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Humble Striving

Saturday, July 25, 2020

"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." 

(2 Peter 3:18)

Peter knew his time on earth was ending (2 Pet. 1:12-15; cf. Jn. 21:18-19) so he wrote his second letter reminding and urging Christians to "grow in grace" (3:18). After his brief introduction, he lays out a chain of seven Christian virtues (1:5-7). For us to enter "into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (v.11) these qualities must be evident and growing in our lives (vv.8-9).   We are to "supplement [our] faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love." 

The apostle puts a great deal of emphasis on our part in the development of these Christ-like qualities using phrases like “make every effort” (v.5) and “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure” (v.10). But Peter makes it abundantly clear that this spiritual growth doesn’t all depend on us. Far from it! He points out that God is the one who has “richly provided” us with everything necessary to transform us into the people we were meant to be (v.3) and bring us to glory (v.11). So he begins and ends his admonition to "grow in grace" by highlighting God's blessing toward us that makes growth possible. Knowledge of the gospel should evoke a maturing and practical moral response from us.

This combined effort of human exertion and divine grace is the key to unlocking our salvation and entrance into the eternal kingdom (1:11; Eph. 2:8-9). Paul sums it up best when he says “… as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13) God is at work when we are at work. Christian growth does not happen without our effort but neither does it happen without God's power.

But even with those caveats, does this much emphasis on “our part” of salvation contradict the doctrine of grace? Does our effort somehow negate God’s grace? Does our diligent striving turn God’s gift into a wage that he owes us? (Rom. 4:4-5

We understand no one can be justified in God’s sight by earning their salvation (Rom. 1-4). But obedience to the gospel is clearly required (Rom. 6). In fact, on this side of the cross, everything we do for God and others should come as a direct response for what God has done for us (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 4:1, etc.). Our faith and humble obedience is always initiated by God’s gracious work. “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). So humble effort in no way contradicts God’s grace. The contradiction to grace is pride. Jesus lived in humble obedience as an example for us to follow (Heb. 5:8-9).

James 4:6 says, "But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”" Peter teaches us to "humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you." (1 Pet. 5:6) Check out the handy chart by Doy Moyer below.

GRACEPRIDE
HumbleSelf-righteous
Trust in GodTrust in self
ServeBeing served
Obey to pleaseDo to get
SubmissiveSelf-willed
Salvation givenSalvation earned
ContentDiscontent
God-exaltedSelf-extalted

God is gracious to those who humbly strive for him. Let us, then, "be all the more diligent to make [our] calling and election sure" by putting forth "every effort" to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 

Christian Parenting

Saturday, July 18, 2020

“Train up a child in the way he should go, 

Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

(Proverbs 22:6

There is a distinct difference between training our children and controlling them. It's easy to slip into control-mode when we believe we have the power to choose our child’s destiny for them. But this approach turns parenting into a joyless, frustrating experience and turns our kid's childhood into a prison of confusion and sadness. As a parent who doesn't always get it right, I am thankful to have a perfect heavenly Father who gives us wise intruction in his word.

God teaches parents to “train” (Prov. 22:6), “discipline” (Eph. 6:4Prov. 22:15), diligently “teach” (Deut. 6:6-7) and lead their children by example. Children are a blessing from God (Psa. 137:3-5) meant to be trained up in the home and sent out into the world to be a blessing to others. How, then, can we “train” our children in the way they should go? Here a few suggestions we can learn from Scripture:

Pray for your child – We should begin praying for our children while they are still in the womb. We should thank God for them when they are born and continue to pray for them as they grow and mature. Parents ought never to stop praying for their children (1 Sam. 1-2).

Create a godly atmosphere at home – As Deuteronomy 6:4-9 indicates, faith must be woven into the fabric of our very lives. The home should be an environment of spiritual growth and safety for our child. Children should feel comfortable bringing their questions, experiences, triumphs and defeats home to discuss and process as a family using God's wisdom.

