Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Welfare of the City

John Piper Devotional:  Seek Your City's Good 

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. . . . But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:4–57)
If that was true for God’s exiles in Babylon, it would seem to be even more true for Christian exiles in this very “Babylon-like” world. What, then, shall we do?
We should do the ordinary things that need to be done: build houses; live in them; plant gardens. This does not contaminate you if you do it all for the real King and not just for eye service as men-pleasers.
Seek the welfare of the place where God has sent you. Think of yourself as sentthere by God for his glory. Because you are.
Pray to the Lord on behalf of your city. Ask for great and good things to happen for the city. Ask that they happen by God’s power and for his glory. Never lose sight of the ultimate good that the city needs a thousand times more than it needs material prosperity. Christians care about all suffering — especially eternal suffering. That’s the greatest danger every city faces.
But neither God nor his people are indifferent to the health and safety and prosperity and freedom of the city. We all want these things, and Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). In fact, the Lord says in Jeremiah that loving your city is a way of loving yourself: “In its welfare you will find your welfare.”
This does not mean we give up our exile orientation. Peter says that Christians are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) and Paul says “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). In fact, we will do most good for this world by keeping a steadfast freedom from its beguiling attractions. We will serve our city best by getting our values from “the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). We will do our city most good by calling as many of its citizens as we can to be citizens of “the Jerusalem above” (Galatians 4:26).
So, let’s live — let’s do so much good (1 Peter 2:12) — that the natives will want to meet our King.

Monday, April 17, 2017

One Thing

4 One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
5 For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Psalm 27

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Risen Indeed

Keep me from stupid sins

Psalm 19: 11-14 (MSG)

11-14 There’s more: God’s Word warns us of danger
    and directs us to hidden treasure.
Otherwise how will we find our way?
    Or know when we play the fool?
Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!
    Keep me from stupid sins,
    from thinking I can take over your work;
Then I can start this day sun-washed,
    scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.
These are the words in my mouth;
    these are what I chew on and pray.
Accept them when I place them
    on the morning altar,
O God, my Altar-Rock,
    God, Priest-of-My-Altar.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hosanna to your King!

Living Waters

My Rock

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 18:2

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Celebration of a Resurrection

Jon Bloom post:  Look, the World Has Gone After Him:  Prelude to Palm Sunday

We know from the apostle John why Palm Sunday happened:
The crowd that had been with [Jesus] when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. (John 12:17–18)
The Sunday parade of palms was a celebration of a resurrection. 

A Confusing Providence

But that resurrection was preceded by a confusing death. 
Lazarus had died. We don’t know what he died of, only that he was “ill” (John 11:1). The Bible rarely provides grisly details. But death by illness in the First Century, with none of the medical aids we modern Westerners take for granted, was no doubt horrible. 
His death brought profound grief to his sisters, Martha and Mary, who had nursed him as best they could. And Jesus, their dear friend, who also happened to be the greatest healer in the history of the world, had not come. This added grief upon grief for the sisters (John 11:2132). Jesus had not even made it for the funeral. When he finally did show up, Lazarus’s corpse had already begun to decompose. 
“Why?” “Where were you?” These were the implied agonizing questions both sisters expressed to Jesus. They weren’t the only ones asking. Others present were muttering, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37) He had saved others. Could he not have saved Lazarus? To Martha, Jesus gave an ambiguous hint of his purpose (John 11:23), but he was too troubled in spirit to say much to Mary (John 11:33). 
And then within a matter of minutes Lazarus, Martha, and Mary were in a tri-fold embrace, weeping together with unexpected, ineffable, awe-filled joy! Jesus had done exactly what he foretold: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). 

A Plan of Prescient Precision

But so much more was going on than the happy siblings, or the stunned observers, or even Jesus’s disciples understood. Not only did this resurrection demonstrate with unprecedented power the reality of who Jesus was, it also set in motion the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. 
Word of Lazarus’s resurrection naturally spread like wildfire. The Jewish authorities’ serious concern over Jesus escalated to alarm. They plotted to murder him (John 11:47–50). 
Jesus laid low for a few weeks, and then reappeared in Bethany to share one last and remarkable supper at the Bethany home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. The remarks got out quickly, and soon a large crowd gathered to get a glimpse not only of Jesus but also of the newly resurrected and probably reluctant celebrity (John 12:9). Being a celebrity for rising from the dead was ironically proving to be deadly, since the authorities were planning to take Lazarus out along with Jesus (John 12:10–11). 
But Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. The timing of Lazarus’s horrible death, of his astonishing resurrection, of Jesus’s laying low, and now of his public reappearance was all coordinated with a prescient precision that would not be noticed until later (John 12:16). His hour had come at last. He would no longer lay low. The news must spread. It was time for the ancient gates to raise their heads, and the ancient doors to lift in homage. The King of glory was on his way (Psalm 24:7). 

