Monday, March 30, 2009

Pride and Humility - Part 3 - Lack of Gratitude

A general lack of gratitude

This one is typically manifested by the thought, “I deserve good things. I've worked hard for what I have and I deserve it.”

We think we deserve good things, therefore we see no reason to be thankful for the blessings we receive. And it's not a big leap to the even more selfish thought that we deserve better.

In Psalm 50:10-12, the Lord God reminds us that everything belongs to Him:
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the mountains; and the wild beasts of the field are mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell thee; for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof.
The point: it all belongs to Him. That He blesses us with any of it at any time is an immense privilege and a blessing beyond comprehension.

Another way this aspect of pride shows itself in our lives: We are critical of, quick to complain about, and generally discontent with our:
  • circumstances
  • job
  • house
  • spouse
  • kids
  • car
  • yard
  • health
  • body
  • etc...
You name it, we complain about it.

But Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem.
- 2 Chronicles 32:25
In the 20th chapter of 2 Kings, Hezekiah (the king of Israel) became very ill. He prayed to God for deliverance from his sickness, and God heard his prayer and answered it. However, Hezekiah, upon his miraculous recovery, became full of himself, or proud. In the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, it says that he thought too much of himself because of the miraculous recovery of his health, as if he deserved it - as if it "had been merited by his righteous conduct".

It is the proverbial picture of the man begging and pleading with God, making a "deal on his deathbed". Yet, after mercy is bestowed and he is made well again, he runs off like an animal freed from a trap, not looking back. Swearing and profanities are likely to drop from his mouth sooner than praise to his Deliverer.

A godly person, a Christian, should live a life of being overwhelmed with God’s undeserved mercy, grace, and goodness.

Truly, we are deserving of hell. A preacher that I have much respect for once said, "What is my motivation? That He has not given me what I deserve - hell; instead, He has given me what I do not deserve: that's Him."

We should be immensely grateful to God for forgiving us of so much.

What shall I render to the LORD
for all his benefits to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD,
I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his saints.

O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.

I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the LORD.

I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!
- Psalm 116:12-19

Just a few "thought-points" to think on as we go about our daily lives:
  1. Being thankful and grateful in general toward others
  2. Thank God and others often, especially for "the little things" that we take for granted
  3. Expect nothing, so anything that is received is greatly appreciated.

"...give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
- 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pride and Humility - Part 2 - Complaining

Complaining against or passing judgment on God

This is usually our first reaction, as "independent" Americans, or just humans, to get angry with God when things don't go our way.

We might even say something like, “Look what God has done to me after all I have done for Him!”

In the fourteenth chapter of Numbers, the Israelites are beginning to "grumble" or complain about their situation. They've just been told by 10 of the 12 spies that the "promised land" is exceedingly great, but that the people that live there are big and mean, and it will be hard to fight them and win. Read this excerpt from that chapter:

(14:1-4) Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, "Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?" And they said to one another, "Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt."

(14:6-9) And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, "The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them."

(14:11) And the LORD said to Moses, "How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?

Isn't this just like us? When things are going good, when God is doing many amazing works in our life we are happy to accept the blessings. The Israelites were front row for some of God's most awesome miracles: crossing the Red Sea, manna from heaven, the waist-deep supply of quails, the water gushing from the rock. They had been led out of Egypt following a set of plagues of supernatural proportion, and by His hand they were prepared to enter the Promised Land.

But as soon as something looks difficult or doesn't mesh with our plans, we quickly blame God and wonder "why He hates us" or "how can I trust Him?" We might even tell Him that we hate Him or accuse Him of doing evil against us.

In Romans 9:20-21, Paul asks, "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?" (see also Isaiah 64:8) God is Creator, Ruler, and Redeemer of His people. He has every right as Creator (potter) to do whatever He pleases with His creation (the clay; us).

How do we find the right to complain or accuse the Most Holy God? Maybe some of it has to do with a wrong view of God?
We need to recognize and exhibit trust in God’s character.

