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Our God is Near

Sunday, May 27, 2018

We give thanks, for your name is near.

We recount your wonderous deeds.”

(Psalm 75:1)

 

Psalm 75 is a prayer of the magnificent joy found in recounting God’s great reversals, in God “putting down one and lifting up another” (Psa. 75:7). Our God is one who turns the tables (Lk. 16:19-31). He has made a pattern of exalting the humble and humbling the proud (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5; cf. Obad. 1:3-4). God’s wondrous works of reversal are famously echoed in the songs of Hannah (1 Sam. 2) and Mary (Lk. 1:46-55).

 

Our “thanks” are prompted by remembering and then recounting the great works of God. We are to re-tell the story of His “wonderous deeds”:

 

We will not hide them from their children,

    but tell to the coming generation

the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,

    and the wonders that he has done.” (Psa. 78:4; cf. Deut. 31:10-13)

 

 

In fact, Israel was to re-tell the story of God’s deliverance publicly every seven years (Deut. 31:10-13) on top of their daily routine (Deut. 6:4-9). This recounting of God’s wonderous deeds still remains an integral part of our worship today. Christians today re-tell the story of God’s deliverance over the Lord’s Supper every seven days (1 Cor. 11:23-26).

 

It is when we recount God’s story of redemption that God’s “name is near” (Psa. 75:1). The literal rendering of Psalm 75:1b is, “your name is near, your wonderous deeds declare (it).” It is through these mighty deeds that God declares His name (cf. Ex. 9:16). But what is meant by God’s “name” and in when is His name “near”?

 

God’s “name” stands for all He is. When God revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai He said of Himself, “Yahweh (The LORD) passed before him and proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahewh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.”” (Ex. 34:6-7, cf. v.14)

 

God’s “name” is an invitation to all who call upon Him. Peter preached from the prophet Joel, saying, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21)

 

God’s name is brought “near” in all His acts. Whenever God acted to turn the tables, His name was being brought near to His people. But amazingly, His name was brought right down among us in Christ! Jesus prayed to the Father, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” (Jn. 17:6) “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (Jn. 17:26)

 

The most “wondrous deed” God showed us was the sacrifice of His Son on the cross for all of humanity, therefore Christ’s coming was the clearest manifestation of God’s name and never has His name come nearer to us!

 

When we read of Jesus leaving heaven to dwell among us (Jn. 1:14), the unseen Father was finally “made known” to us (Jn. 1:18; cf. Heb. 1:3). Nowhere is God’s “name” (His power, character, grace, deliverance, etc.) nearer to us than in Christ the Son.

 

He is near to all who call on Him in truth.

 

The LORD is near to all who call on him,

    to all who call on him in truth.” (Psa. 145:18)

 

He is near to the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit.

 

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted

    and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psa. 34:18)

 

He is near to all those who fear Him

 

  “Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,

      that glory may dwell in our land.” (Psa. 85:9)

 

When something is “near,” it is close in distance, not far away. To be “near,” is to be close in relation, available. When someone is “near,” they are close in involvement, not idle. God’s nearness, in all its aspects, is found in Christ the Lord.

 

When you are hurting, discouraged and weak you may feel like God is distant, aloof and idle. But God sent His Son to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with you so that He could know your suffering, partake in it and personalize it (1 Pet. 2:21; Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16). Jesus is the Father’s final revelation to us that His name is near.

 

Perhaps you need to pray today, “Nearer my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.” After all, wasn’t it He who promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5) and “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you?” (Jas. 4:8) Thank God for His nearness!

A Tale of Two Cities

Sunday, May 20, 2018

It was the best of times,

it was the worst of times,

it was the age of wisdom,

it was the age of foolishness,

it was the epoch of belief,

it was the epoch of incredulity,

it was the season of Light,

it was the season of Darkness,

it was the spring of hope,

it was the winter of despair,

 

we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

 

A Tale of Two Cities, (1859)

Charles Dickens

 

Charles Dickens penned those words in 1859 about London and France before the bloody French Revolution began in 1789. Despite being separated from those “times” by 70 years, Dickens saw how closely his present resembled the past. Even today, after more than a century after Dickens, those “times” could accurately describe our “times.

 

In fact, this tale of two cities is something of a theme in the Bible. Isaiah prophesied universal judgment and salvation by telling a tale of two cities which represent all of humanity. “The lofty city” (Isa. 26:5; 24:4), the symbol of rebellious humanity and all those who trust in and exalt themselves above God, is destined for ruin (Isa. 24:6, 10, 12; 25:2, 5). But this proud city will be replaced by a righteous city in which the Lord reigns (Isa. 24:23; 26:1-2). Isaiah’s message was one of God overthrowing the present world order enslaved to sin to establish His eternal kingdom of righteousness. Jesus was the one who established that kingdom!

