Friday, January 30, 2009

Bad Thoughts

Recently, I was reading in the book of Matthew, chapter 4. Those first 11 verses tell us about Jesus' temptation by Satan:
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.

3 And the tempter came and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread."

4 But He answered and said, "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'"

5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,

6 and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,
'HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU';
and
'ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP,
SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'"

7 Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, 'YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'"

8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;

9 and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me."

10 Then Jesus said to him, "Go, Satan! For it is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'"

11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.
I stopped and thought about this interaction between our Lord and our greatest enemy. When you read books, can't you just picture the "movie" in your head? I do almost every time I read.

So, here I am "reading the movie" in my head and I'm thinking to myself, "Jesus isn't oblivious to what Satan is tempting Him with... I do not see Him just standing there with a glazed look on His face, staring into space." I do not see our Lord saying, "Did you hear something?" and looking around after Satan says something. No, not at all.

My point is: the reason these things were temptations is because Jesus was fully aware and conscious of what was happening before Him. Now, these thoughts were planted in His mind by Satan, they did not come from within Him, but they were in His head nonetheless. These temptations were planted and then processed. Where Christ differs from every other man, is that there was no delay in His rejection of those sinful thoughts.

He didn't mull it over and play out all the scenario's looking for some kind of "loop-hole" or compromise that would allow Him to act on the temptation and yet still follow God's law. There is no compromising or "middle ground" with God's law.

The last thing I noticed was that His immediate reaction is to rebut with a relevant and poignant quote from God's word. How much more are we to rebut temptation in this same manner? Just as Christ wielded the sword of the word in His time of temptation, we too are to wage battle with the sword.

I think it is important to point out that the "bad thoughts" that we have do not have to be planted by Satan. One product of our fallen flesh is lust, and when that lust conceives, it gives birth to sin. I've placed the emphasis in the following passage:

James 1:14-15

14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.

15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

Sin, including every sinful thought we have, comes from our own hearts, direct temptation by Satan is not requisite. See Jesus' own words:

Mark 7:20-23

20 And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.

21 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries,

22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.

23 "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."
In times of war, men are not drafted up and dropped on the battlefield with no training. There must be time to prepare the soldier, allow him time to become acquainted with his weapon, put on his body armor, and understand the "theater" he is to be deployed in. The same should be done regarding the Christian life. Everyday is a battle, we are going to encounter evil, and we need to be ready. Study of His word, putting on the armor of God, everything you read in Ephesians 6:10ff. Be prepared, do what is necessary to make ready. Facing the enemy without your sword is just as deadly in war as it is in everyday life.

Monday, January 19, 2009

January 19, 2009

II Samuel 12:20-23
So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

What follows is a paraphrase of "Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible" on this passage, with some thoughts of my own. I found it hard to divorce my own comments from Mr. Henry's, so I opted to sort of "mash" them together. Please excuse my "butchering" of his work.

Notice two important things in this passage, (1) what David did and, (2) why he did it.

First, take a look at what David does:


In verse 20, David stopped crying, washed himself, put on clean clothes, and then went to God's house, the temple. We read in Job 1:20, upon hearing of the death of his children, Job falls to the ground and worships God. In the same manner, David worships the Lord in his time of sorrow. Perhaps, we can imagine his state of mind, in that he went to the temple to acknowledge the hand of God in the death of his child, and to humble himself under it, submitting to God's holy will in it. We can imagine that he went to thank God that he himself was spared and that his sin had been pardoned. If there are people afflicted by grief or sorrow... let them pray. Our tears and strong emotions must never get in the way of our worshiping God.

After worshiping God, David went home and had dinner; as simple as that. Having just communed with God in his time of sorrow, he finds himself refreshed and his attitude no longer sad. This is blessing and promise available to all of God's children, for our Father makes us whole, and comforts us in all affliction and trials (1 Corinthians 1:3-4).


Secondly, notice the reason David gives for his actions:


Now, those in his household found his behavior very odd. His behavior went against everything in their culture. An excerpt from the JFB Bible Commentary clarifies:
"It is necessary to remark that the custom in the East is to leave the nearest relative of a deceased person to the full and undisturbed indulgence of his grief, till on the third or fourth day at most (Joh 11:17). Then the other relatives and friends visit him, invite him to eat, lead him to a bath, and bring him a change of dress, which is necessary from his having sat or lain on the ground. The surprise of David's servants, then, who had seen his bitter anguish while the child was sick, arose apparently from this, that when he found it was dead, he who had so deeply lamented arose of himself from the earth, without waiting for their coming to him, immediately bathed and anointed himself, instead of appearing as a mourner, and after worshiping God with solemnity, returned to his wonted repast [or 'everyday meal', i.e. dinner], without any interposition of others."

-- [Jamieson Fausset Brown Bible Commentary. Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871)]
David was not acting like everyone else would in their time of mourning. They expected that since he had been so affected by the sickness of the child, then he'd be just devastated by the of death of it. In verse 21, they have to ask him about his strange behavior. He tells them that, basically he fasted and wept, in the ungrounded hope that God might spare his child; he held out hope that the threat delivered by the prophet Nathan might be conditional. "Who can tell whether God will yet be gracious to me?"

