Friday, November 1, 2013

A Mouthful of Gravel

The Sovereignty of God in the Call and Commission of Paul


If there was ever an individual that could give expression to total depravity it was Saul of Tarsus. 

“Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest,” Acts 9:1 Yet he was not unique for the Psalmist writes: “Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.” Psalm 53:3

The apostle himself later writes: “All have turned away. They have become completely worthless. No one shows kindness, not even one person!” Romans 3:12 and “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,...” Romans 3:23

At this point we might ask ourselves, “How many is all?” And the answer must be: “All is all.” Is there even one of Adam’s race that is outside these perimeters?  “Not even one!” Having said this we do recognize that many are capable of genuine altruism - yet no matter the height of the philanthropy, it is still unable to reach the realms of the glory of God. It always falls woefully short and may have the consequence of masking the need for a Savior. 

So desperate is our fallen condition that there is not one thing extant in our being that commends us to God. Indeed, until the Spirt of God begins to initiate the process of conversion in our lives we are totally and completely without hope.

There is a term for this system of belief - monergism.   According to monergists, all men have an unregenerated human nature, and faith to believe is beyond the power of this unregenerated human nature. All merit is ascribed to the Son - and to the Son alone. 

With that in mind what was it about Saul of Tarsus that commended himself to the saving grace of God?  We could search high and wide - and indeed wade into the morass of speculation - but still come up with the same inescapable conclusion: nothing!  If there was anything exceptional about Paul it would be this: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst.” 1 Timothy 1:15b NIV


Indeed Paul’s election was so unconditional that he would recount it as occurring while he was yet in his mother’s womb: “But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, was pleased...” Galatians 1:15 It pleased God and God alone to call Paul even before his lungs were first filled with air allowing him to make his first utterance: “that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.” Galatians 1:16

Paul himself recalled those things that he might have offered to the Father as evidence of his worthiness of salvation: “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee;...” Philippians 3:5 Yet as he looked back to that climactic day on the Damascus Road he knew that none of these contributed to his election: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Philippians 3:7 


The calling of God on that day - was limited toward Saul and Saul alone.  A friend likens it to the call of God on Isaiah: “He dropped down and ate gravel, like did Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus.” The men who were traveling with him heard the sound, but only Saul heard the voice: “The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.” Acts 9:7 NIV Thus they were without revelation. 

Another instance of this would be the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  If the Lord had said, “Come forth!” all of the tombs within the sound of his voice would have yielded their occupants - unequivocally. Yet, “He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’” This, that day, was the divine decree: “It's for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." John 11:4 ISV Paul would later write: “that the purpose of God according to election might stand: not of works, but of him that calls.” Romans 9:11 Jubilee Bible 

A dear friend recently recounted sharing the truth of Christ with a group of young girls that she was mentoring.  As she looked over them, she saw the Holy Spirit moving on one via a tearful face. She prayed with her as the love of God filled her heart and recounted: “Glory to God in the Highest!!! He had prepared this moment just for her!!!”


The modern evangelist may say, “Now to all who are within the sound of my voice the invitation is extended.” Yet it will only be those of whom it is said “and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Acts 13:48b  Only these will be gripped by irresistible grace. No where in the conversion experience of Saul do we see him being offered a choice - or an invitation to accept. 

This was his commission: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” Acts 9:5-6  The declaration “it will be told you” is a function of the verb to be or I am: "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" Exodus 3:14 The verb became a noun - this truth continuing on to the incarnation: In the beginning was the Word (Logos - the expression of God in action) John 1:1a.

To those who insist that God will not violate our “free will” and that he gives us the ability to choose or reject Him - I am at a loss. We only become free when we are embraced by the unfailing love of God in Christ Jesus: "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36  And not one second before!


To Ananias the Lord spoke the persevering call of God on the life of the apostle: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Acts 9:15-16 Once again the future divine declarative of I Am.  When God says He will - He will!!! 

Thus confidence was so inspired in Saul of Tarsus - the threat breather, that he was transformed into Paul the bond-servant of the Lord.  This heavenly calling would cause him to persevere until the fullness of his time on earth was complete.  He would bequeath to his young disciple Timothy this infallible hope: “which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” 2 Timothy 1:12 ESV 

Paul had not become an automaton - but a son: Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" Galatians 4:6 

A later hymn writer would pen these same immutable convictions:

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

This progression of thought is aptly summed up here: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 Geneva Bible Many later versions have: “I live by faith in the Son of God,...”  The use of in instead of of is much more than a simple nuance - it is an abounding profundity.  The “of” is the very key that unlocks the vastness of this eternal treasure–bringing the light of revelation to the mystery previously hidden.  More recent translations declare: “I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God.” ISV 

Only by this understanding are we gripped by the following verse: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" Galatians 2:21 NIV

This is the total, unconditional, limited, irresistible and persevering purpose of the Father in the Son of His Love.  “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29 Geneva Bible

Solus Christus - In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

Stuart Townend and Keith Getty

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Preposition or Presupposition

I almost fell off my stool!  

I was seated at a high-top in the cafĂ© of King’s River Worship Center with my friend Pastor Dennis Chasteen as we were gathering for a Pray West Virginia leadership council.  I was sharing with him - what for me had come as a revelation. I have mentioned this in a blog before, but will go deeper with it here.

How will they believe in Him... 