A Prophetic Procession

And so the news spread, and so the crowd swelled to receive in procession the One who had raised a man from the dead. Could there be any doubt that he was the Messiah? Doubts would come, but few doubted it that day. People grabbed palm branches, a symbol of Jewish nationalism, and cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13). 
Few if any recognized in the euphoric moment the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
But Jesus recognized the moment. And so he “found a young donkey and sat on it” (John 12:14). 
I said few doubted Jesus that day. But the few who did wielded a lethal amount of earthly power. As the Pharisees watched this potent moment with unmistakable implications unfold, they said to each other, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him” (John 12:19). But this was not resignation. The crowd’s jubilation only hardened the authorities’ resolve to kill the dead-raising Son of God. 

A Prophetic Precursor

And Jesus knew this. In the midst of the prophetic, palm-waving party, Jesus knew it would trigger the fulfillment of another prophecy:
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
Jesus knew Lazarus’s expiration would result in resurrection; he knew this resurrection would result in the crowd’s celebration; he knew this celebration would result in the Council’s homicidal determination; he knew this determination would result in his unjust condemnation; and he knew this condemnation would result in his own brutal expiration by crucifixion. 
And he knew that his innocent, yet guilt-imputed expiration would result in the imputation of his righteousness to many (Isaiah 53:112 Corinthians 5:21), and in a resurrection far more glorious and world-shaking than Lazarus’s. 
Palm Sunday was a celebration of a resurrection. But it was only a prophetic precursor. One week later, a resurrection occurred whose celebration has continued two millennia hence. 
And look, the world has gone after him. 

Apart .. No Good Thing

OBSERVE THE PATTERN OF CAPITAL LETTERS: “I said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing’” (Ps. 16:2). In other words, addressing Yahweh (“LORD”), David confesses him “Lord,” his Master; then he adds, “Apart from you I have no good thing.”

(1) Looked at one way, these words delimit what is good, and thereby almost define the good. Nothing is ultimately good if it is abstracted from God. It may be good in a relative sense, of course. The Lord made the sun and pronounced it good, and good it is: it provides all of this world’s energy. Yet abstracted from the knowledge of God, it became an object of worship among many ancient peoples (called Ra in Egypt — and the covenant community itself could get caught up in syncretistic sun worship, Ezek. 8:16), and attracts a different kind of sun worshiper today. We may enjoy reasonably good health; surely that is a good thing. But suppose we use our energy to do what is selfish or evil, or deploy the blessings the Lord entrusts to us simply to order our lives as autonomously as possible? Apart from the Lord, we “have no good thing.”

(2) Looked at another way, the text is literally true. Since God is the Creator of all, then no good thing that we enjoy has come to us apart from him. “Every good and perfect gift is from above,” James writes (1:17). Paul asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor. 4:7). So our first order of business ought to be gratitude. Apart from the Lord, we “have no good thing.”

(3) Yet the text is certainly more visceral than that. Its tone is closer to the words of Asaph: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26). In comparison with knowledge of our Maker and Redeemer, nothing else is worth very much, whether in this life or in the life to come. Apart from the Lord, we “have no good thing.”

(4) The text will trigger in some minds other “apart from” passages. Perhaps the best known is John 15:5, where Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (italics added). Apart from the vine, we branches bear no fruit; and apart from him we “have no good thing.”

