A Certain Word

                “This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once and entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty.  I myself am going.’  And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat Him.”  This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 8:20-23

                I love the opportunity afforded to believers to be students of the Word of God.  To gather together with other believers and meditate upon the message of the Scriptures is of such great blessing to each of us.  To think that we have been given the privilege of reading, reflecting upon, and of growing in understanding of the thoughts of the Living God leads me to stop and praise that God for His great grace which has been poured out upon such creatures as us.  It is in fact a wonder that more people do not avail themselves of this great privilege. 

                These thoughts came to me as I was preparing for the Bible Study I lead each Wednesday Evening at First Baptist Church Brampton.  Currently we are focusing upon the eighth chapter of the book of the prophet Zechariah in which good and comforting words of prophesy are spoken by God through the prophet.  That these are the words of God and that He repeatedly tells us that this is what He says helps us to see that the Words spoken here are not only of great importance, so that we must listen to them, but that they are a certainty to be fulfilled.  When God speaks His Word always comes with His infinite power to fulfill what is promised.  This is not wishful thinking, it is reality. 

                The promise made here is related to the soon to be completed Temple and how it is to be made into a house of prayer for the Nations.  Many peoples and powerful nations are going to flow into Jerusalem, coming into the holy city in order to entreat the Lord Almighty.  They will find in this place a meeting place with God where they can truly pray and receive the blessing that God has promised to give through His people.  In Genesis 12 we are told that God will make Abraham into a blessing for the Nations.  This promise is being fulfilled says God through Zechariah. 

                There is more here however because Zechariah goes on to share God’s plan with us.  More than just the Temple is on view here.  As God speaks we are given a vision of a Temple that is much bigger than any earthly building.  Throughout his prophesy Zechariah has been lifting our eyes up higher to the One who will come as redeemer.  In the Words spoken here in chapter eight we again begin to see something greater, a Kingdom and a Temple which are not of this world.  Here peoples from all over the world will enter into the blessing that God promised through Abraham.  Such blessing would come through the promised seed, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Could it be that we see a small hint of this when we read the final verse of the chapter?  “In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”  There are hints here that the blessing promised will come to the ten men because they have grasped hold of a Jew who is with God.  The number ten, in prophesy, is often used as a symbol for an indefinite number of people.  The one Jew could refer to the one who is in fact Emmanuel, God with us. 

                The blessing promised to the Nations is to come through an individual who will in fact be God with us.  He is the one through whom we are reconciled to God.  It is in Him that we have access to God in prayer.  To make this thought clear I want to quote from two great Christian leaders who seek to define the way in which we draw near to God.

                The first is Horatius Bonar writes on page 44 of Light and Truth: or Bible Thoughts and Themes, the Lesser Epistles (London, James Nesbit, 1883).

                                “The whole Trinity has to do with our return and reception.  The Father throws open His presence chamber; the Holy of Holies where He dwells; the Son provides the way for our restoration, by answering in His death all the ends that could have been served by our exclusion; and the Holy Spirit conducts us into the Father’s presence along the new and living way.”

                John Bunyan shouts amen to that in his Discourse on Prayer in The Works of That Eminent Servant of Christ, John Bunyan (Philadelphia: Clarke, 1863) 2:81.“Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to His Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith to the will of God.”

The Grace Of The Cross

Today I want to spend a few moments meditating upon the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and its wonderful impact upon our lives.  Everything about us is changed when we encounter the Lord Jesus Christ crucified.  In 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul writes about the message of the cross as the solution to the brokenness which had come upon the Church in Corinth as a consequence of their sin.  Like them we too live lives which are constantly in need of the grace of the cross of Christ.  Today I came across this prayer which is part of a collection of Puritan Prayers published by the Banner of Truth Trust in a book entitled Valley of Vision.  It speaks to us about the grace of the cross of Christ.  Let this be our prayer today.

