Monday, February 19, 2018

Why Is God So Angry?

Part 5 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:24-32




Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (vv. 24-25). 


A Foolish Exchange

People have made a foolish exchange. They have exchanged the Creator for created things (v. 25), thinking that these things can make them happy. C. S. Lewis writes,
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world (Mere Christianity, 134-135). 
We were made to know God. And if we never find him, our search for happiness will end in disappointment.

God “gave them up” (vv. 24, 26, 28). He allowed them to do what they wanted to do. The result was “all manner of unrighteousness” (v. 29).


God's Anger

Verse 18 says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Why is God so angry?

When we hear the word “wrath,” we often think of someone who has an anger issue (i.e., someone with a short fuse). But God doesn’t have a short fuse. In Exodus 34:6, God proclaims to Moses that he is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” God is slow to anger.

God’s wrath is his righteous anger (i.e., a right kind of anger) over all sin. God is angry only when it’s right to be angry. There are times when anger is right (i.e., appropriate, fitting) and indifference is wrong. It’s right to be angry when an evil act is committed (e.g., this week’s school shooting in Florida). We get angry because we care. “Unrighteousness” (i.e., sin, breaking God’s commands—not loving God and others) makes God angry because he cares about us. Sin hurts either us or others. 

When an evil act is committed, we also desire justice. But God gains no pleasure out of punishing people for their sin. “As I live, declares the LORD GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11). Jesus “wept over” (Luke 19:41) the city of Jerusalem and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matt. 23:37).

God will not overlook any sin, but he wants to forgive every sin. He is “patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The cross proves to us both the awfulness of sin in the eyes of God (if he could overlook sin, why did Jesus die for our sin?) and the love of God for us.


Homosexuality 

The apostle Paul singles out one sin: homosexuality. Why? Probably the phrase “contrary to nature” (v. 26) is the key to answering that question. Paul began by talking about mankind suppressing the truth about God, which is contrary to nature. Belief in God is natural (i.e., we’re hardwired to believe in God). So then Paul points out a sin (homosexuality) that is unnatural (i.e., not what God intended for mankind).

We live in a culture in which anything is acceptable between two consenting adults. But God made us male and female. And God made sex. And sex is only to be enjoyed by a man and a woman who are married to each other. (However it isn’t a sin to be attracted to the same sex.)

It’s imperative that we maintain a balance between biblical conviction and Christlike compassion. If you say to a gay person, “I love you, but I can’t accept your lifestyle,” they’ll say, “But this is who I am!” You probably won’t convince them with your words, so just show them love. 


Don't Forget About the Other Sins

Let’s not overlook the other sins mentioned in this passage. Gossip is a sin that angers God (v. 29). Instead of praying for a person’s problems, the gossiper would rather talk about their problems. Instead of saying a kind word to that person, the gossiper would rather criticize them behind their backs.

Don’t say anything negative about someone that you wouldn’t say to them. And when you hear gossip, ask the person, “Have you spoken to them about this concern you have?” God hates gossip. It hurts people, and it can destroy the unity of a church.

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Foolish Trade

Part 4 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:21-23




Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (vv. 22-23). 


The Human Heart Is an Idol Factory 

The apostle Paul writes, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged [i.e., traded] the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (vv. 22-23). What he’s saying is that mankind traded God for idols. Idolatry is the worship of a God-substitute. Idolaters exchange the worship of God for the worship of a substitute.

What are the first two commandments? The first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). And the second commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exod. 20:4-5). The Ten Commandments begin by forbidding idolatry—perhaps because idolatry is the root of all other sins. 

The human heart is an idol factory. The apostle John writes, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). John was probably writing to Christians living near or in the city of Ephesus. [1] In Ephesus, there was both pagan idolatry and idolatry of the heart. [2] Ephesus was famous for its Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (see Acts 19:21-41). The worship of Artemis was pagan idolatry. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, states that a “covetous” person is “an idolater” (Eph. 5:5; cf. Col. 3:5). Covetousness is one type of idolatry of the heart.

John Calvin writes that idolatry is “to worship the gifts in place of the giver himself.” [3] Tim Keller defines idolatry as “the making of good things into ultimate things.” [4] In his book Counterfeit Gods, Keller writes than an idol is “anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” [5] Whenever there is a financial crisis, there are some people who commit suicide. Without their money, life isn’t worth living. Money is their god. Idolatry is turning a good thing (like money) into an ultimate thing.

