Then equals now…

In Isaiah 29:13 we have
And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,”

And repeated in Matt 15:8-9
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”

Remind you of today? Surely these are verses that could describe our times as well the times in which they were written – a people who purport to be of the Lord, yet honouring Him only in words and worldly activity. Or churches that are filled with worldly programs and concerns as first priority, rather than the fear of the Lord and the Gospel –  front and center.

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, (Acts 17:29-30)

Notice that there is no time limit on this statement going forward. It is from that time forward, to the end (the return of our Lord). Unlike the things of men, God is not at our beck and call, available when we decide to call Him.  Nor is He conceived in terms that would imply we somehow have input to His demands upon us. The Lord is separate (outside our reality) and sovereign, demanding repentance from every single person, irrespective of their feeling or expectations in the matter.

Even aside from the fact that He is the sole creator, owner and sustainer of all, He gives another more explicit reason that should speak to every person.

“because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)

Christ will judge every person. Ultimate power is demonstrated in raising him from the dead, showing God’s absolute sovereignty. And since, as God, Jesus is completely righteous and holy, exactly the same as the character of the Father in all aspects, judgment can brook no compromise or excuse.

The only course of actions is clear. Repent and believe in Jesus Christ! What else can one say? The day of judgment looms for every human being, and failure to turn wholly to Jesus will bring the unthinkable to each one who does not. But then it will be too late.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:2)

This grace and peace is, as expressed through the Biblical context, only available to those who belong to Jesus, the Lamb of God.

 

Fret not…but we do (Part 2)

The world is the creation and possession of the Lord. He and He alone sovereignly controls it in all things. As we often sing in hymn, “the battle belongs to the Lord”.

As a backdrop it is important to remember Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Our reality is a reflection of much larger struggles than might be apparent on the surface. And in those struggles while viewing the world, though we are always imperfect as men (or women), intent counts. Even our intent in differing to Him and turning from fretting is a significant form of praise and worship, which is our primary purpose as His creatures.

Our purpose is to praise and worship Him. Irrespective of the world around us, our task is to preach the Gospel and to follow His commandments.

What unbelievers do is between them and the Lord. They alone answer before Him. They are not ‘of us’ and we are not ‘of them’. If they have gone out from us (or never were with us), then they were never of us. (1 John 2:19)

When someone rejects the Lord, with all that implies, they and all that they are offends God, who is holy and righteous. They may have offended us, but having offended God they have much bigger problems! It is God’s mandate, not ours, to deal with it. If we have preached the Gospel in word and deed, and are not knowingly participating in their iniquities, then we are worshiping appropriately. Their worldly iniquities may be dealt with by the state, but that also is within the mandate granted by the Lord. One way or the other, their iniquities before Him will be dealt with by Him, in His time.

The second part of Prov 24:19 tells us not to envy them. Why? Envy can be even more insidiously than fretting. In the background, it aligns one with the object envied – in this case the sinner, his activities and their worldly fruits. It draws one into the world of flesh and away from spirit. That is the antithesis of our correct alignment with the Lord.  Recall that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Gal 5:17). You can not serve two masters.

We must always bear in mind the real fruits of the worldly activities of the unbeliever are always bring condemnation because, in their willful rejection of the Lord they always serve Satan. This in not always apparent in any surface success we might observe. Irrespective of appearances, we have no part in that since it is not worship acceptable to God.

Prov 23:17 similarly admonishes the believer not to align with the sinner. But then we are given the correct posture. We are to continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. And what is that fear of the Lord? It is completing our duty as His people.

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Eccl 12:13)

And how do we keep His commandments?

Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge. (Prov 23:12)

In other words, read and attend solely to the Word of God. Significantly, it does not say that we will always be successful. But again, intent counts.

And we are to do this all the day. That’s 24/7 folks.

We might even make the message clearer by somewhat boldly combining the verses to yield

Fret not yourself because of evildoers…but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.

Along with the method we are given (keeping His commands from His Word), this presents the optimal stance for the believer striving for closeness with the Lord and holiness. Disregard the sinner and the sinful world in the sense of personal worry, and concentrate wholly on the things of the Lord.

We are, after all, not of this world. We are, to steal a phrase from the title of Robert Heinlein’s archetypal SciFi novel “Strangers in a Strange Land”.