We should acknowledge Who God is and remind ourselves constantly of His attributes:

He is Immutable (He never changes)
  • Psalm 102:25-27
  • Malachi 3:6
  • Hebrews 13:8
  • James 1:17
He is Holy
  • Psalm 111:9
  • Isaiah 57:15
  • Isaiah 6:3
  • Revelation 4:8
  • Exodus 15:11
  • Leviticus 20:26
He is Righteous
  • Psalm 7:9
  • Deuteronomy 32:4
  • Psalm 89:14
  • Psalm 119:142
  • Jeremiah 9:24
  • Isaiah 5:16
He is True
  • Jeremiah 10:10
  • John 17:3
  • John 3:33
  • Numbers 23:19
  • I Samuel 15:29
  • Titus 1:2
  • Hebrews 6:18
He is Faithful
  • Deuteronomy 32:4
  • Deuteronomy 7:9
  • 1 Peter 4:19
  • Psalm 146
  • Psalm 135:5-6
  • Ephesians 1:11
  • Philippians 1:6
He is Love
  • 1 John 4:8-10
  • 1 John 4:16
  • II Corinthians 13:11
  • Psalm 145:9
  • Matthew 5:44-45
He is Creator & Sustainer
  • Isaiah 40:28
  • Genesis 1:1-2
  • Nehemiah 9:6
  • Jeremiah 10:12
  • Colossians 1:16
  • Hebrews 3:4
  • I Timothy 6:13
  • Job 12:10
  • Job 34:14-15
  • Acts 17:22-31
He is Sovereign
  • 1 Timothy 6:15
  • Daniel 4:17
  • Jude 4
  • 2 Timothy 2:21
  • 2 Peter 2:1
  • Psalm 103:19
  • Psalm 115:3
  • Isaiah 46:9-10
  • Daniel 4:34-35
He is Just
  • Genesis 18:25
  • 2 Timothy 4:8
  • Psalm 7:11
  • Isaiah 30:18
  • Ecclesiastes 12:14
  • Isaiah 5:16
  • Revelation 20:11-13
He is Perfect
  • Deuteronomy 32:3-4
  • Psalm 18:30-31
  • Ecclesiastes 3:14
  • Ephesians 2:10
  • Philippians 2:13
  • Philippians 1:6
  • Romans 12:2
  • Psalm 12:6
  • Psalm 19:7-9
He is Merciful
  • Psalm 145:8
  • II Corinthians 1:3
  • Ephesians 2:4
  • James 5:11
  • Luke 6:35-36

In every trial, we need to thank God for reminding us of how much we need Him, and for all the good He is doing through the trial.

Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.(Psalm 119:66)

In what ways should we strive to "put off the old man" in this regard?

By seeing yourself as having no right to question or judge an Almighty and Perfect God
Remember God is the Creator
, we are His creation.

The perfect and all-wise God can do whatever He pleases, and it will be the best for me.

Read the Psalms and the Prophets often to gain a high and proper view of God and self.

The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.(Psalm 145:17)


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pride and Humility

"Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished." (Proverbs 16:5)

We live in a world that sees pride as a virtue. Our schools, from kindergarten to college, teach "self-esteem" and even elevate that above academic achievement. Even our churches lean toward making people feel good about themselves - few dare bring up our sin, let alone depravity.

Thomas Watson, a great author and preacher, once said about pride, "It is a spiritual drunkenness; it flies up like wine into the brain and intoxicates it. It is idolatry; a proud man is a self-worshipper." - [From The Godly Man's Picture Drawn with a Scripture Pencil, or, Some Characteristic Marks of a Man who is Going to Heaven: A Godly Man is a Humble Man by Thomas Watson]

So, I've been reading a book for the last few months or so, called "The Exemplary Husband", and there is a chapter on pride and humility. That chapter really opened my eyes to the many ways pride manifests itself in my life. Therefore, I thought it would be edifying to me, and anyone that may read this blog, to look at each point, one per day.

One of my favorite verses, one that I've clasped onto since the first time I read it, and one that is wholly relevant to this topic is Isaiah 66:2. I recall it when I am often reminded how I rely on Our Father for everything every day.

"All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word." (Isaiah 66:2)

Friday, March 20, 2009

End Times

Eschatology. That's a 10-cent word for "study of last things (or end times)". I've been doing some cursory reading into this subject lately. There are a lot of interesting opinions and viewpoints on this topic, even among reformed theologians.

I've read (and listened to) the Pre-millennial view, the Preterists' argument, and some Post-millennial and A-millennial literature.

