Category Archives: Gospel

I Believe in the Holy Spirit

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.
33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
34 “And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer 31:31-34 NASB)

From the very beginning, the church has confessed the Apostles’ Creed. The third section of the creed begins thus: I believe in the Holy Spirit.

I wonder, though, if we have really thought about what it means when we confess it.

Jeremiah wrote about the New Covenant. God promised that the day would come when He would write the laws on the hearts of his people, instead of on tables of stone. This would mean that there would not be a need for anyone to teach each man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord.” The reason is that “they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest.”

To understand what is being taught, we need to look at this New Covenant, as it is fully revealed after Christ came into the world. Jesus offered Himself as the perfect satisfaction for our sin, keeping the law (covenant) of God perfectly. He is called the “mediator of the New Covenant.” The Bible teaches that we are “complete in Him” (Col. 2:10), and can neither add nor take away from his perfect work. His righteousness is put on our account, as if we neither had, nor committed any sin. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this:

60. How art thou righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

And because we are now considered righteous by God, because Christ has completed the work, He has received “the promise of the Father” (Acts 2:33), which he has poured out upon his people. This promise, according to Peter, is the Holy Spirit, whom Christ gives to all who believe on His name.

The work of the Holy Spirit, according to Jeremiah (and Ezekiel 36:27) is to write the knowledge of God and the law of God on the hearts of God’s people, so that they will truly be “his people, and he shall be their God.”

To put this simply, the work of the Holy Spirit is to take the words that He has inspired in the Holy Scriptures and apply them to the hearts of the young and old, rich and poor, male and female. This is what Joel meant when he said,

28 “And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions.
29 “And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29 NASB)

I don’t want to get overly wordy, for there has been many centuries of excellent work done on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I just say these things as a reminder, and then make this simple application.

If we believe in the Holy Spirit, why do we flock to celebrity preachers to tell us what music to listen to, what movies we should watch, how we should dress, how to be manly, how to be womanly, what household chores a man should do, how to focus on our family, what household chores a wife should do, how to educate our children, how long should our skirts be, how high should our necklines be, where should we shop, where should we NOT shop, what books should we avoid, how often should we exercise, how do we exercise as Christians, should we have friends of the opposite sex, should we have friends of the same sex, how close should we be to them….and on and on and on and on…?

Do we, or do we not, believe in the Holy Spirit?

As I was thinking about this, I saw this documentary on the Bill Gothard cult. It is heartbreaking – not just because of the results, but because of the demonic theology that allowed him to thrive in the first place. Please do not say to me, “Well he says a lot of good things, too.” This isn’t a matter of that. The devils also believe in one God. And I used the analogy on purpose. The things that Gothard has always taught have been nothing less than a denial of Christ, and a denial of the Holy Spirit.

He has taught for decades that Christ is not enough. If you truly wish to be blessed, you must follow his teachings, go to his conferences, send your kids through his program. “He made promises” one of the participants said in the documentary. But these promises can only be given by God. Peace in the home, blessings on our lives, love and joy and peace come from only one place, according to scripture: The Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Anyone who promises that which can only come from Jesus Christ and his perfect sacrifice on the cross is not Christ, but an antiChrist. This is exactly what the devil did in the Garden, and the sons of the devil have been promising the same things ever since. It was then, and it still is now, a lie.

Please hear me closely. God favor, God’s blessing, and God’s love come from only one place: the finished and perfect sacrifice of Christ. Israel failed in the keeping of God’s law, according to Jeremiah. So God made a new covenant – where he would “forgive their sins” and they would be his people and he would be their God. God is ALREADY our God, and we are his people, because of Christ. We are heirs to the promises and heirs of eternal life already, because Christ paid it all. He did perfectly that which God required. It is finished and done. We are not given the blessings of the covenant because we went to a Gothard conference, went through the steps, or followed his rules, any more than Luther was accepted because he crawled up the steps of the Scala Sancta. We can’t purchase God’s favor through Gothard’s home school system any more than we could buy indulgences from Tetzel!

And please do not tell me that Gothard isn’t teaching this. He may add “by God’s grace” with every vile word he writes. But writing it doesn’t make it so. The Heidelberg Catechism addressed this very problem with the Popes of old, and it still applies to every minor pope of whatever stripe:

30. Do those also believe in the only Saviour Jesus, who seek their salvation and welfare of saints, of themselves, or anywhere else?

No, although they make their boast of Him, yet in deeds they deny the only Saviour Jesus for either Jesus is not a complete Saviour, or they who by true faith receive this Saviour, must have in Him all that is necessary to their salvation.

Under “anywhere else” we might add conferences, training materials, programs, steps, devotionals, and anything else that promises salvation. Anything that teaches, “do this and live” is another gospel, contrary to Christ, and under the curse. Either Jesus completed everything, or He is not a complete savior. Any attempt to add anything to the perfect work of Christ is a denial of Christ. Any attempt to gain God’s blessing by doing some kind of work, no matter what it is, is a false gospel, and anathema.

In fact, the Bible says it will always have the same results:

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21 KJV)

Do not be surprised that this is what we are finding under Gothard’s umbrella. He didn’t deliver what he promised, for he worked according to the flesh, not according to the Spirit, and so reaped the corruption that he sowed. The child abuse scandals that his cult is now fighting is not an anomaly, but an expected result from the theology of the devil. If you sow to the flesh, you will reap the corruption of the flesh. God will not be mocked.

