Wednesday, June 20, 2012

very much like others

II Samuel 11
26 When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. 27 And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and w she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.
II Samuel 12
And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds, 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” 5 Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, 6 and he shall restore the lamb a fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” 7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 And I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’” 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” 15 Then Nathan went to his house.

Psalm 32
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD l counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah 6 Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. 7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah 8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. 10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD. 11 Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Galatians 2
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Luke 7
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

"There but for the grace of God go I." This is a familiar statement, either in those words or similar words.. It is usually said by someone who sees another who is in a bad way, maybe a drunken man, or a loose woman, or even someone whose hardships are not necessarily through their own faults. Perhaps it is not always a bad statement in itself, but I think it can become bad if it is said in certain ways.

Let me tell you what it reminds me of. Jesus told another parable, this one of two men praying in the Temple, a Pharisee and a tax-collector.

Luke 18
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but l beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee prayed, thanking God that he was not like other people, for example the tax collector. He considered himself righteous, he did all the correct things, he considered himself acceptable to God. The tax collector prayed very differenly, stand and beating his chest, praying "God be merciful to me a sinner". Jesus said that it was the tax collector who went away justified, not the Pharisee.

"There but for the grace of God go I" seems to be far too similar to the Pharisee's prayer of thanksgiving that he was not like other men. In the Pharisee's prayer, the pride is evident, and we are rightly put off by it. But much the same kind of pride may well be found when something like "There but for the grace of God goes I" is said.

The problem is comparison, a common enough fault in all of us. There are times when I may be tempted to justify myself by thinking of the things wrong that I haven't done, especially by comparing myself to someone who is doing something sinful. "I thank you, God, that I have not had sex with a woman I am not married to, unlike so many people I know." "My thanks to you, Father, that I have not murdered anyone." "I am grateful, O Lord, that unlike so many other men I do not speak in curses and profanities."

I could, for example, put myself above King David. He was an adulterer, and then to cover up that sin, he also became a murderer. Let's be honest, those are horrible things, serious sins. The prophet Nathan did not try to downplay what the King had done, but showed him instead how serious it was. And the consequences were also serious--things in David's family would not be peaceful, his wives would be publicly violated, and the child born of this adultery would die. Even David's repentance could not keep these judgments from happening.

I'm not sure if David wrote Psalm 32 with this incident in mind, but it does seem to be that way. This part of it may well describe what it was like in that time between commiting these sins and the coming of the prophet, "4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah". It could have been about that time, or he may have been writing about other occasions, other sins that weighed him down.

"There but for the grace of God go I" may also be like the Pharisee in the Gospel passage above. He thought that a prophet would have had nothing to do with this woman. I'm not sure why she was called a "sinner", but considering that some Pharisees tried to put that same label onto Jesus, it may have simply meant that she wasn't as devoted to keeping the Law as the Pharisees were. Or it may have meant that she was a horrible person, a loose woman. I'm not sure. The important thing is, the Pharisee Simon looked down on her, as the Pharisee in the parable looked down on the tax collector.

Yet, look at the similarities between the real incident and the parable! Who is it that is justified? In the parable, it was the tax collector who grieved over his own sinfulness that left justified, and in the account it is the woman, though she speaks no words yet her actions show a great love for Jesus and faith in Him, whose sins are forgiven, and whose actions are defended by Jesus Himself.

Consider Jesus' own parable in the passage above. Two men are debtors, one much more than the other, both equally unable to pay. The moneylender forgives both of them. Jesus asks the Pharisee which man would love the moneylender more, and the Pharisee answers that the man who was forgiven more, and Jesus agreed with that answer.

Now, consider what I said earlier, that I could be tempted to boast when I looked at what David had done, because I am not an adulterer and murderer like David was. I could be like the man in Jesus' parable who was not forgiven for as deep a debt as the other man. I'm grateful to be forgiven, I'm glad the debt is gone, but I will likely not feel as grateful as the other man with the greater debt.

But would my view of myself be true?

Consider what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, particularly about adultery and murder. If I have looked on a woman to lust for her, my sexual sin is just as real and wrong as any who actually commit adultery or fornication. If I have been angry with someone without just cause, my sin is just as real and wrong as one who commits murder. I will not go into details, but I have commited those sins.

