And behold, the Lord passed by, & a great & strong wind rent the mountains & brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: & after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the eathquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: & after the fire the thin sound of silence. 1 Kings19:11 & 12

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The geanology of Jesus.

When we look at the genealogy of Jesus we often dismiss it as unimportant. Our eyes glaze with boredom. To us the genealogy of Jesus is irrelevant but as it has been included as part of Scripture the Holy Spirit felt it was significant & as such we need to consider both its importance & its relevance for us.

There are some wonderful things to be gleaned from the more difficult passages of scripture & we shouldn’t simply relegate them to the too hard basket because we consider them to bedifficult.

This is by no means an exhaustive study but I would like to highlight some aspects of Jesus’ genealogy. I will be referring to the genealogies as listed in both Matthew & Luke but the main emphasis will be on Matthew. At this point I will point out that 1st century Jews, who could have contended either Matthew or Luke’s genealogical claims, do not, infact, do so.

Matthew emphasises Jesus’ royalty;  Luke emphasises Christ’s humanity & this is reflected in their genealogies. Matthew was the gospel written by a Jew for other Jews. Its purpose was to fully win the Jews for Christ to fulfil Romans 1:16 – ‘’To the Jew first, & also to the Greek.’’  Matthew sets out to show Jesus is the legal heir to the throne of David by virtue of the lineage of his legal father,  Joseph.  Social position & religious identity were defined from one’s family geneaology.

Because Jesus was born into Joseph’s family he was a legal heir & he therefore has a legal right to David’s throne. Joseph’s was a priestly lineage so Jesus is also entitled to serve as priest. The first born son, natural or adopted, had the right of inheritance.

Matthew’s genealogy is broken into three parts consisting of 14 generations. Not every link has been included. A cursory study shows a discrepancy between the time frame & the number of generations. This should not trouble us unduly. Firstly the object is to show the direct genealogy of Jesus from Abraham & as such it is a legal document. Secondly it was to show the fulfilment of biblical prophecy. Thirdly begat refers to a direct physical lineage, from parent to child. The first 14 generations cover from Abraham to King David’s reign. This is the origin of David’s House & line. The second 14 generations cover the rise & decline of David’s House, from the establishment of his kingdom to the Babylonian captivity. The third 14 generations begins with the release of the captives from Babylon & ends with Christ.

David’s line has been eclipsed, shattered, but from the stump of the glory that was once David’s a twig shoots forth; Jesus Christ.The Jews kept detailed genealogical records. Firstly & fore mostly property rights were linked to family inheritance, as was the priestly role. Families who could not trace their family had no inheritance in the nation of Israel. They were treated as dispossessed foreigners. Neither could one serve as a priest if they could not prove their right to do so through their family lineage.

Note that Matthew is very clear in his intent. He begins by stating that this is the genealogy of Jesus Christ. It is a record of Jesus’ ancestry & as a Jew the author of Matthew had access to the detailed Jewish records to prove his claims. Jesus is the Latin rendition of the Greek Iesous, which comes from the Hebrew Jeshua. Jeshua is a contraction of the name Jehoshua which means Jehovah is salvation. Jeshua puts the stress on the verb thus rendering the meaning as He will certainly save. To the personal name Matthew adds the official title Christ, from the Hebraic, Messiah which means ordained, set apart, qualified. Thus Matthew is saying that the one of whom he speaks is qualified & set apart to save. He leaves no doubt that he believes that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.

Matthew systematically addresses a number of issues that are raised in the gospel accounts of Jesus life, concerning his ancestry. Matthew13:54-58 his community thinks they know who he is – Joseph & Mary’s son, with brothers & sisters. Matthew clearly shows Jesus to be Mary’s son but Joseph is not his physical father. John 7:40-41 Jesus is accused of not fulfilling prophecy because he is not from Bethlehem; Matthew disproves this claim. In John8:41 claims of illegitimacy are made against Jesus; Matthew renounces those accusations by showing how Joseph is legally Jesus earthly father.

We are familiar with The English term begat. This verb refers to a father’s acquisition ofoffspring through the depositing of seed so indicates physical descent. From Abraham to Joseph this verb traces the lineage but note the careful way Matthew describes Joseph’s relationship to Jesus. It is done in such a way as to preclude the possibility of Joseph being considered Jesus physical father.

The genealogical records prove how prophecy has been fulfilled. This could only be done by keeping detailed & accurate genealogical records. Adam (Genesis3:15) Abraham(Genesis22:18) Judah (Genesis 49:10 Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-10) & David (2Samuel7:12-13) were all promised an inclusion in the Messiah’s line. Between them Matthew & Luke include all 5 of these names. We will look at the discrepancies between the lists shortly.

Now it doesn’t take any sort of a biblical genius to realize there are differences between the lists of names given in the gospels of Matthew & Luke. You will possibly hear arguments disputing the truth of these accounts but the most logical reason to my mind, & the one supported by early church fathers such as Origen, Irenaeus, Tertuillian, Athanasius & Justin Martyr, is that Matthew’s account gives Jesus genealogy through Joseph, his father by law, & Luke’s account gives Jesus genealogy through his mother, Mary. Jewishness, even today, is always inherited through the mother. While a child’s paternity maybe doubtful, their maternity is rarely in dispute. To be born of a Jewish woman is to beconsidered Jewish. If your mother isn’t Jewish, nor are you. One reason for this was that women were more likely than men to marry a gentile.

To be considered Jewish, the messiah, a descendent of David, Jesus’ Jewishness had to be established. This is important as it is obvious to even the most casual reader of the bible that Jesus’ family tree contains many foreigners, such as Tamar, Rahab & Ruth, who are not direct descendants of Abraham.Unusually Scripture includes 5 women in Jesus genealogy. It was not customary for Jews to include women. Luke states that Jesus was the son of Heli. Son in this context simply means descendant. The Jerusalem Talmud indicates Mary was the daughter of Heli. Thus Jesus is a descendant of Heli & considered a son in Jewish law. Moreover it would appear that Mary had no brothers so she inherited her father’s portion. This would also have meant that Joseph was reckoned amongst his wife’s family as a son. Whether traced through Joseph’s line or Mary’s Jesus could claim descent from the royal line of David.

I will just briefly mention the so called ‘curse of Jehoiachim’’ because some scholars argue this negates Jesus entire genealogy. Jeremiah 22:30 says that none of Jehoiachim’s offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David. This is immediately followed in the next chapter by a promise for the continuity of the line of David. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that the curse was not for all time & only applied to Jehoiachim & his immediate family. It does not say that the royal line will be obliterated. There is a difference in being ‘written of as childless’, & not being allowed to rule successfully to a lineage being completely obliterated which does not appear to have been the case. It is necessary to read the scriptures very carefully to ensure that the facts have been interpreted correctly.

Throughout the old testament God gradually narrows the criteria for the promised Messiah so that we should know him for certain: Jewish, of the tribe of Judah, of David’s line. To this day Jews will argue that Jesus did not fulfil all the requirements to be the Messiah yet Jesus himself told them they did not understand their own scriptures.

What are some of the things we can learn from studying Jesus genealogy? We are all familiar with the "greats’’ of Jesus line: David, Abraham, Solomon but note the greatest sinners & most evil of kings are also listed there: Joram, who allowed his wife Athaliah to murder the males of the royal family & whose reign was marked by a restoration of the worship of Baal & revolts by Edom & Libya; Ahaz, whose licentiousness & wickedness squandered the kingdom built by his father & grandfather & brought Israel into subjection to Assyria; He burnt his own sons to Molech & plundered the temple & his own palace before closing the temple completely. The people buried him in a commoner’s grave as not being fit to be buried with the kings of Israel; Amon, whose reign was marked by moral depravity & idolatry & who was assassinated by his own servants.