Intentionally lead your child – When family decisions are made with consistency of purpose the family is moving in a direction. It’s not going nowhere. Joshua could not force his children to follow the Lord but he could lead with purpose, sincerity and consistency (Josh. 24:15).

Instill faith in your child – Honesty is always the best policy (Eph. 4:15, 25), no matter the relationship, but especially with children and especially with issues regarding faith. A child’s questions should never be dismissed. Like math class, parents should “show their work" by telling their children what they believe and showing them why they believe it with Scripture. Explaining the faith in an age-appropriate way is not easy but it is necessary. When parents give a one word answer or dismiss their child’s question while expecting them to "just believe" they are indoctrinating and brainwashing their child not instilling faith.

Set boundaries for your child – Warnings are just as instructive as encouragements. Both the victories and the failures are invaluable moments of instruction that condition and strengthen our children to take on responsibility, develop personal accountability and cultivate wisdom. Outlining the Do’s and the Don’ts and enforcing them with discipline will help our children enter into the promises of God later for themselves. 

Correctively discipline your child – Discipline is vital in the formation of godly character and habits (Prov. 22:1523:13). However hard it might be, we must remember that appropriate discipline is a sign of love (Heb. 12:4-11). Not only should the punishment always be swift and fit the crime but children must know exactly why they are being disciplined if they are to learn the proper lessons from it. This requires having pointed discussions before the punishment is administered. 

Reward your child – When children do the right thing, they should be rewarded. It may just be a smile, an encouraging word or a special treat. This can be done without turning them into little Pharisees. Tell your kid you noticed the kind action or word and explain the significance of “walking in truth” and the joy it brings you as a parent (3 Jn. 1:4). It is easy, perhaps especially for fathers, to discourage and provoke our children to anger (Eph. 6:4). Being quick to give compliments and rewards to our children goes a long way in instilling them with confidence.

Establish a pattern of devotion – Daily worship and Bible study with our children creates an expectation and perception of what is “normal.” When true worship becomes the standard at home then what is done collectively within the congregation is helpful reinforcement. Set aside some time each day to sing, pray, read and talk to your child about the Lord (Deut. 6).

Be on the same page as your spouse – A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mt. 12:25). Children are skilled in playing divided parents against one another if it suits their purpose. But when there is consistency of leadership and Mom’s answer is the same as Dad’s answer then children will quickly learn who is really in charge… not them. 

There is so much more to be said on the issue of parenting but we will conclude with one more piece of advice: Listen to older parents. Fountains of wisdom and experience are all around us in the church (Titus 2:3-5). Take advantage of the godly examples around you. Also, to the older Christian parents, if you notice younger parents doing something right, tell them!

Oppression

Saturday, July 11, 2020

“Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.”

(Mt. 5:41

The Greek word aggareuein is used three times in the New Testament with the meaning 'to compel.' Jesus commands his disciples to go two miles when they are "compelled" to go one (Mt. 5:41). It is also the word that both Matthew and Mark use to describe Simon of Cyrene being "compelled" to help carry Jesus’ cross to Calvary (Mt. 27:32Mk. 15:21). 

This word is Persian in origin and comes from a noun (aggaros) which means ‘a courier’ or ‘an express messenger’ and later became naturalized into the Greek language. The Persians had a remarkably efficient courier system that made it possible for news to travel quickly through the empire. They lined the roads with men stationed with horses at precise intervals. A rider could travel fastest and most efficiently for one day on average. The first rider would deliver the dispatch to the second and on down the line until the important news reached the ears of the king. The Persians gave this courier system a name: aggareion.

It was the law in the ancient world that anyone could be compelled to provide a horse or to act as a guide to keep this service going. Therefore, aggareuein came to mean "to force someone into service," whether they liked it or not. Imagine how it would feel being forcibly conscripted to give up your horse or your afternoon to grease the wheels of communication for an occupying military force.