Do we, or do we not believe in the Holy Spirit? Then flee from every man who promises to hold the key to the blessings of God. They can be found in only one place. Life can only be found in Christ, who has given us his spirit, has written his laws on our hearts and has promised to never leave or forsake us.

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is not at all a denial of the proper offices of the church. God has indeed given pastors and teachers. The difference is that a true pastor and teacher builds up the body in the unity of faith until they become no more children, tossed about by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:11-16). A false prophet doesn’t want maturity, but wants you to stay dependent upon him forever. He will never say, “Trust your God-given wisdom.” He will continue to instruct every aspect of your lives by his own opinion. He will continue to churn out pamphlets and power-points and blogs and systems, promising God’s blessing if you just do a little more.  A false prophet rejoices when you have been made over into the image of the false prophet. A true pastor rejoices when he decreases and Christ increases. A true pastor rejoices when Christ is formed in the hearts of his people, and every opinion of man is cast off.

When the Holy Spirit is denied in practice, the only thing that can result is bondage – not only to sin and the power of the devil, but also bondage to man. Wicked men fill the heart with terror – “if you reject my teaching, God will forsake you and destroy you.”

But God says, “Fear not. I will never leave you, nor forsake you. I will be your God and you will be my people forever.”

Let’s once again confess and believe the confession: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”

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Filed under Gospel, Sin and Grace

Call Upon the Name of the Lord

We don’t know exactly when Joel wrote his prophecy. But we know that the people of God had suffered a tremendous plague of locusts. One swarm of destroying swarm right after the other, and the people of God called upon every god and every power that they could think of. But they didn’t call upon the name of the Lord.

God had warned them. He had given them the greatest thing anyone could ever hope for. He gave them Himself. He said, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” What an astounding thought! That the creator of heaven and earth, the only power there is, the giver of life and all good things, would call himself “our God!”

And yet, when things got tough, they called on every idol, every creature, every trick in the book, and never once called on the name of the Lord.

And God warned them again. There is no other savior. There is no other deliverer. There is no other strength. There is only the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He has offered himself to us and calls Himself “our God.”

And the day will come when God will come in judgment and everything unclean and defiling and wicked will be destroyed,

“But whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” That God would stoop to save the likes of us is a thought that staggers the mind. But He does. In fact, He became flesh and took the wrath of God against sin in His own body on the cross. And He did this so that He could truly be our God, and we would be His people!

And the gospel goes forth to every tribe, every kingdom, every people. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Only now it is made more clear than it was even in the Old Covenant.

Paul told the church at Corinth that the church is made up of everyone “who calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus.” He knew what he was saying. He wasn’t inventing a new god, for there are no other gods than the God of Abraham. He was saying that Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, crucified in Jerusalem, who rose from the dead and ate and drank with his disciples was none other than Jehovah, the God of Israel.

And whoever calls upon His name shall be saved. There is  no other hope, no other name given under heaven than the name of Jesus.

So when you say you are a Christian, do you also call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ as your only hope of salvation? Do you call upon Him when you are out of hope? When the world is dark?

Or do you look to everything else, as Israel did of old?

Where do you turn for justice? Where do you turn for healing? Where do you turn for covering for your shame?

Where do you look for beauty and hope and goodness? Where is your heart most satisfied? Are your affections on this earth, or does your heart long to be where Christ is, at the right hand of God?

God will not give His glory to another. He won’t share it with his creatures. It is His will that Jesus Christ be praised from the rising of the sun to the going down. It is God’s will that Jesus Christ be exalted in the hearts and minds and affections of all who claim His name.

So this world tends to fade in the hearts of those who love Jesus. This world is seen for what it is when the heart is turned towards Christ. It is under a curse. It is full of madness and folly. Pain and illness and disappointment, and even times where we are close to despair, cling to our skin. The smell of our failures and cruelties and wickedness overpower our senses. Our longing for beauty and goodness and love leave us gasping. And in those times, when we have nowhere else to turn, we call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Lord, save us!”

And that is where we ought to be, and it is good.

For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus shall be saved.

Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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Filed under Gospel, Hope

“Just Keep Quiet, Sister”

Recently I’ve been meditating on the rape of Tamar and the coming of the Christ. These two are connected.

This might need some explaining. King David was anointed by God Himself. He was the king “after God’s own heart.” After the oppression and abuse against him by King Saul in 1 Samuel, your heart is cheering as David is finally anointed king. The good guys won! You expect the fairy tale ending, “And they all lived happily ever after…”

But the accounts of Israel’s history rarely end that way. Ever since sin entered into the world, our stories never end well. David was a righteous king – compared with Saul. But he was never really the point of the account. If salvation could come by government, David’s kingdom would have succeeded and Christ need not have come. But the problem with the world is universal. Not even David is immune. The sin that lies in the heart of every man also lies in the heart of David – and not “sin” in the mild “everyone sins” kind of way, but hateful, ugly, destructive and vile sin.

Like every good story teller, the author of 2 Samuel doesn’t just give us a treatise on total depravity and our need for a greater king and greater savior; instead, he shows us. David’s fall into murder and adultery has consequences for his whole family, including his virgin daughter, Tamar.

Tamar is beautiful, which means she is a target for the kingdom of the devil who hates beauty. Her half-brother Amnon is consumed with lust for her. His lust is not a lust for her beauty, but the lust of a hungry wolf in the presence of a sheep. His lust to kill, consume and destroy has been sexualized, which is what rape is.

