him strength to stand for Christ. Despite the warning, and his pledge to follow Jesus to death, he denied him that same evening to a servant girl and two other people. (Luke 22: 54-62) He knew this temptation was coming, but his desire to avoid pain and disapproval was too strong.

Now the scary thing is that sin brings forth death. (15) That is what Paul said in Romans 6:23: the wages of sin is death.

James may have intended to reflect the image of Proverbs 5-9. Those chapters warn a young man against adultery. Solomon used the image of a woman enticing a man, of being alluring in appearance and speech. (Prov. 5:3) But the end of the affair is bitter. (Prov. 5:4) And ultimately, she leads to Sheol, or death. (Prov. 9:18) In contrast, the one who embraces wisdom, finds life. (Prov. 8:35)

Thank you Jesus for paying the price for my sin and bringing me to salvation. For that same verse in Romans says “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus or Lord”.





Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Virgin Conception

What we call the "virgin birth" would better be called the "virgin conception", for it is the conception of Jesus that is most important. The Bible says, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18 it also says But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:20

INCARNATION


INCARNATION

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. John 1:1

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days. Micah 5:2

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:4-7

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. Luke 2:21

Friday, December 05, 2014

Read Primary Sources!


“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.”
Introduction by C. S. Lewis to Athanasius: On the Incarnation

Monday, December 01, 2014

LOVE NOT THE WORLD - EVEN AT CHRISTMAS


1 John 2:15-17
The verses in 1 John are a timely warning for us during the “Christmas Season”. The world has turned this time into a free for all of materialism and partying. John says not to love the world. If you love the world, the Father is not in you. That is a huge and devastating statement. John did not tell us we can stand with one foot in the world and one in the kingdom, loving both. Love the Father or love the world. The Kingdom abides forever along with those who do God’s will. Everything else passes away.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

BLESSINGS FOR PERSEVERANCE - JAMES 1:12


Blessing For Perseverance
1:12

James told us before to be steadfast. In fact, this verse has three words to show us James is referring back to his opening theme in verse 2: trial, test and steadfast (persevere in NIV). We are to consider it joy to face trials knowing that they produce steadfastness which makes us complete. Here he says God blesses us when we are steadfast under trial. Steadfastness and perseverance in the faith is the proof of our salvation. Jesus said “the one who endures to the end will be saved”. James says the same thing here. Those who endure the trials and keep the faith will be saved.

James speaks of that reward in a metaphor. He compared the Christian life to a race. The winner of a race in the Greek games received a crown. It was a wreath of laurel leaves worn on the head. Here is a picture:







In a long race, the runner must endure trials. He or she will experience fatigue, pain, thirst, hunger, sunburn and other unpleasant things. To finish, you must endure those without giving up. If the runner endures and finishes, he or she receives a crown. These days you get a medal or a shirt.

James called this the crown of life. He said God has promised one to those who love him. Only one who loves God will endure trials and suffering to the end.

The crown of life symbolizes eternal life. One who believes in Jesus endures to the end and receives eternal life. (John 3:16) Jesus said the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:13)

Paul referred to a crown of righteousness. As he saw his execution approaching, he said:

I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (1 Timothy 4:8)


Eternal life comes with many blessings:

1. Life in the presence of God (Father, Son and Spirit) (Revelation 21:22);

2. experiencing worship with the saints of all times; (Rev. 22:3);

3. No sin or sinful people (Rev. 22:15);

4. God’s kingdom will be visible (Rev. 22:3);

5. Imperishable, glorified; powerful; spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44);

6. bearing the image of Jesus (2 Cor. 15:4)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

JOYFUL SUFFERING (part 2)


Rich Man Poor Man
1:9-10

What is important for every man and woman is his or her position before God. There are those who are righteous before God because he declared them to be righteous because of their faith in his son. There are those who are unrighteous before him because they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and have not believed in Jesus in order to have their sins atoned. Nothing ultimately matters other than that.

Yet men and women focus on other things. One of those things is wealth. It is easy to convince yourself you are better because you are richer. It is easy to see yourself as worthless because you are poor. That was very much the case with first century Jews. But God does not accept this structure. Jesus said to some rich Pharisees “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men in a abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15) So James addressed this issue within the greater context of suffering.

The lowly or poor believer (brother) should boast in his exaltation. Although he is poor on earth, he is exalted in Christ. Christ, in fact, was poor on earth but exalted to the right hand of God. (Philippians 2:9) That is easy to understand. But the opposite is true also. The rich man should boast in his humiliation! He is like the wild flower, which withers and dies in the heat.

We understand wildflowers in Texas. We love our wildflowers. Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrushes, Mexican Sombreros, Wild Daisies and more. They pop up in Spring and we relish them. But, once it gets hot, they disappear. They are only up for a few weeks. So it is with human life. Life is short. As you get older you wonder where it all went. The days and weeks go faster and faster. And then this life ends, the flesh fails and we are gone from this earth until the restoration of all things. Stevie Nicks wrote a song for the band Fleetwood Mac called “Landslide”. She wrote

“Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?”

That is true of rich and poor alike. It is humbling. So the rich should boast that this life, even with wealth is short and riches do nothing to win God’s favor. But right standing before God will last forever.

Our economic status can be a trial for believers. Certainly the poor were, and are, often persecuted. You wonder if you have too much or not enough. Rich people make themselves miserable obsessing about money. Poor people make themselves miserable obsessing about money. But your standing before God is the important thing.

The Father said this plainly in Jeremiah 9:23:

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”


James might also reflect the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 23:12: whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Blessing For Perseverance
1:12

James told us before to be steadfast. In fact, this verse has three words to show us James is referring back to his opening theme in verse 2: trial, test and steadfast (persevere in NIV). We are to consider it joy to face trials knowing that they produce steadfastness which makes us complete. Here he says God blesses us when we are steadfast under trial. Steadfastness and perseverance in the faith is the proof of our salvation. Jesus said “the one who endures to the end will be saved”. James says the same thing here. Those who endure the trials and keep the faith will be saved.

James speaks of that reward in a metaphor. He compared the Christian life to a race. The winner of a race in the Greek games received a crown. It was a wreath of laurel leaves worn on the head. Here is a picture:










In a long race, the runner must endure trials. He or she will experience fatigue, pain, thirst, hunger, sunburn and other unpleasant things. To finish, you must endure those without giving up. If the runner endures and finishes, he or she receives a crown. These days you get a medal or a shirt.

