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In celebration of Presidents’ Day, here is a prayer written by our first President:

“Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the gospel; give me repentance from dead works; pardon my wanderings, and direct my thought unto thyself, the God of my salvation; teach me how to live in thy fear, labor in thy service, and ever to run in the ways of thy commandments; make me always watchful over my heart, that neither the terrors of conscience, the loathing of holy duties, the love of sin, nor an unwillingness to depart this life, may cast me into a spiritual slumber, but daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy son Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time attain the resurrection of the just unto eternal life…”

–George Washington

You can find more about the spiritual life of President Washington here – George Washington the Christian.

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Notice the concern in this prayer about being “cast into a spiritual slumber -“ being inactive  and deadened toward the pursuit spiritual goals.  Consider the biblical support for the things Washington says can have this effect on us.

Terrors of conscience

What we’re talking about here is overwhelming feelings of guilt.  It’s one of the things that bring us to the cross, but too much dwelling on failure tends to destroy, not motivate.  It can actually lead us to spiritual lethargy.

Isaiah 6:5 – And I said: “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Would you say Isaiah was ready to act in that moment?  As he confronted his own sinfulness compared to the matchless sovereign God, he stood immobilized by his own unworthiness.  It was only after he experienced forgiveness and the removal of guilt in verse 7 that he was able to say, “Here am I! Send me,” in verse 8.

Luke 5:8 – “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Again with Peter, we see a man nearly undone as he realized that he was in the presence of the Lord.  His own sins and failures made him feel unworthy to be anywhere near Jesus, let alone work for him.

And again we see the comfort of the Lord as the catalyst – Luke 5:10 – “And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”  And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.”

What woke them up, spiritually?  Not condemnation – but the forgiveness and acceptance of God.

II Corinthians 5:11-6:2 – “Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”

Knowing the fear of the Lord.   Knowing the terror and despondency of a broken conscience contemplating the day of judgment, the message is to believe in, accept, and receive the grace of God (6:2).

Conscience is a wonderful thing.  It is given to us by God in order to cause us to seek Him.  But a full recognition of how deeply my conscience condemns me before God will knock me out of the race without an equal recognition and remembrance of the grace of God continually poured out for me (Hebrews 9:14)

Hebrews 10:22 – “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Loathing of holy duty

Malachi 1:13 – “But you say, “What a weariness this is, and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts.  You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering!  Shall I accept that from your hand? Says the Lord.”

I Corinthians 11:26-30 – “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  Whoever, therefore, eats the brad or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

Hebrews 10:23-25 – “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Is it a chore to pray?  To read/study the Bible?  Do look for occasions to do good?  To practice patience, kindness, gentleness, charity?  Can we make a decision to love the works of our Lord and pray for his help in that?

Love of sin

Hebrews 12:1 – let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Matthew 13:22 – As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

II Timothy 4:10 – Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.

Romans 1:32 – Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Ephesians 5:3-15

Fear of death

Luke 14:26 – If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Matthew 10:28 – Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

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Joseph’s Brothers

February 15, 2014 — Leave a comment

I’ve been reading again the story of Joseph and his family in the book of Genesis.  Here are a few quick notes:

The Brothers of Joseph:

Had a brother who robbed them of their father’s devotion – Genesis 37:3

Were humiliated by their brother’s dreams – Genesis 37:5-11

Were moved by envy to murderous anger – Genesis 37:11, 18-2

…and betrayed their brother and father

Yet received grace. – Genesis 45:1-11

Raised in a self-centered, undirected family.

Jacob was busy getting over on Laban – Genesis 30:25-43, 31:7-20

Rachel and Leah were busy getting over on each other – Genesis 29:31-30:24

-the children, and the servants of each, were pawns for getting at the heart of Jacob

Aside from that, Laban, the children’s grandfather, is trying to cheat their father Jacob, Jacob has already cheated his brother Esau, and Jacob is getting ready for a wrestling match with the angel of God! (Genesis 32:22-30)

Jacob is a striver with God and man – Genesis 32:28

Is it any wonder that by the time the family gets to Canaan the sons of Jacob are conniving, deceitful, and small hearted?  Genesis 34:13     – even when they’re in the right they lie!

