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Summaries, Psalms 47-51

Monday, June 03, 2019

 

Psalm 47 is a simple song of rejoicing before God.  It invites all of Israel to praise Him because He is great and has defeated their enemies.  Because He has been exalted, they should sing praises to Him.  Now, as He reigns on His throne, the leaders of His people are gathering to worship Him.

Psalm 48 is about God’s defense of Jerusalem.  He has made her His holy mountain, set His throne within her, and made Himself known as her protector.  When enemy kings attacked Jerusalem, God’s presence frightened and defeated them.  From this, God’s people conclude that He always will protect her.  They rejoice in His steadfastness and goodness.  They urge everyone to consider how well fortified Jerusalem is, as well as the implications of God’s presence within her.

Psalm 49 is a reflection on the impermanence of wickedness.  The psalmist announces to everyone that he has something wise to say.  He asks, rhetorically, why he should fear the evil people who trust in their wealth.  No amount of money can buy off God, and they, along with everyone else, will end up in the grave.  They foolishly rely on themselves, but death will be their end.  Only those who rely on God can hope for anything better.  As a result, the righteous should not be afraid of the rich, no matter how impressive they may appear.  They’ll die like everyone else.

Psalm 50 is about God coming as a righteous judge.  He comes to judge in dramatic fashion, demanding that His people appear before Him.  He applauds their faithfulness in offering sacrifices to Him, but He points out that He doesn’t need them.  He owns everything anyway, and He doesn’t eat sacrificial animals.  Instead, sacrifices are useful for the righteous because they ensure God will help them when they need it.  

On the other hand, God condemns the wicked who talk a good game but don’t obey and who associate with thieves and adulterers.  They spoke evil things, and they thought they were going to get away with it, but now God has come to rebuke them.  If they continue their wickedness, they will be destroyed, and only if they praise and obey Him will they be saved.

Psalm 51 is David’s famous plea for pardon after his sin with Bathsheba.  He begs God to have mercy on him and cleanse him from his sin.  He thinks about that sin constantly, and he admits that he has wronged God.  God is perfect, but he is so imperfect that he feels he may as well have been born in sin. 

God delights in truth, so he begs God to cleanse him and take away the consequences of God’s righteous punishment.  He pleads for a clean heart, for God not to reject him.  If God will do these things, he promises to lead others to God and to praise Him.  He won’t offer God any sacrifices for himself because he knows that what God really wants is his contrition.  However, if God will defend Jerusalem, the sacrifices from His people will continue.

Abortion, Sin, and Fear

Friday, May 31, 2019

 

A week or so ago, I ran across this post, written by a pro-life volunteer at a pregnancy-crisis center.  The author noted that in her experience, women seeking abortions are not driven by heartlessness, but by fear.  They may well acknowledge that the baby inside them is alive, but they are doing what they believe they must to preserve their own lives.

We must understand and acknowledge this first because it humanizes the woman who chooses to have an abortion, and that’s important.  Even if we don’t share her fears (angry boyfriend, angry employer, difficult pregnancy), we understand what it is like to be afraid, to feel helpless.

Additionally, it is a testimony to the power and pervasiveness of fear.  Because of James 1, we tend to view sin as the result of lust, of desire.  This is responsible, I think, for the caricature of the heartless woman who murders her young because she doesn’t want to handle the inconvenience.  That’s lust-based abortion.

However, when we consider sin only as a byproduct of lust, we miss everything the Scriptures have to say about the spiritual dangers of fear.  The servant who buried his one talent wasn’t lustful.  The Jewish leaders who believed in Jesus but refused to admit it weren’t lustful.  The early Christians who fell away because of persecution weren’t lustful.  They were afraid, and their fear led to failure.

Fear, rather than being spiritually irrelevant, is a dire problem.  Unchecked fear is deadly, both in its power and in its consequences.  People who are ruled by their fears are people at their worst.

Why did the Holocaust happen?  The one-word answer is, “Fear.”  Enough Germans were afraid of the perceived power and malignity of the Jewish race that they were willing to endorse slaughtering Jews by the millions.  Why did the Civil War happen?  Because the antebellum Southern elites were afraid of losing their political power. 