Settling for Less 

Paul says, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (v. 22). When we turn from God to devote our lives to an idol, we are settling for less—much less. How do we settle for less?

First, when we trade God for an idol, we become less. Paul was probably thinking of Psalm 106:19-20 when he wrote verse 23: “They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.” The psalmist is referring to the golden calf incident. After God had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, they “made a golden calf” (Exod. 32:4) and “worshiped it” (Exod. 32:8). Tragically, the making and worship of the golden calf took place while Moses was on Mount Sinai received the Ten Commandments from God.

After the Israelites made and worshiped the golden calf, God described them as “a stiff-necked people” (Exod. 32:9; cf. 33:3, 5; 34:9; 2 Chron. 30:8; Neh. 9:16, 17, 29; Jer. 7:26; Acts 7:51). The golden calf would have been a bull (an ox?), a stiff-necked animal. The Israelites resembled their idol. [6] Psalm 115:8 says, “Those who make [idols] become like them; so do all who trust in them.” [7]

Humans were made to resemble God. Genesis 1:26 says that God made us “in [his] image, after [his] likeness.” In his book We Become What We Worship, G. K. Beale writes, “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” [8] In Romans, the Greek word for “image” (eikon) occurs twice: “images [i.e., idols] resembling moral man and birds and animals” (1:23) and “the image of [God’s] Son” (8:29).

Second, when we trade God for an idol, we get less. When people are devoted to an idol, they are looking elsewhere for satisfaction. People who are devoted to idols say, “If only I could [fill in the blank], then I’d be satisfied.” But idols always end up disappointing us. Augustine prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” [9]

God declared, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). To the woman at the well, Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:13-14).


We Are All Worshipers

Everyone is born worshiping. We all have the desire for “something more.” And we try to satisfy that desire with all sorts of things. But only God can satisfy that desire.
What is it, then, that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself. [10]
To trade God for something else is to settle for less—much less.

___________________

[1] D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament, 451.
[2] God says in Ezekiel 14:3, “These men have taken their idols into their heart” (cf. vv. 4, 7).
[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.36.
[4] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, 162.
[5] Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xviii.
[6] The Israelites repeatedly acted in a stiff-necked manner in the wilderness, refusing to obey God. This was especially seen when they refused to enter the promised land.
[7] See also Psalm 135:18; Isaiah 42:17-20.
[8] G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship, 16.
[9] Augustine, Confessions, Book 1.
[10] Blaise Pascal, Pensées, page unknown.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

No Excuses

Part 3 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:18-20




For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18). 


Excuses

People are very good at coming up with excuses. What did Adam and Eve do when God confronted them about their sin? They gave God excuses. Adam said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen. 3:13). But God didn’t accept their excuses.

There is coming a day when each one of us will stand before God. And everyone is guilty of unrighteousness. (Unrighteousness is the opposite of righteousness, which is right living--in other words, loving God and loving others.) We can fool others, but we can’t fool God. Nothing is hidden from him. “God judges the secrets of men” (2:16).

God knows our sin, and none of us can give an excuse that will cause God to overlook it. None of us can argue our way out of hell. This is why the gospel is so good. It’s “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16). There’s no excuse that can save us, but God offers us salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.


Suppression of the Truth

Paul writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (v. 18). God’s wrath is his righteous anger against unrighteousness. People often think of wrath as a negative emotion, but sometimes it can be an appropriate emotion. For example, when you hear a story about a child being murdered, how do you feel? Probably angry. That's an appropriate emotion. If you felt indifference, that would actually be a sinful reaction. Why do we react with anger? Because we care about children. The same is true with the wrath of God. He is angry at our sin because he cares about us. Sin hurts ourselves or others.

How do people “suppress the truth”? We find the answer in the next verse: “For what can be known about God is plain [i.e., obvious] to them, because God has shown it to them” (v. 19). And how has God shown all people truth about himself? “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (v. 20).

