Rejoicing After God’s Discipline

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:1–5, ESV)

Beautiful sculptures like Michelangelo’s “David” or “Pieta” which look like living marble. When asked how he did it, said that he simply chiseled away everything that didn’t look like David.

Similarly, God is at work in us, chiseling away everything that is not part of his desire for us to look and act like children of God. 

And as living pieces of God’s work, it is painful when the hammer and chisel of God remove the rough edges and carve out of hardened marble a beautiful masterpiece. But it is necessary in order to make us beautiful, so that the Master Artist’s skill and grace can be put on display through us.

The reason for David needing to be rescued from his foes, being the Lord’s “drawing up” in Psalm 30:1 is unclear, but it seems to correspond to a time in David’s life when he was very near to death (see also Pss. 71:20; 130:1), and quite possibly because of some sin in his life since he speaks about the Lord’s anger being only momentary. Like water drawn out of a deep dark well, so the Lord has lifted David out of a deep hole when he faced a severe trial, which was possibly self-inflicted through his own sin.

Because of these problems David faced, he knew that his enemies would gloat over the illness that he faced (see also Ps. 35:19, 24-27). David says that it was the Lord that healed him in response to his cries for help. His sickness was so severe that he feared that he surely would face death (Sheol). In death, the Lord would have been delivering divine justice upon David, but instead he received mercy and grace.

The New Testament reminds us that God is serious about sin in his children. He sometimes acts against those who have been unrepentant and have brought about shame to the name of Christ. It is true that there is no more condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, but that does not mean that the Lord does not bring about temporal consequences for our sin that might be used as a means to our sanctification. In this psalms we can see that very effect whereby David learned in a deeper way of the love and care of the Lord.

Not only did David praise God for saving him, but he used the opportunity to encourage others to praise God also. David learned that with the Lord, forgiveness comes along with the chastening; and with our weeping comes a joy that our Father had never stopped loving us.

The hymn “Amazing Grace” closes with the lines, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun, We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we first begun.” Our days in heaven will be filled with praise because our Savior is worthy, and because we will more clearly see how much we do not deserve the “amazing grace” that has been bestowed upon all of God’s children. So remember the next time you face the chastening hand of God and come out of it with a heart filled with praise for the lessons God has taught you about who He is, and who we are.

Boasting in the Lord Might Bite Back!

Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” (Ezra 8:21–23, ESV)

Most of the time we find that our experiences of shame are due to our sin. Like Adam and Eve who recognized their nakedness after the Fall, shame is now an all too familiar part of the human experience. But in Ezra 8:21-23 we see a good outcome of shame–forced dependence upon God in a time of need.

Ezra was preparing to go back to Jerusalem to restore the temple after it had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Not only would the long trip be dangerous, but the danger would be amplified because their party would be large and they were to be laden with large amounts of gold and precious items of great value. Ezra would have preferred an armed escort by soldiers (the equivalent of our modern armored trucks) to make this journey, but he was ashamed because he had openly shared with the king the goodness and power of the Lord God. Since this was true, he shouldn’t need escorts, should he? How could he ask for protection by men when he has so openly confessed the power and might of God to protect His children?

What a predicament! The lesson here isn’t that God’s people should keep our testimony of the goodness and power of God under wraps–we actually need to become more vocal about it! Instead, we should do as Ezra did; he chose godly men to accompany him in fasting and prayer to implore the Lord to protect them as they knew He could do. The shame Ezra felt wasn’t in boasting, it was in his desire to live as if what he said about God wasn’t true and yet being forced to live by that truth or be ashamed at taking back what he said about his God.

Let us be abundant in our praise and glorying in the works of the Lord. And perhaps as a side effect we will find ourselves “forced” into living as if our great God is as great as we claim. Now wouldn’t that be something!

Is Your Worship Like Gold or Bronze? (weekend repost)

The demise of Israel came quickly after the reign of Solomon. Although one could argue that Solomon’s kingdom was the pinnacle of Israel’s fame, wealth, and honor, there can be no doubt that spiritually the kingdom was a shadow of what it was under David. Solomon may have had great wealth, and there is no doubt that he beautified the kingdom and made a glorious temple, but internally there was a rot that would eventually lead the divided nation into apostasy and exile.

Read the full post here: Is Your Worship Like Gold or Bronze?

Is Your Worship Like Gold or Bronze?

