Wednesday, November 28, 2018

And earth and Heav’n be one - the renewal of all things.

Where is the hope that does not disappoint? If that is what you are looking for then read on. 

This is my Father’s world:
Oh, let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world,
The battle is not done:
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.
Maltbie Babcock - 1901 

Christian’s hope is not based on a study of the end - for he looks forward in hope to the beginning again of creation. The fire of God - for His elect purpose - is not a fire of annihilation, but one of refinement. Its purpose is to present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. Refiner’s fire!

Instead of the end - I much prefer to use the word consummation. We are looking toward the summing up of all things in Him.

Let us look to another of the great anthems of the church.

'Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace for evermore;
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.
Samuel J. Stone 

The prophetic romantic quill of King Solomon scribes. 

“Who is this coming up from the wilderness
            Leaning on her beloved?”
“Put me like a seal over your heart,
            Like a seal on your arm.
            For love is as strong as death,
            Jealousy is as severe as Sheol;
            Its flashes are flashes of fire,
            The very flame of the LORD.”
Song of Solomon 8:5-6

Turning to the Gospel account we read these somewhat perplexing words of our Savior. Yet may we more than read - let us hear in the very depths of our being this anchor of our soul..

"Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." Mark 14:25 

A contemporary author postulates, “Jesus assumes a day is coming when very real things like drinking wine together will take place in the kingdom of God. When all things are made new.“

Another expresses a similar surety.

O I am my Beloved’s 
And my Beloved is mine! 
He brings a poor vile sinner 
Into His house of wine 
I stand upon His merit - 
I know no other stand, 
Anne Cousin 

Our Lord here refers to the time of the regeneration of all things, when the heavenly kingdom shall appear in the fullness of its glory; and when his disciples, who now feed upon him sacramentally and by faith, shall then eat at his table in his kingdom, and drink of the river of his pleasures for ever. Pulpit Commentary .

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, in the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Matthew 19:28  (Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 1 Corinthians 6:3) 

The Greek word used here for “renewal” is palingenesia, which is derived from two root words: paling, meaning “again,” and genesia, meaning “beginning,” which of course hearkens back to Genesis. Genesis again. Eden restored. Could it possibly be?

This word is used in only one other place n the New Testament: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,“ Titus 3:5 The reference is to be born-again. 

Beginning again - or born again!  Yet it is accompanied by travail - or birth pangs. The Lord is not just addressing individuals - but all of creation. “and God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:25b 

The word eschatology is incorrect. The Church of God should not be concerned about the end, but the renewal of all things where finally righteousness and justice reign supreme as the very foundation of the Living Temple of God. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before You.” Psalm 89:14 

For what else could these words of Paul mean?: “that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” Romans 8:21-22

Jesus declares of Himself, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." Revelation 22:13  What He starts He brings to fulfillment. His purpose as the Creator of all things cannot fail of realization. The end is implanted in the beginning. The divine Alpha guarantees the attainment of the divine Omega.1  Philip E. Hughes

In anticipation of the return of Christ the Early Church was not looking for the end - but the beginning again. The conclusion of one age would be the beginning again of a new and eternal one. 

And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." And He said, "Write, for these words are faithful and true." Revelation 21:5 Is He faithful or not? 

These are the words that emanated from Patmos to bring hope and encouragement to a persecuted church. “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” Revelation 1:3 This is not doom and gloom - it is hope and joy. Apocalypse does not mean destruction - it means revelation, vision. "Prophecy" must not be narrowed down to the vulgar meaning of foretelling future events; it is the forth telling of the mind of God. Pulpit Commentary

The Revelation of Jesus Christ,... Rev 1:1 And please do not refer to it as revelations!  It is not plural, but singular. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of this prophecy, as of all others. The Father gives this to the Son whom He loves, and shows Him all things that Himself doeth. Charles Ellicott 

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, Hebrews 6:19 An anchor cannot find a grip on an ethereal prospect - its surety is found only in the rock of ages. 

And with the hymnist we exult in hope.

The church's one Foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is His new creation,
by water and the Word;
from heav'n He came and sought her
to be His holy bride;
with His own blood He bought her,
and for her life He died.

Samuel J. Stone

And from a contemporary psalmist.

For I know that my eyes shall see You, 
In the latter days to come. 
When You stand on the earth, 
With my lips, I will confess 
That the hope of my heart is come, 
That the hope of my heart is come. 