One of the greatest evangelical exhortations is: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” Romans 10:14 NAS  Almost all other translations say something like this: “and how shall they believe in him of (about) whom they have not heard?” The New American Standard is one of the few versions that is faithful to the incarnational nature of the Gospel. Is our message Christ and Christ alone, or is it of or about Him - if the latter, presumptuous adulteration is unavoidable. 

An excellent rendering is provided by the Weymouth New Testament: “And how are they to believe in One whose voice they have never heard?”  (“Of” wants to roll off the tongue at the end of this sentence, but it is decidedly not there.)

To hear him is irresistible - to hear of him leaves us with options.  We subject - at least within our own minds - the Consummate One to the peril of conjecture. That is why we get “called according to His purposes” - as opposed to His purpose!  How often I hear evangelical leaders opine either in postlude or prayer on Romans 8:28 and reduce the sole purpose of conformity to the image of His Son to purposes - thus subtlety shifting the emphasis from the immortal to the temporal. (A similar grating of the fingernails on the chalkboard is referring to the Book of the Revelation as “Revelations.”)  

Our Father is calling us here in West Virginia to this singularity - oneness!  May we note Weymouth’s translation once again: “believe in One...”  And the great Shema of Israel:  "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one." It is fitting here to notice also that our Lord in His high priestly petition (John 17) did not ask for unity on our behalf, but oneness: “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You,...”

Preposition or Presupposition

Now back to our opening scene:  In a momentary mental lapse I remarked, “Well, it is only a preposition.”  Pastor Dennis’ laconic rejoinder was, “It is not a preposition - it is a presupposition!” My immediate response was to hurl a brief - but non-profane - expletive in his direction along with a light punch to his shoulder. A vista of implication had suddenly opened before me that was so staggering it almost caused me to fall from my stool.

The following scribing of my electronic stylus may only serve to scratch the surface of this wonder...

The definition of presupposition is: “to suppose or assume beforehand; take for granted in advance.” An identical synonym is presumption - “to take for granted.” Can you see where this is beginning to lead us? A miasmic tar-baby of deception awaits those foolish enough to rush in where angels fear to tread. The pitcher plant’s deadly allure offers nothing in comparison.

Our attention is drawn back to this Psalm of David: “Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me; Then I will be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.”  Psalm 19:13 NAS

Could we not also call this the sin of presumption - a great transgression?  

Charles Spurgeon writes: “This earnest and humble prayer teaches us that saints may fall into the worst of sins unless restrained by grace, and that therefore they must watch and pray lest they enter into temptation.  Every sin has in it the very venom of rebellion, and is full of the essential marrow of traitorous rejection of God; but there be some sins which have in them a greater development of the essential mischief of rebellion, and which wear upon their faces more of the brazen pride which defies the Most High.”  Treasury of David

From the New Testament we read: “Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of the glorious ones.” 2 Peter 2:10 KJV 2000  Other translations include arrogant, proud, will-ful, etc. 

To be presumptuous is to be judgmental - too often this characterizes the church at least in the minds of honest seekers  Presuming to know that God will react in certain ways to our initiatives is to sow the seeds of bigoted religiosity. The glorious reality of the Gospel is thus sullied by incantational nonsense.  

Word of the Sovereign Lord

The Word of the Sovereign Lord came to the Prophet Ezekiel: “I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD." 37:6

Three times He expresses His will: twice He says “I will” and once “you will.”  The number three represents the fullness of the Godhead. And then He declares: “I am the LORD.” Here we hear echoes from the burning bush: “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” The message of Ezekiel - and Moses - was not about the Sovereign Lord–it was the very Word Incarnate. 

Immediately before this He said to Ezekiel: “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!’” And then He tells Ezekiel what to say to them: “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.”

This is the essence of prophetic praying - speaking forth what God has told you to say. This is a sweet fragrance unto the Lord - a bowl of incense.  Presumption is a stench. Prayer begins in God and returns to Him having served His sovereign purpose - it will not return void.

“So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”’”  Ezekiel had heard the Word of the Lord and now he was hearing the sound of fulfillment. He was thus kept in a rapt attitude of worship.

Sin of Covetousness 

Presumption is as the sin of covetousness - for by it we covet the role of God. It is the false worship of the creature rather than the Creator. Thus the first command of the Decalogue is the alpha - “You shall have no other gods before me;” and the last is the omega - “You shall not covet...”   By them the whole Law is tied together from the beginning to the end.  

Covetousness is the deadly allure by which Nemesis leads her victims to the pool of Narcissus - or departing from mythology to fairy tales the morbid mantra becomes: “Mirror, mirror on the wall...” In our modern vernacular it would be a “selfy.” All of which are predated by the seducing words of the tempter of Eden: “You will not surely die.”  Paul looks back to the garden and writes: “And they changed the glory of God, who is indestructible, into the likeness of the image of man, which is destructible,” Romans 1:23a Aramaic 

The commentator F.F. Bruce notes: “And it could be argued that covetousness is the quintessential sin.”  I once heard Malcolm Smith teach something like this: “I can read the first nine commandments and feel pretty good about myself - but the tenth one absolutely destroys me.” Of course this is a good thing, forcing us upon the mercy and grace of Almighty God.  There is nothing within ourselves that can keep us from covetousness. Insisting on our ability to choose reduces as to stark impotence.  “Free moral agency” is a myth. We are only free when our bondage is broken by Christ Himself: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be absolutely free.” John 8:36 GOD’S WORD 

