30 January 2007

Someone To Watch Over Me

There is a George Gerswhin song that immediately came to my recollection as I meditated on I Peter 2:25.
It may seem strange that a secular song would be the first thing to identify with a Scripture verse but it was and Bob's your uncle.
It has a very haunting and beautiful melody that perfectly underscores the longing of these words in a fallen world:

There's a somebody I'm longing to see
I hope that she/he turns out to be
Someone to watch over me
I'm a little lamb who's lost in a wood
I know I could always be good
To one who'll watch over me

The world has a longing that we do not have. There is someone, although we have not seen him, who we know and who we love and we know he is watching over us. And our longing is in one way fulfilled and yet will be fulfilled in another way when we stand in glory.
We do not have to hope that the one we long for will watch over us. We know he does because he is our Shepherd/Pastor and our Guardian/overseer.
In vs. 25 Peter is again relating to Isaiah 53. This time it is vs. 6
Isa 53:6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
He is our great Shepherd.
Now remember that some believe that Peter’s writing in the original context is to Jewish Christians but he is most likely writing to a mixed group and addressing Jews specifically and Gentiles specifically at certain times, from a historical point of reference.
For you were (either in Judaism or without God) while you had not yet received the gospel, as sheep going astray, from Christ the great Shepherd, and the church of believers who are his flock, and the way of righteousness in which he leads them. You were alienated from the life of God, bewildered and lost in the way of sin, Isa 53:6.
But are now returned, in your conversion to the faith, to the Shepherd; Christ the good Shepherd, Joh 10:11,14,16, who takes care of souls in the way a shepherd cares for his sheep.
And Christ is the Bishop of your souls; the superintendent, the inspector, or, as the Hebrews would phrase it, the visitor, i.e. he that with care looks to, inspects, and visits the flock. This Peter adds for the comfort (as of all believers) but particularly of slaves who are servants that even they, in such a low social status and much exposed to unjust treatment, were under the care and watchful eye of Christ.
But the application suits all who are in this fallen world who by grace come to Christ. We all have sinned and fall short of glorifying God. The returning is to the relationship that was severed since sin came into the world. This is why we speak of reconciliation.
Christ has reconciled us to God. Reconciliation does not always mean that there was a relationship to begin with. For example when talking about reconciling ethnic groups it means to bring together to establish harmony in our society.
But man did have a relationship with God before the fall in the first man Adam, and all who are Christ’s are now reconciled with God. We are restored into a relationship with God.
And in this we have a Shepherd and an overseer. We have someone who cares and watches over us. Rather than singing There's a somebody I'm longing to see - I hope that she/he turns out to be - Someone to watch over me,” we can sing with assurance - Savior like a Shepherd lead us, much we need thy tender care. Jesus Savior pilot me and blessed assurance Jesus is mine.
How great is the grace of God. As we were straying far away from the fold of God it was always God’s intent to bring us into the flock of the Great Shepherd.
Some may be confused about the phrase “you have returned to the Shepherd” and believe that this was an inclination of a sinner who having decided to accept Jesus into their heart decided it was a good thing to do, but this completely contradicts what Peter has written earlier about the work of a sovereign God in the lives of those who become his people.
They have returned in the sense that they were straying and now have turned to the Christ. They are only returning as part of all mankind who is straying. The turning is because of the grace of God, which has been established earlier in the letter.
As John Gill an early Baptist pastor said “they were returned by powerful and efficacious grace: saints are passive, and not active in first conversion; they are turned, not by the power of their own free will, but by the power of God's free grace; they are returned under the illuminations and quickenings of the blessed Spirit, and through the efficacious drawings of the Father's love, unto Christ…”
This is the evidence that by His stripes we are healed, meaning of our sins in v. 24.
Our sin caused us to be straying. In one sense all of Christ’s own possession are already His sheep before they are converted. But because we have not yet heard the voice of the Shepherd as it were, we were straying. He comes and finds His own sheep. This is the reason he comes for us, because we are his and as a good shepherd he will go to find his lost sheep.
John 10:11 "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
Joh 10:27* "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;
So all we like sheep have gone astray. That is one characteristic of sheep left to themselves. But we have a Shepherd and he lays down his life for his sheep and calls them unto himself and because they are his sheep they will hear and follow him.
But they only can follow him because he has laid down his life for them.
Those who are not his continue as sheep without a shepherd to their own destruction to be plundered and ravaged by thieves and robbers and wolves.
Christ is also our overseer. He attends to us to see that we are progressing as we should. How wonderful is the Spirit Covenant that gives life and all that is needed to live according to that life. How gracious that it is a life that is progressive in the now but completed for us already in Christ and that completion awaits the day of glory. And because it progresses toward that which is already complete there is no killing as with the Letter Covenant. There is full provision for ongoing forgiveness of sins as we repent because we are incurable lovers of Christ. He is working to will and to do of his good pleasure in us and he will complete that good work in us, which he alone began.
How comforting, beyond measure to know there there is someone Who Is Watching Over Me.

