Category Archives: Gospel

Thoughts concerning Slaves and Children

4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal 4:4-7 KJV)

A servant, whether a slave or an employee, works for two reasons. Either to earn a wage or to avoid punishment.

But God doesn’t want good employees, or good slaves. He wants sons and daughters. This is why the greatest commandment is:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (Mat 22:37 KJV)

This is why righteousness can never come by the law. The law makes fearful slaves, but God desires our hearts.

It is true that a heart that loves God is a heart that keeps the commandments of God, but it is deadly to our comfort to think that we are working to earn a reward – whether it is final righteousness or final justification or any other “wage”. It is also deadly to our comfort to think that we are working to avoid punishment, for Jesus has already taken the cup of God’s wrath and drank the last drop. There is no more condemnation.

Work that flows from hope of reward or fear of punishment is the work of a servant. And God responds to servants this way:

9 “He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?
10 “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'” (Luk 17:9-10 NAS)

Salvation is not learning to become a good slave, for God would have sons and daughters. Sons and daughters certainly obey and honor their father, but the motive is from a heart of love and gratitude, which is pleasing to the Lord.

Jesus did not come to make us slaves. He came to make us heirs.

And love is only learned from the gospel, received by faith. Love can never be learned from the law.

The apostle James warns of dead faith, which is faith without works. His point is NOT to add works to dead faith, but to repent of dead faith and gain a living faith in the living savior. Living faith always brings forth good works, as a loving son always obeys the father. But we are saved because we are united to Christ by faith, not because we worked hard enough to earn a reward.

The difference between a son and a slave is everything.

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“I will give you rest…”

2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. (Gen 2:2-3 KJV)

The seventh day, God rested. Of course, we finite creatures cannot possibly understand what this means for an infinite God, but it was written for our benefit. God rests, and created man to enter into that rest.’

But man fell, and was driven from the Garden. I am one of the few that take the history of Genesis literally. I can’t explain men and women, their desires, their loves, their hates, their unfulfilled longings any other way. Man was created to enter into God’s holy habitation. But man became unholy, defiled and corrupt, with a memory of what was lost.

But God did not cast them into hell. Instead, he provided a way of salvation. He provided a way of restoration. We call this the covenant of grace, and it was first announced after man’s fall in the Garden of Eden.

The bondage that mankind put themselves in was illustrated perfectly in Israel’s hard bondage in Egypt. They were slaves to Pharaoh and there was nothing that they could do about it. Pharaoh was too strong, and Israel was too weak. So also with all mankind. Sin is too strong and we are too weak.

We commit our way to God and tell ourselves that today we are going to live righteously. And if you understand God’s holy law, you realize that your commitment lasted until your feet hit the floor. We sin because we are born corrupt and twisted, serving ourselves and our own lusts continually. We hate our sins and yet continually return to them. We loathe ourselves at night and make more resolutions. And break them again first thing in the morning. Over and over again. Sin is a harsh and undefeatable task-master.

Unless God intervenes.

God intervened with Israel in Egypt. He gave them the Passover lamb. They put the blood of the lamb on the door of their houses, and that night the firstborn of Egypt died and Israel was free.

Think of it – they had their first day off in their whole lives. They were free from their taskmasters. And that day, their first day of freedom, marked the first Sabbath. From them on, every seventh day Israel rested.

God told them why in Exodus 31:

13 Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. (Exo 31:13 KJV)

Israel was given the Sabbath as a sign – that Jehovah is the only one that sanctifies his people. God himself makes us holy and fit for the holy habitation of God. Only then can we enter into God’s rest. Just as God delivered them from Pharaoh, so also God promised that he would deliver them from the bondage of sin. But just as Israel could not deliver themselves from Pharaoh, so also mankind could never deliver themselves from the bondage of sin. But that which is impossible for God is possible for man.

This was also signified in the land of Canaan. Joshua led them around Jericho once for six days and on the seventh, he led them around 7 times. On the seventh time of the seventh day, the walls fell flat and Israel entered their rest.

But those who didn’t believe the promise – the God would give them rest – their bodies fell in the wilderness:

10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:
11 Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.