Outwardly, most of us may look to be much better persons than a David, or a serial killer, or a frat boy who sleeps with a different girl every week, or a man who in a fit of anger injures someone. But I know that I'm not. I can echo the words that Paul wrote, "In me, in my flesh, there is no good thing". I can lament as he did that I do the things I know I should not do, and do not do the things I know that I should do. I can long like he did to be saved from this body of death.

Can any of us look at how Jesus applies the Law, not only to our outer actions but also our thoughts and desires, and say that we have not sinned? Would it not be wiser to acknowledge that sins are like a mountain?

Paul says in the Galatians passage that he and fellow believing Jews were not Gentile sinners. In the context, he is relating a time he rebuked Peter, so that the "we" in v 15 seems to be referring to himself and Peter, fellow Jewish believers in Christ. They could have thought of themselves as being above the Gentiles, but in reality Jews and Gentiles are in the same situation. No one, Jew or Gentile, is justified by keeping the Law. Anyone, Jew or Gentile, can be justified through faith in Jesus Christ.

In the end, we are all like the two men in Jesus' parable. The important thing is not that my own debt may seem small compared to another person's, or that someone else may think theirs is small compared to mine, but that I am like every other person in being unable to pay that debt. Christ is the one who paid that debt of sin, who has forgiven us, as He forgave the woman.

Let us be careful of coming to God in pride, holding up the filthy rags of our own attempts at works of righteousness, trying to win his approval through those rags. Let us be careful of thinking ourselves such splendid folks, because we do not act like those out in the world. It is not those rags that justify us, it is ever and always through faith in Jesus Christ that we are justified. We walk on dangerous ground when we try to make ourselves righteous through our works.

Let me give you one more passage, a very cautionary one.

Matthew 7
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

There is something frightening about this teaching of Jesus', I will admit that. Consider the works these people claim to have done--prophecy, cast out demons, and many other mighty works, all done, so they supposed, in Jesus' name. On whatever scale of works we may create, casting out demons would rank among the highest of works. Yet in this account of that future day, Jesus is unimpressed. Whatever else they were doing, they were not doing "the will of my Father who is in heaven".

That such works, such outward manifestations, should not be enough, that we cannot even gain any assurance if we should ourselves perform such great miraculous works, should put a final fatal shot into the head of any dependence we might have in our works. We cannot be like the Pharisees, who put their faith in their keeping of the Law, nor can we be like any wonder-workers who may think they are accepted because they do great miracles while proclaiming the name of Jesus. One more passge may help us see what our attitute is to be.

Luke 10
17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Our faith must be in Christ, not in ourselves or anything we can do. Only by faith in Christ are we justified. Look well to what the fictitious tax collector and the real-life woman can teach us, that we should humble ourselves before God, asking that he have mercy on sinners such as we are, setting aside all pride and boasting in our own self-righteousness. It is then that we can go away justified and forgiven. Look well at what our Lord taught his disciples and us, that we should not rejoice at the power He has given us, but rather that our names are written in Heaven, that we have been justified by faith in Christ, that our sins are forgiven through His life and sacrificial death.

Monday, June 18, 2012

a rather high opinion of themselves

Calling as Intercessors

In Old Testament Israel, the high priest would venture into the Holy of Holies to confess the sin of his people and carry out the vital business of intercession with God on their behalf. In the New Testament, Jesus, our high priest, extended this privilege of priesthood to all believers through the New Covenant and the shedding of His own blood. The apostle Peter proclaims that we who were washed with His blood have now become a “royal priesthood”.

So, let's see...

I Peter 2
4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 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. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Ok, so, Peter does use a phrase that has been translated as "royal priesthood" in this passage, as well as "holy priesthood" in v 5. So? As he points out, Jesus is our High Priest now, there is then no more need for sacrifices for sin. As well, we do not confess the sins of others. Our message, as is said elsewhere in the Bible, is that people should "Be reconciled to God".

As should be evident from the lack of biblical support, his contentions lack biblical support. We don't see, for example, that Peter told the natives of Jerusalem or Israel to "confess the sins" of those around them, nor does any other apostle or epistle teach us this kind of superstitious view of praying for others.

