Christianity 201

August 10, 2017

Jeremiah and the Popularity Contest

by Clarke Dixon

“Your popularity has gone down 25%!” Such was a new expression one of my boys brought home from school as a way of expressing annoyance. I suppose I should have been happy that my son was learning percentages, or that my popularity was not dropping near as fast as my other sons. What I was not so happy about was the lifting up of popularity as something of great importance.

As prophets go, Jeremiah was not popular, indeed he went beyond being unpopular to being hated. And little wonder, Jeremiah 1:10 gives a nice summary of what Jeremiah was expected to do:

See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
(Jeremiah 1:10 NRSV)

You may have noticed that the description of Jeremiah’s call has twice the amount of negative sounding items as positive. Read the entire book of Jeremiah and you will notice that Jeremiah spends most of his time prophesying destruction and hard times. Such messages would not help his popularity rating! Jeremiah’s contemporaries preferred a kinder, gentler, and of course, more popular message, but Jeremiah remained faithful. Had he cared more for his own popularity than God’s truth, he would have faded into obscurity as a prophet not worth remembering. Like most of his contemporaries he would have become irrelevant.

There is a great effort in the Church today to try to be relevant, to regain some of the popularity we perceive ourselves to have lost. There are those who think the Church can be relevant if it pays attention to the shifts in society in world-view and ethics and make similar shifts, “keeping up with the times” as it were. However, the opposite is true. It is by maintaining the distinctive teaching from God’s Word that we become relevant. It is when we play the popularity game that we become irrelevant.

Jeremiah lived in a time and place where his message was necessarily negative. The time had come for judgement, for which there was no sugar coating, and about which Jeremiah could do nothing. As Christians we live in a time and place where our message will necessarily be unpopular.

Let’s consider one of the most unpopular teachings of the Church in our day. Consider our message regarding sexuality. The message of the Church that sex belongs within marriage sounds antiquated to many, judgemental and negative. Should we play the popularity game and change our views? While viewed negatively by society, there is much to commend a Biblical view of sexuality. Sexually transmitted diseases are not transmitted by God fearing people. Marriages are not ripped apart by adultery among God fearing people. The Canadian definition of marriage today may as well be “the relationship among the many we have had that we hope lasts the longest.” Among God fearing people marriage is a fundamentally different relationship from any other relationship ever had, not just the longest lasting among many. “Being faithful so long as we both shall live” rings deep and true when a person can speak of “being faithful so long as I have already lived.” Faithfulness to one’s spouse can and should begin long before the wedding day. But even if there was nothing practical to commend our message, faithfulness to it would still demonstrate our faithfulness to God, and that ought to matter. The message of the Church with regards to sexuality is not popular today. But that should matter to us about as much as the popularity of the message of judgement mattered to Jeremiah. What matters is faithfulness to God, and it is by remaining faithful to Him we remain relevant to our society.

There are many other examples of Christian teaching that will be unpopular; belief in the supernatural, belief that abortion is wrong, belief in the importance of sobriety, belief that Jesus is the only Saviour, belief that other world-views are wrong. We can not expect the Church to win a popularity contest while it holds to these teachings. But neither do we need to enter a popularity contest. God calls us, like he called Jeremiah, not to popularity, but to faithfulness to Him, and to true and lasting relevance.


Read more at Clarke’s sermon blog: clarkedixon.wordpress.com

August 3, 2017

Ezekiel and the Glory Days

by Clarke Dixon

We may feel like our glory days are well behind us. Some look back to when one hundred sit-ups were an easy thing, others look back to when they could simply sit up without help. Some look back to better paychecks. Some look back to when children were home and a spouse was still alive. Some look back to a time when loved ones were not suffering. When the aches and pains of life settle in, we can long for the “glory days” we see in the rear-view mirror.

God’s people in Ezekiel’s day would have felt that their glory days were behind them. They could look back to the days of David and Solomon, and see how things had never been quite as good as they were then. And now that they are in exile, Jerusalem is destroyed, and the temple lay in ruins, there would be a strong temptation to keep their eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror in search of the “glory days”.