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17 January 2007

The Dream That Remains A Dream

In March of 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr.Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
The eloquence of his oratory matched the conviction of his heart.
His words were the revelations of a visionary leader of a movement that would neither ultimately succeed nor ultimately fail.
Peter Marshall, late Chaplain of the US Senate said, “I would rather fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.”
The speech was filled with imagery that stirred the imagination and kindled the fires of emotion in Americans who were exhorted to take responsible, peaceful action toward the elimination of racism in America.
In contrast to the voice of pacifism and non-violence, there were the voices that advocated violence and were opposed to the mainstream message and methods of the movement.
These voices devastated the hopes for a true coalition of black leadership.The message of rage and racism within the Black Power Movement was articulated by Malcom X, Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis and lesser known indiviuals. They represented The Nation of Islam, SNCC, The Black Panthers and other groups. More voices of opposition added to the turmoil. George Lincoln Rockwell spewed forth his Aryan rhetoric through the American Nazi Party and of course there was the ever present K.K.K.
These were the days of white faced mobs, springing up like hedges along the Civil Rights Marchers pathways, faces snarled with hatred and spitting venemous words of scorn at them.
These were the days of the famous and the infamous proving, once again, that the Bible accurately describes humanity as being depraved, wicked and sinful, (Mt. 15:18-20).
But, these were also the days of seeing the gift of a moral conscience because we are created in the image of God, yet marred by sin. A conscience that can still respond to the inequities in our society that are the result of our common sinfulness (Rom.3:23).
From Selma to Memphis, the consequences of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden were repeatedly illustrated and seared into the memories of a generation.
But Dr.King had a dream.
Curiously, there was one voice that was ambivalent and strangely silent. Barely a whisper came from this voice although it had a presence in every urban center, suburb and rural area of America. Generally, the voice of the “evangelical” white church was not heard.
Jews, Catholics and “Christians” from the mainline and liberal churches were in the mix. Some were killed - black, white, Jew and Gentile. But where was the “evangelical” church, white or otherwise.
This brings us to the essential factor as to why the Civil Rights Movement did not ultimately succeed nor can it succeed as men might hope it will. The underlying theological presuppositions upon which the movement was based were not biblical. The presuppositions of the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man are contrary to our biblical understanding of man.
The key theological presupposition in the “I Have A Dream” speech is evident:
"And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when
we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from
every state and every city, we will be able to speed up
that day when all of God's children (author’s emphasis), black men and white
men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be
able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro
spiritual, Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty,
we are free at last."
The freedom and brotherhood that Dr. King so earnestly desired cannot become a reality when we honestly and biblically assess human nature. Human nature is bound as a slave to sin (Rom.6:17). Without the Gospel and the reconciliation of God and man first, there can be no true reconciliation between men (Eph.2:14-17).
God is the Creator of all and the Father only of those who believe in Christ and repent of their sin.
To be free at last can only be accomplished through the cross and Christ’s resurrection.
Without Christ, the dream is a humanistic desire for a Camelot that man can never create. There was no happy everaftering for King Arthur, nor is there for us, unless Christ is our King and Sovereign Lord.
Many of the leaders in the movement were also trained in Eastern Mysticism meditation techniques and they embraced the philosophy of Mahatmas Ghandi which only obscured the truth of Scripture. Hindus and Brahmans and other Eastern religions believe in the universal fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man and that many roads lead to heaven. This is anti-Christian.
Why were these ministers of the gospel so eager to embrace teachings that are so far removed from the truth of the Bible?
Although I do not agree with the theology of either Dr. King or Billy Graham, can you imagine what might have been if Billy Graham and Dr. King held a joint evangelistic crusade in Selma, Birmingham, Atlanta or Memphis?
Can you imagine addressing racial prejudice by preaching the gospel and being ministers of reconciliation in our multicultural societies today or tomorrow?
Would Dr. King envision that the body of Christ, at least as he understood it, with it’s many hues, continues to and may even take the lead in promoting segregation in America forty-four years after saying, “I have a dream...”.
A more in depth article is available at www.fbceny.org/articles/king1.pdf