He is constricted by Tamar’s position as a daughter of the king and one thing a man like Amnon hates is to be restricted by anything. He has two conflicting beliefs going on. First, he believes as the crown prince that he is entitled to whatever he wants. And second, the king has the authority to command. So what happens when the king’s rights conflict with the prince’s “rights”? It is this conflict that consumes Amnon and makes him sick. To Amnon, Tamar’s personhood and will don’t even enter into it. She’s just an object to be used.

Amnon, like all wicked men, has an advisor that promises to help him through the dilemma. Jonadab says, “Go to your sick bed. When your father comes to visit, ask him to send Tamar to nurse you back to health.”

And Amnon does. We are not told why David didn’t see through such a ridiculous ruse, but based on simple observation, we can make an educated guess. People have no problem confessing total depravity when it comes to people that are different than they are. If one is outside of your circles, you have no problem with confessing their corruption. It is easy to see the sin of Philistines, Moabites – even those of other tribes. The sins of Benjamin are easy to see if you are from Judah.

But where it hits hard is when you are confronted with the total depravity of your children, your brothers, your sisters, your church. “Those kinds of things don’t happen in Israel!”  “Not in my church. Not in my family. Not in my tribe.”

But sin doesn’t give us a pass because of who we descended from. In fact, it is the opposite. It is precisely because of who we descended from that we are all conceived and born in sin.

Even Amnon. Would David have allowed a non-family member to be alone with his daughter under such a flimsy excuse? I think not.

At any rate, David commands Tamar to attend to her brother. Tamar makes food for poor, sick Amnon and he watches her. She brings the bread to him, but he refuses to eat. Then he sends everyone else out of the room.

Tamar stands there alone, afraid, powerless. He commands her, “Come here. Lie with me.”

She protests strongly. “A thing like this shouldn’t be done in Israel!”

She begs him. She pleads for him to remember pity. “Where will I take my shame? I will spend the rest of my life ashamed and reproached. Unable to marry. Unable to live. What will I do? Who will take this shame away from me if you do this horrible thing.”

She pleads with him to remember his own reputation. “You will go down as a fool in Israel! Why would you do such a thing?”

She even gives him a desperate alternative, “Ask our father to give me to you as wife. He won’t withhold me from you!”  It seems desperate, but it is her only option in that culture before Christ. If she is raped, no one will marry her. She will be cut off without children, without protection, without support. She will have nothing but shame and reproach. Even today, in many cultures a girl who is raped faces excommunication from her family, her people, and sometimes is even tried and punished as an adulterer. The devil’s kingdom is ugly, hateful and cruel. How many women do we know who have been driven from their churches and families even in America because they were raped?

Amnon refuses to listen. He wants to destroy her innocence and beauty. His destructive desires are sexually charged. He is not lusting after her beauty. He is lusting after her destruction. So he forces her, because he is stronger than she is. And he rapes her.

The word “forces” is the Hebrew word, ‘anah, which means to afflict, oppress, humble. We will come back to that word.

After Amnon is done with her, he hates her. He hated her before, but now he has what he wants from her. He says, “Get up and get out.”

She weeps. She pleads. It is now clear to Tamar that it was not an act of extreme love gone bad, but an act of hatred and destruction. All rape is about destroying the image of God. It is never about love or even desire. It is about hatred and defacing God’s image.

Amnon calls in his servant and has her thrown out of the room. She leaves the room in tears. She tears her robe – the special robe of honor worn by the king’s daughters – and flees to Absalom’s house. Absalom is Tamar’s full brother.

Absalom immediately knows what happened and tells her, “Be quiet. Don’t take it to heart. He’s your brother.”

God gave men and women a wonderful gift when he created them. It was a gift of communication. Words and thoughts, the ability to hear, to meditate, to express. It is unique to man out of all creatures under the sun. We can open our lips, choose words and fellowship with one another and with God. We can talk about our feelings, our likes and dislikes.

We can use words like “love”; “joy”; “peace” – as well as “hatred,” “ justice,” “abuse.”

But the devil and his kingdom hate God and hate his image. He seeks the destruction of the voice, of the personhood, of the will. He seeks the annihilation and defacement of beauty and love.

The most effective way to achieve all of these goals of the devil is through rape. For this reason a rapist was not allowed to live in Israel under Moses’s law. There wasn’t anything to be done with him. A man who rapes is a man completely given over to the power of the devil and must be removed from society.

And rape removes the voice. Where will she take her disgrace? Does she have two or three witnesses? Does she have the courage to stand up to her attacker in an assembly of men who in her mind are just like her attacker? She tells her church, and is told to just be quiet. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t ruin the ministry. She tells the magistrate, and is often left just like Tamar. David knew about it. He was angry, but did nothing.

Her choice is gone, because he is stronger than she is. Her voice is gone – silenced by threats, intimidation, coercion. Where will she take her shame?

This is the hopelessness of the kingdom of the devil. After Absalom takes Tamar into his house, we are left with this: “And Tamar lived with Absalom, desolate, in her brother’s house.” She then disappears from the sacred record – except in the mind of God.

Her question still hangs in the air, leaving us empty and hungry for a solution. “Where will I take my shame?”

Many centuries later, Isaiah comes on the scene. He writes,

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. (Isa 61:1-3 ESV)

The good news, the gospel, is proclaimed to the “poor”. The Hebrew word, as you may have guessed by now, is ‘anah – Afflicted, forced, humiliated, poor

And who is this one of whom Isaiah speaks? Does he speak of himself or does he speak of another?

