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Consecrating Our Children

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Train up a child in the way he should go;

even when he is old he will not depart from it.

(Proverbs 22:6)

 

This is a great text for instruction on the issue of parenting. The way I have heard this text presented (and have presented it this way myself) is that, generally – this being a proverb – if you train your children to love and obey God when they are young they will love and obey God as adults. Presented this way from the pulpit the pain on parents’ faces whose children have grown up only to leave the faith is evident. They blame themselves for not training their children right or, worse, they blame God for not keeping His promise. Is this fair?

 

What is a “proverb”?

 

It is important to remember what a “proverb” is. The word comes from a root which means “likeness.” The related verb means “to be like, be comparable with.” For example, “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish” (Psa. 49:12). A proverb is an object lesson based on a comparison or an analogy (Psa. 78:2-6), a short, pithy statement (Ezek. 16:44) or a general saying (Deut. 28:37). Proverbs are memorable sayings that, if heeded, generally turn out true in life.

So let’s revisit Proverbs 22:6. God is not making a hard-and-fast promise, “If you do A, God will always do B as a result.” Proverbs is not computer code for life. God’s wisdom in the book of Proverbs is given in short statements that capture a general truth about wise and godly living in poetic form. It is beyond the scope of any one proverb to exhaust the subject it addresses. You might say a proverb is the rule and not the exception (for the exceptions, see Ecclesiastes). So as a rule, if parents follow the wisdom of Proverbs 22:6a, verse 6b will probably result.

 

What does it mean to “train up” a child?

 

Wisdom teaches us to “train up” our children. This conjures images, at least in my mind, of training an animal like a dog or a horse to do tricks. This gives the impression that parenting isn’t too far different than potty training a beagle. This (mis)conception is furthered by newlyweds thinking that getting a dog somehow prepares them for parenthood. Believe, me, IT DOES NOT! Your dog is nothing like your child and to compare the two is equally humorous and dehumanizing.

 

Here’s what I mean. The verb translated “train up” can also mean “to dedicate” or “to consecrate.” The same word used in reference to children in Proverbs 22:6 is used to refer to dedicating a house (Deut. 20:5), the temple (1 Kgs. 8:63; Psa. 30:1), altars (Num. 7:10; 2 Chron. 7:9) and the town walls (Neh. 12:27). A related adjective describes men who have been trained, tried and experienced (Gen. 14:14).

So how does this all fit in with parenting our children? The proverb pictures a child who is dedicated to the Lord. This certainly involves morally training him but that training and guidance is motivated by a deeper desire to consecrate this precious gift of human life to the Creator’s service. This reminds me of Hannah’s attitude in 1 Sam. 1:11, “And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

Hannah had the right mental picture of parenthood. Her inability to bear children like other women left her in humility and disgrace in the community but it also gave her a deeper appreciation for children and a higher perspective on parenting. To Hannah, the life of a child was a gift from God meant to be given back to Him in faithful service.

 

In what “way” are children trained?

 

The “way” talked about in the proverb is a path, a road, a metaphor for the journey of life. We dedicate our children to the Lord by starting our children on a path headed in a certain direction at a young age.

 

The writer isn’t necessarily saying we should set our child on a path toward God like Hannah (which we obviously should!). The proverb remains true no matter how you train your child. It means that when we are set on a path as a child, whether that pathway is righteous (Prov. 13:6) or wicked (Prov. 12:26), we will seldom deviate from that path later in life.

 

This proverb is a warning about the character forming habits we instill in our children at an early age. They are “soaking up” how to live life based on what they see in mom and dad. Our children are being set on a trajectory, a heading, whether they or their parents know it or not. As the Lord says through Ezekiel, “like mother, like daughter” (Ezek. 16:44).

 

Now, the “way he should go” is stated elsewhere in the book. There is a “way that seems right” to a person (Prov. 14:12) which, to the child, is often the way of “foolishness” (Prov. 22:15). It is the godly parent’s duty to dedicate their children to the Lord at the earliest moments of parenthood. Continuing that act of consecration requires parental “discipline” (Prov. 22:15) along the “way.” The NEB translates Proverbs 22:6a as, “Start a boy on the right road.” Sound wisdom and a dire warning. A true proverb!

