Monday, May 28, 2012

Theology in the Psalms - God Exists

(In retrospect, I probably should have started with this one.)

God Exists

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. (Psalm 14:1)
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good. (Psalm 53:1)
For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD. In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, "There is no God." (Psalm 10:3-4)

The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."  I find it interesting that he says this in his heart, and all his thoughts are thus.  He believes this to his core.  Since no one can truly know the heart of another (Proverbs 14:10), the fool could be saying one thing with his mouth, and believing something else in his heart.
Yet, in passages like Matthew 15:17-19 and Luke 6:44-46, Jesus reminds us that "...what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart."  We can know something of what the fool truly believes, because it will be evident in the things that come out of his mouth.
In practical, everyday terms, how is it that family and friends that attend the same church, hear the same preacher proclaiming the same Gospel, can lead totally disparate lives?  Years later, the observer can notice marked differences in the manner of life and attitude between the believer and the unbeliever.  How is this so?  Does the apparent follower of Jesus do something that makes that gospel take root in their heart and life?  Did the unbeliever not do some critical act or not participate in a crucial ritual that leaves his heart saying, "There is no God"?  I do not believe so.  If this was true, then salvation is dependent on something I did.  If it is dependent on something that I have done, then it then is not entirely of God.

But, you might say, what about the man or woman that is really seeking God?  They are going from church to church, or tasting different religions to find God.  Let's see what God tells us in these very Psalms we're studying:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
    there is none who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one. (Psalm 14:1-3)

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;
    there is none who does good.
God looks down from heaven
    on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.
They have all fallen away;
    together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
    not even one. (Psalm 53:1-3)
Paul references these Psalms in his letter to the Romans:
as it is written:“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  (Romans 3:10-12)
I've been there. I have been the "seeker". But what I have had to admit is that I was not seeking the true God of the Bible. I wanted a god of my own making, one that would tell me that all (or at least some) of the things I was doing or thinking were not wrong, and that I did not need to repent of those things. I wanted a god that made me feel good about myself, that allowed me to keep my self-esteem, and let me believe that what I wanted was what he wanted for me.  I was seeking for sure... just not seeking Him.  Thankfully, God is patient with us (2 Peter 3:9), and allowed me to get to the end of my self; He enabled me to really see myself for what I was (which was not a mostly good person with flaws, but a man wallowing in my own selfish, self-centered world of sin) and enabled me to see my need for Him.  As the story goes, I did do my part in my salvation: I ran from God... but because He loved me, He chased me down, caught me, and saved me.

God must enable us to be persuaded or we would never believe in him. 
"...the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Some attempt to discover God apart from His revelation of Himself in His Word and in His Son Jesus Christ.  They seek to discover Him through philosophy and the wisdom of men. However, we read that human wisdom is inadequate for coming to know God.

"For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe." (1 Corinthians 1:21)

We are entirely dependent upon God to remove the blindness and irrationality caused by sin and to enable us to evaluate the evidence rightly, to believe what Scripture says, and to come to saving faith in Christ.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Mark 4:21-23

21  And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22  For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 

As always, good hermeneutics involves contextual awareness.  If we were to take verses 21, 22, and 23 by themselves, we could probably come up with a dozen or so interpretations. Here are a few possible takes:
  • Maybe a good lesson about not leaving a lit candle under a basket... because it might catch the basket on fire and  possibly burn down the whole house. That's good advice!  
  • Or maybe we could say that the Bible tells us not to keep secrets? Or play "hide-and-seek"?
  • Perhaps since putting a lamp under a bed is bad, if anything rolls under your bed, when trying to retrieve it, it's best to just grope for it in the dark 'cause Jesus says you're not supposed to put a lamp under a bed.  
All of these are silly, of course, but it's not unusual for people to apply similar treatment to this and other passages of the Bible.

What then is the context of verses 21-23?  Jesus is still talking to the disciples about the Seed and the soils.  He's simply adopted another cultural reference to help them understand the greater point.  In this case, according to many sources about culture at that time, a lamp would be something with which all would have been familiar.  I was curious what a lamp would look like back then. 
"This refers to a very small clay bowl made with a spout to hold a wick and containing a few ounces of oil that served as the fuel." [MacArthur Study Bible Commentary]
This image shows the relative size compared to that of an adult hand. These lamps were of common origin, one did not have to be wealthy to have one, and everyone knew how they were used and implemented in the home. It was common knowledge that it was not placed under a basket or under a bed. It would have been set in a conspicuous place in the home, in order that it could provide light to all. 

Lamps. Lamps mean Light. Jesus is referring to light in this passage, it was Seed in the last one (Mark 4:1-20). Light is something that we read about several times in the New Testament:
“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” (Luke 11:33-36)
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matt 5:14-16)
“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops." (Matt 10:26-27)
The most important meaning of light in the Bible is Jesus Himself:
"The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles -- the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned." From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  (Matt 4:15-16)
 This is a reference to something the prophet Isaiah mentioned:

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.  (Isaiah 9:1-2)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Theology in the Pslams - God is accessible

God is accessible
  • God listens to me. 
    • Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning. (Ps. 5:1)
  • He makes Himself known to me. 
    • You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16:11)
  • I can have an everlasting and intimate relationship with God. 
    • Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Ps. 23:6)
  • I can approach Him, because He has chosen me and brought me near to Him. 
    • Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. (Ps. 24:3,4)
    • Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! (Ps. 65:4)
  • God is near to every man and woman who sincerely call on Him. 
    • The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Ps. 145:18)

These are amazing promises. To whom are these promises made, but to every child of God. Yet, who are the children of God? Is every person who has been, is now, or will be alive a "child of God"? Does the Bible distinguish between the children of God (1 John 3:1) and everyone else?

Jesus, in speaking with His disciples, often referenced "your Father", teaching them many things about the Father. He also spoke with other men in which He referenced their father.

Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  (John 8:42-44)

The idea here is that sons reflect or imitate the general character of their father ("If God were your Father, you would love me"). Therefore, those that call God their Father will imitate the love that God is (1 John 4:8, 16), and as God loves His Son (John 3:35), so too will His children love His Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 5:1-3).

Who can approach God, come before Him, before the throne of God?  The 24th Psalm answers this question, "He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully". The prophet Isaiah relates similar words:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause. 

"Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."
(Isaiah 1:16-18)

We read the same invitation in that passage, "Come now...". 

How do we make ourselves clean? How do we wash ourselves? We don't. We cannot. There is only one way in which God can regard us as having clean hands and pure heart.

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5)

We see this too in the Psalms, that it is only God that wash us clean. David pleads before God for this washing in Psalm 51:

v.2 : Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 
v.7 : Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 
v.10 : Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 

David is not saying that he is going to wash himself. He is on his knees, pleading with God to do the washing, to create a clean heart and to renew a right spirit within him.

How often I pray that God would "be with me" in this situation or that...

But am I washed? Am I clean in His eyes?

Have I sincerely sought the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit?


Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." 

Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  
Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' 
(John 3:3-7)