Monday, December 28, 2009

Does God Change His Mind?

Then Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned; I have indeed transgressed the command of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me, that I may worship the LORD." But Samuel said to Saul, "I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel." As Samuel turned to go, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. So Samuel said to him, "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor, who is better than you. Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind."
~1 Samuel 15:24-29

One of the perplexing puzzles the ardent Bible student may come across in his or her study concerns the issue of whether or not God changes His mind pertaining to His plans and purposes. Scripture is clear that God does not change in His character or with His plans and purposes (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17), yet there are some places where it almost appears that He does alter His plan in specific situations (Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:12-14; 1 Samuel 15:11,35; Jeremiah 18:8; Jonah 3; Joel 2:14; Amos 7:3,6). In fact, within the same chapter and context of 1 Samuel 15 we find God as expressing "regret"or "grief" over making Saul king (vv 11, 35) and then a statement that God never changes His mind (v 29). A teaching known as "Open Theism" uses such passages to validate their claim that God does not know the future for certain and often makes mistakes and has to resort to plan B when plan A fails. Does such passages indicate a contradiction or imply that God's plans are not perfect so that He has to change them? In the style and manner of Paul, I answer "absolutely not" and "may it never be!" A closer study into these issues reveals that God does not change His mind pertaining to His overall plan and purpose anywhere throughout Scripture but consistently brings about what He has planned without those plans ever being foiled.

Much of the debate concerning these passages revolves around the meaning and usage of the Hebrew word, nachem. In almost all of its occurrences in relation to God, the term is in the Niphal stem.1 In this stem, it can carry several meanings such as: 1) “be sorry, moved to pity, have compassion;” 2) “be sorry, rue, suffer grief, repent;” 3) “comfort oneself, be comforted;” and 4) “comfort oneself, ease oneself.”2 Generally, the word indicates emotion. This means that several of the usages of the term does not necessarily have to be translated as change one's mind but would better be understood to convey grief or sorrow. As with many Hebrew and Greek words, context is the ultimate deciding factor as to which meaning to apply to the word. For instance, Genesis 6:6 should be translated as The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth instead of The LORD changed His mind that He had made man on the earth because the word is used right alongside a Hebrew verb that means hurt, pain, grief. It is not implausible for God to ordain a certain event as part of His sovereign plan that would cause Him grief when it occurs.3 While God is transcendent of time and able to view all past, present, and future events simultaneously, He is also able to make distinctions between them. This enables Him to experience certain emotions at the moment an event occurs within time though being aware of the event eternally outside time.4 This is the case with Joseph. God ordained the events of his brothers' treachery in permitting them to sell him to the Ishamaelites but used their evil sin to place Joseph in the second highest position in Egypt to save his family and prevent God's chosen people from dying out. For a God who hates sin (Habakkuk 1:13), any sin would cause Him grief, yet these sins he permitted as part of His plan to save His people (Genesis 45:7-8; 50:20).5 A look at the wider context of 1 Samuel 15 shows that Saul's failure as king was not unknown to God but apart of His overall plan to teach a lesson to the Israelites.

After Saul’s two acts of disobedience (1 Samuel 13:8-13; 15:9), God expresses His grief in
making Saul king (15:11). This in no way indicates God being ignorant of Saul’s disobedience when He first chose the man for this position. In fact, God never planned for Saul’s dynasty to endure. In his prophecy to Judah, Jacob predicted that The scepter shall not depart from him Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet (Genesis 49:10). Saul came from the tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:1-2) when God planned that one from the tribe of Judah would have an everlasting kingdom. If God intended for Saul’s dynasty to continue, unaware of his future disobedience, then He would have contradicted His previous promise. The overarching narrative indicates that God had a specific purpose for Saul in his short-lived dynasty.

The people had asked for a king so that they could be like all the nations (8:5). This displeased the LORD but He granted their request and gave them the king they asked for; one just like all the other nations had. In fact, Saul's name in Hebrew comes from the Hebrew root that means to ask, inquire. The author describes Saul as resembling what one would expect from a king (as all the other nations had) outwardly (9:2) and then shows how such a king fails miserably. After the people’s king’s first act of disobedience, God states that He has already chosen His king; the one after His own heart (13:14). The verbs for seek and appoint in Hebrew both convey the perfect tense, which indicate that these are both completed actions. At this point where God has rejected Saul as king, He has already found the replacement and does not have to go looking for one. This one does not look like a king the other nations have (16:7-11) and is from the linage of Judah as God had prophesied. In fact, David appeared so unkinglike that his own father did not even call him out of the field to be considered by Samuel. Though Saul’s kingdom would have been everlasting had he been faithful (13:13), God used the means of His disobedience to fulfill His ultimate plan of having a descendant of Judah to reign over His people. Thus, this was not an act of God responding emotionally to something that He had not been aware would occur or signifying that He made a mistake. His grief resulted from Saul’s failure as king which He intended to use to chastise His people. The statement Samuel makes in response to Saul's pleading for another chance after he had already been told that God has taken the kingdom away from him further indicates that God does not change his mind pertaining to His plans and purposes.

After rejecting Saul's request to pardon my sin and return with me, that I may worship the LORD (v 25), Saul grabs the edge of Samuel's robe and the prophet uses the tearing of it to inform the king that God has likewise tore the kingdom aware from him and given it to someone else. He then states that when God makes a decision, it is final. God does not lie or change His mind. The parallel of nachem being with the verb to lie indicates it should be taken as change of mind in this context. Though given in reference to Saul's rejection as king, the prophet attributed a timeless principle of God's character. Not only does this verse state the impossibility of God changing His mind, but also of Him lying. Just as the statement that God cannot lie is not limited to this case, the same must be true of Him changing His mind since the two are parallel. If one argues that God sometimes changes His mind and other times does not, then that would also mean that God sometimes lies, a claim with no support found anywhere in Scripture.6 Even in the places where nachem conveys the idea of change of mind, it simply means a change of direction but never a change in His overall plan He will carry out. God may change His direction but never is the new direction outside of His ultimate underlying plan. Several of these references must be read in the context of the old covenant with blessings given for obedience and curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). God thus brings judgment on the disobedient but blessing upon the obedient or repentant. In his call to the nation of Israel to repent, Jeremiah describes God to them as a potter who crafts Israel as His clay the way that He desires (Jeremiah 18:5-6). He states that in one instance God might speak words of destruction to a nation but would take back the destruction described pending on the condition of their repentance (vv 7-8). Likewise, He would bring judgment upon a nation that sought to do evil when He had said that He would build them up previously (vv 9-10). Therefore, in several cases where God is described as changing His mind or relenting concerning coming judgment in response to man’s repentance, He technically is not changing His mind but enacting this principle that He established. He is dealing with man as He has predetermined. Such is the reason why Jonah did not desire to warn the Ninevites of their coming judgment (Jonah 4:2). He knew what would happen if they repented and he wanted them to experience judgment instead of mercy.

This truth that God does not change in His character and in His perfect purpose and plan is comforting. While people on this earth may and will let you down, we have a Heavenly Father who is true to His every word and with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17). We can confidently go to Him for guidance of our next step because He is in full control and has planned out the very steps He has for us to take (Psalm 139:16). He is a God who never makes mistakes and Whom we can trust to always do what's right (Genesis 18:25), even when we may not understand all that He does (Isaiah 55:8-9). We can celebrate our salvation as God's perfect plan of sending His Son to die on the cross in our place was accomplished just as He intended without any variation of His plan. To God be the glory that He does not change but does as He sees fit for our good and His glory!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

1-Genesis 6:6,7; Exodus 32:14; 1 Samuel 15:11,29; Jeremiah 18:8,10; Joel 2:13,14; Amos 7:3,6; Jonah 3:9,10. The one exception can be found in Numbers 23:19 where the Hithpael form of the verb is used.