James called this the crown of life. He said God has promised one to those who love him. Only one who loves God will endure trials and suffering to the end.

The crown of life symbolizes eternal life. One who believes in Jesus endures to the end and receives eternal life. (John 3:16) Jesus said the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:13)

Paul referred to a crown of righteousness. As he saw his execution approaching, he said:

I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (1 Timothy 4:8)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Jesus is Sufficient

This is Jesus, and he is the great end. He is the one we are meant to see, to know, to treasure. Through our tears and triumphs, our pain and pleasures, our losses and loves, Jesus stands at the end of the road offering himself to us, inviting us to behold his worth and cherish his sufficiency. John Piper


Monday, November 17, 2014

The Good Shepherd

Ezekiel 33:11 "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.

12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country.

14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.

15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD.

16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

The priests of Israel utterly failed. They succumbed to idolatry. They became wolves rather than shepherds. God condemned them for this. And he promised to become the shepherd of his people. God fulfilled this promise in Christ, as he did all Old Testament promises. 

The promise was two fold: God would become the shepherd and he would seek his sheep. Jesus fulfilled both parts. He was the shepherd of his sheep and he sought and seeks sheep for his flock.

Jesus said "I am the good shepherd". (John 10:11, 14) He calls sheep into his fold, they know him and follow him. And, Jesus came to seek his sheep. He said "...the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost." 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

“I want to see a focused vision of spiritual maturity — the expansion of the soul is the best phrase I can use for it.  That is, a renewed sense of the momentousness of being alive, the sheer bigness and awesomeness of being a human being alive in God’s world with light, with grace, with wisdom, with responsibility, with biblical truth.”

J. I. Packer, quoted in Christianity Today, 6 April 1998, page 40.

JOYFUL SUFFERING - PART 2 (James 1)


The reason we count them as all joy is the purpose of trials. Verse 3 tells us the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. You are steadfast when you do not waver in your faith, when you endure, when you are firm. Steadfastness and endurance are traits of a mature believer. A mature believer is one who is much like Christ. God works in us for our sanctification, making us more and more like Christ.

Did Jesus have joy in trials? Hebrews 12:2 tell us to look to Jesus who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame. Jesus did not have this trial to sanctify himself, but to save us. But the writer of Hebrews used it as an example for us so that we will endure, not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:3) In other words, so that we will be steadfast.

Steadfastness is not the end result, however. Steadfastness has an effect on us, making us perfect and complete. (4) James said to let it have its full effect on us. We grow in faith. We grow in holiness.

Some of you have faced great trials. You have been seriously ill. You have lost a job. You have been divorced. You have lost friends. You have been persecuted for your faith. All of us will face trials at some point. You can get angry or panic. Or you can count it as joy, trusting God to do his work on you, and wait for it to be over. Once you have trusted God through a trial, you have even greater faith. You become steadfast. You become holy. You become complete.

In addition to Jesus himself, there are other examples in the Bible. As I mentioned, Job faced great trials, but honored the Lord. When Peter and John were arrested for preaching, thy rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:41) Paul went to prison but wrote that he rejoiced because he believed that Christ would be honored in his body, whether Paul lived or died. (Philippians 1:18)

You may be thinking, how can I get to be like that. James gives us the answer. In verse 5, he said if we lack wisdom we can ask God for it. We quote this out of context all the time. But he is speaking in the framework of trials. If we lack wisdom on how to handle this trial, God will give it generously and without reproach.

Sometimes we face a trial and know exactly what to do. When I faced political turmoil in my job a few years ago, I knew God wanted me to trust him to fix it and avoid taking revenge. I knew this from study of the Bible. But when I faced a trial due to a bad business parter, I did not know what to do and prayed for God to show me. He did and I got through it and learned to trust and to ask.

James says God gives generously. He will give you the wisdom you need to handle the trial. He will not withhold from you. He also does this without reproach. Have you ever asked somebody a question, and gotten the answer, but made to feel stupid? God does not do that. He literally gives wisdom single-mindedly.

And in the same way, we must ask for wisdom without doubting. You cannot really stand firm and doubt at the same time. So, you cannot ask God for wisdom on how to be steadfast if you doubt that God can or will give it. You are unstable, saying one thing and believing another.

I think many folks approach a test this way. They ask God to help, but actually doubt that he can help. Then they face the trial in doubt and fear and anger and do not receive any spiritual growth from it. Sometimes God is gracious and still handles the trial or makes it come out all right, but the believer does not receive the full benefit of the trial. So his or her testimony is “I was not sure God would help me and I really was terrified but he did and now I am relieved”. But it could have been, I asked God for wisdom and he gave it to me. I endured the trial and praise God for the ability to face it and grow from it.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

JAMES 1:1-8 - JOYFUL SUFFERING



[Note: all Scripture quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.]

James is one of 7 letters the English Bible groups behind Hebrews. Theologians refer to them as the General Letters because they are not addressed to a specific church as Paul’s letters were. You may have heard them referred to as the Catholic Letters. That term was used by the church historian Eusebius in his work Ecclesiastical History. “Catholic” meant “universal”.

Despite this history, I note that the letter addresses specific problems. It stands to reason that those problems existed in specific churches and that James wrote to them to correct those problems.

It is thought that James letter was written very early and may even be the first New Testament letter.

The Greeting
James 1:1

The writer of the letter identified himself as James. It is generally accepted that the writer is James the brother of Jesus. The New Testament testifies that Jesus had a brother named James. Matthew 13:53-55. The Greek word for “brother” here is “adelphos” which literally means “from the same womb”. In Galatians 1:19, Paul said he went to Jerusalem and visited James “the Lord’s brother”.

We know that James and his brothers did not believe in Jesus as the Son of God initially. (John 7:5) He may not have come to believe in Jesus until the resurrection. Paul wrote that Jesus appeared to James. (1 Corinthians 15:7) James and all of his brothers were in the room with the Twelve in Acts 1:14.

James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Paul called him one of the pillars of the church. (Galatians 2:9) He also sent men to Antioch to check on the church. (Galatians 2:12) In Acts 12:17, Peter, being released from prison by an angel, told the believers to tell James and the brothers. In Acts 15, we also see that James had the last word in the Jerusalem council regarding the Gentiles. He commanded them to listen to him. (Acts 15:13) He said “my judgment is” and proceeded to lay down a ruling regarding the Gentiles.