"We as New Testament followers of Christ have also been given the prophetic mantle that was once reserved for isolated prophets of old like Isaiah and Jeremiah" Good luck finding that in the New Testament.

"The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “you can all prophesy." Where did he say that? How about some context? Paul said a lot of things. He once wished some people would castrate themselves. I bet if someone tried to implement that command, someone would start looking at the context.

"Derek Prince, in his book Shaping History through Prayer and Fasting, made a stunning comment: “God has vested in us – His believing people on earth – authority by which we may determine the destinies of nations and governments. He expects us to use our authority both for His glory and our own good.” He based this astounding statement on Jeremiah 1:9-10. In that passage the Lord says He will put His words in the prophet’s mouth and in so doing will appoint him “over nations and kingdoms.”"

Well, let's see those couple of verses, with some context...

Jeremiah 1
4 Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." 6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, l I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” 7 But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD." 9 Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, "Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

Here's a bit about v 10, from a commentary...

10. set thee over — literally, "appointed thee to the oversight." He was to have his eye upon the nations, and to predict their destruction, or restoration, according as their conduct was bad or good. Prophets are said to do that which they foretell shall be done; for their word is God's word; and His word is His instrument whereby He doeth all things (Gen 1:3; Psalm 33:6, 9). Word and deed are one thing with Him. What His prophet saith is as certain as if it were done. The prophet's own consciousness was absorbed into that of God; so closely united to God did he feel himself, that Jehovah's words and deeds are described as his. In Jer 31:28, God is said to do what Jeremiah here is represented as doing (compare Jer 18:7; 1 Kings 19:17; Ezek 43:3).
Brown, David; Fausset, A. R.; Jamieson, Robert (2011-06-02). Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary on the Whole Bible (Kindle Locations 41966-41973). OSNOVA. Kindle Edition.

The point is this--the prophet himself was not set over nations and kingdoms, but was rather the messanger who told them what was going to happen. One can see that in Jeremiah, and with other prophets. The role of the prophet was important, one can see how the response to Jonah's message caused judgment on Nineveh to not happen.

"Centuries later, Jesus erupted with fiery rage at the Jerusalem temple when He found that a preoccupation with marketing and money had subverted the temple’s ministry and priesthood’s calling to be a “house of prayer for all nations.” What a tragic diversion had taken place since apparently the very wellbeing of the world and its peoples was dependent on the prayers from that place!" Not sure how they got that last part from what Jesus said.

"It could be said that the future of our planet is now in the hands and hearts of today’s intercessors." Well, I guess that these people don't have a high opinion of themselves, oh no. Now, it would be interesting to see if they could find where anything like that is taught in the Bible. Did Paul write that to any church? Did Peter preach that in any of his recorded sermons in Acts? Did maybe John write that in Revelation?


"Be assured that our heartfelt, faith-filled prayers will make a huge difference to the wellbeing of our world!" Well, I would be more assured if you actually taught anything biblically sound.

Ok, what does the Bible say about praying for others? Here's a bit about it.

II Corinthians 1
8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

I suppose it would not be unfair to say that this passage shows us that praying for ministers is itself a kind of ministry to them, to help them, and that it may well help their ministry be more effective.

I Timothy 2
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

From this passage, what and who are we to pray for, and why? We are to pray for rulers, so that life can be peaceful and quiet for us.

Surprisingly, the Bible doesn't seem to have this hyper-critical view of intercession, this hyper-spiritual view of it that so many nowadays seem to have, this view that I consider a superstitious view of prayer. When Jesus ascended, His commission was to take the Gospel to all the world. He said nothing about the need for intercessory prayer.

At no point does the Bible say anything such as that the future of the planet is in the hands of intercessors. Sorry, all you who are doing all the supposedly spiritual prayer exercises, trying to stay awake all night, trying to set up 24-7 prayer 'boiler rooms' or whatever you want to call them, trying to create some kind of Tabernacle of David or an 'open heaven', but your projects have no biblical warrant.