Robin Mark 

Then the seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and loud voices called out in heaven: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever." Revelation 11:15 

1 As the seed is to the harvest, so the omega (destiny) is already present in the alpha (origin), for it is both the promise and the achievement, both the potential and the goal, the end that lies hidden in the beginning; and the unbreakable line that connects the first and the last is “the purpose of him who works (accomplishes) all things according to the counsel of his will,...” (Eph 1:11).

Friday, March 9, 2018

I Will Build!

This authoritative declaration has sounded down through the ages. “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:18b” It has sustained the church through many dark and perilous times

Yet what we have today is a “crisis of ecclesiology” or “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”  For it seems that we have averted our gaze from this great formative truth.

The Church

This is the first use of the word “church” in the New Testament and it is recorded only twice as being spoken by our Savior. Since it is used so sparingly it would do us well to plunge into its import - for once having done so, we will be swept along by a surging current that finds it headwaters in Genesis 3:15: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring (seed) and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." NIV This verse is referred to as the protoevangelium or the first proclamation of the Gospel and that by God Himself. Let us keep that in mind as we consider Christ’s own words, “I will build my church;...”  

Our first parents having wandered from God were pursued and found by Him. And thus it is with Christ and His Church - we have been pursued and found by Him. "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:10 

The Sacred Assembly

In contemporary evangelicalism our sacred assembly which we refer to as church is a curious admixture.  We see it as a place and time where we as believers are encouraged and equipped - yet we also expect unbelievers to be converted there.  What we are left with is a bit of spiritual schizophrenia - incapable of doing either job well. 

Christ’s creative words as found in Matthew compose the birth-stool of His church which would mature into “the bride, the wife of the Lamb." Her resplendency would be with the garments which only He could adorn her - “that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” Ephesians 5:27 As an emphasis - He will prepare and present her to Himself as His royal bride and co-regent. 

The Ekklesia

Of course the word church is an English word. The closest we have to the original manuscript is the Greek word ekklesia. The Ekklesia in Greek culture was the assembly of free citizens, to which belonged judicial and legislative power, and from which aliens and slaves were alike excluded. Thus it is a body of like-minded believers with a legislative responsibility - or one of decree. While Christ spoke Aramaic we do not have the original as spoken by Him. Yet the Aramaic word for church is knista (Swahili - kanisa).  Today, the assembly/Parliament in Israel is known as the Knesset. Once again it is a legislative body made up of citizens - not strangers or aliens.  English translation might be better - assembly or congregation. 

Another analogy for the church is that of “the family of God.”  Thus the church consists of the children of their Heavenly Father. There are no illegitimate heirs of His promises - only sons and daughters. 

The Diaspora

The primary purpose of the ekklesia is not that of an evangelistic service. That function should be the property of the diaspora. That is another Greek word used in the New Testament which means a scattering or a dispersion. There is a gathering together out of society and there is a scattering back into society. The church gathered (ekklesia) is on the defensive while the church scattered (diaspora) is on the offensive.  The church should walk on both legs. If you would like to do a bit of investigation you can find the church gathered in Acts 1:8 - but you will not find her scattered until Acts 8:1. 

Christ said the Gates of Hades would not prevail against the church that He would build harkening back to Genesis 3:15. He, and she, would be wounded on the heal, but such a wound is recoverable. The wound inflicted by Him, and her, upon the head of the seed of the serpent is fatal from which recovery is not possible. “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:22-23 

The Battle

The Gates of Hades while meaning the seat of authority is not an offensive weapon. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  Ephesians 6:12 The battle is not won while crouching down in the trenches - it is won by taking it to the encampment of our enemy. 

The church militant is commissioned by the following marching orders: “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” 2 Corinthians 10:4  One commentator writes, “He speaks as if leading an attack on the strong defences of the powers of evil,...”

The Victory

Paul summarizes in this missional statement: “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 3:10 These rulers and authorities noted here by him represent the Gates of Hades. The wisdom of God is the Imago Dei - revealed as a many-splendored precious stone (jewel) the brilliance of which scatters the minions of darkness.

The church that our Lord is preparing for Himself will be both gathered and scattered. She will occupy until He comes for His vow to her is as follows: 

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind (forbid) on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose (allow) on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."  Matthew 16:19 NASB 

The Doxology

From the modern Hymnist Stuart Townend:

And all Your children cry with loud acclaim; glory be to God

Sing O church Your sweet refrain; glory be to God

Glory, glory, glory, glory forever and ever.

