Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Goodness of God's Wrath

Some like to think that the Old and New Testaments present two different gods. The Old Testament presents a God of wrath while the New Testament portrays God as being full of grace and mercy, or so the argument goes. These two images conflict and simply cannot be reconciled. But the God of the Bible is not schizophrenic or two-faced. A close reading of Scripture will yield a simple but powerful truth that helps us here.

God's wrath is mixed with grace.

God is not schizophrenic or two faced. His character is the same throughout Scripture, but God isn't simple either. Even humans are complicated mixtures of many different traits and characteristics all coming together to define who we are as individuals. So too God is one, yet He has wrath and grace... and patience and justice and gentleness and righteousness, and on and on. God has many attributes in his character and they are all in the perfect proportion and measure so that all come together in one perfect God. Since God's wrath and grace are in perfect proportion, they are not contrary to one another but often show up side-by side. They are intermingled. You will almost never see God's wrath presented in Scripture without an accompanying offer of grace.

This is what we see in the book of Zephaniah. The book starts out with an announcement of God's wrath.
"I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. “I will sweep away both man and beast; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea— and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” “When I destroy all mankind on the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. (Zephaniah 1:2-3)
This leads us to a couple of questions. Why is God angry? And what is the result of God's anger?

If you study the context of this passage you'll find that God had good reason to be angry. God's people have forsaken Him and run after false gods. They have set up idols in the temple that Solomon built in which God's Shekinah glory had dwelt. There was an Asherah idol in the Temple, altars on the roof, and even houses for male cult prostitutes alongside the temple where the people would practice sexual rituals in worship of these false gods. There were high places all over Judah where the people bowed down to the stars, sun, moon and planets. In the Valley of Topheth the people made sacrifices to Molek. This was particularly detestable to God because parents would sacrifice their own children in fire to this false god. 2 Kings 21:16 tells us that King Manasseh (who had recently reigned) "shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end." God's people were prideful, violent, deceitful and complacent. (The content of this paragraph is gleaned from the book of Zephaniah as well as 2 Kings 21-23 and 2 Chronicles 33-35.)

God will not stand by while His children worship false gods. The New Testament tells us that when people sacrifice to these idols they are really sacrificing to demons. This isn’t just wrong it is dangerous for us. God often uses the analogy of marriage to describe His relationship to His people. God will not share His worship any more than a good husband will share his wife or vice versa. God will not suffer an open marriage. He is a jealous God in the best way. We are rightfully His, He will not allow us to be stolen away by demons who intend to do us harm.

So it turns out that God should be angry! His wrath is just. A God who has no wrath is no good. I don't want to serve a god who has no anger over child sacrifices. I don't want a god who doesn't get angry when the weak are victimized and abused, when the poor are defrauded, or when his people worship demons. If God wasn’t angry at these things, if He didn’t punish these, then He wouldn’t be good! So, I'll say it again. A god with no wrath is no good.

What we find in the book of Zephaniah and throughout the Old Testament and the whole of the Bible though is not only that God's wrath is justified but that it is in fact intermingled with grace. God’s wrath is good and He can be trusted! We see this when we ask our second question: what is the result of God's anger? Consider the outcome in the book of Zephaniah.
Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”(Zephaniah 3:14-17)
Do you see what God has done? A book that began with fear and complete destruction ends with joy and singing. The punishment God brings results in singing, shouts of joy, rejoicing, and gladness for His people. His anger is turned to delight, forgiveness, love, and nearness to His people. As Matthew Henry puts it, “God’s design is not to drive them to despair but to drive them to God and to their duty- not to frighten them out of their wits, but to frighten them out of their sins” (quoted from Matthew Henry's Unabridged Commentary on the Whole Bible, notes on Zephaniah.)

God disciplines His children as a father disciplines the son He loves (Hebrews 12:5-7). The results He longs to bring for His children are restoration and joy! This isn’t a fickle, despotic God, but a fiercely loving, jealous and righteous God. So if you sense that you are under Gods wrath, under His discipline right now, then take comfort in this truth. It is not God’s pleasure to crush you, but to restore you! Even this is for your good. God is eager for your return. He pursues you for relationship and for restoration, not for destruction.