The prophecies in Ezekiel chapters 36 through 39 spoke to God’s people about their glory days. They speak to us today about ours. Let’s take a bird’s eye view.

Chapter 36. The first prophecy is directed toward the land itself. For example,

. . . and I will multiply human beings and animals upon you. They shall increase and be fruitful; and I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you shall know that I am the Lord. Ezekiel 36:11 (NRSV)

The wording of this alludes to “Be fruitful and multiply” from Genesis 1:28 which recalls Eden before the ground was cursed thanks to Adam (see Genesis 3:17). The promise is for a future even better than the glory days!

The second prophecy of chapter 36 is directed at the people. Among the promises are the following:

I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Ezekiel 36:24-27 (NRSV)

The promise goes well beyond a mere return to the land and the status quo. God promises to clean His people up and give them His Spirit. This is a far better situation than what they enjoyed in the “glory days” of David and Solomon.

Chapter 37. The first prophecy is the infamous “dry bones” vision where Ezekiel sees dry bones come together, and then come alive when life is breathed into them. This is another allusion to Genesis when God breathed life into Adam (see Genesis 2:7). There is a tension in this vision between a metaphorical interpretation, meaning a promise of return from exile, and a more literal interpretation, meaning an anticipated resurrection from the dead. We feel this tension in verse 12:

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Ezekiel 37:12 (NRSV)

We should probably see both here, with a return from exile made even better by the fact that all past generations will be able to participate as well. This would be far better than the past glory days.

The second prophecy speaks of there being one king again, like the glory days of David and Solomon. But watch for what is repeated again and again in the following:

 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and will cleanse them. . . . They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children’s children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore Ezekiel 37:22-26 (NRSV)

Words like “never again” and “forever” are important, whereas in the glory days of the past, the big word was “if”. That is, “if you are faithful to me things will go well”. Here in Ezekiel’s prophecy there is no “if”, just God’s people enjoying God forevermore. This is much better than the glory days of the past.

Chapters 38 and 39. These are prophecies against a land called Gog. There has been much conjecture as to the identity of Gog. For now, let us notice that the enemies assemble to the north (see Ezekiel 38:1-6). The Assyrians invaded from the north when they destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. The Babylonians invaded from the north when they destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah. The point is that such destruction will never happen again! The safety and security of God’s people will be much better than in the glory days of the past.

Concluding chapter 39, we can sum up Ezekiel 39:21-29 this way: “God hid His face from His people and they went into exile because they sinned against Him. But now God, for the sake of His glory, will be generous with His Spirit and never hide His face from them again.”

Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God because I sent them into exile among the nations, and then gathered them into their own land. I will leave none of them behind; 29 and I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 39:28-29 (NRSV)

This is not just restoration of the former status quo. This is restoration to God! This is much better than in the glory days of the past!

History records that God’s people did, in fact, return from exile in Babylon to their own land. However, there was a problem. Not only were things not better than the glory days of David and Solomon, they were not even as good. Roman occupation made sure that Israel’s glory days remained firmly in the past. However, this seeming lack of prophetic fulfillment points us to the the greater fulfillment in Christ. The fulfillment of these promises lies not in the flourishing of an empire-like kingdom called Israel, but in a greater Kingdom brought through Jesus Christ. There is a much bigger exile in view here; separation from the presence of God. Through Jesus we have:

  • Cleansing from sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit, as in Ezekiel 36.
  • Resurrection from the dead, and the inclusion of all generations in the promise, as in Ezekiel 37:1-14.
  • The Messiah as the Lord of a united and holy people, as in Ezekiel 37:15-28.
  • A future, safe and secure from every enemy, as in Ezekiel 38 and 39:1-20.
  • Restoration, not just to a land, but to God Himself, as in 39:21-29.