 

-Jerome

Psalm 11 - Panic & Peace

Sunday, March 04, 2018

David wrote Psalm 11 in the middle of a crisis. The nature of the crisis is not stated so the general wording of the Psalm gives it a broad application to any who might find themselves in distress. It opens with David giving a spirited answer to some demoralizing advice.

 

Voices of Despair (vv.1-3)

1 In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
    “Flee like a bird to your mountain,

2 for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
    they have fitted their arrow to the string
    to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
if the foundations are destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?”

 

David’s advisers (whether the quotes are David’s own voice of doubt or the voice of someone else is not clear) had counseled him to find “refuge” from his crisis by fleeing to the “mountain.” There, they believed, the king could hide from his enemies. Their advice could be well intentioned, like Peter’s to the Lord, when he rebuked Jesus for suggesting He would “suffer many things” at the hands of evil men and eventually be “killed” (Mt. 16:21-22). They could just as well have been insincere like the Pharisees’ words of warning to Jesus not to proceed to Jerusalem because of Herod’s violent designs (Lk. 13:31-32).

Either way, the voice is persuasive. There would be little defense against an enemy whose bow was bent to “shoot at the upright in heart” in the open wilderness (v.2). A “mountain” would at least provide some cover.

 

Their argument in verse 3 is to suggest a situation beyond all hope. To David’s advisers the “foundations” of the kingdom of Israel had been “destroyed.” Against the prevailing anarchy in the kingdom what could one “righteous” man like David do? But David knew, despite the voices of fear and hopelessness, that his true refuge would not be found in a physical mountain but only “in the LORD.”

 

The Lord’s Vantage Point (vv.4-7)

4 The Lord is in his holy temple;
    the 
Lord's throne is in heaven;
    his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.

The Lord tests the righteous,
    but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.

Let him rain coals on the wicked;
    fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.

For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
    the upright shall behold his face.

 

As impossible as David’s situation seems in v.2, his problems are dwarfed by the LORD, whose name David repeats emphatically in this section. The true King hasn’t fled for He still reigns from His eternal heavenly “throne.” Israel’s “foundations” had not been “destroyed” for the LORD’s city has divinely constructed and immovable foundations (Heb. 11:10).

God’s “temple” is not an earthly palace to be invaded. God’s “throne” is not an earthly seat whose occupant can be unseated. Later, in the midst of his own crisis, the prophet Habakkuk would quote v.4 adding to it, “let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Heb. 2:19).

In times of trouble we must remember God’s position has not and will not change. He is seated in a high position with a heavenly vantage point where He is aware of the plight of the “righteous.” The moments of trial are the LORD’s “tests” for “the righteous.” He is still and watchful in those moments. But His stillness is not inertia. The LORD is concentrating; “His eyes” are gazing intently (“see”) as “His eyelids” examine (“test”) both the “righteous” and the “wicked” to see what they are made of. The faithful should view times of crisis as opportunities to prove the genuineness of their faith (Jas. 1:2-3; 1 Pet. 1:6-7) knowing God is watching.

 

Then, in His time, the LORD will act decisively and righteously (v.6). Burning hot “coals” will “rain” down on the “wicked” for their injustice. The “fire and sulfur” that were God’s means to overthrow Sodom “shall be” the “portion” of the wicked. Though the timing of judgment is uncertain, the event of judgment is certain, sudden and final.

 

David’s psalm ends as it began (v.7), with “the LORD,” whose “righteous” character answers the distress and frustration of verses 2-3. The “foundations” of “righteousness” (v.3) were never destroyed for they are the very character and will of God; what He is and what He “loves.

 

David’s safety was well placed in the LORD (v.1). But David was not only seeking the preservation of his own life. His ultimate goal was to “behold” his LORD’s “face.” He loved the LORD. David had beheld the LORD with eyes of faith in worship (27:4; 63:2) but he was looking forward to the time when he could look upon God’s “face” with unmediated vision in the day when God would finally awaken His children from death to behold His true face in righteousness (16:8-11; 17:15; 23:6; 49:15; 73:23ff; 139:18).

 

Store up David’s resolved struggle in your heart for a time of future crisis.

