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Walk the Walk

“For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand in order that we might walk in them.”

(Ephesians 2:10)

As believers, God has created us to walk in good works. Certainly, the notion of walking in the Bible is often used to describe the way someone lives. When God is preparing the people to receive the Law, he instructs them that it is by these statutes and laws they are to walk (Exodus 18:20). In contrast, we are told that we are not to walk in the way of the Egyptians or that of the Canaanites (Leviticus 20:23). God promises that if we walk in His ways, he will provide for our needs (Leviticus 26:3-4), but if we choose not to walk in his ways, he will bring panic and fear and disease (Leviticus 26:14-16). King David describes difficult times as walking in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4) and Habakkuk speaks of the faithful one being made to walk in high places (Habakkuk 3:19). Finally, Isaiah calls the people to follow him into the Mountain of the Lord (Zion, which is the place of worship) so that God may teach us his ways and we may walk in them (notice that an important part of worship, according to the prophet, is to learn the things of God and live them out).

The analogy speaks to the mindset of the Christian. Walking is an intentional act. We don’t always do it perfectly — sometimes we trip and sometimes we get distracted and stumble — but it is something we decide to do. Walking also leads us to an intentional destination. When we get up to walk, we don’t let our feet just take us somewhere for the sake of walking, we walk in a particular direction that is governed by our minds. Even if we are the type to walk in circles or pace a room unconsciously, the walking is still a deliberate act.

For the Christian, the faithful life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be a deliberate act as well. Jesus said that we are to obey all that he taught us (John 14:15) and that a disciple is one who does the same (Matthew 28:20). And, to be obedient to a law, you must not only know what those laws are, you must also strive to live them out. Too often people think of Christian obedience as something that is optional. People get the notion into their heads: “I am saved by grace, not by works, so I can live however I want to live.” They forget the statement of Paul that we are saved to a life of good works to the glory of God. Oh, and what are good works once again? They are works that are conformable to the Law of God.

Dear Christian, Jesus did not die on a cross to give you fire insurance. He died on the cross to redeem you from the fire and to raise you to newness of life — to make you a different creature than you once were before you were a believer (that is the context of this whole chapter!). And newness of life means that the dead works of the flesh are meant to fall away and you are to go about walking in the good works that God has prepared for you to walk in — most namely in diligent obedience to the Law of God. 

But what does this mean in a practical, and day to day sense? It means that your ideas about what is morally right and morally wrong should align with the scriptures. We should detest as morally evil all false worship, idolatry, blasphemy, sabbath-breaking, dishonoring of our parents, murder, adultery, theft, false witness, and covetousness. And, we should understand those things not only in terms of the letter of the law, but in light of the intent of the Law as Jesus interpreted them. We should love the brotherhood and sacrifice for fellow believers. We should seek to tear down every thought and idea in our own life and in the world around us that stands against the Word of God. This is an active and intentional calling, not a passive one. And, where there is no evidence of striving to walk in this way, there is no evidence of a transformation worked by Christ. True Christianity is not about sitting in a pew; it is about deliberately walking in obedience to God’s ways and not man’s.

His Power toward Us — Those who Believe

“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)

Okay, time to make some people grumpy. What a way to start off. Here’s the problem, people in the west have bought into the idea that human beings are all part of a “brotherhood of man” and that as such, we are all children of God. And in that myth, our problem lies. While there is but one race (the human race), which makes the prejudices that we might have a foolish proposition, within that one race, there are two lines of people. There are some who are children of God and others who are children of the devil (1 John 3:9-10). What distinguishes between the two lines? God’s seed abides in his children and the seed of the devil abides in his. 

This, beloved, is what we call election, plain and simple. God has chosen some as his own and places his seed in them. We do not deserve this privilege nor did we earn it or choose it (Romans 9:16). It is a work of God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). And why might such an idea make people mad? It is plainly taught in the Scripture? It makes people mad because they have bought into a wrong side — a wrong paradigm that makes God responsive to the desires of man — and changing paradigms is often a difficult process. In addition, this very principle means that the blessings of God of which Paul is speaking in this text, only belong to the believer. They do not belong to those outside of the faith. 

And thus, Paul writes, that all of these things which we have been speaking, through the power of God, have been “toward us, those who believe.” The unbeliever is not adopted into God’s household and thus cannot address God as “Father.” The children of the devil can have no assurance of glory and eternal life in heaven. The reprobate do not have light for their eyes that would give them spiritual sight — they are left blind so that they will not turn from their wicked ways and repent (remember Isaiah’s language that we cited above). And yes, people often get testy when confronted with ideas such as these. 

Yet, if you are a believer, then these promises do belong to you. What makes one a believer? We talked a little about assurance above, but it is worth going back to Paul’s language of Romans 10:9-13. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Indeed, there is much that can be said as we unpackaged these verses, but on the most basic level, there must be faith in the historical bodily resurrection of Christ. That does not mean you believe that he spiritually rose and “lives in your heart,” but that he physically rose and ascended into heaven where now he sits at the right hand of God as King over his Church and over his creation. 

Yet salvation is not just a matter of belief; it is a matter of confession that Jesus is Lord. That is simply another way of saying that Jesus is not just a King, but that he is your King and that you live your life in submission to him. That, of course, sends us back to John’s language which speaks of practicing righteousness or practicing sin. You cannot confess Jesus as Lord with any sense of integrity or meaning if you do not seek to live in obedience to His Law. No, we are not saved by our obedience; our obedience is the testimony that we are saved. If someone seeks to live life however they wish and cares not for what the Word of God commands of him, that person cannot be said to be a Christian and thus these promises do not belong to him. Sobering, isn’t it?