Creation reveals truth about God. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). But people choose to suppress that truth. In the TV series The X-Files, agent Mulder has behind his desk a poster of a flying saucer, and the poster says, “I want to believe.” There are people who search the night skies, looking for UFOs, because they want to believe in extraterrestrials. But many of those same people will look into the night skies and see evidence for a powerful Creator and will suppress the truth. Why? Because they don’t want to believe.

Some skeptics will bring up the “hiddenness” of God. They will argue: (1) if God existed, then God would make his existence more obvious; (2) God is not obvious; (3) thus, God does not exist. But Paul states that God is actually more obvious that many people will admit. God also revealed himself through Jesus. And it’s also extremely arrogant to say that if there is a God he should reveal himself as I see fit.

People’s rejection of God is due to a moral deficiency, not a mental deficiency. Creation provides many arguments for the existence of God.
  1. The universe must have had a cause (cosmological argument). 
  2. The universe’s harmony, order, and design demands a designer (teleological argument). Richard Dawkins writes, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose" (The Blind Watchmaker, 1). Of course, Dawkins believes that the apparent design in creation is an illusion. This is an example of someone suppressing the truth.
  3. Humanity’s sense of right and wrong comes from a God of justice (moral argument). 
Paul says, “So they are without excuse” (v. 20). There is no one who can excuse their unbelief by saying to God, “You didn’t reveal yourself to me!” God has revealed himself to everyone through creation. This revelation is not sufficient to save, but I believe that if a person seeks God, he will give him/her more truth about himself.


Out to Get Us?

When we read in the Bible about God’s wrath and judgment and hell, we might think that God is out to get us—that he’s just waiting for us to mess up so he can punish us.

God is not out to get us; he’s out to save us!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Part 2 of Romans: The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:1-17




For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). 


Good News!

The book of Romans is a letter. It was written by the apostle Paul around A.D. 57. It was written to believers in Rome. The theme of the letter is the gospel.

“Gospel” means “good news.” “The gospel of God” (v. 1) is the best good news! The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (v. 16). The gospel is good news that everyone needs to hear and believe. 

It’s often said that good news is for sharing. So why is it so hard for most of us to share the gospel with others?


Good News to Us, Foolishness to Them

What makes the gospel difficult to share is the fact that most people don’t want to hear it. Most people didn’t want to hear the gospel in Paul’s day. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “The message of the cross is foolishness [i.e., stupidity] to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18, NIV). There are people who want us to be ashamed of the gospel.

Even though most people thought the gospel was “foolishness,” Paul still believed that he was “under obligation” (v. 14) to share it with others. (“I am a debtor,” NKJV). Even though there will be people who will mock the gospel, we must still share it.


Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (v. 16). We must never forget that the gospel is about a person who was publicly humiliated on a cross. While enduring excruciating pain, he was naked for all to see and mocked mercilessly by his enemies. “To die by crucifixion was to plumb the lowest depths of disgrace; it was a punishment reserved for those who were deemed most unfit to live” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 338). Jesus didn’t avoid the shame of the cross, he endured it…for us, for our salvation.

The gospel is never going to be “cool.” People will try to shame us. But we can’t be ashamed of the one who was humiliated on a cross for us.


The Gospel Is for Believers

As we go through the book of Romans, you might start thinking, “I’ve already believed the gospel. Can’t we go on to something else?” Look at what Paul writes in verse 15: “I am eager to preach the gospel to you [i.e., believers in Rome].” The gospel is not only for everyone who has not yet believed but also for everyone who has already believed. 

We can’t leave the gospel and go on to something else. It’s when we forget about the gospel that we drift away from righteousness (i.e., loving God and others, “the obedience of faith,” v. 5).

  • The gospel gives us the desire to surrender our lives to God. “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one had died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to love others. “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:2). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to give. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to rid ourselves of self-centeredness. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interest but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:3-8, NIV). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to forgive. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32; cf. Col. 3:13). 
  • The gospel gives us the desire to avoid sexual sin. “Do you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). 
  • The gospel gives husbands the desire to love their wives. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). 
We must share the gospel with others, but we must also preach it to ourselves.

Monday, January 22, 2018

What Is the Gospel?

Part 1 of The Gospel of God

Text: Romans 1:1-17




[The gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). 