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10 January 2007

The Aliens Are Already Here

Peter writes that there is something about us that makes us different from other people. We are aliens and strangers.
Now Christians come in all shades of hue and color. We are brown, red, yellow, black and white. We wear dresses, suits, dashikis, saris, sandals, shoes, sneakers and some go barefoot.
We are teachers, mechanics, factory workers, administrators, and salesman.
We live in small houses, larger houses, huts and in prisons.
We like sports and we do not like sports.
In these and in so many other things we are no different from those in the world in which we live.
We are all made in the image of God and until we are made God’s own possession by his mercy and grace we are all the same in our fallen state of sin.
But God has made His own different.
We are to be holy even as He is holy.
Simply put this means that as God is different from all He has created we are to be different from other men.
The way in which our difference can be readily known is by our moral behavior.
The world is an amoral place. It really does not care about morals in an absolute sense and so immorality is very much tolerated, not universally but by matters of degree.
Certain immoral behavior according to God’s standard is tolerated by the world depending on the circumstances of how one is affected by certain immorality. Often, if something immoral by God’s standard has no direct effect on a person in the world, then it will be tolerated, as long as it does not interfere with one’s life.
Often, a Christian sense of morality becomes politicized.
Many moral issues that are biblically based on God’s holiness become the center stage for politics and the morality is really left out. The issue becomes more of a difference of opinion on what rights someone has as opposed to a purely moral issue.
This is how Christians get swept up into right wing politics and the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, neither of which were exclusively moral or Christian.
I do not need Rush Limbaugh representing my worldview. If I am Christian and happen to be a political conservative perhaps I agree with Rush on political views, however his world view is not rooted in the Scripture, it is not a biblical world view anymore than Jerry Falwell’s or Pat Robertson’s view is biblical once they make it political.
So what we engage in are culture wars that are really removed from the Scriptures although some appeal is made to the truth of Scripture for the basis of the political process.
We are not called to change the world through politics but we we have a legitimate call to be nation builders through the preaching of the gospel, which enlarges the kingdom of God and His holy nation on the earth.
So Peter is urging to abstain from fleshly kinds of immoral behavior that are proven by God’s word to bring destruction to the soul.
This is what truly makes us holy, different from other people.
We have a deliberate and conscious standard of morality that is based on God’s purpose for us, to be holy as He is holy. Our standard of morality is different than the morality of the world. This is why we are aliens ands strangers; this is why we are different. Aliens and strangers stand out in any community. We will not stand out by our clothes, our work, and our food or our hobbies but we will stand out because of our morality.
This will be outstanding because it is not a priority for the world.
Self-indulgence, self esteem, degrees of hedonism and self-satisfaction are the standard of the world and they are blind to the absolute standards of God and His morality and will lose the war against the soul, which is perpetrated by our very own sinful nature.
And the purpose of this moral living is the glory of God. This is where the real battle lies; it is about the glory of God.
We will be slandered and accused of many things but in the end God will be glorified by how we lived as being different people, as aliens and strangers and as Peter later says as good citizens where ever we are.
The world does not care. It is not a priority. Absolute truth from the One who is the Way, the Truth and The Life means nothing to the world reveling in its heart of darkness.
Was absolute morality a concern for you before Christ saved you? I don’t think so.
By our living according to God’s morality we will be called evildoers, Peter says. We will be singled out as the ones who really have a problem. By upholding and living the truth of Scripture people will call us evil for even daring to say that another person is a sinner and deserving of hell.
You may be the most pleasant and gracious neighbor on the block, but once you have a serious biblical discussion about the penalty for an immoral lifestyle you will be judged by most and perhaps tolerated by some.
Once you inform someone that their child or husband, or wife is not a victim but an active sinner whose own wicked nature is encouraging their self destruction you’d better duck. And if they do slap your cheek, then turn the other to them.
Our job is not to hit back but like Rocky Balboa says in street language that rings true to Scripture, “But it ain't about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward.”
Rocky is talking about winning a fight. We are talking about winning the war, the only one in the end of human history that really matters. John Bunyan called it the Holy War.
I may learn to live from you but only if you are living according to Christ otherwise you have nothing to teach me that will nourish my soul.
Now that does not mean that I should live like a monk and only learn spiritual things.
But Christ is to be the priority of my life. As I learn life skills and trades and other things that are needed to live in the world they need to be a part of my living for Christ. As I use these skills or apply my trade I do it as a Christian. The morality of my life needs to be seen, so that they who will call me evil may one day give glory to God at Christ’s appearing.
The world cares not for the glory of God
O, what a fearful condition
When the heart of darkness rules in man’s life
The end will be perdition
How great was the darkness of my own soul
Until Jesus revealed His light
How unworthy I was
And how glad I am now
That mercy and grace gave me sight (J. Krygier)
We are the light of the world. We are the salt of the earth. It is not just speaking the truth of God’s word that He uses for His glory. That is important because true faith comes from the hearing of the word and Peter later writes:
1Pe 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;
Peter says in 1 Peter 2:11-2 says that by observing our good deeds they may glorify God.
Our faithful living according to God’s morals does affect men for good. It is part of the process God uses to call His elect unto Himself.
What we say and how we live are both used of God for His glory.
Just as we are to fight against those things that would cause us to demean Christ, those things we should fear that would be demonstrating that we may truly not be what we think we are, we should be waging war against the immorality that will attempt to destroy our living unto the glory of Christ and which will destroy the souls of men who do not know Christ.