But, for all that, God is with Jacob and in the midst of all this He reiterates the promise made previously to Abraham and Isaac – Genesis 35:1-15.  God’s promise stands, not because of righteousness of man, but because of God promised it.   And Jacob lived by faith – Hebrews 11:21.  But that doesn’t mean no mistakes were made.  And those mistakes are at the heart of the problem we see in Genesis 37 and 39

Genesis 37:18-36

Genesis 39:1-6

God can take all the bad and make it good, but look at all the misery, uncertainty, fear, and threat that filled these years.  Wouldn’t God have found a way to preserve them even if they hadn’t acted corruptly?

It is the same with us.  We all stumble often, James says, and God can make all things work together for good anyway.  If we endure the chastening, it will afterward yield peaceable fruit – Hebrews 12:11

But let us not sin that good may come!  Romans 3:8:.  There is a better way.

A few applications:

What becomes of our children when moms and dads are so focused on their own schemes that they neglect the welfare of their children?

Or when the parents act corruptly to get their way, what do the children learn?

When adults are self-centered, and the kids are left to themselves, are they inclined to good things, or mischievous things?  Proverbs 22:5

At church, when the parents are focused merely on their own edification, do we pay attention to whether our kids are paying attention?  Or when we let the kids sit with their friends – it makes church more fun for them and it makes it easier for us to focus on the service, right?  But are the kids worshiping then?  Or are they passing notes, joking around, and spacing out?  Can we be guilty of neglecting them right here in this good place?

And then, after worship – as the adults enjoy good fellowship and conversation and the kids are turned loose, is it just clean honest fun the kids are having?  I know I sometimes come home to angry kids with bad attitudes after 45 minutes left to themselves after church with their friends.

Proverbs 29:15

It’s worth acknowledging that no matter how good your child is, and mine, the influence they have on one another is not always good.  They are children and we are parents for a reason.   We need to be wise and be aware of what’s going on.  Or better yet, include our children with us.  Let them be where we are after church or, let us go where they are.

The story of Joseph and his brothers is the story of a family run amuck.  I have no doubt that Jacob was a faithful man – a well-intentioned man.  But his weaknesses carried consequences for his family.  As do ours.  May we strive to recognize them and overcome them.

Sunday Sermon at the church of Christ on Elm Street in St. Charles, Missouri, December 1, 2013. A discussion of the statistics that reveal a lack of trust in every segment of American society and God’s solution to the problem.

Quiet Aspirations

December 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

I Timothy 2:1-2 – “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

I Thessalonians 4:9-12 – “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing… But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

II Thessalonians 3:11-12 – “We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”

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Nike advises us in their commercials to Find Your Greatness.   Television shows like The Voice and American Idol have become the aspiration of multitudes of bedroom musicians hoping to find their big break and attain stardom.  And Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and countless other social media allow us all to market ourselves and help us feel like we are bigger fish than we actually are.

When I talk to young people, and even to those who are older, most have a strong inner drive to “do something that matters.”  We like to think that we are engaged in something important; something that is going to help shape the world.

But the thing that matters is not reaching the top of the heap.  It’s not being in a position where you can control outcomes and have a great deal of influence in the lives of others.  It isn’t being “great,” or notorious, or a star.  The really important thing is living a life of personal integrity.

In the Bible, we are encouraged to “aspire to live quietly and to mind (our) own affairs.”  To seek to mind our own business, and to let others mind theirs.  It’s interesting that those words are found in the middle of a discussion on loving one another – and doing so more and more.

We tend to think of love in terms of what we do for others.  But love also consists in letting others alone – allowing them to make their own decisions, manage their own affairs, and to enjoy the fruits and consequences of so doing.

Further, our ability to do really big things is only enhanced when we focus first on finding peace, stability, and order at home.  Jesus said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is a log in your own?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5).

We grow weary of corrupt politicians who tell us how to live our lives while their own are scandal ridden.  And we rightly scoff at pastors and religious leaders who preach one thing and do another.  But the same principle applies to you and me.  First let us learn to manage ourselves and our own responsibilities.  Then we may, perhaps, have clear insight to help others.

Brad

It has been said that the travels of Abraham can be traced by the altars he built.  In Genesis 12, we read of the Lord calling him to leave his home and go to Canaan.  It says that he went to Shechem and built an altar where the Lord appeared to him in v. 6-7.  Then he moved to Bethel and “pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. v 8” In chapter 13, after he separated from Lot, he went to Hebron and again built an altar – 13:18.  Under the patriarchal system, the altar was the place of worship to God.  Every place that Abraham went, then, he prepared for himself a place and a way to worship his God.