The Book of Romans 

Martin Luther believed that their was no greater book in the Bible than the book of Romans:
This Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes. [1] 
But Luther didn’t always feel this way about Romans:
I had…been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But…a single word in chapter 1…stood in my way. For I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which…I had been taught to under-stand…is the righteousness [with which God] punished the unrighteous sinner. [2]
What caused Luther to go from hating the word “righteousness” in the book of Romans to loving everything about Romans?

The book of Romans is a letter. It was written by the apostle Paul around A.D. 57. It was written to believers in Rome. The theme of the letter is the gospel.

Paul writes, “[I have been] set apart for the gospel of God” (v. 1); “I am eager to preach the gospel to you” (v. 15); and “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (v. 16). But what is the gospel? The word “gospel” means “good news.” But what’s the good news?


Salvation

The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (v. 16). The gospel is about salvation. Salvation from what? Verse 18 says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” We are guilty of unrighteousness (i.e., wrongdoing, breaking God's commands). We need to be saved from the wrath of God. [3] The wrath of God is his holy anger against unrighteousness. There must be punishment for our unrighteousness.

There is coming a day when you and I will stand before God. And each one of us is guilty of unrighteousness. [4] How is it possible that we could be declared innocent by God? How is it possible that we could escape hell? The answer is the gospel. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

In verse 16, we learn three truths about salvation. First, salvation is the work of God. The gospel is “the power of God for [i.e., that results in [5]] salvation.” Second, salvation is possible for everyone. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone.” No one is excluded and no one is exempted. Third, salvation requires faith. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Faith is “not (primarily) agreement with a set of doctrines but trust in a person.” [6]

In verse 17, Paul writes, “In it [i.e., the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed” (v. 17). There’s lots of debate about what “the righteousness of God” means in this verse. It could mean one of three things: (1) God’s attribute of righteousness, (2) an act of righteousness by God, or (3) a gift of righteousness from God. Perhaps Paul meant all three. The gospel displays God’s righteousness. The gospel is about God acting in righteousness. The gospel is about God giving us righteousness.

How does God give us righteousness? Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ became sin for us—and was punished for our sin. Through faith in him, we become the righteousness of God. So Luther went from hating that word "righteousness" to loving when he finally understood that God gives us righteousness through faith in Christ.


The Great Exchange

Second Corinthians 5:21 is often called the great exchange. There is no greater trade than the exchange of our sin for Christ’s righteousness. What God demands from us, he gives to us—at the cost of the life of his Son.

____________________
[1] Martin Luther, Preface to Romans, page unknown.
[2] Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, 10-11.
[3] Romans 5:9 states, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by [Christ’s] blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
[4] According to Romans 3:23, “All have sinned.”
[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, 60.
[6] Douglas G. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 67.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Keeping Your Resolution to Pray

Part 2 of What's Your Resolution?

Text: 1 John 5:13-15




And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him (1 John 5:14-15). 


Don't Ditch Your Resolution!

This is the time of year when people are trying to keep New Year’s resolutions. Two of the most common Christian resolutions are to read the Bible daily and to pray daily.

Did you know that January 17 has been named Ditch Your Resolutions Day? Why? Probably be-cause it only takes about two months into a new year to feel like ditching our resolution. Resolutions are hard to keep: 50% of people make New Year’s resolutions, but 88% of those resolutions ultimately fail. How can we keep our resolution to pray daily?


Direct Access to God

When you call to make an appointment with your doctor, you don’t speak to your doctor. You speak to your doctor’s receptionist. And you almost never get to see your doctor immediately. You have to make an appointment to see your doctor on a future day. Then when that day finally arrives and you go to your doctor’s office, you have to sit in a waiting room and wait.

It’s very different when we want to meet with God. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry” (Ps. 34:15). We have direct access to God!


Keeping Our Resolution

If we are to keep our resolution to pray daily, we should remember five things. First, when we pray, we should remember that it’s normal to be frustrated with prayer. There are many biblical examples of people who were frustrated with prayer. One of these people was the prophet Habakkuk. The book of Habakkuk begins with the prophet complaining to God about unanswered prayer: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Hab. 1:2). Sometimes it’s encouraging to discover that other people struggle like us. (We’re not happy about the struggles of others, but we are happy to know we’re not abnormal.)