(Psa 95:10-96:1 KJV)

By the time Jesus came into the world, the Jews had changed the meaning of the Sabbath. Instead of the Sabbath pointing to Jehovah sanctifying his people and giving them rest, the Sabbath day became a harsh burden of a thousand different things that could or could not be done. They had 39 categories of work, each with 6 sub-categories – all of which were forbidden. And the different Rabbinical traditions had their own interpretations and their own rules. All were inflexible. All were merciless.

To the Pharisee, the Sabbath meant that if you worked really hard, did the right things, and separated from those horrible sinners then you could perhaps convince God to begrudgingly allow you entrance into Abraham’s bosom.

As long as you didn’t miss anything.

The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees over the Sabbath wasn’t over which works were allowed and which were not allowed. The point was over the meaning of the Sabbath to begin with. The one promised who would give them rest, who would sanctify his people, who would bring his people into his eternal rest,  was standing right in front of them!

How could they have known he was the one promised? Isaiah wrote:

4 Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
6 Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: (Isa 35:4-6 KJV)

Israel would know that God had come to their aid when they saw the eyes of the blind opened, the tongue of the dumb loosened, and the lame man walking. And this was exactly what Jesus did. And he did it on the Sabbath day. What was more fitting? The lamb of God sanctifying his people and preparing them for heaven on the very day that was a sign of that reality?

The reason Israel was forbidden to work on that day was so they would always remember the sign. God sanctifies his people. God delivers his people. God saves his people.

We don’t save ourselves; God saves us. What a tremendous promise! To rest on the Sabbath meant that you had to trust God for your daily bread. And if you lifted your eyes upward, you would see that you also were to trust God to fulfill his promise to sanctify his people. God would give us His righteousness if only we accept it with a believing heart.

30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;
31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.
32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone,
(Rom 9:30-32 NAS)

The Pharisees of every age, on the other hand, followed the natural religion. If we are good enough, God will bless us. And they worked hard at it. They slaved for God’s approval. And they despised Jesus for being gracious to those who didn’t work near hard enough for that favor.

“We have worked, and slaved, and done hard labor our whole lives for God’s favor, and you are telling us that this beggar, this sinner, this publican, this “loose woman”, this Gentile, can just waltz right in and God will accept them??”

This is a big study, but a worthwhile one. A modern Pharisee won’t see the point, and will probably get irritated. But here is why I am telling you about the Jewish Sabbath and the conflict between Jesus and the Jews: We still have the same conflict today.

We have experts of every stripe telling us how to sanctify ourselves to make ourselves worthy of God’s favor. We have annual conferences on how to be manly husbands, feminine wives. We spend millions of dollars on books on how to pray, how to gain God’s favor, how to act, how to marry, how to live. We have our celebrity preachers who will tell you, for a cost, about their schemes, and their soundbites and their plans and their programs. Here’s how you must raise your kids. Here is how you must homeschool. Here is what to wear, what to eat, what to watch on TV, what not to watch on TV. Here’s is how to be a good wife. Here is how to be a good husband. Here is how short your skirt must be; here is what kind of blouse you must wear and what material it must be made of.

All for money or power. We have made Christianity so complicated and so full of so many rules and regulations. And every church has their own rules and regulations.

God only gave us Ten Commandments, but we have multiplied statutes to ourselves and ignored the law completely. We kill, maim, slander, rape, assault, and give approval to those who do the same. But we make sure the skirt is the right length, the wrong beverages are avoided, the appropriate demeanor is put on the face.

The message is clear. Grace is free and unmerited, as long as you do all of the right things, act the right way, go to the right conferences, and do what you are supposed to do. And I will tell you what those things are, as long as you fill out this registration form and send your check or money order to the registrar on time. Can we not see the contradiction? Is the righteousness of God freely given, or bought with money and works?

What has happened to the gospel of Jesus Christ? I don’t even recognize it anymore.

Aren’t you tired of it? Aren’t you tired of self-appointed prophets gaining wealth over the backs of the poor and downtrodden? Aren’t you tired of watching your every step, making sure that you are manly enough, feminine enough, righteous enough, a good enough parent, a good enough citizen? Are you weary of the constant vigilance? Don’t you need a Sabbath rest?

Then here is the message of the Sabbath again:

4 Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you.” (Isa 35:4 NAS)

To you who have been made afraid, you who have been abused and cast away like garbage, know this: God is gathering a people for himself. He is sanctifying those people and preparing them to enter into His rest. And he will come with vengeance. Egypt, Jericho, Babylon and earthly Jerusalem all fall to the ground.