O my Saviour,

I thank thee from the depths of my being

for thy wondrous grace and love

in bearing my sin in thine own body on the tree.

May thy cross be to me

as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs,

as the rod that blossoms with life and beauty,

as the brazen serpent that calls forth

the look of faith.

By thy cross crucify my every sin;

Use it to increase my intimacy with thyself;

Make it the ground of all my comfort,

the liveliness of all my duties,

the sum of all thy gospel promises,

the comfort of all my afflictions,

the vigour of my love, thankfulness, graces,

the very essence of my religion;

And by it give me that rest without rest,

the rest of ceaseless praise.

O my Lord and Saviour,

Thou hast also appointed a cross for me

to take up and carry,

a cross before thou givest me a crown.

Thou hast appointed it to be my portion,

but self-love hates it,

carnal reason is unreconciled to it;

without the grace of patience I cannot bear it,

walk with it, profit by it.

O blessed cross, what mercies dost thou bring

with thee!

Thou art only esteemed hateful by my rebel will,

heavy because I shirk thy load.

Teach me, gracious Lord and Saviour,

that with my cross thou sendest promised grace

so that I may bear it patiently,

that my cross is thy yoke which is easy,

and thy burden which is light.

Without Reservation

“Calling His disciples to Him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.””

                                                                                                                                                Mark 12:43-44

Derek Thomas tells the following story in order to illustrate the principle of true Christian giving which the Lord Jesus Christ teaches His disciples in Mark 12:41-44.

                “Now the story is told – I have no way of verifying it – a little girl in church, and when the offering plate comes around she puts in her doll, her treasured little doll.  Now this is the doll that she takes to bed with her at night, and gets up in the morning and carries it around under her arm.  It’s her treasure, and she puts it on the offering plate.  And the deacons are touched, and the minister during the course of the week comes round and visits the family and brings the doll with him, and says to the little girl, “I’m giving her back to you.” And the little girl wipes a tear from her eyes and shakes her head and says, “No.”  And when the Pastor asks why, she says, “I didn’t give it to you.  I gave my doll to the Lord.””

                Mark is at the end of chapter 12 describing true saving faith.  It is a faith that arises from a heart that is given completely and unreservedly to the Lord.  The widow brought all that she had to live on.  In her poverty she gave all that she had.  What she was demonstrating was that God had done something in her heart that had resulted in her coming to trust in His provision for her.  What she had did not matter because she believed that to quote the Apostle Paul, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)  What was important to her was the extravagant expression of real love to the Lord with all of her heart.  This was the purpose of her life and living.  She had come to understand that the God she worshipped would care for her needs.  His Word had demonstrated this time and again.  The test was in her demonstrating that faith in real life.  Would she bring her treasure, her last two coins, her future, her security, to her Lord and cast it into the Treasury? 

                That is the test for each of us.  What is our treasure?  What are we relying upon today?  We cling to it as if life itself depends upon it?  In this world it often seems as if life itself does depend upon our treasure.  So we cling to it.  We protect it.  We worry about it.  So often after all of that effort it fails us.  Jim Elliott once wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, in order to gain what he cannot lose.”  This is the position we find ourselves in.  We find that to gain an eternal security through faith in the Lord we have to give ourselves without reservation to the Lord.  This requires us to yield up our lives, and all our treasure in trust to Him.  We in fact become living sacrifices.  What we get back is His limitless resources.  He promises to meet our needs.  This truly becomes for us a narrow road of faith.  On that road however there is great and eternal blessing.  God is fitting us not for this world, but for the one to come.  He is remaking us into people who are truly holy, not with that which we have created for ourselves, but with that which He has created within us through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  All we need to is give ourselves without reservation to our Lord.  Will you?