2-F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007) 637.

3-John Piper, “Why the Glory of God is at Stake in the ‘Foreknowledge’ Debate” Modern Reformation 5 (September/October 1999) 43.

4-Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998) 301.

5-By far the greatest example of this can be seen with God permitting the sin of the murder of His perfect Son as part of His perfect plan of redeeming sinners (Acts 2:23). Basically, God used sin to conquer sin.

6-Bruce A. Ware, God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000) 88.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Meaning of Christmas

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us." And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.
~Matthew 1:18-25

A common and important question that is often asked around this time of year is "what is the meaning of Christmas?" After taking the time to step away from all of the hustle and bustle the holiday season brings, have you ever pondered the significance of the day? Just why is it so important? What is special about it? Depending on the person, it appears that Christmas has carried several different meanings.

Much of the rituals and things we associate with Christmas actually have a pagan origin. For the ancient Romans, this time of December meant a celebration of their harvest god, Saturn. This "Festival of Saturnalia," as they called it, was accompanied by the exchanging of gifts and decorating homes with greenery.

For many, the "most wonderful time of the year" has become the "most stressful" as Christmas means baking enough food to feed the army of family that are only seen once or twice a year and finding the perfect gift for everyone. It signifies long lines and crowded stores. It means emptying one's wallet or purse and purging the credit card into more debt that will take half of the upcoming year to pay off. It means tales of a man named Santa Claus or St. Nicholas who travels in a sleigh with eight special reindeer (nine if you count Rudolph) from the North Pole and delivers gifts down people's chimneys. It's a marathon of either a story of a young boy who defends his house from crooks after being left home alone, a boy whose one sole desire and wish is a Red Ryder BB gun who winds up shooting his eye out, a Scrooge who gains the spirit of Christmas, or a man who learns that he has a wonderful life after all. It's bright, twinkling lights, evergreen trees, and far too many decorations. It's songs about Grandma getting run over by a reindeer and chestnuts roasting over an open fire.

The Real Meaning of Christmas

But for the Christian, Christmas has an even deeper meaning. It is the time that has been set aside to celebrate Jesus' birth. No one really knows for sure His exact birth date. In fact, He possibly was born in the Spring since the shepherds are described as being outside watching their flocks. Though this has been debated as certain scholars argue for cases of shepherds being in the fields also in the wintertime. All that Scripture tells us concerning the date is that it occurred around the time under Caesar Augustus' reign when Quirinius served as governor of Syria (Luke 2:1-2). While this may be helpful in determining the year, the specific month and date remain a mystery. However, the precise date itself is of little importance compared to the significance of the event.

No Ordinary Man

Matthew opens up his gospel showing us how extraordinary this event was. This is not the birth of any ordinary man. He identifies Jesus as christos, the Greek parallel to the Hebrew mashiack, meaning anointed one. Through the lineage of his legal father Joseph, Jesus was the son of David, the son of Abraham. This is significant as this indicates that He is the divine king promised to David that would rule eternally (2 Samuel 7:16) as well as meeting the requirement that a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, / And a branch from his roots will bear fruit (Isaiah 11:1). By beginning the record of Jesus' genealogy at Abraham, Matthew demonstrates how Jesus was connected to God's covenant to the Patriarch. He came out of the great nation God promised He would make of Abraham and through Him, provided the means for the salvation for both Jew and Gentile so that all the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:8). Thus, Jesus was not an ordinary man but the long awaited Messiah that the Old Testament prophets have foretold would come. At Christmas, we are celebrating the Messiah.

No Ordinary Birth

Matthew highlights Jesus' miraculous birth as well. At the end of the genealogy, the apostle points out that Jesus was the son of Mary but not Joseph. The whom in Greek is feminine and singular, indicating that he is referring to Mary specifically and solely (v 16). A common rule in Greek grammar is that the pronoun will always match the antecedent it replaces in gender and number. Had Matthew intended to describe Jesus as being the son of both Mary and Joseph, the pronoun would have been plural in number and possibly male in gender. If Joseph served as the reference, it would be male and singular. However, Matthew wants to be clear that Jesus is the product of Mary through the Holy Spirit. He emphasizes this further by mentioning that Mary was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit before they [Joseph and herself] came together (v 18, emphasis added). In order to stop Joseph from breaking off the betrothal as he was planning, an angel of the Lord informs him that no foul play had been involved from Mary but the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit (v 19-20). Those who insist on denying Jesus' virgin birth have torn out the entire first chapter of Matthew's gospel! Matthew connects this virgin birth to the prophecy Isaiah gave to King Ahaz that described this distinct miraculous event. (For a further exposition of this prophecy, see last year's post entitled: The Hope of Immanuel) This was no ordinary child but the Immanuel promised from long ago. He was "God with us." He was the "Son of God." He was fully God and fully man. He was God incarnate. God becoming flesh. John elegantly words this so well in his gospel account of Jesus' birth: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). At Christmas, we are celebrating God coming to earth in the form of man.

No Ordinary Purpose

Actually, Christmas is not about Jesus' birth at all. It really is a celebration of our salvation. This extraordinary man Who had an extraordinary birth had an extraordinary mission. As part of the instructions given to Joseph in his dream, the angel tells him to name the child Jesus. In the Hebrew culture, names meant something. You would not just name your son Jim and your daughter Jill because of fondness for the way the names sounded. Names in Hebrew carried great significance. The names of Jacob's sons and daughters came from the feelings of his wives in their ongoing war with each other (Genesis 30). Upon the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines, Phinehas's wife names her new born child, Ichabod (No glory), to signify God's glory leaving Israel (1 Samuel 4:21). Elijah's name literally means My God is Yahweh, which is a fitting name for the one whose ministry can be characterized by his steadfast stand for Yahweh, the one true God, in the midst of all the idolatry prevalent at the time (recall his challenge to the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18:20-40). In Hebrew, Jesus' name is yehshua, meaning Yahweh is salvation or Yahweh saves. The angel explains the significance for such a name. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (v 21). Jesus' purpose is to save His people from their sins. His people refers to the Jews in this context but due to their rejection of Christ, God providentially opened up salvation to all mankind (Romans 11:11). All men are born by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3) and have sinned (Romans 3:23; 5:12) and thus under God's wrath (Romans 1:18). We are due to experience spiritual death, which is eternal separation from the grace of God (Romans 6:23). Man was in terrible need of saving and could in no way save Himself. Thus, God provided a substitute through His Son. As Paul puts it, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus took man's sins upon Himself and suffered God's wrath as punishment for them. Those who then place their trust in Christ, God views as righteous as if they had lived Christ's righteous life since He had viewed Him as if He had committed their sins. So Jesus was actually born to die. There is a reason that all four gospels spend more time recounting the last week of Jesus' life leading up to the cross than they do any other part of His life. This was His purpose. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). The reason that God became flesh, Immanuel, was so that He could then die in the sinners place to save those who are moved to come to Him through faith.

The meaning of Christmas is not simply a little manger scene on a certain starry night but so much more. This is just a small event in the grand plan of God's redemption. The meaning of Christmas is God's salvation given through His coming to earth in the form of man and dying to give man life. John Piper made a good point in a recent sermon that Christmas is "mainly preparation for Good Friday." I pray that through all the different meanings of this holiday that fight to distract us, that we would not lose sight of this important truth. May this Christmas be a celebration of God's salvation. May we who once were spiritually blind and now can see and who once were spiritually dead and now have been given life glorify God for His work not only on this one day out of the year but the 364 remaining! For those who are yet blind to this profound and significant meaning of this holiday, may God open your eyes to see the truth and cherish Christ for Who He is and what He has done!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Does God Answer Prayer?

