Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Be Zealous for God's Glory

As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.”

David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.
David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”
1 Samuel 17:23-26 & 31-32

There are some moments in life that are just BIG. You can just tell when they are happening to you that this is a BIG moment. For me one of those moments occurred when I was four years old and my parents told me I had to start going to school. I don't even know if I knew what school was, but I remember being devastated. I bargained with them. I begged, but to no avail. It was time for me to start school, and I just knew that this was going to change my life forever. That was 1987, and now some 25 years later I am still in school (currently working on my MDiv). Perhaps, I was right to be so devastated. Well, today we are going to look at a story in the Bible about one of these BIG moments. Not only is this story a BIG moment for the main character but it is also a BIG moment in the unfolding of God’s plan of redemption for His people. This is the story of the coming of age, the big entrance, of the king through whom the true Messiah would come. This is the story of David and Goliath.

I encourage you to read all of I Samuel 17. It is a very interesting read, but for now I will set the stage for you. After years of relative peace, the Philistines invade Israelite territory and the two armies encamp on either side of the great Valley of Elah. (Baker Commentary on the Bible). One Philistine makes his way down into the valley: a 9' 9" impenetrable giant named Goliath. There he defies the armies of Israel, offering to engage in representative battle wherein instead of the two armies killing thousands, just two men fight on their behalf.

But verse 11 tells us that Israel's champion is cowering in fear along with the rest of the people. King Saul should have been the one to fight Goliath. Not only was he head and soldiers above everyone else in Israel (I Samuel 9:2 & 10:23) and therefore the only one in the camp physically qualified to fight Goliath; but it was quite literally what he had been recruited to do (I Samuel 8:20). Scripture tells us that one of the reasons the people of Israel originally approached the prophet Samuel to give them a king was so they would have someone to lead them out to war and fight their battles for them. Saul literally has a chance to fight their battle for them, but he is cowering in fear. (c.f. Numbers 13:31-33).

Goliath’s challenges continued twice a day for forty days! That is more than a month and no one is willing to accept the challenge. The onus is on Saul. He is the guy. It has to be him. In the verses above, you can almost see how eager Saul is to find someone to fight in his place. He has put together an incentive program to entice someone, anyone into battle in his place. But not even that is enough to prompt a volunteer. That is, until David comes to visit his brothers.

David does two things that are most interesting. First, David sees things differently. He is not primarily worried about his honor or glory or even his safety. He is concerned with God’s glory. The men of Israel call Goliath “this man,” David refers to him as “this uncircumcised Philistine.” In David's eyes Goliath is a foreigner who is outside the covenant of God and therefore not in His favor. Moreover, he isn't simply “defying Israel” as the other men say, he is “defying the armies of the living God.” David sees Goliath's defiance as an affront to God, and he acts immediately because he is zealous for God's glory (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary). The men of Israel and Saul have heard Goliath issue this challenge 80 times and none have been willing to accept it. David has heard the challenge one time, and he acts immediately. He expresses interest right away.

The second amazing thing David does is he acts on his own because he is zealous for God's glory. Notice, God doesn’t tell David to do this. David takes the initiative. There are some things that we don’t need God to tell us to do. David already knows the story of the 10 spies who were afraid of the giants (Numbers 13:31-33). He also knows that God promised Israel that she would possess the Promised Land and that when she fought against the inhabitants, He would fight on her behalf. David doesn’t need an invitation. He needs to act. He needs to put into practice what he knows to be true about God... what he knows God has commanded him to do. He needs to trust in the promises God has given. David simply saw an opportunity and seized it.

What about you? Do you ever sit around waiting for some special word from God to do what you already know is His will? You don’t wait for God to tell you to go see the hottest new movie or to do anything else you want to do. Don’t wait for some special word to do the things you know you ought to do. Be zealous for God's glory and act! You don't need a special word from the Lord to share the gospel with that family member. You don't need a special word from the Lord to give your extra coat or money to the poor. You don't need a special word from the Lord to serve Him with your whole heart. He has already commanded these things. You simply need to act! What will you be zealous for? What is worth spending your life on? David is concerned for God’s glory not his own. He looks to build a name and a legacy for God, not for himself. What will you build? As you answer that question, remember that God’s glory is the only thing that will last for eternity.

