Thursday, October 29, 2009

The End of Mercy: What if God Stopped Listening?

"Thus says the Lord of Hosts, 'Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.' But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. 'As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,' says the Lord of hosts."
- Zechariah 7:9-13

And in Isaiah 59:2-3, "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness."

These verses should be frightening to the modern reader. Are we not moving further and further down a social path that assumes the irrelevancy of God and His word? The Scriptures tell us that God reaches a point of no return in dealing with a stubborn folk: as they refuse to hear Him, He starts to refuse to hear them! I think that we already see this in modern Europe. The continent that saw the Reformers in their glory, now has abandoned their churches, some even reviving the pagan practices of their distant ancestors. Do we not see God abandoning them to the consequences of their spiritual deafness? Europeans are aborting themselves into extinction as their societies are, more and more, turned over to Muslim immigrants. The Europeans abort their children and turn their homelands over to foreigners who know not their languages, their cultures, or their faiths.

However, I do not surrender hope in the grace and mercy of God. Didn't Elijah forget the Covenant, when he said to the Lord (I Kings 19:10), "For the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away"? However, while Israel may indeed break the Covenant, God cannot, and rebukes Elijah (verse 18), "Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him." Indeed, spiritual circumstances may appear hopeless to our limited mortal eyes, but faith should always remind us that God retains to Himself a faithful remnant. And may He grant that we will be found among that number!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Who Has Dominion in the Heart of the Believer?

"I am the Lord; that is My name;
My glory I give to no other,
nor My praise to carved idols."
- Isaiah 42:8

And repeated in Is. 48:11,
"For My own sake, for My own sake, I do it;
for how should My name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another."

Surely what God says twice deserves our close attention. He has not, does not, and will not share His glory with another. The obvious intention of that is to forbid the worship of any mere creature, including angels or so-called "saints," much less actual pagan deities. Yet, that sells God's glory short.

In the Preamble to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2), God proclaims, "I am the Lord your God," leading to the First Commandment (verse 3), "You shall have no other gods before Me." In the Covenant, God claims an exclusive authority, the very glory that He says through Isaiah cannot be shared. That necessarily includes over the sovereignty we claim over ourselves. In fact, that is the very sin of Adam, his claim to decide for himself the right to the Tree of Knowledge, irregardless of the stricture placed on him by God. As Satan phrases it, in Genesis 3:5, "You will be like God." Or in Jeremiah 2:31, where the wicked say, "We are free, we will come no more to You [i.e., God]."

But God refuses to honor Adam's Declaration of Independence. Israel demanded a king from the Prophet Samuel (I Samuel 8), but God took their demand as an affront to Himself, telling Samuel (I Samuel 8:7), "They have rejected Me from being king over them." This is an affront He does not tolerate, though He did indeed give Israel a king. Through the Prophet Ezekiel (Ez. 20:33), He proclaims, "As I live, declares the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you."

Peter Bulkeley eloquently associates this faithful rulership of God with the Covenant of Grace. He says, "Thus the Lord will be God over his people, a God above them, as a Prince is over his people, an husband over his wife, a father over his children, a master over his servants, or a shepheard over his flock, to rule and order them according to his own minde. And this is no small benefit and blessing of the Covenant. For look at it as for the good of a people to be under the government of a gracious King, the good of the wife to be under the government of a prudent husband, the good of a child to be under the government of a godly father, and for the good of the flock to be under the guidance of a skillfull shepheard: So it is for the good of the people of God, that he will be pleased to be a God over them, and that he will not leave them to the rebellious lusts of their own hearts."

I think that this is the same lesson that David commends in the Twenty-Third Psalm (Ps. 23:1-4):
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me."

While our benefit is certainly not required to justify God's rule over us, what a blessing that we receive that, as well!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Prosperity: Worshiping the Means in Place of the Cause

[Scripture citations in this post will be from the Geneva Bible, to match the language used by the writers referenced below]

"Therefore they sacrifice unto their net and burn incense unto their yarn [i.e., used in weaving their nets], because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous."
- Habakkuk 1:16

In my personal studies, I have a couple of ongoing books, portions of which I read every day. I have referenced The Gospel Covenant, by Peter Bulkeley, several times. I have also referred to the works of Robert Rollock, a collection of sermons on the death and resurrection of Christ.

An astonishing conjunction occurred in my reading of both last night.

In his book, Bulkeley asks the question, Why does God allow hardship and want in the lives of believers? Afterall, he logically suggests, God is certainly capable of always providing prosperity and plenty to us all. However, in a passage which includes the Habakkuk reference above (cited in the margin), he explains, "Before, they were ready to ascribe some excellency to the meanes and instruments, sacrificing to their own nets: but when they [i.e., the means and instruments] come to nothing, and the Lord hath by himselfe fulfilled our desire, then we are lifted up to glorifie him; he alone is seen to be an al-sufficient God unto his people." That is to say, that God brings want into our lives to keep us from idolizing the gifts in place of their Giver, Himself. As he continues, Bulkeley shows this humbling effect, again from Habakkuk, 3:16-17: "For the fig tree shall not flourish, neither shall fruit be in the vines: the labor of the olive [grower?] shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat [i.e., food]: the sheep shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no bullock in the stalls. But I will rejoice in the Lord: I will joy in the God of my salvation." [Emphasis in the original.]

