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Chapter Summaries, Job 11-15

Monday, March 18, 2019

 

Job 11 marks the first time that Zophar the Naamathite speaks up.  He is the most sarcastic of Job’s friends so far.  He begins by expressing his contempt for Job’s “babble” and his hope that God would show up to set Job straight.  He then caustically questions the limits of Job’s understanding of God.  Who does Job think he is, that he can call God to account?  Finally, Zophar returns to a familiar theme.  All of Job’s problems are the result of his sin.  If he acknowledges his sin, his problems will disappear and his life will be good again.

Job 12 is the beginning of Job’s equally sarcastic reply to Zophar.  He resents Zophar’s mockery of him, particularly when Zophar thinks that he himself is sooo wise.  However, Zophar has overlooked the fact that the wicked are prospering while righteous Job is suffering. 

Next, Job points out that his suffering must be the result of God’s action.  All created things reveal the power of the Creator.  In fact, God is omnipotent.  Nobody can control or restrain Him.  Even the most prominent and powerful people cannot stand against His will.

Job 13 continues Job’s dissection of Zophar’s claims.  Job wants a hearing before God, but in insisting that Job has no right to such a hearing, his friends are misrepresenting God.  They’re being unfair to Job, and God will punish them for it.

After this, Job directly addresses God again.  He says that he will continue to hope in God even if God kills him.  He knows that he is righteous, so he has the right to come before God.  From God, Job wants to learn two things.  First, what has Job done wrong?  Second, why does God hate him and persecute him so much?

Job 14 is the conclusion of Job’s rebuttal.  He begins by describing the transitory nature of man, who is not eternal because God has chosen that he should not be eternal.  A tree that is cut down may sprout from the stump, but man, once dead, stays dead.  What Job would really like, if God is this angry at him, is for God to kill him now and resurrect him once God’s wrath is past.  However, Job knows that this is a vain hope.  Instead, he is going to have to continue in his suffering.

Job 15 contains the next speech of Eliphaz.  He says that Job is being a windbag, hindering faith in God, and revealing his own sin with every word.  Like Zophar, he demands to know who Job thinks he is, that he has the right to question the justice of God and the understanding of his friends, who apparently are much older than he is.  Why is Job so angry when all people are inevitably wicked?  Eliphaz then spends the remainder of the chapter elaborating on the fate of the wicked.  They oppose themselves to God, so they can only receive evil and not good.

Psalm 23

Friday, March 15, 2019

 

My shepherd is the Lord;
He gives me all I need.
He makes me lie in pleasant fields
Where I may rest and feed.

Beside untroubled streams,
The Lord renews my soul.
For His name’s sake, He leads my feet
On paths that reach the goal.

I will not fear the way
When You are there, O God;
My comfort through the darkest vale
Will be Your staff and rod.

Before my foes, You set
A place for me to sup;
You pour out oil upon my head,
And blessing fills my cup.

The Lord will follow me
With grace and faithful love,
And I will dwell within His house
Through endless days above.

Understanding God's Will

Thursday, March 14, 2019

 

Last week, I mentioned that Sister Margaret and I had had some conversations about me providing some basic outlines that the members here could use to study with others.  I thought that was a wonderful idea, so I solicited outline topics from y’all. 

I got several suggestions, and I had a few ideas of my own.  This morning, I’m going to be presenting the first of those outlines.  My hope for this sermon, and for all others in this series, is that it will equip you to lead a short, half-hour study with somebody on this topic.

Logically speaking, the study I’m about to present has to come at the very beginning.  I can teach somebody any number of things from the Bible, but before that, we have to agree on what the Bible is and the significance of what it says.  Without that, what makes the Bible any different than some self-help book I pull off the shelf at Barnes & Noble?  For that matter, what makes the words of the Bible different than the words of some random priest or pastor?  These are important questions, and we need to answer them by understanding what the Scripture says about understanding God’s will.

The first issue that we must settle from the word is HOW GOD SPEAKS TO US.  Consider here Paul’s words in Ephesians 3:4-5.  Notice that this passage describes a process. This begins with the mystery of Christ.  Here, I don’t think that Paul means that Christ Himself is mysterious.  Instead, I think the point is that Christ had a mystery, some unrevealed thing.  The Holy Spirit took that mystery of Christ and revealed it to God’s apostles and prophets, of which Paul was one.  Paul wrote that revelation down in the book of Ephesians.  The church in Ephesus then could read what Paul had written and perceive his insight into the mystery of Christ.  This is how God reveals His will to His people.

This is extremely important for a number of different reasons.  First, there are plenty of people out there who think that God speaks to them directly.  A question to ask them from this text is “Do you think you’re an apostle or a prophet?”  If they do, well, a little later, we’re going to be doing a study on spiritual gifts, and that would be a good thing to study with them!  If they don’t, then they are not the recipients of revelation.  Only apostles and prophets are inspired.