Indeed, most of the great atrocities of human history are about fear.  If abortion is no different, this is hardly surprising.

Also, even while we sympathize with those who are afraid, we must remember that God doesn’t give partial credit to fearful sinners.  The opposite is true.  Those who shrink back, shrink back to destruction.  Scripturally speaking, it is infinitely better to do right and suffer for it than to be led by fear to do wrong.  That’s what He expects.

I regret deeply that we live in a world that makes women afraid to carry their young to term.  However, such things are inevitable when the world is under the sway of the evil one.   When a woman sleeps with her boyfriend because she is afraid of losing him, then terminates the resultant pregnancy for the same reason, that is the devil’s handiwork. 

I pity her, as I do all of Satan’s miserable slaves.  However, while pity should lead us to treat her mercifully, it must never lead us to treat her choice as acceptable.  Fear-provoked abortion is no better than lust-provoked abortion.  The baby involved is no less dead, and the soul of the woman involved no less stained with guilt.  If, conversely, we choose to overlook the sin that is caused by fear, there is no end to the evils we will accept.

The Problem with Happy-Face Christianity

Thursday, May 30, 2019

 

The other day, a friend of mine unburdened himself on Facebook about his struggles with depression.  He talked about his confusion and fear and self-hatred.  I came away from his post feeling deeply saddened and troubled, not only because of his plight, but because of my conviction that as a brotherhood, we have failed him and those like him.

I agree with Steve Wolfgang that the greatest failure of the Lord’s church in the past 50 years has been the failure to raise up men who will be spiritual leaders.  Right behind that one, though, is surely our failure to meet the needs of and give a voice to Christians who wrestle with depression, grief, and suffering.

Indeed, there exists in our teaching and especially in our singing the presumption that Christians ought to be happy people.  I think this is driven by salesmanship.  We want the lost to come to Christ, so we feel the need to make Christianity as attractive as possible by pretending that everything is A-OK with us.  “Look how wonderful my life is!!!  Don’t you want to have a life as wonderful as mine???”

This is problematic for several reasons.  First, it’s fundamentally dishonest.  You can be a faithful Christian and still, for reasons beyond your control, have a miserable life.  To argue otherwise is quite literally to adopt the position of Job’s friends. 

Nonetheless, Christians who are suffering intensely often are expected to paste a smile on and act like nothing’s wrong.  I’ve seen a sister who had lost her child six weeks beforehand get rebuked on Facebook for dwelling on her grief.  If we believe that Christians ought to be happy all the time, then Christians who are obviously unhappy introduce cognitive dissonance that we’re not prepared to handle.  Clearly, even though they have every reason to be unhappy, they must be doing something wrong!  Lack of faith, probably.

Second, it’s not faithful to the witness of Scripture.  One would never guess it from much of our teaching and preaching, but the Bible reflects more deeply on human suffering than any other book ever written.  Many of the great heroes of faith were men and women of intense suffering. 

Job was one such, obviously, but there are many more.  David wrote that he felt like God was drowning him.  Elijah pleaded with God to kill him.  Paul despaired even of life.  Even Christ Himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. 

We need to talk about these things because they are written for us to talk about.  The book of Job (the whole thing, not just the first two and final chapters) exists for a reason.  Half the psalms in Psalms exist for a reason.  1 Peter exists for a reason.  All those stories about the suffering of the godly exist for a reason.  I don’t think it’s so we can ignore them and talk about upbeat passages that we’re comfortable with (“Do not be anxious!”) instead. 

Finally, it’s not helpful.  Here, I want to focus particularly upon our singing.  In contrast to the Psalms, which offer the mourning consolation and sometimes simply self-expression (see Psalm 89, which contains nothing resembling a resolution), our hymn repertoire is overwhelmingly, relentlessly, bouncy and cheerful.  The help we offer to suffering brethren sounds like “Sing and Be Happy”, which admittedly is fun to sing but seems to have learned compassion from Dolores Umbridge. 

We can do better than this.  Indeed, we must.  We can be open about our own griefs and understanding toward Christians who can’t get over theirs.  We can be honest with the word and grapple with the hard questions about suffering that it presents.  We can weep with those who weep in our singing as fully as we rejoice with those who rejoice.