Second, when we pray, we should remember that we’re approaching a Father who loves us. Throughout 1 John, John emphasizes that believers are God’s children (“born of God”). In 3:1, he writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” God is a Father who loves his children more than we can imagine. Because we know God loves us, we can have “confidence” (v. 14) when we pray.

Third, when we pray, we should remember that prayer really does work. But prayer is not a waste of time. It’s possible that when we pray we can “have the requests that we have asked of him” (v. 15). Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can make God do things he doesn’t want to do.

Fourth, when we pray, we should remember that prayer isn’t all about us. Prayer is about getting God’s will done, not ours (“if we ask anything according to his will,” v. 14). We should also pray for the needs of others, not just our own needs (see v. 16).

Fifth, before we pray, we should have a plan. Instead of saying to ourselves, “I want to pray daily,” we should make a specific plan. An ideal plan would be to combine Bible reading and prayer. Here’s one possible plan: (1) set aside 20 minutes; (2) pick a quiet time and place; (3) read a portion of Scripture; (4) meditate upon the words you have read; (5) ask God to speak to you through those words; (6) pray.


An Appointment with God

I’m sure most of us have a few appointments on our calendars for this month: an appointment to see your doctor, an appointment to get your car repaired, an appointment to have coffee with a friend. We do our best not to miss our appointments.

We have an each day appointment to meet with God—to hear his voice through his word and speak to him through prayer. But many of us miss that appointment. This is nothing new. Martin Luther—who lived 500 years ago—wrote a letter to his barber about how to pray. In the letter he said this:
It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, “Wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.” Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day. [1]
Think about the incredible privilege it is to meet with God each day. And what’s most amazing is that he is “always more ready to hear than we [are] to pray.” [2]

If you struggle with taking time to pray, my purpose is not to make you feel guilty about your lack of prayer. My purpose is to encourage you—starting today—to make sure you keep your daily appointment with God.

____________________

[1] Martin Luther, A Simple Way to Pray.
[2] Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Keeping Your Resolution to Read the Bible

Part 1 of What's Your Resolution?

Text: 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:14-17




All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).


New Year's Resolutions

This is the time of year when people make New Year’s resolutions. A common New Year’s resolution for Christians is to read the Bible more regularly. Unfortunately, most people don’t keep their resolutions: 50% of people make New Year’s resolutions, but 88% of those resolutions ultimately fail. Those numbers are discouraging, but I still think that resolutions are worth making. How can we be more successful in keeping our resolution to read the Bible daily?


Keeping Our Resolution to Daily Read the Bible

If we are to keep our resolution to daily read the Bible, we must do two things. First, we must believe that the Bible is worth reading. In other words, we must have a high view of the Bible. We must believe that the words of the Bible are the words of God. Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (3:16). The Greek word for “breathed out by God” (“inspired,” NASB) is theopneustos. The word does not occur in any other Greek text (biblical or secular) prior to 2 Timothy. Some people think that Paul might have invented the word.

The apostle Peter states, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Peter 1:21). The Bible is both a divine book and a human book. It was written by humans but breathed out by God. God used each author’s unique style and experiences, but, at the same time, they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Second Timothy 3:16 and 1 Peter 1:21 actually refer to the OT. What about the NT? Peter implies that Paul’s writings are Scripture: “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). And Paul quotes the words of Jesus in Luke 10:7 as Scripture: “The Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”

The psalmist says, “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Psalm 119:16). The Hebrew word for “forget” (shakach) means to lay aside, to forget, to take for granted, to neglect. If we believe that the words of the Bible are the words of God, we shouldn’t neglect to read the Bible’s words. As Paul writes, the words of the Bible are “profitable” (cf. 1 Tim. 4:8; Titus 3:8).

Second, we must have a plan. Paul tells Timothy, “Do your best [be zealous] to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handing the word of truth” (2:15). Paul compares a Christian to a “worker” (i.e., a laborer). To work effectively, a worker needs a plan. Of course, with a plan we also need to have dedication.

Blogger Tim Challies recently wrote an article entitled “How to Make a New Year’s Resolution That Sticks.” Here are some tips from that article.