I suppose there has been no word on Christians' lips so frequently at this time as the word "prayer," and there is not one in this hall who has not thought often, during the last forty-eight hours, of the importance of prayer.

During this week of prayer, they are a great many not only thinking about it, but talking about it. When there is a special interest and awakening in the community on the subject of religion, then it is that a great many skeptics and infidels, and a great many mere nominal professors of Christianity - we will not judge them - begin talking against "prayer."

They say, "The author of the world doesn't change His plans because of these prayers. The world goes right on. You cannot move God to change His mind or His doings." You hear this on every side. These young converts hear it. I have no doubt that many are staggered by it, and when you kneel down you say, `Is it a fact that God answers prayer? Is there anything in it?'

I think it would do us good in the week of prayer to take the word "prayer," and run through the Bible tracing it out. Read about nothing else. I think you would be perfectly amazed if you took up the word "prayer," and counted the cases in the Bible where people are recorded as praying, and God answering their prayers.

A great many think it is only the perfectly righteous and pure that pray. But you remember who it was who prayed in this fashion, "Lord remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom." You remember that Christ answered the dying thief's prayer.

We cannot but notice that every man of God spoken of in the Bible was a man of prayer. You have therefore very good authority and encouragement for asking God to hear your prayers, and for praying on behalf of others, as we are daily requested to do. Many are surprised at these requests. But many mothers and fathers are rejoicing that they sent them in. The prayers offered up here have been answered, and their children have been saved.

Last night I was more confirmed in my views regarding the power of prayer than ever. "This is all excitement," some say; "it is got up by earnest appeals that work on the feelings of people, and move their impulses, making them uneasy and anxious." Now, for example, there was nothing said last night to speak of, and I never was more disgusted with myself than I was on Sunday -night. It seemed as if I could not preach the Gospel, as if my tongue would not speak. But still the number of inquirers was extraordinary.

Last night, when there was no speaking at all, and when I just came in and asked that any inquirers might follow me into the moderator's room, taking a few with me, and expecting to come in and ask out a few more when I had seen these, the number was so great that came out without solicitation that I did not need to return. I saw over a hundred inquirers last night, and there were from fifty to seventy that I had to close the door on, being unable to see them.

A great many who have not been at the meetings at all, have been converted in their own homes. God is working, not we. Oh! that we would keep ourselves down in the dust, and every one of us get out of the way, and let God work. It would be so easy for Him to go into every dwelling in Edinburgh, and convict and convert ten thousand souls.

Look at the 6th verse of the 4th chapter of Philippians. "Be careful for nothing, but in everything" - mark that - "by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." He doesn't say He will answer all, but He says, "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ."

He tells us to make our wants known; to make our requests known to Him by prayer and supplication. It is right to come and make our requests known. He has told us to come and pray for the conversion of souls.

It is said by many people that God does not do anything supernatural in answer to prayer; that the God of nature moves right on and never changes His decrees. Read the first six verses of the 20th chapter of 2nd Kings, and see - "In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death: and the prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz, came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live. Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the Lord, saying, I beseech Thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before Thee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore. And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah, the captain of my people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David, thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears, behold I will heal thee; on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the Lord, and I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the King of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake."

Was not that a direct answer to prayer? Hezekiah was only praying for his own life; we are come together to pray for the life of others, and not their temporal but their eternal welfare. He was not praying for Christ's sake as we now do, but we can come to-day and ask God to save the souls of men for Christ's sake, not only for our sake, but for the sake of the beloved Son. He loves to honor that Son, and to see Christ honored. We can come now and ask Him to save souls, that it might bring glory and honor to the Son of His bosom, and glory and honor to the Son He delights to honor. "I will," He says to Hezekiah, "defend the city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake." That is only one instance.

Look also at Daniel praying. It was his prayers that took the Jews back to Jerusalem. It was his prayers that turned Nebuchadnezzar to the God of Israel, and brought Gabriel down from heaven to tell him he was greatly beloved. He had power with God.

See also how God answered Jacob's prayers and Isaac's prayers. All through the Bible we have records of the answers to prayers. It would be terrible to think that God did not delight to answer prayer.

Turn to the 20th chapter of 2nd Chronicles. There we read that the Moabites, the Ammonites, and others coming against Jehoshaphat, he was afraid, "and set himself to seek the Lord," and that afterwards Judah "gathered themselves together to ask help of the Lord." That is what we want - to seek the Lord not only here in the public assembly, but alone. If you have got an unconverted friend, and are anxious that he should be saved, go and tell it privately to Jesus, and if a blessing does not come, like Jehoshaphat, spend a few days in fasting, and prayer, and humiliation.

"If when evil cometh upon us, as the sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine, we stand before this house, and in Thy presence (for Thy name is in this house), and cry unto Thee in our affliction, then Thou wilt hear and help."

When I go into the streets, and see the terrible wickedness, and blasphemy, and drunkenness that is in them, it seems dark, but I look up and think that God can repel those dark waves of sin and iniquity. Let us pray that God will bless this land of Scotland, bless and save all the people in it. It would be a great thing for us, but very little for God. May God give us faith!

--Message delivered by Dwight L. Moody at the noon prayer-meeting, Edinburgh, Scotland, Jan. 6, 1874.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Guidance of God

They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
~Acts 16:6-10

There are two words everyone, whether young or old, are concerned about. These two words are "God's Will." People are always inquiring as to what "God's Will" is for their life or what God would have them do in a specific situation. The questions range from whether it is God's will that one looks for a new job, whether one should buy the new house, or who one should marry (I have personally searched for an answer pertaining to this one and have found numerous names of Marys and Marthas but nothing that seems to correspond to my current situation). Often, people speak of God's will as being lost. That it is somewhere hidden and needs to be found. However, God's will has never been lost but is given clearly in His Word. Scripture tells us that For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Of course, these are examples of God's will generally for our lives, you may be wondering about the specifics. Though to hear God's guidance pertaining to the specifics we need to be obedient with the general. In Acts 16:6-10, we see how God guided Paul specifically to where He had for him to serve and in turn how He will guide us as well to where He wants us to be or do for His glory.

In this passage, Luke takes us with Paul on his second missionary journey. After having a dispute with Barnabas over the inclusion of John Mark in the mission, Paul started out with Silas. His goal in this trip was to visit some former churches to check on their progress as well as deliver to them the decree that had been decided upon at the Jerusalem Council. Along the way he picks up young Timothy who joins him in his work. After making his rounds to several of these churches, Paul decides to go preach the gospel in an unreached territory. In his first evangelistic tour he traveled no farther west than Antioch in Pisida. Now he appears to be heading to Asia to proclaim the greatness of God and the work of Christ.

In heading in this direction, Paul was basically doing what God had called him to do; preach the gospel to the Gentiles. God told Ananias before he met Paul that His purpose for him was to “bear His name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Paul even stated to the Galatians that God had called and prepared him to “preach Him among the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:16). Likewise, God has a specific purpose for us to serve and glorify Him. I like how my mentor always put it that God “wires” us for certain types of ministry. God’s Holy Spirit grants us different gifts in certain areas as well as desires which lead us to gravitate towards certain ministry fields. An evangelist has a heart for full time evangelism and a pastor for preaching and teaching God’s Word. (Such is the reason why I cannot stop teaching whether it be behind the pulpit, writing a blog/facebook note or in casual conversation over dinner.) It’s where their passion and desires lie. Paul was just seeking opportunities to do what God had placed on his heart. A start to whatever ministry endeavor the Lord has in store must start with us looking for those opportunities to exercise our gifts and live out our yearnings.