Anyone could be impressed upon to carry a soldier’s bags or any other service the occupying force laid upon him. This is exactly what happened to Simon of Cyrene (Mt. 27:32Mk. 15:21). It is quite clear from many other ancient documents including Josephus’ Antiquities (13.2.3), the writings of Epictetus (4.1.79), Xenophon (Cyropaedia 8.6.17), Aeschylus (Agamemnon) and various Egyptian papyri that this practice of forced conscription was both widespread and flagrantly abused during the first century. Military officials requisitioned both things and people, not only for public services and for the army’s purposes, but for their own selfish profit.

This aggareia would have been one of the bitterest humiliations that subjects in an occupied country would endure. It’s not hard to imagine how one might get tired of being taken advantage of and choose to rebel against the occupying force (which is exactly what  “zealots” like Simon were doing, Mt. 10:4). Add to that the long history of the Jewish people being kicked around as slaves and exiles of one pagan kingdom after another for hundreds of years, and you have a recipe for rebellion, retaliation and compounded sin where the once enslaved become the very thing they rebelled against (Amos 2:6-8). 

That seems to be the way of history: the oppressed revolt, gain power and become the oppressors. Indeed, that is what happened after the Jewish Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids in the second century BC. Jon Hyrcanus (134-104 BC) assumed power and Jewish tyranny set in with the forced 'conversions' of the Idumeans and the destruction of the temple the Samaritans had built on Mount Gerizim (cf. Jn. 4:9). The Jews had become the same tyrannical force they fought against a generation before. And the wheel turned yet again when Jewish independence ended abruptly when the Roman general Pompey invaded Jerusalem in 63 BC.

But Jesus brought good news that broke the cycle of oppression: "Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two." (Mt. 5:41) If someone who is your social superior exacts the most humiliating and distasteful service, if someone conscripts you to do something that invades your rights and that he has no right to ask, if you feel like you are being treated as sub-human, the King says don’t resent it. But his royal command of love goes deeper. He doesn’t simply teach his disciples to grit their teeth and bear it (that’s what the Jews had been doing for centuries!). No, begrudging service brings God no glory. Instead, Jesus teaches his disciples to do what our oppressors ask of us and even more. Not only that but he teaches that we should do it with a heart of love and good will. 

Brethren, this is a word for our time. In a world which is brutalizing and devouring itself, we must speak and live this gospel message of power, love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). Christians are taught to actively love, pray for and seek the best for those in power regardless of their character (Rom. 13:1-7Eph. 6:5-92 Tim. 2:1-41 Pet. 1:13-17). And if they are oppressed, Christians are taught to love their oppressors (Mt. 5:43-48Rom. 12:14ff; 1 Pet. 234) to extinguish the fires of sin with the living water of the gospel. The way of Christ is the only way forward.

But how can the oppressed love the oppressor? The only power strong enough to motivate and energize us to do the impossible (Mk. 10:27) is the unconquerable goodwill that God showed us all when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus not only modeled how to suffer faithfully but healed us through his wounds so that we could go out into this broken world as his wounded healers (1 Pet. 2:21-24). Justice will eventually be done and evil will be punished but, in the meantime, may God help us to grasp the limitless dimensions of his love so that we may not only refuse to retaliate against oppression but bring his healing love to bear upon the world.

The Dark Hour

Saturday, July 04, 2020

King David wrote Psalm 3 “when he fled from Absalom his son” (see the title), the events of which are recounted in 2 Samuel 15. The personal grief of having raised a rebellious son (2 Sam. 18:33) was the knife-twist amid a larger aching pain of national disloyalty. Mixed with the popular public sentiment that God had withdrawn from David, this time of exile made for torturous mental agony. He had been on the run before from the previous king, Saul, but that time he had been innocent. This second flight from Jerusalem, however, was partially due to his own moral failings (2 Sam. 12:11). 

Human Enmity (vv.1-2)

O Lord, how my adversaries have increased!

Many are rising up against me.

Many are saying of my soul,

“There is no deliverance for him in God.” 