It could be said that it is this struggle of ‘wants’ that Paul saw in himself and indeed in every man: “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” Romans 7:19  For prior to this he had exclaimed: “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” Romans 7:7b We - with Paul - find our answer to this dilemma in the fulness of the Son: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-25a

The greatness of our God - Be Thou my vision 

May we be apprehended by a vision of the greatness of our God that will totally transcend all tendencies toward presumption.  His all-sufficiency will easily eclipse the inferior light of covetousness. It is with a modicum of poetic license that I believe God gave Abram - as evidence of the eternal covenant - a vision not just of his descendants which would be temporal, but of Himself which is eternal. “And why?” you might say.  For one cannot see where the sands of the sea or the stars of the sky begin nor where they end–thus they are eternal. “Then the LORD took him outside. ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars—if you can!’" Genesis 15:5 ISV

It is most fortunate for us that He knows our frame and thus He receives our feeble attempts to qualify and quantify Him - “if you can.”

No longer will our message be of Him or about Him - but it will be Him!  “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” John 1:18 NIV 

Sam Storms addresses this so eloquently: “Worship without wonder is lifeless and boring. Many have lost their sense of awe and amazement when it comes to God. Having begun with the arrogant presumption of knowing about God all that one can, they reduce him to manageable terms and confine him to a tidy theological box, the dimensions of which conform to their predilections of what a god ought to be and do. That they’ve lost the capacity to marvel at the majesty of God comes as little surprise.”1

I would add that the propriety of the ultimate surprise remains the domain of the Eternal Father.

From the ancient Celtic hymn we derive our benediction:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

1 Sam Storms, onething - Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God, 2004, Christian Focus, Scotland, UK, pp 69-70

Friday, September 13, 2013

I Found God!

I Found God!  I accepted Jesus...I made Him Lord of my life. These phrases and many more like them have come to be the common vernacular of much of modern evangelicalism. Even worse might be the campaign slogan: “I found it.”  All of which serve - at least in our own minds - to reduce the God of Glory to some form of amorphous or abstract deity void of any concrete relevance either in our lives or in the world at large. We must ask ourselves, “Who was lost and in need of being found?”

Without too much difficulty we can see a similar thread running through each one of these interjections and that is - of course - the strong emphasis on the pronoun I.  At first glance we may glibly conclude that all of this is really just innocuous.  However, I am convinced that we must consider the possibility that something much more insidious has entered into not just our conversation, but has warped the very essence of our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  

Instead of being a living creation we become some sort of zombie-esque creature. Yet it is impossible for the Immutable to produce a mutation. The Divine initiative of the Father can only produce living children - born anew by the power of the Holy Spirit. ‘And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”’ Galatians 4:6 ESV

By so trifling with the omnipotence of God the quality of childlikeness is exchanged for childishness - the adoring progeny becomes a demanding brat. “On the contrary, who are you—mere man that you are—to talk back to God? Can an object that was molded say to the one who molded it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’" Romans 9:20 ISV Or what might be more common in our modern era: “How can the one who has been chosen say that it is my own choices that determine the course of my fate?”  Can we not hear the echoes of the atheistic anthem Invictus: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

Contend Earnestly

We must concern ourselves or even “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”  Jude 1:3 NAS As the commentator pastor John Gill states: “it was delivered by God the Father to Christ as Mediator,...”  The ancient declared faith has devolved into modernistic sloganism.  The truth has been exchanged for something that is decidedly less than that.

I am drawn repeatedly to the confessions of the Reformers and also to the hymnody that has subsequently arisen–much like the bloom of the morning glory at dawn’s first light. I like to call these “timeless truths.”  Recently this verse from 1836 found my attention which I posted to Facebook.

My Lord, I did not choose You,
For that could never be;
My heart would still refuse You,
Had You not chosen me.
You took the sin that stained me,
You cleansed me, made me new;
Of old You have ordained me,
That I should live in You.

A good friend who has come to the awareness of such truth responded: “A most liberating truth that changes one's perspective entirely and causes a spring of hope to transform into a river of gratefulness for the goodness, grace and wisdom of God!”

This is the purpose of my endeavor here. We must have a change in perspective. Our focus needs to depart from the allegiance to our personal I - I made Jesus my personal saviour - to the supreme majesty of the I AM.  “for unless you believe that I AM, you'll die in your sins." John 8:24b ISV

Our salvation is far greater than something He does for us - it is something He does to us for His Glory.  With that in mind let us consider this: “Grace is much, much more than the definition that we have been taught of ‘unmerited favor’.  It is all that and more.  Grace is the power of God to save us, to change us and transform us and do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves or for anyone else.”

Apprehended By Faith

While recently considering the matter of faith I was drawn quite logically to “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” Hebrews 11:3 Yet it seemed that faith had to be much more than something we “understand” or to which we merely acquiesce via our intellect. I much prefer this alternative “By faith we apprehend...” (Darby) or even “Faith convinces us...” (GOD’S WORD).

Saul on the Damascus Road did not just come to understand that Jesus was the Lord of His Church.  No mere intellectual assent could suffice here.  He was apprehended - the force of which propelled him through the rest of his life on into eternity–which he now had in his heart.  It is hard for us to see here where he accepted any sort of invitation - so why then do we invite people to come to Christ?  Indeed his commission by the Word of the Lord was: “for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake.” Rest assured in confidence that when God says He will - He does! To ease the fears of Ananias He said,  "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name...”