I think James described himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” because the recipients of the letter already knew he was the Lord’s brother and he wanted to emphasize not his physical relationship to the Lord, but rather his spiritual relationship. He lived to serve the Lord.

The recipients of the letter were the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion”. The 12 tribes was a way of referring to Israel. But we know James was writing to believers. In 2:1 he said “as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory”. He may have meant believing Jews who lived outside of Palestine. For example, Acts 2:9-11 shows us that Jews from many countries, who evidently did not speak Greek, attended Pentecost and witnessed the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Twelve. Three Thousand people believed and were baptized. Then they likely all went back to their own countries and met in worship together.

However, he may have just referred to all believers, regardless of race, outside and used the term to identify the church as the New Israel. The church is dispersed because it is not in heaven or the New Earth and is often persecuted and oppressed. Jews in the intertestamental period used this terminology to refer to the true people of God in the last days and I prefer this interpretation. Jesus seems to have indicated this truth also. He chose 12 apostles, suggesting he was creating an eschatological Israel. In Matthew 19:28, he told them that in the new earth they would sit on 12 thrones and judge the 12 tribes of Israel. He is saying that Christians are the true people of God in the last days.

Peter used a similar term in 1 Peter 1:1, addressing his letter to the “elect exiles of the dispersion”, again using this metaphor to describe the church as away from its real home in heaven. He goes on to describe the church in the same terms God described Israel (2:9) and goes on to say they are sojourners and exiles. This is another way of saying the same thing, that this earth in this age is not our home.

The country singer Jim Reeves wrote a song about this:

"This World Is Not My Home"

This world is not my home
I'm just a-passing through
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue.

The angels beckon me
From heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home
In this world anymore.


Testing of Faith
1:2-18

This passages tells us how to react to trials and tests. It also tells us the purpose of them.

James refers to trials of various kinds. The word for trial here includes tests of faith, whether by persecution or just difficult times. It might mean having your house burned down by Muslims because your are a Christian, or finding out you have cancer, or losing your job.

We we encounter trials of various kinds, we are to count it all joy. The NIV uses “consider”. We usually react to trials with frustration, anger, anxiety or fear. So, this is an audacious statement. Remember Job’s wife told him to curse God and die. (Job 2:9)

This does not mean that trials are fun. If they were fun, they would not be trials. That is why he says for us to count it joy or consider it joy. It is not our natural reaction. So, we must count it as joy. In fact, we must count it as all joy, with nothing else mixed in.

The reason we count them as all joy is the purpose of trials. Verse 3 tells us the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. You are steadfast when you do not waver in your faith, when you endure, when you are firm. Steadfastness and endurance are traits of a mature believer. A mature believer is one who is much like Christ. God works in us for our sanctification, making us more and more like Christ.

Did Jesus have joy in trials? Hebrews 12:2 tell us to look to Jesus who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame. Jesus did not have this trial to sanctify himself, but to save us. But the writer of Hebrews used it as an example for us so that we will endure, not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:3) In other words, so that we will be steadfast.

Steadfastness is not the end result, however. Steadfastness has an effect on us, making us perfect and complete. (4) James said to let it have its full effect on us. We grow in faith. We grow in holiness.

Some of you have faced great trials. You have been seriously ill. You have lost a job. You have been divorced. You have lost friends. You have been persecuted for your faith. All of us will face trials at some point. You can get angry or panic. Or you can count it as joy, trusting God to do his work on you, and wait for it to be over. Once you have trusted God through a trial, you have even greater faith. You become steadfast. You become holy. You become complete.

In addition to Jesus himself, there are other examples in the Bible. As I mentioned, Job faced great trials, but honored the Lord. When Peter and John were arrested for preaching, thy rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:41) Paul went to prison but wrote that he rejoiced because he believed that Christ would be honored in his body, whether Paul lived or died. (Philippians 1:18)

You may be thinking, how can I get to be like that. James gives us the answer. In verse 5, he said if we lack wisdom we can ask God for it. We quote this out of context all the time. But he is speaking in the framework of trials. If we lack wisdom on how to handle this trial, God will give it generously and without reproach.

Sometimes we face a trial and know exactly what to do. When I faced political turmoil in my job a few years ago, I knew God wanted me to trust him to fix it and avoid taking revenge. I knew this from study of the Bible. But when I faced a trial due to a bad business parter, I did not know what to do and prayed for God to show me. He did and I got through it and learned to trust and to ask.

James says God gives generously. He will give you the wisdom you need to handle the trial. He will not withhold from you. He also does this without reproach. Have you ever asked somebody a question, and gotten the answer, but made to feel stupid? God does not do that. He literally gives wisdom single-mindedly.

And in the same way, we must ask for wisdom without doubting. You cannot really stand firm and doubt at the same time. So, you cannot ask God for wisdom on how to be steadfast if you doubt that God can or will give it. You are unstable, saying one thing and believing another.

I think many folks approach a test this way. They ask God to help, but actually doubt that he can help. Then they face the trial in doubt and fear and anger and do not receive any spiritual growth from it. Sometimes God is gracious and still handles the trial or makes it come out all right, but the believer does not receive the full benefit of the trial. So his or her testimony is “I was not sure God would help me and I really was terrified but he did and now I am relieved”. But it could have been, I asked God for wisdom and he gave it to me. I endured the trial and praise God for the ability to face it and grow from it.

Consider it all joy when you face a trial. Let God make you steadfast through it. Let steadfastness make you holy and complete in Christ.

Friday, November 07, 2014

PRAYER


An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God—that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing [Person] to which he is praying—the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing [Person] inside him which is pushing him on—the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers. The man is being caught up into the higher kinds of life—what I called Zoe or spiritual life: he is being pulled into God, by God, while still remaining himself. - C. S. Lewis

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Guide for Living in Psalms 105:1-5


There are 10 things this Psalm tells us to do:

1. give thanks (1);
2. call upon his name;
3. make his deeds known;
4. sing praises to him (2);
5. tell of his wondrous works;
6. glory in his holy name (3);
7. rejoice;
8. seek the Lord and his strength (4);
9. see his presence continually;
10. remember his wondrous works (5).

Your spiritual life will be greatly enhanced if you make these a daily practice.