Being one of “those who believe” is not something that only requires church attendance from you — a couple hours on Sunday mornings. No, being “those who believe” is something that demands a lifestyle from you — one that is in submission to the Word of God in every way possible. No, we won’t get it right all of the time, but that is not the call. Our call is to strive in that direction so that our King is honored by the actions of those who profess Him. 

Saturday Word Study: Testimony in Psalm 119

The word in Hebrew that is translated as testimony is עֵדוּת (eduth), and is derived from עֵדe (ed—note that both of these words are pronounced with an “ae” sound in English).  Both words carry similar meanings, though the connotations vary somewhat in terms of how they are used.

The first word, עֵדוּת e (eduth), refers to a witness or testimony, but is normally used in terms of legally binding stipulations or laws.  The Tabernacle is, for example, called the Tabernacle of Testimony (Numbers 17:4) because they were the home of the tablets of the Ten Commandments.  This becomes very pronounced when you get to verse 10 of the same chapter, for Moses is told to put the staff of Aaron before the testimony — ultimately the staff then was kept with the 10 commandments (Hebrews 9:4).  

Thus, when Psalm 119 speaks of testimony in this sense, it can be said to be speaking of the Moral Law (10 Commandments). Of course, all of God’s Law — all of the Scriptures even — are connected with the Ten Commandments.  This word testimony is found 9 times in the 119th psalm (which should tell us something right there), and is located in verses 14, 31, 36, 88, 99, 111, 129, 144, and 157.

The second word עֵד (ed), is a massively important word in Hebrew and is found 118 times in the Old Testament even though it is not explicitly found in Psalm 119.  It refers to the idea of witness in much the same way as the New Testament Greek term μαρτυρία (marturia—from which we get the term “martyr”) is used.  This word refers to that witness which confirms the truth to be so.  This is one’s testimony of faith before men, for example, as well as being a testimony in a court of law.

The connection between these two words is found in the concept of the covenant of God.  God’s covenant with his people is his  עֵד (ed), but this עֵד (ed) contains stipulations for those that would be in covenant with our Lord and King.  Those stipulations are the עֵדוּת e (eduth) of God.  

What is also worth noting is that another word that is derived from עֵד (ed) is the term עֵדַה (edah), which means “congregation,” referring to a gathering of God’s people.  God’s people are those that he has put into relationship with himself through his covenant, his עֵד (ed), and regulates through his עֵדוּת e (eduth).  All very closely connected.  This word is found 14 times in Psalm 119 (vs. 2, 22, 24, 46, 59, 79, 95, 119, 125, 138, 146, 152, 167, 168).  So closely are these words and ideas related that in most, if not all cases, when Psalm 119 is translated into English, they have translated it as “testimony” rather than congregation.  This is probably a little misleading in the crossover to English, but at the same time, in the context of the Psalm, it appears that the Psalmist is doing much the same thing—wedding together these ideas.  Or, to put it another way, the presence of the covenant people of God are God’s testimony to his own covenant faithfulness—his חֶסֶד (chesed—pronounced with a hard “ch” like in “Loch Ness”).  The word חֶסֶד (chesed) is variously translated in our English Bibles, but refers to the covenantal faithfulness of God in spite of our covenantal unfaithfulness, and is found 7 times in Psalm 119 (vs. 41, 64, 76, 88, 124, 149, 159) and is often translated as “steadfast love” or “mercy.”

With this in mind, permit me to digress to Deuteronomy 6:4 for a moment, commonly called “the Shema” in Hebrew circles.  The bulk of the book of Deuteronomy consists of Moses’ sermonic expositions of the Ten Commandments, forming a Constitution for the people of Israel.  With this in mind, the Shema functions essentially as the preamble to the constitution for the people.  In fact, in Judaism, Deuteronomy 6:4 is considered to be the single most important verse in the Bible and the very language that defines them as a people—giving them their national identity.  It establishes their relationship with God as a covenant people and reminds them that they are a people who have been given a name, loved as such by their God.  It is the first prayer that the faithful Hebrew prays when he wakes in the morning and the last prayer he prays before he goes to bed at night.  It is also chanted at the beginning of a traditional synagogue service.  What is especially interesting is the way it is written in the Hebrew Bible:

 שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהינוּ יְהוָה אֶהָד

Note that the last letter of the first and last words have been written larger and in bold print.  These two letters, when taken out of the verse spell, עֵד (ed) — or witness.  In other words, the Shema itself is the witness of the Jewish people to their God, just as the covenant is God’s עֵד (ed) to his people.  Lastly, if you reverse the letters of עֵד (ed), you end up with the word דֵּעַ (de’a), which means “knowledge.”  Just as fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom (Psalm 111:10), so too is all true knowledge rooted in the covenant of God.  Any pursuit of knowledge apart from God’s revelation through his covenant is vanity, Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes.

Covenant is, as we know, the context in which God interacts with his people.  On the very first day that Adam was alive and placed in the Garden God established his covenant with Adam and set before Adam the עֵדוּת e (eduth) of the covenant—don’t eat lest you will die-die.  The punishments given out after the fall are the consequences of their failure to fulfill the covenant.  Genesis 3:15, though reminds us that a Messiah is coming who will redeem his people from bondage to the one who led them into sin.  Genesis 15 provides us with a foretaste of what would happen to this divine Messiah, though.  In the context, God is confirming his covenant with Abraham and Abraham is sent to divide up the animals and separate them creating a bloody path to walk through.  In ancient times, when covenants were made between Kings and their Vassals, they would divide up a group of animals like this, and then the Vassal, as a pledge of faithfulness to the covenant, would walk through the middle of the line of animals as if to say, “if I don’t fulfill my part of the covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me also.”  Now, some have suggested that there may be evidence that both the king and vassal walked through this line, but the evidence is varied and this proposition makes little sense as the vassal had no power to enforce this commitment upon the king, where the king certainly had the power to enforce it upon his vassal.