Prayer is important, I'm not arguing otherwise. But I'm more than a little put off by the present-day superstitious views of prayer. These views of prayer do not treat prayer as us petitioning God, but us manipulating God. In superstitous prayer, God is the door that will open if we say the proper "Open, Sesame", God is the force who will respond if we have the proper kind of faith, God is the actor on the sideline who cannot act if we do not ask Him to do so. God is waiting for us to do the right things, pray all day and night, create whatever is meant by an 'open heaven', and then He will do something.

Mr. Robb, in this article, is teaching a superstitious view of prayer. History can be shaped through prayer, whatever that means. The intercessors shape the future, believe the future into being, who make the future into a "new-present" that we long for.

Notice the emphasis on "we", what "we" do, what "we" can do through our prayers. It's all about "us", our efforts, our works. We can save the world by our works.
This is starting to seem a lot like another gospel. I'm not completely prepared to go all the way there yet, but it's dangerously close.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

not our enemy

Leviticus 19
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy...9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. 11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. 13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD. 15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD. 17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Psalm 119
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. 35 Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. 36 l Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! 37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. 38 Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. 39 Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. 40 Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!

I Corinthians 3
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple. 18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.

Matthew 5
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. Love Your Enemies 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and l sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

When it comes to the matter of the Law, we saw one error in how we regard it in Joyce Meyer's quote, that the intent of the Law was so that we would be blessed when we keep it. Although the statement does have biblical support, it is far from the whole story, as we soon enough learn that we are unable to keep the Law, and so are put under the curse of the Law. When we consider what Jesus taught in Matthew 5, we get a plain statement of the staggering and impossible standard the Law sets for us. "You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect". We must be as perfect in keeping the Law as God the Father is! Consider that, all you who seek to make yourself righteous by keeping the Law! Consider that, and cry to the Father in repentance for ever thinking that you could do that impossible thing!

We must be wary of another error, too, that of thinking that the Law is some kind of enemy, that we should somehow transcend the need to keep the Law. It is quite easy to misunderstand when the Bible says the we who are believers in Christ are "not under law but under grace". Indeed, looking at the passage that uses that kind of language will prove interesting.

But first, consider the verses above. Consider the passages from Leviticus. Look at what is commanded in it, and ask whether the commands of God in those few verses are fair and just, or not? Look after the poor, don't steal, be honest in your dealings, pay the people who work for you in a timely fashion, don't take advantage of those with physical handicaps, don't make legal rulings based on the economic situations of the people involved, and so on. Who could complain about these rules?

Does this not explain why the Psalmist waxes so eloquently about the Law, why he wanted to be taught God's ways, why he valued them over selfish gain?

The Law is not our enemy. God gave us the Law, not Satan. It is God who has told us to not steal, to not murder, to honor our parents, to not covet what other people have. Not even we who are Christians are above those laws. A Christian who steals is no better than a pagan who steals. A lie from a Christian is just as evil as a lie from an atheist.

Consider this passage from Romans 6, which brings in the phrase about not being under law, "12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness."

Christians have not been redeemed so that we can continue to be slaves to sin, and being a Christian does not mean that we can now sin with impunity. Rather, we have become freed from slavery to sin, so that we may become slaves to righteousness. Yes, we will still sin, and yes we will still need to repent.

What, then, is the purpose of the Law? If it is not to show us how to be blessed, because we cannot keep it, then of what good is it?

The New Testament does tell us some things about what the Law is for. To return to Romans, this time to chapter 7, "7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." The Law, then, is to show us our sinfulness, and as Paul says a bit later, to make it "sinful beyond measure".

Which brings us back to a point made earlier, that we cannot make ourselves righteous by keeping the Law, because we cannot keep it. But we know that the Law is "holy and righteous and good", that we should desire to know and understand the Law as the Psalmist did. But in knowing that we cannot keep the Law, we must acknowledge our own sinfulness, that we each ourselves are "sinful beyond measure".

Not even those who believe are free from the danger of trying to justify ourselves through keeping the Law. Shall any of us, for example, try to force God to bless us by tithing? Yet it is commonly taught that if you tithe, God will bless you. It is commonly taught that if you want God to bless you in a large way, you need to give in a large way. A speaker at a Word Faith conference will tell stories about how someone gave thousands of dollars a few years before during a similar conference, and how they were blessed in some way directly after, and how that breakthrough to a blessing came about because of their giving.