Leviticus 13; Psalms 15-16; Proverbs 27; 2 Thess. 1 is a post from: For the Love of God

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Holy, Holy, Holy

Take It All

They Are But Men

Don Carson post:  Leviticus 8; Psalm 9; Proverbs 23; 1 Thessalonians 2 is a post from: For the Love of God

AT THE BEGINNING OF THE AMERICAN EXPERIMENT in democracy, the Founding Fathers adopted several stances, accepted by few today, that were deeply indebted to the Judeo-Christian heritage. This is not to say that the Founding Fathers were all Christians. Many weren’t; they were vague deists. But among these biblical assumptions was the belief that human beings are not naturally good and have potential for enormous evil.

For that reason, when the Fathers constructed their political system, they never appealed to “the wisdom of the American people” or similar slogans common today. Frankly, they were a little nervous about giving too much power to the masses. That is why there was no direct election of the president: there was an intervening “college.” Only (white) men with a stake in the country could vote. Even then, the branches of government were to be limited by a system of checks and balances, because for the Fathers, populist demagoguery was as frightening as absolute monarchy (as we saw in another connection on January 20).

Certainly one of the great advantages of almost any system of genuine democracy (genuine in this context presupposes a viable opposition, freedom of the press, and largely uncorrupted voting) is that it provides the masses with the power to turf out leaders who disillusion us. In that sense, democracy still works: government must be by the consent of the governed. Yet the primitive heritage has so dissipated today that politicians from all sides appeal to the wisdom of the people. Manipulated by the media, voting their pocketbooks, supporting sectional interests or monofocal issues, voters in America and other Western democracies do not show very great signs of transcendent wisdom. Worse, we labor under the delusion (indeed, we foster the delusion) that somehow things will be all right provided lots of people vote. Our system of government is our new Tower of Babel: it is supposed to make us impregnable. The Soviet empire totters; other nations crumble into the dust, Balkanized, destroyed by civil war, tribal genocide, grinding poverty, endemic corruption, Marxist or some other ideology. Not us. We belong to a democracy, “rule by the people.”

Not for a moment should we depreciate the relative good of living in a country with a relatively high level of income, a stable government, and some accountability. But such blessings do not guarantee righteousness. “The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice” (Ps. 9:7-8).

Hear the voice of Scripture: “Arise, O LORD, let not man triumph; let the nations be judged in your presence. Strike them with terror, O LORD; let the nations know they are but men” (Ps. 9:19-20).

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Delights in the Word of the Lord

THE FIRST PSALM IS sometimes designated a wisdom psalm. In large part this designation springs from the fact that it offers two ways, and only two ways — the way of the righteous (Ps.1:1-3) and the way of the wicked (1:4-5), with a final summarizing contrast (1:6).

The first three verses, describing the righteous person, fall naturally into three steps. In verse 1, the righteous person is described negatively, in verse 2 positively, and in verse 3 metaphorically. The negative description in verse 1 establishes what the “blessed” man is not like. He does not “walk in the counsel of the wicked”; he does not “stand in the way of sinners”; he does not “sit in the seat of mockers.”

The wicked man, then, is grinding to a halt (walk/stand/sit). He begins by walking in the counsel of the wicked: he picks up the advice, perspectives, values, and worldview of the ungodly. If he does this long enough, he sinks to the next level: he “stands in the way of sinners.” This translation gives the wrong impression. To “stand in someone’s way” in English is to hinder them. One thinks of Robin Hood and Little John on the bridge: each stands in the other’s way, and one of them ends in the stream. But “to stand in someone’s way” in Hebrew means something like “to stand in his moccasins”: to do what he does, to adopt his lifestyle, his habits, his patterns of conduct. If he pursues this course long enough, he is likely to descend to the abyss and “sit in the seat of mockers.” He not only participates in much that is godless, but sneers at those who don’t. At this point, someone has said, a person receives his master’s in worthlessness and his doctorate in damnation. The psalmist insists, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers” (italics added). The righteous person is described negatively.

One might have expected the second verse to respond with contrasting parallelism: “Blessed, rather, is the man who walks in the counsel of the righteous, who stands in the way of the obedient, who sits in the seat of the grateful”– or something of that order. Instead, there is one positive criterion, and it is enough: “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (1:2).

Where one delights in the Word of God, constantly meditating on it, there one learns good counsel, there one’s conduct is shaped by revelation, there one nurtures the grace of gratitude and praise. That is a sufficient criterion.

Leviticus 4; Psalms 1-2; Proverbs 19; Colossians 2 is a post from: For the Love of God