Will all this sadness and suffering deter seekers?  I think the opposite is true.  When we act like we don’t have any problems, we aren’t being genuine, and insincerity is always repellent.  If, on the other hand, we are willing to be vulnerable and honest, if we offer consolation and meaning to those who mourn, it’s more than likely that mourners will start showing up.

Sexual Morality

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

 

By my count, we are nearing the end of our series of half-hour studies we might hold with an unbeliever or a new convert.  After today, I have three sermon topics remaining, one relating to instruction in righteousness, and two that are miscellaneous studies.  Today, though, we are going to turn our attention to something that we must discuss with everyone who has recently obeyed the gospel—the subject of sexuality.

If there is any sin that our society loves, it is sexual sin.  Practices that were hidden in shame during my parents’ time are now accepted and even celebrated by a majority of Americans.  There are millions of people in our country who would be deeply offended if they heard me say what I’m about to say.  Nonetheless, our job isn’t to win popularity contests.  It’s to declare the whole counsel of God, and if somebody doesn’t like that counsel, that’s on them.  Without further ado, then, let’s explore the Bible’s teaching on sexual morality.

This study must begin with GOD’S PATTERN for intimate relationships.  Jesus sets out this pattern in Mark 10:6-9.  I’ve heard it said that when the Treasury Department trains Secret Service agents to detect counterfeit money, they don’t do that by showing them examples of counterfeits.  Instead, they have them study genuine money, and anything that doesn’t have those characteristics is counterfeit.

In the same way, the best way for us to understand Bible teaching on sexuality is to look at the genuine article of God’s plan.  It’s very simple.  God makes us male and female, joins us in marriage, and in that marital relationship, we become one flesh.  That’s it.  Full stop.  Any sexual activity that does not involve one man and one woman, and anything that does not take place in marriage, is not according to God’s will.

This includes even so-called same-sex marriage.  There are many today, some of whom are even quite prominent, who will claim that their homosexual relationship is sanctified because they have been “married”.  I bear these people no ill will, but they are plainly wrong.  It’s easy for us to tell what God’s intent for marriage is by looking at His design.  He has designed us as males and females, and that design reveals His intent for male and female to go together. 

By contrast, when we consider two males or two females, it is clear that God has not designed them to go together.  Any union between them is contrary to His will, and regardless of whether they claim to be married or not, it will not receive His blessing.

This is important because the Scriptures also teach us that God will bring JUDGMENT ON THE IMMORAL.  Here, let’s read together from Hebrews 13:4.  There are two parts to this verse.  The first part reaffirms the goodness and holiness of sex in marriage.  From the beginning, God has intended husband and wife to become one flesh, and their coming together pleases Him.  It’s a blessing that we should receive and enjoy with gratitude as we receive and enjoy all of God’s other blessings.

However, the same is not true for fornication and adultery.  My father-in-law insists that people often don’t know what these are, so let me explain.  Fornication is sexual activity outside of marriage; adultery is when a married person becomes sexually involved with someone other than their spouse.  There is a stern warning attached to both of these practices, and it is that God will judge the fornicator and the adulterer.

Let me be clear.  Unmarried people, if you want to be with somebody, you need to marry them.  If you are not married to them, and you become intimate with them anyway, you are sinning, you are dishonoring your Creator, and you are placing your soul in peril of eternal damnation.  Married people, if you want to be with somebody, be with your spouse.  If you get with anybody else, you too are sinning, dishonoring your Creator, and placing your soul in peril of eternal damnation.  Sexual sin is like antifreeze.  It might taste good, but if you drink it, it will kill you.

Similarly, all Christians need to be aware of the dangers of LUST.  Jesus warns us about these in Matthew 5:27-28.  Here too, to make sure that nobody is left in the dark, let’s define our terms.  Lust is unlawful sexual desire.  It is when you allow your mind to dwell sexually on somebody you don’t have a right to be with.  This could be somebody you know in real life, or it could be somebody you’ve only seen online.