Either way, what is significant is that Abraham should have walked through the bloody pathway, but God puts him into a deep sleep (not unlike the sleep that God put Adam into before he took out his rib to form Eve), and God walked through the bloody pathway in Abraham’s stead.  God was saying to Abraham, I will be your covenant mediator and representative for this covenant.  If you or your line fail to keep this covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me as well.  And that is exactly what took place on the cross of Calvary.  Jesus fulfilled what God promised, bloody and bruised, because we could not be faithful to the עֵדוּת e (eduth) of God’s covenant.

In the context of Psalm 119, the psalmist completely understands that for one to be truly blameless and righteous before the Lord, one must first submit his life to the testimonies of our God—to the עֵדוּת e (eduth) of God’s covenant.  Thus, he sets the Law before him as a guide and instructor.  We must understand that while the psalmist speaks at times of being blameless before his accusers, this is not to be interpreted in terms of a form of human self-righteousness.  Instead, he also understands, as Abraham understood, that his redemption would be paid for by another—by God himself through the promised Messiah, and that his personal righteousness was based, through faith, in the coming of the promised one.  At the same time, he understands the thrust of what Paul would say in Romans 6:1-2.  In light of that, the psalmist both begins and ends the psalm focused on remembering and obeying the Law of the Lord.

Hasn’t God already Given You an Order?

“She sent for and she called Baraq, the son of Abinoam, from Qedesh-Naphtaliy, and said to him,  ‘Has not Yahweh, the God of Israel, given an order to you? ‘Gather to Mount Tabor and bring with you 10,000 men from the Sons of Naphtaliy and from the Sons of Zebulun and I will gather to you, to the river Qishon, Sisera, the commander of the army of Jabin and his chariots and his multitude. And I will give him into your hand.’’”

(Judges 4:6-7)

If the presence of a female judge was a shadow of the theme of men shirking their duties, Deborah’s calling out Baraq is a clear indication of what is taking place…or perhaps we ought to say, what is not taking place. Notice Deborah’s words, for she is not calling Baraq to build an army and attack the armies of Sisera. Deborah is saying to Baraq, “Look, God’s already called you to do this, why are you dragging your feet?” Her words are not only the words of a prophet and a judge, but they stand as a reminder to all of us today that when God commands us to do this or to do that, we have an obligation to obey. We are not given freedom to drag our feet.

In Hebrew, Baraq’s name means, “a flash of lightning.” Clearly, in the case of this general, the name speaks little of his military prowess and boldness but more aptly speaks of how quickly his nerve flees from him. Again, names often give us a little insight into what is taking place in the historical account. Deborah’s name, by the way, means “a swarm of bees” which is in many ways a very appropriate name given how the little group of Israelites will torment and chase off the “multitude” of Sisera. Interestingly, Deborah’s husband’s name means “To Redeem Them,” which is interesting as God does use the little swarm of bees to redeem his people.

As we read, then, Deborah reminds Baraq of the command that God had already given to him. There is a bit of a play on words in this command that is worth drawing our attention to. God says to Baraq, “Gather to Mount Tabor … and I will gather Sisera to you.” The same word,  Æ;KAvDm (mashak), is used in both places, drawing attention to the actions required. Basically, God is stating to Baraq, “You go muster an army and I will go and gather together Sisera so we can have a battle.” It is a reminder to us not only of God’s hand of deliverance, but also that God is sovereign over the armies even of his enemies. Such is the way with God. And though, on a human level, Sisera fielded a mighty army, if God has the power to draw them out and to gather them in a given place, he has the power to scatter and destroy them as well. Such is the way with God, may we always be in his hand and not positioning ourselves against it.

The Escape!

“And Ehud went out of the window and he had closed the doors to the upper room behind him and secured them.”

(Judges 3:23)

Once again, depending on how you understand the visual imagery of what is going on will depend on how you translate this passage. For example, some commentators who interpret NØwdVv√rAÚp (parshedon) in the previous verse to Eglon’s dung coming out of him have presumed that this upper room was a place to go to the bathroom in the first place. Preferring to translate h…ÎyˆlSo (aliyyah) as “upper room” (as discussed above), I would simply see this as a cooler place to go after official activities were through. That means that the term NØwr;√dVsIm (misderon) as essentially a window — the opening in the upper room through which the breeze comes in and out to cool the space, not some sort of porch or ventilation shaft as some have suggested.

Yet, before Ehud leaves, he secures the doors so that others cannot easily come in to Eglon’s rescue while Ehud makes his escape. And thus, our hero is off, preparing to rendezvous with his soldiers and secure the victory over their wicked oppressors…leaving behind the body of the wicked king in a shameful condition…God’s judgment upon those who oppress his people.

It strikes me as interesting, noting accounts like this, that anyone would ever want to oppress God’s people. It always turns out bad for the oppressor. But knowing this full well, nation after nation, government after government, association after association have oppressed God’s elect through the ages. It is as if they said to themselves, “I know I’ll probably meet a terrible end for doing this, but I want to do this anyway.” Then again, isn’t that the mindset of ever sin we commit as well? God says , “no, don’t do this.” Yet, as Christians, we so often do it anyway. In eternity we may be forgiven in Christ, but God often disciplines us to break of us of these practices that dishonor his name.

For us, this is a passage that not only ought to encourage us as we face trials and oppressions in this life, but also one that ought to warn us against excusing sin, for God will call us to task on these matters. The clay must honor the design of the potter.

Fabian Tactics in the Church

“These are the peoples which Yahweh caused to remain settled to train Israel by them — all those who did not know all the wars of Canaan. It was only in order that the descendants of the Sons of Israel should know, to teach them war — only those present who did not know.”