Paul would then write: “but I run so that I may obtain that thing for which Yeshua The Messiah apprehended me.”  Philippians 3:12 Aramaic in Plain English or even “I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”  To be apprehended is to be laid hold of by something or Someone who is outside of and decidedly greater than ourselves. This goes far beyond the realms of intellectual assent alone. This is the faith of which our Lord Christ is the author and perfecter. 

To presuppose that our salvation depends on our ability to initiate - or even respond - indicates something inherently good within ourselves which flies in the face of Original Sin or as the Reformers called it: Total Depravity.  “for all alike have sinned, and all consciously come short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23 Weymouth  If we do deny the doctrine of Total Depravity, do we not also deny the need of a Total Saviour and Lord?

If He is not total - and absolute - we subject Him to the limited abilities of our minds to conceptualize or quantify and qualify. This gives rise to such statements as, “My god would not do that.” The subsequent effect is to make God into our own image which is none other than “mind idolatry.”  Essentially we have become our own god–thus subjecting ourselves to the whims of hypotheses. 

God Will Not?

In a recent conversation with a fellow pastor he defiantly claimed, “God will not cross over our free moral will.”  Really?  One must wonder what Paul would have thought about just such a statement. “But when he who separated me from my mother's womb chose and called me by his grace...” Galatians 1:15 Aramaic in Plain English  Do we repeat things so often that we have come to believe them even though they fly in the face of the Authoritative Word?  Have we become so deceived because of our desire to be profound?  "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:5 NAS 

Was Paul unique - some sort of super-apostle as he deridingly refers to those who thought they were special at least in their own eyes.  “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” 1 Timothy 1:15 KJV As it has been observed he referred to himself as an apostle in his earliest letters - then toward the culmination he was the chief of sinners or a bond servant.  He descended into greatest becoming more and more conformed into the image of his Lord--the Glory of God was increased in him.

On my last trip to Uganda as I was sharing with a group of pastors in the Sembabule District I began to relate the story of the Moravian missionaries who were willing to sell themselves into slavery so that they might fulfill their calling to bring the Good News to the slaves on the sugar plantations of the West Indies. Their commission has resounded down through history. As they left their friends and family possibly never to see them again:  "May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of his suffering!" 

My scripture reference was: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:44 NAS  The Father is presenting us to His Son as a reward for His suffering!  We are therefore “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Acts 20:28b NAS It cannot be possible for Him to lose that for which He has paid such a dear price.  This is the inviolate purpose initiated by the Father in His Son before the world was ever framed. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish--ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:28 HCSB

Welling Up of Gratitude

This revelation can do nothing but cause a deep well of gratitude to rise up within us to the One who is able to complete that which He has begun in us.  It is this confident gratefulness that will propel us toward the goal that we might say with Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;” 2 Timothy 4:7 NAS

To quote Sam Storms in Chosen for Life: “It is God’s gracious and loving action to which we contribute nothing and for which, therefore, God receives all the glory.”  “That no flesh should glory in his presence.” 1 Corinthians 1:29 KJV

Returning to another great anthem of the church:

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

And with the Reformers we declare: Soli Deo gloria! - Glory to God alone!”

Monday, July 29, 2013

GLORY - or Guilt?

“The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:3 NIV

The all-sufficiency of Christ is the single and ultimate motivating factor in the life of the true worshiper.  Although much of my writing style is intended to encourage us to reason together and as a result I delve into a bit of ambiguity for this purpose - there is nothing ambiguous in this opening statement.  A shadow may be subject to various forms of interpretation such as a Rorschach test.  The immutability of the substance, however, is vulnerable to no such vicissitudes: “but the substance belongs to Christ.” Colossians 2:17b NAS

With this assertion then in mind let me ask us a question - including myself in this conundrum - is it possible for the preacher to motivate a congregation toward love and good deeds without resorting to guilt manipulation? The appeal can go something like this, “If you are not where you ought to be with God then you need to come down to the altar and get right.”  “Oughts and shoulds” can produce an impressive result (i.e., the altars were full) - but will they produce endurance, fruit that will remain? If not, then what means are left?

For the grace of God has appeared...

We are never complete in ourselves - there is always room for improvement.  That is a given. Yet guilt manipulation is impotent in this regard - only grace motivation is capable of producing lasting results.  The community definitely has a role in this process - “And let us consider how we may spur (motivate, provoke) one another...” Hebrews 10:24 NIV.  Yet we must consider our means: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,...” Titus 2:11-12 NAS

Guilt manipulation can only produce a facade that is extremely difficult to maintain for it is only a shifting shadow with no adequate foundation.  With the transparency that has come through the explosion of social media in our day those of younger generations quickly see through these attempts to keep up a form of godliness.  I am reading right now from a book written by one of the millennial generation - younger than our own children!  He is a Jesus lover with the words “Child of God” tattooed in Greek on his side.  He is providing what for him and his generation is an objective critique of much of our current church culture - and I am finding myself agreeing with him.  As one who is in his Medicare year, if I cannot be a millennial then I must be a pre-millennial or maybe it is a-millennial? (Let the reader - especially my Reformed brethren - understand that I am not addressing issues of eschatology, but ecclesiology - and that with a wink.)   

