Psalm 119:7

The more we understand God’s word, the more praise we give Him.  His word shows us how great He is, and how desperately we need Him because of our sin.  Our hearts do become more upright, as conforming to His word changes our desires.

Are you depressed, worried, discouraged?  Have you thought about spending more time in God’s word as a remedy?  Have you had trouble with relationships, particularly with managing conflict and loving others?  Consider the bible as a playbook, and think about how hard it is to take the right steps independently.

We can’t grow if we don’t spend consistent time in His word.  This is a struggle for many, so ask those closest to you in your church to help.  Ask for accountability, and know yourself well enough to recognize the need for help.

Psalm 119:3

Psalm 119:3

Continuing on the theme of being blessed (i.e. content, satisfied, and secure in the Lord, not merely happy), the Psalmist says something which may seem unrealistic. He’s referring to those “who also do no wrong” as blessed. How is this possible?

Throughout scripture we see things which may on the surface seem contradictory. But if we want to be thoughtful and consistent, we’ll dig deeper. The bible says that all of us do wrong; “None is righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10) So how do we understand Psalm 119:3 in light of this truth? Well, we certainly want to strive for perfect obedience. Given the fact that we can’t be sinless this side of heaven, what does it mean to do no wrong?

I think our answer lies in Matthew 18. Jesus gave instructions on how to handle believers who were persistent and unrepentant in their sin. After gently and carefully walking alongside such a person (read more about biblical church discipline and membership here Continue reading

Romans Overview

Romans Overview

For centuries, the faithful descendants of Abraham according to the flesh—the Jews— looked forward to God’s decisive intervention to restore the nation of Israel to a right relationship with Him. This was the hope of the prophets, who eagerly anticipated the Lord’s work to fulfill His covenant promises of salvation and make His people into a holy nation (Isaiah 52:1–9). Yet this redemption was not intended merely for the Jews. In the day of Israel’s salvation, “all the ends of the earth see the salvation of God” (Isaiah 52:10), and the nations would serve the Lord (Micah 4:1–5).

During the first century AD, our Creator acted to keep His covenant promises and save His people from their sins in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Mattthew 1:21; John 3:16–17). Thus was born the Christian church, which grew steadily and rapidly among the Jews in the earliest days of its history (Acts 2:42–47). The conversion of one of these Jews—Saul of Tarsus—marked a decisive point in redemptive history, for this former Pharisee brought the gospel to the Gentiles with a zeal that few could match. Saul—better known as Paul the Apostle—was not the first person to preach the gospel to the nations; nevertheless, his work preaching the good news of salvation, discipling converts, and planting churches was the means by which the Holy Spirit realized the promise that all people would benefit from the gospel. Once Paul understood that Israel’s restoration and salvation were accomplished in Christ Jesus, he knew that it was time for the Gentiles to come en masse to worship the Lord of Israel. So, he went out on several missionary journeys to establish Christian congregations, and he instructed them by means of epistles.

Paul’s epistle to the Romans is the most influential of these letters. Its teaching has sparked reformation and revival throughout church history whenever people have grasped the Spirit’s message through the pen of the Apostle. Often called Paul’s magnum opus, Romans was written sometime in AD 57–58, probably from Corinth. This was the end of his third missionary journey, and the Apostle was on his way to deliver monies collected from the Gentile churches to the Jewish church in Jerusalem. After Jerusalem, Paul wanted to stop in Rome to meet the church there before going on to preach the gospel in Spain (Romans 15:22–29). He wrote his letter to the Romans to introduce himself to the church there and to explain the message he preached throughout the world.

Acts 1-4

Acts 1-4

The marks of a true church must be tested finally against the teaching of Scripture, which is the sure instruction of the Apostles and the inerrant Word of God. Protestants have traditionally agreed on two marks: the right preaching of the Word and the right administration of the sacraments. Many list church discipline as a third mark of the church. Others make it part of the right administration of the sacraments, as discipline determines who may receive these means of grace.

The right preaching of God’s Word is an obvious mark of the church. Without faithfulness to the foundation of Christian belief, no group can rightly call itself Christian, let alone a church. Summaries of the essential teaching of Scripture such as the Nicene Creed and Westminster Confession of Faith can assist us in determining whether a particular church accurately preaches the Word. Sacraments are visible words of God, so their right administration also marks a true church. Today’s passage proves that the earliest Christians affirmed these two marks of the church, for the first New Testament church devoted itself to Apostolic teaching and the breaking of bread (the Lord’s Supper) (Acts 2:42). Word and sacrament, rightly administered, were the emphasis of the Apostolic church, and so they must be our emphasis today.