However, as Paul heads West, he hits a road block. It’s like coming up over a hill in your car to see the orange cones laid out in front of the entire roadway. You’re not going any further in that direction! Here is a clear example of Proverbs 16:9. Man makes plans but God determines the outcome. The group are described as passing through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because they were not able to preach in Asia. We don’t know what really happened to prevent this. Luke attributes it to an act of God by describing the Holy Spirit as the One forbidding them to proceed. He does not give us the specifics. It might have been the inner leading of the Spirit simply telling them no. A prophet, as they were still some at this time, might have uttered such. God may have sovereignly orchestrated certain events to occur to prevent Paul from going there. Regardless of how, God clearly said “no” to Paul’s plan to bring the gospel to the people in Asia, at least at this time. Later God does send him to Ephesus in Asia. It was just not in God’s plan and design for Paul to go at this specific moment.

Paul could have stopped and went back to Antioch or “thrown in the towel” in heading to these uncharted territories to proclaim the gospel. Instead, he continues to search for other opportunities, this time heading North to Bithynia. A “closed door” does not necessarily mean that God wants you to give up the ministry He has called you to. It might just mean that He doesn’t want you to do that ministry at the place you are seeking. God wasn’t saying no to Paul preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Only no to doing this in Asia. God had another place He desired for Paul to go. For those whose plans have not worked out, it could be that that place is not where the Lord has for you to serve currently. He may have somewhere else planned for you or some work to do both in and through you before you go. The same may be said for the one whose finances are not where they need to be to participate in a certain ministry that is starting.

Upon Paul’s change in direction towards Bithynia, he again faces another road block. Luke informs us that the Holy Spirit again redirects Paul. He somehow does not permit him to this area as well to proclaim the gospel. We find out what God is up to here shortly. There is a reason for the constant redirection. There is always a reason for any door or doors that God closes. Usually its a sign that God has another purpose in mind. This is what Luke shows us occurs with Paul.

Paul still does not give up and now goes west again to Troas. He continues to seek opportunities to do the work God has called him to. Here, while he is seeking, God reveals to him where his next area of service will be. Paul receives a vision of a man from Macedonia who holds out his hands and asks the apostle for help. After two shut doors, now God has both provided the reason for them. He had planned to send Paul and the group to minister to the people of Macedonia, not Asia or Bithynia. Luke tells us that there was no doubt this was where the Lord was leading them. The group “concluded” that God called them to bring the gospel to the Macedonians based on this vision and they left “immediately.”

Notice that the vision came while Paul was seeking the opportunities God may have provided for him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Many times God does not provide us with the specifics of where He wants us to go until after we have begun to seek the opportunities ourselves or follow the limited instructions He gives. Abraham is a clear example of this. God simply told Abraham to move without the details of where he was to go. It was not until God led him to the promised land of Canaan that he pointed out that this was the land He had promised him (For a further exposition of this narrative, see Paul had no specifics pertaining to Macedonia before this. He was just aiming to glorify God by fulfilling the calling He had for him. In God’s timing, he was directed away from where he was not supposed to go and shown where he was. Too often we are so busy seeking and waiting for our clear specific call that we fail to focus on the steps that God calls us to walk today. Not only does God determine the end of where He would have us to serve but also the means for us to get there. We need to "be faithful today in order to be where God will have us tomorrow."

We don’t know how long it took for Paul to receive this “Macedonian Call.” It might have been days or months. Much of these journeys would have been done on foot so it was probably a few months. You may be waiting for a little while before God gives you a clear call to wherever He would have you to go. Just don’t quit seeking. You may not get a vision since Scripture seems to indicate that God primarily speaks through His Word to us today (Hebrews 1:1-2). But He will make it clear in His timing where He wants you to go.

God will direct you just as He did Paul. Pay attention to those “closed doors” and keep moving ahead seeking the opportunities that are available for you. Maybe while you are seeking, you will get the answer to where it is the Lord will have you to go. Maybe you will get your “wherever” call while you are seeking or find the opportunity that God has planned for you all along. Praise God that He guides us through both the open and closed doors as to where He would have us to serve Him for His glory!

In Christ,

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Work in Progress that Will be Completed

But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
~1 Thessalonians 5:12-24

In the closing of his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives them several instructions on how they should live. He provides advice on how they should treat their elders (vv 12-13) as well as each other (vv 14-15). He also commands three things they ought to do in direction to God; Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks (vv 16-18). Notice that these three are categorized as God's will for the believer. So, for those who struggle with what God's will is for you, here is part of your answer. If you are not following these three commands, you will not be where you need to be to hear His guidance for personal areas of where God may be directing you. The last couple of instructions call for examination, holding on to the good, and staying away from evil (vv 19-22).

These are all clear commands for the believer. In fact, 15 of the verbs used in this passage are in the imperative form in Greek, indicating them being used as a command. These instructions pertain to the believer's sanctification. This is the fancy term used to describe the process of the believer progressing towards holiness. It is the process those who are have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are currently involved. In Justification the sinner is declared righteous by the means of their faith in Christ. In Sanctification the sinner is progressively made righteous and in his final Glorification, the believer is presented righteous by Christ before God's throne. Sanctification serves as the bridge God uses to bring the sinner whom He now views as being as righteous as Christ to be perfect in glory where he will no longer be able to sin. Thus, we are a work in progress yet to be completed.

Right after giving this list of instructions, Paul then prays that God would sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (v 23). Although he had just given exhortations of what one should do as part of their seeking to live a holy life for God's glory, he asked for God to do the work to aid in the believer's progress. This coupling of an exhortation followed by a promise of God providing and enabling the believer to live it out is common through out Scripture. One of the clearest pictures of this in in Philippians 2:12-13. In v. 12, Paul commands to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Then he gives the reason that we are able to follow this command: for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (v. 13). Therefore, we work only because and on the basis of God's work within us. Paul must have realized that apart from God's grace, we would not be able to heed these admonishments given and progress forward. The truth that these are not easy tasks can be seen in the lack of them being performed and in specifically how we struggle to live them out daily. We need God's daily doses of grace to help us live for Him to bring Him glory. Augustine realized this when he stated in his Confessions, Command what thou wilt, but give what thou command. Thankfully, our sanctification is not in our own hands but God's. Paul held a similar hope for the church of Philippi, For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

This work of God to sanctify entirely led Paul to describe Him as faithful because not only does He bring one to salvation (Paul's typical use of the verb for to call) but He will complete the work He began the day they became born again (He also will bring it to pass). The it refers back to the sanctifying just previously mentioned. Jesus Himself promised that of those who are saved, He will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44). In the unbreakable "Golden Chain of Redemption" in Romans 8:29-30, Paul describes those who have been foreknown by God, predestined, called, justified as also glorified which is a future state. Glorified is in the past tense, indicating that in God's mind it has basically already occurred because He fully intends to complete the work He started. The author of Hebrews even describes Jesus in His role of divine priest as For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). Perfected is in the past tense while the participle for to sanctify is present tense. This indicates that Christ through His death completes (another possible translation for the Greek verb teliow, defined as "complete, finish, accomplish, bring to its goal, perfect") the one who is currently in the process of being sanctified. Also, the verb is passive, pointing to God as the one who ultimately does the sanctifying of the believer. The passive form of a Greek verb indicates that the subject of the verb receives the action instead of performing it as the active form would signify. God will ensure that the believer will come to the completion of his sanctification in glory. Other Scriptures reveal that He does this through means such as suffering (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:3-9), discipline (Hebrews 12:7-11), and possibly warnings not to stray from the faith (Hebrews 6:4-8).

