Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Speech of Arrows

Psalm 127 says that the children of one's youth are like arrows in the hand of the mighty man. Happy is the man that has a quiver full of such arrows. Such a man will not be ashamed, nor his children, but will 'speak' with enemies in the gate.

The mighty man speaks with arrows. He wars with arrows. The mighty man, with a quiver full is ready for war, ready to speak with enemies, ready to stand in the gate shoulder to shoulder with his children, and fight.

Don't Decline

Proverbs 7 is an apt warning for modern men. The adulterous woman can look good, speak well and be compelling. In ancient days, unless you were wealthy, you probably had to go out of doors to find her. You had to walk by her house, or down her street, or go where she was known to be.

But now, she is with you wherever you go. She's on your phone, at the checkout counter, on every clever beer ad. At home or on the go, she's always ready to rev your heart.

Proverbs tells you, men. Proverbs tells you, boys. Don't do it. Don't decline your heart. What does that mean? It means don't lean that way. Don't give her the time of day. Don't let her catch your attention. Don't let her talk, or mince or put on a show. Your heart may decline and it is inclined to decline. So, you must be diligent.

There is nothing new under the sun. The temptation is ever the same. But this particular temptation certainly casts a bigger net. Some men don't mind being caught in it but it will pull you down to hell. Don't decline.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Zephaniah I- Sermon Notes

Zeph. 2:1-15
Who Is I Am?
Sermon Notes
October 4, 2015
Lynchburg, Virginia

         We continue our study of the Minor Prophets and have now come to a decided turn in the nature of the prophecies. Zephaniah, like Jeremiah, prophecies doom against Jerusalem.
         The Northern Kingdom of Israel fell in 722 BC, when Samaria was destroyed by the Assyrians. The Assyrians had made incursions into the Southern Kingdom and even threatened Jerusalem but were turned back by God’s protecting hand. This occurred in the realm of Hezekiah.
But Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, did evil in the sight of the Lord and ruled for 55 years! During Manasseh’s reign, the Lord determined to bring judgment against Jerusalem.
Manasseh’s son, Amon reigned two years and did evil in the sight of the Lord. His servants conspired against him and killed him. His son Josiah’s reign followed Manasseh and Amon. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord. He put away the false prophets and began to repair the Temple to reinstitute worship of the One true God. In the course of cleaning up the Temple, the priest Hilkiah found the book of the law. From this, we can ascertain that Josiah was making reforms based upon his own plans and an oral tradition of worship.
It is quite amazing to think that the law had perished from the land to such an extent. There were copies of the law in various places but they had all been lost or purged by the idolatrous practices. The priests had become false priests and the knowledge of God had perished from the land. This all happened in one 55 year reign of a wicked king.
It is not surprising then that the children growing up in such a lawless land had pushed the edges of lawlessness to the extreme. This is ever the case. Those who lose the law have some historical connection to it. They were raised under its tenets even if they were not taught the specifics. They were the recipients of a Christian culture, if you will. But their children grow up without that benefit. If the law disappears from the land, it only takes on generation to drift completely away from those moorings. It appears that we are in such a time.
In all spheres of government, civil, familial, church, the law of God is disappearing. Does it surprise us that the people cannot think? Does it surprise us that they defend any number of extreme anti-biblical positions? It should not. The main problem we face in America today is a famine of the Word of God. We must return to that standard, ourselves, then preach, teach and live it out praying all the while for Reformation and Revival.
Now, this Reformation occurred in the time of Josiah, Manasseh’s son. He became king when he was eight years old and his heart was stirred for the one true God since he was a youth. But he was not raised in the Lord and the Words of God had disappeared. Imagine a young Christian coming out of Communism in 1990, seeking to obey Jesus, who has some recollection of what a few key old people told him about the good old days, church, the Bible, but he does not have a Bible. He is trying to obey God but doesn’t even really know what obedience entails. That is Josiah in the early years.
When he was 20 years old he began his reforms, even before he found the book of the law. He knew enough to put down false priests and seek to purge the land of idols. But it in his 18th year as ruler, when he was 26 years old, the book of the law was discovered and he ramped up his reforms dramatically. Can you imagine how the established false priests resisted him? Yet, he pushed forward rapidly.
Josiah put to death the priests of the high places and banished the workers with familiar spirits, wizards, and their images and idols and all the abominations in the land of Judah.
The final result was a fabulous celebration of the Passover, such has not been celebrated since the days of Samuel.
Josiah reigned for 13 years after the book of the law was found and continued his reforms throughout the land of Judah.There was hope again in the land.
2 Chron. 34: 32 And he caused all that were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.  33 And Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the countries that pertained to the children of Israel, and made all that were present in Israel to serve, even to serve the LORD their God. And all his days they departed not from following the LORD, the God of their fathers.

