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Archive for February, 2015

A pastor friend of mine put this quote on Facebook that he had read from Tim Keller: “For most of us, God hasn’t become our happiness. We, therefore, pray to procure things for our happiness, and not to know him better.” Sometimes quotes are black and white, absolute, and I want to say, no, only sometimes and partially. So I started to respond to this entry but as I tried to think how to respond the depth of my own culpability increased in my eyes. Things procured may not always be material objects, and most frequently are not things I most desire or pursue. They may be accomplishments, comforts, accolades, encouragements, skills, health, entertainments, work, love, a sense of purpose, and so on. They are not knowledge of God. Neither are the bad in themselves, used as tools for knowing Him and making Him known, but I don’t frequently acquire them for that reason. So I retreated from responding to the entry, but the impact of the statement would not fade. I have resolved by the Spirit to confront such idols in the past.

As these thoughts mulled over in my mind I was reminded of the verse in the hymn that goes, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’m come, and I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.” The Ebenezer comes from a text in I Samuel 7:8-13: “Then the sons of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it for a whole burnt offering to the Lord; and Samuel cried to the Lord for Israel and the Lord answered him. Now Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, and the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel. The men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as below Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore within the border of Israel.”  The translation of Ebenezer is a “stone of help”. It is a monument raised by someone to remind them of help that God has given them. It is very easy to emphasize the act of raising the stone or the resolve that went into the help afforded but that is a totally man-centered dead end. God thundered and confused the enemy and routed and weakened to be struck down. Israel was active: pursuing, striking; Samuel set up the stone, but God did all of the heavy lifting and enabled all of the victory. So too in our victories over the temptation “we are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (II Corinthians 10:5) by the enabling power of the Spirit.

At my age and stage of life I have set up more than a few Ebenezers in field of battle. “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1 I know His help, and I know how to call on Him, but in many smaller skirmishes and encampment quarrels and disease I am in great need of revisiting an Ebenezer set up where God enabled victory over evil thoughts, or the other one where victory was won over sluggish spiritual discipline, or yet another one where pride of accomplishment and tendency to show off was overcome. And on it goes. I need to take every thought captive by the power He provides, set up monuments to remind me of His victory and what was won, know Him more, and revisit those “stones of help” before or during great or prolonged battles.

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The Pharisees and scribes were at it again, hackling and questioning Jesus. In their minds they were the gatekeepers to the understanding and practice of righteousness. And Jesus once again showed them otherwise:

“Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”  And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’  But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:

This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’””          Matthew 15:1-9

By trying to create their own laws that in their minds super-fulfilled the requirements of the law they missed the simple truth of God’s requirement and actually transgressed the law. Thus ends all manmade attempts to be righteous by our own schemes and effort. The best we can do apart from the Spirit of God is fail. So I could continue with a survey of all the different ways the Pharisees missed it and perhaps act pharisaically in the process by condemning them to justify myself. But our pastor, Sunday School lessons, and the sharing at church of late has seemed to center around repentance. One day this past week after having read the above passage and while watching my students quietly work on an assignment a thought bore down on me with noticeable weight: Do I honor God only with my lips? Is my heart captured by other things apart from Him and His glory? Before I could get myself off of the hook I began musing on what I am most passionate and excited about. What do I spend the most time on, particularly during leisure time? What do my thoughts go to when there are no responsibilities to fulfill, for the Word says, “one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:25)? How do I help people without using them since “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)? How much of the truth that I know do I practice since “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)? A brother in Sunday School this past Sunday prayed, “To defect from carrying out of the mundane is to defect from the grand scheme of God’s plan. It is a denial of Him.” Do I scheme grandiose plans while neglecting the daily tasks before me? The Bible says, make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you,  so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” (I Thessalonians 4:17)? Do I say I am faithful to my wife but not carry it out, for the Word says, abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” (I Thessalonians 4:3-5)? Do I covet, wanting all manner of things and recognition and abilities more than I want God when it says, You shall not covet, so that “sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind” (Romans 7:7-8)? Do I wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.” (II Timothy 2:14) or dabble in “filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting,” and fail at “giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:4)?  Have my intentions been good but my carry-through poor, “being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8), so that I do not “Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them” (Psalm 76:11) as I ought?

My intention is not to wallow in guilt and self-pity because of struggles and failures in these and other areas. That would just produce more tendency to neglect the good and pursue the bad, like a defeated dieter who gives in to all manner of poor food choices over the guilt of one slip-up. Instead, I desire to repent of foolish indulgences, thank God for His enabling progress to overcome these temptations more than in the past, and resolve by the power over sin He provides to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  I want to honor God with my lips, my heart, my actions, worshipping Him in a God-honoring, eternally valuable way, “accurately handling the word of truth.” (II Timothy 2:15), rather than be classed with lip serving, pharisaical hypocrites.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2

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