The days of David and Solomon never really were the glory days. The days of Adam and Eve before the fall are a better fit for the title “glory days”. According to Ezekiel chapters 36 through 39, the glory days are ahead. When we find ourselves wishing we could be restored to the so-called glory days of our past, in Christ we have something far better; restoration to God Himself. In Christ our glory days are ahead! As Randy Bachman famously sang “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”


Read more at Clarke’s sermon blog: clarkedixon.wordpress.com

January 2, 2017

“Skip the Truth and Make Us Feel Good”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today’s title is from the NCV rendering of Isaiah 30:10

They tell the seers,
    “Don’t see any more visions!”
They say to the prophets,
    Don’t tell us the truth!
Say things that will make us feel good;
    see only good things for us.

The pastor in the church we visited on New Year’s Day started 2017 with a message on sin. Although he used literally dozens of scripture references — many from Romans — this passage in Isaiah 30 (12-14 in particular) was the only verse for which he prepared a slide for us to read. Many people just want to hear things that will make them feel good. Elsewhere, we read about people having “itching ears.”

Today, we’re going to contrast the contemporary language of The Message with the more formal commentary of Matthew Henry. However, where you see italics, I’ve used more modern expressions. Everything from this point on is Matthew Henry.

So, go now and write all this down.
    Put it in a book
So that the record will be there
    to instruct the coming generations,
Because this is a rebel generation,
    a people who lie,
A people unwilling to listen
    to anything God tells them.
They tell their spiritual leaders,
    “Don’t bother us with irrelevancies.”
They tell their preachers,
    “Don’t waste our time on impracticalities.
Tell us what makes us feel better.
    Don’t bore us with obsolete religion.
That stuff means nothing to us.
    Quit hounding us with The Holy of Israel.”  – Isaiah 30: 8-11 (MSG)

They forbade the prophets to speak to them in God’s name, and to deal faithfully with them.

They set themselves so violently against the prophets to hinder them from preaching, or at least from dealing plainly with them in their preaching, did so banter them and browbeat them, that they did in effect say to the seers, See not. They had the light, but they loved darkness rather. It was their privilege that they had seers among them, but they did what they could to put out their eyes — that they had prophets among them, but they did what they could to stop their mouths; for they tormented them in their wicked ways, Rev. 11:10.

Those that silence good ministers, and discountenance good preaching, are justly counted, and called, rebels against God. See what it was in the prophets’ preaching with which they found themselves aggrieved.

  1.  The prophets told them of their faults, and warned them of their misery and danger by reason of sin, and they couldn’t take it. They must speak to them warm and fuzzy things, must flatter them in their sins, and say that they did well, and there was no harm, no danger, in the course of life they lived in. No matter how true something is, if it be not easy to listen to, they will not hear it. But if it be agrees with the good opinion they have of themselves, and will confirm them in that, even though it be very false and ever so undeserved, they will have it prophesied to them. Those deserve to be deceived that desire to be so.
  2.  The prophets stopped them in their sinful pursuits, and stood in their way like the angel in Balaam’s road, with the sword of God’s wrath drawn in their hand; so that they could not proceed without terror. And this they took as a great insult. When they continued to desire the opposite of what the prophets were saying they in effect said to the prophets, “Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the paths. What do you do in our way? Cannot you leave us alone to do as we please?” Those have their hearts fully set in them to do evil that bid these accountability monitors to get out of their way. Be quiet now before I have you killed! 2 Chron. 25:16.
  3.  The prophets were continually telling them of the Holy One of Israel, what an enemy he is to sin ad how severely he will judge sinners; and this they couldn’t listen to. Both the thing itself and the expression of it were too serious for them; and therefore, if the prophets will speak to them, they will determine that they will not call God the Holy One of Israel; for God’s holiness is that attribute which wicked people most of all dread.

Now what is the doom passed upon them for this?