God gives us leave to be in earnest prayer to him for particular blessings, merely from a confidence in his power and general mercy. And though we can reference no particular promise that our hopes are built upon, even so let us pray, for who knows if God will be gracious to us, in this matter or any other?
When our family and friends have fallen sick, prayer has prevailed much. So, while there is life there is yet hope, and, while there is hope, there is still time for prayer.

But, now that his child was dead, he thought it his duty to be satisfied with the divine will of God in the matter. “But now he has died; why should I fast?"
David gives two reasons why he feels this way.

[1.] "Can I bring him back again?" Those that are dead are out of the reach of prayer; nor can our tears profit them. We can neither weep nor pray them back to this life. Why then should we fast? To what purpose?


[2.] "I will go to him..." There are two meanings to this:


First, "I will go to him..." as to the grave. We should consider our own death during these times and it should somewhat alleviate our sorrow at the death of our family and friends. If for no other reason that it is one of the guarantees in life. So, instead of mourning for their death, we should think of our own. And, no matter how much we miss them now, rest assured that we will die, and go to them.


Secondly, "I will go to him..." as to a state of blessedness, or heaven, of which even the saints of the Old Testament had some expectation.


Godly parents have great reasons to hope concerning their children that die in infancy: it is well with their souls in the other world; for the promise is to us and to our seed, which shall be performed to those that do not put a bar in their own door, as infants do not.


This may comfort us when our children are removed from us by death: they are better provided for than they could have been in this world. We shall be with them shortly, to part no more.

----------------------------------------

For those reading that do not know, this subject matter weighs heavy on my own heart, as today marks the official due date of my two sons, Joshua and Caleb. My boys, by the providence of God, were born into His arms on September 6, 2008. This passage is one of many that I find still brings me comfort and shows me how to Biblically address the pain and sorrow of losing my boys.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"...present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice..."

"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." - Romans 12:1
"Therefore I urge you..."

I'd like to point out that Paul isn't merely suggesting; this is not just a passing comment. Paul is begging and pleading (
parakaleo) with his readers. When I read this passage, I see Paul taking my head in his hands, looking me in the eye, making sure that I am paying attention, and pleading with me, and maybe I can hear a tear in his voice. You can surely picture what is meant in this; I'm sure you have had the occasion to speak like that to someone, or have had someone speak to you like this. And why is he urging me? Because there is so much at stake here. He is not concerned about my "self-esteem" or my "best life now" - he is concerned about my eternal soul!

"...by the mercies of God..."

What are "the mercies of God"? Well, read the first three chapters or so of Romans. Notice that Paul takes a great deal of time and effort to make sure that we understand that we have no hope in ourselves under the just, holy wrath of God. Then, keep reading all the way through chapter 11 and notice that Paul presents the "mercies of God" made known in the work of Jesus Christ. Through the work of Christ: He was sent from the Father (John 5:36-40), lived a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15), and then died on a cross (John 19:16-30), crushed under the wrath of His own Father (Isaiah 53). On that cross, Jesus Christ satisfied every demand of the law against those that the Father had given to Him (John 10:25-30; John 6:65). Then being raised again three days later (John 20), and ascending to heaven 40 days later (Acts 1:3-11), He sits at the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22), as our only mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), and as the Lord of lords, and King of kings (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 19:16).

"...present your bodies..."

But why does he say to "present your bodies"? The first thing that I notice is that he is not telling us to "present your hearts" or "present some part of yourselves"; he's urging us to present our bodies. Maybe your first reaction is, "Well, I've given my heart of hearts to Jesus." Really? If you've given your heart to something, wouldn't it follow that you'd have given your hands, and feet, and mind too?

So, what does it mean "to present our bodies"? As simply as it can be put, this means our whole physical body. The greek word here is 'soma' from which we get our word 'somatic' used medically to refer to the physical body. This word is used roughly 140 times throughout the New Testament, translated as 'body' or 'bodies' each time. I cannot imagine how one could seriously suggest that Paul is not clearly referring to our physical bodies in this passage. Ok then, how do we apply this practically to our daily lives?

What do you see and hear?

(Job 31:1, Matthew 5:28) What do you watch on TV? What kind of movies do you watch? What kind of music do you listen to? Media is so prevalent in our society today, one has to be conscious nearly every waking minute to that which we are exposing our minds through our eyes and ears. Jesus tells us,
"If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell." (Matthew 18:9; Mark 9:47).
He doesn't literally mean to pluck your eye out. We'd all be blind if that's what He meant. The point is, if you can't keep yourself from watching sensual, wicked things on TV or on your computer... GET RID OF IT!

Can you walk and talk like the world?

Can you go home and turn on a TV program that contains all kinds of violence, coarse language, sensual images, etc.? Can you do this after getting home from church? Or after spending time in devotions, do you sit down to watch all of the most popular television sitcoms? Can you do this without guilt or conviction?