Glory, glory, glory, glory forever and ever.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Breaking down the barrier wall between the sacred and the secular.

Please do not refer to me as being bi-vocational. That is an insult. I am omni-vocational. 

All that I do is to the Glory of God.  (At least that is my intent.) “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 (Colossians 3:17; 1 Peter 4:11)

In another vein there is no such thing as para-church - it is all church! There is the church gathered (ekklesia) and there is the church scattered (diaspora) - Acts 1:8/8:1. Yet it is all one church. This treatise is directed to the diaspora

Martin Luther’s greatest contribution to the transformation of society may well have been what is called the Doctrine of Vocation.


Doctrine is a good thing - it is foundational, or at least should be - to all that we do as Christians. It becomes a problem when we hold as our doctrines the teaching of men - that is promoting customs to the level of sacred teaching.  Paul exhorted his young disciples as he neared the end of his race: “Watch your life and doctrine (instruction, teaching) closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:6 NIV (Titus 1:9; 1 Peter 3:15)  Without sound doctrine we have no moorings - tossed to and fro by every tempest. 


But what is vocation? From the Latin, voco, vocare (“to call”), vocation is literally the “calling” which one enters into. This concept of vocation as a calling is broader than merely work for fiscal reward (paycheck). In this sense we should always see Almighty God as our provider, not our almighty job. His provision is His provision although it is spelled W.O.R.K.  It was the sacred duty and obligation of our original parent: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” Genesis 2:15.  The sense of toil (sweat of the brow) only came in after The Fall - before, work was a sacred call with a sense of fulfillment.


Johann Sebastian Bach applied this doctrine in his use of music to glorify God. Whether writing music for the church or for popular use, Bach signed his work “SDG” signifying Sola Deo Gloria. All is to be done to the glory of God alone.

John Piper writes: “The glory of God is the holiness of God put on display. When the holiness of God fills the earth for people to see, it is called glory.”  God has promised to Himself, “But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.” Numbers 14:21.  This is the manifest commission of the Son prayed to His Father on behalf of His disciples and through them to us: “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;: John 17:21 He has elected to use us as His instruments for His glorious purpose. 

Hear the Sound

We must hear the sound of the hammer breaking down the barrier wall between the sacred and the secular - for those who are the called elect of God all is sacred.  “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17.  The question we must ask ourselves is, “How much is all?”  

Martin Luther, “God doesn’t need our good works; our neighbors do.” God doesn’t need them, we don’t need them, but our neighbors do.


The Reformed theologian Michael Horton writes:

You know, a lot of people think of justification (by faith alone) as the material principle of the Reformation, with Scripture alone as the formal principle, but one historian has said, actually, that in terms of the greatest impact on the culture, it was the doctrine of vocation that made the biggest difference long term. 

They weren’t just working for the weekend. They had a transcendent view of things. R.C. Sproul has been saying for years, “Right now counts forever,” and they had a real sense of that. Even when a milkmaid is milking a cow, Luther said, “She is glorifying God just as much as a preacher in a pulpit preaching a sermon.” 

And the gospel wasn’t just, “Let’s all go to work with a greater sense of the grandeur of what we are doing,” but really a sense of, “You have no one to pacify anymore.” Everyone was so anxious and spent all their energy, if they cared about it at all, on climbing their way to heaven. Well, we don’t have to. God has climbed down to us. Now what do we do? We love and serve Him by loving and serving our neighbors.  

Work Ethic

Joshua T. Phillips also contributes:

Every area of life should be dedicated to the glory and honor of God in fulfillment of our created purpose. Psalm 90:17 says, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” This idea was central in the message of the sixteenth century Reformers who set the stage for the “Protestant work ethic” with their holistic view of labor.

And I would add that it is this foundational concept - motivating principle - that has made this nation great.  Our downward spiral is directly related to the degree in which we have drifted.

John Calvin taught that there is comfort in knowing “that no task will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God's sight.” The greater comfort, however, comes from the gospel, where Calvin says, “we are apprehended by God's goodness and sealed by his promises.”