We should learn that The Jews boasted of their descent from Abraham but their boast is empty. They gloried in the flesh but salvation comes from above, not from below. We have already mentioned 5 women are named in the genealogies. All could be accused of harlotry. The case against Ruth is obscure & not to the point in this discussion. They include 2 Cannanites, (Tamar & Rahab), Ruth the Moabite, Bathsheba from an elite Jewish family & the first woman to gain the title ‘’Great Lady’’ & Mary, the mother of Jesus.

We should remember that Salvation is for the whole world, men & women, Jew & gentile. As we read through the list of names many of them will mean little or nothing to us. It does not matter. They were important to God in order that he might accomplish his purposes. That should give us great encouragement. We may think of ourselves as small & insignificant in the scheme of things but if we are God's then we are important to him & he will neither forget us nor disown us.

Lastly as we read through this list of names one thing becomes increasingly evident; good, bad, or indifferent, male or female, rich or poor, all have fallen short of the glory of God & stand in need of Salvation, just as we too do. God, in his great & abundant mercy, sent his own son to bring us into salvation. This is what we remember at Christmas time. Despite the pagan trappings Christianity has taken to itself, despite the consumerism of our age, despite the fact we celebrate the wrong date for Christ’s birth, what we remember & celebrate during this season is that God came down to dwell amongst men & because of this reconciliation between God & mankind was made possible. To God be the glory. Amen.


Let us pray: Father your word tells us that all scripture is inspired by you & profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. It is living & active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul & spirit, of joints & marrow, & discerning the thoughts & intentions of the heart. May we have a mind to hear your word this morning Lord & a teachable heart that your word may truly be a lamp to our feet & a light to our path. Amen

We are coming into the Christmas season – again. It is a story told so often it is grown stale, so what do you think of when you think of Christmas? Is it of lights and puddings? Of tinsel and presents under the tree? Do you think of family descending like a swarm of hornets? Do you fret at all the things that must be done between now & then? Do you anticipate its arrival with pleasure or dread? Do you think of Christ? Do you think of a baby & a stable? Do you think of the shepherds out on the hills tending their flocks or of the magi travelling many years for just one glimpse of the child their stars foretold? Perhaps.

More & more when I think of Christmas, I think of the cross. You see you cannot have one without the other and it is a great mistake to sentimentalise Christmas. It robs Christmas of its power & detracts from Gods glory. We think of Christmas as a beginning & that is just not true. Christmas is the midpoint in God’s story, the pivotal point, the point at which everything changes so there are a number of things I’d like us to consider as we travel through this Christmas season.

Firstly let us consider what was of such great importance that God came in person to earth to say it. Now we Christians are very fond of telling non believers that God loves them and that is true. God does love them. He grieves over them. We are told in Luke 15:7 there is great rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents & Jesus himself tells the story of the shepherd who looked for the lost lamb until it was found.

However, turn to Matthew 4 starting at verse 12 & finishing at verse 17. Listen carefully. We have behind us Jesus coming to John to be baptised. We have the temptation of Jesus by Satan. Then we come to the arrest of John & from that point on Jesus commences his official ministry. Now when He heard that John had been arrested, He withdrew into Galilee: & leaving Nazareth He went & dwelt in Capernaum by the sea in the territory of Zebulon & the land of Naphtali toward the sea across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, & for those who sat in the region & shadow of death, light has dawned. From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ So what does he say? God loves you? No! & no again! The first word of Jesus ministry is REPENT! Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Mark is generally considered to be based on the testimony of Peter and in the first chapter verse 15 the same theme is repeated – The time is fulfilled, & the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, & believe in the gospel.

Now as well brought up Christians I’m sure each & every one of you has prayed some version of the ‘sinner’s prayer’, confessing all known sin to God the father & asking Jesus Christ to come into your heart. So far so good, but there is more to repentance than that. The original Greek word is metanoeo & it means to have another mind. It indicates a radical change of mind & heart, one that leads to a completely changed life.

Now to have another mind is to be more than sorry you have done wrong. It is more than being sorry you have been caught doing wrong. It is to think differently about that wrongness. Indeed it is to see wrongness as God sees it, as sin, and to loathe it as God loathes it.

In scripture directives are not usually either negative or passive. They are active & positive. We are meant to do something. Therefore if we are to have another mind what sort of mind should we have? Romans 12:2 says therefore do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good, & acceptable & perfect. As Christ’s disciples shouldn’t we want to know his will? I suggest to you we are meant to have the mind of God & since this is obviously not our natural state it is something that we must cultivate. How do we do this? I will give you just two verses that show us most clearly how we are to go about cultivating the mind of God. Philipians 4:8 – Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. If we took this verse seriously we might have to make some changes in our t.v viewing, our choice of music, our light reading, our computer activities. Yes, it makes a difference to our entire way of thinking.

Our second verse is found in 2 Chorinthians 10: 5 – we destroy arguments & every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, & take every thought captive to obey Christ. In other words get rid of anything that hinders your understanding of God & hold everything up to the light of scripture that you may think & act & be as Christ. This is not hard to understand, only to obey. Our natural inclination is to do anything but what scripture tells us to do. This is hard work. It is demanding work. Our minds are constantly scampering off after rabbits. Paul constantly exhorts believers to act as soldiers or athletes, practising self control & self discipline, but dearly beloved Jesus said it first. Luke 12:35 Let your loins be girded & your lamps burning, & be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes & knocks.

We have heard over the year how God honours a broken & contrite spirit, a heart that grieves over its wickedness & longs for righteousness. We have heard how we are to be holy because God is holy & we are his people, his priests, his flock. It is a war that begins in the mind & heart for what possesses the mind governs the heart. Way back in Proverbs God says As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. Jesus is very clear about this for it is he who says for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. Matthew 15:19. A heart set on these things, a heart set on the foolish things of the world that perish & fade away is a heart that can not receive the good news that Jesus came to impart. A repentant heart is necessary before God’s love can truly penetrate. One of the saddest things is a Christian who does not fully understand repentance & cultivates a heart that truly desires the things of God. They may be saved, they may have the Holy Spirit residing in them but their life does not reflect the joy, the abundance, the holiness that comes with wholehearted capitulation to their saviour. Instead they are constantly hampered by the things of this world & their hearts seek after those things also. It is not for nothing that Jesus warns us that we cannot serve two masters.

This was such an important message, so central to Jesus whole ministry that Satan did everything in his power to prevent it. You do not find Satan & his cohorts disputing about whether or not Jesus Christ is God. They know exactly who he is & tremble. They are forced to obey him; his power is greater than theirs, his authority overrules their authority. They are right to fear. The least believer who is wholly God’s also has this power.

Just how seriously Satan took this threat can be found in the second chapter of Matthew. We do ourselves a great disservice when we end the Christmas story where we usually do, with the adoration of the Magi. Certainly Herod was a wicked man. He was capable, crafty & cruel. Certainly the Jews had a reputation for insurgence, insurrection & revolt. One quite sees Herod’s dilemma when he is told of a ruler being born in Bethlehem. His position, his power, is threatened & certainly falling foul of the Roman authorities was no joke. Herod is a man without God & ripe for Satan’s prodding. The threat to Satan is so great he pushes Herod into massacring all the male children two years old or younger in an effort to eradicate just one child, the child, God’s child. We are witnessing here the climax of a battle that began aeons before in Heaven’s courts when Satan first sought to be as God. He is thrown from heaven to earth, where he has ruled because the hearts of men are desperately wicked. Man too thought to be as God. Now all that is about to end. Satan knows it. He is desperate. He knows to what final end he & all his minions will come. He is fighting for his life.

And we wrap this life and death struggle up in tinsel & hang it under a tree! At this point in history everything changes & hangs suspended in the balance. Satan has a firm grip on the world & he is not about to let go for any consideration. To do so would be fatal. But God so loved the world he sent his son. His dearly beloved son. His one & only son. His message is clear – Repent! Heaven has come to earth.