True churches are identified by their faithfulness to the Word of God, not by their size or influence in the community. A church that hears and obeys Scripture cannot help but reach out to the society around it, but the mere presence of programs or a gathering of professing believers does not necessarily mean a church is present. As believers, let us call our churches to remain faithful to God’s Word and to administer the sacraments rightly and regularly.

Isaiah 16-19

Isaiah 16-19…Egypt

Egypt was one of Israel’s most significant enemies during the lifetime of Moses, but there are clues in the five books of Moses (Genesis–Deuteronomy) that this enemy status would not last forever. As the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, God revealed to Moses that the third-generation children of the Egyptians who lived at the time of the exodus would be permitted to join the congregation of His people (Deut. 23:7–8). That generation, presumably, would be far enough removed from the hatred Egypt revealed during the exodus and willing to become servants of the true God — Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts.

Later on, during Isaiah’s lifetime, the Almighty revealed more clearly that Egypt would no longer be Israel’s enemy. Today’s passage anticipates a day when the Egyptians will join God’s people as worshipers of Yahweh, the covenant Lord of Israel. We see this taught in Isaiah 19:18, which says five cities in Egypt will speak the language of Canaan — Hebrew, the tongue of the Israelites who took possession of that land. This is a metaphor explaining how Egypt will become an ally of Israel and adopt Israel’s faith, which was rooted in the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah goes on in verses 19–22 to teach that Egypt will know God not as judge but as redeemer in the last day. Gone will be the pagan altars and false gods, for the Egyptians will be idolaters no longer. During the exodus, the Lord’s glory was manifested when he crushed the Egyptian army in the sea (Ex. 14:17–18). In the eschatological (final or last days) age, His glory will be made known through crushing the hard hearts of Egypt and replacing them with pliable hearts intent on serving Him.

Remarkably, the notoriously cruel empire of Assyria will find peace with Egypt and worship Yahweh as well in that final day (Isa. 19:23–25). Traditionally, Egypt and Assyria were mortal enemies, but the construction of a highway between the two countries signifies a day when they will be friends (v. 23), a day when communication between them will be free and unhindered. Moreover, Assyria will also join with Egypt and the Israelites as a part of the Lord’s holy people (vv. 24–25). This prophecy is being fulfilled as the gospel goes forth and a church of “neither Jew nor Greek” is built into a temple of the living God (Gal. 3:28; 1 Peter 2:4–6).

Job 19-21

Job 19-21…Why is this world broken?

Why is there evil in the world? Related to this is the question of why the wicked seem to get away with their wrongdoing. There’s no easy answer to this problem, and this fact forms the basis of Job’s reply to round two of his friends’ speeches. In this speech, for the first time, Job does not address the Lord, but instead counters his friends’ claims. This speech is also much less emotional.

The biggest problem with retribution theology, Job begins, is that it doesn’t really explain the ways of the world. As he looks around, he finds numerous examples of the wicked prospering. They grow old, they are safe, and they are successful. What’s more, they die happy, even though they deny God. The picture that Job paints here is similar to the one that Eliphaz drew of the good man, so it may be that Job intends a deliberate contrast. Ironically, Job’s friends have accused him of opposing God by challenging His ways, but it is they themselves who have been, in essence, telling God how the world should be run.

The book of Job doesn’t answer the problem of evil. We need to look elsewhere in Scripture to consider various aspects of this difficult question. Psalm 73 is a good place to start. Here the psalmist considers the apparent success of the wicked and wonders if he has been faithful in vain. The turning point comes in v. 17, where the psalmist begins to understand the final destiny of the wicked beyond this life. Then his heart is encouraged, as he considers his own eternal destiny with the Lord.

Nehemiah 1-7

Nehemiah 1-7…Spiritual Reformation.

Nehemiah left for Jerusalem around 445 BC, almost two generations after the first exiles had returned. That he acknowledged the sins of Israel, expressing sorrow for them, indicates that even though a number of the people were back, impenitence still characterized much of the nation. This impenitence explains why the restoration did not match the glorious words uttered about it by the earlier prophets, for as Nehemiah’s prayer also acknowledged, full restoration was contingent upon true repentance.