When Jesus of Nazareth began to preach in Capernaum, he opened his Bible to this passage and read it. Then he said,

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luk 4:21 ESV)

Do you see? Do you see that Isaiah is giving the answer to Tamar’s question? Do you see those for whom Jesus came? He came into this world in the womb of another virgin daughter of Israel. He came for all who have been broken, bowed, and afflicted. He came for those who have been abused, raped, and humbled. He calls to the broken-hearted, those with no strength, and those who have been the victims of every Amnon of this present world. His gospel is for the weak, the downtrodden – those who mourn.

He never told the outcasts to “be quiet”. He spoke with them. He listened to them. But more importantly than all of that, he brought to them good news. He came to set his people free. He came to give a voice to the voiceless, justice to the oppressed, mercy to the repentant. He came to set the prisoner free.

I know that the world is full of those who are like Tamar. I know many of you personally and see the gospel of Jesus alive in you. Christ has indeed fulfilled his promise and proclaimed the good news to you and has called you his own.

If Tamar’s story is yours and you do not know Jesus, learn of him. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. He hates Amnon, and destroyed the power of the one behind Amnon on the cross. He bore the curse in his own body and then rose from the dead, proclaiming the season of God’s favor to all who are hopeless and voiceless. He came to restore the damaged image of God in you – to restore your beauty, your voice, your will, your courage.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made, a daughter of the king who will never look away and refuse you justice. You have your voice restored to confess his name. You have your will restored to choose for yourself whom you will serve. Have the courage to come out of the kingdom of oppression and darkness and bondage and follow your savior.

If we call ourselves Christians, should we not strive to imitate our Lord? Do we follow him and give the gospel to the Tamars of the world – justice and mercy and renewed hope? Or are we more like Absalom; “Be quiet, sister; don’t take the matter to heart.”

May God give us the courage to proclaim faithfully the gospel of the kingdom of Christ, even when the kingdom of the devil threatens and fumes. May we stand firm.

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Filed under Abuse, Christmas, Gospel, Hope

His Banner Over Me

He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. (Sol 2:4 KJV)

Here’s an astounding thought. God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. We are all his workmanship, and he can do with us as he pleases. He has every right to command, to exact obedience and even to kill and destroy. He is a just God. He is a holy God. He cannot dwell with sin. He hates the wicked with eternal, unquenchable fire. And we are all sinners.

But it is God’s will to be merciful. He longs to restore fellowship with his people. But in order for God to restore relationship with His people, his people must put away their evil deeds and obey. They must be cleansed from their sins. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked and he calls all of us to obey, to submit, to “circumcise the foreskins of our hearts and no longer be stiff-necked.”

But here is the problem. God’s law requires us to love him with all of our hearts, with all of our souls and with all of our minds. And the relationship between God as a holy lawgiver and his people as sinners is not a relationship that is conducive to love. The more we try to appease a holy God by external law-keeping, the more we invoke his wrath. For he is beautiful and good. He alone is worthy of love and he desires that his creatures love him. Anything less is an affront to him, and he is just and holy.

In the Old Covenant, God loved his people and exercised his holy right to command and expect obedience. His people broke his covenant, even though his banner was over them. They bore his mark; they were his people. they were circumcised, and to them were committed the oracles of God. But they broke his covenant and rebelled against them, even though he was their master and husband.

He cast them away, and he was just and good to do just that. But God promised them a new covenant. In the new covenant, God said,

And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali. (Hos 2:16 KJV)

The King James wisely just left these two words untranslated, because the English doesn’t quite have words to capture them. Both words can mean “my husband”.  But Baali is “husband” in a legal sense. The head of the home, the boss.  This was God’s relationship to the Old Covenant people. He indeed loved them, but was their commander and master. God said that the new covenant would not be like the old:

Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: (Jer 31:32 KJV)

Here the word for “husband” is also Baal. A legal husband – one with the rights of the husband under the old covenant.

But Hosea said the new covenant would not be like that. Instead, God would be “ishi.” Ishi means “my husband”, but the first time we see the word “ish” is used is in the institution of marriage in the garden of Eden:

And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. (Gen 2:23 KJV)

`Ish here has the meaning of “man”; and it is contrasted with `ishshah (woman). It emphasized NOT the legal and headship/submission aspect of marriage, but the aspect of lovers becoming one flesh.

God would become “one flesh”, a lover, to His people, and this would mark the difference between the old covenant and the new.

Eternal, almighty God, who dwells between the cherubim, who commands the earth and the sun and the stars in their orbits, who tears down rulers and sets up rulers, who so governs the earth that all the nations are as grasshoppers in his sight – this God – became flesh in the womb of Mary so that we would no longer know him as Baali, but as Ishi.

His banner over me is love. The law could only make slaves. But the gospel makes lovers. He unites us to himself by his Holy Spirit so that we are truly flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, as Paul writes,

30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph 5:30-32 KJV)

A banner is a standard, a flag marking the nation or tribe to whom one belongs. We bear the mark of our Lord Jesus and that mark is the mark of his love. His banner over us is love. He loved us, and gave himself for us. He loved us and washed our feet.

He had every right to command us and to expect obedience. He could justly have committed each one of us to hell forever and ever and would not have diminished his love or his goodness one bit to have done so.

And yet he chose, in his infinite love, to put his mark of love on us. What the law could never do, God did, by sending his only begotten Son to bear the sins of many.