Now we must be very clear at this point. You will be thinking of the angels singing Glory to God in the highest & peace towards man on earth. You will be thinking that Christ came to reconcile man to God - & so he did – but reconciliation begins with repentance. Without repentance there can be no reconciliation. Nor is repentance a one off, something that achieves our salvation & nothing else. It is an ongoing process as day by day we examine ourselves in the light of scripture, training ourselves to cultivate the new mind, the new man, the anointing of the holy spirit on our lives because God by his grace has put his Holy Spirit to reside in us & now our very bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit. God truly is with us!

Repentance frees God’s grace to work in us. Nor is it meant to be a glib little recitation of those sins we can remember. It is not meant to be a minor, boring, mindless act but deep major surgery of the heart. After all, our hearts will argue, we aren’t bad people. I haven’t committed murder recently. Have you? What about adultery? Grand theft? Na, not today. Well, what about loving God with ALL your heart? Ah, now there’s the rub. We are all sinners & all have fallen short of the glory of God because our puny little selves fail to understand this is the first commandment for a reason. If we love God as we should then we will act the way God wants us to act. Psalm 111 says the fear of God (fear here meaning reverence) is the beginning of wisdom. We can neither know him nor obey him if we do not examine our lives by his standards – not our standards, not the world’s standards, not even other Christian’s standards, but God’s standards - & make those radical changes that put God rather than ourselves at the centre of our lives & give to him the first place, which is rightfully his.

God’s work of grace would have ended before it had even begun in Bethlehem 2000 years ago if Satan had had his way. Yet God was determined to make reconciliation to himself possible. His sacrifice had been chosen from before the foundation of the world, a sacrifice who was obedient even unto death.

Secondly Christmas has become the season of gift giving. For Christians it is symbolic of the Gift our Heavenly father gave to us that first Christmas but God did not give us a sweet little baby in a manger, though he arrived in the usual human way. God gave us a saviour, a redeemer, a high priest who has been tested in every way just as we are, a high priest who understands our weaknesses & is prepared to testify (& is entitled to testify) before the throne of heaven on our behalf. God’s gift was not a star, a manger, a baby crying in the night. God’s gift was a cross. His son hung there for us. The entire Old Testament moves towards this moment in time that by his stripes we could be healed.

Jesus was born that long ago night that he might suffer for our iniquities, bear the penalty for our sin in his body & be separated from his beloved father that we might no longer be separated. In so doing Jesus broke Satan’s hold on this world as well as the hold he had over the hearts & minds of men. Just how thorough this breaking is is revealed on the cross.

You remember Jesus did not die alone. Two thieves were crucified with him & they vilified him even as they were dying. There were the soldiers and the bystanders, the merely curious & the anguished, like Mary & John. Jesus has born the mockery, the beating, the nails, the humiliation. He has hung for hours in the blazing sun fighting for every breath. You know the story. Jesus is close to the end of his earthly human life. He is coming to that point where God the father turns away from him & he gives vent to the anguished cry, ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’

Yet just before this you see the grace of God extended. One of the two thieves repents. He acknowledges his sin & that his penalty is just. He also acknowledges that Jesus is who he has always claimed to be.

‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

And what does Jesus say to him? ‘Truly, truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’ Jesus has not yet cried, ‘it is finished’ & given up his spirit into his Father’s hands yet he gives this promise. What an amazing saviour we have. This thief, dying, repentant, is fully reconciled to God. Where God the son is, there will he be also, in Paradise. Satan no longer has any claim on him, death cannot hold him. He is enabled to stand confidently before the throne of God, saved, not through any merit of his own, but by the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ. And the world is never the same again! Oh, Satan has a little while yet to bring death & destruction but his power is broken. Jesus broke it that day on the cross.

What God promises he always completes. We would do well to keep that thought firmly in mind every day of our earthly existence because the act of redemption is finished. Jesus has achieved all he set out to achieve on the cross but he has also promised to return. When he does it will not be as a helpless babe. It will not be as the sacrifice to reconcile man to God. He will come to judge the living & the dead. He will judge the world. He will separate those who belong to him from all the rest.

Lastly God’s desire is always to draw us closer to himself. He desires the intimate relationship of lovers who cannot bear to be apart from each other. If you doubt this read the Song of Songs. Having redeemed us God wants to bless us from the abundance of his storehouse. Sin separates us from God; repentance brings us back into a right relationship. Right relationship always brings blessing. Draw near to me, God promises, & I will draw near to you. The bible is full of promises of what God will do for those who love his name.

Christmas. A time of gift-giving. A time to remember what has been given to us. Jesus gave up heaven for us. He took on a human body for us. He was separated from his father for us. This Christmas let us give ourselves totally to the one who has done so much for us. Let us develop a radical change of heart, fixing our thoughts firmly on Jesus & what he wants of us. Let us no longer be distracted by the temptations of this world but become wholly the Lord’s. Let us take captive every thought till all our thoughts are those Jesus would have us have, for when our thoughts are right our actions will follow suit & we will begin to live more & more as Christ would have us live. Let us gird up our loins & prepare for battle, because it is a battle. Let us not be afraid to be radical for Christ, to love him wholeheartedly, undeterred by what others may think of us. And finally may we not be afraid to share this gift with others. It is the greatest gift of all.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Last Man Standing: the Laodicean church.

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20
Laodicea.  Last man standing.  The church of the end times. The church that received a scathing condemnation from our Lord.  The church of our times.  And what was Laodicea's great crime?  Lukewarmness. 

We in the west, with centuries of Christianity behind us, are very comfortable with our religion ~ & we don't like to be discomfited but hear what Christ says, "Behold, I stand at the door & knock!"  Spoken, not to unbelievers but to believers, believers who considered themselves spiritually mature, spiritually rich, spiritually wise.

Now it is one thing to know what the bible says.  It is another thing entirely to understand it ~ & it is a third thing altogether to see how the lessons for the Laocidean church apply to us in this present age.  And let's be blunt.  From the Laocidean point of view things looked pretty good.  They belonged to a "rich" church situated in a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city that had benefited from the trade that passed along the 3 major highways. They minted their own coinage, had their own banks.  The city was part of the Roman aqueduct system with schools in medicine & the arts & they had a thriving commerce built around the the exceptionally fine soft black wool for which it was famous throughout the Empire.

Note something else also.  Laodicea does not stand accused of any of the sins of the flesh; not adultery, not fornication, not pornography, not drunkenness nor incest.  They do not stand accused of false doctrine nor of heresy & yet this is the church of whom Christ says he will vomit them out of His mouth!  Because they have no passion.  Because they have no zeal.  Because they have no enthusiasm. This ennui, this smugness  has resulted in something far worse.  This is a church that has forgotten its first responsibility.

 You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? ... You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.[Matt. 5:13 ~ 16]

The Laodicean church is a church that has lost its savour.  Rather than teaching the world to conform to Christ, the church is conforming to the world.    Rather than separating from the world, they embrace it. They are neither out in the world evangelizing, nor are they completely separating from the world.

 The very first thing the church is, if it is anything at all, is a peculiar people set apart for the use & purpose of the Lord God.  That is the meaning of sanctification.  That is why we are told to pursue holiness.  We are vessels of the Living God.  We are temples for the Holy Spirit. We are pilgrims & sojourners.  This is not our home, not our final destination.  We are meant for something else but if we deny our high calling we are fit neither for this world nor for the world to come!  And Christ is very clear; He will spit such a people out of His mouth!  Not if, not maybe; He will do it!

Now this passage of scripture is deep & rich with symbolism so bear with me as we unravel some of the hidden secrets of this passage.

The first thing to deal with is the speaker, whom we know from earlier passages to the other 6 churches is Christ Himself.  Here He identifies Himself as the Amen, the faithful & true, the ruler of God's creation. The Jewish Talmud Shabbat 1196 renders the original meaning of amen as EL MELECK NE'EMAN, an acrostic for God is a trustworthy king.  It refers back to Isaiah 65:16 He who blesses himself shall bless himself in the God of truth.  Christ presents himself as king & ruler ~ a king & ruler who is not very impressed with His subjects!