Compassion Required



"Put on...compassionate hearts". Colossians 3:12

Sunday, November 02, 2014

How To Study The Bible

 "It's not just that we read our Bibles, but the way we read our Bibles that increases biblical literacy. I believe there's a link between biblical illiteracy and our habit of fracturing the Bible into pieces and parts.... We need a whole Bible approach to Bible reading and study." Ed Stetzer

DIVISION OF THE LAND - EZEKIEL 47:13-48:35










DIVISION OF THE LAND - EZEKIEL 47:13-48:35

This is the final section of the book of Ezekiel. It continues his vision of a future place with God in its center and completely subject to him. It is a place where his holiness is demonstrated and protected.

47:13-20
The Boundaries of the Land

Here we see is the boundaries for the restored land. This boundary comes directly from the Lord. Verse 13 begins with “Thus says the Lord God” (ESV) or “This is what the Sovereign Lord says”. (NIV) Within these boundaries will be all of the allotments of land.

the first thing to note is, the Lord said that there will be two portions for Joseph. This goes all the way back to Genesis 48:5. Jacob treated Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his since they were born to Joseph in Egypt before Jacob met them. Since they were treated as sons, each received his own allotment of land, meaning Joseph effectively had two rather than one. Since Levi received no allotment, there were still 12 sons and 12 allotments. So God honored the blessing of Jacob\Israel.

The second thing to note is that the land is to be divided equally among them. It literally says “each like his brother”. This is different than the original allotment. That allotment, made by Joshua, Eleazar and the elders, divided the land by size. That is, the tribes with the most people received the largest allotments. We see this in Numbers 33:54. Here they are equal. Also, no attention if given to natural barriers. This is sort like the picture of the river of life, which would have to flow up the Mount of Olives if the route is taken literally. Only the boundaries of Dan are described, which let us see that the allotments and therefore the country is ordered along the sacred east to west axis, as is the temple complex. (48:1)

There does seem to be a discrimination between the tribes, although not by size, but by proximity (closeness) to the holy district. The allotments most distant from the holy district, and therefore having the least honor, are those of the sons of Jacob’s concubines, Zilpah and Bilhah. In contrast, the eight sons of Joseph’s wives, Rachel and Leah, take the four strips immediately north and south of the holy district.

The third thing to note is the boundaries are similar to those God allotted to Moses in Numbers 34:1-12. Although Israel never occupied this much land, it is the same land God promised. Thus it represents a fulfillment of God’s covenant promise.

As a side note, it is interesting that the Kadesh Barnea of Numbers 34 is referred to as Maribah Kadesh in verse 19, describing the southern boundary. This is a subtle reminder that Israel rebelled against God at Kadesh, yet God provided water from the rock, as described in Numbers 20:13. This comes right after his reference to the river of life flowing from the temple to provide for Israel’s needs for food and water.

The fourth thing is that, the description of the boundaries goes in different directions in Ezekiel’s description and that contained in Numbers. Ezekiel starts in the north and goes counter clockwise. Numbers started in the south and went counterclockwise.

The fifth thing to notice is there is no allotment east of the Jordan. When Israel came originally to the Jordan, Reuben, Gad and Manasseh asked for land on the east side of the river, separated from the land God gave Israel. In Ezekiel’s vision, all the allotments are within the boundaries.

The sixth thing is there are not two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. There is only one kingdom and one prince.

The seventh thing is that aliens get an inheritance of land also, not just Jews. (22) In the old covenant, aliens did not own land and were, therefore, second class citizens at best. Because of this, they were subject to oppression. God, therefore, protected them in the covenant law. (Leviticus 19:33) This appears to be a foreshadowing of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the kingdom of God. Paul wrote that Gentiles originally were excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenant. But, as believers in Christ, they became fellow citizens in Israel, no longer foreigners and aliens. (Ephesians 2:11-22) Again in Ephesians 3:6, Paul wrote that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus.

48:1-29
The Division of the Land

This passage describes the division of the land and gives the location for each tribe. It starts at the north and goes to the south. Dan is the northernmost tribe. (48:1)

South of the allotment for Judah is the holy district. (8) Although this has already been described in detail in 45:1-6, it is again described in detail here in 48:8-14. Yet, the allotments for the tribes are not described at all. They are only given in order and equal in size. Again, this draws our attention to God’s holiness. The things devoted to God are described in great detail. The things that are common, the tribal allotments, are very general.

Here again is a visual representation of the allotment.








The sacredness of the holy district is also emphasize by its central location in the land. One interesting observation is that the district seems to be north of the original temple in Jerusalem. It seems closer to Shiloh the ancient location of the tabernacle.

The sacredness, or holiness, of this district is also shown by the amount of attention given to it. Whereas every tribal allotment is given one verse, the holy district receives 15 verses of description. So, this district is shown to be holy, sacred and the spiritual center of Israel.



48:30-35
The Gates of the City

The Lord focused on the exits from the city, as he did the exits from the temple court in 43:11. The city is a square, as was the temple. It has 12 gates, three on each side. This time Joseph has one gate as opposed to his two allotments. And Levi has a gate although he had no allotment.

The last thing that Ezekiel is told is the name of the city. (48:35) The city has never been named to this point. It’s name is “The LORD is There”, or “Yahweh is There”. In Hebrew it is “Yahweh samma”.

The reality in Ezekiel’s time was a defiled city and defiled temple which were destroyed. But God gave Ezekiel a vision of a restored and holy temple and city. It is a visual representation of his promise:

“I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. and I well set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them and I will be their God and they shall be my people.” (Ezekiel 37:26-27)

What a blessing it is to live where God is! And we do. When Jesus was born, Matthew tells us it fulfilled Isaiah 7:14. A son is born and called “God with us”. He dwells in us. Jesus said “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home (dwell) with him.” (John 14:23) He told us the Holy Spirit would come to believers and live with them and be in them. (John 14:17)

But, Jesus will only dwell with you, be in you, if you believe in him. Believe today. Repent of your rebellion against him, confess him Jesus as Lord and believe he is the Son of God raised from the dead and you will be saved. (Romans 10:9-10) And once you are saved, Jesus will dwell with you know and bring you to be with him for all eternity.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lamentations and Hope


Lamentations is hard for me to read. After studying Jeremiah in depth recently, I know that he suffered greatly at the hands of his own people. He suffered because he obeyed God . He prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem as God instructed him. He preached God’s word faithfully. The sufferings he described in Lamentations three are mostly actual sufferings, not metaphor. The thing that hurt him most, though, was witnessing the destruction of this people at the hand of his God. He hurt as he watched them reject his calls for repentance, despising the Lord and his covenant. He hurt as he witnessed God’s relentless destruction of his own city, pouring out his wrath by the sword of the Babylonians. He hurt as he lived through the aftermath, remaining in the desolation and watching the survivors devour each other. He said “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them and my soul is downcast within me.” (19)

And yet, in the midst of grieving and sorrow, he remembered the one thing that gave him hope: God in love for his people would not consume them totally. He would be faithful to his word to restore them. (22) That is what Jeremiah 29 is actually about. Jeremiah heard it and believed it. He trusted God. Hope arose.