There are a couple places where he lived but didn’t build altars:  Egypt (Genesis 12:11-20) and Gerar (Genesis 20:1-9).  It is more than interesting to note that those places are the places where he sinned.

Scripture teaches that we are merely sojourners and travelers on the earth – Hebrews 11:13-14.  As we travel through life we need, like Abraham, to be erecting “altars” everywhere we go – signs and reminders that, no matter where we find ourselves, we took time to remember God.

In our Families.  Raising godly children is not something that just happens.  However, having children does.  Many enter into fatherhood and motherhood without purpose and without a goal.  As a result, their training and discipline of their children, if it happens at all, is done haphazardly and without purpose.  Even Christians are sometimes no more specific in their plans for their children than, “I hope they grow up to be faithful.”  For the most part, if you’re just hoping, they probably won’t.

The Bible gives us several principles for raising children:

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” Proverbs 22:6.

“…do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” Ephesians 6:4.

How can you bring your children up in the training and admonition of the Lord if you are not living yourself in the training and admonition of the Lord?  We need to be building altars to God in our families.  That is, we need to make home a place where God is remembered and respected and given a central place.  If we don’t, how can we hope for our children to grow up to serve God?  On one of the altars Abraham built, he offered up his only son, Isaac, at the command of God.  How do you think the unflinching obedience of his father affected the young boy? When Joshua exhorted Israel, he said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord –  Josh. 24:15.”  He had built an altar – making it known that God was not an optional addition to his family.

Some altars we can build:

Does your family have a time they study the Bible together?

2 Tim 1:3-5

3          I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day,

4          greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy,

5          when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.”

2 Tim 3:14-17

14         But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,

15         and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

16         All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

17         that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Do you have a time besides mealtime when you pray together?

1Thes 5:16-18

16         Rejoice always,

17         pray without ceasing,

18         in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Phil 4:6-7

6          Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;

7          and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

What place does gathering with other Christians have in your family?

Heb 10:23-25

23         Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

24         And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,

25         not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

What part does God play in your normal, everyday conversations?

Deut 6:5-9

5          “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

6          “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.

7          “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

8          “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

9          “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

If the Lord has a constant place of honor and involvement in the fabric of our family life, then we won’t have to merely hope that our children will grow up to be faithful.  We will instead have the assurance that we are, indeed, bringing them up in the training and admonition of the Lord, and that, even when the children have left the home, He will be a permanent fixture in their lives and our own.

Brad

Genesis 31:49

I’ve seen these words, as you have, used as a sign of romance or friendship, with the two halves of a locket divided between two people.    As beautiful as that sentiment is, it is almost exactly the opposite of what prompted the statement in the Bible.

In this story, Jacob, Laban’s son in law, had just fled with his two wives, 11 children, and all of his herds and livestock to go back to his home in Canaan.  Jacob’s wealth represented the best of what had once belonged to Laban.

The two men had spent the previous twenty years trying to find ways to trick and take advantage of one another, with varying degrees of success.  Now Jacob is leaving while he has the upper hand.

Laban rightly accused Jacob of having stolen his household idols.  Actually, Rachel had stolen them without Jacob’s knowledge and now Laban failed to find them among Jacob’s things.

In righteous indignation(as he thought), Jacob said, “What is my offense?  What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me?  For you have felt through all my goods; what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two…  If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed.  God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.”

Mizpah

Admitting defeat, Laban said, “the daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine.  But what can I do this day for these my daughters or for the children whom they have borne?  Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I.  And let it be a witness between you and me.”

It is in that context that Laban says, ‘The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight.”  It is not a benediction; rather, it is a threat.  Notice the next few verses:

“If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.  This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm.  The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.  So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.”   (Genesis 31:50-53).

So, the next time you see someone wearing half a locket, remember that the saying means, “I don’t trust you and I am calling on God to keep you accountable for not cheating me!”

On a more serious level, though, when we consider the Bible we find that God does exactly that.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’, says the Lord (Romans 12:19)”

“Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.  This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering —since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grand relief to you…(II Thessalonians 1:4-7).

Even today, the Lord is indeed watching between you and me, and between you and me and every person we interact with on a daily basis.  When we take advantage of the weak, He knows.  When we accuse someone wrongly or when we react with anger instead of kindness, He is keeping track.

Instead of the romantic sentimentality that is often associated with this verse, let’s take the warning seriously and do all things, every day and every time, as if we were doing it in the presence of God (Colossians 3:33-35).  For, actually, we are.