Therefore, The Holy of Israel says this:
    “Because you scorn this Message,
Preferring to live by injustice
    and shape your lives on lies,
This perverse way of life
    will be like a towering, badly built wall
That slowly, slowly tilts and shifts,
    and then one day, without warning, collapses—
Smashed to bits like a piece of pottery,
    smashed beyond recognition or repair,
Useless, a pile of debris
    to be swept up and thrown in the trash.”

Observe,

  1. Who it is that gives judgment upon them? This is what the Holy One of Israel says. The prophet uses the very title they find so objectionable. Faithful ministers will not be driven from using such expressions as are needed to awaken sinners, though they be displeasing. We must tell men that God is the Holy One of Israel, and so they will find him, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.
  2.  What is the basis of the judgment? Because they despise this word—whether, in general, every word that the prophets said to them, or this word in particular, which declares God to be the Holy One of Israel: “they despise this, and will neither make it their fear, to respect it, nor make it their hope, to put any confidence in it; but, rather than they will submit to the Holy One of Israel, they will continue in oppression and perverseness, in the wealth they have collected and the interest they have made by fraud and violence, or in the sinful methods they have taken for their own security, in contradiction to God and his will. On these they depend, and therefore it is just that they should fall.”
  3.  What is the judgment is that is passed on them? “This sinfulness will be to you as a wall ready to fall. This confidence of yours will be like a house built upon the sand, which will fall in the storm and bury the builder in the ruins of it. Your contempt of that word of God which you might build upon will make every thing else you trust like a wall that bulges out, which, if any weight be laid upon it, comes down, nay, which often sinks with its own weight.”

The ruin they are bringing upon themselves is,

  1. Surprising: The breaking shall come suddenly, at an instant, when they do not expect it, which will make it the more frightful, and when they are not prepared or provided for it, which will make it the more fatal.
  2. Total and irreversible: “Your and all you hold dear shall be not only weak as the potter’s clay (Isa. 29:16), but broken to pieces as the potter’s vessel. He that has the rod of iron shall break it (Ps. 2:9) and he will not spare, will not have any regard to it, nor be in care to preserve or keep whole any part of it. But, when once it is broken so as to be unfit for use, let it be destroyed, let it be crushed, all to pieces, so that there may not remain one shred big enough to take up a little fire or water”—two things we have daily need of, and which poor people commonly get in a piece of a broken pitcher. They shall not only be as a leaning fence (Ps. 62:3), but as a broken mug or glass, which is good for nothing, nor can ever be made whole again.

December 16, 2016

Priests, Kings, & Prophets: How the Old Testament Points to Christmas

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bible-story-arc

by Clarke Dixon

From the series “The Christmas Story From Beginning to End,” we have thus far seen how Creation and The Fall both point to Christmas. After two weeks we are still no further than Genesis chapter 3! To speed things up let us consider the rest of the Old Testament. The presence of three different types of people within the Old Testament point to the advent of Jesus. These are priests, kings, and prophets.

Priests point to the coming of Jesus.

Though we sometimes hear of priests in Genesis, it is really in Exodus that we have the priesthood formally established along with instructions for the Tabernacle and ritual holiness. So what was the priesthood for? Hebrews 5:1 gives a useful summary:

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Hebrews 5:1

Because God is holy and people are not, the priests were to be the “go-betweens” between God and His people. Through sacrifices they would point to rescue from sin. However, there were two problems. First, the priests themselves were sinful. There were all kinds of ritual regulations to help the priests be holy people, set apart from the rest. However, no matter how holy they made themselves, they could always still relate more fully to sinful humanity than to holy God. The second problem was that they kept dying. In other words, the problem of sin kept persisting through every generation. Then Jesus is born:

and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21.

Jesus can truly deal with sin in a way that no priest ever could. He had the credentials including being sinless. This was in contrast to all priests, but especially the High Priest who would be involved in his execution. Jesus also offered the only sacrifice that could be truly effective. He offered himself.

For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. Hebrews 7:26-27

The priests of the Old Testament filled many important functions, but the greatest was to point to the coming into the world of a better High Priest. And an effective sacrifice for sin.