It is the meek, the oppressed, the poor, that inherit the earth. And nothing unclean will enter in.

And you cannot barge your way through the gates. The only way is through the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

So don’t be afraid. There aren’t a thousand different rules by a thousand different men. There is only one way to salvation, only one way to sanctification.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (Act 16:31 KJV)

And

20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.
21 “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
(Gal 2:20-21 NAS)

And here:

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mat 11:28-30 KJV)

If you have not found rest for you souls, you have not yet found Christ. Come to him, I urge you, and rest.

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Taking a small break

I was reading through Luke and read where Jesus withdrew himself for a while to pray.

This really convicted me. I don’t spend near enough time withdrawing and praying. So I am going to do just that. I will be away from my computer and my smartphone and my email for a while.

But I wanted to leave you something to think about. What do you think is the greatest problem with our country, our world, our society?

What is the greatest problem with mankind?

I fear that the modern celebrity church sometimes gives the wrong view as to what is wrong with our country.

But the fact is this: The greatest problem in this country is not that there is no prayer in schools. It isn’t the divorce rate. It certainly isn’t foreigners, no matter if they are here legally or not.

It isn’t the homosexual lobby, or the change in cultural values. It isn’t transgender bathrooms and corrupt politicians.

The greatest problem today isn’t lack of Biblical manhood or womanhood, whatever that means. It isn’t colleges teaching Marxism.

The greatest problem, if you are on the other side of the political spectrum, isn’t Donald Trump, or racism or even sexism. It isn’t income inequality or poverty.

The greatest problem facing mankind is this: we worship and serve the creature, rather than the creator. We are idolaters. THAT is the problem. Everything else flows from there.

We rage against the “others;” we steal; we fornicate; we gossip; get drunk; murder each other with words, guns, knives and thoughts. We lie and cheat, and rob widows and orphans. We seek to find our identity in our sexuality (whether heterosexual or homosexual) rather than the image of God.

We were created to worship and serve our Creator. We were created to love him with our whole hearts. And instead, we hate him and hate our neighbor. Sure, we will have some sort of love towards those who can benefit us, or who agree with our own self-deification. But the heart of the issue is that we love ourselves. We (to borrow from Dr. Horton) are the stars of our own movie. And if the movie is a comedy, a tragedy, a mystery or a farce, it is ours and we will destroy anyone who takes the spotlight from us.

In the desert

I saw a creature, naked, bestial,

Who, squatting upon the ground,

Held his heart in his hands,

And ate of it.

I said, “Is it good, friend?”

“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it

“Because it is bitter,

“And because it is my heart.”

(“In the desert” by Stephen Crane)

We put our trust in money, comfort, politics, country, law-keeping. We hold on to misery as a lifeline, refusing to let it go.  We will fight tooth and nail to keep the Ten Commendment plaques on our courtroom walls and we will fight with equal fervor against anyone who tries to make them relevant in our homes. We are all for the Law of God as long as we can use it as a weapon against those who are different than us.  But we will invent many schemes, fire many ministers, rail against many friends, rather than apply them to ourselves.

At bottom, the problem is idolatry. We worship and serve ourselves rather than the Creator who made us.

Since this is the problem, there is only one cure. Jesus Christ.

(Eze 37:23-28 KJV)  23 Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwellingplaces, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God.
  24 And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them.
  25 And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever.
  26 Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore.
  27 My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
  28 And the heathen shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.

We need a new heart. Our own flesh has an incurable wound and we are dying under God’s wrath little by little. We are unclean, all of us. But Jesus took it all upon himself, and gives us freely HIS righteousness and holiness, as long as we accept it with a believing heart.

He doesn’t give us white Anglo-Saxon values. He doesn’t give us 1950’s culture. He doesn’t give us validation. He tells us to take up our cross and follow him.

The only thing that we inherited from our parents was idolatry, sin, death and misery. We must be born again with new values, new hearts, new affections, or we will perish forever. And only Jesus can give us a new heart.