 

Fret not… but we do (Part 1)

Fret(ting)an irritated state of mind; annoyance; vexation. An ongoing state that is corrosive and abrasive.

Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, (Prov 24:19)

Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. (Prov 23:17)

Yet many believers that I know fret quite a bit about one thing or another. Let’s consider these two verses, with the help of the couple of others.

First, the grammar. These are not suggestions, as in “Try not to fret if you can help it..” or “It is understandable to fret but you should resist it…” etc., etc. Even though these are Proverbs and therefor somewhat general words of wisdom, these are nonetheless more that mere offhanded suggestions for optimal living. Let’s remember “which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Luke 12:25). The phrase “do not be anxious” appears numerous times in the New Testament, applying to the circumstances and concerns of life. Overall, Christians are admonished throughout the New Testament to worry for nothing because our sovereign Lord has it all in hand, always.

Now, Let us narrow to a particular kind of fretting that seems to be encouraged in our day. That is, fretting about the declining state of the world and the seemingly universal actions of ungodly people. Many believers seem to spend a great amount of time in fretting about these two topics.

In Prov 24:19 we are instructed to stop worrying about the second of these – the evil being perpetrated in the world by others. The wicked cited here are unbelievers, since they are evildoers (ie. sons of disobedience – Ephesians 2:2), outside the circle of the saved (or elect).

But if we are not to fret over them, what are we to do, if anything? “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God ” (Rom 12:19). Dealing with the wicked and their iniquity is the exclusive mandate of the Lord. Both judgment and vengeance are His alone, not ours. In fact, if we judge, we will be judged similarly (Matt 7:1), since we too are recalcitrant sinners all.

Bear in mind that this worry is different from discernment. We are not to judge, but we should be discerning and avoid willful association (aside from entering situations to preach the Gospel) with the sinful behaviours and their perpetrators. This require appropriate situational judgment and thought, which is separate from the judgment of the Lord.

This is also separate from the requirement for enforcement of law and order within society. That is separately mandated to the state by the Lord. As such, the that judgment is part of His mandate and within his sovereign plans.

Since we, having “Put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11), are instructed not to worry, it would seem rebellious to do so. God is absolutely sovereign in all things in the world. It is His concern and not ours. We are to live in faith, within the outworking of His sovereign plans. To make the worry ours is to claim a portion of His sovereignty in ourselves.

Yet, like Paul (Rom 7:15), we often do what we endeavor not to do! Thank heavens for Grace!

With all this in mind, if we are not to fret, what are we to do?

Irrespective of the world around us, our task is to preach the Gospel and to follow His commandments.

By the way, it never says easy…

 

Minor points of theology?

In conversation quite some time ago, with the pastor of a small church, he referred to the difference between a faith based on the Doctrines of Grace and one based upon a Doctrine of Works as a minor point of theology. It was certainly not worthy of real discussion, let alone argument.

He was particularly concerned that someone might consider the difference between Limited Atonement and Unlimited Atonement of any significance to their faith.

What could I say? The time and place were not appropriate for getting into a brew ha ha, but I was almost speechless. My previous experience also said that any short discussion would prove fruitless and divisive if his mind was already made up.

That said, if one truly considers matters of foundational doctrinal identity to be of no real importance, what then IS of importance?

In the end, he was of the “let’s just forget all this doctrinal silliness and love Jesus” school. He did not realize that he was thereby challenging the actual efficacy of the work of Jesus and the extent  of His love for us.

So, how and to what degree should we seek theological clarity? Does it matter? The answer is: Of course it does, because clarity brings conviction irrespective of circumstance. Without clarity, faith is merely based on wish and whim.

 

A Psalm in Your Heart

Remembering that believers are to keep the Word in their hearts (Deut 30:13, Ps 119:11, and others) implies that it has been written there. To write it there effectively, rendering it available for recall by the Spirit when need be, requires effort on our part – consistent effort. That effort is greatly facilitated if the means involves rejoicing in the Word, particularly corporately.

In the past I had read of, and heart from some Reformed Presbyterian acquaintances, about the singing of the psalms in their services, usually in place of hymns or contemporary worship songs. In most of these cases it also involved singing without instrumental accompaniment.

I have to admit that I was not taken with the idea, as I dearly love singing the old hymns with traditional accompaniment. I also quite enjoy many (but not all) of the more contemporary worship songs. More significantly, I could not imagine singing most of the Psalms as written in our translations. This was especially true of the more literal translations that I feel are most accurate. It simply wouldn’t work.

