Finding the Will of God?

November 18, 2018 in Bible - NT - 1 Thessalonians, Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Covenantal Living, Faith, Meditations, Wisdom, Word of God

1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NKJV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Many people are confused about the will of God. They speak of “finding’ the will of God as though it is mysterious and difficult to decipher. But Paul tells us in our passage today that the will of God, God’s purpose for our lives, is really quite clear, plain, and simple: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Paul’s words remind us that, as Christians, our calling is not to peer into God’s secret will but to obey His revealed will. Moses writes in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” Our duty as Christians is to obey God’s revealed will not to discover His secret will. Within the fence of God’s revealed law, we are free to choose what we desire, trusting God for the outcome. This is the principle of liberty within law. As Paul reminds widows in 1 Corinthians 7:39 – a widow is free to marry whomever she desires only in the Lord. She has liberty – she may marry whomever she desires – within the context of God’s moral law – she may marry only in the Lord.

But walking as free men requires faith and courage. Sometimes we obey His law and the future ends in victory, prosperity, and kingdom advancement; sometimes we obey His law and the future ends in defeat, poverty, and kingdom retreat. This is the challenge of walking by faith. While pagans routinely practiced divination – looking at the entrails of animals, reading the signs in the stars, and relying upon superstitions in order to discern the will of the gods for each and every decision – God’s people have been called to walk by faith. We aren’t promised how obeying God’s law will turn out; we’re just called to obey it.

So what is God’s will for you? What is God’s will for your life? Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks. God’s will for you is that you learn and obey His moral law. Within the context of His law, you are free to do what you desire. The will of God, therefore, is not hidden or obscure. There is no need to find His will; it has not been lost. God wants you to know His law and then to walk by faith, entrusting the outcome to Him.

That which is true for us individually is also true nationally. This week we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. President George Washington remarked in his first Thanksgiving Proclamation:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor… therefore, I do recommend and assign [a day] to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country…

President Washington’s words remind us that our duty is not to find the will of God but to obey it. In the same proclamation, Washington called upon us “to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue…” He insisted that virtue is essential for our survival as a people and for securing the continued blessings of Almighty God. We don’t need to discover God’s secret will but to obey His revealed will.

So as we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, let us give thanks to the Lord for the Constitutional liberties we have enjoyed, for the peace we have experienced, for the abundance we have tasted, for the families we have been given, and for the salvation with which we have been blessed. If we are to give thanks in everything, how much more ought we to give thanks when we enjoy such manifold blessings?

Reminded that we are to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things, let us confess that we often ignore God’s clear will for our lives and feign ignorance of our duty. And as we confess our sins to the Lord seeking His forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

And let all the people say, “Amen!”