And he gives us that only one way: Through the proclamation of His gospel in faithful churches throughout the world. He works faith by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it with the use of the sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The Gospel isn’t  politics, coalitions, denouncing of sin, or culture wars. It isn’t found in either patriarchy or feminism, either in complementarianism or egalitarianism or any other “ism” for that matter. There is only one Savior, and it isn’t a system. Salvation only comes one way. Through the blood of Jesus Christ.

A system of doctrine is taught in scripture and confessed by the church, but we must not ever confuse the system with the savior. The system points to the savior. You can be quite orthodox and still be far from God. There is only one savior – Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of David, King of Kings, and Lord of all.

5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (1Ti 2:5-6 KJV)

As a church, we pat ourselves on the back for a “unified” statement of sexuality, but at the same time we tolerate those who make Jesus a submissive wife in the Trinity. We missed the boat somehow…

We thought that salvation would come from us telling people very clearly as a coalition what was wrong with them. But righteousness never comes by the law.

Ever.

No buts.

Righteousness will never come by the law.

The law can make people obedient slaves. But God doesn’t want slaves. He wants sons and daughters. God’s biggest concern for us is not that we keep ourselves from sinning through fear and guilt. Not at all. What he wants is that we love him with our whole hearts. When we have that, we have everything, and even the law is fulfilled.

There won’t be tables of stone in heaven, for we will all be made perfect. You don’t need a law against murder when men and women love each other as themselves, for it would never enter their minds.

Our goal is not to become good little slaves. Our goal is to be like Jesus, a perfect Son, an obedient Son. And this only comes through the preaching of the gospel.

My wife suffered the past two years with a horrible pain condition. In the US, the doctors repeatedly told her about pain management and gave her a lot of options. None of them worked, but some let her sleep fitfully for a while.

Then we heard that Italian doctors had the cure. We went, and she was cured. There was no longer any discussion about whether tens units or ultrasound would be best. No longer any fees for doctors. No longer any debate over gabepentin or cymbala. She was cured.

Why do we as Christians seek to ease the symptoms when Christ has promised the cure? The outward symptoms are adultery, fornication, heresy, witchcraft, reviling, drunkenness, anger, wrath and malice.

And we are getting angrier and angrier every day, because we forgot the cure. Die to self, and come to Jesus. With his touch, he heals your uncleanness; with his spirit, he cleanses you and gives you a new heart. With his baptism – not with water, but with his blood and spirit – he washes away all of your filth and all of your misery. Come to him and live.

I was born and raised in the church by godly parents. I never went through a phase where I didn’t go to church. I married a godly woman and tried to raise my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

And without the blood of Christ, I would be doomed to die under God’s curse. Apart from my savior, I am filthy, unclean and defiled.

Because it doesn’t matter how you self-identify, how you view marriage, whether you tried hard or didn’t try at all.

It doesn’t matter if you spend years at therapy trying to become a better person, or whether you sit on your couch naked and eat Cheetos night and day while your parents pay your bills.

It makes no difference if you are a respected member of society, recognized as a pillar by the most orthodox church in town, or if you spend every evening in the gay bar. It makes no difference if you give your money to the poor or spend it all on booze and meth.

You still desperately need the blood of Christ or you will perish forever in your sins.

But if you come to him, confessing your sins and guilt, casting away every excuse and every justification, if you cease the continuous “well, at least I’m not THAT guy” as if God’s holiness were measured on a curve, if you believe the gospel and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved.

You WILL be. It is a promise from the one who cannot lie.

And if you are in Christ by faith, you WILL be conformed to the image of God’s Son.

This doesn’t mean that you will look like me, or Ward Cleaver, or Pastor Danny at the Big Church on the corner whose name I just made up. It doesn’t mean that you will be like Spurgeon or Calvin or Wesley or Luther or Mother Teresa.

It means that you will be like Jesus Christ, who loved God with his whole heart, even in suffering. He loved his neighbor as himself. He touched those who came to him. TOUCHED them! And the leper was cleansed, the unclean woman was cleansed, the sinner was cleansed, even the Pharisee was cleansed – once he realized that he desperately needed to be (See Romans 7).

So while I am gone, I have a suggestion that I will follow myself. If you haven’t read Romans in a while (just skimming doesn’t count), then take every other book you have and put them on the shelf for a while and read Romans. Think about it. Pray for guidance. Then read it again.