Faith Alone

The Protestant understanding of vocation emerged from this already accomplished salvation. For Luther, the doctrine of justification by faith alone had everything to do with our status and place as workers. He complained “against” a false hierarchy of a spirituality of work, separating the “spiritual” from the “profane”—or to put it in modern terms, the “sacred” and the “secular.” Somehow, the priest and the bishop are more spiritual than the baker and the brick layer. But Luther, never to pull a punch, calls this sort of thing “guiles of the devil.”

The purpose of vocation then, Lutheran theologian Gene Veith says, “is to love and serve one's neighbor.” But the Christian is only free to love and serve one's neighbor when he is not working to justify himself before God. Justification by faith - and not by works - changes everything. 

Otherwise we have the creation of a welfare state - one group depending on another. And thus one ruling over the other.

Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them.  “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant;” Mark 10:42-43


“And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:10 KJV  

Whether a king or a priest we are called to reign on the earth - representing a Kingdom that now is and is yet to come in its fullness. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

From Obscurity To Prominence - The Mothers In Christ’s Genealogy

Chosen Not Because They Were Choice, But Choice Because They Were Chosen - To The Glory of God

The following is not meant to be misogynistic - nor to abscond the responsibility of the men in this narrative. A tome would be required to give an account of the foibles of their characters - and of their brothers.  Indeed, such a volume has been written. It is called The Holy Bible.

The purpose here is to reveal the omnipotent grace of God and to give hope and courage to us in our frailty. For it is out of obscurity that the Father draws those who will be seated at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. There are none that are outside of the covenant reach of God’s mercy and grace: 'The LORD answered Moses, "Is the LORD's arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you."' Numbers 11:23 

For when our fallible mortality is touched by the Sovereign Hand of Eternity we become jewels in His crown. And such is the testimony of these handmaidens - their baseness has come down to us as precious and refined silver and gold. 

Just as the morning star has no light of its own, only reflecting the sun which is just over the horizon yet to dawn. So also the burnished character of these mothers reflects the Glory of the Father’s One and Only Son who has not yet dawned upon the earth. The hope is yet hidden in their wombs, to which they are giving sustenance in anticipation of the fullness of time.

In Matthew’s account of the genealogy of Jesus who is called Christ there are four mothers noted - besides the Blessed Mary. The four look forward to the fifth whose number is the number of grace.


The first is Tamar: “and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar,” Matthew 1:3

The fathers here are Judah from whence the Messianic tribe receives its name and his son Perez. 

Most commentators ignore Tamar and concentrate on the men, but there is one significant exception that bears quoting here: ‘she was as one who, at the risk of shame, and, it might be, death, had preserved the line of Judah from destruction, and "therefore was counted worthy to be the mother of kings and prophets." ‘ Her Messianic purpose was accomplished at the risk of death by burning.

How did she accomplish this feat? She posed as a wayside prostitute and seduced her father-in-law Judah resulting in the birth of Perez. She had been the wife of his firstborn son who was slain by God for his evil doing and then given to the second son who was also killed by God for he would not fulfill his sacred duty to his brother’s widow in providing progeny for him.

When Tamar saw that she would not be given to the third son she took off her widow’s garments and donned those of a cult prostitute. Knowing that Judah’s wife had died and that he would consider himself in need of comfort, she positioned herself by the road awaiting his passage. Her subterfuge was successful - although adultery and immorality were part of its components. 

Without going into further detail here once Judah became aware of the enormity of what had happened he proclaimed: ‘"She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah." And he did not have relations with her again.’ Genesis 38:26. God had chosen her and by His finger He placed eternity in her heart - and in her womb.  He would not be hindered in His purpose for He had spoken prophetically by Israel in his old age: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Genesis 49:10 

Yet Perez must be considered to be illegitimate for his parents never married.


The second mother is Rahab: “and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab,”

This Rahab is none other than the prostitute of Jericho fame. It is thought by many that Salmon may have been one of the two spies sent into Jericho by Joshua. As with Tamar there is no record of an actual marriage between Rahab and Salmon.  

There was also the glowing ember of eternity in her heart for she proclaimed: “for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.” Joshua 2:11.  This is attested to later in the New Testament she being only one of two mothers noted by name in the pantheon of faith: “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” Hebrews 11:31.  The other being Sarah. She is also in the book of James: “In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?” 2:25 

The red cord may very well have been emblematic of her profession. Not to sound crude, but by conjecture may the spies have done more than just lodge in her household?  Even when she is mentioned in the New Testament, she is still referred to as a prostitute. Also, she was not of the Hebrew nation.