The law could never change a heart. You can lock a murderer up and keep him from committing another murder if you have a strong enough cell, but locking the murderer up can never change a heart.

And God desires hearts that love him, not serve him out of slavish fear.

And, you husbands, this is what Christ requires of you. Your example is Christ. Your banner over your home is to be a banner of love. This is how the gospel of Christ is shown in your home. Not by your “right to command and expect obedience”, but by your responsibility to love, as Christ loved the church. And, no, these aren’t the same things.

I always puzzled over why a man would want a wife’s slavish obedience rather than her freely given love. Perhaps because of the blindness of sin. Whenever I write on marriage, someone will always say,

“But doesn’t a husband have the right to command his wife?”

Is that how Christ treats us? Commands never create hearts of love, and God desires hearts that serve him out of love. For this reason, he became our man, our lover, our friend. His banner over us is love. Christ does indeed have the right as our creator to command us. He is the king of kings. But it is not kingship that we are commanded to exercise in the home, but love. Love has power that nothing else has – it was the love of God that changed the world, and this is what we are to show in our homes.

This should mark our homes. We should have homes where those outside say of us, “That guy really loves his wife!”

If you do not know this kind of love, I would urge you to come to Christ and be reconciled to God. Come to the one who so loved the world that he laid down his life for his sheep. Come to him in repentance and faith. Learn at the foot of the cross what love truly is. You cannot truly love anyone else until you learn to submit yourself to the love of Christ. So come and learn. His yoke is easy; his burden is light.

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Filed under Gospel, Love

Meditations on TULIP, Part three

By anonymous

See part one and part two here.

Irresistible Grace – There is no formula known to man that explains the the timing or how the call will be answered. After hearing the gospel, which draws the elect by the Holy Spirit, many begin a very unexpected journey. Some cry out to him, then are allowed to continue on for some time- wrestling – working out their faith – feeling the crushing despair of unbelief. Others are immediately struck with a deep and abiding faith. God knows every struggle and knows what each individual needs to be refined.

Even those who appear to be strongest in their faith will admit that, in weak moments, they struggle and wrestle with unbelief. As they go through this, their cries don’t go unnoticed by God. His saving grace, once poured out, saturates believers to the point that even though part of them doubts, the overwhelming and irresistible grace of God always wins out.

Sometimes our doubt or sinfulness manifests itself in actions that bring shame or even horrible consequences but for true believers, it never wins. As we grow in grace and knowledge, this becomes clearer. God’s gracious grip on us does not let up -no matter how hard we may squirm to get away.

Perseverance of the Saints – This is often flippantly dismissed by those who say -”Once saved always saved”. True believers cannot claim to be saved then go about living life in whatever way they please because now they’re saved. It cannot be reduced to a simple and trite slogan. No, to persevere implies struggle.

Saints- that’s all believers – will struggle. They will recognize their own depravity. They will gratefully and thankfully recognize that God chose them unconditionally. They didn’t have to do something or prove themselves. The sacrifice of Christ, the atonement is for them. God has given them this and set them apart from those who have made themselves gods.

God gives them everything they need to persevere. Some limp along with physical pains and struggles that discourage and pull them down, others wrestle with emotional or inward grief that they may feel is unspeakable. There are those who deal with both physical and emotional pain. But God never leaves. He never forsakes his people. There are scores of testimonies of many Christians slaughtered throughout history for their faith. Their stories are lost to us but these souls are dear to their Heavenly Father.

We only persevere through the strength and grace that God gives us. Through everything, we keep moving along with our eyes on the cross – knowing He cares for us.

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I Am Dark, But Lovely

I’m feeling quite blue today. I am very tired. My wife has had a very painful weekend, which doesn’t seem to let up. I am feeling very unlovely.

In the middle of my blues, I am also studying the Song of Songs for the class I am teaching tomorrow, and I was struck by this passage (as well as my studies in an excellent commentary by Iain Duguid):

5 I am very dark, but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.
6 Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has looked upon me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!
(Sol 1:5-6)

The girl is dark because she works in the vineyards all day. She is poor (therefore working) and socially inferior. A mark of wealth and status was fair skin. Only one who had servants to do the hard work in the sun had fair skin, so that was what was considered beautiful. Beautiful socialites in ancient Israel did not sun themselves on the beach.

This girl had neither status nor wealth. And she did not meet the standards of loveliness in her culture. She was used to being “gazed upon” with contempt by the social elite in Jerusalem.

But she was loved by her beloved. And her beloved thought her beautiful. And her beloved TOLD her she was beautiful. So she WAS beautiful.

And this thought brings to mind another thought. Our God also loves us and thinks us beautiful. When we are unlovely, broken, discouraged, and bitten by the sun of tribulation, our beloved calls us his bride, and he longs for the consummation as much as we do! (Eph. 1:23)

Isn’t that an astounding thought? Our God, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, considers himself incomplete until His bride is by His side. He calls to us. He sanctifies us. He loves us. He considers us beautiful!

Therefore we are beautiful and loved. We are chosen by name and loved by the one we love. He calls us beautiful, and adorns us as a bride for her husband!

17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zep 3:17 ESV)

Amen! Come quickly, Lord Jesus. How our flesh and blood and souls cry out for the Living God!

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Unintended (?) Consequence

I’ll be brief. I just wanted to get this thought down. They tend to be elusive.

The false doctrine of Eternal Subordination of the Son has already been thoroughly debunked as anti-nicene, anti-biblical and anti-historical, so I won’t repeat those arguments.