The Heart Of The Message

“Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who makes the storm clouds.  He gives showers of rain to men, and plants of the field to everyone.  The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain.  Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.  My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the Lord Almighty will care for His flock, the house of Judah, and make them like a proud horse in battle.  From Judah will come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 10:1-4

                In these four brief verses we encounter a wonderful call to biblical praying, a judgment upon all praying to idols, and then one of the most powerful of promises of the coming Messiah, His nature, and His ministry to the people of God.  The central message of these verses is the personal presence of the Lord in the lives that we are living.  He Himself will intervene and care for His people.  He will come to them as the fulfillment of a whole host of biblical prophesies.  What His people must do is turn to Him and seek a real communion with their Lord.

                In Zechariah 7:5-6 the prophet confronts His people with this penetrating question.  “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for Me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?’”  Zechariah calls us to take a careful look at our motivations for our praying, fasting, and mourning.  Are we looking to get something from God or do we want to know the Lord Himself?  Think about it this way.  When we pray for revival are we praying that we will experience all of the events which surround a revival, including the increases in numbers within the Christian Church?  Do we want the phenomena or do we want to know the Lord?  Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 6:33 that we are to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  It is a matter of our priority.  God calls us to a type of repentance in which our priority is to know and love Him supremely.  Everything else, no matter how necessary, must be secondary to this great purpose of our lives. 

                It is this that is at the heart of Zechariah’s prophetic message in 10:1-4.  Our calling is to pray biblically, seeking help from God within the context of His covenant promise to us which is centred upon His person.  This is why He tells His people that He is going to come personally to be the Good Shepherd who will care for their needs.  For too long they, and we, have wandered around as sheep without a shepherd, being lost, and latching on to any new fad which promises to make sense of our sin ravaged lives.  We turn to lotteries, and fortune tellers, self help guides, and all kinds of other helps looking for a way out of our lostness.  It all leads us more deeply into hopelessness.  Even more dangerously at times it might seem to meet our needs, only to bring us more powerfully under the judgment of God.

                There really is only one way out and that is through the personal knowledge of God.  He will come, Zechariah shouts, in order to redeem us.  We are called to seek Him with all of our hearts.  Is it your desire to know the Lord personally and deeply?

At The Door

                “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 2:12-13

                It is astounding how often the Scriptures assume that we will be intimately aware of the personal presence of the Lord.  He is described as the Holy One.  As we get to know Him in all of His glory we become aware of the reality of His perfection in Holiness and also of our great sinfulness.  The story is told of the Baptist Preacher Alexander MacLaren that one day a friend came into his study and informed him of the gossip on the street that a certain Godly preacher in the city was not really a believer.  MacLaren, not being a man who listened to gossip dismissed the news quickly by declaring that it could not possibly be true.  He knew of the Godly character of the accused.  To this his “friend” also informed MacLaren that the news on the street was that the same status was accorded to MacLaren.  The response of this Godly man to this piece of news was to put the other gentleman out of his study with these words, “I must go before the Lord to determine whether this is indeed true.”    The closer we walk with God the more we become aware of our own sinfulness.  We must therefore conduct ourselves in such a way as to recognise that we are constantly in need of the grace and mercy of our God.

                It seems that this is the perspective that James brings to his letter.  We must live with a constant awareness that our Holy Lord is at the door, about to come into this world in judgment.  He is at the door.  We are about to stand before Him.  Have we seen him as being absolutely holy, and as a result convicting us of our sin?  Have we looked upon this Holy God hanging on the cross, pouring out God’s merciful love upon us?  James brings us into this reality telling us that we have been set free in the Law of the Gospel, through which Christ has fulfilled all of God’s requirements by becoming the sacrifice of atonement for us.  In Christ we are set free so that we can begin to live lives that are truly Christ like because we have come to believe in Him as our Redeemer.  This brings us to stand in the presence of our Holy God as those who have received His mercy.  As we stand in His presence we know that we deserve judgment, but we also see on standing at God’s right hand who has taken our place.  The punishment that was ours He has endured for us.  We have been crucified with Him, and been raised to new life in Him.  We have been set free in Him all because His mercy has been poured out upon us. 