Yet gazing intently through the lens of sovereign purpose may we see in the scarlet cord the blood-line extending from Eve to Mary and beyond.


“and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.” Matthew 1:5-6

There is only one generation between Rahab and Ruth.

Ruth was a Moabite - the product of a drunken incestuous relationship. The intoxicated Lot had impregnated his own daughter although his stupor made him unaware. Her only connection to Israel was through her mother-in-law Naomi.

With Naomi’s complicity Ruth entered into a bit of chicanery. For she instructed Ruth in the dark of the night to lay herself at the feet of Boaz. “Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes.” Ruth 3:3.  It should also be noted that Boaz “was in good spirits.”  One commentator has marked that she would not have done this “unless she had been sure that the thrills that vibrated within her own heart were responsive to subtle touches, on his part, of spirit with spirit.”  

(With astonishment) He said, "Who are you?" And she answered, "I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative." Ruth 3:9.  An ancient symbol of marriage. This act was an insinuation of seduction although not apparently consummated at that time - only later once they were actually married. And after he had become her kinsman redeemer. 

The wedding blessing over Boaz and Ruth hearkened back to Judah and Tamar. “Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the LORD will give you by this young woman.” Ruth 4:12 In God’s purpose the ignoble becomes noble. 

Naomi herself was recognized in the fertile blessing: “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.”


And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, Matthew 1:6.  Most translations do not mention her by name, but of course we know her as Bathsheba. This may be the most familiar account of the four.

Could we not surmise that she knew she was bathing in full view of David the King? It was the custom of the day to take a siesta and then stroll around on the roof of the dwelling. Even if so, she must be the least complicit of the other mothers for the King sent for her and laid with her. Yet, the deed was still adulterous and unclean: “and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house.”  2 Samuel 11:4

The child of this encounter did not survive. After David’s murderous dealing with Uriah he then married Bathsheba and it is written: “Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her; and she gave birth to a son, and he named him Solomon. Now the LORD loved him.” 2 Samuel 12:24

Even though married to the king at the time of Solomon’s conception and birth, Matthew still refers to her as the wife of Uriah. 


And then there is Mary - pregnant outside the covenant bond of marriage. Yet also chosen of God; for the testimony of her mothers - for she was of the tribe of Judah - is summed up in her.  ‘The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.“‘ Luke 1:35 She was the Father’s elect vessel to carry and to bring forth His Son. 

The Virgin was choice as a result of having been chosen for the angel’s first words to her were: "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Luke 1:28

None of the above is intended to besmirch the testimony of these mothers in Zion - but only to give glory to God for His eternal plan of redemption. These women were obedient to the heavenly calling although the path did take some curious turns. As the angel also said to Mary: “For no word from God will ever fail." Luke 1:37 NIV 

All of this happened to abundantly demonstrate that our salvation is - from beginning to end - owing nothing to the agency of man. We must agree with John: “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13.  And also Peter: “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” 1 Peter 1:23 

Yet the greater testimony must be that of God who “has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,” 1 Corinthians 1:27-28.  And such as are we - choice, not because of our choosing, but choice having been chosen by Him to glorify His Son.

In the book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham God has chosen women - in those days the least - to reveal the Glory of His Grace.

Eternity resounds in the voice of the Blessed Virgin.

“For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty has done to me great things; and holy is his name.”
Luke 1:48-49 The Magnificat 

Lastly a contemporary voice adeptly expresses the wonder - and perplexity - of the mercy of God.

Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan.

Amy Grant - Breath of Heaven 

Sola Deo Gloria! (To the Glory of God alone!)

Monday, November 6, 2017

Free Indeed!

Free Indeed!  Freed to obey...

How often do we glibly hear, “We are all created with a free will.” And that with the subsequent conclusion - to do whatever we will to do reaping the consequences. Nothing could be further from Biblical truth.

As we now live on the post side of the Quincentennial of the Reformation we turn to Martin Luther who saw the human will enslaved by sin and Satan. We think we are free, he contended, but we only reinforce our bondage by indulging in sin. Grace releases us from this enslaving illusion and leads us into “the glorious liberty of the children of God.” God wants us to love him freely. But that is only possible when we have been freed from captivity to Satan and self. 