You say you are: [referring to spiritual riches]
Christ informs them that they are spiritually blind
.........................wretched [in bondage to sin]
.........................miserable [in need of God's mercy, mercy they will not receive]
.........................Poor [lacking in love & power]
.........................naked [a metaphor for unconfessed, unrepentant sin, usually idolatry ~ in this case the worship of man through science & humanism, as was the Greek way.]

Hear what Christ saysBuy from me gold...white clothes...salve. Buy!  This is not *cheap grace*.  The Laocideans are told it is going to cost them ~ & cost them dearly!  They are going to have to get serious about their sin.  They are going to have to get out of their comfort zone & get serious with God.

So what exactly is Christ telling them to do?  Firstly the *gold* is the sort mentioned in 2nd Chronicles, the sort Daniel knew, the sort Christ Himself acquired, the gold of humbleness.  Now humbleness is not, biblically speaking, running round like Uriah Heep.    Humbleness is knowing we can do nothing without God & our acknowledgement of that comes in one simple way: prayer!  When we are serious about prayer we combine it with fasting.  Prayer & fasting, that is to humble ourselves.  That is to put aside our everyday selves to focus on God alone. It is sacrificial & it costs the person who practises it something in terms of time & comfort.  It indicates a commitment to their walk with God.  For a rich church like Laodicea giving alms is often a substitute for sacrificial living & requires very little of the person in terms of personal sacrifice. Not good enough!  Nowhere near good enough.  The first commandment is to love God with all we have & are. That means more than giving out of the largess that is ours from God in the first place!

The second thing that needs to be bought is white garments.  Now remember the Laocidean church is a rich church & it is in the heart of *black wool* country ~ a wool renowned throughout the empire for its exceptional softness & fineness.  Many in the Laocidean congregation would have owned garments from this fine black wool.  Bit like owning a designer dress.  They are being asked to exchange their old *designer* life for the new one, one characterised by a life governed by the Spirit, one wherein they exchange sin for righteousness.

There is yet a third thing they need to buy ~ salve for their eyes that they might see.  Laodicea had a school of medicine & produced many salves.  The one mentioned here is kollourion which was shaped like small loaves. Anoint [egkrisai ~ literally *rub in*] your eyes with the bread (of life).  The symbolism is there.  In other words fill your mind with scripture.  Keep it always before your eyes.  Meditate on it.  This is what will work through your whole body to bring sight & healing!

To this last of churches, so self deluded, so blinded they are completely unaware of their true spiritual condition, Christ says, "I stand at the door & knock..." the 2nd verb suggests a continious ongoing action because despite everything this is still a church Christ loves & thus He also disciplines it. It is there in the name.  Laocidea comes from two Greek words that, as so often happens in scripture, can have two meanings: peoples' opinions [ie a church where each one is doing what seems right in their own eyes & not what scripture deems right] & a people judged.  Says it all really.  When the church reaches this level of self delusion Christ will act to cleanse & purify it. The church brings judgement on itself.

It is no easy thing to be a member of  the Laocidean church. It is difficult to survive in a climate of spiritual apathy.  It is hard to retain your zeal & fire for the Lord when no~one else is at all enthusiastic but Christ exhorts us to be zealous & for those who overcome He promises the right to sit with Him on His throne.

 Laodicea was so self deceived they could not see their way, nor their danger.  As the end times church we are warned to read the signs of the times, to repent, to prepare, to be ready.  Christ will come.  He is hurrying to meet the bride prepared for him from before the dawn of time.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hungering & thirsting after righteousness.

In 2nd Chronicals we read: if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves & pray & seek my face & turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven & will forgive their sin & heal their land. Scripture doesn’t get much clearer than that. The very first step always begins with ourselves. We, the ecclesia, the church, the body of Christ, the people of God are partakers in a process of sanctification that will fit us for heaven. Remember, without holiness none of us will see God & on our own merit we have nothing to recommend us. All our righteousness is as filthy rags.

This message is for those who bear God’s name. Christians very identifiably bear God’s name. It is a hard message when we look at the world around us but some of the hardest messages in scripture are not for the ungodly who are behaving as their worldly nature dictates but for God’s people who are not behaving according to their new nature. All around us we see the results of a world deep in sin. I have heard the hunger in people’s hearts to make a difference, to reach out & minister, to bring the gospel light into hearts drowned in darkness ~ & these are good desires, Godly desires. Only one thing impedes us: ourselves. I will tell you plainly, God will not use a dirty vessel. In the world we have rules & there are consequences to breaking them. Science is governed by a set of laws & you break them at your peril. The same is true of spiritual matters. There is a sequence to be followed. God is not addressing just anybody. He is addressing His people. If you call yourself a Christian then you are very particularly God’s child. He knows your name & he has a purpose for you that no~one else can accomplish so when he speaks specifically to His people you had best prick up your ears & listen.

One of the hardest things I think for any Christian but especially for one who has been a Christian for a number of years is to remember that they are a sinner saved by grace. Now I do not mean this in the theological sense. We all know that if we say we have no sin the truth is not in us. Satan is much more subtle than that. How fatally easy it is to compare ourselves to our unsaved neighbour & subtly think ourselves better than they are. The truth is we are not & there but for the grace of God go you or I. I mention this because the first spiritual perquisite is humbleness. A humble & contrite heart God will not despise. Humbleness allows us to see ourselves as we truly are. Only then can we move to the 2nd step & pray with a genuine heart, an honest heart, a heart that will break for its own lack of purity.

Prayer is a seeking God’s face & when we do this truthfully our sinful state is revealed to us. Painful as it might be it is necessary in order to accomplish the third step, which is to turn away from our wicked ways. Sin blocks us from God’s grace & blessings. Only when we see sin as God sees it can we turn from our sin, repent, and enable God to act effectively in our lives & the lives of those we seek to reach.

God is under no obligation to hear the prayers of sinners & unbelievers so if His people will not stand in the gap & intercede on the world’s behalf then no~one will. If we are not prepared to cleanse ourselves then our prayers are of no avail. How much hangs on our obedience! Look at the little word then. It is only after we have humbled ourselves, only after we have prayed, only after we have sought God, then, & only then does God act. Then he hears from Heaven. Then he offers forgiveness. Then he heals. We in Australia have been abundantly blessed by the Lord with material things ~ & in many ways that is a great pity because we have not so much desired spiritual blessings. Can it be said of us, ‘I know your works. You are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm I will spew you out of my mouth. The word spew is emeo ~ to vomit, as in to heave out violently. It speaks of utter revulsion. In short, lukewarm Christians make Christ sick. Remember this admonition was given to believers, believers too who thought that they were spiritually rich.

Friends, the time for complacency is long past. The time for hankering after the things of the world is past. We have prospered materially but have we prospered spiritually? The very first commandment is to love God. This is not the sort of spirituality we have grown accustomed to, the sort that says moderation in all things & discourages passionate people as zealots. That is worldly thinking. Our standard is to be a scriptural standard & what does scripture say? To love God with ALL our heart, & ALL our mind, & ALL our strength. Scripture is clear that there are no unregenerate hearts in heaven. All who enter therein are there only by the grace of God & the shed blood of Christ in whom they have trusted. God wants our passion & why not? He is very passionate about us.

We must be very clear as to what the scriptures say for "not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into Heaven.’’ Again this is an admonition that was addressed to those who identified themselves as God’s people. And what does God say? "Depart from me for I never knew you.’’ These were people who might have expected to find themselves in the kingdom. They were exercising spiritual gifts. They were acting in God’s name. They caste out demons & performed miracles but they had unregenerate hearts.

