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The Guidance of Light and Truth

“Send your light and your truth,

Cause them to guide me;

They will cause me to enter into your holy mountain,

And into your dwellings.”

(Psalm 43:3)

The psalmist not only speaks of the truth of God leading him, but he also speaks of the “where” to which he is being led. In the context of the passage, he sees this place as a place of refuge to which he can be brought and made safe from his enemies. One of the things worth noting is just how often scripture speaks of God being a place of refuge (Psalm 2:12, 5:11, 7:1, 11:1, 14:6, 16:1, 17:7, 18:2, 18:30, 25:20, 28:8, 31:1-2, 31:4, 31:19, 34:8, 34:22, 36:7, 37:40, 43:2, 46:1, 57:1, 59:16, 61:3-4, 62:7-8, 64:10, 71:1, 71:3, 71:7, 73:28, 91:2, 91:4, 91:9, 94:22, 118:8-9, 141:8, 142:5, 143:9, 144:2 in the Psalms alone!). This refuge takes place on a spiritual level in that God provides us the strength to resist temptation and sin and he gives us the serenity of prayer at the foot of his throne in times of trouble. Yet, this refuge is also a physical thing as well. God provided safety for his people from the Egyptian army as they waited to cross the Red Sea, God defeated the enemies in the wilderness and in Canaan as well as those who would plunder and destroy his people in the land. God sent an angel to liberate Peter from prison and preserved Paul on his various missionary exploits. He even preserved his people through history, sometimes in the face of the executioner and sometimes from the hand of those who would destroy his church. God used princes to protect Martin Luther from a sure kidnapping and likely execution at the hands of the Roman Catholic church and he provided safety for John Calvin in Switzerland. Even today, Christians know the mighty hand of God to save not only their souls, but also their bodies from times of trial. All too often we embrace the one but ignore the other—God will deliver us in both cases.

With this in mind, the psalmist speaks of God’s “Holy Mountain” as the place of refuge to which God will bring him. Now, certainly, we will not all be brought to the same geographical place for refuge, but it can be suggested that the language of God’s holy mountain provides the paradigm by which we can understand all of the places to which God brings us as he provides us sanctuary. 

So, what does the psalmist mean by God’s Holy Mountain? There are three candidates that would qualify for this reference. The most common reference to the Holy Mountain found in the Old Testament would be Mount Zion in Jerusalem (Isaiah 27:13). This is the place of the Temple and the center of worship, but more importantly, it is the place where the glory of God’s presence dwelled—God with his people. What is interesting is that in the New Testament there is only one to the Holy Mountain of God, but there it is not in Jerusalem. Rather the Mountain of Transfiguration is spoken of as the Holy Mountain (2 Peter 1:18). This transition shouldn’t be too great a surprise to us as Christ is the Glory of God (Hebrews 1:3) and if it is the presence of the Glory of God that makes the Holy Mountain Holy, then with the absence of the glory from the Temple and the presence of that glory in Christ—revealed to Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The third candidate is Mount Sinai (or Horeb), where the Ten Commandments are given. More importantly, it is on this mountain that Moses was given the privilege of seeing the glory of God (Exodus 33:17-34:9). In addition, there is a cave here in which God held Moses secure as he passed by. Many years later, Elijah would also be brought to this mountain and this very same cave (1 Kings 18:9-18) both as a place of refuge from Jezebel as well as a place to see the glory of God.

So, what can we apply to our lives today? The first thing that should be noted is that the place of refuge in the Holy Mountain of God should be understood not only as a place of security, but as a place to be close to God. All too often, when in trial, we think only in terms of the safety of our skin, but in light of this, we also need a place of safety for our soul, where God can draw our attention toward himself—indeed, that is the more important of the two, but without the safety from the threats of the world, we will not be able to focus on eternal matters.

In turn, this suggests that our place of refuge (in light of the Holy Mountain) is not bound to geography, but is a place to which we can flee from the oppressors and distractions of the world and that we can rest in God. For many, that is a place or a time in their own homes where they can be alone with God and free from the dangers of life. Historically, many have set aside a small room as a prayer closet to which they can go and be alone and quiet with God. I have known others who have gotten up several hours before the rest of the family will awake, so that they have a quiet and still home to themselves. Regardless of the geography, so long as the principle is met, that indeed can be our place of refuge. 