Brad

The Good Life

November 18, 2013 — Leave a comment

“For whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer.  But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”      II Peter 3:10-12

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  John 10:10

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”   James 1:17

The common thread in these verses and others in the Bible is that God’s plan and intention for us is that we have a good life – a happy and fulfilled life.  Sometimes this promise challenges our faith because life for us at the moment may not seem to be all that great.  And then, we struggle at times because our idea of what a good life looks like and God’s knowledge of what a good life really is don’t line up exactly.

The good life he has in mind for us does not necessarily include wealth, popularity, or even good health, although they may be part of the blessings he bestows on us.  After all, Jesus himself said, “all people will hate you for my name’s sake (Luke 21:17).”   And when the Lord mentions some of his favorite people in Hebrews 11, he says, “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.  They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Hebrews 11:36-38).”

How can both of these ideas be true?  How can we live a good life that does not depend on the circumstances of that life?  Both in the Bible and in our own experience, we find that wealth, popularity, and physical well-being do not equal a good life.  There are too many examples in our own lives of people around us who possess all of those things while remaining the most miserable people on earth.  Conversely, it’s easy to find those who have nothing, as far as we can see, but who are genuinely happy and content.

There is a lifestyle taught by the Lord, however, that leads to happiness and good days no matter what we do or don’t have.  Here are at least some of the elements of it:

Contentment

“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:12-13).”

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction (I Timothy 6:6-9).”

“Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5-6).

Peace

“…let him seek peace and pursue it (I Peter 3:11).”

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18).”

95 times or more in the New Testament alone, peace is mentioned and encouraged.  Much of the conflict in our lives – in relationships, at work, in the church – are only exacerbated because we do not take it upon ourselves to become peacemakers.  How much less stressful would your life be, and how much happier could you be if, at least for your part, you sought to be at peace with everyone?

Honest Work

“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil (Ecclesiastes 2:24).”

“…aspire to live quietly and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may…be dependent on no one (I Thessalonians 4:11).”

Those who embrace their work rather than constantly scheming to avoid it know something about the secret of a good life.

Hope

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1:16-18).”

“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (I Corinthians 15:19).”

People without hope are people with nothing.  It’s impossible to know happiness and contentment without it.  And so, God gives us something wonderful to look forward to – something that exists and is yours beyond time, beyond destruction, and beyond the unfairness and injustice of this world.  We can be happy living in these days by living for those days that are to come.

Brad

On Sarcasm and Mockery

November 12, 2013 — 1 Comment

 

“The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place.  But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against His people, until there was no remedy.”  II Chronicles 36:15-16

“Judgments are prepared for scoffers, and beatings for the backs of fools.”  Proverbs 19:29

“…knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.  They will say, “Where is the promise of His coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”  For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.”  II Peter 3:3-6

To scoff is to speak about something in a scornfully derisive way..

I’m afraid we have become a nation of scoffers – if not a world of them.  It seems that our favorite form of humor is sarcasm and that our preferred method of argument is derision.  If you listen to a political debate, more time is spent mocking the other side than is spent actually taking their positions seriously and answering them.   When I read religious arguments, discussions, and debates, I see the same thing.  We are experts at reducing things to absurdity – and then at acting as if that closes the subject.

The trouble is that anything – even the most serious things – can be made to appear foolish.

When Jesus, the sinless Son of God, was dying on the cross of Calvary, His detractors were busy scoffing, saying, “If He’s who He says He is, let him come down off the cross.”  (Matthew 27:39-44).  They sought to make a fool of Jesus, portraying the ridiculous picture of one claiming to possess the power and authority of divinity, but without the ability to even save his own life, let alone the souls of all of mankind.  The truth of the matter, of course, is that Jesus didn’t want to get down off the cross.  He was there on purpose, and for a purpose.  And the whole world from the day of Creation until now can be thankful that He did it.  But that didn’t stop the mockers from scoring with their one-liner.  One of the strengths of scoffing is it takes a lot longer to answer the statement than it took to utter it.  And we foolishly tend to think that the shortest answer is the best one.  Imagine Jesus on the cross explaining the whole plan of salvation and the reason why He was up there to those who were mocking Him – He knew that they were not really interested in an explanation.  They just wanted to poke fun and justify themselves.

