Monday, April 28, 2008

Don't Run Ahead

In Joshua 3:4 the people of Israel are preparing to go over the Jordan River. The command of the officers to the people was to set out and follow the ark of the covenant when they saw the priests carrying it. They were instructed to keep a space between them and the ark. My first thought was that the reason for this was because the ark is holy.

We all remember the story about Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6. He had reached his hand out to steady the ark and God killed him because of his disobedience in touching the ark. So I assume a similar condition is present here. “Stay back from the ark. It’s holy!”

Upon more careful reading though I noticed in verse 4 that the reason that they were not to come near is “that you may know the way by which you must go, for you have not passed this way before.”

Now the truth is, I don’t know what this means. Perhaps if they were all too close and huddled around, the ark might get lost in the shuffle and some people might lose track of it and head off in the wrong direction. I’m not sure if that is the intention here, but that’s the lesson I’m taking from this situation.

So many times we want to run ahead of God. We prepare all of our plans and run full steam ahead without waiting to see which way God is going. After all, we’ve not been this way before. Each day of our life is a day we’ve never seen before. How will God lead today? Where is He headed? Will He lead us to the right or left? Will He halt? Will He continue down a straight path?

As faithful men, we are to be the leaders in our families. How can we lead them rightly if we are making plans and racing forward without carefully following after the Lord and seeking Him for His guidance and direction in life?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Becoming What We Are

Last time we talked a little bit about the sanctifying work of God in our lives. In other words, God sets us apart for Himself for His special and Holy purposes. We discovered in I Thessalonians 5:23 that every part of our being – body, soul, and spirit are set apart for God.

What’s interesting in the Bible is that we are also told to sanctify ourselves. That is what God told Joshua to tell the people. Another thing that adds somewhat to confusion over this topic is that sometimes the Bible speaks as though the sanctifying work is done and sometimes it tells us to do it.

Look for example at Colossians 3:9,10. “…seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” There you have the statement of accomplished fact. We are supposed to behave in certain ways because we have put off the old self.

However, if you look at Ephesians 4:22. In this verse we are told “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life.” So here we are to do something that Colossians tells us we have already done.

You can see a similar comparison in Galatians 5:24 and Colossians 3:5. In Galatians we have crucified the flesh and in Colossians we are supposed to put to death our members.

For whatever it’s worth, here’s my opinion. When we come to faith in Christ many things take place instantaneously. Among those things is the fact that we are dead, buried and raised with Christ. We also have been made righteous in God’s sight. We have forgiveness of our sins. Old things are passed away and all things have become new. All of that is a positional fact based upon what Christ did for us on the cross. However, not all of this has evidenced itself in the way we live out our lives. Therefore we have a challenge. Because the old self has been crucified with Christ we are to make that real in our life by putting to death those deeds that relate to the old self. Since we have put off the sins of the flesh through our union with Christ, we are to make that real in life by putting off the things that related to that condemned nature.

We’ll talk more about that in the days ahead, but this is the source of victory in our lives. Instead of trying to reach some ideal state in order to be right with God and to please Him, we’ve already been placed in a position of being right with God. There’s no condemnation. Now it’s a matter of working out what we already are.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sanctified Completely

We’re continuing our study in the book of Joshua. In Chapter 3 verse 5, Joshua says to the people, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”

To sanctify means to set something apart for a special purpose. In our culture we often have a special set of dishes that we don’t use every day but they are set apart for special occasions. The same thing may be true for some of our clothes. In the Christian realm, God has set certain things apart for Himself. He uses the word “holy” to describe these things. Holy doesn’t mean perfect; it means set apart or dedicated for God’s use.

The people of Israel on this occasion were to dedicate themselves to God for His special use. In their religion this meant certain rituals of cleansing and washing, but it also meant repenting of sin and confessing allegiance to God and His Word.

In the New Testament, we find that sanctification is a work of God. Paul writes in I Thessalonians 5:23, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

There are a couple of things here that I find encouraging. First, it encourages me to know that this is something that God does. I have my responsibilities in this as we shall see, but it is good to know that sanctification is first an act of God. Second, this sanctification involves every part of me. It’s not just a spiritual thing. My whole being – body, soul and spirit are involved. And finally, I’m encouraged by the fact that God keeps me that way. It’s amazing that he uses the word “blameless” here. In Christ, our sins are washed away and removed from us as far as the east is from the west. Those awful stains of sin have been removed. Paul is asking God to keep us that way.

So many times we fail to recognize how thorough the work of God is in our lives. If you are one of those who has come to God through Christ by faith, take some time today to consider and thank God for the way that He has set you apart for His special purposes.

Monday, April 21, 2008

T4G - - Some More Thoughts

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Together For the Gospel Conference in Louisville, KY, with our pastor and his dad. We had a wonderful, God-exalting time of praise, worship and preaching. It’s been a long time since I have been so deeply affected by the preaching of God’s Word along with the singing of great old and some new hymns. It’s an amazing thing to hear more than 5000 men lifting their voices in song to the Lord. During one of the sessions they asked us to stand based on the decade of our age and I would guess that half of the men there were in their twenties and thirties. It was encouraging to me to see this many young men together in one place to hear the preaching of the Word. And the preaching was not trivial fluff!

Speakers included Ligon Duncan, Thabiti Anyabwile, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, RC Sproul, Albert Mohler, John Piper and CJ Mahaney. Each one spoke for about an hour with a half hour time when they all sat together on the platform discussing the issues raised in the message. I would strongly recommend that you download the free mp3 files of the messages and listen to them. It will provide a feast for your soul. I especially recommend the following:
RC Sproul – The Curse Motif of the Atonement
John Piper – How the Supremacy of Christ Creates Radical Christian Sacrifice
John MacArthur—The Sinner Neither Able Nor Willing: The Doctrine of Absolute Inability

Thabiti Anyabwile had a very interesting talk explaining in biblical terms the difference between race and ethnicity and the importance for us to have a Christian worldview that denies the category of race, i.e. that there are distinct biological differences between those of different skin colors. His message can be downloaded here.