  1. Make resolutions, not wishes. Wishing upon a star might work in Disney movies, but not in real life. Merely making a resolution won’t somehow magically make things change. 
  2. Make just one resolution. Make it specific and realistic—big enough to be meaningful, but small and defined enough to be attainable. 
  3. Convert your resolutions to habits. Challies says, “Willpower is enough to get you started, but you will need habit to sustain it.” [reward system] 
  4. Make a plan. It’s often said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” If you are resolving to read the Bible regularly, you need a plan. David Murray has some tips for Bible reading in his article entitled “Re-ignite Bible Reading That’s Become Boring.” A few of the tips: ban the cellphone, read a different version, use a devotional first, and use a study Bible. 
  5. Share your resolution. Tell a friend about your resolution so that they can keep you accountable. 
  6. Pray. 

Why We Read the Bible

But we must not read the Bible just to read it—to merely get it done. Reading the Bible is important, but being changed by the Bible is much more important. As James writes, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

Do you believe the words of the Bible are the words of God? Do you believe there is value in reading the Bible? If you do, you need to have a plan to regularly read the Bible—a wise plan you can stick to. And as you read it each day, seek to understand it and obey it.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Grace and Truth

Part 3 of God Incarnate

Text: John 1:17




For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). 


God in Human Flesh

What’s the big deal about the birth of Jesus? It’s a big deal because Jesus was none other than God in human flesh! “The Word [i.e., Jesus] was God” (John 1:1). “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (v. 14). The firstborn son of Mary was none other than God in human flesh! The baby that the shepherds found lying in a manger was none other than God in human flesh!


Who God Is

In Exodus 33, Moses wants assurance from God that his presence will remain with him and the Israelites. So he says to God, “Please show me your glory” (v. 18). God replies, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name, ‘The LORD’” (v. 19). The next day on Mount Sinai,
The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with [Moses] there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod. 34:5-6). 
In the original Hebrew, “LORD” is Yahweh. Yahweh is God’s name. (God’s name isn’t God, just like my name isn’t man.) When God proclaims to Moses his name, he tells Moses who he is—not what he is, but who he is (i.e., his “goodness”). Yahweh is a God who abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness. “Steadfast love” is unwavering or loyal love. “Faithfulness” means to be true to one’s word, reliable.


God Isn't Like Jonah

When God told the prophet Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah refused. Why? Because he knew the character of God (i.e., who God is). He knew that if the people of Nineveh repented, God would spare them. And Jonah didn’t want that to happen. But that’s what did happen, and Jonah wasn’t happy about it. “It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry” (Jonah 4:1). So he complained to God:
“O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (v. 2). 
Jonah hoped that God would change his mind about sparing Nineveh, so he went outside the city and sat down and waited. Where he was sitting there, God caused a plant to grow up beside him. The plant provided shade for Jonah, and Jonah was happy. But then a worm came along and destroyed the plant, and Jonah was angry. God rebuked Jonah for not caring more about the plant than the people of Nineveh:
“You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than 120,000 persons…” (vv. 10-11). 
Thankfully God isn’t like Jonah! Thankfully he abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness! He cares about people. Do we?


What God Did

What did John mean when he said that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (v. 17)? “Grace and truth” are John’s way of saying “steadfast love and faithfulness.” D. A. Carson writes, “This pair of expressions [‘steadfast love and faithfulness’] recurs again and again in the Old Testament. The two words that John uses, ‘full of grace and truth,’ are his ways of summing up the same ideas” (The Gospel According to John, 129).

Through the Word (i.e., Jesus) God spoke to Israel (and to us). He proclaimed to us that he is a God of steadfast love and faithfulness, grace and truth. Israel’s Messiah had been born! God still loved them! He kept his promise!

Who you are (i.e., your character) affects what you do. God did what he did because he is who he is. Jesus came to us because God is a God who has a heart full of steadfast love and faithfulness. Jesus is the Father’s “only [i.e., beloved] Son” (v. 14). We have broken the law that was given through Moses (v. 17), but “God so loved the world [i.e., us], that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). In the cross we see mankind’s hatred for God and God’s love for mankind.


Don't Forget Who God Is

Whenever we start to doubt God—his love for us or his promises to us—we should hear him say, “This is me, Yahweh…Yahweh. You know you can trust me. I abound is steadfast love and faithfulness. I am full of grace and truth. Don’t doubt.”

