Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fight the Fog

Isaiah's portrait of Immanuel helps us to clear away the fog in our lives. Fog clouds our ability to see our Savior. It comes in the form of trials, temptations, petty purchases, entertainment, distractions. It is essential to our faith to see clearly the author of our faith. Keeping Him in the center of our focus puts everything else in proper perspective.

People see Christ more clearly when there is nothing to distract them. God in love rips away his competitors so that He alone can occupy our hearts. In this way, temporal judgment is eternal grace. People will seek Him when they need Him.

In this way, the current economic condition may clear away the pluralistic fog in our nation. When darkness comes, man will grope about for any aid. It will be hard not to miss the Light in the center of the room.

My goal this year is to fight to see Christ more clearly than ever. My goal for the church? I want us to be the church in Jackson county who sees Christ most clearly. I want us to be the church in which the community sees Christ most clearly. Fight the fog will be our new slogan. The life of faith is always first a battle to see Christ. My resolutions?
  • This year, I will SEE Christ more clearly.
  • This year, I will SHOW Christ more clearly.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Coming Christ: Counselor

Blessed is the man who has a trustworthy advisor. Every person needs a friend who will tell him the truth, whose counsel is sure. David had such a counselor: Ahithophel. His advice was regarded "like that of one who inquired of God." When Ahithophel joined the renegade Absalom, David knew he was finished unless he could somehow thwart the advice of this clear-sighted counselor.

The person whom Isaiah describes does Ahithophel one better. He not only has good counsel, He IS good counsel. Perfect wisdom, discernment, and knowledge within Himself.
  • He knows the end from the beginning.
  • He knows the world and all its contingencies and has the power to see us through.
  • He knows our hearts. "I the Lord search the heart." He knows us and in compassion He remembers that we are dust.
When Jesus was preparing to leave this world, He told His disciples that they could not come now, but would follow later. When Thomas asked what he meant, Jesus made a remarkable claim. "I am the way, the truth, and the life." A counselor who speaks the truth, who knows the direction we should head, and can get us to eternal life is a wonderful counselor!
Imagine the woman who lives with one man after another because she is looking for love. Imagine the man who is racked with guilt for the infidelities of the past. He longs for a sure word of forgiveness. Imagine the materialist pursuing security or the addict just wanting to be happy. We have a counselor who can not only deliver us from the pain of the past, but meet every need of our hearts. Maranatha!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Agur's Experience with Wonder

Wonder is built into the fabric of the universe. Agur had an ability see the creativity of God in nature and to stand amazed at it. In a collection of his sayings in Proverbs, he lists four of his experiences with wonder:
  • The way of an eagle in the sky. Eagles ride unseen thermals, defying gravity in effortless, playful circles. Who teaches them to frolic above the circle of the earth?
  • The way of a snake on a rock. How do snakes move on slippery surfaces, change direction, shift speed, and coordinate every muscle in their bodies to get where they are going? They climb onto rocks to bask in the sun, enjoying the warmth and light provided by their Creator.
  • The way of a ship in the midst of the sea. It took Matthew Maury in the 1800's to discover and map the currents in the oceans. His maps solved the mystery of pathways in the seas, currents that sped some boats along and stranded others to wait for the wind.
  • The way of a man with a maid. Sex according to God's design is filled with wonder. Purity, security, openness, and satisfaction. All these and more are gifts of a loving Creator.
Agur sees the glory of God in the details, the hidden things, the secret things, the surprising design of God's world. In this world, God plays a game with us, concealing evidence of His power and creativity all about His world and challenging us to find it. "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings" (Proverbs 25:2).
In Christ, the wonder is not fleeting. We marvel at his kenosis, his willingness to give up his rights and privileges as God to display his inner nature of a Servant. What wonder will be ours at the parousia, when we shall see Him as He is, blazing eyes and iron scepter, the glory of God on full display. Praise the One who is wonder Himself!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Coming Christ: Wonderful!

Manoah stood before the Angel of the Lord in ignorance. He didn't know that the one instructing his wife about the care and training of their unborn son was God Himself. He asks, "What is your name that we may honor you when your word comes true?"

The angel of the Lord receives the worship of Manoah and his wife and their experience terrifies them. "We are doomed. We have seen God." When the word of the Angel of the Lord comes true, what was the name that was honored?