                He then sends us out into our world as those whose lives have been transformed by the mercy of God.  He requires simply that we give what we have received.  He has forgiven us therefore we must forgive one another.  He has sacrificially loved us therefore we must love sacrificially.  He sought us out, bringing us to receive His grace, and now He sends us out to be His servants reaching out to others with His Gospel of freedom.  Even when they won’t receive it or us we must keep reaching out with this precious message, because we have received His mercy.  Constantly we are aware of His presence.  He is at the door and that changes everything.

Awake

                “”Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, against the man who is close to me!”  Declares the LORD Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn My hand against the little ones.  In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one third will be left in it.  This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.  They will call on My Name and I will answer them; I will say, “They are My people.” And they will say, “The LORD is our God.””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 13:7-9

                Right in the middle of the final oracle in the book of Zechariah we find this little poetic passage which refocuses our attention upon the central theme of this wonderful prophetic book.  The book is concerned with the promise of God which is to act on behalf of His people through one whom He calls the Good Shepherd in order to redeem them by establishing a new blood covenant.  Israel is facing a crisis in leadership; the shepherds have failed to lead God’s people into godliness therefore God Himself will intervene on their behalf.  This text brings us into an awe inspiring encounter with the tremendous promises that the LORD has made to us in His Word.  What is required is that we stop and meditate upon God’s Word to us here.

                Verse seven contains two commands from God as He speaks to the sword of Divine Judgement.  The LORD commands that the sword awaken and then that it strike the shepherd, presumably killing Him.  What Zechariah is confronting us with here is that whatever will happen to the Good Shepherd it will be a direct result of God’s initiative in bringing judgement upon a people ruined by their sin.  It will not be an accident or an event out of the control of God.  Zechariah tells us that it will be the direct response of God’s Word.  He will speak the word of judgement and the sword will fall upon the Good Shepherd.  There is more here as well for us to meditate upon.  The sword will fall upon “My Shepherd.”  It is the shepherd who belongs to God that Zechariah is referring to here.  The definition is taken further as the Prophet writes, “against the man who is close to me.”  More literally the word that is used here refers to the man who is my fellow, one who participates in the nature of the poetic speaker, or God Himself.  David Baron explores this in his commentary on the book of Zechariah.

                “The unique and peculiar relationship between this “Shepherd” and Jehovah is fully brought out in the words which follow: “the man that is my fellow.”  The word (‘amith) is found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible only in Leviticus.  It seems to be a substantive, and denotes “fellowship,” “neighbourship,” in the abstract.  But the only other place in the Hebrew Bible where this word is found, namely, in Leviticus, it is used only as the synonym of (“brother”), in the concrete sense of the nearest one.  The two words (“man”) and (“My fellow”) must therefore be regarded as apposites, and have been properly so rendered in the English Bible…..”

                “No Owner of a flock, or lord of a flock, would call a hired or purchased shepherd his ‘amith.  And so God would not apply this epithet to any godly or ungodly man whom He might have appointed shepherd over a nation.  The idea of nearest one (or fellow) involves not only similarity in vocation, but community of physical or spiritual descent, according to which he whom God calls His neighbour cannot be a mere man, but can only be one who participates in the Divine nature, or is essentially Divine.  The shepherd of Jehovah, whom the sword is to smite, is therefore no other than the Messiah, who is also identified with Jehovah in chapter 12:10; or the Good Shepherd, who says of Himself, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30).” (Baron, David, The Visions and Prophesies of Zechariah, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1975, p. 476-477)

                What a wonderful prophetic word.  Zechariah gives us much to meditate upon here.  The promise of God is that one will come who will share in the Divine nature and who will be struck down by the express plan of God that he might be the refiner of his people so that they will be brought into the covenant relationship with God through him.  For this reason Jesus point to this Scripture as being fulfilled in the scandal of the Cross.