Nehemiah’s prayers throughout these chapters are remarkable for their emphasis on the Lord’s covenant faithfulness, which God displayed not only in blessing His people but also in bringing about the curses that He warned of in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. God is by nature faithful and thus keeps His promises, so when Israel flagrantly violated the terms of the covenant and refused to repent, they reaped the consequences. Nehemiah was unafraid to acknowledge both sides of God’s covenant faithfulness, and so this prayer stands as a model to us. Oftentimes, we speak of the Lord’s fidelity to us only when we are experiencing great blessing. Yet the faithfulness of God to His Word also involves disciplining us for sin, so we ought not think that He is being less than true to His covenant when we feel the hard but loving hand of His chastisement (Heb. 12:3–11).

Ultimately, Nehemiah would go back to Jerusalem and lead a great reformation in Israel, but he recognized that reformation of the covenant community had to begin in heartfelt repentance. This predated any change in the structures of society. The same principle is in action under the new covenant. Righteous laws can be passed in our land, but there will be no lasting change unless and until the church gets its own house in order. Judgment always begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17).

Ezra 5-7

Ezra 5-7…God’s people must be shaped by God’s word.

With the people of God back in the land of Palestine after their sojourn as exiles in Babylon, there was a desperate need for religious education and reform if the Jews were to be fully restored to their vocation as God’s nation of priests (Ex. 19:1–6). Ezra, the scribe from the tribe of Levi, was an ideal figure to lead this renewal. Having “set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10), Ezra was prepared to provide the guidance needed to restructure the covenant community according to the Word of God.

Every period of reformation in history begins with a return to sacred Scripture, and this was as true in Ezra’s day as it was in the Protestant Reformation. For reformation to have lasting effects, this return must be a living reality — the church must be willing not only to learn biblical content but also to put it into practice. In preparing himself to do and to teach God’s law, Ezra is a model for how the church should study Scripture and apply it in a way that fosters reformation.

Of course, the first step is to know what the Lord says in His Word. Matthew Henry comments regarding God’s will that Ezra “made it his business to inquire into it, searched the scriptures, and sought the knowledge of God, of his mind and will, in the scriptures, which is to be found there, but not without seeking.” The information in the Bible does us no good if it merely stays on the printed page; rather, we must diligently inquire into its depths and draw out the meaning the Spirit has placed there. As we are able, let us study the Bible wholeheartedly with the aim to rightly handle the “word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). That way, we will be prepared to serve God rightly.

1 Kings 5-7

1 Kings 5-7…Buildings

Architecture has played an important role in church history. After all, there are magnificent cathedrals and church buildings all around the world that have been built to the glory of God. No art form is neutral, for even the design of our church buildings says something about our regard for the Lord and His worship. In 1 Kings 5-7, we see the preparations for building the temple, and God has specific instructions for Solomon.

Throughout the Bible, God’s people dedicate certain places as fit for His special presence. From Bethel (Gen. 28:10–22) to the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:9–27), Scripture is clear that our Creator sometimes chooses to make His presence felt more strongly in some locales than in others. This is not to deny the omnipresence of God, for there is indeed nowhere we can hide from Him (Ps. 139:7). What we are talking about when we consider sacred space is the Lord’s special presence, the location where His people experience particular blessings and enjoy the sweetest communion with Him. The same God who exists everywhere also meets with His children in special ways in specific locales, especially in the person of Jesus Christ.

When we gather to worship the Lord, it is essential to remember that we are coming into the presence of the most holy Creator who has nonetheless chosen to show great mercy to a particular people in the person of Christ Jesus. The architecture of our sanctuaries can help us remember this, but we are tasked to recall this fact no matter where we gather for worship. We do not worship the Lord lightly, but we adore the holy, majestic Creator.

Deuteronomy 17-19

Deuteronomy 17-19…Laws on Israel’s Kings, and a new prophet like Moses.

The king was required to carefully study the law of God, and apply it to his life. It is not enough to have Bibles, but we need to use them daily as long as we live. The king’s reading was useless if he did not practice what he read. We too must obey God’s word, as mere agreement with it is not obedience.

God promises to Israel that he would “raise up a prophet like you from among their brothers.” Jesus would save sinners by becoming human like us, taking on flesh, and perfectly fulfilling the law. His human component takes on just as much importance as His deity. We needed someone to live a holy life in our place, and God’s wrath needed to be exhausted for sin. All the more reason for us to esteem him highly, because His rescue of us came at a great cost. Also, knowing that God’s wrath is set on those who don’t submit to Christ as Lord, we should be fervent in evangelism.