Now I have not brought these scriptures to your attention to point fingers or sit in judgement. Scripture says we are to search ourselves before God & assess our spiritual condition. Some of the tools for doing this are to be found in the first epistle of John & I shall address those 11 points in the 2nd half of this message. I admit to a weakness for the writings of John but then I’m a lit major & the beauty of the language makes the difficulties of the epistle irrelevant so I am much indebted to John MacArthur who has helped me categorise & clarify this wonderful little book that addresses the issue of how to assess our spiritual state & know that we have been truly converted. God, in his grace & mercy, doesn’t want us floundering around fretting as to whether we are saved or not. He wants us to have complete assurance, as those first apostles did, & so John sets out a list of attributes of the person who has experienced genuine salvation. Jonathon Edwards calls these attributes ‘holy affections’.

Now I am going to be brief so earnestly encourage you to study this for yourselves. So what are these holy affections? You can follow through in the epistle starting with Chapter 1 verses 2 & 3 where John speaks of fellowship with Christ & the father. All true believers evidence love of God & his son Jesus Christ. In Galations Paul describes it thus: It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. Is it Christ who lives in you? Are you drawn into communion with the one who loved you enough to die for you?

Two. Are we sensitive to the sin in our own lives. Not other people’s sins but our own & the sin in the world around us. If Christ lives in us then our sin grieves the Holy Spirit & we will be impelled to address our sin, confess it & seek God’s cleansing. Do we look forward to that time when Christ will completely free us from the burden of sin?

Three. Chapter 2. By this we know we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. God desires our obedience. It is tangible proof of our love for him. This is obedience of the heart & mind, a gracious surrendering of the self to Christ & not legalism.

Four. 2:15 defines the world. It & everything in it belongs to Satan. The Greek term for the word world is kosmos & it implies false religion, errant philosophy, immorality, crime, materialism & all the rest of it. You see & hear it all around you on R------ Island on any day of the week. Christians do not love the world, nor do they love the things that belong to the world. The regenerated man hungers for the things of God.

Five: Do you eagerly anticipate Christ’s return? 3:3 ‘We know we will be like Christ, changed in an inkling.’ True believers long for this, hope for it know it for our true destiny. We know our citizenship is in heaven.

6: Chapter 3: moving on from verse 3. Sin is complete lawlessness. The Greek term is anomia & it means to live as if there were no law, no absolute right or wrong. That we have been saved from the bondage of sin does not give us license to sin. Rather it creates a desire in us for holiness. A decreasing pattern of sin coupled with an increasing desire for holiness is a sign of the new life, of Christ abiding in us.

7: Our love for our fellow believers is another sign of the new life in us. Jesus himself said that this is how we will know that we are the redeemed ~ by the love we have one for another.

8: Are you experiencing answered prayer? Remember we discussed earlier that sin blocks our communication line to God. If we are experiencing answered prayer we can be assure our communication is free from sin. Psalm 66: 18 tells us that God doesn’t even hear the prayers of those who don’t know him.

9: 4:13 Then there is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He illuminates scripture, brings scripture to mind when we need it, leads us into praise & worship, points us towards Jesus. John actually calls the 10th sign a test. The church’s lack of strong teaching & deception into worldly thinking & relativism on this point is responsible for much trouble amongst Christians but the sheep know the shepherd’s voice & are able to discern spiritual error. For us, with so many lay preachers up the front, this is a primary concern. The spirit of God helps us discern error & false teaching. People, it is imperative you know your scriptures & discern the teaching & leading you hear from up here.

Lastly, have you suffered persecution for your devotion to Christ? Even in a world sliding fast towards the gates of Hell we in the west are unlikely to be martyred for our faith but there are plenty of subtle ways we may be persecuted. Are you mocked for refusing to party to excess with friends or neighbours? For not participating in certain activities? For attending church each week? This is as it should be. Those who belong to the world live & act according to the world & because they love the darkness they hate both the light & those who belong to the light. If you are persecuted, rejoice! It is Godly assurance of your salvation.

It is really very simple in the end. Those who belong to the world are like their father, the Devil, & their character & behaviour reflects to whom they belong. The flip side of this is that those who belong to God are also marked with the characteristics of their Heavenly father. Dearly beloved, may I encourage you today to seek a more passionate walk with our Lord & Saviour, a greater personal holiness, a deeper commitment. Why? Firstly because God desires it & that should be all the requirement we need but secondly it is mesmerizing. Jesus is the holiest man who has ever lived & sinners flocked to him like moths to a candle flame. They couldn’t resist him. If we truly desire to reach the unsaved we don’t need more programmes, more outreach, more anything except more personal holiness. Only Christ can make us more holy but we must actively thirst & hunger after that righteousness for then all else will be added unto us. That is the promise.

Considering Job.

This study opened with an Erma Bombeck quote. A version of the story can be found here: - 21k -
Let us just rest quietly in the presence of the Lord & prepare our hearts & minds that we might truely focus on the Lord our God..Reading Job 38:4 ~ 83It is of that tear I wish to speak

.My face is red with weeping & on my eyelids is deep darkness.The night is long & I am full of tossing till the dawn.I am allotted months of emptiness and nights of misery are apportioned to me.Let the day perish wherein I was born.My heart faints within me.My soul is poured out within me!The night wracks my bones and the pain that gnaws at me takes no rest.

When we are deep in the dark night of the soul, in anguish & grieving so deeply we feel as if our flesh is being rendered, as women we tend to let our emotions rip. It hurts is our natural response. We want to be made better. We want the hurt to go away.

Now I grant you a study on the book of Job is an odd choice for Mother’s Day but it is not only what the Lord has laid on my heart to share but so many of us are walking the deep valleys at the moment. Our hearts ache. Some days it is hard to get out of bed let alone function like a normal rational human being. When we come to Job we see our pain articulated & we find answers. That is one reason. The second is a little odd but we aren’t so far from Easter & one of the many stories of Easter is the story of women, of Mary the mother of Jesus of whom it was said, ‘a sword shall piece your heart.,’ of the women grieving at the tomb. We are an emotional lot & because we care deeply for those we love we rarely find grief an easy burden to bear. Job helps us understand how to carry the burden of grief.In studying Job the mind is instructed, the heart is encouraged & the will is made strong. It is immensely valuable to us. Job shows suffering as it really is. It honestly records a sufferer’s doubts & fears, pain & anger. It removes common ideas about suffering & it suggests the right attitude with which we should face our suffering.

Suffering is the common lot of all mankind. Sooner or later we all face grief & pain. Saying we don’t deserve to suffer only brings despair. Facing it & accepting it when it is incomprehensible can strengthen our faith if we allow it too. Doing it is never easy but that is where Job can help us.

Now before we start I just want to set the background a little for you. Job was possibly the first book of the bible to be written, some time between 600 & 400 BC. Suffering was that important & it has been around since Eve started chatting with snakes in the garden. The name Job may mean enemy or the Penitent. Job was a contemporary of Abraham & was thus a real man. He is mentioned by Ezekiel (14:14.20) as one of the 3 great men of the Old Testament along with Noah & Daniel but he was not an Israelite. He did not live in the Promised Land. He lived in a land of which we know very little referred to here as Uz, possibly a city of Ancient Edom on the SE part of the Dead Sea. Job was possibly written by Moses as were the first 5 books of the Old Testament & Job begins the poetical books of the bible ; it is rightly admired as one of the greatest poems ever written.A brief out line shows a prologue where we are given an insight into the courts of heaven & information that Job does not have. Then Job suffers a series of calamities which leave him in an agony of grief. His ‘Job’s comforters’ each argue with Job three times producing a series of 9 arguments in total, as Job pleads with his friends to understand because God won’t listen to him. There is a 4th , younger debater who tries to summarise things up making Job feel mocked. Chapters 38 ~ 41 are the climax. Here God speaks. The epilogue sees Job restored, a much wiser man than he was before his troubles.

Now the first point about suffering that is made in Job is that we usually don’t have all the facts. Job is completely unaware that God & Satan have this little bet going. All he can see is that his once perfect life has been destroyed & amidst the ruins he has been left nothing. He is clinging on to God by his fingernails.Friends, this is exactly the position we find ourselves in when we stop warming the pews & actively engage in the spiritual battle we have been enlisted to fight in. We will often find we are in a direct attack by Satan. Too often we forget we’re in the middle of a war & drift along cosily until something tips us out of our comfort zone. How we respond is of utmost importance. We will discuss why a bit later on.