Then some time ago, on a Reformed blog that I follow, one of the fellows was extolling the virtues of singing the Psalms using the Scottish Psalter of 1850. He listed numerous reasons, but the overwhelming impression that grabbed my attention was two fold : great biblical theology and great devotional character.

As we as believers yearn to draw close to the Lord, His Word is the most direct and clearly biblical route. He has recorded His thoughts in readable form in the Word. When we think those thoughts while reading it, we are thinking God’s very thoughts in the form that He provided them for us, and in the form that He intended. Therefor, when we sing the Psalms we are raising our voices in His very thoughts. What a wonderful prospect!

As for the mode of singing, I do not personally see any problem in instrumentation, with the clear provision that the accompaniment not overshadow the singing and that there be not even the hint of a transition from worship toward performance (a huge problem in the contemporary church IMO). With that in mind, accompaniment which allows God’s people to sing together more easily and enjoyably, especially the more musically challenged, is a wonderful boon.

Now to the words of the Psalms. Those that put the Psalms into metrical format (either Scottish or Geneva Psalters) realized that the original words were metered to fit Hebrew. That simply does work in English. Further, we have many traditional hymns tunes that are well know and loved, from which to form a musical base. The metrical arrangement to fit the English language and existing tune structure were the key which I was missing when I dismissed the singing of the Psalms. The blog articles and examples which I read opened my eyes to this possibility.

I tested this out with a like minded group of believers. We found that singing from the Psalter, for the reasons cited above related to the Lord’s thoughts, was convicting and wonderful.

In this age of new worship songs and modes, it would nice to see a resurgence of the Psalter.

One humorous note – the grammar for the Psalter can make some of the lines sound very much like they were written by Yoda. It can be amusing.

 

 

 

Condemned by what?

After reading a post quit a long time ago by Michael Patton on his blog (and excellent resource I might add) some time ago and also considering one of the articles in the Canons of Dordt, I continue to think about the believer’s perspective on what we are saved from and by.

What struck me is that we often communicate an entirely wrong set of ideas concerning the forgiveness of sin, both to others believers and even ourselves, and that the result of faulty communication may be to limit assurance and growth. As always, of course, this is from a Reformed perspective, since I can take no other…

In brief, Michael makes the point that we are not condemned primarily by our ongoing sin, but by the sinners that we are as Adam’s seed. Unfortunately, as he points out, we too oft communicate the condemnation of ongoing sin and not the more significant hereditary reason, for our fallen state. This has many nasty consequences. He is so right!

How many times have you heard it said to the unsaved or other believers that they must be saved from ‘their’ sins – past, present and future? It is presented as if those personal sins are what is holding them, and then once saved, as if ongoing sins is a possibly danger to salvation. We may even slip subtly into this thought pattern ourselves.

The result of this scenario is that, whether subtly or overtly, the mind of flesh could be encourage to think that the natural self actually had some input to whether they will be among, or are among, the saints. Since the worldly mind is already bent in this direction, a performance based or maintained salvation is a natural next step. This is true even if it is not presented that way, but how much more so if it is.

When we are regenerated by the spirit, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, what primarily are we saved from? Since the decision about election was made in eternity past, “before the foundations of the world” (Eph 1:6), though we are certainly released from our sins of this life, salvation is not based primarily about them. It is about our nature as Adam’s seed. Thus we are saved from our natural selves, as we were born into the world of flesh carrying that as the principle charge.

Our salvation, then, is from our nature most of all. We are firstly saved from the wrath that was due Adam. The release from any sin that may or may not have been added to our account in this world is significant but peripheral.

You are splitting hairs, you say. Sin is sin. I would not agree.

We are primarily saved from ourselves, who we fundamentally are, as recipients of Adam’s fall. The fact that once we are born into the world we continue to actualize this pattern is merely a result, ugly though it may be. It is interest added to the principle.

Further, once we are saved from our natural selves and made into the new man (that includes you too ladies, by the way) we are saved from the present and future of our old fallen selves which carried the stain of Adam. That is a lot bigger than any sin or sins we could have committed in the present or future in this world.

All interesting you might say, but so what?