An important side-note of this principle applies to how we view national Israel today. There are some who would argue that Christians have a stake in protecting Israel because God has reserved the physical tract of land around Mount Zion (Jerusalem) for end-time events as well as seeing the fulfillment of Genesis 12:2-3 in the national state of Israel. Is Israel a special place? Yes, historically it is the region where most of the Biblical events took place. For that reason and that reason alone, it ought to be preserved. Politically, Israel is also America’s primary ally in a very dangerous part of the world; again, that means we must have an interest in the political well-being of the nation. But, to argue that the refuge of Christians lies in Israel or in the reestablishment of the temple is a gross misunderstanding of the Biblical teaching both here and in other places. In fact, the author of Hebrews refers to the Church as the Spiritual Mount Zion to which believers come in faith (Hebrews 12:22-24).

The bottom line is that our hope and our refuge is found in Christ, not in a particular piece of real estate. And, beloved, we ought to rejoice in that, for when the world falls against us, we have a ready and sure refuge to which we can run: Jesus Christ.

“Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish on the way;

For his anger will burn quickly.

Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

(Psalm 2:12)

Light to the Eyes, not a Fat Heart, That must be Our Prayer

“giving light to the eyes of your heart to know the hope of his calling, which is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints and  which is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us, those who believe, according to the outworking of his power and might.”

(Ephesians 1:18-19)

As we have noted already, the density of ideas that are found in these verses is immense and profound. To begin with, we need to tackle this idea of giving light to the eyes of your heart, which is really little more than a continuation of the previous thought. Verse 17 closes with the language of Paul’s prayer for a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God to be instilled in the people of these churches. Having such a spirit, then, produces light for the eyes of the heart.

When Moses stands before the people on the plains of Moab to renew God’s covenant with them, he makes a profound statement. Here he reminds them again of the mighty works of deliverance that God has done. He reminds them of the plagues in Egypt and of the defeat of their enemies in the wilderness. He reminds them that their shoes did not wear out and of God’s provision. And further, Moses reminds the people that they have been stubborn and rebellious despite seeing these mighty works. How does Moses explain this? Notice his words:

“But Yahweh did not give to you a heart to know nor eyes to see nor ears to hear, even to this day.”

(Deuteronomy 29:3 — verse 4 in English translations)

Do you see Moses’ point? The people of Israel witnessed these great events with their human eyes. They heard the great sermons on the Law with their human ears. They understood what they heard with a human heart. Yet, at the same time, God did not give them ears or eyes or a heart so that they might hear and respond in faith.

As is written in the prophet Isaiah:

“And he said, ‘Go and say to this people, ‘You shall surely hear yet you will not understand and you shall surely see yet you will not know. The heart of this people will be made to grow fat and his ears will be heavy and his eyes will be blind — lest he see with his eyes and hear with his ears and understand with his heart and turn and he be healed.’’”

(Isaiah 6:9-10)

These words of God to Isaiah are devastating indeed. God has every intent on keeping Israel dull and unrepentant as a form of judgment upon them. What is even more disconcerting is that Jesus uses these words himself when he explains to the disciples why he teaches in parables (Matthew 13:14-15).

As we look back to Ephesians, the opposite of this language of judgment is what Paul has in sight. It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that this church has eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. Further, it will be by a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God that the church will grow in their understanding and that they will live lives in accordance to God’s Word.

At the same time, there is a warning that remains. Those who reject the Word of God and who reject the one who brings that Word will have their ears grow heavy. Or, to borrow from Paul’s letter to Timothy, their ears will grow “itchy” (2 Timothy 4:3). And in turn, their hearts will grow fatty and calloused so as they will not abide with truth but only with those things that suit their sensibilities and passions. Such is the judgment of God and are there not countless illustrations of this all around us today?

The Culture War: Win, Lose, or Rebuild?

In the battle of Gibeah (recorded in Judges 20), the armies of Israel drew the defenders of Gibeah out toward the highways and away from the city by a feigned retreat. As Israel fell back, appearing to route, the heart of Israel’s army lay in ambush around the city, thus defeating the city while the city’s defenders were chasing after a decoy.

As I meditate on what is typically called the culture war, lately it has been occurring to me that we (the conservative evangelical church) may be acting a lot like the defenders of Gibeah. As we look around us at the broader culture, it is clear that the church has been losing influence. In many segments of society, the voice of the church has been relegated to the irrelevant and thus we find ourselves speaking only to ourselves and thus not influencing the culture around us as salt of the earth and light of the world.