(Judges 3:1-2)

Many of our English translations will render hAsÎn (nasah) as “test,” though, in context, it seems like, “to train,” is perhaps the better rendering. Because the people had sinned with idols and disobedience, God is leaving these pagans in the land to train the people in war. But why would God do such a thing? Why not remove the people from the land (indeed, God will do that several centuries down the road)? Why not bring the people peace and woo them while they are free from the shadow of war (certainly, that would be the mindset of the health-wealth movement). No, God trains us through the most difficult experiences we face. God teaches us reliance when we face insurmountable obstacles. God teaches us obedience most often as we are given a taste of what the path of disobedience brings.

Thus, this “testing”, this “training” was never meant to be a pleasant thing, nor is God trying to raise up a warrior nation. God is the warrior of Israel (Deuteronomy 20:4), the victories do not come from the might of Israel’s warriors. God will prove that over and over again. They don’t need to learn war to become warriors; they need to learn war because war is awful and grievous to the heart. The people need to learn that wars take place because of human sin, not for human glory.

The question that we must ask ourselves is, “Will we learn?” In other words, will our own commitment to idolatry keep us from obedience? Will we learn the lessons from hardship and persecution to walk in faith and not by worldly-sight? Paganism is in our midst; how will we respond? Will we engage the pagan world with the Gospel? The promises to the church exist in the context of the church marching in battle (the gates of Hell will not prevail), not to a church that seeks to fight a defensive war — defensive campaigns are losing campaigns anyhow, ask Quintus Fabius Maximus if you doubt that. Fabian tactics delay and frustrate the enemy, but they do not win wars. Sadly, the church has largely practiced such tactics for a generation, all the while losing ground in the culture.

So, what is our solution? We follow the lead of Scipio (and more importantly, the Apostle Paul) and take the battle to the enemy. We tear down every argument that stands against the knowledge of God in our community, in our school systems, in our collegiate environments, and yes, even in our churches (too many churches have compromised so much of the Scriptures that their witness is not effective and hardly even can be considered Christian). We evangelize. And we intentionally disciple with the aim of a church body that both knows the Word and practices the Word in obedience. We create an environment where even the non-Christian benefits from the presence of Truth in their midst. We train, train, train ourselves and our children, we read good books and we utilize good resources so that every Christian Culture Warrior that is sent out is equipped for the battle. We learn the lessons of war so that we and future generations will walk in obedience.

Yahweh’s Burning Nostrils

“Thus they forsook Yahweh and they served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. And the nose of Yahweh burned toward Israel and he gave them into the hand of plunderers and they plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their enemies that surrounded them and they were not able to stand in the presence of their enemies. In all of their going outs, the hand of Yahweh brought to them disaster, just as Yahweh had repeatedly warned — just as Yahweh swore to them. And they were constrained greatly.”

(Judges 2:13-15)

As a kid, I remember watching the old Buggs Bunny cartoons and one of the more vivid images that I remember is that of an angry bull bearing down on Buggs the Matador. To illustrate the rage of the bull, the cartoonists gave us what is almost a universal image for anger — steam would puff from the bull’s nostrils. This is also how the Biblical language portrays anger, but in this case, it is not an angry bull that is bearing down on Israel, it is an angry God whose nostrils are burning.

God demonstrates his anger toward his people by removing his hand of protection (the plunderers come) and by constraining them in the land by allowing their enemies to oppress them. Remember, the Promised Land as described by God to Abraham was much larger than the people ended up receiving (see Genesis 15:18-21). Here we are told why: the people forsook their God, the one, true, and mighty God who had delivered them. God is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14) and he will tolerate no compromise to his true worship. Again, what a condemnation that is to much of worship today that loosely falls under the guise of “Christianity.” Woe to those who would worship by the ways of men rather than in the Spirit and Truth which God commands in his Word.

Notice too the language of God’s “repeated warning.” The verbal construction (Piel) indicates that this is a repeated and emphasized action. Indeed, God has repeatedly warned his people that while he will bless obedience, he will bring punishment against disobedience. And further, woe to those who call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). And oh, how this is a message that the Church in our nation needs to be reminded of today.

The Evil

“And the Sons of Israel did the Evil in the eyes of Yahweh; they served the Baals.”

(Judges 2:11)

In most of our English translations, this verse is translated in an unfortunate way. The English Standard version uses the phrase: “what was evil” and the World English Bible translates it as “that which was evil.” The King James Version, along with the New International Version and the New American Standard Version simply leave it as “did evil.” Young’s Literal Translation, as is often the case, comes closer when it reads: “did the evil thing.”

Translating the Hebrew literally, you simply have the word oårDh (ha’ra), or “the Evil” with Evil being understood as a substantive noun, not as an adjective. This construct is used 7 times in the book of Judges (2:11, 3:7, 3:12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1), but is also found through much of the Old Testament. Often, it refers to idolatry, as it does here, but not always.

Numbers 32:13 uses the phrase to refer to the people’s not trusting God in the wilderness and Deuteronomy 19:19-20 uses the phrase to refer to lying and conspiracy. In Deuteronomy 21:21 it refers to a rebellious son and in Deuteronomy 22:21,24 it refers to an immoral daughter and an adulteress respectively. Deuteronomy 24:7 uses the term to refer to the act of taking a Jew as a slave or selling a fellow Jew into slavery and in 1 Samuel 15:19 “the Evil” is the failure of Saul to kill Agag, king of the Amalekites. In a similar way, David’s adultery and the murder of Uriah is referred to as “the Evil” in 2 Samuel 12:9 and in Psalm 51:4 (verse 6 in the Hebrew text). Even Haman is referred to as “the Evil” in Esther 7:6 and Nehemiah 13:17 applies the term to profaning the Sabbath.

Probably the most profound use of this construction can be found in Deuteronomy 30:15, where the text reads:

“See that I have put before you this day the Life and the Good and the Death and the Evil.”