It is no secret to any of us, I think, that pornography, which exists to excite lust, is one of the scourges of modern American society.  Tens of millions of people in our country use porn on a regular basis.  In fact, as I wrote recently on the church blog, rates of premarital sex in America are actually going down, in part because of the prevalence of pornography.

Once again, let’s make no mistake about this.  Lust is sin.  Porn use is sin.  It will kill our souls just as dead as fornication and adultery will.

In some ways, lust is even more dangerous than fornication and adultery because it’s much easier to keep secret.  If we have a porn habit, the worst thing that can happen to us is not that we get found out.  It is that we don’t get found out.  I shudder to think of all of the apparently faithful Christians who will lose their souls on the day of judgment because they loved pornography more than they loved Jesus.

Don’t let that be you.  If you’re struggling with porn, get help.  Tell your spouse.  Tell one of the elders.  For that matter, if a brother feels comfortable coming to me, I’d be happy to help him.  It’s much better to forfeit your pride than to forfeit your soul.

Finally, let’s consider the subject of DIVORCE.  We see the Lord’s teaching on this in Matthew 19:7-9.  Here, He’s warning us about another one of the counterfeits of God’s plan for marriage.  It’s when somebody divorces their spouse and marries another.  Regardless of what the physical marriage license might say, that’s no marriage in God’s eyes.  Every time those two people come together, they are committing adultery.

There’s one exception to this rule, and one exception only.  If and only if your spouse cheats on you do you have the right to divorce them and remarry.  Only physical adultery can dissolve the marriage bond. 

This is certainly one of the hard sayings of Jesus.  I’ve studied with married people who didn’t have the right to be together on multiple occasions.  It’s hard to tell such people the truth, but here as elsewhere, only the truth can save souls.  It’s even harder for them to put away an unlawful spouse, but I’ve seen courageous Christians do exactly that.  They can rest assured that however they suffer here, they will be more than repaid eternally.

Summaries, Job 25-26, Psalms 44-46

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

 

Job 25 is the shortest chapter in the book.  In it, Bildad the Shuhite emphasizes the wisdom and power of God.  Given those things, he argues that it’s impossible for man to be righteous in the sight of One who is so perfect.  This argument is certainly correct, but it misses the point.  If everybody is unrighteous before God, why is Job being singled out for punishment?

Job 26 begins Job’s longest speech in the book.  Once again, he resorts to sarcasm.  Bildad believes that he has been helpful and wise, but his wisdom is nothing before God’s wisdom.  God can see into even the abode of the dead.  He supports the earth, orders the heaven, controls the seas, and defeats His enemies.  However, even these things, as impressive as they are, cannot begin to reveal the extent of His power.

In many ways, Psalm 44 is similar to the book of Job.  It opens by remembering God’s help for the Israelites in conquering the land of Canaan.  Even today, God’s people look to Him and trust in Him. 

However, there’s a problem.  Rather than blessing His people, God has humiliated them.  They have been defeated in battle, sold into slavery, and made a laughingstock for the people around them.  The psalmist asserts that this is not due to their sin.  They have been faithful to God, and God knows that they have been faithful, but He has allowed them to be slaughtered anyway.  The psalm concludes with a plea to God to rise up and rescue them from their plight.

Psalm 45 was written on the occasion of the marriage of one of the kings.  It opens by praising the king.  He is blessed by God and mighty and victorious in battle.  Because he is righteous, God will continue to bless him and uphold his throne forever.  Note that vss. 6-7 appear to be addressed to God about the ways that God will bless Him.  This is a Messianic prophecy quoted in Hebrews 1:8-9 and a hint that one day God would be King.

The rest of the psalm is addressed to the king’s bride.  It encourages her to leave behind her father’s house and devote herself entirely to her husband.  It praises the beauty of her attire.  If she is willing to submit to her husband, she will be blessed with many sons and remembered.

Psalm 46 celebrates the protection of God.  Even in the middle of an earthquake, His people still can be unafraid.  God will continue to safeguard His holy city even when all others are opposed to it.  His people see the evidence of His care in His previous actions.  He has devastated the earth and destroyed armies.  Everyone must acknowledge that He is God, and He will be a refuge for Israel.

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