The angel had replied, "Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding." Other translations say "Wonderful." Incomprehensible. Indescribable. Awe-inspiring. Secret.

Isaiah predicts the coming of Wonder as a baby. Born of a virgin. Given by an eternal Father. Carrying the governments of the world. Ending war. No boredom here.

In our world, wonder comes in fleeting glimpses. When Jesus comes, He is wonder Himself. Heaven will be a continuing discovery of new joys in Christ. Eternity will be standing in wonder at Jesus, God-with-us!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Coming Christ: People Walking in Darkness

The Book of Isaiah not only reveals God's plan for His people in Isaiah's time, but unfolds a much more glorious picture. Isaiah predicts the coming of the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah who will set everything right and bring about the healing of the nations. Earlier prophecies (Genesis 3:15; 48:10; Psalm 22; 110) only hint at what Isaiah paints in bold colors.

Isaiah 9 begins this description by describing the plight of man. Man walks in darkness, looking for guidance, looking for direction but he cannot find his way. He is made in the image of God, but he is also rebellious and suffers under the darkness of sin. God has set eternity in their hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) so that we know and long for God and our hearts are restless until we find Him.

Good and bad experiences are twisted together in our lives so that we cannot discern our futures. The good causes us to rejoice for a moment, and when the good disappears, we long for a good that is permanent. When the bad comes, we long for purpose and final peace and contentment.

Man is blind. He gropes about in the darkness, stumbling, and fearing what sleeps in the darkness. He walks in circles because there is nothing else to do. Into that futility, one Light shines. Men lament that there are not many lights. Praise God there is one.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What the Imprecatory Pray-er Doesn't Know

I have written of the authority of the believer, trusting on the promises of God, and the weapon given to Him in imprecatory prayer. It is also important to speak of humility. While we ask for deliverance from oppressors, cry for justice, and plead for the expansion of the gospel cause, there are several things we are not privy to:
  • We do not know how God will work. We do not know, in specific cases, whether He will show grace or execute judgment. We do not know His timing. We do not know His purposes in specific situations. His patience meant our salvation. In the end, what we seek is the advancement of God's Kingdom, relief of our distress, and justice (attribute of God) to be shown.

  • We do not know how God will use our circumstances to expand His kingdom. Jesus promised that some of His disciples would be killed, but not a hair of their head will perish. Seems to me that means trusting Christ no matter how things turn out. Eventually, perfect justice will be shown and all wrongs will be righted.
Imprecatory prayer is designed to remove the people who have made themselves obstacles to the Kingdom of God and to God's work in our sphere of responsibility. How God works, whether he changes the heart of our opposition, changes us, or executes judgment, we leave these things with Him. Then we know that all things will work together for good.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Calling and Imprecatory Prayer

The same culture that is embarrassed by the execution of justice over tolerance is also embarrassed by authority. We have become so independent and democratic that we fear exercising our authority as believers. Who do we think we are?

The Westminster divines said we were created "to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." Jesus commanded us to go into all the world, preach the gospel, and make disciples of all nations. To accomplish our tasks, Jesus promised we could ask anything because God's answers would bring Him glory and show ourselves to be His disicples.

The church has some awesome tasks to accomplish. We have work to do on our character and we have work to do in the world. This work is real and the accomplishment of our responsibility is eternal. Real work, not the usual chores in the church, will raise unholy opposition. Satan will rise against you and men will do his bidding. Roaring lions and snarling dogs will encircle us.

Think about it. We have one life to invest with eternal consequences. Adoption has brought us forward as adult sons in God's family and we must use that authority to accomplish our tasks. Those who oppose us, if we are working to fulfill our calling, are opposing God.

There are those who will regard our calling as hubris. How do we know for certain what the will of God is? The answer of course is listed in our tasks above. Granted my way to accomplish those tasks may not be the best way, but the goals are clear. The Christian uses his gifts, abilities, wisdom, insight, counsel, and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit to promote the gospel cause. He is responding in obedience to the Word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit in His life. The community will come alongside, hone his skills and his abilities and provide encouragement and support. The Christian who chooses to oppose the method had better be careful here. He may wreck the work God is trying to accomplish.