Second, we need to pay particular attention to what Paul says in Ephesians 3:4.  Speaking to the ordinary Christians of the Ephesian church, he tells them that they could read his letter and understand his insight into Christ’s mystery.  By extension, when we read the Scriptures today, we can understand Christ’s mystery too.

It’s almost impossible to overstate how important and empowering this is.  There are whole denominations out there that are founded on the notion that ordinary Christians can’t understand the will of God for themselves.  Well, the apostle Paul tells us that we can understand it!

This is not to say that figuring out God’s will from His word will always be easy for us.  Nor is it to say that we can’t make mistakes, or that we won’t grow in our understanding.  Figuring out God’s will takes work and skill. 

However, it is possible.  It’s possible for me, it’s possible for you, and it’s possible for everyone who is spiritually accountable.  God has given us the power to learn the truth for ourselves, and that is a beautiful thing!

Next, we have to see what the Bible says about THE RELIABILITY OF SCRIPTURE.  Consider the words of Peter, another one of those inspired apostles, in 2 Peter 1:19-21.  Once again, there are many things to note in this passage.  First, though we might think of prophecy as only foretelling the future, in this passage, the word has a broader meaning.  It’s not only about foretelling.  It’s about forthtelling.  It’s about revealing the will of God.

Second, Peter says that these foretellings and forthtellings are fully confirmed.  Particularly important here is the Bible’s record of fulfilled prophecy.  If the Bible isn’t the word of God, how come David could predict in Psalm 22, a thousand years beforehand, that Jesus’ enemies would pierce His hands and His feet and gamble for His clothes?  There are many other such fulfilled prophecies.  They reveal that the Bible is the product of supernatural wisdom.

Third, Peter tells us that none of the prophecies of Scripture originate from human will.  Instead, every one of them comes from God and the Holy Spirit.  Everything in this book is inspired!  The same God who can foretell the future can protect His revelation from people who want to tamper with it.

We can have confidence, then, that the books of the Old and New Testaments that we have are the books that God wants us to have.  None of them are the work of human authors and ended up here by mistake.  If God permits mistakes in such things, 2 Peter 1:20-21 is not true.

Additionally, God has safeguarded the contents of His revelation.  Biblical skeptics like to raise a fuss over the fact that we have manuscripts of the Bible containing 100,000 variations.  However, 99.99 percent of those variations are utterly insignificant, and even the more significant textual disputes do nothing to change our understanding of God’s will one way or another.  In short, we can be completely certain that we can rely on the Bible as the inspired word of God.

Finally, let’s learn about THE SUFFICIENCY OF SCRIPTURE.  Here, look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17.  There’s a lot of meat to pull off this bone too.  First, this is another passage that confirms the inspiration of the Scripture.  It claims that all of it comes from God, and as we have seen before, we have good reason to believe that claim.

Second, this text describes the operation of the Scriptures in our lives.  I read this as having a main heading—teaching—and three subheadings or kinds of teaching—reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.  Basically, what Paul is describing here is a spiritual U-Turn.  Reproof is a fancy word, but all it means is telling somebody that they’re doing wrong.  In other words, “Stop going this way.”  Correction is turning somebody around, “Not that way, but this way.”  Then, training in righteousness is helping somebody to keep doing the right thing.  “Keep going this way.” 

Last, we come to Paul’s inspired views about what the Scripture can accomplish.  He tells us that through them, the man of God—or woman of God, for that matter—can become complete and equipped for every good work.  This is an extremely strong claim, brethren.  Paul does not say mostly complete or equipped for some good works.  He says complete, period, and equipped for every good work.

In other words, if we need something to make us spiritually complete, it’s in the Bible.  If there’s a good work that we’re supposed to do, the Bible equips us to do it.  As a result, we can conclude that the Scriptures are sufficient.  We don’t need anything other than the Bible in order to please God.  Everything else that anybody might say is at best unnecessary and at worst harmful. 

Psalm Summaries, Psalms 21-25

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

 

Psalm 21 is about the relationship between God and a godly king.  Vs. 1-7 are addressed to God.  They praise Him for the way He blesses and establishes the king.  By contrast, vs. 8-12 are addressed to the king.  They predict that the king will find success in fighting and defeating his enemies because of God’s help.  The psalm includes with more praise directed toward God in v. 13.  Though the psalm is not quoted nor alluded to in the New Testament, all these sentiments certainly apply to our King today, Jesus.