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Glory of God

Part 2 of God Incarnate

Text: John 1:14




And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). 


What's the Big Deal?

What’s the big deal about the birth of Jesus? It’s a big deal because Jesus was none other than God in human flesh! The baby lying in the manger was none other than God in human flesh!
Lo, within a manger lies
He who built the starry skies. 
In John 1:1-18, Jesus is called “the Word.” Why? As we can tell others who we are by our words, God has told us who he is by the Word, Jesus—God in human flesh.


We Have Seen His Glory

John writes, “We have seen his glory.” “Glory” in this context means brightness, splendour, or greatness. “Glory” is used this way when it’s said, “Let’s plug the lights in and see the Christmas tree in all its glory.” John wants us to think of the experiences of the Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness (found in the book of Exodus). On Mount Sinai, Moses said to God, “Please show me your glory” (Exod. 33:18).

It was God’s plan for his glorious presence to dwell with his people. God told Moses, “Let them make me a sanctuary [i.e., the tabernacle], that I may dwell in their midst” (Exod. 25:8).” After the tabernacle was made, “The glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Exod. 40:34). As God dwelt with the Israelites in the wilderness, John says that the Word “dwelt (skenoo) among us.” A more literal translation skenoo is “pitched his tent” or “tabernacled.” As the Israelites saw the glory of God when God dwelt among them, John and the other apostles saw the glory of God when Jesus dwelt among them. “We have seen his glory.” How did they see the glory of God?


The Glory of the Cross

Jesus once said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). How would he be glorified? Jesus also said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people [i.e., all kinds of people] to myself” (John 12:32). John adds, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (v. 33).

When Jesus was crucified, he was literally “lifted up.” Another meaning of “lifted up” is “glorified.” Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah foretold that the servant of the Lord (i.e., Jesus) would be “lifted up”: “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted” (Isa. 52:13). The next verse says, “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (v. 14).

The cross displays for us the glory of God. How? When you go to a funeral for a person who was greatly admired, do you hear much talk about the dead person’s beauty? No. Usually the characteristics that are most praised are the person’s humility, generosity, kindness, and sacrificial love. Those are the characteristics that we see when we look at the cross (if we believe that Jesus is God in human flesh). That’s how we see the glory of God in the cross. That’s how John saw the glory of God in Jesus.


Do They See the Glory of God in Us?

Do our lives bring glory to God? “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Cor. 6:19). “So glorify God in your body” (v. 20) How can our lives bring glory to God? Be like Jesus.

Monday, December 4, 2017

God With Us

Part 1 of God Incarnate

Text: John 1:1, 14a




In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1, 14a). 


Who Was Jesus?

Most people know that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. But who was Jesus? There isn’t a more important question than this one. How often do we stop to think about the identity of the baby in the manger? The Gospel of John begins with an amazing claim about Jesus: Jesus was none other than God in human flesh! The baby in the manger was none other than God in human flesh!


The Word Became Flesh

“The Word” is Jesus. In verses 1 and 14, John says five things about Jesus.
  1. Jesus “was in the beginning.” The Gospel of John begins at the beginning. Before the uni-verse existed, Jesus existed. 
  2. Jesus “was with God.” This means that Jesus enjoyed a relationship with God. 
  3. Jesus “was God.” He is not a god; he is God. How can Jesus be with God and also be God? Though there is only one God, God exists as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is God (the Son), and was “with” the Father and the Spirit. 
  4. Jesus “became flesh.” Jesus was not always human. He became human when we was miraculously conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary. Jesus in God incarnate (i.e., God in human flesh). 
  5. Jesus “dwelt among us.” Joseph was told that Mary’s baby boy would be called Immanuel, which means, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). 
Why is Jesus called the Word? Think about why we use words. We use words to express ourselves (i.e., reveal to people who were are). When someone says to us, “Tell me about yourself,” we use words to reveal who we are. We also use words to get things done. If we’re eating at a table with others, and we can’t reach the pepper, we use words to get the pepper: “Please pass me the pepper.” When Jesus, the Word, lived among us, he revealed to us who God is and accomplished for us what we most needed. In the words of Linus van Pelt, “That’s what Christmas is all about.”