Judah did evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked Him to jealousy more than all that their fathers had done, with the sins which they committed.” (1 Kings 14:22, NASB95)

He [Shishak king of Egypt] took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and he took everything, even taking all the shields of gold which Solomon had made. So King Rehoboam made shields of bronze in their place, and committed them to the care of the commanders of the guard who guarded the doorway of the king’s house.” (1 Kings 14:26–27, NASB95)

The demise of Israel came quickly after the reign of Solomon. Although one could argue that Solomon’s kingdom was the pinnacle of Israel’s fame, wealth, and honor, there can be no doubt that spiritually the kingdom was a shadow of what it was under David. Solomon may have had great wealth, and there is no doubt that he beautified the kingdom and made a glorious temple, but internally there was a rot that would eventually lead the divided nation into apostasy and exile.

In 1 Kings 14, Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, watched as all of the external signs of his father’s success dissipated right before his eyes. Through a youthful foolishness he lost ten of the twelve tribes in a rebellion, and along with these he lost the favor of the people. Instead of humbling himself and turning to the Lord, Rehoboam turned to false gods and idolatry, just as his father did through the influence of foreign women he married.

As a picture of how degraded Judah had become, 1 Kings 14:26-27 mentions the shields of Solomon. More than a mere passing note of interest, the shields are a visible lesson for all that will watch and learn. In his days as king, Solomon saw gold become so abundant that it was said that silver was as nothing (See 1Kings 10:14-29). To show off this wealth, he had 200 large shields of gold, each made from about 7 1/2 lbs. of gold. Additionally, he had 300 more smaller shields made from almost 4 lbs. of gold each. Together these shields would have been fashioned out of 2,625 lbs. of gold, which for Solomon was nothing since 1 Kings 9:14 states that one year’s worth of gold income was 666 talents, or about 25 tons (50,000 lbs.) of gold! What was the purpose of these shields? Together they acted as a visible symbol of Solomon’s great wisdom and wealth.

With that insight, 1 Kings 14:27 reveals a great truth. In the face of utter humiliation as a result of his outrageous idolatry, Rehoboam chose to put on the mask of a hypocrite instead of facing the truth with repentance and humble contrition. In Solomon’s days, silver was as nothing–how much less bronze! Now Solomon’s wayward son is grasping to keep up appearances. He has replacement shields made to cover the naked walls, but not of gold, which he no longer had. Instead they would be made of bronze. Why make these shields at all? With foreign invaders from Egypt stealing their wealth and ransacking the kingdom, you would think that Rehoboam would have been more concerned with greater issues. Instead, we find him seeking to make things look the same as they did during the days of his father’s reign. Bronze shields would appear gold-like, giving the impression that nothing had changed. But they had–massively, and to a greater extend than these shields alone. A cheap substitute had taken the place of the valuable. Instead of the precious worship of Yahweh, a fake and common worship had been swapped out as if they were the same. But they are not.

Instead of playing games with God, Rehoboam should have broke. He should have seen the loss of gold and prestige as an opportunity to go back to the basics of humble worship as his grandfather David had demonstrated. David, clothed in only a linen ephod danced before the Lord, not caring about anyone else but the pleasure of his God. May we be aware of this shift in our own lives and ministries as well, never replacing the gold of true worship with a cheap substitute, because God isn’t fooled. When God is trying to get your attention, don’t double down and act like nothing is wrong. Go to God.

The Glorious Trinity

I’ll never forget the day that I was teaching a lesson during the Sunday school hour at church on our doctrinal statement. Our church required that every prospective member go through twelve lessons to cover what we believe. I was on lesson two, on the doctrine of the Trinity. Each lesson began with the IFCA Doctrinal statement. The lesson began: “Doctrinal Statement:  We believe in one Triune God eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; co-eternal in being, co-identical in nature, co-equal in power and glory, and having the same attributes and perfections (Deut 6:4; 2Cor 13:14).”

It was not unusual for current members to attend this class to refresh their understanding of what we believe, and it was always good to see the interaction between newer attendees who were considering membership and long-time members who loved the church. In this particular class we had in attendance a couple of long-time members that preceded my coming as their pastor.

As I explained the lesson on the Trinity, one of the older members objected to something I said regarding my explanation of the distinction of Persons and the unity of Being and how some have used illustrations that actually taught heresy. She explained to me that she had been a long-time Sunday school teacher to our children and that she had explained the Trinity in terms that I had just said were invalid, of which she took offense. It was at this moment that this former Sunday school teacher grew quiet and then expressed her confusion because she didn’t intend to teach unbiblical ideas of God, and yet she had. 