Into all of this we place Zephaniah.
Time- Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah, who ruled from 639 down to 608 BC.
He reigned for another 13 years. Josiah was killed in a battle by Pharoah-neco. One of his sons begins to reign but Pharoah took him into exile and put another of Josiah’s son in his place, Jehoiakim. He served Nebuchadnezzer for three years but then rebelled and provoked Nebuchadnezzer to attack Jerusalem.

         Josiah produced hope in the land. Under the leadership of the king, idolatry was purged from the land, and we saw with Josiah, as in the days of the Judges, that the people served God during his life.
         Speaking of Josiah, we read
         2Kings 23:25   And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.  26 Notwithstanding the LORD turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal.  27 And the LORD said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.

But his sons brought the people back into sin. We can never know what might have been. Josiah had brought a reprieve of judgment to the land. If they had continued faithful, the Lord would likely have honored them with blessing instead of judgment. However, that is not what they do. They immediately revert back to their old sinful ways.
         Incidentally, Josiah’s children were brought up in the Lord. They knew better. They were taught the Word of God.
         Zephaniah condemns the priests as well as the princes. He was of royal blood, so his condemnation of the princes of the land, was one that was close to him.
         In the days of Johoiachin, 2 Chron. 36: 15 And the LORD God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: 
16 But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy. 
It seems from this that the Lord had provided a remedy. There was hope in reform and revival but the people once again turned from God to lies and idols. No hope in that. No remedy but judgment.
17 Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into his hand.
What were some of the sins of the people that God was judging? 2 Kings 23: sins of the people, Idolatry, sodomy-even at the Temple. There were male temple prostitutes, child sacrifice, religious wall hangings presented to false gods, sun worship with horse and chariot, worship of Ashtoreth and Chemosh, even since the days of Solomon. This was going on for 400 years!
         Furthermore, 2 Kings 24:7 says that Jerusalem was filled with shedding of innocent blood, which the Lord would not pardon.
Notes- Great, great grandfather was Hezekiah, probably the king of that name.
Zephaniah- he whom Jehovah hides or shelters. Hope in catastrophe. Seek righteousness, seek meekness, perhaps the Lord will hide you in the day of calamity. 2:3

Zephaniah prophesied during Josiah’s reign from about 641 BC to 610 BC.

2 Kings 23: Josiah’s reforms
2 Kings 12:10-16 compare with 23:26-27

Zeph 1- Threat
         Judgment will fall not only on Israel and Judah but on all nations. The nations listed give us the sense of all lands, north, south, east and west, the Philistines in the west (vv. 5-7); the Moabites and Ammonites comprised in one in the east (vv. 8-10); the Cushites in the south (vv. 11, 12); and Asshur, with Nineveh, in the north (north-east), (vv. 13-15).
         That is to say, all the nations that oppose God in all the four corners of the Earth, they shall all be judged. But judgment begins and ends in the household of God. Even those at the center will be judged. All have sinned and so all must be judged.
         This has a very interesting corollary at the day of Pentecost. It is there that we see the day of the Lord. But the day of the Lord is a day of wrath and judgment. We do not think of it that way. We think of the day of the Lord as the day of salvation. And, of course, this is true. It is a day of salvation. But resurrection always comes after death. Salvation comes after condemnation and judgment.
         Someone has to die. All deserve death and yet none of these deaths can pay the price of rebellion. One has to die for the people and all have to enter into His death. Only when all enter into His death can all be saved. And so all the nations of the Earth must be slain so that they can be raised.
This is a theme we will develop

Zeph 2:3-8 Exhortation to Repentance
         Repent, perhaps Jehovah will hide and shelter you. That is one of the themes of Zephaniah, he whom Jehovah hides. Wrath is coming but some will be hid by God. Who is hid by God? Those who by faith take refuge in Jesus Christ. This is the great Christological theme of the prophets. Our lives are hid in God.
         In Josiah’s day, the people sought to be hid in God but no sooner had Josiah died, then they exposed themselves again to the foolishness of pride.

They did not need to be hid in God because they thought themselves to be God. Zeph 2: 15 This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me: how is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in! every one that passeth by her shall hiss, and wag his hand.