Kings point to the coming of Jesus.

God’s people did not always have a king. But they asked for one:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 1 Samuel 8:4-7

Up to this point, Israel had enjoyed something that no other nation could boast of; God was their king. However they wanted a king “like other nations.” This would be be like a teenager of a well-to-do family who, in wanting a flip phone like what their friends have, is willing to trade in their iPhone, MacBook Pro, Ferrari, parent’s home, and their parents to get one. It would be a ridiculous trade. God gives the go-ahead but with the warning that having a human king is not always going to be rosy. Though an imperfect man, David was a good king who was promised by God to have his descendants on the throne forever. As you look at the history of God’s people, you see that this does not go very well as so many of the kings, even when descended from David, were so incredibly awful. Perhaps the worst king of all was Herod, the king at the time of Jesus’ birth. He was ruthless and to make matters worse, was not even a legitimate king, not being a descendant of David.

You can imagine how Herod must have felt when the Magi came to him and asked  “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) This must have stung as Herod was not legitimately born king of the Jews, but was propped up as a puppet king by the Romans. He was furious and ordered that all the infants of Bethlehem be killed. A rotten king indeed. At Christmas, God in being incarnate is effectively saying “You asked for a king, but I love you to much to leave you at the mercy of ruthless kings. I am and will be your king, a merciful king, a good king.”

6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Jesus went on to be that good king, that good shepherd who, far from destroying lives like Herod, lays down his life for the sake of his sheep. The kings of Israel had a spotty history of sometimes being good and sometimes being downright atrocious. Whether good or bad, their very existence pointed to the coming into the world of a better king, the true King of kings and Lord of lords, God Himself.

Prophets point to the coming of Jesus.

You cannot read the story of Christmas in the Gospel of Matthew without noticing that Matthew really wants you to understand how Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus.

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Matthew 1:22)  . . . for so it has been written by the prophet (Matthew 2:4)  . . . Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah (Matthew 2:17) . . . so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled. (Matthew 2:23)

But does Matthew just want us to think of these specific prophecies being fulfilled at Christmas? No, he mentions these as a way of alerting us that something far greater is going on. The great hope that God would keep His covenant promises, that God would intervene, is at hand. This is not just the fulfillment of a few scattered prophecies, but rather the hope of the entire Old Testament. As the writer put it in “O Little Town of Bethlehem;” “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

In conclusion:

  • The presence of priests in the Old Testament points to the need for a rescue from sin. The advent of Jesus marks the coming of the great Rescuer. Are you being rescued? Do you know Jesus as Saviour?
  • The presence of kings in the history of God’s people points to the need for godly leadership. The advent of Jesus marks the coming of the most godly leader you can think of, God Himself! Are you following Him? Do you know Jesus as Lord?
  • The prophets of the Old Testament shine a spotlight on the future. The advent of Jesus marks the beginning of that future. Does your future shine brightly?

Get Clarke’s posts as they appear on his blog before they appear here. Follow @clarkedixon for updates

December 11, 2014

We Are That Voice

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Today’s devotional came recommended; it’s from the blog of a young writer, Aaron J. Smith, Cultural Savage. To read this at source, click the title below, and then take a few minutes to look around his blog. You might even know someone you want to recommend it to.

The Voice In The Wild

There is always a voice.

There is always something shouting in the wilderness, protesting the status quo. There is always a voice declaring the coming kingdom of God, challenging the powers and principalities of this world, and speaking welcome to all that will come. There is always a voice that lives in the margins, away from the centers of power and prestige, among the oppressed, the down trodden, the broken. There is always a voice announcing that Jesus is on his way here.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
`Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:1-8

John was the voice of his time, calling people to make way for Jesus, to embrace him when he showed up, to not hinder his arrival. John was that voice in the wilderness, speaking before the footsteps of Jesus. John was that voice calling people away from sin, self-justification, religious oppression, classism, racism, sexism, calling people away from their small hearts into the big love of the righteous God.