                “Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”  But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  (Matthew 26:31-32)

                The word for “fall away” used here is to be caused to stumble, to be offended, or shocked, by what they have observed.  That God would deliberately afflict His only begotten Son with our punishment so that we could be redeemed in Him seems offensive to us.  In reality however we find here the power of God for our salvation revealed here.  For this we praise God! 

A New Robe

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.  You, however, did not come to know Christ in that way.  Surely you heard of Him and were taught in Him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ephesians 4:17-21

                “If it feels good, do it!”  If there is a slogan that describes our times this is it.  We live in a time which is dominated by our feelings.  In the past we may have spoken about what we thought, but now we speak about how something feels to us.  Just this week as I was listening to a Newscast about Hurricane Sandy and its impact upon the East Coast of the United States I was startled to here the Reporter use the Word feel in place of think.  We really are a people dominated by feelings.  To be sure it is a sign of good mental health to be in touch with our feelings.  We love to be around people who are genuine in their feelings of affection, especially when those feelings are under control and expressed appropriately.  The Apostle Paul, although being a person of warn affections was not a man dominated by them.  His feelings we under the control of his thinking as can be seen in his application of the doctrine of the unity which the Gospel creates when it brings us into the Body of Christ.

                Paul has called the Ephesians to be diligent in maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:3)  He then digresses into a very important exposition of the doctrine of the Body of Christ and the giftedness through which God in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit maintains and builds us up in the love of Christ.  Paul wants us to understand here with our minds the principles upon which the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ are built up.  These are biblical principles which bring us Godly wisdom on which our lives together as Christians are advanced.  With the help of the Holy Spirit we are called to understand and apply this Wisdom to our lives.  After establishing the doctrine clearly here Paul then turns back to the application of this truth to our lives.  Unity in the Spirit is maintained through thousands of obedient actions on our part as we live out the Christian life.  This is Paul tells us the thing that he is constantly testifying to as he leads the Churches into ever deepening discipleship. 

                Paul points out that this involves us in putting off our sin (Ephesians 4:17-19), in order that we might put on Christ (Ephesians 4:2032).  What we are to put off it a nature which is enslaved by sin and its characteristics.  What we are to put on is a new nature which is characterized by the Righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is done through, faith filled, obedient, thoughtful obedience to the characteristics of the life of Christ that has been given to us.  What this means is that we put off a lifestyle dominated by slavery to our feelings.  We put on a brand new way of living which is dominated by the Biblical Wisdom which we find embodied in the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is a creation of God’s grace which comes from something new being created in the attitudes of our minds (Ephesians 4:23).

                Perhaps this can be best illustrated by looking at Zechariah 3 where the prophet is given a vision of Joshua the High Priest as he is being accused by Satan.  He is standing before the Angel of the Lord dressed in filthy rags, symbolic of his, and his people’s sin.  The Lord acts to cleanse him, symbolically removing Joshua’s filthy clothing and replacing them with clean garments.  The Lord tells him that the meaning of this is that the Lord has taken away his sin.  Looking ahead the Lord gives the meaning of this vision. When the Messiah comes He will fulfill this vision by taking away the sin of the land in a single day.

                This is exactly what God does through the cross of Christ.  The calling upon the lives of those who are thus cleansed is to put off their old way of living which was to be in slavery to their inner lusts which lead them away from the life of God so that they can put on the righteousness  of Christ which has been given to us by God in Christ. 

Praying Together For Boldness

                “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.  When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.  “Sovereign LORD,” they said, “you made the heaven and earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:  ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The Kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against His anointed one’  Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, who you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.  Now, LORD, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the Name of your holy servant Jesus.”  After they had prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 4:23-31

                This is a wonderful passage of Scripture in which we are instructed in the reasons and the methods of godly praying.  Luke brings us to this passage with a lengthy description of a notable miracle, the healing of a man crippled from birth, and the controversy which arose out of it.  It is interesting that here we see that the Church is given a wonderful opportunity to proclaim the Gospel out of the crisis that arose out of the healing of the crippled man.  How often do our open doors for the proclamation of the Gospel come out of a crisis? 