As Paul so succinctly writes, there is nothing but slavery until we have been claimed by the Gospel. “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.” Romans 6:17 NIV

Amazing News

As the contemporary song so forthrightly proclaims:

The amazing news of the Gospel
Is not that we can receive Jesus into our lives
But that He's already received us
Into His.

The 19th Century preacher, pastor and hymnist Horatius Bonar writes:

There’s nothing that my hands can do
To save my guilty soul
I cannot cleanse my filthy stains
Or make my spirit whole
For nothing but the blood of Christ
Can all my sins erase

Obedience is vital - yet it is the fruit and not the root. It is the visible evidence of an inward transformation - the divine alchemy that turns a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. That which is vile becomes precious and acceptable in the sight of God.  This is His sole work alone. As they say in the Black Church, “He is God all by Himself.” “That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus,...” 1 Corinthians 1:29-30 KJV 

Free To Obey

Freedom unto obedience. To the natural mind this is a conundrum - can freedom and obedience coexist within the same sphere or are they worlds apart? Yet for the believer this is our great hope for there is no possibility of freedom until one has been set free by the Son.

"So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

From Pastor Bonar again:

Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, And set my spirit free.

There is an everyday axiom that goes like this, “Where there is a will there is a way.” Yet this is only a half-truth - to bring it to completion we must add, “Only when it is God’s way.”  “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Ephesians 2:13 

The will of God is accessible only to those “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13.  We are not born again by the exercise of the freedom of our own will but by the exercise of His will. And what He begins by the fiat of His own will, He carries through unto completion. “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,...” Ephesians 1:5.  And in Romans, “Therefore it is not by means of him who wills, neither by means of him who runs, but in the hand of God, the merciful.” 9:16 Aramaic

Free Will?

Are we created with a free will as so many thoughtlessly ascertain?  In Adam yes, but since the fall all are born into the bondage of sin - in desperate need of a kinsman redeemer. “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,” Colossians 1:13.  Until we are set free by the Son, we all lie within the realm of darkness - totally incapable of independent individual volition. There is no intermediate state.  It is either one or the other.

As the hymnist Isaac Watts writes:

How sad our state by nature is!
Our sin, how deep it stains!
And Satan binds our captive souls
Fast in his slavish chains.

In a vain attempt of the finite mind of man to grasp the infinite wisdom of God as revealed by divine choice the statement is often made, “Well, that would just make us automatons - or puppets on a string.”  Nothing could be further from the revealed truth - for as a result of His electing love we become children of God. And as it is written of the Firstborn Son,  “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:7-8.  So it is also true of those that have been eternally and immutably set free by the Son. Obedience is not a burden, but a delight.

From the Quill of the Bard:

Blessed are the, souls that trust Him,  
And in Him, alone rejoice;  
His commandments, His commandments, His commandments 
Then become their happy choice.

Glorious liberty is the sole privilege of the children of God! Only those who have been set free from the law of sin and death through the Spirit of Sonship are capable of filial obedience. “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Romans 8:15-16 NIV

As a precursor to the Reformation which would require a millennium’s gestation Augustine of Hippo wrote, “Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire.” His assertion was that there was no inherent righteousness within mankind as a result of The Fall. Obedience, therefore, was not possible until the soul was moved by the finger of God. And what God initiates He is more than able to fulfill that which He has begun in us.

Centuries later the Augustinian monk Martin Luther would rejoice at this truth as found in Romans 1:17 "The righteous will live by faith." He exclaimed, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.” 

Sola Fide 

As we live on from the 500th Anniversary of The Reformation this truth is known to us as Sola fide (Latin: by faith alone), also known as justification by faith alone,... For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed--a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,... “the life that I am now living in this body I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20b ISV 

It is not possible to present this great truth anymore succinctly than does the one who has been referred to as “The Apostle of the Heart Set Free!”: “having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” Romans 6:18 

In Christ - while yet a slave we are also a freedman. “For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave.” 1 Corinthians 7:22

Having been set free from the slavery of sin we are now free to present our members - spirit, soul and body - as bond slaves to the One who is the author and perfecter of all faith resulting in sanctification. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be encumbered once more by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1.  The freedom we enjoy in Christ does not absolve us of the obligation of responsibility.

Our apogee might very well be found in John’s First Epistle, “We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.” 1 John 5:18 NAS


And here is delectable icing to the confection of His all-sufficient grace.