 

-Jerome (adapted from Kidner Classic Commentaries: Psalms 1-72)

The Collection for "The Saints"

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Recently, we have been exploring the church that Jesus built and its mission. We’ve noted that when the Biblical authors use the word “church” they refer to a special group of people. In the New Testament, “church” (ekklesia) describes the body of people that have responded in faith to the gospel message. That body of people, both universally, locally in groups called “churches” and individually, is busy continuing God’s work. So God’s church is both the product of His work and the vehicle through which He continues to complete His work.

 

This morning’s lesson is focused on the word “fellowship” (Acts 2:42) which, as will be discussed, has to do with sharing. Christian communities in the first century were busy sharing their lives, their energy, resources and stuff with each other (Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-35). When a great need arose as a result of a famine in Jerusalem (Acts 11:28), many local churches banded together in a relief effort to collect money.

Christians were exercising benevolence for one another by sending their monetary support by the hand of Paul and others to Jerusalem. The word benevolence” is translated from the Greek compound word “eunoia” which means “good will” (eu – well/good, nous – the mind/will). This word is used literally in Eph. 6:7, “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” The local churches were willing good toward their poor brethren in Jerusalem in the form of material support.

 

This effort was something to be done collectively, that is, as a church. But for a collective effort to materialize, each individual must do his part (1 Cor. 16:1-2).

 

Individual Christians are instructed to be the most benevolent people (Jas. 1:27) rendering good will to all men, especially to Christians (Gal. 6:10). Part of a faithful response to the gospel is sharing what you have with your neighbor in need (Lk. 10:27-37).

 

But there is a difference between the proper use of the individual Christian’s money (which may be freely given to any in need, Lk. 10:37, Gal. 6:10; Jas. 1:27) and the money gathered by a collective church (which Paul regulates in 1 Cor. 16:1-3).

 

So, when it comes to this action of spreading good will to people, the question is not, “Do individual Christians have a responsibility to the poor?” They most certainly do. Or, “Who among the poor is the individual Christian to assist?” He must be a good neighbor to all (Lk. 10:37; Gal. 6:10). The question is, “Who among the poor is the church (collectively) to assist?” This is a slightly different question. Note the following passages concerning various collections that local churches were taking part in:

  • (Acts 2:44-46)— “all who had believed
  • (Acts 4:32-35)— “those who believed
  • (Acts 11:27-30)— “send a contribution for the relief of the brethren
  • (Rom. 15:25)— “serving the saints
  • (Rom. 15:26)— “contribution for the poor among the saints
  • (1 Cor. 16:1)— “concerning the collection for the saints
  • (2 Cor. 8:4)— “support of the saints
  • (2 Cor. 9:1)— “ministry to the saints

Clearly, the pattern set by the example of the early church was for individuals to do good to everyone with a premium on their spiritual brethren (Gal. 6:10) but for local churches to take up collections for a more specific use. These collected funds were always used to benefit poor Christians, as evidenced in the words “saints,” “believers” and “brethren.”

 

Christians are instructed to give a freewill offering motivated by the grace of God on behalf of their brethren in need (1 Cor. 16:1ff; 2 Cor. 8:1ff). When a believer contributes to this work of grace, that money is set aside for the needs of the church to be spent in ways God has authorized.

 

On one occasion, Christians were extending this grace to their less fortunate brothers and sisters by selling off their property and possessions and bringing the proceeds to the apostles to be distributed (Acts 4:32-37). While the property, and by extension, the monetary value of the property, remained unsold, it still belonged to the individual to be used as he saw fit. But once it was sold with the intention of giving it to the church, it no longer belonged to that individual (see Ananias & Sapphira, Acts 5:1-4). 

 

Why is it important to make a distinction between what an individual Christian can do with his money and what a church can do with its money? Misunderstanding this principle has led many churches to use their funds to subsidize, not individual needy saints or needy local churches as we see in Scripture, but other man-made institutions.

 

A case may be made that financially supporting good institutions like colleges, orphan’s homes or missionary societies from the treasury of a local church effectively outsources the work churches are responsible for. Attaining knowledge, caring for the poor and sharing the gospel are all emphasized in Scripture. But at its core, we have no example of church funds being used this way in the Bible. Institutions that function to serve these purposes can be good and there are avenues by which we can support these efforts individually and still remain under God’s authority. But local churches must be careful to use their collected funds in ways that align with the pattern we find in the New Testament.

