Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Faith seeking understanding

Your laws are always right; help me to understand them so I may live. (Psalm 119:144)

I expect most people have an innate understanding that nit-picky legalism is bad. We have a variety of English idioms that illustrate the point. In Matthew 23, Jesus said the Pharisees would strain out gnats but swallow camels. Another phrase is penny-wise and pound-foolish; another, missing the forest for the trees. Each one of these illustrate the problem of focusing on small details to the exclusion of the big picture.

Everyone knows that nit-picky legalism is bad, but the problem is no one thinks they're guilty of it. This can be a particular tendency for people who love the Bible—or you could insert any other body of literature. Javert, the primary antagonist in Les Misérables loved the laws of France, but was unable to see in Jean Valjean a man who had not only repented of his sins, but also worked to improve the lives of hundreds. In Matthew 23, the Pharisees would be sure to count their tithes to the penny, but Jesus said they neglected things like justice, mercy, and faith.

The Psalmist declares God's laws are always right. But then he prays, help me to understand them. Sometimes it is hard to understand how some of the laws in the Bible supported justice, mercy, and faith in their own contexts. Sometimes it's also hard to understand how some of the Bible's moral teachings encourage justice, mercy, and faith in our own context. But if you look at the larger story, what you see unfolding in the pages of the Bible is that God, knowing full well that we are sinners, loved us. We see Jesus, knowing we are sinners, died on the cross for us (Romans 5:8). God, across all the pages, all the human stories, all the laws, culminating in the gospel, is taking into himself the very consequence he promised would happen to us if we sin (Genesis 2:15-17). And he is granting to us, if we will have it, all the benefits of his own righteousness: justice, mercy, faith, love.

Why does the Psalmist desire to understand God's laws? He writes, So that I may live. Life and death are more than just physical functions. The Holy Spirit teaches us through the Bible that God is love, and that God has called us to love him and to love our neighbor. The absence of that love is a kind of death. In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis imagines hell to be something like a great number of individuals pursuing their own individual interests, all the while growing more and more distant from everyone else—less trust, less enjoyment, less care, even less notice. Lewis imagines heaven as a place where everything is more real, more solid; people experience more joy, more kindness, more mercy. The Bible presents heaven as a place where we will know God and each other fully, even as we have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The psalmist wants to live; he want to love God and love others well. That's why he prays to understand the teaching of the Bible. In John 6, a large group of disciples stopped following Jesus after he gave a difficult teaching. Jesus then asks the twelve if they want to go too. Peter replies, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

So when you see a law or a teaching in the Bible that presents you with a head-scratcher, look to Jesus. Pray that the Lord will help you to understand, so that you may live. He will give you that understanding. God's instructions are always right, and he is more than happy to help us understand and apply them. Remember, God is for you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

I gain understanding from your precepts

"I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path." (Psalm 119:104)

Truth helps us see the world more brightly and more clearly. Through it, we see life, the universe, and everything as they truly are. Therefore our relative preference for truth should be so strong that we feel an intense aversion toward untruth. Why? Because it clouds people's vision.

We should never hate people who take a wrong path, though. The verse does not say, I hate everyone who takes a wrong path. God tells us to love our neighbors—my neighbor is not my enemy. Love for neighbor is partly why I should hate every wrong path.

The verse makes a contrast between God's precepts and the wrong path. The point is that there is a way to live that takes into account God's teaching, and there is a way to live that disregards God's teaching. There is a way to live that is consistent with love for God and neighbor, and a way to live that disregards love for God and neighbor.

Like the verse says, we should hate every wrong path because what the verse calls the "wrong path" promises freedom and happiness. But what it delivers is a life full of consequences—pain, sorrow, distrust, division, death.

Jesus Christ said he was the way, the truth, and the life. By observing him, we can see and understand God's precepts. By turning to Jesus, we can see the right path. It is the path of hope. It's the path of true freedom. Jesus promises to forgive our sins, to absorb the spiritual consequences of our wrong paths and to lead us along the path that leads to life.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Happy Advent!

Good morning friends!

I’m so glad you’re here. I’m really excited about our topic. Today is the first Sunday in Advent, which simply means it’s another opportunity to talk about Jesus. Today’s text is Luke 19 vv 28-40. The passage is referred to as, “The Triumphal Entry.” Because of time constraints, I’m not going to read it in this video, but if you click the link on the video here, you can listen to me read it, or you can go to BibleGateway or and read it or listen to it there.

In today’s passage, Jesus gives instruction to his disciples to bring him a colt. He tells them where to find it, and what to say if the owners question them. The disciples follow his instructions, and the colt’s owners allow them to use it. Jesus then rides on the donkey colt into Jerusalem. As he rides into the city, a great crowd of his disciples begin to shout out with a loud voice, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” The Pharisees, you know the Pharisees, urged Jesus to make his disciples be quiet, but Jesus replies, “If they were silent, even the stones would cry out.”

So what’s going on here? First of all, Jesus is not being subtle. It’s right around the time of the Passover, a major pilgrimage festival, so believers all over Israel were on their way to the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus knew the religious authorities were gunning for him, and he also knew he would have a big audience for the events that would follow.

The authorities are after him, and what does Jesus do? He rides into the city on a donkey. Just like Solomon in 1 Kings 1, and just like Zechariah’s prophecy in Zechariah 9.

Jesus was saying in no uncertain terms, “I am the king who was promised.” The people knew it. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” The Pharisees knew it. They tried to quiet the disciples as much for fear of provoking Rome as for any religious reason. But Jesus replied, listen, this is happening. If they were quiet, all creation itself would shout it out.

Jesus was entering Jerusalem as the true King of Israel, indeed the true King of the Universe. But it was a different kind of king than many were expecting.

Many people were expecting a political ruler. Maybe one who would make a deal with the Romans for Autonomy. Maybe one that would finally throw the Romans out by force. But Jesus was doing what he had come to do. He was going to defeat oppression, to be sure, but even more to defeat sin and death and hell, by going to the cross. He was going to absorb in himself—he was going to take with us on our behalf—all of the objective and inevitable results of our sin and selfishness. He was going to die on the cross.

Second, this is not the end of the story. Jesus rides into Jerusalem to take his place on a cross. But as events progress, he dies, and then rises from the dead, and ascends into heaven, and now, flip one page over to Luke 21 v27. “Then, they will see the Son of Man (Jesus is talking about himself here) coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Friends, Jesus is coming back again. As you look forward to Christmas, remember that Jesus came the first time as a little baby. In our passage, he rides into Jerusalem as a King coming in peace. And he will surely come again. You and I, we tend to expect that all of our greatest problems are external, and that our best solutions are internal. But in his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus shows us that our deepest problems are the result of our own selfishness, our own self-orientation. The Bible calls this sin and rebellion.

Jesus shows us that our only hope in this life and the next is that God, the King and Judge of the Universe stands right next to us in the courtroom. Jesus Christ, your king, is for you.
So in this advent season, remember that Jesus Christ, the baby in the manger, is the king who went to the cross. He rose again from the dead. He is now at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again.

The Lord be with you. May you have a happy Advent!
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