Long before the coming of the Christ the Lord spoke concerning the landed promise to Israel: "It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Deuteronomy 9:5 NAS He is sufficiently capable in and of Himself to complete that which He has spoken.

How often have we heard a well-meaning petition - probably from our own lips - that goes something like this, “Oh God, you know how faithful (how kind, how generous, etc) they have been will you please meet their need?”  This is an appeal based on personal merit, not on the merit of Christ Himself. We are instructed to pray in His Name - not in the name of the supplicant.  This form of plea can be but a short step unto the thin ice of presumptuous sin–making demands on the graciousness of God. 

Now, Father, glorify Me...

The faithfulness of our Father in answering prayer is based solely on His desire to glorify His Son, not to endorse our good behavior.  "Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” John 17:5 NAS Personal merit will pass away - consumed as wood, hay and straw - while the Glory of the Lord will endure forever.

A motivation based on the temporal will not suffice - only that which is eternal is capable of causing the saints to endure until the day of the consummation: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 NIV This statement is the basis of Paul’s prayer for the Church at Philippi - his motivation. 

And as the writer to the Hebrews says there is now something greater among us - not just a promise, but a Person: “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him,...” Hebrew 7:25 NAS  Matthew says it this way: "But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here.” 12:6

How will they believe in Him... 

One of the greatest evangelical exhortations is: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” Romans 10:14 NAS Almost all other translations say something like this: “and how shall they believe in him of (about) whom they have not heard?” The New American Standard is one of the few versions that is faithful to the incarnational nature of the Gospel. Is our message Christ and Christ alone, or is it of or about Him - if the latter, adulteration is unavoidable. 

“No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny.”
In Christ Alone - Stuart Townend and Keith Getty

In Paul’s words to Timothy he encapsulates both the exhortation toward obedience along with the essential motivation - the all-sufficiency and supremacy of Christ: 1 Timothy 6:14 that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

The fruit of obedience is not produced out of our efforts to be pleasing to Him, it is produced as a result of the Father being pleased with us in His Son.  Only this motivation - and this motivation alone - is capable of producing perseverance in the life of the believer.  Thus we are constrained in agreement with the hymn writer: “Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering  to thee.”

by whom are all things,...

Our definitive statement then and the death knell to the conundrum expressed at the beginning of this treatise is found in these words of Paul to the Colossian Church: “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NAS

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Travailing Prayer

Travailing Prayer - To the Glory of God Alone!

“At least 12 people healed last night! Some as soon as they came forward! Prayed with a man that could not walk yesterday in his home, just got a phone call from his wife, today he is walking!”  This is a Face Book message that we recently received from a good friend who was conducting a series of meetings with a local congregation in Canada.

Before he left for the meetings he told us of receiving this invitation to come - and the pastor of the congregation did not even know him.  Yet, the congregation had been praying for revival - and God sent a man of prayer.  Now most of us would be quick to commend that congregation for their persistence in prayer as if they initiated and sustained the process.  I have to believe our Faithful Father had set them to praying and then He supplied the answer to their prayer.

My essential point here is that it is impossible to travail in prayer without the seed of the Divine initiative of God alone.  It has been said, “Tell God what He has told you to tell Him and kingdoms will fall.”

Pray with prayer

Elijah is used as an example of travailing or fervent prayer in the New Testament.  “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”  James 5:17-18 ESV The word fervently used here or earnestly in other translations has its root in a Greek word that literally means to “pray with prayer” or to continue in prayer.  Our English word “importunate” has similar connotations - to be persistent. 

Some previous Jewish writers had held that Elijah was more than just a human being - that he was an angel.  James is quick to counter this foolish notion stressing the reality that the prophet was flesh and blood just like our own - or with a like nature.  

As we look back to this account in I Kings we see that Elijah took an interesting physical position as he entered into this period of fervent or travailing prayer for relief from the drought that also was of God. “So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees.” I Kings 18:42 ESV I have Pastor Tony Evans to thank for the following insight - a mother in Israel would have understood immediately what this was about for Elijah had assumed the position of a woman about to give birth.  (With her face down between her knees in expectancy she would be sure to see the new life issue forth.) 


A woman gives birth to a child as a result of being impregnated by the seed of her husband. The congregation in Canada awaiting expectantly had been impregnated by the seed of faith.  Elijah had been impregnated by the Word of the Lord.  At the beginning of the drought it is recorded: “Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah:” I Kings 17:2 NIV and as the time of refreshing was about to come the prophet heard the word of the Lord again yet in a different manner: “And Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.’” I Kings 18:41 ESV

The natural mind was completely unable to comprehend what was happening for Ahab the king had heard nothing - “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God.” But Elijah the prophet had heard the sound of the Lord - he was impregnated. 

A woman can strain and groan all she wants - but if she has not received the seed of the father there will be no birth.  This futility is what Elijah encountered with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention. I Kings 18:29b NAS) and which Christ instructed his disciples not to pray in that way - “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Matthew 6:7 NIV


The time of travail is preceded by the harbinger of expectancy for although there is a process of birthing the child will be born - push!  Is the mother able to choose otherwise - decidedly not! Paul spoke of this same concept in this way: “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”  Colossians 1:29 NAS

I was engaged in a conversation recently and one to the persons said that God had told him, “If you will do this or that - then the results will be...”  He then went on to say, “I was compelled.”  God’s “ifs” become our compellings. “For Christ's love compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If One died for all, then all died.” 2 Corinthians 5:14 CSV

"Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons.”  Isaiah 66:8 NAS  (For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. ESV)

The Lord Himself has declared through the prophet: "For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.”  Isaiah 48:11NAS  In one of his messages from the revival in Canada our friend closed, “Oh how I love the Lord of Glory!”  