This should be a major encouragement for us. We are not left in our Christian walk alone. God is with us and will guard, protect, and bring us to glory as we strive forward to serve Him. God does not just pick us up on the side of the road, dead and dirty due to our sins, then give us life and wash us just to hand us a Bible as a roadmap and drop us off on the side of the road saying "I hope to see you in glory." Instead, He not only picks us up off the side of the road but will drive us all the way to glory. So, let us move forward and struggle to live for the glory of God and praise Him for His enablement to do so as well as trusting that He will complete the work He has begun and continues to do in our lives. Praise God that while we are currently a "work in progress," we will be complete due to God's power and grace! May we rely fully and solely on Him to live for Him!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lessons From 9/11

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
~Luke 13:1-5

Today thousands in the nation take time out of their busy schedules to commemorate and remember those who lost their lives in the horrible tragedy which occurred the morning of this day eight years ago. Many of us remember how that day changed the way we thought about the country, our loved ones, and even our lives. Many still are struggling with what they have seen, or with those they have lost in the tragedy. Some lives may never be the same again. While not belittling the victims of the tragedy, I want to look at what those who are still living can learn from this event.

The days following the 9/11 attacks brought several questions. Several of these questions concerned God and His role in the event. People struggled with trying to grasp any reasons God may have allowed or permitted this to happen. Some wondered if the people who went for what they thought would have been a normal day at work deserved to play the victims of such a horrible scenario.

Clearly God was in control of that day and is still in control of our world today. Scripture tells us that God works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). Through Amos God communicates, If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it? (Amos 3:6) and Jesus says that a sparrow does not fall to the ground apart from your Father (Matthew 10:29). Even Satan himself is under the sovereignty of God. Jesus acknowledged to Peter that Satan could not test the disciples' faith without God's allowance. Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat (Luke 22:31). Likewise, Satan could not tamper with Job without God's permission and He set clear boundaries where Satan would not be able to trend. In the first meeting with Satan, God agreed to let him test Job but would not allow him to put forth your hand on him (Job 1:12) and the second time God gave Job into his control but would not permit him to kill His righteous servant. Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life (Job 2:6). This is a very comforting truth. Our lives may seem like they are spirling out of control, but the truth is that we are still in God's hands and He is working to bring things to His ultimate purpose. You may be down at your lowest, but we have hope that God IS in control and causing all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Even in the worst of times, we have comfort knowing there is a loving and good God in control who has a purpose in the suffering. God was there that day on 9/11 and, even amist the sorrow, several testimonies to His goodness have been proclaimed. His sovereign hand never left the situation!

The second major question the World Trade Center attacks spawned is one which is a common response to every huge natural disaster or catastrophe: "What did this group do to deserve this?" This was seen after the tsunami in India as well as New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina. In fact, Jesus was asked a similar question about 2000 years ago. While speaking to a large crowd, a group informs Jesus about an atrocity which Pilate had committed. The exact situation is unknown to us today but we can infer that it had something to do with a slaughter of Jews during their sacrifices. Not only was this a terrible occurrence, but it took place during worship which made it even more horrendous. Jesus realized right away the question that they had concerning this issue. They thought that this plight was the result of them being greater sinners than all others. However, Jesus sought to turn their perspective completely around.

Instead of agreeing with their assumption, Jesus took the focus off the victims and placed it on the questioners. The reason this group was slaughtered was not because they were greater sinners. The ones who were killed were no more sinners than the ones commenting concerning them. (Note: This does not necessarily mean that the events God permits to occur are punishment for specific sins. John 9 makes it clear that, while a result of the curse of sin, not all infirmities and incidents are due to specific sins.) Those who died in the tsunami, in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and with Hurricane Katrina were no more sinners than those of you reading this note as well as the one writing it. We deserved the same! I will never forget a powerful sermon my pastor preached right after the tsunami a few years ago. He told us that the question is not "why them?" but should be "why not us?" We didn't deserve God's mercy to not have the tsunami happen in America, or to not have been in the Pentagon or World Trade Center on that day, as well as having the hurricane wreck havoc on the NorthEast or MidWest. As Scripture tells us, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We get so used to God's mercy we have problems when He shows us His wrath.

Jesus actually warns the crowd of an even greater fate, much worse than what happened with Pilate and the later example of the falling of the tower of Siloam. Unless they repent of their sins, they will perish (Luke 13:3,5). This is Jesus' urgent plea to those who are lost in sin. Repentance means a turning from sin. It is the flip side of faith. One turns from sin in repentance and then turns toward Christ by placing their faith in Him. The likewise may refer to the sudden and unexpected death of those in the Temple and at Siloam. Those who went to the Temple that day to offer their sacrifices did not realize that they would not be returning home. The possibility of the tower falling on the group in Siloam probably never occurred to them. Likewise, if the crowd does not turn from their sins and turn to Christ they will suddenly and unexpectedly (to them) experience the punishment for their sins. The author of Hebrews tells us that it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

No one is guaranteed of their next heartbeat or breath. If we should learn something from modern headlines, it is that death is no respecter of age. If you have not turned from your sins and placed your faith in the Lord Jesus, then Jesus' plea for repentance is for you. Like those in the Temple and at Siloam, you do not know when the day will come and it will be too late. Many who left for work that morning of 9/11 did not know that they would not leave the building. Several wives did not know that they would not see their husbands again. I am not attempting to scare anyone, I just want to point out reality. For us who are Christians, this is a reminder that life is too short to waste! Let us give out Jesus' plea to those who need to hear it in our families, schools, and at our places of employment!

Praying for those involved with the attacks in any way as well as us who can learn from God's mercy,
Lee Smith
Soli Deo Gloria!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why I Believe the Bible

A question I am often asked is "Why do I believe the Bible to be truly God's Word?" This is a very good question as the reason which I hold to the positions and views I do all spawn from what I see Scripture as teaching. The Bible is the sole authority that governs my life and what I have devoted my life to studying and teaching. Unfortunately, many Christians respond with a "deer in the headlights" look upon receiving such a question. They are unable to think of the reasons why they hold to the Bible being God's Word and what distinguishes it from any other book available. While I cannot speak for others, here is my attempt to answer such a question:

I. The Bible's Testimony about the Bible
One reason I believe the Bible to be God's inspired, inerrant, and infailable word (at least in its original manuscripts) is that it claims itself to be. At least 3,808 times the Old Testament authors refer to a statement as being Thus said the LORD. The prophets are described as having the word of the LORD coming down upon them before they spoke His words (Jeremiah 1:1-2; Ezekiel 1:2-3; Joel 1:1; Hosea 1:1). The clear implication is that the prophets spoke what God had told them to speak and thus were delivering His message.

The New Testament authors also viewed the Old Testament writings as being God's very word. Peter tells us that But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20-21). Though written down by the instrument of man, the ultimate author of Scripture is God whose Holy Spirit moved men to write down His very words. Paul refers to all Scripture as inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Literally, the Greek reads that all Scripture is God-breathed. The all Scripture that Paul refers to is the Old Testament as that would have been Scripture for both the apostle and Timothy. (A fuller exposition of this text may be found in a previous blog post here) The author of Hebrews even states that the author of Psalm 95 is ultimately the Holy Spirit and not David. Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, . . . (Hebrews 3:7). A similar case may be found in Peter's discussion of the necessity to choose Judas' successor based on Scripture in Acts 1:16. He states that the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David (Acts 1:16) indicating the Holy Spirit as the author and David as the means. The New Testament writers are unwavering in their testimony to God's inspiration of the Old Testament writings.