                There is an opportunity here for the Gospel.  There is also great danger for believers.  They are threatened with harm if they persist in preaching and teaching in the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ.  What are they to do?  What would you or I do in their shoes?  It is here that Luke gives us some wonderful insight into the prayer life of the New Testament Church.  This insight helps us to discern our way forward as we seek to proclaim the Gospel to our generation.

  1. They prayed together in response to the crisis they were facing.  Luke tells us that they “lifted their voices together in prayer to God.”   They did not each come to this prayer meeting to present to God the differing insights that each of them had.  They came to god in agreement in prayer.  It seems as if they began their time together with meditation upon the teaching of Scripture.  They meditated upon God’s Word and obediently allowed it to direct their way forward.
  2. The Scripture that the LORD brought them to was Psalm two which had been understood as Messianic for at least the century before the coming of Jesus Christ.  The New Testament writers in fact go out of their way to apply this particular Psalm to the LORD Jesus Christ.  This Psalm describes clearly the situation in which the Church found itself in and also pointed the way forward for them. 
  3. To arrive at unity in our praying together it is vital that we begin with a meditation together upon the Word of God.  Our goal is not to convince others of our particular interpretation of Scripture, but to let God mould us into a fellowship that obediently follows the leading of the Spirit of God.  We are to be reformed by the Word of God.  This is what we see the New Testament Church doing here in Acts 4. 
  4. They then prayed asking God to enable them to boldly obey His calling upon them.  Recently I have been reading about the powerful way in which the LORD has been revealing Himself to people in various parts of our world.  Those who have been writing about these powerful movements of God’s Spirit consistently are asking one key question.  What is the Churches responsibility in response to what God is doing?  The answer that they have been coming up with is exactly what we see happening here in Acts 4:23-31.  We are to be a fellowship which is praying in unity for the boldness to testify to the grace that God is pouring out upon this world.  This is always the consequence of meditation together upon what the Spirit of God is revealing to us through God’s Word. 

Genuine Repentance

                “But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.  Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has rejected you as King.””

                                                                                                                                                                1 Samuel 15:22-23

                The fifteenth chapter of 1 Samuel is one of the most instructive chapters in the whole book regarding the LORD’s ways with His people.  It is concerned with the trying of King Saul, his failure to obey the LORD’s command, his justification of his actions, and finally the LORD’s judgement upon him.  Earlier, in chapter thirteen, Samuel had pronounced God’s judgement upon Saul and his future dynasty on account of his failure to obey the Prophet’s command to wait.  Now we see that judgment begin to unfold as Saul’s true nature as a rebellious man is revealed.  It some ways this is a depressing portion of God’s Word.  The Bible is a very honest book, describing in great detail our depravity and the consequences that come from it.  The point of this chapter is that just as Saul was tried, so too will we and our generation be tried.  The sinfulness of our hearts will be exposed in the trials we face in life.  There is a purpose to these trials which is to cause us to see the reality of our rebellion and to come to the LORD in genuine repentance.  That is our only hope. 

                In 2 Peter 3:9 we read, “The LORD is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  This is what we see here in 1 Samuel 15.  Outwardly it seems as if Saul has repented, but his heart has remained rebellious towards the LORD. When another test is given he once again failed spectacularly, and when confronted by Samuel he justified his actions rather than confessing his sin.  Finally he brought to acknowledge his sin but he does so in a way that continues his self willed rebelliousness.  The LORD requires genuine repentance which results in a person turning to the LORD in whole hearted obedience.  This is what the LORD requires, that we become people who seek His Glory first.  When we are tested by God in the circumstances of our lives it is as if God is asking us one key question.  This is, “Who are you worshipping?”