But every twisting of the doctrine of God results in tragic, very real consequences. One of those consequences, as argued by our friends at Cry for Justice, is spousal abuse. But there is another, perhaps unintended, consequence.

Those who have been greatly abused as children have oftentimes left the faith, saying that they cannot believe in a God that practices cosmic child abuse. The argument against Christianity is that God tortured and killed his Son instead of you and me for something that WE deserved. How can that possibly be a good and loving God? If a murderer kills my wife, would it be right for me to execute my son in the place of that murderer?

The argument from these hurting people is that this doctrine is what leads to child abuse in the home. If God does it and it is perfect and good, then doesn’t the father in the home have the right to use his sons as he sees fit?

The answer to this charge from the beginning has been Nicene Trinitarianism. There is only one God, and only one will in the divine nature. According to the mystery of the divine will, God sent his only begotten son into the world to take the sins of the world. And yet, because of the unity and simplicity of God, it is also correct to say that God took the sins of the world upon himself (Acts 20:28). It is correct to say that the Father sent the Son. It is also correct to say that the Son sent Himself, for there is only one God (John 1:10-12).

So the question for Bruce Ware is this: How do you defend your faith against the charge of divine child abuse when you hold to an eternal dynamic of authority and submission in the divine nature?

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The Samaritan Woman

17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:
18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
19 The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
20 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.
(Joh 4:17-20 KJV)

 

Jesus and this Samaritan woman were having a conversation about water. Jesus invited the woman to ask for living water – that is, water that gives life, that quenches thirst permanently – and the woman asks for it.

Then Jesus tells her to call her husband. The standard interpretation is that Jesus is confronting her fornication, and the woman gets uncomfortable with that and changes the subject. That was how I always viewed it, until I started asking questions of the text.

If this is what Jesus was doing, why did he allow her to change the subject? Shouldn’t he have pressed on until she repented?

Then I understood something. Jesus knows the heart, but we have to ask questions. Jesus knows perfectly what is going on, but we need to explore.

The assumption that Jesus is confronting her sinful fornication is the assumption made by men from the perspective of men. If this was a man that Jesus was talking to, then the assumption is that the man has kicked out his wife five times looking for a younger or prettier model. We get that. But in that day, a wife didn’t have many options. Where would she go? How would she feed herself? What will she do?

Further, a wife didn’t divorce her husband; a husband divorced his wife. And this happened to her five times. She continued to marry the same kind of man, a man who didn’t know how to love, and continued to reap the same results – just as she kept coming to the well to drink the water. Eventually, she thirsted again.

Her quest for acceptance, security, intimacy and love led her to seek out the same kind of man over and over again. Eventually she gave up, decided that she wasn’t worthy of the dignity of marriage and simply let the sixth man use her as he saw fit. That was all she was worth. Her deepest longing would never be filled. But Jesus would change all of that.

Jesus, seeing the heart, knew that her problem was a problem of worship. She sought her healing and worth in the arms of men – one marriage after another; and she was discarded, one after another, by the same type of man. She thought that the next time her thirst would be filled. But that dream was as futile as thinking that water from the well would quench her thirst forever and she would never have to draw again.  The reason we have to keep drawing water from the well is that the water of the earth can’t ever fill what we thirst for. The problem with the woman wasn’t lust and fornication. It was a problem of worship. The god she worshiped had her in hard bondage, a never ending cycle of abuse, degradation, and despair, until finally she required nothing, demanded nothing, and allowed herself to be used and discarded as a useless thing.

But Jesus saw a prodigal daughter, a woman in God’s image, and restored her in the area she needed the most: the area of worship. Jesus didn’t allow her to change the subject. We just need to see what the subject WAS. The subject they were talking about was thirst, and Jesus pinpointed her true thirst with one simple question: “Go call your husband, and come here.”

When true worship is restored, the bondage and cycle of degradation and abuse cease. He came to proclaim deliverance to the prisoners, not to harp on women like a Pharisee. He came to bind up the brokenhearted, and he saw in the women one who was brokenhearted. He didn’t stop at the outside of the cup; he went to the heart.

Did Jesus confront her sin? Yes, of course he did. But her sin wasn’t that she was a fornicating tramp who didn’t know how to keep a husband. That’s reading into the text what isn’t there. Her sin was deeper than that. It was a problem of worship.

Jesus didn’t let her off the hook on that one. He pointed his finger right at it, then when she confessed that he was right (“I perceive that you are a prophet”), he continued to do what he told her he would do, and gave her living water. But instead of falsely accusing her of something that she didn’t do, he went right to the heart of the issue, because it wasn’t his intention to further degrade her and humiliate her, it was his intention to restore fellowship with God, and this fellowship must be in spirit and in truth.

If we wish to evangelize as Jesus did, we have to learn to know people. Jesus saw the heart, but we have to ask questions and learn how to listen. Then we need to point them to the only one that can give living water. Too often I fear we settle for telling everyone what is wrong with them – but we usually get that part wrong. The heart of the matter is worship. We need to get to the heart, and that can only come with time and patience.

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The Modesty Debate Follow-up

I recently blogged about the Modesty Debate. For the most part, it garnered a great deal of support, and I thank you all for that.

But I have also received some rather interesting negative comments, and I would like to make some observations.

First, I never claimed that women should dress like harlots. In fact, I never commented on HOW women should dress at all (other than the statement “Dress like a daughter of the king.”) My ONLY point was that blaming the attire of a woman for the thoughts of men’s hearts is unbiblical, unhelpful and wrong. Perhaps I wasn’t clear.