Although the New Testament as we have it today had yet to be completed at the time, there is evidence that the New Testament authors considered their own writings as Scripture, God's very word, as well. For instance, Paul quotes a statement of Jesus recorded by the author Luke and calls it Scripture in I Timothy 5:18. The quote is alongside one from Deuteronomy. Luke's writing is deemed authoritative by Paul in teaching that elders should be paid for their service. Also, Peter explicitly labels Paul's letters as Scripture. He states that the untaught and unstable distort his writings as they do the rest of the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16). So, according to Peter, Paul's letters are a part of Scripture. Furthermore, these letters were intended to be read aloud to the congregations and admonish them (Colossians 4:16). One cannot persuasively argue against the fact that all of the writers of Scriptures deemed the words as not being their own but God's.

II. History's Testimony about the Bible
Another reason I hold to the Bible to be God's word is due to the evidence from history as to its authenticity. The Old Testament contains several prophecies of the coming Messiah that God planned to send for the redemption of His people Israel as well as hints of including other nations as part of the plan. If the Old Testament is God's word as it claims to be, then these prophecies must be fulfilled precisely as they are written. All of these prophecies did find their fulfillment in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, about 300 predictions pertaining to the first coming of the Messiah are seen clearly in Jesus. The parallels between the descriptions of the psalmist in Psalm 22 and 69 to the events surrounding Jesus' crucifixion are striking. To claim that those who were responsible in crucifying Jesus intentionally orchestrated and performed His death as it occurred would be preposterous when they were upset at His popularity and claims to be God. There are several places in the gospels where the authors explicitly make the connection of something in Jesus' life to be a direct fulfillment of a prophecy God made in the Old Testament. Jesus' birth in Bethlehem was no mere coincidence but occurred just as God had promised it would. But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, / Too little to be among the clans of Judah, / From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, / From the days of eternity (Micah 5:2). Also, there is no other reputable case in history where a virgin has conceived a child apart from the account of Jesus' birth from Mary before she came together with Joseph. Isaiah predicted such a miraculous birth (Isaiah 7:14) and such occurred just as prescribed (Matthew 1:18). (A fuller exposition of Isaiah's miraculous prophecy can be found here). While a few of these predictions corresponding to certain things in one's life could be possible, the possibility of all of them, particularly the more miraculous ones (ie. the virgin birth and the resurrection three days later), is an impossibility unless God has predicted and orchestrated things as such.

Also, no significant archeological discovery or finding has yet to prove Scripture historically inaccurate. In fact, the most recent finds have done quite the opposite. Names of certain Biblical Hebrew kings have collaborated with extrabiblical writings and materials of the same time period recorded. Historical sites described in Scripture have been uncovered and the details provided by Scripture shown to be true. Scholars believe they have found the location of Sodom and Gomorrah where there is indeed evidence of destruction from an earthquake or volcano that would have led to fire falling from the sky and bringing destruction. Lack of archeological findings for certain events or descriptions in Scripture in no way disprove anything that occurred. It just means that remains were not left or that they have yet to be found. What has been discovered though has only pointed to the authenticity of the Bible being God's word and not cast any doubt on it.

III. The Coherency and Consistency of the Bible
The Bible is a collection of 66 different books written by possibly 35 different authors living in different areas and eras and yet as a whole does not contain any errors or contradictions. Moses' account of creation and the beginning of man and John's record of his revelation of Jesus Christ he received on the island of Patmos are separated by approximately 1500 years! While many have claimed to find apparent contradictions between books and authors, a closer study of the problems reveal the contradictions to be just that, apparent. I have spent much time, particularly during my undergrad studies in college, closely examining such so-called "contradictions" and found them not be contradictory but harmonious. Those who think that they have discovered a contradiction may just need more time to study both passages and figure out what they really are saying. After extensive study, they may find that there really is no contradiction at all. Such coherency and consistency all throughout the Bible leads me to conclude that God must have been behind the authorship of this book. I know of no other anthology by different authors that fits together as well as these 66 books. In fact, I have read a book by one author where within it he or she contradicts himself or herself. Only God could work through the various authors of Scripture to bring about His very word pure and unaltered.

IV. Personal Testimony about the Bible
There is something about the Bible that sets it apart from any other book. The impact this book has had on individuals throughout history cannot be overlooked. Close to 2000 years old and the book still plays a major part in many peoples' lives. To date, it is the most bought and most stolen book. Though the authors addressed a different audience in a different time period it still speaks directly to issues we experience in our everyday lives. What church does not have problems similar to those addressed to the church of Corinth? Many lives have been changed from reading this book. By God's grace, through this book, many have become better fathers and husbands, wives and mothers, and sons and daughters. Humans are stubborn creatures (just think about yourself for a minute for proof) and one of the hardest things is to attempt to convince them to change something in their lives. For someone to undergo a complete transformation from hating God to loving Him, from living for themselves to living for Him, and from loving themselves to loving others after reading this book must be the work of God in their lives. I have no other way to explain it. This is just what Scripture describes that it does. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16). So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23). God uses His Word as the means of drawing people to Him. What other book has such an effect? It was through the preaching and teaching of this book that I saw how holy God was and how much of a sinner I was and in danger of the damnation of Hell. It was through this book that God convicted me of my sins and brought me to place faith in Christ as my only hope of salvation.

V. The Holy Spirit's Testimony about the Bible
While all of this evidence appears to me to be crystal clear pertaining to the Bible being more than just an ordinary book but the very Word of God, the ultimate reason I have come to see the Bible as God's Word is due to the deep seeded conviction in my heart wrought by the Holy Spirit that it is so. There is no doubt in my mind that the Bible is God's very word and must be my standard for how I am to live my life to bring glory to Him. All of these facts sit before everyone and several still deny the reality of this being God's Word. I think that the conviction came first and then with the conviction God opened my eyes to see the evidence that was there before me the entire time. I pray that God would open up any eyes who are currently closed to these facts and not only would He give them a conviction that the Bible is indeed His Word but give a desire to read, study, mediate, and live out this Word. And if you have been given eyes to see that the Bible is true, you must deal with the ramifications of what God's Word says about God's holiness and your sin. May we not only honor the Word of God but in so doing also honor the God of the Word.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Missions is About God!

God be gracious to us and bless us,
And cause His face to shine upon us-
That Your way may be known on the earth,
Your salvation among all nations.
Let the peoples praise You, O God;
Let all the peoples praise You.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy;
For You will judge the peoples with uprightness
And guide the nations on the earth.
Let the peoples praise You, O God;
Let all the peoples praise You.
The earth has yielded its produce;
God, our God, blesses us.
God blesses us.
That all the ends of the earth may fear Him.

~Psalm 67

Many Christians have the wrong attitude towards evangelism and missions. Though many mean well, their approach becomes very man-centered. Some view new converts as notches in their belt instead of celebrating the work of redemption that God has done in the sinner's life in giving him eyes to see and the desire to embrace the truth of the gospel. In fact, evangelism and missions is not about people but about God. The impetus for missions should be to make God's name great throughout the earth. Mission activity should spawn out of a intense desire to share God's great name with others and the wonderful and marvelous work He has done, part of that work being His sending of His Son in the place of sinners to appease God's great wrath and the providing of eternal life through faith in Him. Psalm 67 does well in communicating such a desire which all Christians should have in approaching mission work.