Soli Deo gloria ("glory to God alone")

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Workmanship of God

God’s Workman - the Workmanship of God - Will Never Be Ashamed

On Sunday, April 28, I was privileged to participate in a special service recognizing Pastor Chris Skeens of Ravenswood.  He had completed his studies and earned a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Counseling from Liberty University.  I was one of two speakers. The first and most significant was his youngest daughter Hannah - the child was honoring the father.  Her tribute was totally and completely unalloyed - and what she expressed is the motivating heart of the Gospel Message. What she did incarnate I only added the exegesis - or interpretation.

When Pastor Chris’ wife, Susan, asked me to contribute the passage of Scripture that came immediately to my mind was this from the KJV: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 This letter is acknowledged as Paul’s last piece of correspondence as he lay in a Roman dungeon fully cognizant of the sword that was being prepared to bring to completion the race that was initiated on the Damascus Road - actually from his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15). We might say that this was the apostle’s last will and testament - his bequeathment to his young disciple.  Paul had carried the flame as far as he had been ordained to do so - now it would be handed off to Timothy and then to others to carry it even further.

I once heard an Ugandan pastor exhort younger pastors to turn to the letters to Pastors Timothy and Titus when they get lost and they would find their way again. Well, before I digress too much more let’s get back to our main theme.

Instead of the word study, other more literal translations use the word diligent: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 NASB From this basis I shared with the congregation, “Pastor Chris has been diligent not to avoid shame, but because he has been freed from shame.”  The further testimony of Scripture is that we are the work of His hands  - “For we are His workmanship (masterpiece), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

Freedom From Shame

Freedom from shame is the motivating factor for the Christian - for in only two verses before it is proclaimed: “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown (deny) himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13 For the Father to deny or disown the elect in His Son would be to deny or disown His very self.  “even as, in His love, He chose us as His own in Christ before the creation of the world, that we might be holy and without blemish in His presence.” Ephesians 1:4 Weymouth

For the prophet had announced concerning the days of restoration: "Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, And that I am the LORD your God, And there is no other; And My people will never be put to shame.” Joel 2:27  The next verse in Joel is part of Peter’s great sermon on the day of Pentecost: "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” Acts 2:17

Before Peter begins to quote Joel he prefaces:  “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.” Acts 2:15  Peter was saying that he had some “splainin” to do. This is the function of a preacher/teacher - one whom the Father has set apart to be a herald of His Word.  The Holy Spirit inspired proclamation of the Word of God setting forth the revelation of the Son is the foundation stone of the prevailing Church.

John Gill comments: “on this foundation the saints are built by Father, Son, and Spirit, as the efficient causes, and by the ministers of the Gospel as instruments: these lie in the same common quarry with the rest of mankind, and are singled out from thence by efficacious grace; they are broken and hewn by the word and ministers of it, as means; and are ministerially laid on Christ the foundation, and are built up thereon in faith and holiness;...”

The Initiative of the Call

It is the initiative of the call of God that results in diligence.  In Paul’s dissertation on the unfathomable wisdom and mystery of election he announces: “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29  In a recent men’s study the author of the book we were using said, “But God has a ‘lost and found’ for you to visit to get back what the enemy has taken away.”  I referenced this Scripture passage to say that what the Father has given in the Son can never be lost for what He gives, He does not give away - nor does He take back. We may get off course a bit, but He is always faithful to bring correction - for we are not illegitimate children.  He will not forsake His own. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." Hebrews 12:6 ESV 

In the rest of God no one ceases to work - diligence remains a hallmark - it is the motivation behind the effort that becomes dramatically different.  “Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:11 God rested on the seventh day of creation, but He did not quit. Now in the Son we also enter into this Sabbath rest - not just one day of the week, but every day. “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” Hebrews 4:9

Approval is not something for which we strive - it is the basis from which we strive. “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” Colossians 1:29  We are accepted before the Father in the Son of His love and there is nothing we can do to improve on that standing. “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:3 NIV We are sustained by the authoritative revelation of the Son. Only a deceiving spirit could seek to add to this.

An Exhortation is Hollow

An exhortation is hollow unless the means are provided to fulfill it - indeed it is the embodiment of vain religiosity. “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”  Colossians 2:23 There is nothing much worse than a purveyor of false hope.  “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” Acts 15:10 ESV

In Reformed theology diligence and the perseverance of the saints are one and the same thing.  Perseverance is all to the glory of God - for it is the Father’s unfailing love that perseveres without the possibility of failing. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:7 NIV The Son prays to the Father on our behalf: “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." John 17:26 NIV This is the concluding statement - the seal - of His High Priestly prayer. It is the Amen - so be it, truly!  It is akin to the Swahili word for yes - ndiyo - which is much more definite - yes, it is so. The love of God can do anything but fail.

Pastor John Piper says it like this: “It follows...that the people of God WILL persevere to the end and not be lost. The foreknown are predestined, the predestined are called, the called are justified, and the justified are glorified. No one is lost from this group. To belong to this people is to be eternally secure.”