Less likely to be mentioned by a speaker are the stories of people who gave and weren't blessed. That doesn't encourage people to give.

But the main point is, why are they giving? I would dare say, to try to impress God, to try to not only keep His commands, but actually go beyond what is commanded, to try to justify themselves in God's eyes, to puff themselves up in their own righteousness, some maybe even from desperation, and of course to in some way make God indebted to them, beholden to them, to make Him owe them something. "I did this, God, now give me that!!"

If you could imagine a small child handing his father a small plastic toy, then demanding that the father give him a BMW in exchange for the small plastic toy, we can get a bit of an idea of how ridiculous this kind of belief is.

Can you see the arrogance, the pride? What you gave was something God had already given to you, and you demand more because you gave it back to Him? Well may it be said that those who teach this do not build upon the foundation of Christ with precious jewels, but with things that will be burned. In fact, it may be said that many of them do not build on Christ at all, but have put down another, false foundation, one like the sand in Jesus' parable, that was not solid and so the house built on it collapsed in the storm.

Consider this lesson from Jesus.

Luke 17
7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

We have no reason to boast in our acts of righteousness. We have no call to demand blessings. We have no right to say that God must bless us if we do rightly. Even if we did all that God commanded of us, we would still not be profitable to Him, we would still be unworthy servants. He would still be the One who has given us everything we have.

It is not that giving is bad. If it is done wisely, it is very good. But the question for the moment is, why do we give? Do we give to truly help others? Do we give to please God? Do we give as a kind of investment, believing that God will return many-fold to us what we have given? Do we give to make ourselves righteous so as to force God to bless us? Do we believe that God is a loving Father who will provide for us, or that He is like a genie who must give us what we command if we act in a certain way--if we obey certain commands, if we show that we have enough faith, if we sacrifice a certain amount of what we have?

If we can see that we are really worthless servants, that our attempts at righteousness are no better than the vilest of rags, that none of us do good, yet God still loves us, still cares for us, still sent Jesus to die for us, still provides a way of salvation for us, then we can stop our useless striving to impress Him with our works, and by faith believe. It is then that we can see how great the Father's love is for us, not because we can manipulate him as children can manipulate their human fathers, but because we can't, yet He loves us anyway, and cares for those that are His. We can stop trying to bargain with him, and instead be grateful to Him for the blessings He has given us. We can ask Him to bless us, and know that if He in His wisdom considers it good, He will do so, and if He does not bless us in the way we would like, then We can trust His goodness and wisdom, that He knows what is best for us.

But first things first. The Law is not our enemy, it is a gift from God. But it is so easy for us to misunderstand its purposes. Joyce Meyer really is very wrong in what she said. "Obey me and do what I tell you to do, and you’ll be blessed" is not the whole message of the Bible, and we should be happy that it isn't. There is a greater message, that God has made available a righteousness that cannot be attained through the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. Through faith, not through works. As is told us in Ephesians, it is only after we have been saved by faith that we can do the good works that God has prepared for us.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

the impossible blessing

Deuteronomy 30
15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

Psalm 119
Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! 2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! 4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. 5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! 6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. 7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. 8 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!

I Corinthians 3
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 5What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.

Matthew 5:21-37
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable a to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable a to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye l causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into m hell. 30 And if your right hand l causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

In his book "Bad Religion", Russ Douthat writes a bit about the rather popular speaker and writer Joyce Meyer, "She dresses simply and talks bluntly, offering earthy, self-deprecating pep talks that emphasize emotional well-being and then slip the promise of financial success in between the lines. That promise is still crucial to Meyer’s appeal. “The whole Bible really has one message: ‘Obey me and do what I tell you to do, and you’ll be blessed,’” she told the St. Lous Post-Dispatch in 2004, when it ran a series of stories revealing just how blessed she has been." Douthat, Ross (2012-04-17). Bad Religion (p. 188). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Leaving aside Meyer's message of financial success, I do want to focus on the her quote in the St. Louis newspaper, “The whole Bible really has one message: ‘Obey me and do what I tell you to do, and you’ll be blessed,’” It is an interesting quote, and in reading the passages above, one would say that is has some biblical support

Is that not, for example, what God told Israel? "15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it." If you obey the commands, all the commands, then certainly God will bless you. The Psalmist echoes that, "Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! 2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!"
And why should we doubt that this would be true! Was God lying when He said that? Was the Psalmist not writing this song by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? A firm "No!" to each of those questions! God is speaking truly in both passages. Blessed is the one who is blameless, and who walks in the law of the Lord! Blessed is the one does no wrong, but walks in God's ways!