“so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”  Romans 8:4

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3

For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. Romans 6:7-8 

How many things does He work according to His purpose and will - all! In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:11-12 

Once more from Pastor Bonar:

I dare not claim my righteousness
But hide within His grace
‘Tis Christ who saved me from the depths
God’s pardon I’ve received
I’m washed within His precious blood
My heart is sprinkled clean.

And Isaac Watts:

A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
Into Thy hands I fall;
Be Thou my strength and righteousness,
My Savior, and my all.

From the Fifth Sola of the Reformation: “soli Deo gloria!” “To the Glory of God alone!” 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Heaven Is Where I Belong - Right Now!?

The song begins with an upbeat tune and a vigorous clapping of hands - but when I hear it start I cannot get to the radio fast enough to turn it off or change channels. I do not want the message to sear my conscience. 

In order to avoid copyright infringement I will only say that its content is something like this: This world is not what it was intended to be, so I want to get out of here as fast as possible and go to heaven. He goes on to say that this is not where he belongs and that his home is in heaven. Then something about golden streets, etc.

What an abdication of responsibility! This song is more of a dirge than anything else. Yes, we have a hope for heaven, but our hope also is a present reality for the love of God has been poured forth into our hearts by the gift of the Holy Spirit - it is incapable of disappointment (Romans 5:5). 

Father’s Business

When Joseph and Mary found the child Jesus after a long search his reply to their admonishment was: “Did you not know that I must be doing the works of my Father?"  (wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? KJV) Other translations say: “Did you not know that I had to be in My Father's house?" 

He had not been lost as His earthly parents rightly thought for He had been about His Father’s business - He was at home with His Father. On this side of heaven, we too are not lost looking for home. If we are about our Father’s business we are at home - just as He was.

But He answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working." John 5:17 This was His full purpose - he did not want to be somewhere else.

Father’s Will

When His disciples asked Him how they should pray His reply was: “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.’”

Yes, this world is not what it was meant to be. But, I wish someone would help me to understand why Christ instructed as to pray that the Father’s will would be done on the earth just like it is being done in heaven - if our only hope is to escape the Father’s creation.  Especially when He initially looked at it and saw that it was good.  Could we possibly believe that what ensued in the garden caught Him by surprise - or that He is not able to complete that which He has begun.

If we are praying for the will of God to be done - then that is where our home is. My relationship with my wife is such that where she is that is where my home is - might it be even more so with our Heavenly Father. While He is at work in and through us that is where our home is - until our course is finished at the appointed time. 

Father’s House

One of the most egregious misapplications of a passage of scripture - in my opinion - is John 14:2. The KJV has it like this: “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” That is an abysmal interpretation and leads to many unfortunate misunderstandings.  Something more akin to the intended truth would be: “There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home.” This is about relationship - not real-estate. This verse - kept in context - has nothing to do with rooms, walls, much less mansions - over there somewhere. The root word is used in only one other place in the New testament and it is in this same chapter: Jesus replied, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make Our home with him.”  The noun home is derived from a verb which means to abide. This home is not constrained by time or space. He says He will come to us, not that we will go to Him. Oh, how we have missed this present reality.

If abdication of our responsibility seems to be our only recourse than why do the Scriptures declare?:

“Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”  Jeremiah 32:17 NIV  
“The earth is the LORD'S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.” Psalm 24:1-2

We must expunge these passages and a plethora of others just like them if heaven is home where I belong right now.

Father’s Creation

The final disposition of this world is not one of annihilation - but transformation. Such is the state of each of the redeemed: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 When Christ comes to dwell in us we are not annihilated, but transformed. 

As it is with the ransomed creature - His elect, so shall it be for all of creation. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:19-21 Could the sovereign plan of the Father be made any more plain including our place in it? 

Bishop N.T. Wright says: “God, After all, is the creator; he has no interest in leaving earth to rot and making do for all eternity with only half of the original creation. God intends to flood the whole cosmos, heaven and earth together, with his presence and grace, and when that happens the new world that results, in which Jesus himself will be the central figure, is to be the ‘inheritance’ for which Jesus’ people are longing.”1

Father’s Intent

The apogee of the Father’s intent must be: “And blessed be His glorious name forever; And may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen.”  Psalm 72:19 

At this point credit must be given as an epilogue to other contemporary Christian artists who have been gripped by a vision greater than abdication.