-Jerome

Psalm 15 - Living With God

Sunday, February 18, 2018

If God lived in a house, who would be allowed inside? This is the question posed at the beginning of Psalm 15. One might expect the answer to be a list of ritual requirements like washing one’s garments (Ex. 19:10-15). Surprisingly, the LORD’s reply searches the conscience. There are certain inner qualities that one must possess to access the divine presence. The psalmist’s words are not far off from Jesus’: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8). Let’s take a look at Psalm 15.

 

GOD AS MAN’S HOST (v.1)

O LORD, who may abide in Your tent?

Who may dwell on Your holy hill?

 

The word “tent” may conjure up two pictures in your mind. You may recall the tent of meeting where God was formally worshiped by Israel with sacrifices offered by priests. This was the very place where God met His people, the nexus between heaven and earth (Ex. 29:42). Later, a temple was constructed by Solomon on the “holy hill” of Zion (1 Kgs. 8:1ff).

 

The other image you may picture is one of simple hospitality expressed in the words “abide” and “dwell.” Combining these two ideas, this “tent” is a meeting place where God and His people can live together. The worshiper is God’s eager guest, his sojourning (same word as “abide” v.1) to God’s house, a homecoming of sorts (23:6; 27:4-5). But the question remains, “who” is allowed this great privilege of meeting with God in His home?

 

MAN AS GOD’S GUEST (vv.2-5)

His Character: True (v.2)

He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness,

And speaks truth in his heart.

 

The man whose life is characterized by “integrity,” meaning wholeness or completeness, is welcomed into God’s house. His outward behavior and profession is consistent with his inner comportment. He is true, that is, he is not a phony. He loves what is right and does what is right consistently. He speaks from his heart and is what he says, because he knows “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Mt. 12:34).

 

His Speech: Restrained (v.3)

He does not slander with his tongue,

Nor does evil to his neighbor,

Nor takes up a reproach against his friend;

 

The man who values his “neighbor” enough to do him no harm is welcomed into God’s house. His speech is not slanderous (Lev. 19:16), that is, he refuses to spy things out and spread things around. He doesn’t pick up a “reproach” against his neighbor only to drag him through the mud. The Psalmist’s words are a commentary on the proverb, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.” (Prov. 10:12)

 

His Allegiance: Total (v.4ab)

In whose eyes a reprobate is despised,

But who honors those who fear the Lord;

 

Verse 4a looks at first like a Pharisaic attitude of self-righteousness but by v.4b is seen in truth to be loyalty. The idea isn’t that he measures himself by others to find his justification (2 Cor. 10:12) but rather that he casts his vote for God and those who “fear” Him. He reveres the LORD and admires those who do the same. Abraham’s treatment of the king of Salem compared to the king of Sodom reflects this (Gen. 14:17-24).

 

His Dealings: Honorable (vv.4c-5ab)

He swears to his own hurt and does not change;

He does not put out his money at interest,

Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

 

This man makes a vow and, even though keeping it may result in “his own hurt,” he “does not change” his mind. The oath made here is not to someone else’s hurt (see Jephthah [Jdg. 11:35] or Herod [Mk. 6:26]) but to “his own.” If he makes a promise to his neighbor but later realizes his error, he could beg for release (Prov. 6:1-5). Instead, because he is a man of his word, he keeps his vow so no one else has to pay the cost.

 

An Israelite was allowed to lend out “money at interest” to foreigners (Deut. 23:20) but was not permitted to profit from a fellow Israelite, especially the poor (Lev. 25:35-38). Extortion was forbidden and generosity was encouraged (Ex. 23:9; Lev. 19:33-34). Remarkably, no distinction is made in this psalm between a brother or a stranger in need. He treats everyone the same. You might say the man who is welcome in God’s house truly loves his neighbor (Lk. 10:25-29ff).

 

His Place: Certain (v.5c)

He who does these things will never be shaken.

 

This psalm is not just about being welcome and gaining admission into God’s house, but dwelling there (v.1). The instability of being moved (“shaken”) is only remedied by trusting in God (16:8; 46:5). When we have steadfast faith in God’s word, God creates these very qualities (vv.2-5b) within us (we will do “these things”). The result of such faith? We will not only be welcome into God’s house but we “will never be [moved]”.