The attitude has always been there.  In the first Scripture I mentioned, II Chronicles 36:15-16, the Lord had sent prophets and warnings to spare the people, but they were so scornful that the warnings did not get through and the only thing left for the Lord to send them was His wrath – when He wanted to send mercy.

Today, too, we must face the jeers of the scoffers.

Scoffing and mockery are powerful debating tools, no doubt.  But they do not undo one iota of God’s instructions.  The only purpose they serve is to harden the heart and will into stubborn rebelliousness against God.

How do you react to Bible teaching that contradicts your beliefs or habits?  Do you examine it and see whether it’s true?  Or do you just dismiss it with contempt?  Are you a scoffer?

Brad

Modest:

1.        Placing a moderate (avoiding extremes of behavior or expression) estimate on one’s abilities or worth

2.       Neither bold nor self-assertive : tending toward diffidence (reserved, unassertive)

3.       Arising from or characteristic of a modest nature

4.       Observing the proprieties of dress and behavior : decent.

5.       Unpretentious

Modesty:

Freedom from conceit or vanity.

Propriety in dress, speech, or conduct.

When we talk about modesty, generally we tend to talk about the revealing way some women dress – and that is, or can be, a problem, certainly.  But the problem of immodesty is deeper than the clothing someone chooses to wear.  Modesty is first an attitude, then a behavior.  Like virtually everything else Jesus talks about, changing the action without changing the heart is useless.

The word, “modest,” only appears in the New Testament in relation to clothing:

I Corinthians 12:23 – “…and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty.”

I Timothy 2:9-10 – “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works.”

But notice that even there the emphasis is on the attitude, not the clothing.  The clothing is only a symptom, not the main issue.

That is why I say that modesty is a lost grace.  It’s something we barely have a sense of anymore, anywhere, and it is not surprising that the way we dress reflects our lack of modesty in general.  Although the word “modest” is rare in the Scriptures, the attitude is abundant.  Let’s take a deeper look at what modesty is and how it applies to us.

According to the dictionary, modesty is first placing a moderate estimate on one’s abilities or worth.

Romans 12:3 – “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Philippians 2:3 – “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Psalm 8:3-4 – “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

Psalm 84:7 – “Remember how short my time is!  For what vanity you have created all the children of man!  What man can live and never see death?  Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?”

In this sense, immodesty is rampant among us, and it is not confined to pretty girls in short skirts.  We are immodest because we are self-regarding and self-impressed.  We want others to cater to us and think our concerns ought to be foremost, and we engage the bulk of our effort in seeking our own comforts.

Marketing says, “You deserve it.”

Education says, “You’re special.”

My heart says, “What about me?”

And my soul eats it up.  But God says, be careful how you think of yourself and put others on a higher pedestal.

Modesty is neither bold nor self-assertive.  It is unpretentious.

Luke 20:46-47 – “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Luke 14:7-11 – “Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

We rebuke the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, but then spend our time getting the right cars, the right houses in the right neighborhoods, making sure we go to the right schools and wear the right clothes so that everyone will know that we are somebody.  But it’s easier just to talk about modest clothing, isn’t it?

Modesty is free from conceit or vanity.

And then it observes propriety in dress, speech, and conduct.

All of us, not just women, are called to be modest people – unconceited, unpretentious, and humble in our dress, speech, and behavior.  If our heart is right and if we thoughtfully apply that heart to everything we do, wouldn’t we almost automatically be modest in the way we dress, speak, and act?  But if we only try to look modest without actually being modest, it is doomed to fail.  First because it is useless before God anyway, and second because a proud heart clamors to be noticed.

Brad

I have included the text of John Piper’s article first, with my comments following.

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/a-whole-world-hangs-on-a-word

John Piper:

Sometimes a whole world — a whole theology — hangs on a word.

Consider the word “this” in Ephesians 2:8. Does it refer to “faith” or “grace” or both? Is faith a gift of God?

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from you; it is the gift of God.

What does “this” refer to? “And this is not from you; it is the gift of God.” What is its antecedent? The question is not settled by the fact that in Greek “this” is singular and neuter, while “grace” and “faith” are both feminine. “This” is just as ambiguous in Greek as it is in English.

Faith As a Gift

But consider these four pointers to seeing faith as a gift in Ephesians 2:8.

When Paul says “this is not from you, it is the gift of God,” he seems to be referring to the whole process of grace-faith-salvation. That may be why “this” is neuter and not feminine.