David was part of a shrinking minority, which is itself a test of nerve. His opponents, pictured as multiplying, were active in their search for him and accusatory – it looked as though God had abandoned him. David had already acknowledged his sin and thrown himself at the mercy of God (2 Sam. 16:11-12). But he was facing “increasing” human enmity. Hunted, alone and weak, to whom could he turn to now?

Divine Protection (vv.3-4)

But You, O LORD, are a shield about me,

My glory, and the One who lifts my head.

I was crying to the LORD with my voice,

And He answered me from His holy mountain.

Where else can anyone go in pain of fear but to the LORD? Each phrase in v.3 grows in confidence. It’s as if David begins by reminding himself who the LORD is and increases with each fresh remembrance. He considered the LORD his “shield” encompassing him in divine protection. 

David, a king to whom much “glory” had been bestowed in the form of power, privilege and possessions, had been stripped of that glory hiding as a wanted man. He had squandered those gifts, using them for his own gain and to his own ruin. But now, broken in the wilderness, David finally realized the LORD was his only true claim to “glory” (Gal. 6:14).

Though he had been weeping “with his head covered” as he “walked barefoot” in miserable dejection (2 Sam. 15:30), the LORD “lifts” his head. Despite his failures as a husband, a father and a king, and despite all the favor he had lost with his subjects, the merciful God gave him grace. 

God’s “holy mountain” was the place where David was installed as king and where the ark, the symbol of God’s earthly throne (2 Sam. 6:2) and covenant, was kept. Though Absalom was the sitting king, David knew there was another King reigning in Jerusalem (Psa. 2) whose decrees issued from Zion, the LORD himself. David cried to him and was “answered.”

Peace of Mind (vv.5-6)

I lay down and slept;

I awoke, for the LORD sustains me.

I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people

Who have set themselves against me round about.

Such was David’s certainty that his “crying” prayer had been heard (1 Jn. 5:14-15) that he “lay down and slept”! His security in answered prayer was well founded for he “awoke” by the sustaining power of the LORD. 

Awake, alive, refreshed and encouraged, David was ready to face any threat. No matter how “many” (vv.1-2) enemies encircled him, even “ten thousands,” he had the peace of mind that the LORD’s protection brings (Phil. 4:4-7).

Victory & Blessing (vv.7-8)

Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God!

For You smite all my enemies on the cheek;

You shatter the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the LORD;

Your blessing be upon Your people!

For David, the anointed of God, refuge from his enemies is not enough. Anything less than total victory and being reinstated as king was tantamount to defeat. So David called upon the LORD his God for “salvation” from his “enemies,” confident God would provide deliverance. 

David trusted in God’s power to save because he realized that “salvation belongs” to God. Without the LORD there is no salvation to be had. But this is no presumptuous prayer. He was not asking anything from the LORD that the LORD had not already promised. God has always exalted the lowly and humbled the proud. Within David's humble cry for "salvation" was his desire for God to be glorified through his salvation.

So the psalm ends looking beyond David to God’s “people” and beyond David’s rescue to God’s “blessing.” God’s people will not only survive but be delivered; we will not only be delivered but be victorious; we will not only be victorious but be eternally blessed. 

David’s situation in Psalm 3 mirrors ours in so many ways. We were created to reign on God’s earth (Gen. 1:28) but abdicated our throne and exchanged our authority for slavery to sin and Satan (Gen. 3). But thank God that he sent his Anointed Son to dethrone the enemy and reinstall us to our rightful position! (Jn. 1:12; Rev. 22:5) “Salvation belongs to the LORD”!

(adapted from Kidner Classic Commentaries: Psalms 1-72)

The Public Reading of Scripture

Saturday, June 27, 2020

"Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching."

1 Timothy 4:13

The Scriptures are meant to be read not only in private for our individual study but in public to shape the whole church family so that we can see ourselves together as part of God’s story. God’s people always need reminding of that story, where they fit into it and where it's all going. When we hear it read aloud we realize we are called to be part of the action. This is why the public reading of Scripture was such an important part of the worship of the early church, a pattern we would do well to emulate.