Learn who Jesus is. Learn what the gospel is. THIS is the gospel if Jesus Christ, and it is what the church is here to proclaim. If you are in an organization that doesn’t proclaim this, then flee. They aren’t a church.

I would submit to you that the lawless are very aware of our position on their lawlessness. Let’s quit making that the center of our message. Instead, let’s teach, preach, show and live Christ. Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever. True eternal God, the Great I AM of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who became flesh for us and for our salvation.

Come to him, and be saved, all the earth.

See you all in a while!

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Thoughts on Psalm 68:11

The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it. (Psa 68:11 KJV)

The context of this Psalm is holy warfare. God goes with the armies of Israel and achieves the victory. When the enemy kings flee, the good news is announced at home. God is indeed a mighty conqueror and defender of His people!

Unfortunately, the traditional translations of this text miss something very important. The first three words are indisputably translated “The Lord gave the word.”

The next three words are rich with meaning. The first word is based on the Hebrew root that means “to announce good news.” The Greek equivalent of that word is “euangelion”. We get our word “evangelism” from that. It means also, “to announce good news.”

The form of the word is a participle – which in Hebrew is a verbal adjective, here used as a noun. There is no noun that it modifies. So it would be translated “Those who announce the good news” – in the context, it is the good news of God’s victory over the armies of the enemy.

The next two words are the word for “army” or “host”, and the word for “many” or “multitude”. Added with the first word, the sentence would translate thus: “Those who announce the good news (are) a great army”. So far, so good.

But here’s the tricky bit.  The participle (“those who announce the good news”) is feminine plural. This is not a grammatical feminine gender, but an actual feminine suffix taking the place of a feminine pronoun. English distinguishes between feminine and masculine pronouns in the 3rd person singular (“he” or “she”), but there is no distinction in the plural. “They” can be either. But Hebrew DOES distinguish, and the participle is clearly feminine plural. The only possible translation is “Those (the women) who announce good news”.

These translations get it right:

The Lord gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host: (Psa 68:11 ESV)

The Lord gives the command; The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host: (Psa 68:11 NAS)

The King James follows the Greek translation, which inexplicably translates the feminine participle with a Greek masculine participle. It shows how necessary it is for Bible interpreters to learn the original languages. Translations, even old, established ones, err.

So what does this mean? I have simply given you a grammar lesson so far, but it shows at least that the inspired word of God does not expect women to keep their mouths shut. Miriam sang of God’s victory over Pharaoh. Deborah sang a song of victory over Sisera.

The good news of Jesus, David’s greater son, is to be proclaimed to all, by everyone who confesses his name. He has conquered Satan and death and sin and misery by his death and resurrection. The joyful tidings are to be sung and proclaimed and announced throughout the world, and the women ALSO are to make the proclamation!

I once knew a man that refused to sing any hymns by Fanny Crosby because he viewed it as a woman teaching in the church. God clearly doesn’t have the same view.

I do not believe that this has any bearing on the New Testament offices of the church – pastors, elders, or deacons – and I know that there are those who disagree with me. But I DO think this has a great deal to do with the dignity, worth, and value of the women in the congregations. There is no hint here of the women proclaiming the good news ONLY to other women. They are simply said to “announce the good news.” I think this has to do with the universal office of every believer. The Lord gives the word. The women, a mighty army, proclaim it.

Tell your neighbors, sing the songs, proclaim the good news to all. When churches leave the task of evangelism to the ordained offices, the church withers and dies. Go into all the world and proclaim the news! Satan is conquered. Death’s sting is vanquished. The armies of the enemies have fled! This is good news indeed!

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How Shame Drives Us From Christ

This story came up in my newsfeed today. I am taking a sick day today, but there is so much wrong here, and it is so prevalent, that I wanted to make a few comments.

For some reason, Evangelical America has decided that shame is an effective way to battle sin. My whole life, I have heard that “Israel forgot how to blush” (Jer. 6:15) which led to their destruction. Therefore (so it is taught) when we catch someone in some kind of sin, the best thing we can do for them is publicly shame them so that they won’t sin any more.

This is actually practiced in so many churches, but it seems to always be selectively applied. The only people I have ever heard of being publicly shamed like this – forced to stand before the whole church, or the whole school, and confess their sins – are teenage girls who are found to be pregnant. I find it abhorrent, and contrary to the gospel of  Christ. And yet, it still seems to be the consistent practice of Evangelical America.

