I’m Reading Polity

For the third year now, I have the privilege to read ordination exams for the PC(USA).  For those of you unaware of how this works, toward the end of the ordination process in the PC(USA), after students have completed at least some of their seminary work, candidates for ministry take 4 written exams.  They gather at regional testing sites (usually seminaries), and take three of the exams – Theology, Worship and Sacraments, and Polity – then they are given a week to write their Exegesis paper on a selected passage from either the Old or New Testament.  Once of the Exams are collected, they are sent to the Presbyteries where they are read by ordained Elders and Ministers. 

Serving as a reader has always been a good experience for me, a time of study and reading and thoughtful inquiry. It’s a great opportunity to invest and help shape and guide those who are exploring/pursuing God’s call in their lives toward the Ministry of Word and Sacrament.

The first year I read I got to evaluate Theology Exams. There were some real stinkers, but there were also many very well written and theologically sound papers. Last year I read New Testament Exegesis, and while it was clear that some of the exams were DOA, there were still some enjoyable exams to read.

This year, I’m reading Polity.   Let me share how I see this coming about:

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Ethan…  a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Ethan fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and he has read Theology and New Testament. But stretch out your hand and let him read Polity, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
(Job 1:6-12 ESV – alterations indicated )

I knew it was only a matter of time.  If I kept reading exams, eventually it would come to this.  Wait **cough, cough** is that a cold coming on.

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.

SDG

God’s Love Song

“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
(Zephaniah 3:17, ESV)

Those of you who read yesterday’s post know this has been a busy week.  Christi’s slowly getting better following her concussion on Monday, and we appreciate your prayers. 

I wrote last week that I usually have my sermons finished on Thursday so I can spend the rest of the weekend praying for and over the message.  Well, its 12:30 Friday morning and still nothing is written.

Here’s the thing: There’s too much in this passage for me to even begin to preach it fairly.  I weep just thinking about it.  That my God loves me so much, he would come to the middle of my messed up life – where my priorities are so out of whack, my affections are all centered around myself, where my pride and selfishness try to quench every flame of the Spirit – that God should show me such love is unimaginable. 

I don’t deserve this.  I don’t deserve that God should remove the injustice I have done and the deceitful tongue from my mouth, that He should cover my sins with the righteousness of His beloved Son.

I don’t deserve the joy I know in His peace and forgiveness.  Too often, I abuse His peace with a lazy and slothful devotion to God, I treat His forgiveness as license to sin even more.  Other times, when overcome by a new sense of committment to the Lord, I fall deeper into despair because I know that I cannot possibly live up the standards of rigorous service before the Lord (inspired by Baxter, Edwards, McChayne, even Piper, and Chan) and I am racked with guilt over how I have let God down with my life.  I should be doing more, right?

Yet the Lord is with me in this mess, in the middle of all my misplaced affections and misfiring devotions.  My savior is mighty to save, mightier, even, than myself and all of the obstacles I seem to want to throw in His way.  God’s even able to support me as He weans me from the things I thought were so important: the need to feel validated, important, right; the struggle to appear strong, unmoved, self-reliant.  Instead, I am learning to be content in all things, because in all things I know that the Lord is with me.  I am learning to delight in the Lord, and have found Him (not all the other trappings of religion, politics, or success) to be the desire of my heart.

I delight myself in God, and find Him rejoicing over me!

He is rejoicing over me – exulting over me (and not just me, all who call upon Him) with singing.  Not how about that.  God is singing over me.  I like to sing.  I like to sing to God.  I like to, when no one else is listening (or at least not close enough for me to hear them complain) pull out the guitar and sing my praises to God.  But God is already singing over me.  How often do I stop to listen, to revel in, to soak up, God’s love song over me?  How often do you?

His love will quiet you – His love will quiet me.  Just dwelling on His love for me in Christ, how He rescued me when I was lost in sin, how He cleansed me from my guilt by His precious blood, how He delivered me from death by dying for me, how He gave His Spirit that I might trust in and walk in holiness with Him – that love, before it makes me sing – quiets my soul.  It moves me to tears, tears of joy and I rejoice in the love of God, as I delight in Him who delights in me.

Brothers and sisters, may you to know this love.  “Delight yourselves in the Lord, and He will give you (He will be) the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

SDG

We are His Portion

First – let me apologize for my absence the last couple of days.  I was home sick on Monday with a stomach bug when my wife fell on the ice and hit her head.  Not the best start to a busy week.  But we’re both slowly recovering, and here I am writing again.

 “But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.”
(Deut. 32:9 ESV)

Have you ever looked at something for so long you’ve forgotten it’s even there?  Have you ever missed the forest for the trees?  I remember the first time I ever went to the Circus.  Ringling Bros. had come to Kansas City and my grandparents took the family.  I sat next to Aunt Jane in wild-eyed wonder at the spectacle before me, taking it all in.  Aunt Jane was excited too.  All she could talk about on the drive to the Circus, as we waited for the show to start, and all through the evening, was how much she wanted to see the Tight Rope Walkers.  That was all she really cared about.  She couldn’t wait to see them.