But more important than that is the way Paul uses the phrase “by grace you have been saved” back in verse 5. In verse 8, he says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” Back in verse 5, he said, “When we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him.”

This is striking. Paul breaks the flow of his sentence in order to insert “by grace you have been saved.” And he does it precisely after saying, “When we were dead, God made us alive.” Why does he insert “by grace you are saved” just here?

Is it not because he wants to make clear the true nature of grace? He made you alive when you were dead — by grace you are saved! This grace is God’s free act of giving life to the dead. By inserting “by grace are you saved” immediately after saying “when you were dead, God raised you,” he shows that this saving grace is not caused by our participation. We are dead when it happens to us. This saving grace is resurrection of the dead.

So when Paul gets to verse 8, one of the reasons he repeats, “By grace you have been saved,” is to describe how we experience this divine miracle of being raised from the dead. He adds “through faith.” “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” In other words, the life God creates by grace out of death is experienced in our believing. Our believing is what this new life does that grace creates. So faith is the creation of grace. Therefore, it is part of the gift in verse 8 that is not from ourselves.

This is confirmed in verse 10 when Paul actually uses the language of “creation” to describe our new life as believers: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” The language of “creation” confirms that when God “made us alive” (verse 5), we were not part of the cause.

Things that are created do not cause their creation. The existence of a new believer is a “creation in Christ Jesus.” And that confirms that this new believing is part of the gift in verse 8. Our faith is a gift of God.

Finally, consider that Paul says the same in Philippians 1:29 — that our faith is a gift: “It has been given to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Literally: “It has been given to you to trust him.”

A Different World

So when Paul says, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you, it is the gift of God,” part of his meaning is that our faith is a gift of God. It is a divine creation. It is the work of grace when we were dead. It is not “from ourselves.” Therefore, our faith is the mark of being chosen by God. He chose to give us faith.

A whole world — a whole theology — hangs on a word. “This is not from yourselves.” “It is the gift of God.” That is, faith is not from yourselves. Faith is a gift of God.

To believe this changes everything. You live in a different world if you believe this. We will be discovering the wonders of this world for all eternity.

My thoughts:

I want to preface my comments with saying that I generally like reading the things John Piper has to say.  He does an excellent job of pointing us to God in love and trust.  And he challenges his readers to fight against the sinful addictions we all deal with.

In this particular article, though, I don’t think his conclusion is correct.

Piper says, “Sometimes a whole world – a whole theology – hangs on a word.”  Indeed. And when it does, more often than not, it is wrong.  By the mouth of two or three witness every word should be established – a principle laid down several times in the pages of the Bible (Deuteronomy 19:15, Hebrews 10:28, Matthew 18:15-17, Matthew 18:19-20, II Corinthians 12:1, I Timothy 5:19, John 5:31-34, I John 5:6-7).  This explains why the Lord gave us not one or two, or even three gospel accounts, but four – an abundance of witnesses by which we may be assured in our understanding of the story of Jesus.

However, when we take just one verse, or as Piper suggests here, one word, we are led to subjective interpretation and we are easily led astray.

Consider what is missed when Piper tries to force Ephesians 2:8 and Philippians 1:29 to say that faith itself is a gift – a conclusion, by the way, that is hardly necessary or even the simplest explanation of those texts.  The simplest and most sensible explanation is that “this” refers to salvation in Ephesians 2:8.

John 6:27-29 – Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.  For on him God the Father has set his seal.  Then they said to him “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who he has sent.”

Piper says faith is God’s work.  Jesus says it’s your work.

Mark 16:16 – “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

II Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

God wants all to repent, but only gives some the ability to do so?  That doesn’t make sense, does it?

Romans 10:13-18 – For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  But they have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Paul says here where faith comes from – from hearing the word of Christ.  Not a magical infusion of faith from God.

Romans 11:20-23 – “They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith.  So do not become proud, but fear.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  Note then the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.  Otherwise you too will be cut off.  And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.”

These verses give “He gives and takes away” a whole new meaning, if Piper is right!   For the Gentiles stand, Paul says, through faith.  However, he also says they should fear lest they be cut off again.  Does God give faith, then take it away?

Romans 4:18-25 – In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was abut a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”   But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.  It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Hebrews 11:13-16 – “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledge that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  if they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

I Peter 2:7 – …the honor is for you who believe…

So, on the one hand, there is praise and honor from God for those who live by faith, which is a little odd if faith is God-imparted, isn’t it?  And on the other, there is condemnation, rebuke, and anger for those who don’t believe.  Strange, isn’t it, that God would be angry at those who refused to believe if faith or lack thereof is entirely the Lord’s own doing?