The usual Scripture reading in our Sunday worship service lasts about 1-2 minutes. To read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation takes about 80 hours. At that rate, most Christians who attend the Sunday gathering faithfully their entire lives will never hear the whole Bible read aloud. Usually, we have a short reading and a longer exposition of the text in the sermon. If you think about it, that's a bit like watching a preview for a movie every week but never actually watching the film; we're getting a rough explanation of what the movie is about but we never get caught up in the narrative of the story ourselves.

If the Bible takes about 80 hours to read and you read about 1-2 hours per week you will comfortably finish the Bible every year. Most Christians want to read more, so it's not an issue of desire. It’s an issue of strategy. OK, so what’s the strategy? According to Paul, in addition to our private individual reading, the church must be engaged in the public reading of Scripture. And this isn't just a New Testament thing! There were three pivotal moments in Israel's history which have the public reading of Scripture at their heart. 

READING AS REGULAR ROUTINE — (Deuteronomy 6:1-25) Entering the Promised Land

Deuteronomy records Moses’ speech to Israel just before crossing the Jordan River and inheriting the land promised to their fathers. Deuteronomy not only gives instructions and warnings on how to live in the land but also tells Israel's story, where they’ve been, where they're going and what the future holds. In this passage of the book (Deut. 6), God commands his people to love and serve him by keeping the Law fresh in their minds. The public reading of Scripture:

  1. Reminds us of our purpose — (vv.1-3) The Israelites were reminded of the big picture of God’s plan as they entered the Promised Land. Israel was chosen for the sake of the world. Their inheritance of Canaan was a sign of God’s claim on the entire creation. Retelling this story was vital lest they would forget the larger narrative of which their story was only a part.
  2. Reminds us of our allegiance — (vv.4-9) The "Shema" was Israel's prayer of allegiance to their King (v.4) accompanied by the command to devote themselves entirely to his service (v.5). They were to keep God's commandments in their “heart” (v.6) by constantly reciting and teaching them to their children and repeating them to themselves (vv.7-9). God's word was to be woven into the fabric of their life; the words were meant to travel from their "eyes" into their "mind" down to their "heart" to be worked out in their life ("hands"). 
  3. Reminds us of God’s presence — (vv.10-15) Just as Moses and Aaron constructed the tabernacle and the glory of the Lord dwelt within the tent, the same was to be true for individual Israelites. Through reading and reciting Scripture, they were to become living, breathing tabernacles, carrying within them God’s life and presence in visible ways wherever they went.

Israel was in a precarious position. They were about to enter the Promised Land but it could have all gone horribly wrong. Therefore, they needed to keep the story straight and fresh in their minds. They were to live that story (vv.1-3), pray it (vv.4-9), and not forget whose story they were a part of (vv.10-15). When their children asked about why things were they way they were, parents were to tell the story, passing God's word down the line (vv.20-25).

The same is true for us today. We were slaves but God intervened in his faithfulness and grace to rescue us from slavery and bring us to freedom. As Christians, we tell the same story of God's rescue. God, who was rich in mercy and grace, sent his Son to die on the cross and purchase our freedom from slavery. He then sent his Spirit to guide us to Promised Land. We must continue to tell that story so that, like Israel, we can be God’s means of rescuing others around us. We were saved not only for our sake, but like Israel, for the sake of the world.