March 6, 2017 in Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Bible - OT - Psalms, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Meditations
Psalm 106:48 (NKJV)
48 Blessed be the LORD God of Israel From everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the LORD!
For some weeks now we have been attempting to explain why our elders have implemented various traditions to guide our corporate worship. Today we consider our practice of declaring, “Amen!”, after singing psalms and hymns. Why do we do this?
The declaration, “Amen!”, is a means of affirming what has been said. It is shorthand for, “So be it! That’s right! That’s true! I agree with that!” or even, “May that come to pass!” So, in our text today, the people are to say, “Amen!” upon hearing the declaration, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting!”
We see this same dynamic at work in Deuteronomy 27. Moses instructed the Israelites to divide in half after they entered the Promised Land and to stand, half on Mount Gerizim and half on Mount Ebal. The Levites were then to speak with a “loud voice and say to all the men of Israel:”
15 ‘Cursed is the one who makes a carved or molded image, an abomination to the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’
“And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen!’
16 ‘Cursed is the one who treats his father or his mother with contempt.’
“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’
17 ‘Cursed is the one who moves his neighbor’s landmark.’
“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’
18 ‘Cursed is the one who makes the blind to wander off the road.’
“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’
19 ‘Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.’
“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’
20 ‘Cursed is the one who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s bed.’
“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’
 21 ‘Cursed is the one who lies with any kind of animal.’
“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’
 22 ‘Cursed is the one who lies with his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.’
“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’
 23 ‘Cursed is the one who lies with his mother-in-law.’
“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’
 24 ‘Cursed is the one who attacks his neighbor secretly.’
“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’
 25 ‘Cursed is the one who takes a bribe to slay an innocent person.’
“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’
 26 ‘Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law.’
“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ ”
The verbal affirmation, “Amen!” is a way of confirming the truth of what has been said or sung. So when we pray or sing and close with, “Amen!”, or when we shout, “Amen!” during the sermon, we are saying, “So be it! I agree with that! May these things truly come to pass!”
So how ought we to speak this “Amen!”? First, make sure you agree with what has been said or sung. Don’t say, “Amen!” if you don’t mean it. Part of our rationale for singing the psalms and other substantive hymns is to protect us from saying, “Amen!”, to things that we ought not affirm. If the preacher were to declare, “Good is evil, and evil is good!” the last thing that you should say is, “Amen!” Say, “God forbid!” or “May it never be!” but don’t say, “Amen!” Why not? Because to say, “Amen!” is to declare that you agree with what was said or that you truly want it to happen.
Second, issue your Amen heartily. Either you agree with what has been said or you don’t. If you do, then do it. You’ll note that the “Amens!” in your Bible are typically printed with an exclamation point. That’s because they are exclamations. And the word “exclamation” comes from two Latin words: ex, which means “out,” and clamare, which means “to shout.” So you’re supposed to “shout it out”! Say it like you mean it. “Amen!”

Reminded that we often approve of things that we should condemn and that we are often tepid rather than hearty in our approval of what God has said, let us confess our sin to the Lord. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Whatever Things are Just

October 23, 2016 in Bible - NT - Philippians, Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Bible - OT - Psalms, Judgment, Justification, Meditations
Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
In Philippians 1, Paul prays that we “may approve the things that are excellent” (1:9b). In order to do so, we must be able to identify these excellent things and, in our text, Paul catalogues some of them. He calls us to meditate on these things – to give them our attention, mull them over, and let them shape our attitude and actions.
So let us meditate on whatever things are just. The word in Greek is dikaios – righteous, upright, equitable. God is Himself the foundation of justice. “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He” (Dt 32:4). “The LORD is righteous in all His ways, Gracious in all His works” (Ps 145:17).
Because God is just, all that He does reflects His justice. He cannot be anything but just. So Paul calls us to meditate on God’s just dealings. Meditate on the worldwide flood, on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and on the gruesome death of Herod Agrippa who was eaten by worms. Meditate on the deliverance of Joseph, on the vindication of Joshua and Caleb, and on the exaltation of David. Meditate on the peg in Sisera’s head, on Samson’s blindness, and on Jezebel’s defenestration. Meditate on whatever things are just.
Of course the preeminent display of God’s justice is in Jesus Christ. Justice demands that our rebellion against God and His law be punished. Jesus took on human flesh that He might bear the guilt of our sin, that He might endure God’s just wrath. He did this because God so loved us that He would show His mercy toward us – but His mercy could not and cannot be unjust. Paul tells us in Romans 3:25-26 that Christ sacrificed Himself for us to demonstrate at the present time [God’s justice], that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. The Second Person of the Godhead took on human flesh and sacrificed His life in order that God might remain just and yet extend mercy and forgiveness to the one who has faith in Jesus. Such is God’s love of and commitment to justice even while showing mercy.
Because we worship the God of justice, we are also to delight in and practice justice ourselves. God’s mercy does not eradicate a concern for justice; it strengthens it. The just God delights in just weights and measures, rejoices in just judgments, and revels in just words – and we are to do likewise. “It is a joy for the just to do justice, But destruction will come to the workers of iniquity” (Prov 21:15). It is a joy for the just to execute a murderer, to demand that a thief make restitution, and to uncover and punish a false witness. It is a joy for parents to spank a disobedient toddler, for elders to excommunicate an unrepentant church member, and for employers to fire an unfaithful worker. Meditate on whatever things are just.
So what of you? Do you delight in justice? Are you aware that there are times it is sinful to show pity? God warned Israel:
“If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you. And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (Dt 19:16–21)