The bad news is we are not here to have a good time, an easy life, no troubles or worries. We are here to fight a battle against darkness & bring glory to our Lord & Saviour.

The second point that evolves through the course of this book is the nature of sin. Job reveals the heart of sin in every man, not just the expressed sin of rape, murder, theft etc but the attitudinal sins that lead to expressed sin. As we study this book we begin to notice how much Job glories in his position as ‘the blessed of God.’ What is revealed when the blessings are stripped away is not very pretty.

Thirdly Job teaches us about the nature of faith. Faith is not just about obeying God & doing what is right when it is in our best interests to do so. That is weak faith & it is Satan’s accusation against Job. We learn from Job that great faith, the kind that draws the attention of the world, is revealed when we serve God when it is difficult to do so, when serving Him is the hardest thing we are asked to do.Job, like every single one of us, does not have the resources within himself to handle life & its problems. When the book opens Job is highly respected, honoured, sincere, moral, devoted, selfless & godly. What do we find when he can no longer walk into his community with honour & dignity? A querulous, angry old man who is upset with God & revealed as loving prestige & status. In his heart of hearts Job was serving God for his share of God’s glory. When this is taken from him he is left with his puny, whining pussey little self.

Now I ask you to bear with me & listen carefully as we come to the heart of this great & glorious book that has rightly been called the book that addresses the problem of suffering. I am not going to address the problem of suffering when justice is meted on wrongdoers. Nor do I wish to discuss in any depth the problem of unmerited suffering. Why? Because that’s not the point. It never was. The point of suffering in Job is that it forces our attention back on God. That is the first thing. The second thing is that there is glory in suffering & these are predominantly the types of suffering that are revealed in Job.

Oh~oh, Devorah’s finally lost it you may be thinking. How can there be glory in suffering? And here is where it is important we approach suffering with the right attitude. Because when we bear our suffering with a right heart attitude our suffering reveals that Satan is a liar & a cheat. You see Satan is out to make us distrust God, the goodness of God, the promises of God & see ourselves as unfairly treated. This is Job’s temptation. Why me? I’ve been a good boy. I deserve to be blessed. None of us are good except God. God deserves to be served just because He is who He is & worthy of all praise & honour. That is why Job suffered. It is why Jesus suffered. It is why we are asked to suffer. It is the means by which evil is answered & God vindicated.

Unmerited suffering can be a ‘high & holy privilege’ as Stedman calls it. Why? Because we then share in the sufferings of Christ. Philipians 1:29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. When suffering comes, as it does, we can demonstrate that God’s strength, love & grace continue unabated despite all outward circumstances. With his dying breath Jesus demonstrated that belief, commending his soul into his father’s hands despite the mockery that had been his share on the cross for still trusting in God. Here too as we think on the cross & the resurrection we are reminded of Thessolonians 4:13, that we are not to grieve as those who have no hope. Our hope should be in Christ our Saviour & our trust in the God who made heaven & earth. Remember, Satan’s attack on Job was limited so we must keep before us the greatness & glory of God. Satan is limited according to what God knows we can bear.

Here too in Job we find one of the greatest & most glorious passages in all of scripture. It is great & glorious because it reveals something of the glory of God & something of His nature as well. Here’s poor old Job sitting in the dust not getting much comfort anywhere & scraping away at his boils with a shard of pottery, having a good old whinge about how God won’t even give him an explanation as to what’s going on. I can sympathise. I like explanations too. And God deigns to answer Job. ‘Ok’, He says, ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world?’

We read a large chunk of this section earlier but I would like us to pause here for a little & meditate briefly on just what this passage is implying, & implying for our day & age too. Consider the implications of some of the issues God raises with Job. Did you know that scientists still don’t know how light is produced? What makes it up, yes, but not how.V16 Even now we know almost nothing about the deepest depths of the ocean. We know that water is made of 2 invisible gases that liquefy into water when they combine but no~one knows why that is so. When water freezes it expands, the only substance on the world that does this. Everything else contracts but that simple inconsistency makes life on earth possible. V6. How did God hang the Earth upon nothing? Well you say, gravity keeps it all there. So it does…but do you know what gravity is? Scientists don’t. They can describe how it acts but not what it is.

These are deep & profound issues. Put in the simplest terms we have no idea of the depth & breadth of the knowledge of God. We need to remind ourselves daily of just who God is. It has a way of putting our puny selves in perspective. I like the way Deuteronomy 29:29 puts it: The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us & to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. Some things are for God alone to know. All our demanding curiosity has no part in the secret things of God. I think some aspects of suffering fall into this category. Only God knows & He has chosen not to share his why with us.

A biologist studying the DNA of field mice & peat bog was obviously struck by something mysterious in the nature of his research. For those who like their sources quoted I apologise as I’ve retained the oddity of this quote, not the source. He decided to put the DNA to music. The result apparently sounded something like Chopin or Bach. What struck me was not that someone would be mad enough to do something like that but that even our DNA has been programmed to sing & glorify God.. It speaks of an enormous love for His creation. It speaks of something incomprehensible. Much as I should like too I have as much chance of comprehending that as I have of grasping quantum physics.

And that really is the point, isn’t it? All around us we can see the results of that. It is a very wonderful thing, God’s glory & majesty & nearly all of it is beyond our minds to grasp. But, and it is a very wonderful thing, we have been given God’s promises. Those have been revealed to us & when we are faced with troubles & grief those are promises we can cling to. We have tasted of God & know that He is good. In our suffering that is our witness to a world that does not know the goodness of God. It is our testimony that no matter what we can say with Job, ‘ Though He slay me, yet will I trust in him.’ Amen. Now Lord let thy servants depart in peace according to thy word; for their eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles and for glory to thy people Israel.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Problem with Gomer.

Sow for yourselves righteousness,
       reap the fruit of unfailing love,
       and break up your unplowed ground;
it is time to seek the Lord,
       until he comes
       and showers righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12
Gomer.  Mention Gomer & you probably immediately think, "Oh yes, Hosea's harlot."  And everybody is so busy knowing all about Hosea acting out Israel's apostasy in his marriage they completely miss the point. I mean, it's a great story, isn't it?  We all know it ~ or think we do; the man of God allying himself to a strumpet & thundering at Israel.  And we leave it at the church door with the biscuit crumbs & used tea bags. But the story of Gomer & Hosea is more than an old testament story that has no relevance for us because all of scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness [2Timothy3:15~17]

Now I guess you know where I'm going to start.  Sorry people but this really needs to be put in context because without the context you may miss the slow slide into apostasy that brought about Israel's downfall & which has such frightening parallels for our own age.  Besides I do so love history!

Hosea ministered to the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the last decades of its existence during the 8th century, somewhere between 750 BC & 722 BC, Israel having divided into 2 kingdoms after the death of Solomon under the rule of his son Rehoboam.  Rehoboam ruled the old kingdom of Judah.  Jeroboam ruled the new kingdom of Israel but there was a problem.  Jerusalem lay in the old kingdom & the Israelites were obligated to go  down to Jerusalem for the great feasts.  You can imagine, I'm sure, Jeroboam's paranoia & insecurity at having most of his subjects packing up to trek down to Jerusalem several times a year, so Jeroboam devised a solution ~ & not one that pleased God .  Enter in the worship of Baal ~ again!

Now under Jeroboam's rule Israel flourished.  It was a powerful military state with considerable wealth [remember the Queen of Sheba travelled to see Solomon in all his glory & marveled at it & Israel was still experiencing God's favour].  It influenced International affairs.  However it was in internal disorder & with Jeroboam's death in 746 BC it erupted into civil war.  Over the next 10 years Israel was ruled by 5 different kings with tenuous claims to the throne.  Some only ruled for a matter of weeks, some for a few months, each successive ruler slaying the one who preceded him.  Utter chaos.  This was Hosea's world ~ & Amos' ~ & Jeremiah & Micah's!