Maybe we have been duped — duped into thinking that we are still fighting a legitimate war and as we pour out all our resources and energies against our perceived enemy, they have been gladly giving ground because they are nothing more than a distraction and the real battle has already been lost.

LOST?

Before you get all angry and storm off, just hear me out because I am not a defeatist — in fact, if anything, I usually am called a “triumphalist” by people who don’t like what I am saying. Just bear with me for a moment.

What if we have been duped? What if the culture war was something that was lost a generation ago when people began allowing prayer and Bible instruction to be taken out of our schools? What if the culture ware was lost when evolution and situational ethics began to be accepted as the norm instead of a divine creation and absolute morality? What if the church’s acceptance of “Tax-Exempt” status (as if the Government ever had the right to tax a Church) upon the promise that the church would not play an active role in politics was the point where we lost the war? What if the cultural belief that “religion is a private matter” is where we lost the war? What if we have been fighting decoys while the enemy lay in siege and infiltrated our congregations and our homes, leading the next generation to stray from the church? What if the creation of the “Christian sub-culture” has been nothing more than a colossal failure whereby we have removed our own influence from the wider world? What if we are doing nothing more than fighting ghosts that don’t need to win because the real war has already been won? What if?

MAYBE?

Do I have your attention? Just maybe? If we have lost the war, then that changes the whole paradigm and approach, doesn’t it? It has been said by many, the world around us today is more like the world of Paul’s day than the world of Luther’s day. If so, how do we react? How do we think differently?

What if the change in paradigm means no longer fighting a culture war that has been lost but instead, consists of building a new culture. No, not a sub-culture like we see around us today — that has not proven compelling (sorry, folks, my intent is not to hurt feelings). What if we let go of the whole Christian sub-culture thing and began really competing on the same footing and level as secular artists, writers, musicians, and dramatists? No, not in a preachy way, but what if the most compelling stories, music, books, ideas, etc… came from people who happened to be Christian and their Christian worldview informed what they produced (but was not what they produced). What if the best book, work, video, etc… in every field just happened to be produced by a Christian whose worldview was again, below the surface, informing what was thought.

What if, by building a new culture that was more compelling than the old culture happened to be (even to the non-Christian), was our tactic and approach. What if we realized that this is also not a new idea, but that others, like C.S. Lewis, were arguing for this kind of approach nearly 60 years ago — yes, when many of those things I mentioned at the beginning were lost! What if we approached this world as builders…though not unlike the builders of Nehemiah’s day, with spears in one hand while work was being done by the other. We need to defend agains the attacks that the enemy will really bring when they realize that we realize that their feigned retreat was a ruse. Something to think about…

Children of God and Lights of the World

“in order that you may be without blame and pure, children of God, without blemish in a generation that is bent and perverted, in which you might shine as lights in the world,”

(Philippians 2:15)

What does it mean to be without blame and pure? Certainly, as fallen people, we cannot achieve this state here on earth on this side of the eternal veil, can we? Could Paul be speaking of the imputed righteousness of Christ here — that righteousness given to us in our salvation by Christ who paid the penalty for our sins? First of all, we will never realize full sanctification here on earth on this side of heaven unless Jesus happens to return swiftly. We will struggle against sin for all of our days; such is the lot for the believer in this world and such is the way that God purifies us for heaven…it was good enough for Jesus to enter heaven through the road of the cross, why do we balk at our own suffering so?

At the same time, in context, this does not seem that Paul is speaking of the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to the believer. Why? Because that righteousness is a one-time measure that permits us to stand blameless before the presence of God in judgment and Paul is speaking of the importance of striving and laboring toward this on earth.

Thus what we are seeing, in context, is the goal to which believers are to strive. It is indeed a lofty goal, but it is toward that goal that marks us as children of God. People often comment to me, “Isn’t every human being God’s child?” While such is commonly taught in the society, it is not taught in the Bible. A mark of being God’s child is that it is toward blamelessness and purity that we are to strive. If we are not interested in striving toward such things or if we pursue that which is sin, that is a sign that we are children of the Devil (see 1 John 3:4-10 with emphasis on verse 10). There are two races of people throughout history…the children of God and the children of the Devil…a designation that goes all of the way back to Genesis 3:15 but that Jesus also echoes in his Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30).