It seems a bit strange that there were so many who took issue with that. Some said that since we still live in a fallen world, guidelines for dress are necessary, just like law in general. I find it interesting how little men understand their daughters and their wives. The assumption, again, is that if we men don’t lay down the law, our women will just rush right out to Backroom Boutique and buy stilettos and fishnets.

But this doesn’t seem to be the case. I don’t think that we will have a rush on miniskirts and tankinis any time soon, at least not from the readers of my blog. Those women that feel the inkling to do such might be better encouraged to examine their motives than to have someone lay down the law to them. The gospel goes to the heart. Should we not be interested in the hearts of women?

Second, please look at this masterful analysis of the modern trend towards “baring it all.” By connecting this sin with shame, the author hits the nail on the head. We as church leaders cannot assist women to overcome their shame by heaping on the shame! We must go the heart of the issue and direct them to Christ as human beings with dignity and worth. Too often, we simply get out the tape measure and start measuring skirts and think that the Holy Spirit is somehow impotent when it comes to the hearts of women. It’s the shame of the heart that must be dealt with, not the exposed ankle or knee! When shame is dealt with according to the gospel of Christ, the physical manifestations of shame will take care of themselves. Jesus told the Pharisees to clean the inside of the cup and the outside will be clean.

But we don’t stick around long enough to speak of these things because we are scared to death that the devil will get into us through an exposed cleavage!

Third, I was in no way saying that we must NEVER speak of how a woman dresses. Certainly we must speak to our daughters about appropriate and inappropriate attire. My beef was telling them that the way that they dress would lead men astray. THIS is what is unbiblical and wrong. Nowhere is the adultery of men’s hearts excused in scripture because of the seduction of the woman. The adultery is our own, gentlemen. And the only way to overcome it is by acknowledging that, taking full blame, and laying it at the foot of the cross.

1 Timothy 2:9 comes up a lot in these discussions and is relevant for how a woman dresses. But this text doesn’t mean what people think it means. It really isn’t speaking of exposed body parts at all. It is talking about dressing with respectful, well-ordered and beautiful clothing, appropriate to the occasion. Even if it does apply to covering body parts, notice that Paul does not say that the reason for this is to keep the men from lusting in their hearts.

The next passage used is 1 Peter 3:1-6. Just like 1 Timothy, the point is NOT that women should cover themselves up. This takes care of itself if the spirit is healthy. The point is that the adornment of the woman is NOT ultimately how much time she spends fixing her hair and jewelry, but in her good works. It is speaking of a godly woman’s true adornment, as opposed to outward show.

Notice also that Peter assumes that wives are big girls and don’t need their husbands to tell them how to dress. He assumes something that we men have a hard time with: that our wives are co-heirs of eternal life, are led themselves by the Holy Spirit, and can get themselves dressed all by their lonesomes without us laying down the law. If your wife starts putting on the stilettos and fishnets and heading to the bars at night, I might suggest that you could have a problem that a long denim skirt may not be able to fix.

So neither text really speaks to the issue that I was raising. In a short blog, you can’t address everything. I was ONLY speaking of the argument that women should cover themselves up to keep men from lusting.

To this, I stick by my original assessment:

Piffle.

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Because she mattered

Luke 8:43-48

43And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any,44came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched.45And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?46And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.47And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately.48And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.

Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, had begged Jesus to come to his house to heal his only daughter, who was dying. Jesus agreed and they began to make their way through the crowd. The crowd pressed him from all sides. It was slow going. A jostle here, an elbow there. Besides the regular crowd hassle, Jesus was also quite famous at the time. Everyone wanted to touch him, to be near, to see him.

He makes his way. Suddenly, he stops. Everyone else stops. Jesus is looking around at the crowd.

“Who touched me?”

A silence descends. Maybe they didn’t hear the question right. It was a strange question. They were in the middle of the crowd, shoved and jostled from every side, and Jesus says, “Who touched me?”

When Jesus persists in looking around and asking, Peter finally wonders. “Jesus, we’re in the middle of a crowd. Everyone has touched you.”

Jesus continues. “No. You don’t understand. Someone touched me. I felt power go out from me. Who touched me?”

We know that Jesus is true God and knows all things. We know that the grace to heal is not accidental. Jesus healed this woman and did it on purpose, knowing what He did. So why did he say, “Who touched me?”

Jesus also told us to pray, and said “You Father knows what you need before you ask.”

So why pray? Hold that question a moment. Let’s go back to the crowd.

We have the advantage of the readers. We know who touched him.

A woman with an issue of blood for 12 years touched him.        Under Moses’ law, a woman in the time of her cycle was ceremonially unclean. She could not enter into the congregation of the Lord until her time was over and she was cleansed. Further, anyone who touched a woman in the time of her cycle was also ceremonially unclean and could not enter into the congregation of the Lord. She had been ceremonially unclean for 12 years.

12 years.

12 years of being able to touch no one. 12 years of spending every penny she had on doctors and being told that there was nothing to be done. 12 years of being excluded from her family, her friends, the worship of the Lord.

12 years of loneliness, isolation. She was an outcast, unclean. She was used to the look. You know the one. “Stay away from me. You’re unclean. You’re not worth my time. You’re not even worth God’s time.”

The rabbis had a prayer. “I thank God that I am male, Jewish and free.” No one else was worth the time.