Righteous and Meek

Righteousness and Meekness are not always seen as companions. Many accuse the righteous of being arrogant for even thinking their own righteousness was possible. And, of course, self-righteousness based upon a relative scale, is arrogant. Being more righteous than the wicked does not make one righteous.
         But God declares us righteous in Jesus Christ. If we are honest and understand what is going on, we cannot respond in any way but humility. We know our sins. We know our weaknesses. We know our failures. Who would ever call us righteous?

         But God looks upon us through the merits of His own beloved Son, the One Who truly was righteous. That is, He did right. He did no wrong. There was no sin in His words or actions. We come to God in  Christ. We are righteous but it is not a righteousness that is our own. God reckons us righteous because we look to Jesus, His work, His death, in faith. This is not arrogance. The only way to be reckoned righteous is to humble yourself before the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Love Is As Love Does

It does not help to say that you love if your actions speak the lie. This is true in worship as well in marriage and family relationships. God knows the truth and keeps us accountable. Ancient Israel and Judah proclaimed loyalty to God but their actions spoke otherwise. They sought to worship the LORD while also setting up other idols. They did not submit to the authority of God and His Word alone. God calls them up short.

         If we say that we love God, we cannot hate our brother. You cannot hate your brother whom you see and love God whom you cannot see. We must forgive our brothers revealing our love for them. We must let no root of bitterness grow up which will defile many. Love actively forgives. Love actively blesses. This is the message that we hear from God. It is especially true of a local body of believers but extends out from there to all those named in Christ Jesus. Matt. 18:7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Best of Bach-Confessions of a Lazy Listener

I was more diligent in my younger days in listening to good music. I am glad to know that my 22 year old son often listens to such good music to study. There is a reason this music has lasted for centuries. It is easy to get lazy in our listening and go for the popular sound. This music is wonderfully enjoyable and simplicity presented with complexity. That is to say it represents the Trinity. Much of classical music is simple theme repeated with variations. The variations are astounding. That is very Trinitarian. God is unity and His diversity is astounding. I want to 'pump you up!' Give this a listen.

Dies Irae

Preaching on Zephaniah tomorrow.

Here is a poem by Thomas of Celano in the 13th Century inspired by the book and an orchestral arrangement of the same name that captures the frantic nature of the impending doom of Jerusalem at the hands of the Chaldeans (Babylonians).\

DIES irae, dies illa,
solvet saeculum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.
THAT day of wrath, that dreadful day,
shall heaven and earth in ashes lay,
as David and the Sybil say.
Quantus tremor est futurus,
quando iudex est venturus,
cuncta stricte discussurus!
What horror must invade the mind
when the approaching Judge shall find
and sift the deeds of all mankind!
Tuba mirum spargens sonum
per sepulcra regionum,
coget omnes ante thronum.
The mighty trumpet's wondrous tone
shall rend each tomb's sepulchral stone
and summon all before the Throne.
Mors stupebit et natura,
cum resurget creatura,
iudicanti responsura.
Now death and nature with surprise
behold the trembling sinners rise
to meet the Judge's searching eyes.
Liber scriptus proferetur,
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus iudicetur.
Then shall with universal dread
the Book of Consciences be read
to judge the lives of all the dead.
Iudex ergo cum sedebit,
quidquid latet apparebit:
nil inultum remanebit.
For now before the Judge severe
all hidden things must plain appear;
no crime can pass unpunished here.
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
quem patronum rogaturus?
cum vix iustus sit securus.
O what shall I, so guilty plead?
and who for me will intercede?
when even Saints shall comfort need?
Rex tremendae maiestatis,
qui salvandos salvas gratis,
salva me, fons pietatis.
O King of dreadful majesty!
grace and mercy You grant free;
as Fount of Kindness, save me!
Recordare Iesu pie,
quod sum causa tuae viae:
ne me perdas illa die.
Recall, dear Jesus, for my sake
you did our suffering nature take
then do not now my soul forsake!
Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:
redemisti crucem passus:
tantus labor non sit cassus.
In weariness You sought for me,
and suffering upon the tree!
let not in vain such labor be.
Iuste iudex ultionis,
donum fac remissionis,
ante diem rationis.
O Judge of justice, hear, I pray,
for pity take my sins away
before the dreadful reckoning day.
Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
culpa rubet vultus meus:
supplicanti parce Deus.
You gracious face, O Lord, I seek;
deep shame and grief are on my cheek;
in sighs and tears my sorrows speak.
Qui Mariam absolvisti,
et latronem exaudisti,
mihi quoque spem dedisti.
You Who did Mary's guilt unbind,
and mercy for the robber find,
have filled with hope my anxious mind.
Preces meae non sunt dignae:
sed tu bonus fac benigne,
ne perenni cremer igne.
How worthless are my prayers I know,
yet, Lord forbid that I should go
into the fires of endless woe.
Inter oves locum praesta,
et ab haedis me sequestra,
statuens in parte dextera.
Divorced from the accursed band,
o make me with Your sheep to stand,
as child of grace, at Your right Hand.
Confutatis maledictis,
flammis acribus addictis.
voca me cum benedictis.
When the doomed can no more flee
from the fires of misery
with the chosen call me.
Oro supplex et acclinis,
cor contritum quasi cinis:
gere curam mei finis.
Before You, humbled, Lord, I lie,
my heart like ashes, crushed and dry,
assist me when I die.
Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla.
iudicandus homo reus:
huic ergo parce Deus.
Full of tears and full of dread
is that day that wakes the dead,
calling all, with solemn blast
to be judged for all their past.
Pie Iesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen.
Lord, have mercy, Jesus blest,
grant them all Your Light and Rest. Amen.