Here is a quick, as I understand it, recap of each:
The Preterist View: The book of Revelation (and other prophetic passages) depict and describe (at least partially) the happenings during the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The general take is that this book is not describing the future, but the events therein have already taken place. Another name often used in place of "preterism" is "replacement theology" because holders of this view generally believe that the Church replaced Israel in regards to the covenant promises of God. There is debate within this group about what actually constitutes the "kingdom of God". Also, many of these same hold firmly to the Doctrine of Election, so some contradictions pop-up with regard to if God can back out of His promises, and if so, what this means for the Church.

Pre-millennialism: This is the view that the prophecies in Revelation and others (such as in Daniel) are of the future and that there will, in fact, be a literal 1000-year (millennium) rule of Christ on the earth, and that He will "come again" before that millennial kingdom rule.

Post-millennialism: Viewpoints in this camp express that there will be a 1000-year kingdom, but that Christ will return after the 1000 years are up, thereby He will rule in absentia, with the Church constituting the physical "rule". The holders of this belief say that during the "millennium" (they're a little wishy-washy on the exact duration... 1000-years, give or take), things will be improving; the world/society will get better gradually, until the Church has nearly full influence on society/culture, thereby heralding the imminent return of Jesus.

A-millennialism: This one just says that there will be no physical kingdom ("a-" in Greek is negative, so this means "no-millennium") and that the "1000-year rule" is just a allegorical phrase to mean "a long time" and that the current "church age" is that millennial kingdom.

So, I'm just curious what your viewpoints are in this area. Please comment, if you're comfortable, with your take on end times prophecy and where you stand in regards to how these prophecies are to be fulfilled, or may have already been filled.

Over the next few months, I'll be posting on this topic as I learn more.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Excerpt from "The Pursuit of God" by A.W. Tozer...

At the end of chapter 1, "Following Hard After God", the author writes this prayer:
O God, I have tasted Thy goodness,
and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more.
I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace.
I am ashamed of my lack of desire.
O God, the Triune God,
I want to want Thee;
I long to be filled with longing;
I thirst to be made more thirsty still.
Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that
so I may know Thee indeed.
Begin in mercy a new work of love within me.
Say to my soul, `Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.'
Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland
where I have wandered so long.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

From Psalm 63:8 (KJV),
"My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me." [emphasis mine]
The ESV says,
"My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me." [emphasis mine]

I noticed that the ESV had a footnote that referenced a passage in Numbers 14:24, so I looked into it. The verse is,
"But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it." [emphasis mine]
Yet, the phrasing of "followeth hard after" and "clings to" are not really the same as "followed me fully" used in Num. 14:24. I do get why the reference is made here, so as to draw a comparison to following after God, and the inevitable rewards therein.

So, looking into "Strong's Hebrew Dictionary"* for a better understanding of the meaning of these words, I noticed that the Hebrew word used to describe Caleb's devotion to God's way is really a straight-forward and to the point concept of simply following someone, or walking in the same path, a path they've possibly laid out for you. This is even in the sense of
following someone at a later time, as in they've walked this path previously, and you're retracing their steps. It doesn't have to signify that they're presently leading, but that perhaps they've laid the steps out, and you're just following their instructions.

However, the word used in Psalm 63:8 gives the impression that you are following so close that you're right on top of Him, so close as to be pressed right up against Him. I believe it's safe to say there is the idea of a predator following its prey so very closely that the act of "pouncing upon it" is conjured in this phrase.

The desire and need for Whom you are following is so great, that there is no way you'll let Him out of your sight. Even if He were to try to "lose you", you're right on His tail - there's no way you will let Him get away.

I believe
that is the sense communicated in Psalm 68. That is the point of the prayer above, to want to have a desire so great for the Lord that we pursue Him with that intensity.

Pray that all Christians would pray a similar prayer. Pray that our church leaders and elders pray a prayer like this. Pray that I pray this prayer often and earnestly.

*Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries
Dictionaries of Hebrew and Greek Words taken from Strong's Exhaustive Concordance by James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., 1890.

Monday, March 9, 2009

" Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up..."

John 3:14-15
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (ESV)

This year, I have been listening to a podcast called The Daily Podio Bible with the intent to "read" the Bible through in a year. I find it encouraging to hear the Word everyday (Romans 10:17). There are many products or even podcasts that read the Bible, but I chose this podcast because it's in the Updated King James and it's just a simple reading with a quick re-cap at the end. Most of the others have a lot of other chatter that I find extraneous.