The article linked above does an excellent job in its critique and how it actually encourages abortion. But there are a few theological issues as well.

First, to clarify the Jeremiah passage, the prophet was not addressing those with tender consciences who needed comfort and hope, already plagued with guilt. He was speaking to the hardened, oppressive, idolatrous leaders who were casting their children into the fire, crushing the poor and the widows, and abusing and destroying without any twinges of conscience whatsoever. Jeremiah is rebuking their hardness of heart and was not expecting any repentance from them. It was not written to teach us that shame is an appropriate corrective to sin but to warn us of those with “seared consciences”. There are those who can do the most horrific things and feel no pains of guilt whatever. To apply this passage solely to teenagers found pregnant is simply abusive.

There is no biblical warrant for public confession of private sins. And, no, sex before marriage is not a sin against the whole school – or the whole church, for that matter.

Even in the Old Covenant, before the Gospel of Jesus Christ was fully revealed, two kids who got pregnant before marriage was not considered the worst imaginable sin that must be publicly exposed and shamed. The boy was either to provide a dowry and marry the girl. Or if the father thought that marriage was a bad idea, the boy was to provide a dowry and leave town.  Neither one was stoned or publicly shamed.

That being said, it might be good for us to remember our first parents after their first sin. Shame drove them into the bushes, hiding from the face of God. It was the voice of God that lovingly drew them out of the bushes. “Adam, where are you?”

They didn’t die. God told them the truth, but he didn’t shame them. Rather, he provided for them coverings, pointing to the perfect sacrifice of His Son, to be revealed in due time. Now that the gospel has been revealed to us, we know that the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ covers our sin and our shame and brings us out of hiding. That is what being a Christian is. We live openly and honestly, not seeking to cover our shame by shaming others, but by coming again and again to the cross. Why an organization that calls itself Christian would drive sinners into the bushes is beyond my understanding.

The kind of “Christianity” practiced by so many, which publically shames young girls for sin, is not the Christianity of the Bible. Shame is intolerable to the human spirit and must be covered. We have only two options: Cover with fig leaves of our own making, or come to Christ for what he has offered us. When we come to Christ, shame is taken away so that we might stand before God and one another. When we try to cover our own shame, we increase it. We may temporarily feel better, but eventually, the shame returns.

The worst part of what happened to this young woman is that she learned about a false Christ – a Jesus who shames sinners, who turns an angry and harsh face on those who confess and repent, who demands his pound of flesh before he offers peace. She was taught that Jesus first ridicules and gleefully watches us weep before he grudgingly offers forgiveness. She was taught that even after she goes through all of that, Jesus is still ashamed to be seen in public with her. She was taught that Jesus was ashamed to be her God, ashamed of her and her baby!

No wonder the young people are leaving the church in droves! They aren’t leaving the Church of Jesus Christ, they are leaving the Church of the Blind Leaders of the Blind.

Jesus came to call us out of hiding. To offer covering for our shame by taking it upon himself. He came, not to ridicule and mock us, but to bear all of that shame and guilt and take it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Heb 2:11 ESV)

Jesus offers salvation, not shame, to all who come to him in faith. Shame is reserved for those who refuse to come, who refuse to repent. Shame is reserved for the Day of Judgment, but it has no place in the Gospel.

How should the church respond then when a young girl is found to be pregnant?

First, reach out with love and support. Do not pretend that sin is not sin, but respond to it honestly according to scripture. I would hope that the pastor and elders have forged an open relationship with this girl before this happened, so that she will feel safe with them, because there are some important questions. Was this assault? Who is the father? Did she feel compelled? Was there a power imbalance?

If this is simply a boyfriend/girlfriend situation that got out of hand, they will need counseling and help to deal with the shame and guilt that they already feel. Otherwise, if they get married, they will carry that shame and guilt into their marriage bed, which will be damaging to the “one-flesh” relationship. But those are topics that are far bigger than can be addressed here.

But more importantly than all of this, they need to know again the gospel of Jesus Christ. He offers his perfect righteousness without shame, without reproach, without grudging, to all who come to him. No strings, no penance, no public ridicule. This is what the free offer of the gospel IS. It’s about time we got it right.

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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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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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“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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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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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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Filed under doctrine, Gospel, salvation