But if we are to think that what Meyer said is not completely unbiblical, we must also know that it not very accurate, either. When she claims that the whole message of the Bible is that we will be blesses if we obey God and do what He says, she is wrong. It is a part of the message of the Bible, yes, and an important part. But the whole message?

Let's be honest--if that was the whole message of the Bible, than we may as well just quit. Take a look at the Deuteronomy passage, "If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today". Ok, so, they need to obey all the commands God gave them that day. Take a look at all the commands. So far as I can tell, Moses begins speaking at Deuteronomy 5. In the 27th chapter, he says twice that they are to obey all the commands. Take a look at those laws, glance over them or read them in-depth, whichever may work to make you realize the task God has set for you.

Obey all that. Fully follow all of that Law.

And if you think it is only about blessings, think again. At the least, Meyer does not mention this in her quote, though to be fair, it may be implied, or maybe she's said it elsewhere, and of course she didn't really write that article, but another did. But at the least, there is the other side of that, that if you disobey God and don't do what He says, then you will not be blessed, in fact you will be cursed. As is said Deuteronomy 27:26, "Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them."
So, let us add this negative aspect to Meyers' statement, that if we fail to keep the Law or fail to do all that God has told us to do, then we are cursed. And considering how much Law there is, and how Jesus shows us the full extent of the commands, how it's not just about outward actions but also things like unjust anger and who we secretly lust after, then we can see how difficult this task is. It is as God also says in Deuteronomy, that He has set before us life and death, blessing and cursing.

But if that life and blessing are only accessible through the keeping of the Law, then, again, we may as well quit. Because we haven't kept the Law perfectly, and should we live another day we won't in the future. As children, we did not perfectly follow the command to "Honor our Father and Mother". We did not perfectly obey the command that says "Do Not Lie". We did not perfectly obey the command that says "Do Not Covet". You can go into a large store at almost any time of day, and see and hear a small child, of may three or so years of ago, having a fit because he or she is being denied some little toy that they suddenly wanted. You can see how, even in that one instance, that child is breaking the commands to Honor Father and Mother as well as Do Not Covet.

And I would dare say that we who are now grown, when we were children of about that same ago, were little different.

I want to focus for a bit on a particular part in the Deuteronomy passage, "But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them...". There are many obvious froms of idolatry, the worship of the gods of false religions, be they the Hindu pantheon, the earth-worship or nature-worship of modern forms of paganism, or the worship of ancestors. There is also a more subtle for of it, which the Bible mentions in Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:5, where covetousness is called a form of idolatry. When we may crave power, money, success, or any thing, more than a desire to please God, that thing has become our object of worship, our idol.

But there is an even subtler kind of idolatry, and in the US it may well be that this is the most popular form. In this, I again must acknowledge Ross Douthat's book, "Bad Religion". He points out several ways in which we today have created our own god. We may even put the name "God" on this thing of our own creation, and even more we may try to find biblical passages that seem to show that this construct is actually the God of the Bible. Here are some examples.

Recently, there has been a controversy over the legitimizing of a well-known preacher who has been known as a modalist, meaning that he does not believe in the Trinity--that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God three persons, as the Bible shows us. The god he believes in, that he preaches, is not the God that has revealed Himself in the Bible. But his acceptance seems to have been rather complete, and he is being welcomed into many different circles. Why? Apparently, because his ministry shows signs of success, meaning it's popular, brings in lots of money, and lots of people listen to him. Certainly not because he teaches sound biblical doctrine.