Numbers 21:8

Anyway, today I was listening to a reading through Numbers chapter 21. In doing so, something caught my attention in God commanding Moses to create a bronze "serpent" in the likeness of the "fiery (poisonous) serpents" that had been attacking the Israelites (Num 21:8).
Numbers 21:4-9

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food." Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (ESV)

I remembered something that Jesus had mentioned about this in relation to Himself (John 3:14-15 above), so I decided to read up on this "serpent" and try to understand how this bronze snake on a pole could be likened to Jesus Christ on the cross.

To begin with, I was curious what this snake was, so I looked in Easton's Bible Dictionary and found this,
"probably the naja haje (picture to the left) of Egypt. After setting out from their encampment at Ezion-gaber, the Israelites entered a wide sandy desert, which stretches from the mountains of Edom as far as the Persian Gulf. While traversing this region, the people began to murmur and utter loud complaints against Moses. As a punishment, the Lord sent serpents among them, and much people of Israel died. Moses interceded on their behalf, and by divine direction he made a “brazen serpent,” and raised it on a pole in the midst of the camp, and all the wounded Israelites who looked on it were at once healed."
Fausett's Bible Dictionary had a little more:
"The nachash is the Naja haje. It "will bite without (i.e. unless you use) enchantment" (Ecc 10:11). In Num 21:4-9 the "fiery (causing inflammation by the bite) flying serpent" is the naja, which has the power of raising and bringing forward the ribs under excitement, so as to stretch the skin wing-like into a broad thin flattened disc, three or four times the width of the neck in repose, and then dart at its prey."

My curiosity satisfied, I needed to know how this "brazen" or bronze serpent was supposed to be analogous to Christ. So, I did some further reading in "Matthew Henry's Commentary", "Keil & Delitzsch's Commentary on the Old Testament", and a sermon by Martin Luther on John 3:1-15 from his Church Postil, dated 1522.

Raised up

The gist is, the bronze serpent in a "form without the venom of the deadly serpent" was a sign to the Israelites, raised high to be seen from anywhere in the Israelite camp, so that when one looked at it, he was reminded of God's promise and power to save him from the poisonous venom of the serpents bite. Thereby through faith in His promise their life was spared from sure death. In the same manner, Jesus was "in the likeness of sinful flesh" yet "without sin" (Romans 8:3), He was "made sin for us" though He "knew no sin" (2 Cor 5:21). So, He was raised on a cross to be seen by all men, and in "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith" having faith only in His promise and power to save, we are spared through that faith from sure death.

Idol Worship

I began to wonder if the Israelites fell to the temptation of idol worship of that "relic" of the serpent. I imagine that it started to take on it's own mystique, with those weaker in the faith looking to the object itself, rather than the promise it represented. Today, many people inadvertently fall prey to a kind of idol worship of the images and symbols representing some biblical figures and the cross.

I found that, in fact, that very thing did happen during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18). The Bible says that Hezekiah "did what was right in the eyes of the Lord" (18:3) and "he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it" (18:4).

Can you just imagine what people would do if someone
today destroyed some relic or statue of a saint or a cross?

The Lesson

What I take away from all of this is a better understanding of what I need to remember when I look at a cross in a church, or anything else that is a reminder of some biblical event or figure. I need to remember that it isn't that thing or the image of that thing that has any power, that it is just a symbol, something to help remind me of His power and promise to save me.

The Israelites didn't need to touch the serpent, or offer a sacrifice, or do anything, but look to it and in doing so, through their faith in Him who made the promise, they were saved. Likewise, having been bitten by the serpent, effectually dead in our sin, we just need to look to the cross, nothing else needs to be done, no offerings, no reverent kneeling, no need to have some "touchy-feely" sensory experience, just faith alone in His work on the cross, faith in His promise.

My prayer today is that we all keep that in mind when we think of the cross and what it means that Jesus Christ was raised up on that cross, and was made sin for us in order to take the punishment due us. His love for those that the Father has given to Him was so great that He took the full cup of God's wrath that was meant for us (Habakkuk 2:16, Ezekiel 23:31-24, Psalm 11:4), in order that through faith in Him we would be reconciled to God, blameless and holy in His sight (Ephesians 1:4). Today, I pray that would be what we think when we see the symbol of the cross in our church, along the roadside somewhere, or in our home.