Praise God for His goodness that even His wrath is mixed with grace, even His judgment is consistent with mercy. God is a God of hope. Even in His fierce anger, he longs for us to turn to Him. Will you stop running away from God today? Will you turn toward Him? Will you repent and lay down your arms and surrender? If you will, then He will make you a beloved son or daughter today. That’s what a Christian is. We all used to be enemies of God. We hated Him and His ways. We rebelled against His authority, but He captured us with His love. We surrendered to His grace and He has adopted us and made us His very own sons and daughters.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Josiah's Repentance

Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;
Acts 3:19

King Josiah gives us one of the best examples of repentance in Scripture. He was king of Judah at a time when its people were exceedingly wicked. Josiah's predecessors had set up false idols in the courts, on the roof and even inside God's holy temple. Next to the temple were houses for the cult male prostitutes who engaged in perverse sexual worship of their false gods there on the temple grounds. The people of Judah were worshiping the sun, moon, stars and planets as well as the false gods of the nations around them from high places scattered across Judah. They even offered their own children as sacrifices in fire to the pagan god Molech in the valley of Topheth. Scripture tells us that Josiah's grandfather Manasseh "shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end" (2 Kings 21:16).

When Josiah's men found the Book of the Law (probably the book of Deuteronomy) which had been lost in the temple and read it to the king, Josiah immediately realize how terrible his people's sin had been. He knew they were under God's wrath and deserving of his judgment, so Josiah not only humbled himself and sought God's guidance but he also coordinated one of the biggest 180s in history. 

Josiah removed all of the altars and false gods from the temple as well as the male prostitutes. He defiled and tore down all the high places throughout his kingdom, even some that were as much as 100 miles outside his capital city. Josiah even tore down the altars that the great King Solomon had built over 300 years before. He destroyed Topheth where Molech received child sacrifices. He kicked out the mediums and necromancers from his kingdom. He even went so far as to remove the household gods and idols which people worshiped privately in their homes throughout the land. 2 Kings 23:25 says, "Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses."

This is what wholehearted repentance looks like! Josiah didn't go halfway; he radically cut out all the sin he could. He treated sin seriously because he feared the Lord. May we fear the Lord in the same way and treat sin just as seriously in our lives. We may not worship stars and heavenly planets thinking they direct our lives, but people certainly consult their horoscopes and psychics because they believe these things somehow control their destinies. You may think that no one worships idols anymore, but they do. Buddhism and Hinduism both utilize idols among others. The NT tells us that greed is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Are you greedy or covetous? Do you love money? There is little doubt that idolatry is still alive and well. 

God will not stand by while His children worship false gods. The Bible often uses the analogy of marriage to describe God's relationship to His people. God will not share His worship any more than a good husband will share his wife. He will not suffer an open marriage. So, "repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Great Veggie War of 2016

In the morning there was a layer of dew all around the camp. When the layer of dew evaporated, there were fine flakes on the desert surface, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they asked one another, “What is it?” because they didn’t know what it was...The house of Israel named the substance manna. It resembled coriander seed, was white, and tasted like wafers made with honey... The Israelites ate manna for 40 years, until they came to an inhabited land. They ate manna until they reached the border of the land of Canaan. 
Exodus 16:13b-15, 31 & 35

Over the last few weeks my wife and I have been fighting The Great Veggie War of 2016. We've been knee deep in concocting ways to coax our three year old to choke down asparagus, bell pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, and peas. We tried punishing her when she didn't eat her veggies. That only made us feel like terrible parents. We tried convincing her that the veggies were yummy. She saw right through that one. Didn't even come close! We tried adding cheese to any and every veggie that crossed her plate. That one helped a little. But most days she cried and fussed like we were force-feeding her radioactive waste.