God delights in justice and so judges, priests, and people are to imitate Him. So reminded of our call to meditate on whatever things are just, let us confess that we often gravitate toward that which is unjust instead. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Bombing in Boston and God’s Justice

April 21, 2013 in Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Bible - OT - Proverbs, Hell, Islam, Judgment, Meditations

Proverbs 20:26 (NKJV)
26 A wise king sifts out the wicked, And brings the threshing wheel over them.
Deuteronomy 19:11–13 (NKJV)
11 “But if anyone hates his neighbor, lies in wait for him, rises against him and strikes him mortally, so that he dies, and he flees to [a city of refuge], 12 then the elders of his city shall send and bring him from there, and deliver him over to the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. 13 Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with you.
This past week national attention has been focused upon the tragic bombing in Boston during the marathon. Three killed and hundreds wounded. Two men sought in a city wide manhunt – one killed in a shoot out with the police and the other apprehended later. At such times it is fitting to consider what the Word of God has to say about justice and the punishment of crime.
Shortly after the second bomber was arrested the Boston police tweeted, “CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.” This was indeed good news – and worthy of celebration. But the police department should have known better than to call their arrest the triumph of justice. For as we all are often reminded, the mere arrest of a suspect is far from the accomplishment of justice.
In ancient Israel accused criminals would flee to cities of refuge – the equivalent of our jails – in order to await a fair trial and avoid the blood lust common in such tense times. But confinement to the city of refuge was not justice.  In order for justice to be served the individual must not only be arrested but tried swiftly and, if found guilty, punished in accordance with the severity of his crime. And it is this execution of justice that God declared would “put away the guilt of innocent blood in Israel that it may go well with you.” God’s blessing follows societies that practice justice.
But it is this that proves so difficult in our current legal system. As anyone who has found himself embroiled in our current legal system knows, justice is rarely served. Our legal system is in many respects broken and victims frequently suffer much while criminals escape justice. This is a blight on our national character and a sin for which the Lord on High will hold us accountable as a people.
It is the frustration of dealing with our defunct legal system that has led Senator Lindsey Graham to suggest that the Boston bomber be tried by a special court. Graham knows how frequently justice is foiled in our legal system and so has suggested some alternative. But is this not to confess that the whole system is broken and that we must, as a people, repent of the injustice of our legal system and begin to hold criminals accountable for their actions?
Solomon reminds us today, A wise king sifts out the wicked, And brings the threshing wheel over them. The reason that we are witnessing increasing crime in our streets is because of the failure of our legal system to administer justice. Justice administered quickly deters crime. But our judges have failed us – and, here’s the critical part, they have failed us because we ouselves have failed. We have sought to avoid justice; we have sought and are seeking to avoid accountability for our transgressions.
How often do we and our countrymen complain about God’s justice? We dispute the righteousness of His law; we grumble at his judgments; we take him to task for the judgment of hell; we demand why bad things happen to good people; we fancy ourselves upright and just and that God is the one who must answer for the problems in the world. In all these ways we adjudge ourselves unworthy to receive just decrees from our courts. We don’t want justice and so God has handed us over to unjust courts. And this reminds us that as a people we need to confess our sin to the Lord and seek His forgiveness in Christ petitioning him to restore justice to the land.

Fear an Instrument in God’s Hands

December 12, 2010 in Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Confession, Faith, Meditations

Deuteronomy 11:25 (NKJV)
25 No man shall be able to stand against you; the Lord your God will put the dread of you and the fear of you upon all the land where you tread, just as He has said to you.