The psalmist opens up the poem with an appeal to God to be gracious and to bestow His blessing. The wording is almost identical to the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24-26: The LORD bless you, and keep you; / The LORD make His face shine on you, / And be gracious to you; / The LORD lift up His countenance on you, / And give you peace. This was a blessing which God instructed Aaron and his sons to say to pronounce blessing upon the people of Israel. So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them (Numbers 6:27). In using some of the familiar language of this blessing, the psalmist is requesting God to show His favor upon His people. But note the reason the psalmist desires God to show His favor. It is not so that they can live a live of health, wealth, and prosperity. It is not so that they can be comfortable. He is not making the request on their behalf at all but God's! His desire is that God would get the glory and make His name known to the other nations. The hope is that other people will view God's work and realize that God is good and is the One who brings ultimate satisfaction. He states the reason as That Your way may be known on the earth, / Your salvation among all nations. In fact, this is God's very reason for the things which He does, to glorify Himself and to make His name known. One of the reasons that God chose to reveal His power through the ten plagues upon the nation of Egypt and Pharaoh instead of striking them dead right away was to glorify Himself through proclaiming His great name. For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth (Exodus 9:15-16). In missions we play a part of God's desire of glorifying His great name in proclaiming the gospel which He uses to bring people to saving faith in Him (Romans 1:16-17; 10:17; 1 Peter 23). In spreading the gospel, we proclaim God's way and salvation among the nations just as the psalmist invites God to use His blessings and favor upon His people to do so.

The psalmist next moves to call all to praise God. He not only calls peoples, but specifically all the peoples. God is so good and due to our own delight in Him, we should desire that all would have that same fulfillment of delight. Because He is worthy of all of our praise, we should desire that others would give Him the glory He rightfully deserves. The peace that we experience with God through Jesus Christ should prompt us to share Christ so that God may work in others to encounter the same peace. Our goal in missions should be to call people to rejoice in everything Christ is and all that He has done as part of God's perfect, divine plan. The psalmist calls the nations to be glad and sing for joy. The reason the nations should be ecstatic is due to God's reign. Judgment and guidance are aspects of the role of a ruler. The psalmist may well have in mind the millennial kingdom where the Messiah will rule over Israel and the nations. This is the culmination of the kingdom He has promised.

The poem closes in much the same way it starts. The psalmist shares a specific material blessing of the produce of crops and then once again reiterates that the reason for the blessing is so that the ends of the earth may be in awe of God for who He is and what He has done for His people.

May God send us out to proclaim His great name among the nations and bring Him glory. If we are serious about God's glory, we will be serious about missions!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Monday, July 6, 2009

Obedience Today

Now the LORD said to Abram,
"Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father's house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."
So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants I will give this land."

~Genesis 12:1-7

Genesis 12 contains the wonderful promise given to Abram (later to be known as Abraham, "Father of the many," which continues throughout the entire Bible. In fact, three of the covenants fulfill this promise: The Abrahamic (Gen. 15; 17), Davidic (2 Samuel 7:8-17), and the New Covenant (Jer 31:27-37). In the Abrahamic Covenant both the descendants which will become the great nation (Gen 15:5; 17:2-5,16) and the promise of the land (Gen 15:7; 17:8) are fulfilled. The Davidic Covenant and the New Covenant both can be seen as a continuation of the Abrahamic as the promise of a king in the line of David corresponds with the kiings promised to descend from the patriarch and through the New Covenant salvation is granted to the house of Israel and the house of Judah as well as the Gentiles who have been granted to become partakers of it (2 Cor. 3:6; Heb 8:7-13; 10:11-18). Through faith in Christ, Abraham becomes our spiritual father (Rom 4:16-17; Gal 3:70), thus including us as part of the promise. Volumes could be written on the meaning and significance of this promise and God's outworking and unfolding of it through His work revealed throughout the recorded Scriptures but I want to focus on its initial meaning to Abram and his reaction.

This is the first recorded appearance of God to Abram while he was in Haran with his father, wife, and nephew. The promise consists of two imperatives or commands: Go forth from your country (Gen 12:1) and And so be a blessing (Gen 12:2). God first tells him to leave his country, his relatives, and his father's house in order to go to an unspecified land which God would reveal at a later time. God does not name the land here but only tells him that He will show it to him. So Abram had no clue exactly where God was instructing him to go. He was basically told to leave and go someone which will be specified later.

God also tells Abram that He will make him a great nation and his name great. He also promises blessings reciprocial to those who so approach him and curses as well. Through the ultimate seed, Jesus Christ, all the families of the earth become blessed.

Notice Abram's response to these two commands and promise. He goes just as the LORD had spoken to him. He packs up his stuff and leaves Haran and headed to where the LORD had commanded him to go. He does not wait for God to give further instructions or takes time to plan out his course. He obediently follows what the LORD had said to him with only the details (or lack thereof) He gave. The author of Hebrews puts it this way: By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8). Abram had no clue where the LORD was taking him but trusted God enough to follow.

God usually does not give us the details we would like to have to follow through with what He calls. All that Abram knew was that God would show him the land later, after he would leave his current home and head there. I think that the reason God did not provide the details for Abram was to keep him dependent on Him. If God would reveal the entire plan He has for each of us, we would no longer need to trust Him and would rely on our plan and not the giver and outworker of that plan. History (both biblical and modern) reveals to us man's tendency to trust in anything except God. Remember the erecting of the golden bull calf while Moses was away on the mountain? The people grew weary trusting in God due to the absence of Moses and created an object to trust instead (Exodus 32:1-6). They even wound up worshiping the bronze serpent which was to save them from the disease they brought on themselves due to their disobedience (Numbers 21:8-9; 2 Kings 18:4)! By giving us enough information just to take a few steps, God makes sure we rely on Him for the rest of the steps.

The problem that many of us have is in taking the steps that God tells us we need to. I know I personally am one who likes to have everything planned out. I like to have my schedule and calendar all together. I am an organization freak. However, that can't be done all of the time when the Lord does not provide me enough information to plan ahead. I have to stop myself from the questions of where the Lord would have me to be after graduation in a year. Several times we sit down waiting for God to give more instructions for where we ought to go when we should be obedient to those He has given. He may intend to grant us those extra instructions after we take the first steps of His command. While God did not tell Abram right away where his land was, after the "man of faith" was obedient to His command to leave and head out in the direction God had called, He specified the land his descendants were to possess. Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." Had Abram decided to wait on God for more information concerning this mysterious land He was commanded to move to, he may not have gotten this information. The key is to be faithful today so that we will be faithful tomorrow.

This statement is one which was shared with me by an admissions counselor at Philadelphia Biblical University when I was considering attending there. So many times we worry about where God has us in the future that we miss out on the more important question about where God has us today. If we are obedient to the commands we are given today, as Abram was with leaving, God will bring us to where He has for us to be in the future. If we are not faithful to God's leading today, we may hinder where we are going in our future. God uses those commands He gives us today to lead us to where He desires to have us in the future.