Don't laugh though. The truth is that most of us aren't any better as adults. How well do you do at eating things you don't like? Most of us aren't too good at it. (Side note- this is a good place to start when considering why our diets always fail.)

Well just imagine eating the same thing for forty years. That's what the Israelites did while wandering in the desert. Every meal, every day consisted of manna and water. Sure, you may get some quail every now and then, but for the most part for forty years your only food is bread and water. Never mind that these were provided miraculously by God for millions of people in the middle of the desert. Many of us would quickly lose sight of that. Bread and water is prison food. In fact, we feed our prisoners better than that these days!

Would you grumble? Do you grumble about what God provides for you?

Let's circle back to that. Let's ask this question first: What does this teach us about God? There is no denying that God is much more interested in accomplishing His purposes in your life and through your life than He is interested in changing His plans to meet your wants and needs. Notice, God's ultimate plan for His people was a land flowing with milk and honey. His plan would lead them to abundant blessing, but there wasn't abundant blessing all along the way. First they had to learn to trust Him. They even went three days without finding water once (Exodus 15:22-27). Talk about trusting the Lord! 

Also, it should not escape our attention that it was the Israel's sin that prevented them from receiving God's desired blessing for them (the Promised Land) sooner. They wouldn't have suffered in the desert for forty years if they had obeyed God and trusted Him.

So again I ask, do you grumble about what God has given you? Are you ungrateful? Do you compare it to what God has given someone else, or to what you used to have? Are you like a small child whining and crying about what God is making you do? Even if we never do it out loud, even if it is only in our hearts, many of us are this way. When you feel this way, remember that just like my wife and I with my daughter; God's plan is ultimately for your good even if you can't see it. God has abundant blessing planned for all those who believe on Jesus. Trust Him. Obey Him. And do so with a grateful heart for such a loving Father.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Too Small a Thing

And now the LORD says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Isaiah 49:6

Why is it "too small a thing" for Jesus to save only the Jews? Why does God insists, even as far back as this Old Testament prophecy predicting Christ as the Suffering Servant, that His salvation must reach the "ends of the earth?"

There are many reasons. For one, God is no respecter of persons. He loves all the nations and offers forgiveness to all. Here's another, no one people group is any more deserving of God's free grace than another. But in his book entitled Let the Nations be Glad, John Piper draws our attention to a reason that we often overlook. He argues that God is more glorified by saving people from every nation, tribe and tongue than He would be simply by saving a large number from a few people groups. Why is it more glorifying to God to ensure His salvation reaches the ends of the earth?

First, if He is God of all, then He deserves praise from all. How can He be the one true God, the Creator of all the earth if He is worshiped by only one people group? It doesn't fit. The one true God deserves to be worshiped by all. God deserves to be praised in Swahili. He is worthy of adoration in French, Books ought to be written about His greatness in Farsi.

Second, different people groups and cultures worship God in different ways. God is too diverse in His beauty, character and excellence for any one people group to reflect back to Him all the worship He deserves. Piper puts it this way. "More depth of beauty is felt from a choir that sings in parts than from a choir that sings only in unison. Unity in diversity is more beautiful and more powerful than the unity of uniformity" (Piper p.222). Our worship is inherently more beautiful when it is offered by a diverse body of believers. 

Third, it shows the greatness of God's true worth. "The fame and greatness and worth of an object of beauty increases in proportion to the diversity of those who recognize its beauty. If a work of art is regarded as great among a small and like-minded group of people but not by anyone else, the art is probably not truly great. Its qualities are such that it does not appeal to the deep universals in our hearts but only to provincial biases. But if a work of art continues to win more and more admirers not only across cultures but also across decades and centuries, then its greatness is irresistibly manifested" (Piper p.222). 

This means that you and I must do more than simply worship God in the way that best fits our culture and skin color. We ought to pray for the gospel to reach unreached people groups. And we should push the gospel to the ends of the earth by giving to missions, going on mission trips, and encouraging our churches to become more ethnically diverse. Let's make Jesus' name great at home and to the ends of the earth because He is worthy of all worship!