The book of Deuteronomy has a lot to say about fear – fear of God, fear of men, fear of enemies, and even, as we see in our text today, fear of God’s people. God promises Israel as they are on the cusp of entering the promised land – trust in me, believe in Me, serve Me, fear Me, and I will cause your enemies to fear you and to fall before you.

We witness the fulfillment of this promise in the words of Rahab to the spies that Joshua sent to Jericho. Rahab informed the men that the terror of them had fallen upon the city and that the inhabitants were fainthearted because of them. We see God using fear to bless His people again in the book of Judges. Gideon, for example, sneaks into the enemy camp at night and there hears two soldiers speaking in fear of the way God had raised up Gideon as a deliverer. When we as God’s people fear Him, He grants success to our labors by causing dread to fall upon our enemies.

However, fear is not only an instrument that God uses to bless His people, it is also an instrument he uses to judge us. For if we fail to fear Him, fail to honor Him, to serve Him, to glorify Him, then He causes us to grow fearful of our enemies.

‘And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; the sound of a shaken leaf shall cause them to flee; they shall flee as though fleeing from a sword, and they shall fall when no one pursues. They shall stumble over one another, as it were before a sword, when no one pursues; and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. (Lev 26:36-37)

What we see, therefore, is that fear is a tool God uses – He is the one who instills the dread of others. Sometimes He uses it to bless His people – making others fear them to the advance of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes, however, God uses fear to judge His people – making them fearful of others that they might be purified and learn to fear Him once again. Both types of fear come from the hand of God – one in blessing, the other in judgment.

So here’s the question: which are we experiencing? By and large, the people of God in America are afraid and our enemies are not. Unrighteousness is on the increase. The attacks on God’s rule are more and more strident. Why? Because the Living God, the One who rules and governs the affairs of men, is chastising His Church for her unfaithfulness. The problem, in other words, is not out there but in here. We haven’t feared God as we ought, we haven’t served the Lord as we ought, and so He has delivered us over to our fears. There is sin in the camp and so God is judging His people so that we will remember to fear Him, to honor Him, to serve Him.

So what is the solution? Confession, repentance, and faith. We must confess our fear, turn from our sins, and put our trust in the Lord, standing firm against our enemies knowing that the Lord is on our side and so we need not be afraid. So let us begin this morning by confessing our sins to the Lord together.

Virgins in Israel

May 11, 2010 in Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Children, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Sexuality

Deuteronomy 22:13-19 (NKJV)
13 “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her, 14 and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings a bad name on her, and says, ‘I took this woman, and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,’ 15 then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 And the young woman’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man as wife, and he detests her. 17 Now he has charged her with shameful conduct, saying, “I found your daughter was not a virgin,” and yet these are the evidences of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. 18 Then the elders of that city shall take that man and punish him; 19 and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name on a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.

This morning we continue our series of lessons taught by young women. As members of the body of Christ, young women have important lessons to teach the rest of us and it is prudent for us to learn these lessons that we might honor our Lord more fully. We have seen that one of the titles by which God’s people are called is the “daughter of Zion” revealing God’s affection, protection, and provision for us.

The text today reveals another title by which young women in Israel were called, the “virgins of Israel.” A virgin, as most of you know, is a woman who has never been sexually intimate with a man. And, in ancient Israel, one of the titles by which young women were called, in addition to the title “daughters of Jerusalem” and “maidens” (which we saw last week), was the Virgins of Israel. None of this innocuous “teenager” language. When God began developing a young man or young woman, He took note of his or her respective treasures. And one of the greatest treasures that a young woman possesses, which she can give only once to one man, is her virginity.

God takes this virginity, this sexual purity, seriously and so he honors young women in Israel by protecting their good name. For example, in our text today, if a man were to marry a virgin, have intercourse with her on their wedding night, and then charge her falsely the next day with failing to be a virgin, he was to be punished by the elders of the city – likely beaten with a rod – fined an enormous sum of money that would be given to the father lest his daughter have to return home, and forbidden by law from divorcing his wife ever for any cause. Why? Notice the rationale: “Because he has brought a bad name on a virgin of Israel” and that’s something you just don’t do.