READING FOR REFORM & RENEWAL — (2 Kings 22:1-23:3) Renewing Loyalty to God

In the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign, while the temple was being repaired, someone found an old, dusty scroll called the “Book of the Law” which was probably the book we call "Deuteronomy." The king heard the story of Israel's past and future, the blessings that come from obeying the covenant and the curses for disobedience, not least of which, the warning of exile. The public reading of Scripture had three positive results in that generation:

  1. Warns us of danger — The priest realized how far Israel had fallen short of keeping the covenant. The prophetess then told them bad things would happen if they didn't start paying attention to the words of the Law and turn as a nation to God. King Josiah was horrified to see the danger Israel was in. What motivated all this soul-searching? Reading Scripture! Scripture has the power to convict us of our situation and warn us to change our ways.
  2. Motives us to reform — The king gathered all the people to the temple to hear the Law read aloud. He then called on them to reform and renew their covenant promises their fathers had made to God at Mount Sinai. Again, the public reading of Scripture was at the heart of this national movement. The priestly desire for inner purity, the prophetic word of warning and judgment, and royal leadership into covenant renewal and reform all came through the public reading of Scripture.
  3. Teaches us accountability — Sadly, the kings after Josiah undid all his reforms and the nation went from bad to worse until they were eventually exiled. This teaches us a valuable lesson. We cannot rely on the reforms of previous generations. Every generation must read and wrestle with the Scriptures afresh because every generation faces different challenges than the one before it.

If we aren’t reading our Bibles from cover to cover we will be missing bits of story. Not only this, but we will be prone to develop a lopsided faith and a blindness to our faults. For Josiah, it was the Passover (2 Kgs. 23:21-22), but what might we be missing today? The only way to find out is to read the Scriptures. What was read and heard was made real by Josiah's reforms and actions. Every generation of God's people must repeat the pattern of publicly reading the Scriptures along with honest self-reflection.

READING FOR UNDERSTANDING & REJOICING — (Nehemiah 8:1-12) Rebuilding After Exile

After many of the exiles came back from Babylon to Jerusalem, Ezra and Nehemiah led the Israelites in restoring the ruined temple and city of Jerusalem. They worked faithfully, often against violent opposition, to get the work done. But it wasn't just a building project — it was a spiritual renewal. How did they contextualize their efforts? By the public reading of Scripture of course! Notice three things about the public reading of Scripture in this section:

  1. Requires interpretation — Reading Scripture aloud is good but sometimes it requires some help to understand it. The priests helped Ezra translate (from Hebrew to Aramaic) and interpret (“give the sense”) the Scriptures as they read. The “people understood the meaning” of the Scriptures (v.8) partly because of their diligent efforts to explain them and partly because the people were listening reverently and prayerfully (v.6).
  2. Accompanied with prayer — The correct attitude to hearing and understanding Scripture is to do so reverently and with prayer. We can't hope to soak it in just by glancing at it once in a while. The only way for Scripture to penetrate our hearts is to join our hearts with prayerful consideration while hearing it. We must desire to be challenged by it and to resolve to keep it. If we approach Scripture with open hands and open hearts it will take root within us and change us in unexpected ways as it did for the returned exiles in Ezra and Nehemiah's day.
  3. Results in celebration — The reaction of this prayerful, reverent listening to the word was the same as Josiah's and Hilkiah's before in 2 Kings 22. The people began to "weep" and "mourn" because they realized how far they had fallen short of God’s commands (v.9). But the Levites told them not to weep but instead to rejoice and celebrate. Why? Because they had understood the message (v.11). The words of God were making their way into their minds and hearts. The message was sinking in and would begin to transform their lives. This was cause for celebration!

Part of the beauty of Scripture is that it continues to teach us new things when we approach it expectantly. It is a word that needs unpacking but when we understand it we should celebrate in its effects.

READING AS GOD’S WORK IN THE WORLD — (1 Timothy 4:6-16) Modeling Life as Christians

In the New Testament, Timothy was to model the total Christian life by immersing himself in the Scriptures, paying careful attention to living them out in his own life and also by teaching them to others. We should not take it for granted that people will always understand a passage of Scripture the first time they hear it. It should be read and unpacked. Like Ezra and the Levites before Timothy, evangelists today must "give the sense" of the Scriptures and make practical applications so that we can all have our “hope set on the living God” and the future he has in store for us.

How does Scripture become the vehicle of God’s power in the world? When it’s read aloud, heard reverently, interpreted correctly, understood and acted upon. God’s power is brought to bear in and through us to the world by the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

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