                How do we as twenty first century Christians answer God’s question?  In every generation, including this one, there are challenges and trials which serve to test the reality of our faith in the LORD Jesus Christ.  Surely this is one of the key themes of the Book of Revelation.  In that prophetic book we see the LORD confronting and testing the world.  Who are you committed to?  Who do you worship?  These are the questions God is asking us.  The answer we give determines our eternal future. 

                Today our trials confront the things which we are worshipping.  We are led into living lives which are judged successful based upon the standards of this world in which we live.  In the first five verses of the Book of Galatians the Apostle Paul describes this world as evil, using a word which defines evil as an active, aggressive force in this world which seeks to corrupt others.  It is not a passive evil, but and active one seeking to conform others in rebellion.  We are led down a road in which we seek wealth, popularity, security, fame, health, and peace based upon the teaching of worldly philosophy rather than upon the Word of God.  In Church circles so often we define success based upon these same standards.  Are we attracting a crowd to our Church or Ministry?  Do we have a growing internet presence?  Are we selling more books, or CDs?  Are we more in demand today than we were yesterday?  How often do we ask ourselves whether we are “Keeping in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-26)? In answering this question we find ourselves having to deal with just what it means for us to live in a way which is truly obedient to the LORD.  His ways are revealed to us in His Word.  His call is for us to turn from our sin and cast ourselves upon His grace revealed in the LORD Jesus Christ who went to the cross bearing all our sin, so that we might be reconciled to God.  What is needed is genuine repentance, seeking Christ first and humbly walking with God in Christ.

                How will you respond to the trials of your life?

Spiritual Mindedness

                “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.  Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 1:19-22

                A number of years ago, when I first read John Miller’s little book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church I was struck by one of the phrases that he used.  This was that for him faith involved his giving himself to God without reservation, and then taking his courage in his hands and obeying God in everything that God commanded.  I wondered just what Miller meant by such a powerful statement.  It seemed that he was trying to define for us just what a life of faith looked like.  How do we know if we are living by faith or in the flesh?  How do we live in the Spirit, being spiritually minded as we live out our lives?  We use these expressions so glibly.  What does a truly spiritual life look like?

                Of all places to find answers to these questions the book of James seems to be an unlikely place.  Here is a book that seems to teach salvation by works.  At least that is what we think.  However, when we take a closer look we discover that James is really calling us to live a lifestyle which is truly spiritual because it has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  What does such a life look like?

                James tells us that God has willed to give us new birth through the word of truth.  He anchors the Christian life in regeneration, the work of the Holy Spirit bringing us to new life through faith in the LORD Jesus Christ.  In the eighteenth century young missionaries like John and Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield discovered this teaching about regeneration by the work of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ.  Their testimony was that as they came to believe in Christ they found, to use John Wesley’s word, “their hearts strangely warmed.”  They began to preach this Word throughout the villages and towns in Britain and many thousands came to faith in Christ.  They had returned to the Gospel message of the New Testament.

                In tremendously practical terms James outlines for us in his letter this message of regeneration.  It is characterized by the righteousness of God being created within us.  This is not our righteousness it is His given to us through faith.  Almost immediately it begins to work itself out in our lives.  It produces the fruit of righteousness transforming our speech and our attitudes.  It causes us to obey the Word of God.  It is almost as if that word is being written into our hearts.  In fact that is what two Old Testament Prophets said God would do.

                Jeremiah writes, ““The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah.  It will not be like the Covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my Covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.  “This is the Covenant I will make with the House of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.”” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)

                Ezekiel echoes Jeremiah’s words in this way, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

                                                                                                                                                (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

                James tells us that Spiritual Christianity is a faith that leads us to obey God’s Word through the power of God’s Spirit in all manner of practical ways.  It starts with our accepting by faith the implanted word of God which comes to us in the Gospel.