Jeremiah said “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” (24) That, brothers, is the key. “Portion” is an important Old Testament word. It referred to that person’s allotted land in Israel, that remained in his family forever. It was what he counted on for his and his family’s survival. But for Jeremiah, his portion was the Lord. He counted on the Lord for everything: daily provisions, survival and deliverance. And because the Lord, not the land or the job, was his portion, he had hope. Because our Portion is faithful.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Grace

"To suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect." - John Owen

Sunday, October 26, 2014

RIVER OF LIFE - EZEKIEL 47 part 1




From the Temple to the East Gate
47:1-2

Having completed the tour of the complex, the guide took Ezekiel back to the door of the sanctuary where God’s glory dwelt. Standing there before the door, he saw that water came out of the sanctuary and flowed east. East to west is the holy vector of the complex. Only the Prince is allowed to come into the east gate and it is purified in the offerings. The water, though, is flowing along this vector from the sanctuary on the western end toward the eastern gate, along this holy vector.

After the water flowed out of the threshold, it flowed south of the altar. In both the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple, there were basins for the priests to wash in, cleansing themselves. At Solomon’s temple, the basin was called a Sea. But, rather than the scary sea, this one is contained and used in service to God. The Israelites were Middle Eastern desert people. The sea was big and scary. We see that in the story of Jonah. We see the disciples scared of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. The meant chaos. But God could control it. Psalm 46:2-3 speaks of God being our refuge from the roaring, foaming sea.

In Ezekiel’s vision, we see, instead, a life giving river. Psalm 46:4 says “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God”. The Sea in Solomon’s temple was south of the altar, and the basin at the Tabernacle was south of the altar. They are replaced in Ezekiel’s vision with a river that runs south of the altar.

The guide took Ezekiel out north gate to see the river flow, for even in the vision, no one but the prince could enter the east gate.

Getting Deeper
47:3-6

The water got deeper as it flowed eastward. It started as a trickle. It became a big river. The guide measured the depth every thousand cubits. At one thousand it was ankle deep. (3) At two thousand it was knee deep. (4) At three thousand it was waist deep. (4) At four thousand it was a deep river you could swim in but could not walk through. (5) The guide asked Ezekiel if he saw this. I think he was asking if he understood this message.

So, what we have so far is water that flows from God’s presence out toward the east, getting deeper and deeper as it goes until it becomes a river.

Restoration of the earth and God’s people starts small and grows into a mighty thing. This is the message the guide wants Ezekiel to see. Jesus told a parable about this. A mustard seed grew into a huge bush or tree. (Matthew 13:31) God’s kingdom started small, with a handful of disciples, but continues to grow larger and larger.




Living Water
47:8-12

As Ezekiel sat on the bank, the guide showed Ezekiel all of the trees that lined both sides of the river. He also saw that the river ran through the Arabah, or Jordan Valley, all the way to the dead sea.

This river flows with living water. This is shown to Ezekiel in the form of many fish and other creatures living in it. It is like the waters of Genesis 1:20 with fish of many kinds. In addition, it turned the salt water of the Dead Sea to fresh water. The Dead Sea contains so much salt that nothing lives in it. But when the water issuing from the presence of God comes into contact with it, it comes to life. The dead water is healed. When the Lord healed the bitter water at Marah in the desert, he said they could experience Yahweh Rapa, the LORD who heals you. (Exodus 15:22-26)

Ezekiel is also shown a vision of God providing for all human needs. The marshes and swamps somehow stay salty so the people can have salt on their food. (11) The trees bear fruit every month, not just once per year. The reason is that this living water flows to them from the sanctuary. (12) The fruit provides food. Their leaves provide healing.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

EZEKIEL 45











Chapter 45 deals first with a new allotment of the land of Israel. Remember that Joshua, Eleazar the priest, along with the elders of the tribes of Israel originally divided the land among the tribes and gave each its allotment in Canaan. (Numbers 28 & 34; Joshua 13-21) It looked something like this:






Now, in Ezekiel’s vision, the LORD gives a new allotment, different from the one in Numbers. It will be described in more detail in chapters 47 and 48.

Allotment for the Holy District
45:1-5

This allotment focuses on the presence of God dwelling in the midst of his people. Accordingly, the first allotment is for a holy district. It is to be “set apart for the LORD” (ESV). That is the basic definition of holiness. The NIV says “you are to present to the LORD”. The LORD reiterated that the whole area of the district shall be holy.

The holy district is large: 25,000 cubits long and 20,000 cubits wide. That is 37,500 feet long and 30,000 feet wide. There is a plot within it for the sanctuary, which is 500 cubits x 500 cubits. This corresponds to the measurements of the wall around the temple complex in 42:20. (45:2) It also has an open space around it of 50 cubits. Then there are areas set apart for the priests who minister in the sanctuary (4), the descendants of Zadok, and a third area set apart for the Levites (5). These areas are oriented east to west, as is the temple complex.



Allotment for the City
45:6

The next area set apart is for the city, and it is half as broad as the portions set aside for the priests.


The Allotment for the Prince
45:7-8a

The prince is allotted land on both sides of the holy district and the city. HIs land created a buffer on the east and west sides of the holy district. The land of the priests create a buffer around the temple. So, as with the temple complex, there are gradations or levels of holiness going from the least holy to the most holy, with the most holy being the temple in the center.



It might look something like this:





We will get to the tribal allotments later, but you see that the picture is of a holy God dwelling in the midst of his people. His holiness is the center piece of the life of his people. His sovereignty is shown by his complete control over the allotment of the land.