This man not only preaches a false view of the Godhead, but also the popular 'god' that will provide health and wealth to those who believe, or believe hard enough, or who will do the required acts, which usually involve giving money, the more the better and the more their god likes it. As Douthat points out, this is a very popular teaching. Whole so-called 'Christian' television networks are devoted to spreading this prosperity gospel. Thousands attend conferences and meetings held by these prosperity gospel teachers and faith healers. Their books are among the best-sellers. Their message that God wants you to be well-off, successful, and healthy is very popular. They have story after story of the success of their ideas and methods, and are not even bashful about pointing to themselves as examples.

And it is not just the average person who laps it up. Church leaders see the apparent success these ministries have, and want it, too. If covetousness is indeed a form of idolatry, then far too many church leaders have fallen into the idolatry that covets the numbers and successes of the mega-churches--churches that have multiple services on a Sunday morning, services at multiple location in the city or even outside the city, thousands and maybe even tens of thousands attending those services, cutting-edge video and audio equipment, large buildings with many extras like coffee bars, people more committed to fulfilling the pastor's vision for the church than they are the Bible, in other words a veritable church-empire. In such a culture, where numbers equal success and God's blessing, then the more and higher the numbers, the better. While the occasional token nod to doctrine and the Bible are given, by and large the services that I've listened to from these churches seem to be a mixture of with theatrical production and stand-up comedy.

One thing that Douthat seems to make little mention of, but that I think does deserve some mention, is the god who wants us to take over the world, what has been called Dominionism. It's closely tied to the prosperity gospel, and indeed many adherents to the prosperity gospel also believe in some form of Dominionism. Here is how one preacher of the dominion gospel, Bill Johnson, puts it in a book he co-authored, "Jesus then gave His authority to those who would follow Him. He basically announced that we were back to Plan A: taking back the dominion of a planet, now as redeemed humankind...In Christ, our partnership to rule was restored...The commission to “take back the planet” starts with prayer." (Essential Guide to Healing, The (Kindle Locations 1567-1586)). And in another location in the same book, "While the worship team was playing, Mike leaned over to me and said, “God is looking for a city that would belong entirely to Him. And once He gets that one city, it will cause a domino effect across our nation.” (Kindle Locations 1988-1990).

This is a very popular teaching. If you are familiar with The Call, the Kansas City International House of Prayer and it's various offshoots, Youth With A Mission, 24-7 Prayer and it's various Boiler Rooms, then understand that this is essentially what they are teaching. Behind the Christian imagery and language is the great ambition to take over what are called "spheres of influence", to take back dominion of the planet, to take over cities. and as another Dominionist preacher put it, even at least one nation. "There will have to be at least one "sheep nation" before He calls all nations into judgment. The sons and daughters of the kingdom, of at least one nation, will enter their promised land and evict nations "greater and mightier" than they are. May many, many nations be so won by the children of the King." (Johnny Enlow. The Seven Mountain Prophecy (p. 41). Kindle Edition).

These are some examples of false gods that far too many in the church have fallen before in worship.

But whether our god is one who wants us to take over the world, or our own smaller ambitions and desires, all are still idols, and it is to the one true God that we must come to repent of worshiping any other false god.

For if you plan to claim that we can make ourselves good by keeping the Law, know that you will fail, and indeed have already failed. If you have put your hope in keeping the Law, then you are without any real hope. And if that were the end of the story, then it would not matter if your hope of true or not.

But that isn't the end of it. We have already established the truth in this statement from Romans 3, "19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." But let us read on a few verses more, "21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."

So, we may conclude that Meyer's statement, taken in isolation as it is, is simply wrong. “The whole Bible really has one message: ‘Obey me and do what I tell you to do, and you’ll be blessed,’” is not the one whole message of the Bible--far from it! We cannot obey God and do what He tells us to do, and so we are all cursed! But there is One who has obeyed God and did do what God told Him to do, who was obedient even to death on the cross. We can stop trying to impress with our attempts at making ourselves righteous by keeping the Law, it is hopeless; rather, we are called to simply have faith in Jesus Christ, and we who believe will be given this righteousness as a gift!

So simple, so easy, no works required, no great and futile acts of penance demanded, only repentance of sins and belief in Christ! What we could not do ourselves, God has done for us.