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05 January 2007

The Excellency of The Kingdom of Light

The darkness that we were called out from is the very heart of what and who we were. People living in spiritual darkness ruled by a nature that loves darkness because our evil deeds relish the darkness of our souls and the darkness of our souls relish the darkness.
Therefore, we really do not, in our dark condition, see man as he really is.
Darkness is the inability to see: this may sound simple, but as a description of the human nature it has profound implications. Failing to see another human being means failing to understand that individual and not knowing what the real source of their difficulties are. In our darkness we cannot see it.
Our worldview, without Christ, is determined not by the light of absolute truth found in Christ but by the darkness of our own hearts and our depravity and our natural condition as haters of the Light. Having eyes to see we cannot see, in the natural or the spiritual sense.
What did you know and what truth did you really see until God called you out of darkness and brought you into His marvelous light?
The only honest answer is that you saw nothing and knew nothing in an absolute sense.
What you knew of man was distorted although even sinful men can recognize evil for example, but not in the absolute terms of God's definition of evil.
What ever you saw or knew of God was distorted and overshadowed by human reason and making gods in your own image until God called you from that domain of darkness with a heart of stone and placed you in his kingdom of light with a new heart.
You may have known much about God but knowing him is a completely different thing.
Peter says we once were not a people of God but since we have received mercy we are the people of God. We need to cherish more and more of what that means.
O Christ, in Thee my soul hath found
And found in Thee alone,
The peace, the joy I sought so long,
The bliss till now unknown.

I sighed for rest and happiness,
I yearned for them, not Thee;
But while I passed my Savior by,
His love laid hold of me.

Now none but Christ can satisfy,
None other name for me;
There's love, and life, and lasting joy,
Lord Jesus, found in Thee.
--Author unknown
As the people of God many will despise you and call you arrogant and call you bigoted and call you crazy to believe that you have some kind of right to be so exclusive about God.
But we have the sure word of God and a changed heart and the ministry of the Holy Sprit that proves who we are by God’s grace and mercy. We do not merely know about God - we know him through Jesus Christ our Lord and we know He knows us, intimately as his very own possession. To proclaim the excellency of our God should be the easiest and most joyous thing that we can do.
His name alone is excellent. We can speak of the excellencies of his grace, of his mercy, of his kindness, of his faithfulness, of his everlasting love and so much more.

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