Justice Decreed
45:8b-12

The books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel contain many condemnations of the lack of justice on the part of the leaders of Israel. Justice normally means honesty and fairness in dealings. Here God decrees justice must exist in the princes or leaders. They may not oppress the people. They shall not take away the land of the people. Remember the story of Ahab and Jezebel taking murdering Naboth in other to steal his land. (1 Kings 21) Their weights and measures must be honest. The restored nation must be ruled with justice and fairness for all.

Worship in the Visionary Temple
45:13-25

The offerings God requires in the visionary temple are described in this passage. Verse 16 tells us that all the people must give offerings. But, it is the duty of the prince to furnish the offerings for the special occasions. These include Sabbaths, New Moons and annual festivals. (45:17)

The prince, in this vision, has become a central figure in the sacrificial system. He provides many of the offerings for the people. But, in addition, the people bring their offerings to him to give to the priests. (16)

The festivals have also been changed. Their activities are reduced from the originals. The Passover is the only one mentioned by name. There is a ceremony on the first day of the year (18) to purify the sanctuary. (18-19) Blood is put on the doorposts of the temps, the posts of the gate of the inner court, and the corners of the altar. (19) One week later the ceremony is repeated for unintentional sins.

The Passover is the celebrated a week after the sacrifice for unintentional sins. (21) The number of sacrifices for Passover is increased from the original requirements of Numbers 28.

Finally, there is a festival in the seventh month. (25) The prince must provide the offerings for this festival also. The festival is not named, but the timing matches that of the Feast of Tabernacles (or booths). There is no Day of Atonement ceremony, though, as there is in Leviticus 16. This ceremony seems to be replaced by the purification ceremony that takes place on the first day of the year.

There is great emphasis by way of detail in the sacrifices. This tells us that atonement for sin is an important issue in this visionary temple.

This chapter shows us great emphasis on the holiness of God and the need to protect that. It shows God’s intent and desire to dwell among his people. And it shows the great necessity of atonement for sin.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sanctification

"Labor to know your own frame and temper; what spirit you are of; what associates in your heart Satan has; where corruption is strong, where grace is weak; what stronghold lust has in your natural constitution, and the like." - John Owen 

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Grievous Sin & Repentance

R. C. Sproul, Jr. on sin & repentance.

http://highlandsministriesonline.org/blogs/ask-rc-jr/true-repentance-of-grievous-sin/?utm_source=email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=textlink&utm_campaign=askrcjr-truerepentance

Perseverance


God challenged Jeremiah regarding faithfulness and perseverance. (12:5). Jeremiah questioned God about the prosperity of the wicked. God responded by challenging Jeremiah's faith. He does that to me, too. I complain, he says the problem is you, Larry. God says, if you cannot trust and persevere in easy times, how can you do it in hard times? It particularly struck me that he noted Jeremiah was having trouble trusting in a safe land. No one lives in a safer land that we do regarding the practice of our faith. Yet, many doubt or question God when a problem arises or the country itself is going in the wrong direction. Israel went terribly wrong. America is, in many ways, going wrong. But our job is to trust that the sovereign God knows what is best and will accomplish his will as pleases him. Then, based on that faith, persevere in the faith and do the work he sent us to do.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

God's word in you

“In John 15:7, Jesus makes it clear that our living by faith is intimately connected to the Word of God in our lives. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” The word remain means to live in or to continuously dwell. Jesus is giving us a vivid picture of faith—to let the Word of God dwell deeply in us”

Excerpt From: Kraft, Alan. “Good News for Those Trying Harder.” David C Cook, 2011. iBooks. 
This material may be protected by copyright.

Check out this book on the iBooks Store: https://itun.es/us/mkFbE.l

The Word of God

The readings for today emphasize the priority the word of God must have in the life of a believer. No other book should supplant it, not devotionals, commentaries or topical books. The Word makes a man wise, for or conveys the wisdom of God to us. I added a passage from 1st Corinthians for your consideration. 

Jeremiah 8:9
The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them? 

1Cor. 1:18
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." 
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,
23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,
24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Col. 3:16
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Rules for the Temple - Ezekiel 44


44:1-3
The Gate for the Prince

This chapter deals with access to the holy places. That is the significance of noting the entrances and exits. Who can enter the inner court?

In the Old Testament, God restricted access to his presence. When God gave the covenant to Israel, he did not allow the people to come up on the mountain or even to touch it. (Exodus 19:12) When the covenant was confirmed, the Lord instructed Moses to bring Aaron and his sons along with 70 elders up onto the mountain. (Exodus 24:9) They beheld an image of God and ate a communal meal in his presence. (Exodus 23:11) But only Moses went up into the cloud of God’s glory. (Exodus 24:18)

The tabernacle and the temple both had strict rules about who could enter the holy places. Here in Ezekiel’s temple, the rules are more strict. They are based on past faithfulness or unfaithfulness.

Psalm 24:3-4 dealt with this problem. It says:

Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in is holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift us his should to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.

First, in our passage, there is an absolute prohibition of entrance via the eastern gate. Ezekiel’s guide took him Ezekiel’s guide took him from the inner court back out to the eastern gate. (44:1)

Ezekiel had seen the glory of the LORD enter via this gate. (43:5)

This time the gate was shut. (44:1) The LORD spoke then and told Ezekiel the gate shall remain shut and no one shall enter by it. Why? Because the LORD entered by it. By this he means that the gate, having been used by the LORD, is sacred and cannot be used by anyone common. It is similar to the vessels made for the tabernacle. They were holy, set aside for the worship of God, and could not be used for common things. For example, a priest could not take the lamp stand from the tabernacle and use it to light his home at night.

Yet, there is one who can enter the gate. The LORD told Ezekiel that only the prince may sit in the gate. Who is the prince? This passage does not explain, but we have seen other references to a prince. Ezekiel 34:24 says “And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them.” in 37:25, the LORD said “David my prince shall be their prince forever”. Of course, David had been dead a long time when this was spoken. So, we take it to mean a descendant of David. Specifically, we take it to mean the messiah. Matthew 1:1 begins by stating that Jesus Christ is the son of David. He did this to show Jesus was the Messiah.

Even the prince does not use the gate for access to the inner parts of the complex. He only sits in the gate to eat bread before the LORD. (44:3)

44:4-8
Condemnation of Israel for Covenant Breaches

Ezekiel again saw the glory of the LORD filling the temple. Ezekiel again fell on his face in the presence of God. This is a proper response to God’s holiness.