For further reading...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The World As It Was Meant To Be

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Revelation 21:1-5

This world is not what it was meant to be. Certainly our world is nothing more or less than what God has allowed it to be, because He is in control. But that is not what I am talking about. When I say that our world is not what it was meant to be, I mean that our world is not now what it was originally created to be. We know this instinctively. Wherever we go in this world we encounter pain. We have our hearts broken. We constantly try to improve ourselves- we try to get better grades, lose those five pounds, or stop cursing- only to watch ourselves fail. The powerful take advantage of the weak. Instinctively, we see these things happening and we look to the heavens and cry out "Why?" Thankfully Scripture gives us an answer to this question.

When we look at Scripture from the grand perspective, a story emerges. That story in a nutshell is this: God created a perfect creation  in the midst of which He placed man and woman that they might rule over it. But mankind chose to turn our back on God. We rejected His authority and disobeyed His commands. This was sin. Sin is like a cancer; it brings death and pain as it spreads and contaminates everything it touches. And so man's sin didn't just affect him but it affected all of creation, not only his descendants after him but the natural world as well. In Romans 8, Paul points to this truth by saying that that the creation itself groans and longs to be set free from its corruption (Romans 8:22-23). This sin separated mankind from God, and the whole of Scripture is the unfolding story of God's grand plan to restore right relationship between Himself, mankind, and His creation. God first pursues this plan through the nation of Israel then, over time, the Messiah comes through that nation. It is in Him ultimately that the hopes of all mankind for restored relationship rest. Now through this Messiah God is calling a new people out of the world, the church. This people is tasked with proclaiming the good news of restored relationship and forgiveness of sins to all who will receive it.

But this is not the whole story. Often this is all we tell, but it is not the whole story. As important as all of this is, it leaves God's great plan of restoration unfinished. For the culmination of God's plan is found in the new heavens and the new earth. You see God isn't merely forgiving a people, He is removing the cancer of sin from their lives. The Bible teaches that Christians will experience a resurrection to new life, a life like Christ now lives after His resurrection. This resurrection will remove the taint of sin from us and we will dwell with God face to face once again. But this is still not all! Remember, it wasn't just man that was tainted by sin, it was the whole world too. Thus, the Bible tells us that this world will be destroyed by fire and that there will be a new heavens and a new earth. Scholars disagree over whether this fire will properly destroy the earth so that a completely new one is created or whether Scripture is speaking of a purification by fire so that this earth is purified and made new. Either way the point seems clear, one day this world and all the Christians in it will no longer cry out "Why?" One day this world and all believers will be what we were always intended to be. There will be no more tears, no more mourning. There will be no disabilities, no injustices, and no diseases. This world and those who are still in it will be what God always intended us to be...what we were created to be.

So as you go through your everyday life and you encounter something that makes you want to shake your fist at God and ask "Why?" Choose instead to use that situation or difficult person or painful experience to remind yourself to look forward to the day when all of that will be wiped away. Every "why" in this world is a reason and an opportunity to live in expectant hope for the day when the world will no longer be this way, when our bodies will no longer be this way, when sin will no longer be present. Remind yourself that God has a plan, and as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow that plan will work its way out.

For further reading...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Kingdom of Heaven

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Matthew 4:17

What would you say was the primary message of Jesus' preaching? My guess is that many would answer with something like "love your neighbor" or "treat others as you would have them treat you." There is no doubt that Jesus preached both of these things, and perhaps an argument could be made for them; but it is telling that at least two of the gospel accounts record the beginning of Jesus' preaching ministry with the same message. It is no less telling that we pay little attention to this message and have even less understanding of it. That message is found in Matthew 4:17 and in Mark 1:15 (c.f. Luke 4:21). Since two of the four gospel writers chose this simple sentence to sum up the content of Jesus' earliest preaching, it is worth further examination.