John was the voice before Christ’s first coming. Where is the voice before the Second Advent?

Where is the voice now calling us out of moralistic darkness into the light of a Spirit led life? Where is the voice now crying out against injustice? Where is the voice shouting for equality of all people? Where is the voice now speaking against religious self-justification? Where is the voice now, in this day, among this people?

It should be the church.

It isn’t the church.

We have grown mute, silent in our waiting for the second coming. We have become silent because we have become blind. We don’t see that we now sit at the table with the empires of the world, eating and drinking while others starve and wither away. We don’t see that we are the ones self-justifying our inaction while protesters cry for justice. We don’t see that we have lost our prophetic voice, and instead speak of false peace.

We have lost our voice in the wild.

We have left the wild and settled into the lap of empires and powers of this world.

We have become that which obstructs the coming of our Lord.

Instead of making straight the paths of the Lord, we have become the gate keepers and toll booths along the highway of the king. Instead of calling all to come, repent, and be baptized we sit in judgment on the marginalized and oppressed, speaking out about how they should change and behave. Instead of speaking life death spews forth in our silence.

We have lost our voice.

But is the voice in the wild silent?

No! May it never be.

The voice still resounds for those with ears to hear. The voice still cries out for justice for the blood spilled in the streets. The voice still calls out to God to come and set all things right. It is the voice of the oppressed, the voice of the poor, the trodden down masses, the marginalized. It is the voice of the new civil rights movements. It is the voice shattering the stigma of mental illness. It is the voice of justice judging the wealthy who do nothing to ease the burdens of the poor.

The voice now speaks out, but it is no longer the voice of the church.

Oh that it would be again though. If the church could give up its luxury and corrupt power plays, if the church could get out of bed with politics and corporations, if the church would repent of its racism, sexism, classism, if the church would work towards reconciliation, justice, and peace, if the church would return to the wild, we could again hear the call of God.

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”

See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Isaiah 40:1-11

May 25, 2014

Communication Cutoff Ends; Transmission Restored

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…Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.   I Samuel 3:1b NLT

…And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.  I Samuel 3:1b KJV

It was like the cable carrying messages from God had been cut. The wires had been severed. The obvious question we want to ask is, Why were visions infrequent and messages rare? Perhaps it was necessary to set the stage for the calling of Samuel in this same chapter.

Matthew Henry writes:

The word of the Lord was precious in those days. Now and then a man of God was employed as a messenger upon an extraordinary occasion (as 1 Sam. 2:27), but there were no settled prophets, to whom the people might have recourse for counsel, nor from whom they might expect the discoveries of the divine will. And the rarity of prophecy made it the more precious in the account of all those that knew how to put a right value upon it. It was precious, for what there was (it seems) was private: There was no open vision, that is, there were none that were publicly known to have visions. Perhaps the impiety and impurity that prevailed in the tabernacle, and no doubt corrupted the whole nation, had provoked God, as a token of his displeasure, to withdraw the Spirit of prophecy, till the decree had gone forth for the raising up of a more faithful priest, and then, as an earnest of that, this faithful prophet was raised up.

A few verses later (7) more of this background comes clear:

Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before. NLT

Well of course that was true, the text says that really nobody was having messages from the Lord.

Rick Morley writes:

What I find so very interesting here though is that God was calling upon Samuel before Samuel was a man of faith.

It is, of course, why Samuel didn’t know what was going on when God was calling to him in the night. But, isn’t it strange that God was calling upon him before Samuel knew God?

Isn’t it strange when there was in fact a faithful priest, and follower of God, right there?

I’ve marveled for quite sometime now that God calls the strangest people to do His work, and to spread His Word. He’ll call an old man like Abraham, and a young girl like Mary. He’ll call a man who killed a guy like Moses, or a someone who was complicit in the death of a Christian like Paul. He’ll call someone who is so morally compromised like David, and God will even call pagan-Zoroastrian-astrologers from the east by sending them a star.