God then instructs Ezekiel to note the laws of the temple and to note the entrances and exits. The continued presence of the Lord is conditioned on the proper control of access to the holy areas, so the Lord’s name and presence is not profaned.

In contrast to God’s holiness,the LORD pointed out the lack of holiness in Israel and called on them to stop it. They had allowed uncircumcised foreigners into the temple. They had consigned the care of the sanctuary into the hands of foreigners. Only the Levitical priests were to handle the sacred objects and tend to the temple. Evidently, they had subcontracted this out to foreigners, nonbelievers, and profaned the temple. The Carites, who helped guard the temple, were one such group. This allowed all of the abominations to occur which we studied earlier. God’s presence left the temple because his holiness was not protected.

44:9-14
Rules for the sanctuary

In this passage, the Lord reiterated the rules of the temple, or sanctuary. No foreigners who were uncircumcised were to enter the sanctuary. Circumcision was the sign of the LORD’s covenant with Abraham. (Genesis 17:9-14)Those who were not part of the covenant were not to enter the temple complex.

Herod’s temple had a court of the Gentiles. They were only allowed in that court and could proceed no further. There was even a sign telling them this. The penalty was death. The Jews of the first century took the LORD’s instruction in this matter seriously. Paul was accused of violating this law in Acts 21. He was almost killed. A Roman commander rescued him. (Acts 21:27-32)

In verse 10, the LORD reminded Israel that only the Levites were to minister in the sanctuary or to guard it. The people could not assign that job to non-Jews or even non-Levites. Even though the Levites had abandoned God and their duties to pursue idols, he kept them in their jobs. (11-12) They would not be allowed in God’s presence as punishment for their sins, but would still be responsible of the care of the temple. (14)

The Levites were ordained to serve the LORD because they supported Moses in destroying the golden calf and restoring order to Israel when they broke out against the Lord while Moses was on the mountain. (Exodus 32:29) In Numbers 1:47-54, the LORD set out the duties of the Levites toward the tabernacle. Then Numbers 3-4 specifies their duties by their claims, the Gershonites, Kohathites and Merarites. No one else was authorized to care for the tabernacle.

Because of their sin, they could not enter the inner court. But, because of the sin of the people, they could not slaughter their own animal for sacrifice. Instead the Levites would do it. (11)



44:15-27
The Sons of Zadok

Since Zadok and his sons remained faithful to the LORD, they were given the high priesthood. They were commissioned to present the offerings. They were allowed in the inner court and holy place. (16) They offered the sacrifices on the altar. (15-16) But even they are not allowed in the most holy place

Since they were holy, they were required to maintain the symbols of holiness. They were only allowed to wear linen, because it did not make them sweat. (17-18) They had to change their holy garments when they went among he people. (19) They had extra rules to follow, above those of the common people and even above those of the Levites. because they were holy to the Lord and charged with ministering in the holy places.

Just as the walls protected the holiness of God, these rules protected his holiness as well.

44:28-31
The Inheritance of Zadok’s Descendants

These priests would have no land, for the Lord was their inheritance. He provided their food through the offerings. They did not feed themselves from their labor on the land as the common people did.

The New Testament tells us that the church is now a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9) The Lord is our inheritance. He does not give us an inheritance in land on this earth. Rather, we have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for us. (1 Peter 1:4) Ultimately, we will inherit the new earth, as the book of Revelation 21 shows us.

This chapter shows us that the holiness of God is to be protected and the presence of God valued and enjoyed.

As New Covenant believers, we have no physical walls to protect God’s holiness. We protect it by living holy lives. 1 Peter 1:15 says “…but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct”. Peter called us a “holy nation”. (1 Peter 2:9) We reflect God’s holy nature. When we live unholy lives, we profane his holiness.

Also, as New Covenant believers, we enjoy the presence of God. The book of Hebrews taught us that, in Christ, we have access to the Father. This is a great blessing. We value it and do not take it lightly. But we enjoy it, for in his presence is great joy.

Psalm 16:11 says:
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

We not only have joy in God’s presence, we have “fullness” of joy. We have all the joy we can ever need or want.

Monday, September 29, 2014

SIGNS OF BEING WISE


Signs of Being Wise
Matthew 7:24

1. Hears Jesus' words
2. puts them into practice
3. results in unshakeable faith and life

To what words does Jesus refer? The sermon on the mount.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Justification By Faith

Reading Galatians 2 today in my endeavor to read the Bible through during the year. The problem with reading Paul's letters quickly is he gives us so much to think about. 


My first thought is that his literary structure is elegant. The first story (2:1-10) shows the leaders of the Jerusalem church, the apostles, acceptance of Gentiles and Paul's message to them. It sets  up a jarring contrast to the second story, where Judaizers do not accept Gentile believers and influence even Peter, one of the "pillars" of the Jerusalem church.


Now that you see this contrast, Paul gives the theological conclusion. The conclusion (2:15-21) states the doctrine of justification by faith. Justification means to be declared righteous by God. We are justified through our faith in Christ, not by our works. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

EZEKIEL 42-32 continued: The Altar




I find it interesting that Ezekiel does not see an ark of the covenant. In the Tabernacle and Solomon’s temple, the Lord’s presence was seated on the top of the ark, on the atonement cover. Here in Ezekiel’s temple, no ark is mentioned. The whole complex would be evidence of God’s presence.

This calls to mind Jeremiah 3:16-17:
“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, declares the Lord, they shall no more say the ark of the covenant of the Lord. It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord…”

It also calls to mind the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation. John said he saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. (Rev. 21:22) He said the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in this new city. (Rev. 22:3)

The Need for Repentance & Obedience
43:10-12

The Lord told Ezekiel to describe the temple to Israel that they might repent. He said that they may be ashamed of their iniquities. (10) They shall measure the plan. (10) They will not be told the whole design of the temple unless the repent (if they are ashamed of their iniquities). (11) Before God’s people may come into his presence, they must repent of sin. Repent means to turn away from the wrong way and return to the right way. If they repent, Ezekiel can show them the design of the temple so that they will see the perfect holiness of God.And if they repent, they must observe God’s laws. There must be a commitment to obedience and holiness. (11)

So, it appears to me that the design of the temple is meant to tell something about God to the Jews. It must if it will lead them to repent and turn to God. I believe it teaches his holiness, his perfection and his hatred of sin.