The Christian leader will persevere in his task. He will listen for ways to better accomplish the goals of the church and he will refuse to be drawn aside to other goals. If opposition rises to the extent that the goals are being compromised or faithful people, including hmself and his family, are being attacked, he should use every legitimate means at his disposal, including imprecatory prayer, to see God's purposes through.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Imprecatory Prayer: The Unnatural Division between the Sinner and the Sin

The critic of Imprecatory Psalms finds his criticism largely in the judgment and condemnation expressed in the psalms. To model his own prayer life along the lines of imprecatory prayer seems abhorrent.

A popular dictum in Christianity says "God loves the sinner and hates the sin." We create an odd dichotomy in order to comfort ourselves when someone we love continues, in practical ways, to rebel against God's authority. But is the dichotomy more cultural than biblical? Consider:

  • It is the sinner who makes God his enemy.

  • It is the sinner who is held responsible for his sin.

  • It is the sinner who receives the natural consequences of his sin.

  • It is the sinner who cooperates in the process of hardening his own heart.

  • A sinner whose refusal to repent impacts not only his own life, but his family, his friends, his co-workers, and succeeding generations.

It is true that God loves the world (John 3:16) and is not willing that any should perish (II Peter 3:9). It is also true that man is responsible for his actions, whether good or bad. All are sinners and that sin will be judged. Justice demands it. Sinners are judged, together with their sins, unless that sin has been nailed to the cross. Because of sin, real people make real decisions and suffer real, eternal consequences. It will be hard to understand imprecatory prayer until we come to grips with the seriousness of sin.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Evidence of Imprecation in the New Testament

For those who are unsure about imprecation, there is evidence of cursing in the New Testament. In Mark 11, Jesus cleanses the temple of those who stand in the way of authentic worship and he curses a fig tree because of its fruitlessness. Paul tells us to do good to those who hate us because we heap burning coals on their heads (Romans 12:19-20). He has strident words for those who pervert the gospel (Galatians 1:8-9) and he is confident of judgment in store for one who has caused him much trouble in ministry (Alexander the Metal worker- II Timothy 4:14-15). In Revelation 6:10, the martyred saints call for vengeance from under the throne. Cases like these in the New Testament give evidence that imprecatory prayers may have validity today.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Imprecatory Prayer and the Psalms

Imprecatory Psalms are psalms of cursing. They are the most militant prayers in scripture and are often alarming in their descriptive violence. An imprecatory prayer is when we ask God to deal with the wicked in judgment. Examples of Imprecatory Psalms include Psalm 35, 58, 109, and 137.

In order to build an adequate Theology of Prayer, we have to deal with Imprecatory psalms. It is almost universally agreed that the book of Psalms is meant to teach us to worship and to pray. The psalms teach us how to pray and what to pray. The Psalms tutor our emotions in worship.

But what about psalms of imprecation? Some scholars decide the emotions described in these psalms are sinful, human emotions and not sanctioned by a loving God. On what basis do we exclude imprecatory psalms and include psalms of praise, thanksgiving, and lament? My understanding of imspiration prohibits responding to these psalms in this way.

Others decide these psalms are not for this dispensation. They draw charts with broad brushes which put physical warfare on one side and spiritual warfare on the other, hate in the Old Testament and radical love in the New. However, the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments is a large and theologically complex issue that demands more care than the broad brush approach allows. Only if we saw no sign of cursing in the New Testament could we build a case against imprecatory prayer in our day.

Monday, December 1, 2008

When Christmas Hurts

Twenty-three years ago, I wrote an article for the Shepherd's Journal that still holds up. It was an interview with Diane Crider, an instructor at Liberty University, about facing the holidays after a loss or separation. Here's the article:
There are some people who will have a hard time celebrating this Christmas. They will feel a sense of loss from death, divorce, illness, or separation from family and friends. Memories of past holidays will come back to haunt them.
"Christmas amplifies the void and loss they feel," Diane Crider, staff counselor at Liberty, explains. "This often leads to depression."
She suggests several ideas to help in surviving the holidays:
1. Be Ready For It. Realize that there is loss in life. Give yourself time to be sad and don't set up high expectations or false hopes.
2. Make an Effort to be Around Other People. Don't overlook the relationships around you. Spend time deepening the friendships you have.
3. Let God Deepen His Relationship with You. Remember He allowed loss in His life, by giving His Son.
4. Make an Effort to Give. Reach out and help others during this holiday season.
How can we help others who may be hurting this Christmas? Crider adds, "Be sensitive to those who don't have families. Keep in mind that those who have lost the most will act the toughest. Finally, remember that the best gifts are time and caring."