Especially not this woman – an endless flow of blood. Outcast. Unclean. Stay away.

If you have ever experienced being an outsider, you know how this woman felt. She was excluded from every circle, every gathering, every fellowship. If you have always been in the circle, you have no idea.

You don’t know what it is like to never be welcomed, never be accepted. To always be the odd one out, the “outsider”. It’s our worst fear come true. That we are no good. Not fit for company, either with God or man. Weird. An outsider. “She’s just not ‘our kind of people’”

She had had this for 12 years. Not our kind of people. An outsider. Unclean. Outcast.

12 years.

By now she had given up. She was now used to being alone and outcast – at least, used to pretending and surviving. But she hears about Jesus. She truly believes that he has the power to heal her.

But she has been an outcast for 12 years, and those habits do not easily turn themselves off. She would not again risk the contempt and scorn of the included, the clean. She would not speak. She would not draw any attention to herself. She would just sneak through the crowd and touch his garment.

And she reaches out, touches his garment and the whole world stops.

The first thing that she notices is that she is completely cleansed. She feels the power. She feels the healing. Everything has changed. She is like a schoolgirl again!

The next thing that she notices almost immediately is that everything is silent. Everyone is looking around. And Jesus is asking, “Who touched me?”

It like the worst nightmare for one who has been a pariah for 12 years. She is used to the shadows and now the spotlight is on and pointing right at her.

She shakes her head and tries to slink away. But the Master persists.

Now he is looking right at her (see Matthew 9:22). Who touched me?

Why? Why didn’t He just let it go? He had already healed her and given her life back! Why is he persisting on saying “Who touched me?”

The answer is here: this woman had been an outcast – filthy and unclean for 12 years. Nothing will make you feel more filthy than actually being filthy. There wasn’t anything that she could do about it. But Jesus came to collect his sheep. He came to call out a people for his name. He came to deliver His people from their sins – so that they might KNOW the Lord.

Think of this: God doesn’t just save us from our sins. He doesn’t just heal our iniquities. He actually delights to call us his bride, his people, his children, his sons and daughters!

But this woman has been unclean for 12 years. What she has to say isn’t wanted. Isn’t needed. She isn’t’ worth the bother. People quit listening to her years ago. People quit caring years ago. All she had left was sneaking through the crowd and touching the hem of the garment. If she could just be healed, she would go away, no one would be bothered, and everyone could go about their lives.

But Jesus came to call His people home. He wouldn’t let this one get away. She needed to know that HE had the time to listen. That he cared, that he would stop just for her. That she mattered to HIM. That her life was redeemed from the grave and it was important to him.

To Jesus, she wasn’t a nobody, she wasn’t an outcast – for He had taken that away.

This is the beauty of the doctrine of election. God chose ME. He doesn’t love everyone in general, for that would mean that He loves no one. He loves ME. He chose ME to be His bride.

This is what the woman needed to know. Not only did Jesus heal her, but Jesus loves her, hears her – has betrothed Himself to her forever.

She needed to know that His blood would take ALL of her sickness and weakness and uncleanness and nail it to the cross forever so that she could live, so that she could know the Lord.

And how can you KNOW the Lord if you don’t talk to him?

So He looks this unclean, outcast woman in the eye and says “Who touched me?” And she falls on her knees and tells him everything.

That she has had this horrible uncleanness for 12 years.

That it hurts; that she is weary and desperate and helpless.

She tells him her pain and her hurt and her losses.

She tells him what it is like to be outcast and alone.

How it feels to spend every penny on doctors and they can’t help.

We were created to be in fellowship with God. We were created with ears because God hears. We were created with tongues and breath and mouths because God speaks. And we were created with the gift of speech so that we could talk with God Himself – a God who speaks. And a God who loves to listen! He delights to hear our prayers!

Jesus didn’t suffer the pains and torments of hell so that we could just touch his robe and slink away. He won’t let it happen. He will say, “Who touched me” until he is looking right at us. He redeemed us from our sin and misery; He calls us His own; He has betrothed us to Himself forever – and He desires that we talk to Him.

Think of it! The Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe offered Himself for ME because He loved me and wants me back in fellowship! He wants me to talk to Him. He wants us to always and forever acknowledge that we have absolutely nothing apart from Him; every good thing comes from His hand alone.

And further, He desires that we know that He is willing to save, being our heavenly Father, and able to save, being almighty God.

And He keeps saying, “Who touched me…” looking right at us until with fear and trembling we fall down on our knees before Him and finally tell Him everything.

Everything. Our pain, our longings, our frustration, how many years it has been, what it is like to be despised, outcast, unclean…

What it feels like to spend our last penny on doctors who can’t help. What it is like to struggle against sin and misery and how we long to overcome it. How much we long to be in His presence, clean and whole and healed. We tell him of those who persecute, of those we long to be reconciled to. We tell Him of our hurts and the hurts that we have caused others. And as we are telling Him we learn a little more about what it means to KNOW the Lord

Notice also she tells him how she was healed immediately. We pray because it is the chief part of thankfulness. Jesus did it. Not her. There wasn’t anything she could do. She didn’t deserve His kindness and mercy, but He was able and willing and actually healed her.

He redeems our life from destruction and crowns us with lovingkindness and tender mercies, so that we might know Him. So that we might talk to him.

As Calvin says, we enter into holy conversation with God Himself. And in this conversation we also hear the voice of God in the holy Scriptures: “Go in peace; your faith has made you whole.”

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