Friday, October 02, 2015

A Weather Report

This weather forecast reminds me that things are seldom as bad as they could be, or even as they might be, or even as they are expected to be. Sometimes they are and it is wise to be prepared. Prepare for the worst and be glad when the preparation was not needed.

But most of the time, the worst case scenario simply drifts out to sea. What will happen tonight and tomorrow? A disaster? Mabye, but probably not. It may just rain.

A good lesson in life, prepare but don't panic.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Clogged Downspouts

Dear Saints,

The real reason I am sending this email is to remind you to clean your gutters and downspouts. A lot of rain is supposed to be coming our way and the biggest source of water in your basement is a failure of your gutters and downspouts to drain the water away from your house.

But since that sounds like a very unpastoral reason to send an email, I want to take this opportunity to say something spiritual. ;)

We suffer when we fail to keep our downspouts working. There are many reasons for them to be clogged and it may be the case that the downspouts work just fine. Only problem, debris in the system. Get that cleared out and you are good to go.

I am referring to the Waters of the Spirit flowing through the downspouts of our Christian lives. 

What clogs us up? At least two things.

1. Sin and sins. Personal and private, so-called secret sins. But as my old pastor's mother used to say, "Beware, your secret sins will find you out." They may be revealed and reveal you. Or, they may simply accumulate and take you down. But it is a maxim that is true, what is hid will be made known. God already knows. Lusts, porn, drunkenness, gossip, bitterness, unbelief. Whatever it is. Confess to Him and be done with it. Let the waters flow.

2. Competing authoratative voices. We live in a loud age and the volume is deafening. Take all those voices and pack them into your head and your drains get clogged. The Spirit is quenched. Who is authorative? Academics? Celebrities? Popular vote? Internet bloggers? Of course not. Run all these voices through the test of Scripture. Sit there and hear God as He speaks loudly in a still small voice. 

So, go unclog your gutters and drain pipes before it rains.

Honor to whom Honor is Due

One of my most favorite people in the world is having a birthday today. He is a brother I look up to, well, if I wasn't looking down on him. Not that I look down on him, he's all good stuff. But that stuff comes in a rather diminutive and dynamic package. So, you can look down on someone while looking up to them and if you do that, you'll know how I see my brother from up, er down, here.

Larry, you are a good and godly man. You are blessed in the gates with virtuous woman, your quiver is full and you are respected within and without Christ's Church. God's blessings aplenty.

I am proud to be your brother and I am proud of you.

Happy Birthday!

Receiving Accusations

The internet is a great gift from God but like all great gifts, it can be badly misused. Calumny arises when accusers are assumed to be witnesses. An accuser can be a witness but witnesses and accusers are not the same thing. Thus, when accusers queue up on the internet as if they were witnesses and proclaim all sorts of evil against the accused, we need to keep calm and keep our thinking caps on.

An accuser makes the claim of a crime or a sin.
A witness is one who saw, or who has compelling first hand evidence, against the accused.
In our system of justice, as well as in the Bible, the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty.

The biblical standard for determining guilt is the credible testimony of at least two witnesses. Why do I say credible? Because witnesses must face the accused and cross examination by the accused or his counsel. Consider the Bible's admonitions about hearing only one side of a story. Prov. 18:17 He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.