——

Now, why is all this important?

Piper says it changes everything to believe this.  He says you live in a different world if you believe this.  I agree.

If you believe that faith is something God infuses you with rather than something that is developed through examination and study of the word of God, your motivation changes from seeking God and finding out his will to waiting for God to come and find you.  That can be a comforting thought, I suppose:  If the Lord wants you then he can come and overpower your rebellious, foolish heart and completely turn it around.  Through no effort of your own, you can become a saved, faithful follower of Jesus.

But, if that’s true, then the opposite is also true.  If faith is God’s gift, then unbelief is God’s fault.  Believing this theology changes the Lord into an incomprehensible puppet master who destroys his own creation at a whim  It changes the wrath of God from divine justice into a cruel farce.

No, it is your work to seek him and believe in Jesus – Acts 17:27, John 3:18.

It is your responsibility to grow in faith and in the grace and knowledge of Jesus – Ephesians 4:11-14, II Peter 3:18.

It is your charge to keep the faith and hold on till the end. – Colossians 1:23, II Timothy 4:7-8, Hebrews 3:6, 14.

Hebrews 3:12 – it is your job to keep yourself and others from developing an unbelieving heart.

Luke 18:8 – “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Brad

An Old New Man

November 9, 2013 — Leave a comment

Col 3:9-10

“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him…”

There is an exciting image painted in the pages of the New Testament.  That image is the idea that you can, at any time, be recreated, setting aside the person you once were and becoming the person that you, and the Lord, want you to be.   Jesus assured us that it can happen at any stage of life with the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).   We are told that we can exchange the guilt of sin and its consequences for a refreshed, free spirit with an eternal hope.   We are promised that we can cease our old habits and put on new ones.

But there is a harsh reality that confronts us as we consider these promises.  It is difficult and painful to truly change – at any age.  And it often becomes more difficult and more painful the older and more established in our ways we become.   Aside from the difficulty of breaking old habits, there is also the challenge to our pride of admitting that we spent so much time in the dark.  There is also the humbling experience of finding those younger than you further along toward the goals you want to reach.

I’ve had that experience recently, in a secular sense.  Although I enjoyed the training I received with the Army, I was sometimes discouraged to see that I was older than many, if not most of my sergeants and even older than the commander of my company, a Captain.  In fact, I was only a few years younger than our Battalion Commander – a Colonel.  I looked around at my peers in rank and they were, most of them, half my age.   And I was forced to recognize that I am pretty old to be a new soldier.  If I had started at 19, like most of them did, I would obviously be much further along than I am now.  Sometimes I feel like I started too late.

That has made me think a little about how it must feel to become a Christian as an adult, or how it must feel to only begin taking your faith seriously later on in life.   I was talking with a young man recently who told me that he was discouraged at the fact that when he went to church everyone else seemed to have a ready knowledge of where things are in the Bible and a firm grasp on the stories in the Old and New Testaments and the messages of the different books.  Although he grew up in the church, he admitted that he had spent several years not studying, not praying, and not really taking his faith seriously.   Now, in his late 20s, he feels behind the game, wondering if he’ll be able to reach the maturity he aspires to.

I wonder how many others have the same thoughts.   I know of several who think that they’re too old to really change their ways or learn any new tricks.

But God promises that it can be done.  Not that it’s easy; it isn’t.  But He has created all of us with a remarkable capacity for renewal.   You can put off the old man.  You can see yourself in a new way.  You can be recreated with new habits, new knowledge, new dreams, and new hopes.  And you can start anytime you’re ready – the sooner the better.

Romans 6:1-7

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.  For he who has died has been freed from sin.

Romans 6:11-14

Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord… …Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Here, the Lord tells us what He did when you were baptized into Christ.  He says the old man was crucified.    He tells us how you can see yourself now:  considering yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.   He reveals what you can do now.  You are empowered to use your life for righteousness instead of sin and you are freed from the dominion of sin through the grace of God in Jesus.

Does that mean all of that is easy?  Certainly not.  The curbing of old desires and development of new character is described in various places as work, striving, toiling, combat.  But being an old new man or woman in Christ is not cause for shame or discouragement.  It’s a reason to rejoice at the new lease on life you’ve been given.

Brad