Since we live in a culture that is 2,000 years removed from that of Jesus' first audience, some context and background will be helpful. The Old Testament prophets spoke of a coming day of the Lord. This day of the Lord often had a dual fulfillment for the prophets. It applied not only to Israel's immediate situation, but also to a final day of the Lord when the whole world would be set right. Isaiah 13, for example, speaks of the day of the Lord in this dual sense. Isaiah uses this term to refer to the rapidly approaching destruction of Babylon while also it in reference to the far distant final day of the Lord when the whole world would be judged.* (Hoekema p.9) By the first century the Jewish nation had fallen prey to the great Roman Empire. They were ruled by Rome and forced to pay taxes to Caesar. Faithful Jews believed that when this day of the Lord came at least three things would happen: 1) The wicked would be judged and punished. 2) The righteous would be rewarded for their good deeds. 3) The world would be set right and all of God's promises would be fulfilled, especially the promise of a special land for the people of God. Thus, Jesus' contemporaries expected this final day of the Lord to come at the end of history all at once to usher in the kingdom of heaven (sometimes called the kingdom of God), and they hoped it would come soon so they could be liberated from the oppression of Rome.

Jesus enters into this context and makes the statement, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” It seems that Jesus was saying. "These are the last days! You don't want to be caught off guard. Prepare yourselves for the coming king. Do you really want to be living like this when the king comes? Put your sin away and prepare yourselves!" It is easy to imagine what His first century audience expected of Him with a message like that. They expected Him to fulfill all the Old Testament promises. They expected an earthly kingdom, judgment on their enemies, and blessings for themselves. Throughout the gospels we get glimpses of Jesus' followers struggling to understand why He is not meeting these expectations. Instead of a political revolution and a glorious earthly kingdom, He brought a religious/moral revolution and an inaugurated but not yet visible kingdom. His followers struggled to understand how the Messiah could be victorious by being slain. How can the Messiah conquer evil by being crucified? Jesus' death looked much more like defeat than any victory they had ever imagined. But, all of this changed with the resurrection.

The resurrection, combined with the teachings of Jesus and His apostles, reveals to us that the coming of the kingdom of God has always had two parts. First, the kingdom was to be inaugurated by the coming of the Messiah. With His first advent (coming) the Messiah would come not as judge or conqueror but as a Savior to forgive men's sins and call out a people for Himself from all nations (c.f. John 12:47I Peter 2:9-10 , Matthew 25:32). By His death and resurrection He would not only make forgiveness possible but deal the decisive blow against death and sin thus securing His victory over the enemy. In the first advent the kingdom of God truly did come. It is here among us now even though it has not yet been fully realized. In one parable Jesus describes it as being like a little leaven that is mixed in with a batch of dough (Matthew 13:33). It starts small, but over time it spreads and grows until it accomplishes its full purpose. So too, the kingdom of heaven is here even now. Those of us who belong to Christ are already citizens of the coming kingdom of God and are no longer properly understood as being "of this world" even though we still live in it. It is our calling and privilege to advance the spread of the kingdom until the second coming of Jesus. 

It is at this second coming that the kingdom will be fully realized. Christ will return with a trumpet shout (I Thessalonians 4:16-18). The dead will rise and Jesus will judge all men. The wicked will be cast into the lake of fire, while those who have been declared righteous in Christ will receive their reward- a share in the glory of the Father and the Son in the new heavens and new earth (see Revelation 20:11-22:21). Therefore, since we look forward to an impending second coming of Jesus it is fitting that we circle back to the words with which He began His ministry and say "Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Jesus' return could be soon. You don't really want to be living like this when the king comes do you? Repent and believe. Turn from your sin. Bow the knee to Jesus. Seek His forgiveness and confess Him as Lord and Savior before it is too late.

For further reading...
Hoekema, Anthony A., The Bible and the Future. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's Publishing Co., 1979), 9.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

No Regrets?

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near...” John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."
Matthew 3:1-2, 4-10

There is a point of view that is popular today which people often express in terms like the following: "I refuse to regret my past because all of my collective life experiences make me who I am today. Without that experience I wouldn't have learned a valuable lesson. I wouldn't be who I am today." I believe wholeheartedly that this point of view is foreign to the Bible. All throughout the New Testament we find the theme of repentance. We are called to repent of our sin before we turn to Christ, and in fact, Scriptures like the following indicate that without true repentance we are not Christians at all (Acts 2:37-39, 3:1920:21, II Peter 3:8-10). Repentance has often (and aptly) been described as turning our back on sin and turning towards God. It is a 180-degree turn in our life's orientation. But this is not all it is. Repentance also includes feeling a sense of sorrow and regret for our sin. It is this sorrow and even repulsion at the ways we have ignored and defied God which leads us to turn our back on our sin. How can anyone say they love God and want to serve Him with their whole heart without regretting the ways they have sinned against Him? 