And here, in First Samuel, God calls someone who is not yet a person of faith.

So often in the  modern church we can get preoccupied with qualifications, status, education, and rank. We’ll want to see a resume and a few letters after someone’s name before we issue a call—or we’ll deny someone a position because they aren’t technically “a member” or been through confirmation yet.

But, if the call of Samuel says anything—amidst all the calls of the Scriptures—it’s that God calls whomever God decides to call, and oftentimes God calls the most unlikely of people.

In fact that’s not even the exception to the rule, it seems to be the rule.

And, the gem that’s buried in this text is that Eli knows this. Eli could have sent the boy off to bed, chiding him for his lack of faith, or his immaturity.

I mean really, what kind of God would call someone like Samuel?

…Or David, or Moses, or Mary, or Paul, or Peter…

…or me?

May we, the People of God, be granted the wisdom of Eli, AND the willingness of Samuel, when we draw the “least-likely-candidate” straw.

And God comes calling in the night.

 

 

 

 

October 3, 2013

God Lets Us In On His Plans and Purposes

Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. Amos 3:7 (NIV)

The Reformation Study Bible says that God acts, God reveals himself and God interprets his actions through the prophets. In the first such instance,

God revealed His plans for Sodom and Gomorrah to Abraham, the first “prophet” so designated in Scripture (Gen 18:17, 20:7) Moses, the supreme Old Testament prophet, was called “the servant of the Lord” (Deut. 34:5). Subsequent prophets were characterized by the similar phrase, “my servants the prophets”

On this passage, Matthew Henry writes:

The secret of God is with them [the prophets]; it is in some sense with all the righteous (Prov. 3:32), with all that fear God (Ps. 25:14), but in a peculiar manner with the prophets, to whom the Spirit of prophecy is a Spirit of revelation. It would have put honour enough upon prophets if it had been only said that sometimes God is pleased to reveal to his prophets what he designs to do, but it speaks something very great to say that he does nothing but what he reveals to them, as if they were the men of his counsel. Shall I hide from Abraham, who is a prophet, the thing which I do? Gen. 18:17. God will therefore be sure to reckon with those that put contempt on the prophets, whom he puts this honour upon.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  John 15:15 (NIV)

There is a connection between this New Covenant verse and the Old Covenant verse quoted from Amos. Although we refer to Jesus’ closest followers as “The Twelve,” “disciples,” or even “apostles,” there is a real sense in which we could describe them as “prophets,” since they received considerable revelation of God Himself, even if we don’t speak of ‘the prophet Matthew,’ or ‘the prophet Nathaniel.’

However, at the same time, this verse breaks the connection between “prophets” and “servants,” because in this New Covenant, the relationship between God the Son and The Twelve is going to be more relational, hence “friends.” Again, the Reformation Study Bible states,

No longer do I call you servants There is no previous record of Jesus Christ calling the disciples “servants,” except possibly 12:26; yet Jesus had a right to do this, as He had the right to be called “Lord” (13:13). “Friend” suggests a close relation, and the language of brotherhood is closer still (Heb. 2:10, 11).

all . . . I have made known Christ did not have a higher revelation reserved for an inner group; He revealed Himself to the disciples unstintingly.

If the U.S. President wants to let people know about some plan or scheme or program the government is initiating, he can choose to make it known through his Press Secretary. We often see this man standing in the Press Briefing Room, and clearly he is speaking for the President. However, he is doing this as a servant.

But imagine if you knew the President as a friend. He might let you in on the same information, but he would be confiding in you as a friend. Then, when the information can be released, you would share it with your friends as you heard it, not under orders, or under a requirement to do so, but out of the overflow of your heart from what the head of state shared with you.

From the first days of creation, God asked Adam to name the animals, making him a partner in creation. In the New Testament we are called friends of God.

Click the link to read a previous post here containing the video for the song Friend of God.