Well, it is a very big so what:

First, the grace and mercy that have been freely bestowed up us in the Beloved is far greater that we would appreciate otherwise;

Second, the God who bestowed them is revealed more in His overwhelming glory by the real extent of the forgiveness now seen;

Third, we are brought more to our true place before the infinitely holy God when we see that out imputed sin (not just our puny recent sin) has been pardoned – that true place being on our knees or on our face;

Fourth, our redemption through grace alone is even clearer. We have been redeemed from the stain that was beyond our comprehension. As such, we could not even appreciate the extent of it, let alone dream that we could atone for it by anything of ourselves.

Fifth, since given our situation just described, and having been redeemed from a stain of unimaginable proportions, our foundational dependence upon Father, Son and Spirit is undeniable. Absolute dependence equates to true faith in the one and only source. This clarifies grace through faith for us.

So, as we rejoice in our salvation in the Beloved, let us rejoice in the clear vision of how and from what we have been saved, on our knees before our infinitly Righteous and Holy God.

We have been saved from our nature, inbred and beyond our control. All is forgiven in Him, now and forever. Just as we could not see the totality of our inherited nature, let alone change it ourselves, we have been saved by His mercy and grace alone.

Let us rejoice in and communicate that…

 

Yes, we have no bananas

You can hear it from the Pulpit of countless churches now “If you are saved you must see the fruits of the spirit actualized in your life” with the implication that is must be clear, continuous and now. It is also heard as church lobby chit chat about whether so and so is a real believer since they haven’t been behaving very well. They are clearly not demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit in a proper (as the speaker sees it) ‘Christian’ manner or not consistently. You have surely heard this in one form or another, right? I have, and for reason that will become clear, it makes steam come out of my ears…

These scenarios naturally lead believers (especially new ones) to ask themselves whether they are truly saved, assuming that they occasionally do not behave as a the perfect believer or they do not at times overtly show the fruits of the spirit particularly prominently.

This is well and clearly addressed in the Canons of Dordt. Remember those? No? Well since they form the foundation and effect virtually all Reformed confessions, you should. However, let us not digress on that for now.

First Head of Doctrine: Divine Election and Reprobation

“Article of faith 12: The Assurance of Election
Assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election to salvation is given to the chosen in due time, though by various stages and in differing measure. Such assurance comes not by inquisitive searching into the hidden and deep things of God, but by noticing within themselves, with spiritual joy and holy delight, the unmistakable fruits of election pointed out in God’s Word–such as a true faith in Christ, a childlike fear of God, a godly sorrow for their sins, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on.”

And in Scripture we have (as one example of many) in Romans 10:9 ”if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”

As the Canons imply, the fruits of Spirit do not even enter the equation as more than a side effect, a significant one admittedly, but not a determinant one for salvation.

You were saved by the Gospel message (Romans 10:9 and others). Your knowledge in your own heart of your belief in that message, and thereby belief in Christ, is salvation. All else is after the fact.

To preach otherwise is IMO to do the people of God a great dis-service and produce in those that might buy into it, unnecessary angst and worry. Hence the steam from my ears.

 

Valley of Vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine;
let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty,
Thy glory in my valley.

(from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett)

A Wonderful Prayer of David

Psalm 86
Pleading and Trust

A Prayer of David

1 Incline Your ear, Lord, and answer me;
For I am afflicted and needy.
Protect my soul, for I am godly;
You my God, save Your servant who trusts in You.
Be gracious to me, Lord,
For I call upon You all day long.
Make the soul of Your servant joyful,
For to You, Lord, I lift up my soul.
For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in mercy to all who call upon You.
Listen, Lord, to my prayer;
And give Your attention to the sound of my pleading!
On the day of my trouble I will call upon You,
For You will answer me.
There is no one like You among the gods, Lord,
Nor are there any works like Yours.
All nations whom You have made will come and worship before You, Lord,
And they will glorify Your name.
10 For You are great, and you do [wondrous deeds;
You alone are God.

11 Teach me Your way, Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.
12 I will give thanks to You, Lord my God, with all my heart,
And I will glorify Your name forever.
13 For Your graciousness toward me is great,
And You have saved my soul from the depths of Sheol.

14 God, arrogant men have risen up against me,
And a gang of violent men have sought my life,
And they have not set You before them.
15 But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
Slow to anger and abundant in mercy and truth.
16 Turn to me, and be gracious to me;
Grant Your strength to Your servant,
And save the son of Your maidservant.
17 Show me a sign of good,
That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed,
Because You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.