Can you go to work and just blend in with everyone else? Talking like the world, listening to the same music, complaining about every little thing just like everyone else? If you aren't exhibiting the joy experienced by knowing that Jesus died for you, what are you exhibiting? I highly encourage you to read the book of 1John - take the "test" he presents there. Do you pass?

How much of yourself have you given to Him?

"... a living and holy sacrifice..." Living. As in, "not dead", but active and vital and breathing.
Zao. I read this as representative of the life given to me by God - a regenerated life - born again - and in sacrificing that life to Him, I am returning to Him that which was given by Him. We have been granted a new nature in Christ, a living child of God. We are urged to offer that life to Him - to lay down at His feet that which He has given you (Romans 6:13).


"... a living and holy sacrifice..."
Holy. Hagios. The root of this greek word means "pure, clean, immaculate", and it also means "set apart for God". Are you familiar with the story of Esther? If not, here's the "cliff notes" version: the king of Persia, Xerxes, needed to replace the wife he'd "divorced", so he and his royal advisers came up with a sort of "Persian Idol" contest to find him a new wife. "Young virgins" from all over the kingdom would be brought to the palace and the one the king really liked would be his wife. Esther was one of the girls taken to the palace. But before she could go before the king, she had to go through 12 months of "beautification" which included "six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and the cosmetics for women". She had to spend so much time being prepared before she even came into the presence of the king. The point is, do we not serve a much greater king? Is it really too much to make yourself ready and available to Him. We are to seek to be "conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29). We are to ask God to create in us a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22; Psalm 51:10; Matthew 5:8). Touch no unclean thing (2 Corinthians 6:17). Separate ourselves from the things of this world (Ezra 10:11).

Holiness is not about "I don't do bad stuff like that guy". This is not a contest or a comparison. We are not to "compare ourselves by ourselves" - as we will always find a lower standard by which to make ourselves look good (2 Corinthians 10:12). And remember the Pharisee in the gospel of Luke that thanked God that he wasn't like other men? Instead of striving for holiness by measuring the things you do not do, just for the sake of not doing them, instead think of it like this: "I have separated myself from these unclean things for God, only so that I might run to Him".

Following is an illustration that I heard Paul Washer relate in a sermon of his:
God is not "a beggar with a tin cup". Too often today, we think that because we're the only one dropping anything in God's cup, that just because we've given more than anyone else has - we think we're doing pretty good with all of that "holiness stuff". The thing is, if it's not all of you, it's nothing. A human king wouldn't accept anything less than your best, how much more does God deserve of our sacrifice (Malachi 1)? And we must not have the attitude or thought that something is better than nothing. What arrogance we have to think that God is just happy to get our left-overs. God is not served by human hands, He doesn't need anything from us! (Acts 17:25)

If there is a final thought in this verse, maybe it's this: Give your best and first to Him. Remember the woman that broke open the expensive perfume for Jesus, to anoint Him with it. Likewise, we should spend all of our energy and youth on Him, and then give more. He is worth it. This life isn't about our comfort and personal achievement in the eyes of men. Everything that we have, He deserves. It was His to begin with.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A New Year...

"Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." — 2 Peter 3:18
I pray that this year will be a year of growth; growing in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, for you and for me. My pastor spoke on growth and change on the last Sunday of 2008, and related the following passage:

"For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light." — Colossians 1:9-12 [emphasis mine]

Notice those words that are emphasized in that passage; these are not words of someone standing still - these are words of action, activities that every Christian should be experiencing in their walk with Christ.

The growth Christians should be seeking or experiencing is not the growth or change that just happens with time. As Christians, we should be actively seeking spiritual growth and straining
toward the goal of sanctification (Philippians 3:10-15).
2 Peter 1:5-8:

"Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence,
in your faith supply moral excellence,
and in your moral excellence, knowledge,
and in your knowledge, self-control,
and in your self-control, perseverance,
and in your perseverance, godliness,
and in your godliness, brotherly kindness,
and in your brotherly kindness, love.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." [emphasis mine]
Every morning, and every evening, I should be asking myself:
  1. Where is my life most unlike Jesus Christ?
  2. In what areas can I be more conformed into His image?
  3. How am I resolved to achieve this goal?
  4. What disciplines will I employ to meet this goal?

To quote Jonathan Edwards, I "being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humbly entreat Him by His grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ's sake":
  • Resolved, to be transformed by the renewing of my mind: Romans 12:2
  • Resolved, to be growing in grace: 2 Peter 3:18
  • Resolved, to always be putting on the new man: Ephesians 4:17-24

A few resolutions that I'm "borrowing" from Jonathan Edwards:
  • Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
  • Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
  • Resolved, never to do any thing out of revenge.
  • Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
  • Resolved, to inquire every night (also at the end of every week, month and year), as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, and/or what sin I have committed.
  • Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance, in eating and drinking.
  • Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking.
You can also read the full list of Jonathan Edwards' resolutions here or here.