The two witness threshold is clear in Scripture. Deut. 19:15 One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. 

Note- This is not two accusers. It is two witnesses. Fifty accusers and one witness cannot convict. 

This post is titled Receiving Accusations. I want to address how Christians hear. We should be careful to hear with biblical ears. In Matthew 18, the discipline chapter, the Bible makes clear allowance for one brother going to another brother to set a wrong right. If someone sins against you, go to him to seek to make it right. If he will not repent, then take another brother with you TO the man. Note, it does not say to grab another brother and raise a cry on the internet. We are not to talk about the brother in question but to him. 

Furthermore, if the confrontation is racheting up from personal admonition to formal discipline, the standard rises. Bring one or two brothers. This is starting to look like two or three witnesses. In the case of a particularly unrepentant brother, the Bible requires that we take along witnesses of his stubborn rebellion. Perhaps these witnesses might also be witness to the original sin?

Matt. 18:16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

The standard of two or three witnesses is not Old Testament. Paul was going to visit Corinth again and there were rumors of serious sins in their midst. He made it clear that he would use the Biblical standard of two or three witnesses to establish any accusations.

2Cor. 13:1   This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. 

Finally, Paul tells Timothy not to receive accusations against elders but before two or three witnesses.

1Tim. 5:19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. 

First, this establishes the standard. One person making accusation is not only not enough to convict or depose an elder, it is not even enough to take action. We don't like this. What if the accusation was dangerous, scurrilous, serious? The problem that the Bible recognizes is that if there is only one witness and only one accused, then it is only one man's word against another. There is no way to determine the truth of the matter. That is why other witnesses are required. I have no problem with 'other witnesses' being recordings, photos, or some other clearly objective 'witness.' But one person cannot condemn another on his or her word alone. That is the Biblical standard and it is a good one.

Second, there is a requirement on Timothy about being careful what he hears. Do not 'receive' an accusation. In our day, we act as if we are free to receive accusations against anyone for any reason. Assumed victims are so sacrosanct that their word cannot be questioned without accusations of heartlessness, failed empathy, etc. I refer you back to Scripture. Do not receive an accusation against an elder, but before two or three witnesses. Are there more witnesses? Then you can hear them out and act accordingly. Are there no witnesses but the accuser? Then, you shall not receive such accusations.

Third, Before two or three witnesses. The judge or hearing party must hear the two or three witnesses. The verse seems to imply that the witnesses are in the presence of the judge and the accused. This seems only fair. The accused, or his counsel, can see and cross examine his accusers and witnesses. They do not get to be anonymous or abstracted from being present. They do not get to accuse, or even witness, from the  cheap seats of the internet, without accountability. The Bible has strong accountability for witnesses. A biblical witness can receive the sentence reserved for the guilty if they lie under oath for the sake of a conviction. We would do well to apply such a standard in our day. Being an accuser or a witness should be a really big deal.

Fourth, this text is written to Christians to give them warning about accusing and receiving accusations against elders. Why? Because elders are likely to be accused. Can elders sin grievously? Yes, they can. And when they do, they should be held accountable according to Scripture. Paul is making that clear. But they are also in a position to say and preach hard words, call out sins, and as a consequence, make enemies, both in their own churches and outside their own churches. Paul knows this first hand. He had been much accused. But being accused and being guilty are two different things and Paul states the Biblical standard for making accusations. A church member, or someone outside the church, cannot simply accuse an elder of wrongdoing and have it be taken seriously. There must be witnesses and more than one.

So, Christians must be particularly careful about what sorts of complaints and accusations are to be received. There will always be a tendency for some to criticize and even accuse godly elders and pastors but such accusations must be evaluated on their merits according to the Biblical standard of witnesses. 

Finally, false accusers and false witnesses should be held accountable. If they are Christians, they should feel the weight of their sin and repent. If they are confronted by their brothers in the Lord, or if a pastor gets involved, the false accuser should repent on threat of further or formal discipline. By the way, the Church's sanctions are spiritual, not corporal. She can suspend from the Table and as the highest form of discipline, excommunicate. But anyone who is a brother, indeed, will feel the great weight of these sanctions. The sentence of discipline is what the false accuser sought against an elder or pastor in their accusation and it is biblically just for them to be held accountable up to the same sentence. 

Be careful who and how you accuse and in what accusations you receive.