Our job, then, as believers, is to strive to live in such a way that our lives are unblemished and given entirely to Christ. Does this mean that we will never fall into sin? Of course not. There was a movement in Wesleyanism that was called the “Holiness” movement which argued that with a sort of second conversion experience, you could complete your sanctification on earth and never sin again. Apart from causing many to shipwreck their faith over doubts and a lack of security, it also caused many to shipwreck their faith in pride and arrogance arguing that they had not sinned in “x” number of years (see 1 John 1:8 and 10 for an Apostolic comment on this idea). Thus as believers, we will sin, but when we do (this is 1 John 1:9), and we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Therefore, as forgiven Children of God, we are to live as those who are unblemished by this twisted world — like living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) — like unblemished Passover Lambs just as our Master and Lord was the unblemished Passover Lamb.

Why? So we might shine as lights in the world around us. The language that Paul employs is a word picture of the stars in the night sky. Have you ever been out on a very dark night, but the heavens are filled with the light of the stars? That is the idea. We cannot shine like the Sun…that is Jesus’ place and he does through his Word. But as we take that Word of God and apply it to all areas of life, we also shine that light in the darkness…and if the light of the stars is bright enough, you can see a great deal in this world. May we intentionally be such lights.

Testifying to the Truth

“Then Pilate said to him, ‘Then you are a king!’ Jesus replied, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world — to testify to the Truth. All who are of the Truth listen to my voice.’”

(John 18:37)

 

Focus on the Family’s “Truth Project” gets some milage off of this passage, often posing the question: “Why did Jesus come into the world?” The answer, of course, from this passage would be: “To testify to the Truth.” Of course, Jesus does make similar comments throughout his ministry, for example:

“But he said to them, ‘It is essential that I proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God in these other cities also. I was sent for this.”

(Luke 4:43)

“For I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me out. And this is the will of the one who sent me out: that I might not lose anyone from all he has given me, but rather that I should raise him up on the last day.”

(John 6:38-39)

“I have come into this world as light in order that those who believe in me might not remain in darkness.”

(John 12:46)

“And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into the world in order that those who do not see may see and those who do see might become blind.’”

(John 9:39)

Certainly it can be said that these passages do tie together for it is truth that Jesus preaches and it is by the rule of truth that Jesus will enter into judgment upon all those who stand opposed to him. At the same time, it is a reminder that while Jesus did come to proclaim the Truth, our understanding of Truth must be deeper and more relational than we perhaps might ordinarily presume.

The bigger question to ask, perhaps, is the relationship between Truth and the Kingdom of God to which Jesus has come to testify. The answer, of course, is that it is only in God’s kingdom that truth can be found and Truth in its ultimate sense, finds its source in God alone. If we are going to know truth, that means we must listen to the voice of Jesus.

How often people pursue truth in foolish places. Men presume themselves to be the final arbiters of what is true and what is not true. How foolish that is! It is like a child who does not understand calculus proclaiming calculus to be gibberish because he does not know what the symbols represent. By definition, our minds are not capable of discerning the fullness of God, yet how often we deem ourselves judge and lord over what is around us.

The Truth that Jesus came to testify to is light and it is gospel, but it is also judgment upon those who will not believe the truth. Jesus says that he came so that the wicked who reject him might remain in their darkness, becoming blind to eternal things. Indeed, how often that is the case, let us pray that God might lift the blindness of those we love and of those with whom we interact so that the Truth of Christ might rise like dawn in their hearts and healing spring up in their lives (Isaiah 58:8).

 

Garments of True Splendor

“And the chief priests and the scribes stood there and made impassioned accusations against him.  And Herod, along with his soldiers, were showing him contempt and mockingly clothed him in shining garments and sent him back to Pilate.”

(Luke 23:10-11)

 

And the mocking continues as Jesus refuses to perform the feats that Herod had hoped to see. What is interesting is that Herod does not just have him sent home and put to death — certainly Herod had the blood of John the Baptist on his hands, why not Jesus also? With Pilate giving up jurisdiction, Herod could easily have sentenced the man to death, pleased the priests and perhaps even won him some favor amongst the Jerusalem elite. Herod opts not do to so, and returns Jesus to Herod. Of course, this is a fulfillment of prophesy that Jesus would be hanged on a tree, but from a human perspective, it is fascinating to me to see all of these puzzle pieces laid into place. Certainly Herod, by returning Jesus to Pilate, is no less guilty of Jesus’ death, but perhaps in his own mind he can wash his hands of the man just as Pilate would later do. Perhaps Herod has as much contempt for the priestly establishment as Pilate does and Herod sees this as a way to frustrate them even more as he sees them practically begging for this man’s death. This may be the reason that Luke makes the comment about Herod and Pilate’s friendship that develops over these things in the next verse. Politics often makes strange bed-fellows.