 

Fast-forward to the book of Revelation and John picks up the metaphoric language of the two cities: Babylon the Great (Rev. 17) and the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21-22). Our debates over whether Babylon represents Jerusalem or Rome in the book of Revelation may cause us to miss the point of the book. Like Dickens said, the period described in Revelation of these two cities is “so far like the present period.”

 

This is not to discount Revelation’s historical context. The original audience of John’s vision endured intense persecution because of their faith. They needed to know that the Lord was aware of their struggles and would act very soon to vindicate them. John was writing about “things that must soon take place” (Rev. 1:1) not events in the distant future. That being said, our time is looking more and more like the 1st century. We would do well to heed Revelation’s hopeful message today.

 

The New Jerusalem still stands, unshaken and strong as ever and we are citizens of that great city (Heb. 11:10; 12:18-29). We have our own modern Babylon, though she has yet to start drinking the blood of the saints. Satan is still active in the affairs of men (Eph. 2:1). Though his strength wanes and Jesus has all authority (Mt. 28:18-20) a desperate and hungry lion may fight more fiercely (1 Pet. 5:8).

 

The harlot holds power today just as she did in the 1st century. She has the loyalty of the kingdoms of men because they grow fat and wealthy because of her. Our “Christian nation” is becoming increasingly anti-Christian. Sometimes noticing the harlot’s impact in our society may cause those loyal to the Lamb to despair. But therein lies the ever relevant power of John’s message.

 

But why should we fear? What reason have we to despair when God has conquered every enemy that ever attempted to stand against Him, even death itself!? Who is Babylon? Babylon, which seemed so great in Nebuchadnezzar’s day, fell at the hands “the Most High” who “rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Dan. 4:25).

 

What of Assyria? Though powerful in her day, that proud nation was devoured by fire after she served her divine purpose (Isa. 10:5, 12-19). Egypt stood up to the Lord and enslaved His people for 400 years and was drowned in water for it (Ex. 14). Even Jerusalem, after her spiritual corruption, was destroyed a number of times until being finally dealt with in AD 70. And Rome, the tool used to destroy Jerusalem, also fell. Why should any modern Babylon be any different?

 

Though the evil of the world appears to prevail, be certain that in the Lord’s time we will hear, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” Every kingdom that can be shaken will be shaken. And like a beautiful bride coming down from heaven, the New Jerusalem will forever stand, tall and proud in all her glory with Christ in her midst shining bright as the sun.

 

In many ways Dickens had it right. The present will always be a tale of two cities; one opposing the purposes of God under the control of Satan and the other, that heavenly city not made with hands, comprised of faithful followers of the Lord, is destined for glory. Babylons come and go but the New Jerusalem will stand eternal. The question is, which city will you be living in when that voice like many waters shouts and shakes not only the earth but also the heavens? God gives us that choice.

Pleasant Words

Sunday, May 13, 2018

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

(Proverbs 16:24)

 

Gracious speech is both palatable and pragmatic, easy to swallow and good to follow. Because of the source of our speech (Mt. 15:18), our choice of words have an eternal impact on our soul’s destiny as Jesus and others have made abundantly clear (Mt. 12:33-37; Jas. 3:1-12). The tone and tact of our speech is just as important as the words themselves (Col. 4:6). Timing could make all the difference. After all, the only difference between a fresh salad and a pile of slimy garbage is time. But “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Prov. 25:11). So let us choose to speak pleasant words, easy to swallow and good to follow.

The "Perfect" Local Church

Sunday, May 06, 2018

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

(Ephesians 4:1-3)

 

Imagine you’re new to the area and looking for a local congregation to work and worship with. You might be looking for that “perfect” church.

 

You know the one. The church with lots of young families and children running around. The church with lots of veteran Christians who are eager to share their wisdom. The church with a solid eldership that is approachable and leads by example. The church where each member is evangelistically minded and studies together every week. The church with teaching of the highest caliber, where the preacher never has an off day, not to mention his flawless understanding of Scripture. His sermons are always relevant, touching, personable, applicable, etc. It’s just swell! It’s the perfect church!

If you ever find that “perfect” church (or at least your version of it), could I offer you some loving advice? DON’T JOIN THAT CHURCH! Really, don’t. Because you will undoubtedly ruin it! Don’t be offended, it’s not just you. If I joined the “perfect” church I would ruin it too!

You see, the “perfect” church doesn’t exist on earth. Every local church is made up of people: people with a unique past, with personal problems, character deficiencies, imperfect marriages, imperfect parental strategies, varying levels of faith, understanding and maturity, etc. Then consider the fact that each congregation is made up of many members creating a web of complexity. A local church is never "perfect." However, the Lord's universal church will be perfected only when Jesus returns (1 Cor. 15:24, 50ff; Eph. 5:27; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1ff). Consider these three fundamental things about the local church:

 

Forgiveness

Our entrance and continued existence as part of God’s family is not based on our perfection but upon God’s gracious forgiveness (Eph. 2:4-9; Col. 2:13). For the local congregation to function in the way God intends we must forgive each other as God in Christ forgave us (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). Forgiveness is the bedrock our relationship with God and each other.