 

-Jerome (adapted from Kidner Classic Commentaries: Psalms 1-72)

Psalm 3 - The Dark Hour

Sunday, February 11, 2018

 

King David wrote Psalm 3 “when he fled from Absalom his son” (title), the events of which are recounted in 2 Sam. 15:13ff. The personal grief of a rebellious son (2 Sam. 18:33) was the knife-twist amid a larger aching pain of national disloyalty. Mixed with the popular sentiment that God had withdrawn from David, this time of exile made for torturous mental agony. He had been on the run before from the previous king, Saul, but that time he had been innocent. This flight from Jerusalem, however, was partially due to his own moral failings (2 Sam. 12:11).

 

Human Enmity (vv.1-2)

O Lord, how my adversaries have increased!

Many are rising up against me.

Many are saying of my soul,

“There is no deliverance for him in God.”

 

David was part of a shrinking minority, which is itself a test of nerve. His opponents, pictured as multiplying, were active in their search for him and accusatory – it looked as though God had abandoned him. David had already acknowledged his sin and thrown himself at the mercy of God (2 Sam. 16:11-12). He was facing “increasing” human enmity. Hunted, alone and weak, to whom could he turn to now?

 

Divine Protection (vv.3-4)

But You, O LORD, are a shield about me,

My glory, and the One who lifts my head.

I was crying to the LORD with my voice,

And He answered me from His holy mountain.

 

Where else can anyone go in the pain of fear but to the LORD? Each phrase in v.3 grows in confidence. It’s as if David begins by reminding himself of who the LORD is and increases with each fresh remembrance. He considered the LORD his “shield” encompassing him in divine protection.

 

David, a king to whom much “glory” had been bestowed in the form of power, privilege and possessions, had been stripped of that glory hiding as a wanted man. He had squandered those gifts, using them for his own gain and to his own ruin. But now, broken in the wilderness, David finally realized the LORD was his only true claim to “glory” (Gal. 6:14).

 

Though he had been weeping “with his head covered” as he “walked barefoot” in miserable dejection (2 Sam. 15:30), the LORD “lifts” his head. Despite his failures as a husband, a father and a king, and despite all the favor he had lost with his subjects, the merciful God gave him grace.

 

God’s “holy mountain” was the place where David was installed as king and where the ark, the symbol of God’s earthly throne (2 Sam. 6:2) and covenant, was kept. Though Absalom was the sitting king, there was another King reigning in Jerusalem (Psa. 2) whose decrees issued from Zion. David had cried to Him and was “answered.”

 

Peace of Mind (vv.5-6)

I lay down and slept;

I awoke, for the LORD sustains me.

I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people

Who have set themselves against me round about.

 

Such was David’s certainty that his “crying” prayer had been heard (1 Jn. 5:14-15), he “lay down and slept.” His security in answered prayer was well founded for he “awoke” by the sustaining power of the LORD.

 

Awake, alive, refreshed and encouraged, David was ready to face any threat. No matter how “many” (vv.1-2) enemies encircled him, even “ten thousands,” he had the peace of mind that the LORD’s protection brings.

 

Victory & Blessing (vv.7-8)

Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God!

For You smite all my enemies on the cheek;

You shatter the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the LORD;

Your blessing be upon Your people!

 

For David, called to kingship, refuge from his enemies is not enough. Anything less than victory and being reinstated as king was tantamount to defeat. So David called upon the LORD his God for “salvation” from his “enemies,” confident God would provide deliverance.

 

David trusted in God’s power to save because he realized that “salvation belongs” to Him. Without the LORD there is no salvation to be had. He was not asking anything from the LORD that the LORD had not already promised. God has always exalted the lowly and humbled the proud.

 

So the psalm ends looking beyond David to God’s “people” and beyond David’s rescue to God’s “blessing.” God’s people will not only survive but be delivered; we will not only be delivered but be victorious; we will not only be victorious but be eternally blessed.

 

David’s situation in Psalm 3 mirrors ours in so many ways. We were created to reign on God’s earth (Gen. 1:28) but abdicated our throne and exchanged our authority for slavery to sin and Satan (Gen. 3). But thank God, Jesus has come to dethrone the enemy and reinstall us to our rightful position! (Jn. 1:12; Rev. 22:5) “Salvation belongs to the LORD”!

 

-Jerome (adapted from Kidner Classic Commentaries: Psalms 1-72)

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