While I agree that we should not wallow in regret and self-guilt our whole lives, this attitude (which refuses to regret anything) goes too far. We should regret our sin. Regret is a healthy, natural emotion that we should feel when we hurt someone else or ourselves. Let me give you an example. Imagine a convicted murderer glibly saying this motto to the parents of his victim. Do you see the depravity in that? Or more commonly, imagine saying this motto to your friend after you betrayed and hurt them. Surely, you can see that any true friend would regret such actions. In either of these scenarios it would actually be wrong to not feel regret. So sometimes regret is good. In fact, it is a necessary part of the Christian faith. How can one repent of sins he does not regret committing? Regret only becomes unhealthy when we refuse to  move on, when we refuse to accept forgiveness from God, others, or even from ourselves.

Is there sin in your past or in your present that you need to repent of? Don't thumb your nose at God by saying you refuse to regret the ways you have rejected His lordship. Don't trample His grace underfoot by refusing to acknowledge that His way would have been the better all along. Mourn for your sin. Come before the Lord with a broken and contrite heart and ask for forgiveness. Then, if your sin has been covered in the blood of Christ, rejoice in your forgiveness. Leave that sin and guilt behind as you press on towards the calling you have received. There is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

For further reading...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Running to Get the Prize

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
I Corinthians 9:24-27

Paul has just finished speaking about how he does his best to become all things to all people so that “by all means [he] might save some” (v. 22) when he decides to use a metaphor to drive his point home. He wants to show the Corinthians that he uses self-control and self-discipline of the highest sort to ensure that he continues to give God his best. Paul wants to call them to a single-minded commitment to do the same. So, he uses a metaphor that would have been familiar to them: an athletic competition.

The ESV Study Bible explains that Corinth “was the location of the biennial Isthmian games, at that time second in fame only to the Olympic games. Paul’s stay in Corinth during his second missionary journey (Acts 18) may have even overlapped with the games in either A.D. 49 or 51.”* Paul claims that like these athletes, he is no poser. He does not run aimlessly or shadowbox. He practices intense self-discipline because he knows that he is competing in a race, a race that he wants the Corinthians to run with him. 

Paul points out that in the races of their day only one runner gets the prize. At this time in history that prize would have been a “crown made of foliage” (ESV Study Bible*). He says that they should run in such a way that they might hope to obtain it. Paul is not saying that only one believer in all of history will receive a heavenly crown. Scripture teaches us that there will be more than one person in heaven receiving crowns. Rather, Paul is drawing attention to the fact that just like in the races of their day not everyone receives a crown. It is only those who run in a certain way that will be rewarded. So too with Christians. Only those who run the race that Christ has set before them with self-control and single-minded commitment will be counted worthy of a prize. 

Paul also points out that the prize for which we strive is of far greater worth than the crown of foliage athletes received which quickly withered. Our crown lasts for eternity. So we have all the more reason to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). Yet, too often we turn Paul’s advice on its ear. Both as spectators and as athletes we often exercise greater self-discipline in sports than we do in our relationship with God. We leave church early to get to games. We eliminate Wednesday night church altogether because it conflicts with our practices. I would imagine that even the most dedicated Christians among the athletes in my youth ministry spend more time every week in practices and games than they do serving God or studying His word. 

Personally, I love sports. I am not advocating that we get rid of them. Instead I challenge you to keep them in their proper place… prioritized beneath your relationship with God. Teach your children to do the same. Our culture will challenge you at this point. Almost every sports league out there for children, teens, and adults schedules practices and games during times that used to be reserved for church. I challenge you to prayerfully consider how best to handle this issue as you commit to follow Paul in being single-minded in your commitment to serve God faithfully, knowing that one day there will be a prize for those who have run well.

For further reading...
  • Acts 18- Read up on one of Paul's visits to Corinth. 
  • Hebrews 12:1-3- The writer of Hebrews also uses an athletic metaphor but in his image the great heroes of the faith are around us in the stadium cheering us on.  
  • I Timothy 4:7-9- Physical training has some value, but godliness has more. 

*Thielman, Frank S. Study Notes on First Corinthians in The ESV Study Bible. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007), p.2204.