 

Tolerance

Just because God has forgiven us doesn’t mean we all suddenly behave exactly like Jesus after our baptism. Faith is organic, it grows over time (Mt. 17:20). At any given time in any given local congregation there are members at different stages in their lives (1 Jn. 2:12-14) with differing degrees of faith (Rom. 14:1ff). We are not to tolerate sinful behavior but to walk worthy of our calling we must tolerate our differences and be patient with one another as we grow into maturity together (Eph. 4:1-3, 13-16).

 

Diversity

Even though we are all sons of God and one in Christ (Gal. 3:25-29), our equal standing with God is not sameness. Our diverse talents, abilities and experiences all serve to help a local church grow (1 Cor. 12:4ff; Rom. 12:3-8). In one way, our diversity brings unique challenges and problems but in another way, our diversity also brings unique strengths and abilities.

 

So don’t go looking for the non-existent “perfect” local church. Instead, let’s work in faith to maturity now and let the Lord perfect us in His time.

How To Answer A Fool

Sunday, April 29, 2018

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.

Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”

(Proverbs 26:4-5)

 

How and when should a person answer foolish arguments? These two statements, which at first glance appear contradictory, give a balanced approach for dealing with foolishness in a godly way.

 

Who is the “Fool”?

 

The “fool” in Hebrew poetry and wisdom literature has less to do with a person’s mental faculty and more to do with his unwillingness to hear the voice of divine wisdom (Prov. 1:20-33). The road to knowledge, wisdom and living well in general begins with “the fear of the LORD” (Prov. 1:7; 9:10; Psa. 111:10). A person may have a very high IQ and still have a foolish attitude and outlook on life (Psa. 14:1). So, foolishness is not a result of a lack of education, intellectual training or natural mental acuity. Rather, one becomes a fool and remains a fool by choice.

 

The Apparent Contradiction

 

The above two proverbs say, “Answer not a fool according to his folly…” and, “Answer a fool according to his folly…” What is going on here?

 

The Rabbis solved the issue by saying that v.4 referred to secular things while v.5 referred to sacred or religious controversies. While this does not resolve the issue, it does give a sound application for the two verses together – in negligible issues one should just ignore the stupid person, but in issues that matter the fool must be dealt with, lest credence be given to what he says (W. G. Plaut, Proverbs, 266).

 

I believe each verse gives separate instructions. Taken together, they give us a balanced, more comprehensive approach to dealing with stupidity. Verse 4 gives us the rule while verse 5 gives us the exception. So each verse has a different purpose depending on the situation.

 

Most of the time, to answer “a fool according to his folly,” or by his own mode of reasoning, will only perpetuate folly. The interchange will never end and you end up looking like a fool in the process. But to answer him not at all may create a new problem. If a foolish remark is never answered others may think the fool is actually wise and cannot be answered. “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Prov. 26:12) So when do I know when to keep my mouth shut and when to speak up?

 

When Not to Answer the Fool (v.4)

 

The general rule is to remain silent. Arguing with a fool hardly ever gets anywhere. Most foolish statements are too ridiculous to dignify with a response. “Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool.” (26:1) “Fine speech is not becoming to a fool…” (17:7a) Besides, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (18:2)

 

To answer a fool according to his own reasoning is to allow one fool to make another. Foolishness is contagious. So silence is usually the most effective reply to foolishness. “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (17:28) Therefore, before jumping into an argument make sure you won’t be lowering yourself into the fool’s arena only to become one yourself!

 

When to Answer the Fool (v.5)

 

There are times, however, when suffering a fool to speak is too great an evil. If a fool is never answered he may gain confidence and be considered wise by others. Others may be duped into believing the fool’s arguments and positions are unassailable. To meet the fool on his own ground may puncture his inflated ego and stop his stupidity from spreading to others.

 

In one assembly with a question-answer format, a preacher unfolded a paper containing a submitted question and read the it aloud: “When did Job’s turkey die?” The audience laughed. The preacher then replied, “From the looks of the scratching on this paper, he hasn’t died yet.” Even more laughter. The fool was answered according to his folly.

 

The apostle Paul answered the foolishness of the false teachers who questioned his legitimacy as an apostle with a little foolishness himself. And boy did he beat them at their own game! “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!” (2 Cor. 11:1)

 

He wrote about things in which a fool would boast of. “I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves!” (2 Cor. 11:16-19, 20ff)

 

Paul hated to be lowered to this kind of reasoning (2 Cor. 12:11) but circumstances called for these fools to be answered according to their own folly. Brethren, we need wisdom to know how to answer stupidity. Some cases call for silence while others demand a bold answer. With that being said, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col. 4:6)

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