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.

How God’s Sovereignty Affects Our Attitude in the Present Circumstances (part 3)

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.

(Psalm 75:8–10, ESV)

Trials, difficulties, and challenges have a way of making clear where we place our faith. For those that are believers in Jesus Christ, the times when we are most challenged in our faith offer us a time not only to test the faith we have, but also to grow in our faith and trust of Christ.

In the first two posts of this series (you can read them here: How God’s Sovereignty Affects Our Attitude in the Present Circumstances (part 1) and here: How God’s Sovereignty Affects Our Attitude in the Present Circumstances (part 2)) I laid out six ways in which the sovereignty of God affects our attitude toward our present circumstances from Psalm 75. Here are the final three reasons:

7. It Focuses Our Hearts On God’s Grace (v. 8)

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” (Psalm 75:8, ESV)

The references of God’s wrath being like a cup of mixed wine is a familiar metaphor used throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, wine was often mixed with spices and used for special occasions, usually for the purpose of intoxication.

In other places, this picture of the wrath of God as a cup of wine pictures the wicked as reeling, vomiting, crazed and prostrate. God is giving them what they so richly deserve. He is giving them a dose of their own medicine. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The retribution is terrible, it is blood for blood, foaming vengeance for foaming malice. [If] the very color of divine wrath is terrible, what [must] the taste be?”

But how does this encourage us when we are in the midst of the trials? It once again shows that God is sovereign, in control over the wicked. And the encouragement that we receive is in relation to his sovereign grace that he has poured out upon us.

When you recognize the fact that all of mankind sins “and fall short of the glory of God” and that “the soul that sins must die,” you see that you and I are worthy of this cup of staggering—this cup of God’s hot, spiced wrath.

We are so worthy of his eternal punishment. But God poured out his wrath upon our Savior Jesus instead of us. We received mercy because of the abundant grace of God towards us. And it was given to us because of God’s sovereign choice. Undeserved and overflowing.

8. It Encourages Worship (v. 9)

But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.” (Psalm 75:9, ESV)

Because of the surety of the justice of God, the psalmist expresses his delight in God through praise. The title “God of Jacob” used sin verse 9 is both an endearing name as well as a covenant name. Although our God is indeed the God of all the nations, the psalmist personalizes his worship by expressing praise that the God of the universe is also the personal God who loves, cares for, and protects his people.

Have you thought much about why you worship God? Most of us would probably say that we worship him because of what he has done for us—for his love of us, most clearly shown in personally saving us from our sins.

But here in verse 9, the psalmist gives us another perspective about praise. It includes praising God for who he is which drives what he has done, including bringing us salvation. In verse 9, the psalmist is praising the Lord for his vengeful wrath which he will pour out upon all unrepentant sinners. Now, to most of us, that seems like a weird thing to praise God about—maybe even inappropriate. “Praise God for crushing sinners and sending them to hell?” Is that right?

To clarify, we shouldn’t delight in the punishment of sinners with a ghoulish delight. But we should see that it is very appropriate to praise the Lord for his justice and hatred of evil, by which he will make right all wrongs, and punish the wicked for their rebellion against God.

Look at Rev. 19:1-3 when you have an opportunity. If you read it, you will see the rejoicing and praise of God’s people. Then in verses 6-18 you will read about two feasts of celebration—the marriage supper of the Lamb (in verses 6-10) and the Great Supper of God prepared for the birds of the air (in verses 17-19). 

So, we should think about God more deeply and meditate on him as we seek to worship him. Our Great God is worthy of worship for all of his attributes, not just the ones we benefit from and are tied to our comfort. His so-called “negative” attributes along with his positive attributes all make up the character of God—and everything about our Great God and Savior is worthy of praise.

9. It Drives Evangelism (vv. 9-10)

But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.” (Psalm 75:9–10, ESV)

There is a question about what exactly the “it” in verse 9a means and how it ties in with verse 10. Some scholars have said that the “it” of verse 9a refers to what God said he would do to the evil. And I think that that is part of it, but not all that the “it” refers to.

There is a bit of a puzzle in verse 10 as well regarding who is speaking, but I believe the most logical and probable answer depends on the word “it” in verse 9. I believe the psalmist is stating that he will declare God’s words of impending judgment. It would read something like this, “But I will declare [the coming judgment of the Lord] forever; and I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.”

And then, verse 10 makes sense. It is a reiteration of what he has already said about bringing low the proud “horns” of the wicked.

Now if that is what it means, then here is what I think that means for us. I think the impending judgment of the Lord should have two responses that impact our evangelism:

First, it should drive us to share Christ because we believe in the reality of the coming judgment of God. How can we say we believe in hell and the torments of a Christless eternity and yet still remain unmoved to share Christ?

And finally, a warning of the coming judgment of God should be included in our gospel messages. Many versions of gospel presentations have been “cleaned up” and sanitized like some Disney movie. No blood or gore. Everything packaged up into a neat and clean “Jesus loves you” gospel. Even John 3:16 is inadequate in itself because “perish” is so vague. Unpack this when you proclaim the gospel. Let sinners feel the fires of hell. Don’t let them go unwarned!

When we remember the fact that our God is seated upon his throne, it changes everything in our outlook. And the reverse is true as well. When we forget or minimize the sovereign rule of God over this world, we also cast ourselves in a place where we were never meant to be, carrying burdens we were never meant to carry. For the unbelieving world, this is how it functions. But for the child of God, may we not only say that Jesus is Lord, but may we live daily in the beautiful light of this truth and embrace each day as a gift from our sovereign God.