Then switching books, I immediately read the same point from Robert Rollock, in his commentary on the first seven verses of John 21: "...the Lord uses to disappoint the hope of His own for a season, because that serves more to the glory of God than if they got it the first time: for when men find a prosperous success in all their ways, and all things answering to their desire, scarcely do they consider and discern God's blessing; yea, many times it comes to pass, that in such cases men ascribe the praise of all to themselves, and sacrifice to their own net. But when they see themselves, notwithstanding of all their travails, disappointed of their hope, and thereafter find a blessing and good success, then they plainly discern that all things proceed from the blessing and favourable providence of God, and therefore give to the Lord the praise and glory of all." If I hadn't happened to read Rollock immediately after Bulkeley, I wouldn't have caught the Habakkuk reference, since he doesn't identify it (emphasis added).

The concept can also be seen in Hosea 13:5-6: "It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me."

Clearly the Lord has a lesson for me here. But so far, I haven't discerned the Spirit's application to me, which is why I waited a day to comment on it . However, the insight into "why bad things happen to good people" is certainly profitable, just in itself.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Government Charity, the Spirit of Judas with the Power to Tax

"Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with Him at the table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples (he who was about to betray Him), said, 'Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?' He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, 'Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me.'"
- John 12:1-8

So, the situation is that Jesus is visiting the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, soon after having raised Lazarus from the dead. While Martha is preparing the meal and Lazarus is sitting talking with Jesus, Mary anoints His feet with expensive perfume, made from nard or spikenard, then wiping them dry with her own hair.

But where I want to focus is on verse six, which describes the pretended indignation of Judas over the wastefulness of Mary's devotion, the supposed charity possible with the wasted wealth, and his own secret, but evil, intentions for the money. His hidden agenda was, of course, known both by the omniscience of Jesus Himself, and by the Holy Spirit, who inspired the knowledge in the writer, the Apostle John.

Where the passage took my mind was to our own modern bureaucratic system of government-forced charity. Not only is the effectiveness of such government expenditure questionable, so is the real motivation of the politicians that create the programs and the bureaucrats that administer them. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the overhead for government welfare averages about 70%, in contrast to roughly 5% for private charity. Ah, here we go! That leaves plenty of slush money for the pockets of a slew of Judases. In addition, such programs give politicians and bureaucrats the adulation of their allies and  power over private lives. That seems like a lot of personal benefit arising from the confiscation and redistribution of other peoples' money.

Americans are very generous people, both to each other and to others around the world. No doubt this is a remnant of our Christian heritage. The impact of that generosity would be profoundly expanded by removing the government middle man from the process. The American Mary could be lavish with her wealth, if we could merely protect her from the government Judas.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Liberal Religion Is Spiritual Deception

My hometown, Charlotte, NC (of which Huntersville is a suburb), is also the hometown of retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, and our local paper reports that he is coming home to liberate us from our misconceptions of Christianity. Among other things, he denies the transcendance of God, the resurrection, and heaven and hell (I don't claim to understand what thus constitutes eternal life in his
belief system). He will be speaking at a local center of hyperliberalism, Myers Park Baptist Church.
While presenting himself as the purveyor of a thinking man's Christianity, Spong is actually practicing a long-known form of spiritual deception. He is taking an historical term, "Christianity", changing its linguistic and historical content, and then claiming that he is using the term correctly, while the rest of us have distorted it.

Presbyterian theologian Rev. J. Gresham Machen, founder of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, dealt with the same deception in his own denomination during the 1930's. As he explains in his book Christianity and Liberalism, liberalism isn't a different kind of Christianity; it is actually a distinct kind of religion. Thus, the liberals that have taken over much of mainline christendom have foisted a fundamental deception on the man in the pew. As I have described in another post, God takes great offence at such deception (see Jeremiah 23:14-17).

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Blessing of Irresistible Grace

"For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."
- Philippians 2:13

I start here with Paul, because of his straightforward and economical expression of the doctrine of irresistible grace, i.e., that regeneration and sanctification are the effectual, sovereign work of God in us, not something we work up in ourselves. However, it is the expansion of this truth in Ezekiel that I especially want to highlight. I am referring to chapter 36.

Ezekiel 36:21-23: "I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate My holiness before their eyes.'"

Notice this starting point: it isn't about us! God acts in His grace for the sake of His own holiness, His own glory, for the vindication of His own character. Therefore, when any person claims some special worthiness before God, whether for some supposed inherent holiness or even because of his own belief, he fails to give God the credit and glory that He has claimed for Himself. Paul emphasizes this point, as well, in Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace have you been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

But to continue in Ezekiel, verses 25-27: "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules."

Paul explains the "heart of stone" in Ephesians 2:1, "And you were dead in trespasses and sins." Dead, not sick, so that we must be born again (John 3:3) and become a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17).

Ezekiel continues, verses 28-29: "You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be My people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses." And thus God grounds His gracious promises in the same covenant of grace that He declared to Abraham (Genesis 17:7) and to his spiritual seed (Romans 4).

As with reprobation, this aspect of biblical doctrine allows no room for man's pride, but much for man's redemption. Why do so many clamor to reverse that?