What follows is a warning that obedience brings “the good” and life and disobedience brings “the evil” and death. What a remarkable reminder of truth for us that nothing good comes from our disobedience…it only brings evil and death.

Thus, as a generation rose up that did not remember and treasure the word and the things of God, then the people fell into “the Evil” and thus they fell into death. When we just read “evil things” we recognize that they are doing something that they ought not, but I don’t think that most of our English translations put as much emphasis on the phrase as the Hebrew text places upon it. And we should, especially if we desire to let these words warn us in our present context, for we have (as a society) largely fallen into “the Evil” and need to repent.

Initiated into Excellence and Failure

“I also know how to be humbled and I know how to excel. In anything and in everything I have been initiated. Either food or hunger, excellence or failure, I can do all things in the one who strengthens me.”

(Philippians 4:12-13)

I expect that it is a fair statement to say that Philippians 4:13 is one of the most misquoted verses of the Bible. This passage is not stating that I can win an NFL contract just because I have faith (truly, I don’t have the skills!) nor is it even stating that Paul can be content in all things, though that statement is closer; the difference being that contentment often implies a degree of acceptance toward one’s situation.

In context, Paul has been stating that there is no circumstance that he fears — whether hunger or an abundance of food — whether success at what he does or failure (at least by human standards) — that he can face all of these things in the power of the one who strengthens him…namely, Jesus Christ.

How often we are tempted to judge success and failure solely on human terms. I recall when I began doing homeless ministry while in seminary, we initially envisioned that we would see revival on the streets of Jackson, MS. We didn’t and the temptation was to be discouraged. At the same time, God used this experience along with our initial setbacks and failures, to teach us an important lesson. My success or failure is not found in numbers nor is it found in terms of one’s fame or reputation; my success is found in whether or not I am being faithful to what God is calling me to do. Regardless of the fruit I see around me, the fruit that is most important is the fruit of my own obedience.

And that, loved ones, is the heart of Paul’s message in these words. The important thing is obedience. And if we face hunger or abundance, human success or failure, whether we are humbled or lifted up…the question that we must ask ourselves is whether we are being faithful to God’s call upon our lives. If we are being faithful, we can face all of these things that the world might throw at us in the strength of the Spirit. If we are not faithful, these things (even human success) will crush us under their weight.

A note should be made in terms of the word “initiated” as Paul uses it. This is the Greek word mue/w (mueo), which is understood to refer to being initiated into or made part of a group of people. The term is only found here in the New Testament, but is also found in 3 Maccabees 2:30 where it is used to refer to one who has learned the rules for living within a particular community. Today, we often use the term “initiate” to refer to one’s entrance into a secret fraternity or organization, but that is not so much the way the term was used in Paul’s era. In Paul’s era it referred to one who was not new to a given lifestyle…Paul was no amateur at ministry and in doing so, had faced plenty and hunger and he had faced successes and failures. Yet, Paul persevered in the strength of the Spirit. That is what it means to say that he had been initiated. Indeed, we should not forget that our Lord, too, endured both good times and bad times, successes and times of great humiliation and suffering, yet was infinitely faithful to the task for which he had been sent — and praise the Lord for that success!

Hatred of Christ

“For many are walking — as I frequently told you, and even now tell you with tears — as ones who hate the cross of Christ.”

(Philippians 3:18)

What happens when someone refuses to follow the model of Paul as Paul follows the model of Christ? Sadly, Paul reminds us, that person demonstrates their hatred for the cross of Christ and for the redemption that was achieved on that cross. The Heidelberg Catechism words it that we have a natural tendency to hate God and to hate fellow man.

But why such a strong word? What is someone is just ambivalent? Could there just be a kind of agnostic position where a person is just not interested but is not actively engaging in hatred? The answer is clearly, “no.” Jesus stated very clearly, “If you love me you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15). Jesus further builds on that notion that “whoever has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me…and will be loved by my Father” (John 14:21). In other words, obedience is the mark of one’s love for the Son and if we do not love the Son we will not be loved by the Father. That in itself should be a convicting message.

But why hate? There are some, for example, that will argue that ambivalence is the opposite of love, not hatred. There is something to be said there…but let me suggest a different explanation, as I would argue that ambivalence is a form of hatred…typically expressed in passive-aggressive behavior. Hatred can be lived out either passionately (we might call that enmity) or passively (passive-aggressive behavior, ignoring the person, etc…). Either way it is hatred and in both contexts, obedience is not present.

Jesus tells a parable about two sons (Matthew 21:28-32) and each was asked to work in the vineyard. The first said yes but didn’t (passive-aggressive behavior) and the second said no (active refusal — an expression of enmity) but then repented and went to work. The first clearly represents the priests and the Jewish establishment who committed themselves to obedience in their vows yet didn’t; the second represents the active sinners who had openly rebelled against God and then repented and did what God commanded. Jesus asks the question…which did the will of the Father? Doing the will of the Father is another way of speaking about obedience and thus when Paul looks upon those who are actively or passively in disobedience, he speaks of them as hating Christ.

With this before us, we should be reminded, then, that Paul’s language is not just speaking about those who are outside of the church, but of those who are inside of the visible church but who, by their very actions, demonstrate their hatred for Christ and the cross. Most who are in this group in the church would not like to think of themselves as hating Christ, but if they do not walk in obedience as they live out every corner of their lives, then what does that say about their hearts? What does it say about our own hearts, too, when we choose to be disobedient in small things or in great things in our lives? And no, we don’t get the choice of picking and choosing either…Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, that means that all of Scripture is ultimately what He has commanded and what we are to obey in its proper context. No, we will not get it correct perfectly in this life, but we ought strive in that direction. Will you?

Can I Grumble About It?