Psalm 22 is arguably the most prominent prophetic psalm in the entire book.  Even though it is David’s lamentation over his own sufferings, its words prefigure the suffering of Christ.  The first half of the psalm (vs. 1-21) is made up of alternating sections of complaint and praise.  David complains about his predicament and God’s apparent failure to help him, but he always returns to his faith that God will come to his aid.  In this section are some of the most specific prophecies in existence about the crucifixion:  that Jesus’ enemies would mock Him (vs. 6-7), pierce His hands and His feet (v. 16), and cast lots for His clothing (v. 18). 

By contrast, the tone of the second half of the psalm is much more optimistic.  David explores the good results that will come when God saves him, including a worldwide turning to God (v. 27).  These things were fulfilled as a result of Jesus’ resurrection.

Psalm 23 is the most well-known psalm.  It is widely memorized, and our hymn “The Lord’s My Shepherd” is a paraphrase of it.  It compares God to a shepherd and David (and all the rest of us!) to a sheep.  Like a good shepherd, God provides for us (vs. 1-3) and protects us from our enemies (vs. 4-5).  V. 6 sets out the result:  we will enjoy lifelong blessing and dwell with God forever.

Psalm 24 was probably used in religious processions.  It has three main parts.  The first (vs. 1-2) asserts God’s ownership of the world because He created it.  The second asks who can ascend the hill of the Lord (probably the literal Mt. Zion) and enter His holy place.  Such people have good behavior and honest hearts, and they can expect God to bless them.  The final portion of the psalm is addressed to the gates of Jerusalem, urging them to open before God, who is the King of glory.

Psalm 25 is another appeal for God’s help in time of trouble.  Vs. 1, 2, and 7 are quoted in our praise song “Unto Thee, O Lord”.  In this particular case, David asks for God’s protection from his enemies even though he is conscious of his own imperfections.  He relies on God’s response to his faith, even though he knows he has sinned (v. 7) and needs further instruction (vs. 4-5).  According to vs. 8-10, his hope is founded in God’s steadfast love.  Vs. 11-15 describe the benefits that come to those who fear God:  forgiveness, instruction, stability, friendship, and protection.  The psalm concludes with a final plea for God’s presence and redemption.

Stumbling Blocks Before the Blind

Friday, March 08, 2019

 

I maintain that Leviticus is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Pentateuch.  It gets no respect.  Despite its reputation as the mostest boringest book in the Bible, I find that every year, I come away with something new from reading through it.

Today, for instance, I was struck by Leviticus 19:14, which reads, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God:  I am the Lord.”  On its face, this appears to be an instruction not to engage in boorish frat-boy behavior with disabled people:  “Look!  I can cuss him out, and he can’t hear me!  Hur hur hur!”

It is certainly that, but I think there’s a lot more under the surface.  Fundamentally, this is a passage about taking advantage of others.  You curse the deaf because you can do it and get away with it.  You put a stumbling block before the blind because you can do it and get away with it.  You’re in a privileged position, and you’re using your privilege to exploit others for your own satisfaction.  You do something to somebody because you can, not because you should.

That has a distinctly modern ring to it, doesn’t it?  Isn’t this, after all, what the #MeToo scandals are about?  You’ve got somebody, usually a man, who is in a position of power and oppresses others for his sexual enjoyment.  From Harvey Weinstein to Larry Nassar to legions of predatory clergy, you’ve got evil men who are putting a particular kind of stumbling block before a particular kind of blind person. 

Why not abuse the weak and vulnerable?  Who’s going to stop you?  Them?

Of course, you don’t have to be a criminal to do similar things.  How about the mortgage brokers 10 years ago (if indeed the practice has stopped) who were quoting higher rates to minority borrowers than they were to white borrowers?  “They don’t know!  They’re too dumb to figure it out!  Ca-ching!” 

How about the Christians who will happily gossip about a brother or sister in Christ?  To too many brethren, building yourself up while tearing somebody else down looks like a win-win.  

Similar examples abound.  As the passage points out, though, such behavior can only come from those who do not fear God.  After all, God is in the position of greatest power and advantage.  He could use and abuse all of us for His amusement, and there’s nothing we could do about it. 

However, God’s very nature is opposed to such exploitation.  He seeks our good, not His pleasure.  He continually exerts His power for us, not Himself.  Rather than taking what we have, He gave us the most precious thing He had. 

We don’t have to imagine how He feels about those who do differently.  Read through this lens, the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18 is about a man who seeks mercy from great power, then uses his slight power to oppress someone else.  He acted as he did because he did not fear the king.  Not enough.

In our dealings with others, we always must remember that God is watching.  If we have a measure of power, it is because He has given it to us.  If we are in a place of advantage, it is because He has put us there. 

However, He remains the God of both the hearing and the deaf, both the sighted and the blind.  If we take advantage of the lowly, He will balance the scale, and we will not enjoy it.  If we will not fear Him now, He will reveal why we should have been afraid.

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