And she talked right through their performance – missing the whole thing.  She was so caught up in the anticipation of the act that she missed the act entirely.  No one knew she wasn’t watching it, she was talking about it while it was happening.  When the show was over, she expressed her disappointment that the Tight-Rope Walkers didn’t perform, that’s when we realized what had happened.  Sometimes its hard for us to see the things that are right in front of us.

I’ve kind of had that realization lately with the passage given above. 

  • One of the first songs I can remember from Sunday School is: “The Lord is mine and I am His, His banner over me is love.”
  • I know from my study of Scripture of God’s immeasurable love for His people, a love so great that He would send His only begotten Son to pay the price for our guilt, so that we might be presented as Christ bride, holy and blameless, without spot or blemish.
  • As a Presbyterian, I can recite from heart the key components of the doctrine of election, how God has chosen His people to be set apart as a holy people, a royal nation. 
  • I was even swept away by David Crowder’s lyrics in the song “How He Loves”: “We are His portion, He is our prize, Drawn to Redemption by the grace in His eyes…”
  • Last Sunday I preached on the love story of God in Hosea 3.  This week I’m preaching on the love song of God in Zephaniah 3.

This was all around me, but know I see it.  We are God’s special treasure.  A.W. Pink wrote, “How overwhelming the thought that the great God should deem Himself the richer because of our faith, our love and worship!  Surely this is one of the most marvellous truths revealed in Holy writ – that God should pick up poor sinners and make them His inheritance!”

God delights in His people (see Deut 30:9; Ps 35:27, 37:23; 147:10; Is 62:4; Zeph 3:17).  God loves to love those who love Him.  John Piper wrote, “God does not do you good out of some constraint or coercion. He is free! And in his freedom he overflows in joy to do you good.” 

God did not send His Son to redeem us from slavery to sin and death so that we might become slaves to a despotic and tyrannical god.  No.  God so loved us that He sent His Son so that we, who were once not a people, might be called the people of God; so that we, who once knew no mercy, might receive mercy (1 Peter 2:10).  “Behold, what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are” (1 John 3:1)

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6).  May God’s grace, and the knowledge of His love for us, strengthen us to walk worthy of such a calling.

SDG

No Shallow Christianity

As I was studying for Sunday’s message on Hosea, I came across the following from James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on the Minor Prophets.  This doesn’t really tie in anywhere with my sermon, but I found it particularly meaningful, so I thought I’d pass it on.

We live in an age where everything good is interpreted in terms of happiness and success.  So when we think of spiritual blessing we thing of it in terms of these things.  To be led of God and blessed by God means that we will be “happy” and “successful.”  In fact, if a Christian does not appear to be happy or successful, there are scores of people who will be ready (like Job’s counselors) to work with him or her to see what is wrong.  This is shallow thinking and shallow Christianity, for God does not always lead his people into ways that we would naturally regard as happy or as filled with success.  Was Jesus happy?  He was undoubtedly filled with joy and all the other fruits of the Spirit.  but he was also called “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  Was Jesus successful?  Not by our standards, nor by any standards that might have been applied to him by anyone living in that time.  Let us put down as a great principle: God sometimes leads his children to do things that afterwards involved them in great distress.  But because God does not think as we think or act as we act, it is often in these situations that he accomplishes his greatest victories and brings the greatest blessing to his name.

If God has allowed tragedy to slip into your life, this does not necessarily mean that you were out of his will when you married that husband or wife, took that job, or made that commitment.  He may be giving you a chance to show the love and character of Christ in your situation.

Again, you may be able to learn something of God’s love for you through the difficulty.  For what is the story of Hosea if not the story of ourselves as members of that body which is the bride of Christ?  We are Gomer, and God is Hosea.  He married us when we were unclean.  He knew that we could prove unfaithful again and again.  He knew that we would forsake him.  Still he loved us and purchased us to himself through Christ’s atonement.  If Hosea’s story cannot be real (because “God would not ask a man to marry an unfaithful woman”), then neither is the story of salvation real, because that is precisely what Christ has done for us.  He has purchased us for himself to be a bride “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:27), and he has done this even though he knew in advance that we would often prove faithless.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Minor Prophets: Volume 1, Hosea – Jonah (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1983) pg 16-17.

I Am the Lord Your God

“I am the Lord your God…”
(Leviticus 19:3)

I’m reading through the book of Leviticus, again, in my Bible reading program.  Sometimes it is hard to read Leviticus, the demands for holiness, all the blood and sacrifice codes, all the rules and regulations – it’s tempting to just gloss over or skip the whole thing.  Still, it is God’s word, it serves a vital role in demonstrating the necessity for holiness in our approach to God, our absolute inability to live up to such a standard, and thus, our need for a perfect and holy Savior.