The Son’s Prayer

Looking again to the Son’s prayer on our behalf: "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.” John 17:6  Of course they were obedient! How could they be otherwise?  The Father had given them to the Son and they knew it - the only possible response is obedience.  Only those who have been chosen have the ability to choose.  They have been given the will to come: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” John 6:37 NIV They will come - not as automatons, but as elect children. The Son came not to do His own will, but - “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” 6:38  Thus the will of the Father in the Son becomes the will of those given to the Son by the Father: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” 6:39

The great motivating factor for the Son was this: “and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’" At once the Holy Spirit also came upon Him. This is the truth baptism of which the water was only a symbol - for this declaration immersed every fiber of His being.  And at this point He had done very little - a least that we have a record of; yet he was already approved. From this point until the day He prayed, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” John 17:4 NIV - His standing of approval in the heart of His Father had not increased one iota.

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." This is from Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:15 NIV).  In his letter to the Galatians he writes it like this: Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." (4:6 NIV).  It is with one voice that we ourselves empowered by the Holy Spirit cry out from our innermost being. 

So we can say to Pastor Chris, “Well done. For you are done, you are complete, you are finished - for your Eternal Father has chosen to reveal His Son in and through you.”  No greater accolade can be attributed to a man.

Thus we say again: It is right and proper that the child gives honor to the father - for she is his workmanship.

“I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.”  John 17:9-10 NASB

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Faith or Folly?

 "'Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.'" Leviticus 10:3 NIV

Unlocking the Mysteries or Handling Strange Fire?

“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  Matthew 16:19 KJV In the tradition that we have been a part the last 40 years this passage of scripture is often quoted.  The idea being connoted is that if we speak forth something on the earth them it will be accomplished in heaven. I believe there is an issue of sequence here that most translations miss giving rise to all sorts of folly and fiction–coming very close to conjuring. On this basis we march recklessly into battle and end up thoroughly defeated much as Israel in its first attempt to take the city of Ai - for presumption is a sin in the camp.  “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!” Psalm 19:13a ESV Yet it is not about solitary battles only - it is about a war of influence that we are losing. However, the Lord God has something else in mind that will occur before the consummation of this present age: "For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14 

The Lord’s Side

“My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side,” Abraham Lincoln.  I believe we often get this severely confused. I was watching Jim Wallis of Sojourners being interviewed on TV and he continued after quoting President Lincoln, “This takes true humility.”  Humility is the chief characteristic that the Father is seeking, for it is the main attribute of His Son. Through humility He accomplished all that His Father had given Him to do and was then exalted to the Right Hand: “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” John 17:4 NIV  For He did nothing but in response to what He saw His Father doing: “Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’” John 5:19 NIV Humility may be the one accolade of humanity that one can never apply to oneself for in so doing whatever essence of verity that may have existed would be gone as a vapor.

“Are You for us or for our enemies??” “Neither,” He replied. “I have now come as commander of the LORD’s army.” Then Joshua bowed with his face to the ground in worship and asked Him, “What does my Lord want to say to His servant??” Joshua 5:13b-14 NIV Let us not miss Joshua’s change in attitude - from whose side have you come to serve - to true worship.  True worship does not presume to have the word of the Lord, it bows in humility to receive the Word of the Lord - then and only then do the true worshipers venture forth. On the Day of the Lord, the wheat heavy laden with fruitfulness bows its head in submission all the while reflecting the amber glory of the Lord to be gathered unto everlasting life while the tares remain upright in barren defiance only to be swept up into eternal destruction.

The Sound of a going...

With the great Philistine army spread out before him King David was warned not to go forward until he heard the Word of the Lord: “And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the LORD go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines.” 2 Samuel 5:24 KJV And this is the last instance in which the Philistines threatened the integrity of Israel–for the King did not go forth into battle until he was aware of the initiative of the Lord.

Someone once said, “God has not come to take sides, but to take over.”  I just heard this at a leadership seminar conducted by Pastor Ron Crum, “We want Your will, nothing more - nothing less!”

Teach us to pray...

Indeed this is the way that we have been taught to pray by our Lord Himself.  When He was asked by His disciples how they should pray He first exhorted them “use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”  There is nothing about this form of “prayer” that requires revelation by way of relationship.  I like the way the NIV puts it: “do not keep on babbling like pagans,...”  

In His person Christ came to restore relationship - the Fatherhood of God.  Who else but the Son could accomplish such a thing?  And that is where He told them he was going to take them, not to some ethereal abode somewhere out in time - but to a living dynamic relationship in this present age for they had a commission to fulfill. As this discourse continues that is where He takes His disciples: "So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:8 The Father already knows - the activating factor is simply for His children to ask in agreement. As it has been said, “Effective prayer is telling God what He has told us to tell Him.”

That brings us to His next words of instruction acknowledging first of all His all-knowing  sovereignty and His willingness to make this wisdom known: "Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.”  His next words carry with them a weight that was unanticipated for He had told them not to pray as the “religious hypocrites” nor as the pagans for their prayers were self-centered and self-absorbed.  The prayers of His disciples were first toward the Father and then toward the thrust of His designs being accomplished on the earth through them–this being true worship.  This is the desire and purpose of the Father. True worship is God-ward first and then us-ward to our fellow man.  “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.” Matthew 6:10 ERV  The Message says it like this: “Set the world right;
Do what’s best—as above, so below.”  I like to say it this way, “Thy will be done on earth as it is being done this very moment in heaven.”  True worshipful prayer is the intersection of heaven and earth. For the angelic messenger spoke to Cornelius thus opening the Gospel to the whole world: “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.” Acts 10:4 

Call into being...