The seriousness with which God takes this sexual purity is likewise evident in the way that young women who pretended to be virgins and were not were treated. The text goes on to describe what should happen if the charge were true. If a young woman were to contract a marriage on the assumption that she was a virgin and were to deceive her parents and fiancé into thinking she was still a virgin, only to be discovered the day after the wedding night that she wasn’t a virgin, then she was to be stoned to death with stones. Why? “Because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house.”

Young women, God takes your virginity seriously and acts to protect it in His law. So treasure and guard it well. Beware young men who would seduce you. Beware older men who would seduce you. Beware the pressure that will be put upon you to be sexually active by our current culture. You may be told that you haven’t fully experienced life if you haven’t had sex. You may be told that you are prude, naïve, silly. You may be mocked and scorned by the Hollywood crowd. But this is where the Word of God comes to our rescue by speaking very bluntly. What is a harlot? A harlot is a whore, a prostitute, a woman who gets paid to perform sexual favors. If we despise a harlot – which the Word of God says we ought – then how much more ought we to despise a woman who gives her sexual favors away for nothing? Who spreads her legs under every green tree and only demands “love” in return? Such a woman is both a harlot and a fool.

Young women, this is your charge. You are the Virgins of Israel, so be a Virgin of Israel – pure, unsullied, glorious, beautiful. Men, particularly young men, your task is to protect the purity of the Virgins of Israel. In relation to women, there are two types of men in the world: protectors and predators. To our shame, many, if not most, are predators – looking for yet another young woman they can defile, and, when they do, chalking up another victory on their achievement board. But your job is to be their protectors. Defend them and honor them even as Your God does.

And all of us should be reminded by these things the extent to which God values purity and chastity – both outside of marriage and inside. Reminded of this, reminded that we have been impure in our thoughts and often impure in our actions, let us kneel and confess our sins to God.

Tobacco Czars

November 17, 2009 in Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Faith, Meditations

Deuteronomy 11:26-28 (NKJV)
26 “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; 28 and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known.

You’ll pardon me if, for a time, I take a break from our series on the lessons taught by different members of the Christian community. For some reason the decision by a few major universities to ban tobacco products on their campuses has made its way to national news this past week. The University of Montana – of all places! – has become the latest in a series of schools to propose such a policy, to become effective this spring semester. The student body leaders and many of their professors are rejoicing with euphoric glee – ah, we’re finally ridding the earth of that nasty tobacco.

What we as God’s people need to see is the way in which the passing of such policies represents a concession on the part of these schools to an anti-Christian worldview. After all, let us conduct a thought experiment. Imagine that instead of outlawing tobacco products, the university instead passed policies banning sexual fornication or sodomy. Can’t you just hear the hew and cry already? How dare you infringe on my personal liberty? How can you be so judgmental? You’re just a fascist neo-Nazi!

But note, if you will, the incredible inconsistency. Where’s the cry for our poor smokers out there? For the tobacco farmers who are being viciously persecuted and financially ruined? You see the issue is not whether we as a culture will have certain things that are taboo – this is inevitable. The question is rather which worldview will define that which is taboo. Which god or gods will we listen to as a culture? To whose voice will we give heed?

And it is this very challenge that God placed in front of the people of Israel as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land. He set before them quite clearly the blessing and the curse. If you listen to Me, God said, and to My voice, loving Me, serving Me, observing My commandments then you will be blessed. If, however, you follow after other gods, listen to their voice, give heed to them and to their standards, then you will be cursed.

Our calling as the people of God is to cling to God’s standards, to cherish His law, to praise what He would praise and to condemn what He would condemn. And the banning of all tobacco products because they’re “bad for you” is not something He would praise. “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men.” Rather smoke a pack a day than once steal from your neighbor. Rather chew and spit in the spittoon than once fornicate with your neighbor.

Reminded of our abandonment of God’s standards in favor of our own, let us kneel and confess our sins to Him.