Into this fevered political mix add Tiglath~Pileser III, who became ruler of Assyria in 745 BC with the stated purpose of restoring the Assyrian Empire!

This was also Gomer's world & the thing to note, because it is easy to miss in translation, is that the word for prostitute is also the word for one who has offered herself to Baal in worship.  That is, she was a temple prostitute, or perhaps, more likely, an ordinary Israelite matron who had partaken of the sexual aspects of worshipping Baal ~ as so many others did.  She was not an anomaly.  She was a perfectly ordinary Israelite woman of her time who saw nothing wrong with what she was doing.  Now, having waded through a series of commentators, I know that is not everyone's viewpoint but it is mine & I will tell you why. When we come to Daniel we run up against exactly the same thing & remember I am an English major, not a theologian!  God is absolutely consistent with His symbols!  Idolatry is a particular beef of His, starting with the commandment to have no other gods but Him, working it's way to forbidding David from building the temple because not only was he a man of war, but for his sexual sin with Bathsheba, all the way into the New Testament where He declares our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit & not to defile them!  Absolutely consistent.  If she was just a prostitute that is one thing, & she should have been stoned to death for it.  If she was a temple prostitute or one who has partaken of Baal's fertility rites, that is something else, something different & it implies far more than just the selling of her body.  It implies that she has sold herself to another god.

Now the thing with immorality is that it coarsens our sensibilities.   Abuse of love diminishes the ability to love deeply.  Over time many gentler attributes are lost & people become brazen & proud ~ & so we see with Gomer.  She is used to a variety of sexual partners & the novelty that would heighten her sexual experiences ~ & you see it all about you today.  Sex sells ~ everything from toothpaste to luxury apartments, deodorant to porches.  You see it in the trampy clothes the girls wear that are too short & too tight & highlight all their selling points ~ & make no mistake, whether they know it or not they are selling themselves in the sexual market.  You see it in the way the boys talk to the girls.  There is no respect.  Our world is very like that of 8th century Israel.  The political climate is uncertain. War lurks on the horizon. In so many churches Christianity has been compromised.  The whole face of Europe is likely to change in the next 30 years & it will become part of the wider Islamic territories.  How have we come to such a pass?  The answer is in Hosea.

As Christians, as a people who have been grafted into the root & branch of  the people of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we are in a peculiar position.  Much of what was originally directed to the Hebrew tribes also pertains to us because God does not change & His expectations & directives to His particular people are the same yesterday, today & forever.  So what Hosea has to say pertains to us, to our nations, to our churches, to our personal walks with God.

"Well", you say, "I'm not into worshipping idols".  Really?  Are you sure?  I am going to highlight some of the main themes that run through Hosea because we need to be vigilant & make sure that we ourselves are not on the wide road to destruction.

Firstly I want to point out the nature of the man who originally made these claims against Israel.  His nature tells us whether his testimony is trustworthy or not.  Hosea was a man whose walk with God was so intimate that he not only heard but clearly understood what God was saying to him.  Having heard he obeyed!  I imagine that was no easy thing given what he was asked to do.  He was asked to obey by his actions before he was called to speak out so God could speak through Hosea's life.                

Hosea is an anthology, a collection of sayings gathered together but orbiting around 2 main themes: the judgement of God & the love of God.  There are approximately 150 statements concerning Israel's sin & more than half of those deal with her idolatry though she is also upbraided for lying, murder, insincerity, ingratitude & covetousness.  The judgement of God moves inexorably from a condemnation of the Royal household, who instigated the Baal worship , to the religious leaders of the time who have failed in their responsibility as teachers, who have encouraged the apostasy & profited from it & practised the false & syncretistic rites of their times & seduced the people into the same, to the nation as a whole. 

There are consequences to this sorry state of affairs.  Hosea's first born son is named Jezreel.  Jezreel was the place recorded in 2 Kings 9~10 where the Royal House of Omi was exterminated by the House of Jehu.  It is a pronouncement of judgement on the Royal household of Israel, a warning of what is to come.  Hosea's second child, a daughter named Ruhamah [not pitied]  is a warning that God has run out of patience with His stubborn people, to the point that by the third child, Lo~Ammi [not my people] God has rejected them. 

Through Hosea God makes a pronouncement that has held true down through the ages:  My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.[4:6]  Wherever a nation has backslidden [ 4:16]  & the priests blame others while no longer being concerned with God's work [4:4] the people have become like a dove, easy to fool & stupid. [7:11]  It is frighteningly simple.  If the teachers do not teach the people become lazy & spiritually weak & flabby, unable to resist temptation when it arises, unable to tell right from wrong, unable to discern the truth, mistaking wrong for right, each doing what seems good in their own eyes.  Where there is a lack of the knowledge of God in the land a lack of faithfulness, kindness & social order follow.  Look around you today; tell me what you see.

The problem with Gomer is that she's not the point.  She never was.  We have Hosea, as the prophets tend to, ranting & raving about the people's sin & warning of the judgement to come.  If that was all then we are all without hope but there is a wonderful image in Hosea 13.  God is still telling Israel what is about to befall them & says I will meet them like a bear deprived of her cubs.  Remember God is a jealous God.  If we say we are His He has a particular & vested interest in our well being & He has all the protective instincts of an enraged mother bear who finds her cubs gone from her.    However harsh the pronouncements they are always done out of a spirit of love to bring God's people back into alignment with the will of God.    Yes, God loves us but His is not an easy wishy~washy love of the sort Hollywood is so good at dishing up for God is also Holy;  God is just ; God is righteous.  God loves us enough to want to grow us up, to develop our spiritual backbone & moral fibre.  He loves us enough to tell us the harsh truths. What we do with the truth is up to us.                                                                                                                                                        

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Solomon's Song of Songs

During the days before the protestant reformation when John Huss led his small bands of Christians into Albania & the Covenanters were being persecuted in Scotland, one bible book was read, referred to, memorized & loved more than any other. No, not psalms. That book was Solomon’s Song of Songs.

Why this book? Why a book that is a blatant love song, sensually delighting in love & the things pertaining to love? Why is this book even included in the cannon & part of our scriptures? It is short, only about 117 verses. It is the last of the 5 wisdom books: Job, proverbs. Ecclesiastics, some of the psalms & Song of Songs. That it is listed among the wisdom books should immediately tell us that it contains gems of wisdom we would do well to heed. In a wider sense it belongs to a far different theme that runs throughout scripture: the marriage agreement between God & his people.
In Deuteronomy we have the marriage contract. In Hosea we see the adulterous, unfaithful wife & in the Song of Songs we see the fulfilment of love in marriage.

This book is usually attributed to Solomon, David’s Solomon, the live born child of David & Bathsheba. He was not the oldest son. His parents’ relationship was conceived in great sin but he is the first Jewish ruler to inherit the throne of Israel as a birthright. His name is related to the Hebrew word for Peace, Shalom ~ peace arising from harmony with God & man. David chose him to be king over his older sons despite what the Mosiac law said.

Solomon came to the throne in 961Bc, before his father, David, died & reigned for 40 years. It was during his reign the Jewish monarchy gained its highest splendour.Now the seeds of Solomon’s destruction are inherent in his choices. The child of a polygamyous household (David had 18 wives) Solomon took for himself 700 wives & 300 concubines (1 Kings 2:1~3. )I think it is fairly safe to say Solomon liked women. He liked Moabites, & Ammorites. Edomites, Sidonians, Hittites & definitely Shulamites! Famous for his wisdom, he is notorious for his polygamy.

Solomon’s wisdom seems to have been a worldly wisdom. He was aggressive in his foreign policy ~ hence the number of women in his life (he married them to seal arrangements with other rulers) ~ & it was not all plain sailing in the Solomon household. This was the man who said better a dry crust on the rooftop than a brawling woman in a wide house. Perhaps he was something of a henpecked husband & a coop of hens can be particularly vicious. In Deuteronomy (17:16~17)we also find the law explicitly saying not to multiply horses, silver & gold or…wives!