We are commissioned to call into being that which is not as though it were - not presently on earth, but already in heaven. “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”  Hebrews 11:3 NIV If the Father has not spoken, faith is impossible.  If we try to call into being that which is not as though it were and God has not spoken then it is not faith at all - but presumption.  Attempts at positive confession can be nothing more than the vain babblings that we noted above.

We now come back around to our opening passage of scripture and the true key that is held therein.  But for a moment lets look at the preceding events.  Jesus has asked His disciples: "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" Matthew 16:13 They make replies that are appropriate to the question and suggest secondhand information - maybe from the Jerusalem Daily Post: “Some say...”  Then he moves quickly to the point: "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Matthew 16:15NIV (His question borders closely on a reference to the Tetragrammaton [YHWH], but no translation makes this connection.)

Peter responds correctly: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." This is a word of faith for it came forth not as secondhand information–nor was it a product of educated guessing.  The Son was quick to acknowledge: “because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”  Let us note that up to this point and immediately thereafter the disciple is referred to as Peter - but in this instance the Son calls him Simon Barjona or Simon son of Jona.  He is reminding Peter of his earthly son-ship that He might point Him toward that which is much greater - His heavenly son-ship.  This is the blessing: "Blessed are you,...” For he was now “born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13

John Gill comments: "the workmanship of the blessed God, and not the workmanship of flesh and blood.''  It was the heavenly Father’s choice to bring revelation to Peter. If there is any attribute here that could be ascribed to Peter it would be his impulsiveness - yet this characteristic was more often a detriment to him.  

Moving to commission...

Yet, less the tendency take root to remain right there, Jesus quickly moves to commission - or for the reason for the blessing.  What ensues brings the past into the present while looking toward the future - the great Abrahamic Covenant: “and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.”  Genesis 12:2 In other words - Abraham and those of his seed - are blessed to be a blessing.  Let us be kept from the recurring error of seeing ourselves as those to whom the blessing would come - but rather through whom the blessing would come to others. This is nothing other than the product of Sovereign Choice–which if comprehended in any measure always glorifies the One who has done the choosing, not the one who has been chosen.

Christ tells Peter and all those within hearing - and now those that read - that which has just transpired is the foundational stone on which He will build His church - the rock of revelation. Peter - in his flesh - cannot be the rock for he was being drawn into the very priesthood of the Son Himself of whom it says using Melchizedek as a type: “who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life.” Hebrews 7:16   And that church with such a foundation cannot be overpowered by Hades’ seat of authority - the reference being to the gate of a walled city. It is worth noting that this is an analogy of offense not one of defense.

The initiative...

There is only one in all of eternity who is creative and capable of initiative - These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,...” Genesis 2:4KJV We, as true worshipers, are called to join in the activity of our Father God.  Let us not succumb to the mistaken notion that worship is confined to certain places, at certain times and with certain modes - it is a lifestyle.

True worship makes a difference...if a difference is not being made then it is not true worship. There is nothing that catches the Father unawares (omniscience), nor anything the Son has not experienced (omnipresent), nor anything the Holy Spirit is powerless to advocate (omnipotent) - it is into that divine activity that true worshipers are called.  The Father is seeking them out and they will be found in Him: “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but one that comes through the faithfulness of the Messiah,...” Philippians 3:9a ISV

Once again to the keys...

With this in mind, let us go once again to the keys: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." NASB (1995)  Let us take notice of the sequence here - first in heaven, then on earth.  That is, God is calling us to His side - we are not calling Him to our side. It is only in this sense that this declaration can fit into the narrative.

The keys are the abilities to see into the Father’s heavenly activity.  It is plural for revelation can come in many different ways - the written Word of God, the community of believers, the Holy Spirit’s gifts of grace (charisma), etc. Henry Blackaby has taught us to, “Look and see what God is doing and join Him there.”  It is all the initiative of the Godhead for the Son says, “I will give you...”  To give is to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation in return.  Therefore the giver cannot see in the recipient the ability to reciprocate, nor is the recipient encumbered with such a burden. 

The only acceptable merit...

There is no indication of warranted merit here - it is all of the unmerited favor of the Lord. As a matter of fact, it is often that which seems to be merit in the mind of man that could cause disqualification. May we say that the Son chooses those to whom He will give - "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 NASB Ah, the wonder of divine election the depth of which the mind of man is unable to comprehend. “so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls,...”  Romans 9:11 NASB

Just in case we would still want to attribute any vestige of merit to Peter and then vicariously to ourselves as well only a few verses later Jesus has this rejoinder for Peter when his natural mind fails to grasp the fullness of the Son’s mission: But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”  Matthew 16:23 

The only acceptable merit before our Eternal Father is the imputed merit of the Son. ‘and a voice came out of heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased."’ Luke 3:22b This was the sole factor that motivated the Son to accomplish all that the Father had given Him to do.


I have just heard on the radio of the passing of George Beverly Shea and these words come to mind as a fitting benediction:

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!