“Do all this without grumbling or debate,”

(Philippians 2:14)

Oh my. This is where we so often get ourselves in trouble. We know what the right thing is, we know we ought to do it, we don’t want to do it, but since it is the right thing we do it anyway — grumbling the whole time (at least to ourselves!). And here we go, we have the Apostle Paul telling us that we need to count one another’s needs as greater than our own and that we are to be obedient to Christ’s commands in all ways…but also that we are to do so without griping about it. Oh my. For some, I think that griping is a favorite hobby even, but no, not in the life of the Christian.

God’s interest is not just in our right actions. Were that the case, he would never have rebuked the wayward Israelites regarding their sacrifices…even to the point of saying that he hated and detested them. Why? Because their hearts weren’t in the right place. They believed that if they just performed the ritual in the proper way, then God would be pleased with them. God was not. And Paul echoes to us as well, in the Christian church, that God likewise will not be pleased by our service or by our offering of praise if our heart is in the right place.

Note that this also means that Christians don’t have carte blanche in their worship even if their heart is in the right place. for the Christian, the spirit of obedience must be joined with actions of obedience. Both go rightly together and cannot be separated in a life of faith.

And just in case you are wondering, the words that Paul uses here carry exactly the same connotations in English as they do in Greek. The word goggusmo/ß (gongusmos) means to talk about things in a low voice behind people’s backs or behind the scenes, typically in a way that voices a complaint. The word dialogismo/ß (dialogismos) means to debate or dispute someone’s reasoning…to argue about the conclusions of others. As fond of grumbling about our obedience as we might be, this too needs to be put to death in our lives.

True obedience follows a heart that is committed to Christ in all things and no matter the cost. That kind of heart does not typically develop overnight, but happens through training and conscious decisions to honor Christ in all things. It is a reflection of our love to God and his Son, Jesus. And a heart like this is equipped and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Loved ones, embrace it…oh, and embrace it without grumbling or arguing about it…

Our Lifeblood

“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always been obedient, not only in my presence alone, but now also even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for God is the one working in you, even to will and to work for satisfaction.”

(Philippians 2:12-13)

The word, “His,” is often inserted before the word “satisfaction” in this phrase, which clearly is the meaning in context, though the word is only implied and not present. That stated, it should be noted that when we are in Christ, that which satisfies or brings God good pleasure ought to be that which satisfies us the most. Thus, as God the Father is most satisfied in his Son, we too are only truly satisfied when we are deeply in relationship with the Son as well.

Now, sometimes people get a little hung up on the language of working out your salvation…in this context, Paul is referring not to our justification, where we are made right with God through the atonement of Jesus Christ…we do not contribute to that work … but to the ongoing process of sanctification where we participate alongside of the Holy Spirit in seeking to grow in grace. The clincher, though is found in the language that immediately follows… “for God is the one working in you.” He does the real work both in justification and in sanctification, the question is whether we will be submissive to the work of the Spirit in us or whether we will kick and fight against the goads in that process.

The key word is obedience. Sometimes I wonder whether Americans still understand the word or instead see it as something that is archaic and out of fashion. Obedience is a willing submission to the authority of another. It is hearing what that person in authority says, remembering it, and acting upon it. It seems that people in our culture detest such a notion with every fiber of their being, so whether from God or from men. Yet, as a believer, we are called to be obedient to the Word of God. As Moses commanded, these words are our very lifeblood (Deuteronomy 32:47). All too often people in our culture want what they want and they sometimes even become violent rather than appealing to the authority of scripture, seeking to submit to its wisdom. In a world filled with ideas, it seems that no one wants to critically evaluate them. It seems that instead of wanting to communicate, all people really want is a “bully pulpit.”

Preferences and Desires

“Now, I am absorbed by the two. The longing I have is to depart and be with Christ for that is much more preferable; but to remain in the flesh is more needful on your account.”

(Philippians 1:23-24)

This is one of the major themes of the book of Philippians…considering the needs of others as more significant than the desires of oneself. We will see this idea developed more fully in chapter 2, but it is scattered throughout the theme of this letter. Such was the mindset of Christ, was the mindset of Paul, and is meant to be our mindset as well. I earnestly believe that the great majority of our conflicts…whether marital or in social settings…stem back to pride and selfishness…we want our way and what we desire and the needs of others are seen as secondary. If we could genuinely say with the Apostle Paul, “I would rather, but you need this more…” then I suggest that the vast majority of our conflicts would be resolved very differently than they are resolved now.

Paul begins these verses with the reflection that his mind is absorbed by these two things that are before him…he is not entirely sure what is going to take place next. He is pondering God’s direction. He goes on to assert his longing to be with Christ. He has had a long ministry that was filled with great triumphs but also with great hardships — just read 2 Corinthians 11 to put the hardships in perspective — Paul is waiting to complete his race. At the same time, he recognizes that the timing of that race’s completion is in God’s hands, not his own. He also is aware that there is still need that he continue to labor for the good of the church that is in its infancy around him. Thus, he recognizes the need for that which is preferable to be placed on hold so that what is necessary can be done. Fruitful labor will be God’s choice for Paul’s life, and though he desires to depart, what we see in this saint is that he will change his desires to align them with God’s desires.

And this is the lesson we must learn ourselves. Often, when God leads us into a new area of our lives or opens a door to minister to others, we may go through and do so begrudgingly. Often, we even say, “Yes, I would have much rather done something different, but God led me here.” While that statement may be true (at least at the outset), as Christians, we must not allow that statement to remain true for us. A big part of following God is that of taking our desires and aligning our desires with God’s desires. We should learn to desire what God desires and when God shows you his design, you should re-align your desires along the path that he reveals. I won’t suggest that is an easy task, but I will put forth that in Christ it is possible.

Thus, as you go forward this day, keep this model of the Apostle Paul in front of you. Seek to give priority to the needs of others around you rather than your own preferences and then seek to find your joy and desire in the things God would have you set them in…not in those things you prefer. And in doing so, see what God does through and in you.