Solomon’s sin in this area lead to his apostasy. His rule was dominated by the conflicting tensions between faithfulness to God & yielding to the foreign influences his marriages brought into the kingdom.The bible is particularly explicit about sexual sins. Solomon’s sin in this area destroyed the house of David. He forsook his first love for God & under his wives influence followed after other gods. I find this particularly interesting scripturally because it is Solomon who built the temple to the Lord to house the ark of the covenant & when we come into the New Testament the scriptures say 1 Cor6:18 shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you that you have from God. From old testament to New God’s temple has been defiled by sexual immorality.

When we read through Solomon’s song of Songs we read a love poem that shows us how to love in a morally correct way on the human level & the spiritual level.That is all background information but bear it in mind as we come to the song itself. Let’s face it, in the area of love Solomon had some idea of what he was talking about.

Kings also tells us Solomon wrote 1005 songs; this is the only survivor. It is, unashamedly, a love song: sensual, sensuous, the portrayal of a man & a woman falling deeply, passionately, irredeemably in love. In the rabbinical view it is a portrait of Gods love for Israel. It was meant to be performed, perhaps something like an ancient musical or opera, theatrical in style, an Eastern love song between bride & groom, God & Israel, Christ & his church.

Now when we come to the scriptures we bring our cultural biases with us so I’d like to pause here & just clarify by giving a little background material on how a traditional Jewish wedding occurred because the song of songs arises out of this Eastern tradition & we miss many of its subtleties if we ignore the Eastern traditions which have little resemblance to our Western ideas of love & romance. Many of the Parallels with our relationship to Christ I’m sure you can draw for yourself. There are 7 main points to consider.

1.The groom’s father made & approved the choice of bride. God has made & approved us as His choice of bride for his son.

2. A contract was drawn up (remember Deuteronomy) & wine was drunk to seal the covenant. The groom pays a price to show his intent is serious & promises his bride he will come to claim her soon. I think we all get the parallel for that one!

3. The groom prepared a bridal chamber where he & his bride would stay for 7 days. He works until his father releases him to go & claim his bride.

4. While the groom is busy preparing the new home the bride waits wearing a veil. This shows she belongs only to the groom. She prepares for her wedding by making blankets etc, shows her family her gratitude for raising her, mends damaged relationships. She had to be ready for whenever her husband came to claim her. Her groom would come for her at night & she would not be told the hour of his coming.

5. Unmarried friends would attend the bride & provide light for the groom when he came.

6. Groomsmen would run ahead of the groom & shout that he was coming. While the father’s head was turned the groom would steal the bride & the wedding went back to the groom’s house to meet the guests.

7.The bride & groom enter the bridal chamber & the marriage is consummated. The party waited outside for this announcement & the guests celebrated for 7 days.

I have spent a lot of time on the background because what I want to discuss with you today is not the Song of Songs per se, though I love the song & think it one of the most beautiful of the many lovely scriptures. It’s central theme is far too important for us to dismiss this book as merely a very lovely love poem, exquisite, but not overly important. Rather by asking ourselves what this theme is we begin to grasp why it has been so loved & why it has remained in the cannon all down the centuries.

The main theme as I see it is loving God. Now scripture says over & over we are to love God. We are to love God first. We are to love God with Heart & mind & strength. We are to love God before mother, father, sisters, brothers, children, husband. I think many of us struggle in this area. We know what we’ve been told to do but we do not know how to do it. How do we love God with all our heart & all our mind & all our strength?

Scripture begins with the heart so that is where we will begin too. Scripture says to guard our hearts with all diligence because the heart is where the issues of life (thoughts, emotions, desires) originate. Proverbs 4:23 There are 4 types of hearts ~ the unregenerate, the hardened, the clogged & the pure. The pure heart, the one God desires for us & for himself, is attuned for the faintest promptings of the Holy Spirit. Sin makes us insensitive & resistant to those promptings.

There is a whole list in Galatians 5:19~21 of the sins of the flesh & I am betting most of us would run down that list going nope, nope, nope, not guilty of that one either. But what about a list like this: grumbling (philipians2:14 do everything without grumbling), self~seeking (phil2:3 let each esteem others better than himself) criticalness, disorderliness & being busybodies ~ There are some who walk among you disorderly, being busybodies (2nd Thessalonians) ….You get the picture I am sure. Sin is pride & put simply pride is not loving God; it is loving ourselves first ~ & that my friends is idolatry!

The word for mind is dianoia. Translated literally it means willpower or volition. When we are born again in the Holy spirit we are enabled to will as God wills. Aligning with the Greek word dianoia is the word exousia ~ it is permitted. That is, it is permitted for us to override our natural desires & inclinations & act in accordance with the spirit of God. It is not permitted for the unregenerate heart to do this. The unregenerate heart is governed by the sinful lusts & desires of the flesh. We are not. We can choose to act in a Godly way because the spirit of God resides within us.We are made in the image of God.

God has 2 sorts of will, the emotional (thelo) & resolve (boule). Our natural inclination is usually to go with the emotional but it is the disciplined choice based on the known will of God as revealed in his scriptures that God desires of us. That is the love response. Ephesians: grieve not the Holy Spirit of God whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. We grieve the spirit by not following His promptings to walk in the Godly pattern he enables us to walk & instead following after our own desires. When we choose our own way we choose to be ruled by the sin Christ died to free us from.

Lastly there is the soul. I think many of us in the West confuse spirit & soul. Our soul is our conscious thoughts, emotions, desires. Here we see why obedience is of such vital importance. There is a line of progression here. Guard our hearts ~ the things we put into ourselves. Bring captive every thought. Give authority to the Holy Spirit to exercise God’s will in our lives. No matter how we feel, act in accordance with what scripture says & lastly believe that God is acting in our lives as he has promised!

We have been made in Gods image to be an exact likeness of his son, Jesus Christ. We have been given free will which gives us the choice to choose to love & obey God. To do this we need to catch negative, ungodly thoughts before they stir up our emotions, catch negative, ungoldly emotions before our fleshly desires are stirred up, catch our desires before we are stirred to action, catch our actions before we do indeed act upon them in the flesh!

When we choose our own fleshly desires we are allowing Satan to use us to take revenge on God. This is not the action of a loving child of the father’s. If we delight ourselves in the Lord he is able to give us the desires of our hearts because they are the desires he has placed there & they will be in accordance with his will.

Most of us know something of love ~ the desire to be with the beloved, the way our thoughts return again & again to those treasured memories of times we’ve spent together, the anxious waiting for our beloved to be with us again, the way we know their thoughts without speaking, the hours we have spent peacefully in each others company without words. We know what it is to love our partners & our children, our siblings & our friends but far to many of us don’t know what it is to love God ~ to love as the Shulamite loves. And this is why this little book, Solomon’s glorious Song of Songs, is so important & why it has been so loved.

Let me paraphrase for a moment:
Jesus, your love is more delightful than wine.
The fragrance of your perfume is intoxicating;
Your name is perfume poured out.
No wonder we adore you.
Take us with you~Let us hurry.
Oh, that the king would bring us to his chambers!
Or this...

Jesus, You have captured my heart,
my brother, my groom.
You have captured my heart with one glance of your eyes.
With one jewel of your necklace.
How delightful your love is, My brother, my groom.
Your love is much better than wine
& the fragrance of your perfume than any balsam.
Your lips drip sweetness ...

And so scripture comes full circle for psalm 119 verse103 says; your word is to my taste ~ sweeter than honey to my mouth. Friends, let us keep our hearts with all diligence & bring every thought captive that the words of our mouths & the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to the Lord our God & our lives, pure & holy, be reflections of His love that resides within us.

references: Song of Solomon: a love song & a hymn ~Ray C. Stedman
The Way of Agape ~ Chuck & Nancy Missler