You may not fully understand where the Lord may be currently leading you. You may be called to leave America to go to a mission field overseas without any idea how long you are to stay or when you are to return. You may have been called to a type of ministry not yet realizing what specifically you are to do there. You might desire more direction. But if God has clearly commanded or is leading you to do something, you need to be like Abram and follow through, trusting that God knows what He is doing and will provide you with more information when it is His time. May God teach us to be obedient today so that we may be where He wants us tomorrow.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Most Dangerous and Necessary Prayer

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me." And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "So you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done." Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!"
~Matthew 26:36-46

Jesus has just left with His disciples from the Passover meal and was heading into the Garden of Gethesemane to pray. Luke informs us that this was a common place where He regularly communed with God in prayer, as was His custom (Luke 22:39). Like many of us, He came to prayer with much anxiety weighing upon Him. Matthew records Him as saying that His soul was deeply grieved while Luke describes Him as being in agony. In fact, He was in so much agony that He was sweating blood (Luke 22:44)! The reason for this anxiety was the nearness He was to the cup God had prepared for Him to drink in the sinners place. In the Old Testament the prophets referred to the "cup of God's wrath" which He pours out in His anger. Rouse yourself! Rouse yourself! Arise, O Jerusalem, / You who have drunk from the LORD's hand the cup of His anger; / The chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs (Isaiah 51:17). Jesus knew the hour was at hand for Him to experience this cup.

We witness Jesus' emotions in His prayer. I cannot imagine what must have been going through His mind knowing what was ahead. For all eternity God the Son had experienced complete fellowship with God the Father and was about to be crushed by the Father's good pleasure (Isaiah 53:10) and be separated from Him due to the bearing of man's sins. On the cross, when the sky became black and Jesus cried out, My God, my God, why have your forsaken me? He was experiencing the separation from God that all mankind was due to experience for all eternity (and which those who refuse to repent and trust Christ may still experience). Though only for a moment, compared to an eternity with God, the pain must have been wrenching. Although led by the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2), Jesus still had to deal with these emotions.

The first part of Jesus' prayer is a plea. Much like Paul who would later ask Jesus to take away his "thorn," Jesus asks if possible, if God could take away the cup of suffering awaiting Him. This is not an indication of a lack of trust in God but a struggle with the intense pain which had never been experienced before. It is similar to a man or woman who is nearing the operating room and dreading the pain that the procedure will cause, though they know that the pain is necessary to settle their affliction. Only, Jesus' pain could not compare to the pain of any medical procedure ever experienced on earth!

The next part of Jesus' prayer is key. Though He made a plea for God to take away the cup, He surrenders to His sovereignty and gives Him full control of His life. It is not about what He desires in light of what is to come but what God desires to do. Again, knowing God's plan in the matter, He states that He will do what God will have Him. if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done. This is the picture of one who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). This prayer captures one of the points of the model prayer Jesus earlier taught His disciples: Your will be done, / On earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

This is both a dangerous and necessary prayer for us to mimic. It is dangerous because we give God full control and authority in our lives to do as He pleases for His purposes. This may result in suffering God chooses to bring upon us or in Him taking away something we hold dear. However, this is also a necessary prayer because God uses such things to weed out sin, strengthen our faith, and work to conform us into Christ's image. We normally experience our greatest amount of growth spiritually in those "valley" experiences instead of when we are in the "peaks" of life. We may not be asking for things we want, but things which are necessary to be holy.

I have recently read an interview with John Piper where Piper shares a prayer he prays which resembles the point, yet not as I will, but as You will:

When I get on my knees and think about my struggles with pride or fear or greed or complacency or lack of love, what I say to God is, "Lord" (this is a really dangerous prayer, I think), "whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to break me of pride, of the fear of man, of greed, of cancer . . . if it takes loss of family, ministry-do it. I want to be holy. I want to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Do whatever it takes."
*John Piper and Justin Taylor. Eds. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006) 224.

yet not as I will, but as You will
What about you? Have you prayed this prayer? Maybe you have said it but did you really mean it? Are you willing to submit to God and take whatever He gives you, knowing that it is ultimately for our good and His glory? I pray that we would all follow Jesus' example and humbly submit our wills to God's and give Him full control and authority to do what He pleases in order to bring us to where He wants us!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Joy of the Word of God

The law of the LORD is perfect,
restoring the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true;
they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold,
yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the
drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is
In keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors? Acquit
me of hidden faults.
Also keep back Your servant from
presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I will be blameless,
And I shall be acquitted of great
Let the words of my mouth and the
meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.

~Psalm 19:7-14

This psalm attributed to David clearly reveals the heart of one who loves the Word of God. After rejoicing over the work of God in creation (vs. 1-6), David moves on to rejoice over God's Word. He uses five synonyms for God's Word (law, testimony, precepts, commandment, and judgments) and then proceeds to speak of its result. The effects of God's Word which should bring us joy are that it brings us encouragement in restoring our soul, teaching by making wise the simple, giving us joy, rejoicing the heart, as well as revealing truths to us by enlightening the eyes all because God's words are righteous altogether. While the fear of the LORD mentioned in vs 9 does not appear to be a synonym for God's Word, it does describe a proper response to it. One thing God's Word does in the heart of a Christian is inspire him to worship. In his wonderful work, Desiring God, John Piper makes a strong point that the natural response to reading God's Word is worship (while I remember reading it, unfortunately I have failed to find the exact quote in over 334 pages in his book.) I can recall several times personally studying Scripture when the Holy Spirit has revealed something to me or aided me in understanding something I had been struggling with and having to stop and take time to praise and worship God, to have that fear or awe of God David may be referring to.

Continuing in his joy of God's Word, David goes on to describe it as more desirable than gold, even fine gold. While many spend their lives searching for treasure, David has already found it in the Word of God. He would rather have God's Word than "silver and gold". Money cannot buy the joy the Word of God brings to the serious student. Material things are fleeting but the Word of God is eternal. As Isaiah points out comparing the temporal physical human life to God's messages: The grass withers, the flower fades, / But the word of our God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8). It grieves my heart to know of too many who are wasting their time seeking false joy from what they mistakenly believe material wealth will bring when true joy and treasure is found in Scripture. The treasures in God's Word will make an eternal difference in one's life, much more than "bigger barns" full of stuff one accumulates on this earth which receive no eternal value (Luke 12:13-21).

In addition to viewing God's Word as "greater treasure", David describes it as "greater food". He compares it to honey and finds it sweeter. It is hard to find anything sweeter than honey, especially when it is fresh from the honeycomb itself. Yet, as sweet as it is, David finds the treasure of God's commands and judgments to be better. David must have realized what Moses had taught in Deuteronomy 8:3: man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. While it is important to partake daily of physical food for the nourishment of our bodies which are temporal, how much more important to partake of our spiritual food of God's Word for the nourishment of our souls which are eternal?

Another reason David rejoices over God's Word is the great reward of heeding to the warnings it gives concerning sin (vs. 11). Another psalmist later states that a young man can keep his way pure . . . By keeping it according to Your word, (Psalm 119:9) and Your word I have treasured in my heart, / That I may not sin against You (Psalm 119:11). The remedy for not falling into sin is to heed the warnings in God's Word and treasuring that word over all other things, which would include the pleasures of sin. 19th century evangelist Dwight L. Moody made a strong point when he held up his Bible in one of his revival meetings and stated: "This book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from this book." In reading the words which are true and righteous altogether, one will see how unrighteous he or she is. It is God's Word which leads one to confess and repent of both sins of omission (hidden faults) and sins of commission (presumptuous sins). David ends his psalm with a prayer resulting from the reforming power of God's Word in pointing out sin in one's life. Instead of living in sin which is displeasing in God's sight, he wants everything he does to be acceptable in His sight.

David's love and joy in God's Word is undeniable. The question then is what about you? Do you find your joy in God's Word or are their material things in your life which are sweeter and valued as a greater treasure? Would you rather watch a movie or read the latest fiction novel than spend an hour with God in His Word? I pray that the passion and joy David exudes concerning God's Word would flow in our lives out to others who witness us studying and living out Scripture. May God receive glory by us satisfying ourselves in Him through His Word.

In Christ,
Lee Smith
Soli Deo Gloria!!!