What is Good…

“It is good to praise Yahweh;

To sing to your name, Most High.”

(Psalm 92:2 [verse 1 in English])


Indeed, it is good to give God praise. How often, though, we seek to define for ourselves what is good rather than seeking obedience to God’s word about what is truly good. Scripture tells us that it is good to be in the presence of the godly (Psalm 52:9), to give thanks to our God (Psalm 54:6), to be near God (Psalm 73:28), to be afflicted that we might learn the statutes of God (Psalm 119:71), to wait quietly on the Lord (Lamentations 3:26), to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8), to discern the will of God (Romans 12:2), to not cause a brother to stumble (Romans 14:21), and to remain orthodox in your theology (Hebrews 13:9).

And while we could go on, isn’t it interesting how many of the things listed above take place in the context of our gathered worship on the Sabbath day. We pray, we gather, we sing, we learn the statutes (even sometimes in affliction), and we learn to wait on God’s time and his deliverance from trouble. It indeed is good to praise Yahweh, and not just on the Sabbath day, but with every waking breath and with our rest at night.

And in the context of praise, the psalmist also speaks of singing those praises. The term that we translate here as “sing” is the Hebrew word rmz (zamer), which refers to singing while accompanied by a stringed instrument like a harp or a lyre. It is the root from which the word rOwm◊zIm (mizmor), which is translated as “Psalm” comes from…a reminder that instrumentation is appropriate for the worship of God’s people.

Most High is one of those rich names for God amongst God’s people. It reflects his majesty and the loftiness of his name and person. When the Messiah was announced to Mary by Gabriel, he is referred to as the Son of the Most High, again a reminder of Jesus’ divinity (Luke 1:32). How rich and good it is to sing praises and proclaim the name of our most high God!

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your own pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, holy to Yahweh, and honorable; honor it from doing your own things and finding your own pleasure and speaking words, then you shall delight in Yahweh and I will cause you to ride on the high places of the earth; I will feed you with the inheritance of Jacob your father, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.”

(Isaiah 58:13-14)

Crucify! Crucify!

“Thus, when they saw him, the chief priests and the assistants screamed out, ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourself and crucify, for I find no cause in him.’”

(John 19:6)
Pilate is playing a dangerous political game with the Jews at this point. On one level, his contempt for being manipulated by these Jewish officials shows through, but on another level, the chief priests have whipped the people into such a mob that there is no telling what is going to happen next. It is a very dangerous game of chess that he is playing and it seems as if his king is being boxed in move by move, each verbal interchange that is taking place.

Yet as intense as this interplay must have been at the time, God has superintended it all to bring it to the conclusion he has designed for his Son. Jew and Gentile are here together vying to see who would be responsible for the actual death of Jesus while the guilt fell on both groups. Sin is sin whether you are the hand that carries it out or whether you provide the thought that instigates it. There is no other word but “evil” to describe what is taking place.

But indeed, there is another word…and that is grace. Though the working and debating of Pilate and the Chief Priests is evil unbounded, God is overseeing these events to leave none guiltless and then to offer grace to those who turn toward his Son in faith. Loved ones, this is why Jesus is before these wicked men. It is not because of the plans of the wicked but it is because of the design of God the Father, that he, God the Son, be crushed for our sins and that he bear the iniquity of all believers upon his shoulders that we (believers) might become the righteousness of God. There are not words to describe the debt of gratitude and love we owe for this gift of grace…all we can do is commit our lives to serving Him who has given his life to save us.

Will you?

Listening 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)


The final clause in this statement deserves deeper reflection. Jesus says that “all who are of the truth listen to my voice.” How convicting that statement is when you get down to it. On the surface it is an easy one to affirm, but how often when applied deeper down, we struggle to live it out? How often do people talk a good talk but when it comes to living in obedience to the voice of Jesus, fall far short.

Jesus never states that his words are suggestions for wise living. No, he says that his words are Gospel, his words are Truth, and anything else that we might listen to is in error and separates us from him. We want to do things “my way” but Jesus plainly says that is not an option for us if we wish to be identified as Christian. We must do things “His way.” All else is sin.

Loved ones, there are many people in our world that call themselves Christians but have no interest in listening to any voice other than their own…or the devil’s. Just like Marlowe’s Faustus, our culture has flirted with the devil in the hopes of prosperity and happiness but failed to see that true happiness and contentment come not from comfort nor from the lusts of the flesh, but they come from Christ himself. The world has proclaimed Jesus’ teachings on peace and loving one’s brothers but have ignored Jesus’ words of sacrifice, judgment, and hell. To whom are they listening? Many claim Jesus just another yoga or wise moral teacher. Again, to whom are they listening? Certainly it is not to Jesus himself. And thus their ideas are neither true nor worthy of attention.

My friends, do not fall into the deceptions of this world. There is Truth and he is absolute. Yet, he has revealed his mind to us in his Word, the Bible, so that it might be preserved for all ages, studied, and obeyed. We are called to listen to Jesus’ voice with the implication that we will obey his wisdom — it is True indeed! Will you do so? If you will be of the truth, listening to (and obeying) the voice of Jesus is not an option.

Faithful Obedience, Not Miracles

“When Herod beheld Jesus, he was very pleased for he had wanted, for a long time, to see him because he had heard about him and he hoped that he might do some sign for him. So, he questioned him with many words, but he would not answer him.”

(Luke 23:8-9)


We all want a magic show, don’t we. We want the skies to part and God’s blessed voice to pronounce to us what by faith we ought to embrace. We want rumbles of thunder to accompany our preaching and miracles abounding to attest to our ministry. I had a friend who once told me, “It would be easier for me to believe that God is real if he would just come down from heaven and show me.” The sad thing is that God has done just that and it did not change the unbelief of wicked men. God spoke from heaven at Jesus’ baptism and people wrote it off. Jesus worked numerous miracles during his ministry and people were attracted to the performance. Everyone wanted to see the spectacle…even the jaded Herod…but unbelief is unbelief no matter how many miracles are worked in one’s presence. Judas witnessed many of Jesus’ miracles firsthand, yet still sold his master into the hands of the wicked.