There is another aspect of these verses, that is often overlooked, and that is the garment that is placed on Jesus’ shoulders. Many of our translations will render this word as “an elegant robe” (NIV), “splendid clothing” (ESV), “a gorgeous robe” (KJV & NASB), etc… and perhaps brings to mind the remarkable garment that Joseph was given by his father in the Old Testament. The word that Luke uses here is lampro/ß (lampros), which is the root from which we get the English word, “lamp.” In Greek, we sometimes translate lampro/ß (lampros) as splendid or opulent, but most commonly the term reflects something that is full of light or sparkles. This is the term that is used of the angel that presented himself to Cornelius (Acts 10:30) as well as the angels that John describes in heaven (Revelation 15:6) and the heavenly garment given to the Church as the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:8).

It should be noted the radical difference between that which is glorious of heaven and that which is considered glorious on earth. There is simply no comparison. Once again, Jesus is made to bear the shame of fallen man — this time being arrayed in the best of human making when the best of heaven is that which he rightfully deserves. To take the analogy further, Jesus is clothed in the garments of men so that his bride may be brightly arrayed in the garments of heaven (as we see in Revelation 19:8). It is an exchange that Jesus was pleased to make, but it is an exchange that we do not deserve to receive. One more thought along those lines — the garments with which the bride is to be clothed are described as the “righteous deeds of the saints.” May we always remember that the origin of those deeds is not within us here on earth, but in heaven, for indeed, these works have been prepared for us from before the foundation of the earth (Ephesians 2:10) and done not in our strength, but in the strength of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). Jesus substitutes himself in our place to give us what we could never hope to give ourselves — why then do we so often pursue the splendor of this world when Christ himself offers us the splendor of heaven.

The Light of Creation: Hebrews 1:1-4 (part 8)

Who being the radiance of the glory…

Many people ask the question of those of us who hold strongly to the Biblical account of creation (God creating in a literal period of six 24-hour days, then resting on the seventh, literal, 24-hour day), “If the sun and stars were not created until day 4, how was there light on the earlier days?” While there are many pseudo-scientific answers that have been presented to address this question, we need not go beyond the scriptural texts, for in this passage, God gives us the answer. Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God. He is the effulgent splendor of God’s glory—of his greatness—of his “weightiness! What a wonderful thought, God’s glory cannot be contained or cloaked in darkness, but it must be seen, and who is the one who reflects that glory down upon the newly created earth? Jesus the Christ! And he continues to shine God’s glory down upon us for all time. Thus, when God the Father pronounced, “Let there be light!”, it was God the Son who revealed and reflected that light down upon a watching world. In addition, we are told that in the new creation that there will be no sun and no darkness, but the glory of God will be with our light we will exist to praise him and to glory in him.
Yet, the first line of this verse should not simply be seen in terms of creation, but in terms of all redemptive history! The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), believers are redeemed to the glory of God (Philippians 2:11), and Christ is the means by which God pours out and demonstrates that glory to his created order. Beloved, that ought to cause your heart to skip! The reason that we know of the sun is because it radiates its light and heat to us. The reason that we know that a flame is hot is because of the heat that radiates out from the flame. Beloved, the reason that we know of the glory of God is because God chose to radiate that glory to us in Christ. What a wonderful hope and promise, what a wonderful privilege given to him, and ought we not honor him appropriately? Ought we not pour out our praise for God the Son, not only for what he has done for us as believers, but for who he is. As Paul writes, there will come a time that even those who are eternally perishing will give Christ his due (Philippians 2:11), ought we not begin now? Loved ones, think through your days, your weeks, and your years; what does your private worship look like? Do we genuinely praise Christ in all we do and give him thanks for all we have been given? Do we praise him for who he is? Do we exalt him before a watching world with our words and with our lives? If not, what is holding us back? Jesus Christ is the very radiance—the effulgent splendor—of the glory of God; honor him as such.