In my reading for today (Leviticus 19-27) I was particularly struck by the repetition of the phrase “I am the Lord your God.”  In those 8 chapters alone, the phrase is used 41 times – you can’t miss it even if you are just skimming through.  Eventually you start asking, “Why would God keep repeating that?” 

One explanation might be that God is swearing an oath, and since there is no higher source of authority or power by which to swear, God swears by His own name: “I am the Lord.”  Because God is the Lord, and because He has made a promise in His own name, 1) we can trust His word is true, and 2) we are to obey His word.

Still, there seems to be some distinct ways in which this phrase, “I am the Lord” is used to punctuate the text.  Consider these with me for a moment:

  1. He will Judge our actions – Frequently “I am the Lord” is paired with the call to be holy, because the Lord is Holy.  Leviticus 18-27 is renowned (and for some, infamous) for its call to moral and ethical holiness.  God defines holiness in terms of our treatment of the poor, our relationships (sexual and otherwise) with those around us, and our fair and honest practice in business.  God’s people are to be marked by holiness, because we serve a God who is holy.  For those who disregard God’s commands, who blatantly and willfully defy His holy word, who trample on the poor for the sake of personal gain – God reminds us that He is the Lord and He will judge our actions by the standard of His holiness and righteousness.  (Praise be to God, for He has provided our righteousness in Christ Jesus His Son.)
  2. He will provide – Sometimes, “I am the Lord,” follows God’s command to do something that makes little sense.  God commanded a Sabbath year for the land, in which no crops would be planted, property would be returned to its original owners, slaves would be set free, etc.  Financially, practically, we would think this is economic suicide.  What would happen today if every farmer in America (or just Iowa alone) decided to take a year off from planting and harvesting?  But God seems to say, “I know this doesn’t make any sense, but I am the Lord your God, and I will provide – trust in me.”  What are you doing right now that requires you to trust that God will provide?  Remember, He is the Lord, He will provide.
  3. God alone will be worshiped – Within Leviticus there are several prohibitions against consulting “mediums and necromancers,” in others words, seeking guidance and instruction from the dead or from other gods.  In turning to these false gods, we are giving our worship and placing our trust in something or someone other than the one true God.  It saddens me how many friends and church members I see who consult horoscopes, or give their time and attention to “spirit guides” who communicate with the dead.  But it is even more painful to watch as Christians are deluded into following the false gods of prosperity, beauty, politics, sex – thinking that in these things they will find fulfillment and peace in their lives.  We serve the living God, who alone can satisfy the desires of our hearts, who alone will be worshiped.

Next time you read through the book of Leviticus, take a moment and underline all the times you see the phrase, “I am the Lord,” it will really open your eyes.  As you go through your day today, remember, He is the Lord our God, calling us to a life of holiness in Christ our Lord, encouraging us to trust in His almighty hand to provide; and may we live to worship and honor Him alone.

SDG

Fiery Trials

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  (1 Peter 4:12)

Yesterday I began a new Adult Sunday School class entitled “Growing in the Spirit: Nurturing Christian Character.”  For the next few weeks we’ll be exploring the fruit of the Spirit as found in Galatians 5:22-23, and discussing ways we can help to nurture the growth of these characteristics in our lives.  I reminded the class that any growth that we experience comes from God, but that such growth can be aided by our vigorous and relentless pursuit of the holiness of God.

I also read the above passage from I Peter, warning them that when they place themselves in the hands of God, seeking His blessing and the work of the Spirit in their lives, they should expect to face trials.  As long as are comfortable with our convenient Christianity, watching what we want to watch, thinking what we want to think, playing like we want to play, without any thought or concern to the how the Word of God should shape and influence our lives – why should Satan bother us?  But when we lift up our heads, when we cry out to the Lord, when we take a step toward growing in the likeness of Christ – that’s when our great adversary starts to take notice of us.  That’s when the slings and arrows start to fly, that’s when the flaming darts of the evil one hit us right between the eyes.

Sometimes I wish that God didn’t keep using my own life as object lessons for everyone else to learn from.  Stepping into the pulpit with a renewed sense of purpose in ministry, with a renewed committment to prayer and dependence on God, with an earnest desire to see and show the glory of God in Christ Jesus my Lord – the arrows have really started to fly.  Either through well-intentioned praise that has inflated my ego, or by my mis-spoken words crashing down around me, the fiery trials started as soon as I opened my heart to God. 

There have been moments when it seems it would be better to say to God, “Oh nevermind – I’ll just settle for mediocrity – you really don’t need to keep working in my life.”  Looking at the cross I wonder, “Couldn’t there have been an easier way for God to bring about my transformation?”

But I press on.  The glimpse of glory compels me.  I know that the arrows will continue to fly, the flames will burn around me, and more trials will come my way as God refines my faith and character, transforming me, ultimately, to the image of His Son.  I may be singed, but I will revel in the glory of God!

SDG