Miracles do not generate faith. Faith is generated by the Holy Spirit as he gives new life to our sin-dead souls. Miracles are meant to confirm faith — to attest to the truth of who Jesus really is — not to set up a circus act. Thus Jesus did no miracles when he was in the midst of his unbelieving home-town and he will do no miracles here in the presence of Herod. Such is the judgment of God — the wicked left in their rejection and wickedness, the blind remaining so.

Pastors and churches, too, often fall into this trap in a different way. They call a new pastor and expect that in a year or so all of the problems of the church will be resolved, it will be growing and thriving, and they will be enjoying the good fruit that is characteristic of a long and enduring ministry. But that is the point, to see the fruit of a long and enduring ministry, the congregation must learn the patience to allow their pastor, barring any major sin, to have a long and enduring ministry while also submitting to his teaching and leadership. The miraculous is not the mark of the true church; faithful obedience to God’s word is.

The Great King is to be Feared

“For Yahweh Elyon is to be feared — Great King over all the earth.”

(Psalm 47:3 {verse 2 in English Translations})


As kids we were always told that it wasn’t nice to call people names — at least bad names… Yet, there is a practice of scripture of attributing names of honor to God. These names are names that reflect the attributes and character of our God, not the progressive development of a religion like some of the liberal “scholars” would suggest. And what we find in this verse is a grouping of three names that are bound together.

Yahweh is a name we are used to seeing. This is the “I am that I am” name that God gives to himself and provides to Moses, recorded in Exodus 3:14. It is a name that reflects God’s covenantal character of God as well as the eternal nature of his being. God always was, God is, and God always will be. While our existence is measured and bounded by time; time is a creation of God and has no bearing on his being — time has a beginning…God does not. Thus he tells us that we are to know him by Yahweh and by that name he is to be remembered throughout the generations (Exodus 3:15).

The name that is attached to Yahweh is Elyon (pronounced with a long “o”). Usually we render this “Most High,” and that is an accurate rendering of the title. I chose to leave the word untranslated, rather, to help set it apart as part of God’s glorious title of honor here. Elyon was a term reserved for God himself and was not to be given to men. It reflects that God is not the greatest in a set of like beings, but he is a being par-excellence — one of kind and incomparable to others. God stands alone as God. He is mighty and true and if you are going to fear any, this is the one you should fear. Jesus echoes this when he states: “do not fear the one who can kill the body, but fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28) — Yahweh Elyon is the one of whom Jesus is speaking.

The final title is that of “Great King.” Many translations render this as, “a great king,” and that would be a legitimate translation were the subject being spoken of God himself. God is not just one of many great kings, but he is the great king — he is King over all the earth. While the definite article “the” is not present in the text, the context of the text sets this phrase apart as being a title attributed to God, thus neither article (“the” or “a”) is necessary and we see this again as a title of glory and honor.

You know what is interesting, though… As Christians, we are usually very quick to proclaim that Jesus is indeed the King of all Kings and the King over all the earth, but we rarely act as if he is the King over our lives. Kings make rules and Kings demand the obedience of their subjects. Yet how often we go about our lives acting as if we are our own and making decisions based on our preferences rather than on the basis of obedience to God’s command? I think that there is an explanation for our behavior, though — we do not obey our king because we do not fear him… A double-whammy — a double sin.

Loved ones, our lives are not our own. If we call ourselves Christians, then our lives belong to the one whose name we have taken and into whose name we have been adopted. The house rules demand that we obey if we love Christ (John 14:15). Will we? Will you? Do you fear your heavenly Father in a holy and reverent way that motivates you to a lifestyle that will honor him? In the end, such is the mark of a believer. May we indeed be able to sing the words of the psalmist from the bottom of our hearts in the deepest sincerity in our life here and eternally.

Faith and Obedience

“And the servant said to him, ‘Perhaps the woman will not consent to come with me to this land. Should I surely return with your son to the land from which you came out of?’”

(Genesis 24:5)


The servant asks a very human question, though it is a question that betrays his lack of understanding of the hand of God in this event. He says, “Hey, what if she doesn’t want to come?” Put the matter in perspective, in her homeland, she has her father, brothers, extended family, a place to live, friends, and realistically a fair degree of security. Why would she leave to marry the son of a wanderer in a strange land? Then again, we might alter the question — why would one want to leave the relative security of home for a foreign land in the first place? This is exactly the same question that one might have posed to Abraham himself many years past, but Abraham was a man obedient to God’s call and his desire is to find a wife for his son who will too be a person faithful to God’s call regardless of how far outside of one’s comfort zone it happens to take them.

The last phrase of this verse is very significant given the context. Literally the servant refers to the land from which Abraham came as the land “which you came out of.” While on the surface, the wording may not seem overly significant, it is a reference to God’s hand of providence bringing him out of the land of his fathers and into a new land that God will give to him. Ur is no longer his homeland per say, but the land that he came out of, a reminder of God’s covenantal promises. Even the servant’s comment about returning with Isaac gives an indication of the significance of such an action, for he uses a repetition of the verb (Shall I return return — commonly rendered, “surely return”), intensifying the statement regarding the action he is proposing to take. The firmness of Abraham’s response is directly related to the language that the servant uses here.

How often, like this servant, we doubt the power of God to bring about his will. When the call is made or the command given, we ask “why” rather than saying, “here I am, send me.” May we be quick to follow the model of Abraham (and soon Rebekah) in terms of following God in faith.