The Altar of Sacrifice
43:13-27

The measurements of the altar are given. It is square, as is the temple, with horns on each corner. It was layered, getting smaller as it went upward. It’s measurements are actually a bit smaller than the one in Solomon’s temple. (2 Chronicles 4:1)

Ezekiel is also given the “ordinances” for the altar. (18) The necessary sacrifices were also described in detail. Blood is thrown against the altar. It took seven days of sacrifices to cleanse the altar itself so that offerings could be made for the people. (26) The number seven is used in the Bible to show perfection.

When the altar is consecrated, the regular offerings can be made, resulting in the Lord’s acceptance of his people. This is because the altar is common when it is built. It is built by human hands of earthly materials. It must be transformed from common to holy. Thus blood is thrown against it to purify it. This is similar to the purification of the tabernacle in Exodus 29.

This world of the new temple is a God centered and worship centered world. It is a temple centered world. And, at the heart of it all, is an altar, where blood is spilled for the atonement of sins and peace with the Father. Sins must be atoned for men and women to fellowship with the Lord.




Jesus has now made that sacrifice for us, once for all. He came and dwelt among men while on earth and promises to dwell with us until the end of this age. He has poured out his Holy Spirit on us to help us. He has opened access to the Father to us.

The Father demanded holiness of Israel.

Jesus demands holiness from us. He said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

Sunday, September 07, 2014

THE PRIESTS CHAMBERS & THE RETURN OF THE LORD - Ezekiel 42-43





The Chambers of the Priests
42:1-14

Having taken Ezekiel from the outside of the temple complex to the inside of the temple building, the guide now takes Ezekiel back toward the outside. So, he led Ezekiel from the temple building back out into the outer court. In this court, looking north, Ezekiel saw the priests chambers. He tells us the measurements. (1) This is a bit different from the other measurements, as Ezekiel just tells us rather than reporting that the guide told Ezekiel the measurements.

It was a three story building. One side faced the inner court and one side faced the outer court. (3) There was a passage through it. It appears you could enter the chambers from the outer court, go through the chambers and exit in the inner court.

The Man of Bronze explained the use of the chambers to Ezekiel. (13) He called them “holy chambers”. It was where the priests ate the holy offerings and kept them. (13) Remember that only a part of the offering was burned or poured out for the Lord. The remainder was given to the priests for their food and drink. It was given to them instead of land.

The barrier between the sacred and profane (or common) continues to be maintained. The priests cannot go from the Holy Place to the outer court without changing clothes. They cannot take their holy clothes into the common area. ((14) The Roman Catholic Church preserves this tradition with the sacristy. It is a place where vestments are stored and the priests change clothes. Members of the congregation are not allowed in the sacristy.




The Outer Wall
42:15-20

Having proceeded from the Holy Place, through the inner court, through the priests’ chambers, to the outer court, the man led Ezekiel outside through the east gate. (15) He measured the walls to get the measurement of the perimeter of the complete temple complex. He measured in this order: east, north, south, and west. Revelation 21:13 follows the same pattern, The whole complex was a perfect square. (In the Tabernacle, only the most holy place was square.) It was 500 cubits on each side. That is 9,000 inches if you measure the cubit as 18 inches, 750 feet or 250 yards. The perimeter was, therefore, 2,000 cubits or 1,000 yards. (The area would have been 62,500 square yards.) This purpose of this wall has been shown symbolically by the measurements, but is now stated: to make a separation between the holy and the common (sacred and profane). Nothing profane will invade the holy space as it had before.

In chapters 8 and 9, we saw that Israel had violated the holiness of the temple. They allowed both pagan people and pagan worship inside the holy areas. As a result of this, the glory of the Lord vacated the temple. Now, in chapter 42, the holiness of this visionary temple is absolutely protected by walls, gates and buildings. Since the holiness of God is again protected, the stage is set for the return of the presence of the Lord.

Similarly, the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21, is described as the place where “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)

There is a great sense of order here. The temple dimensions are exact. The entire complex is a perfect square. The Most Holy Place is square. When God first made the earth, it was without order. It was “without form and void”. (Genesis 1:1) But, when God prepared it for mankind to live in his presence, he made it in perfect order. He made a garden for man. It had everything needed for life. God declared it to be good.

But man’s sin caused God to cast him from the garden back into chaos, or disorder. He put an angel at the entrance so this unholy man and woman could not invade his holy space. But, in Ezekiel, the disorder is restored to order. God again made a perfect space where his presence dwelt. Walls kept the impure out and kept the holy men and women in. Perfect worship is restored. But it takes the work of God on the hearts of men and women to accomplish this.

The Glory of the Lord Returns
43:1-9

Next, the Man of Bronze led Ezekiel back to the east gate. This is where the tour of the temple complex began. It is the front door to the complex. (43:1) The glory of the Lord left the old temple via the east gate.

Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord coming from the east. Ezekiel described the sound of his coming as the sound of many waters. John, in Revelation 1:15, described the risen Lord Jesus and said “his voice was like the roar of many waters”. His glory made the earth shine. (2) He recognized it as the glory of the Lord because it was like his first vision and the vision he saw when the temple was destroyed. So, the glory and presence of the Lord was very bright and very loud.

The return of the glory of the Lord to the temple reflects two previous and similar events. The first is the construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25-40 and the second is the construction of Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 6-8. In both accounts, the glory of God came to reside when the structure was completed. It signified God’s approval of the construction of his house.

Confronted with the glory of the Lord, Ezekiel fell on his face. Confronted with God’s holiness and glory, Ezekiel could not stand before the Lord. He could only fall face down in humility and worship.


The Spirit, however, lifted up Ezekiel and brought him into the inner court so that he could see the glory of the Lord fill the temple. (5) This is a new beginning for the relationship between God and his people. The Lord declared to Ezekiel that he would dwell in the temple, in the midst of his people Israel forever and Israel will no longer defile his holy name by their idolatry. All of this is still spoken in the context of the renewal of God’s people, when the descendant of David will rule and the Spirit is poured out on the people.

Notice that God will not only dwell there, he will rule there. The temple is his palace and he is king over Israel. He said “this is the place of my throne”.

God not only dwells with his people. He rules.

It is the same for us. Romans 10:9-10 says we must confess Jesus as Lord to be saved. Receive him as your Lord and Master today and be saved.