As I mentioned, the other highlight of our time together was the singing. We sang mostly older, well-known hymns. The list of songs can be found here. We sang one old hymn by Isaac Watts titled, “How Sweet and Awful is this Place.” After we had sung it, many of us with tears in our eyes, all looked at one another as if to say, “where did that song come from?” The words are definitely encouraging. I’ve posted the lyrics here on my blog. I definitely urge you to take a look at this powerful song.

Besides all of that, each time we came back to a new session, there were 3 or 4 books for us on our seats. By the end of the conference we each (5500 of us) had received 15 books! Now I guess I won’t be able to be a slacker.

As you can probably tell, I came away very encouraged and challenged to live a life that would be an example of a Faithful Man.

I trust that you too have had some good times of spiritual refreshment lately either with brothers in Christ or through your churches. It’s so important to hold one another up as we try to be faithful men for the Lord.

Staying on the Victory Side

In Joshua 1:8, he commanded the people to prepare provisions for themselves because within three days they would be crossing over the Jordan River to take possession of the land that God had given them. The tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh reminded Joshua that Moses had promised them that if they led the way and fought with the rest of the people until God had given them rest, they could then return to the east side of the Jordan and have their possession there. (verses 12-15)

In our study of the book of Joshua we have seen that the Promised Land doesn’t represent heaven as some think, but a condition of living by faith in the promises of God and a place of victory and obedience. You’ll have to review some of the previous posts to study this out. If that idea is correct, then even though these tribes were allowed to stay on the other side, it is not the best or ideal place for them to be.

In I Chronicles 5:25, 26 we see one of the results of this choice. They were the first to be taken captive by the king of Assyria. Also in the Song of Deborah in Judges chapter 5, verse 16 tells us that in Reuben there was great searchings of heart. We don’t have time to go through the whole thing here, but basically everybody else was out fighting and they were in their homeland enjoying peace and prosperity. They did some serious soul searching over the situation, but still didn’t go out to face the foe and stand for God. The question we need to ask ourselves as faithful Christian men is, “On which side of the Jordan will we spend our experience?” Will we spend it on victory side or on the side of compromise, laziness and defeat? We can go across and fight some battles, but do we return to the comforts of ease or do we stick with the fight to take possession of the possessions God has promised to us?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Together For the Gospel Conference

It's been a busy couple of weeks. My wife and I had the opportunity to get away for a couple of days during spring break.
The highlight of this week has been that I had the opportunity to attend Together For the Gospel conference with a couple of friends. I'll probably be writing a couple of blog posts on the things that were highlights for me. Tim Challies does an excellent job reporting the details of the conference over at his blog here.
For me the most challenging and encouraging messages were those by John Piper and R. C. Sproul. More on those later. Also, I was tremendously encouraged by the singing. All of the songs were uplifting and God-honoring. I and many of those around me had never heard one particular song that we sang. Afterward we looked around at each other as if to say, "Where did that come from?" The song was by Isaac Watts and was entitled How Sweet and Awesome is this Place. The original title used "awful" instead of "awesome".

Here are the words for your consideration and meditation:

1. How sweet and awful is the place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores!

2. While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
Lord, why was I a guest?

3. Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there's room;
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?

4. 'Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly forced us in
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.

5. Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.

6. We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart, and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Escape Before Judgment Falls

When the Israelites came to the Jordan River and prepared to cross, there was a delay of several days while the spies checked out Jericho. As we saw last time, Rahab, a woman of faith was there and needed to be rescued. This reminds me of the way God has demonstrated His mercy so many times in Scripture.

Take the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for example. God came to Abraham and told him about His plans to destroy the cities. Abraham negotiated with God as long as He could but it became obvious that the destruction would take place. Before God destroyed the cities, He sent His angels to the cities to rescue Lot. Lot is described by Peter as being righteous.

It’s the same thing that happened to Enoch. He was taken by God before the flood came to destroy every living thing on the earth.

I believe the same thing will be true when the earth is to be judged during the Great Tribulation. Christ is going to come to take to Himself all of His children who are on the earth just before this period of terrible judgment comes upon the nations of the world. Some people refer to this ‘taking away’ as the rapture of the Church.

Paul tells us in Romans 11 that blindness has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in. There is a process going on right now where God is calling out a people for His Name. There will come a time when that process will end and God’s approach to world events will change.

Peter writes in his second epistle that people keep going on thinking that the judgment of God is not going to come upon the earth. Everything continues as it always has. (2 Peter 3) Peter explains the reason why nothing seems to be happening. God is long suffering, not desiring that any should perish. He is waiting until He has completed bringing in all of those who have been His before the foundation of the world. These are the ones who Jesus said the father gave to Him and of whom He would lose none. (John 6:39)

Paul tells us in I Thessalonians 5, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” He goes on to speak of sudden destruction like labor pains coming on a pregnant woman. He then he contrasts people who will face this sudden catastrophe to his Christian brothers who are children of the light. And then we find this written in verse 9, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

God always watches out for those who are His, even when it comes to God’s judgment on mankind. Christians are not immune from the ordinary trials and tribulations of this life. Disasters, diseases and other catastrophes come upon saved and unsaved alike. But when God in His wrath judges the people of earth in that Great Tribulation, Christians will be rescued before the judgment commences just like the examples we have examined in this study.