What’s the big deal? Aren’t doctrines like the Trinity best left up to high-tower scholars locked up in libraries with their books? I mean, what does deep theological discussion have to do with evangelization, discipleship, and helping the single mom who is struggling to pay her bills and raise her kids? As a matter of fact, it makes a world of difference to all of these things, and more. This is because, when we evangelize, we must point people to the Savior-God. But how can we do so unless we know who He is and how He has worked righteousness on our behalf? Salvation is trinitarian! And discipleship requires teaching the Christian not only about holy living, but about the Holy God of the Bible, who is Trinity! And the struggling mom, why does it matter to her? Because if she is to find hope in this life, she must know that the God of the Universe cares for her—but to know that fact she must come to an understanding of the wonderous beauty of this God—who has revealed himself in the complexities of the Trinity. 

But even beyond all of these practical reasons for understanding this doctrine is this truth: if we have been redeemed by the God of the Bible, then we need to understand and know Him as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. He is not like us. He is Creator and we are creature. So, we may struggle and we may unable to understand the mystery at times, but we push forward to grasp his magnificence because as Christians, we long to see Him as He is, not as we make Him out to be.

As Kenneth Daughters, president of Emmaus Bible College has written:

“When the average Christian is asked about the Trinity, he is content to quote a brief definition. Were he challenged to contemplate the meaning of the Trinity, he would quickly struggle. Few Christians have ever taken the time or trouble to think deeply on the subject. To most it is as abstract as a complicated mathematical expression. How sad! Actually, the Trinity is God’s highest revelation of himself. Far from being a subject that is too deep to be relevant, God intended for man to order his world in light of it. All forms of unity and diversity in the universe find their source in the nature of God as triune.

It is impossible to adequately understand God without understanding him as triune. To try to relate to God as a mono-personal being is to ignore his revelation to us and to deny his beauty. Some consider the concept of the Trinity too difficult to comprehend, so they operate in a functional denial of God’s Trinitarian nature. Others attempt to understand the Trinity but fall short conceiving him in a modalistic or tritheistic form. Not only have they failed to understand God and relate to him properly but they also have no basis for accurately balancing the unity and diversity all about them.” 

Kenneth Daughters, “The Trinity and the Christian” in Understanding the Trinity, ed. John H. Fish III, 2003, (ECS Ministries: Dubuque, IA), 363.

Understanding the glorious doctrine of the Trinity is not meant to be first and foremost, utilitarian. We do not stare into the majestic beauty of the Trinity to find out what to “do.” In many ways, popular preaching and popular Christianity has become a self-help system that seeks to make you a better you. But the doctrine of the Trinity demands that we stop looking into our cellphone cameras and gaze upon the ineffable God who has revealed Himself in Scripture as Triune. 

Consider the ramifications of the Trinity for a moment. If Christ is not God, then our worship is idolatry. If the three Persons are three gods, then we are not monotheists, but polytheists, and the Scriptures are not true, for they tell us that there is only one God. And what if Jesus is only an exalted creature, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim? Then we are still lost in our sins because a creature cannot atone for the sins of men!

Athanasius, the great Bishop of the Church in Alexandria (295-373 A.D.), was called the “black dwarf” by his enemies who longed to see him forever banished from the face of the earth. His crime? He defended the deity of Christ against the attacks of Arius, who claimed that Jesus Christ was only an exalted creature, and not God. For his stand, Athanasius was exiled from his church five times during a period of about fifty years. At times it seemed like it was Athanasius against the world. But the stakes were too high, and he would not give in while he still had life and breath in him. The Arians, according to Athanasius, had slid into heresy in at least two ways. First, they had lowered the Person of Christ to the position of a mere creature, and thus denied the deity of Christ, thereby denigrating the Trinity. Second, they had elevated the humanity of Christ so that they justified the worship of Christ while still claiming that He was not God, which if true was an act of blasphemous idolatry. In effect, the Arian attack against the Trinity was an attack against God himself. No Christian should stand for this. 

John Calvin wrote, “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.” May we understand and know the true nature of God so as to defend the biblical doctrine of the glorious Trinity and may our knowledge drive us to the profound worship of  “the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1Tim 1:17, ESV)

This article was originally published in the VOICE magazine (Sept/Oct 2019). Used by permission.