And I will live, to carry your compassion
to love a world that's broken
to be your hands and feet

and I will give, with the life that I've been given
to go beyond religion to see the world be changed, by the power of your name.


Listening to these words right now from 1806:

Oft in danger, oft in woe,
onward, Christians, onward go;
bear the toil, maintain the strife,
strengthened with the bread of life.

Onward, Christians, onward go,
join the war, and face the foe;
will ye flee in danger's hour?
Know ye not your Captain's power?

Be assured fellow believer that in this present state you are secure in the faithfulness of the Son of God. And with the Psalmists we may say: “Sustain me according to Your word, that I may live; And do not let me be ashamed of my hope.” 

1 Wright, Tom, Paul for Everyone, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002, p. 12

Monday, June 12, 2017

What Is Greatness?

Pastor Jack Maxwell and I were on our way to our Thursday morning Bible study when our conversation turned toward the subject of baptism. He said that he had been baptized in the Jordan River and went on to note that this stream - saturated with Biblical significance - was really not much more than a rivulet.

That immediately started me thinking for our discussion topic that morning was the calling of the Twelve as recounted in Mark’s Gospel. Men of whom it would be said “they have turned the world upside down.” Yet at their calling not one of them was of any particular significance - actually quite the opposite. 

Many are the appellations of the Jordan River as a mighty torrent on par with the River Nile. Yet in reality it is only a meandering stream. The reason we regard it in overflowing terms is that it serves the purpose of God. “And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.” Joshua 3:17  It was the door - opened by the Lord -  into the covenanted promised land. 

Another geographical feature replete with Biblical import is Mount Zion. What makes Zion great? “Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Is Mount Zion in the far north, The city of the great King.” Psalm 48:2  Geographically speaking Zion is no great lofty mountain - but only a small hill within the confines of Jerusalem. What makes it great is the purpose of God - elect and chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. 

The Die of God

So it is with the called people of God. Great men of God or men of a Great God?  It is when a man or woman is struck by the sovereign die of God that they become great for the indelible image that is now impressed on them is that of the person of the Firstborn of many brethren. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of His power.” Hebrews 1:3 

The chosen of God are perpetually upheld by the word of His power! As Charles Spurgeon writes: “He bought us, sought us, brought us in, and has so far wrought us to His image that we shall be fought for by Him with all of His might.”

Returning to our discussion passage for the morning: “And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.” Mark 3:13.  There was no hesitation for the call was irresistible - even on the one who “is a devil.” 

Notice the efficacy of the call . . .   “not according to their will, works and merits, but according to the sovereign will and grace of Christ, who chose them, and not they him:” John Gill.  From John’s Gospel: “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13 KJV  It is the sovereign will of God that does prevail against all of the tests of time - an immutable rock: “For their rock is not as our Rock,...” 

I Chose You!

Looking again to John: "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” John 15:16  Relationship with God the Father is initiated by the Son - it is sustained by Him - and it culminates in Him. No other foundation exists for lasting fruitfulness. 

He doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.  For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Romans 11:29  From Paul’s bequeathment to his young disciple: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,...” 2 Timothy 1:9 (12)  

The Reformed Evangelical theologian D. A. Carson writes: We are not chosen because we are choice - we become choice once we have been chosen.  “For we are his workmanship (God's masterpiece), created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 Once this revelation dawns in our hearts, purpose becomes birthed in us.

Toby Mack has written in his testimony song: 

When love broke through
You found me in the darkness...
My chains are broken 
And it all began with You 

The Son prays to His Father: “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” John 17:12 In making sure that all of His elect were secure His intercession continues: “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word;” 17:20 

Soli Deo Gloria

As we draw to a summation, we see that the object of all of this is Soli Deo Gloria - To the Glory of God Alone. For the sound of the will of man - the hammer, chisel or any other iron tool - cannot be heard at the site of the building of the Temple of God: “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:5 ESV 

Paul dashes all possibility of pretense with these words: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”  1 Corinthians 1:26-29 KJV

It has been said of Paul that he “descended into greatness.” From the dust of the Damascus road God would lift Him up as His herald: ‘But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.”’ Acts 9:15 

For a postscript: 

Even the lowly ass (donkey) becomes mighty when the Lord chooses to speak through it. “But (Balaam) was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet.” 2 Peter 2:16 KJV  “And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam,...” Numbers 22:28