Tag: confession

If you remember the story of Balak and Balaam from the book of Numbers you probably remember that Balaam didn’t accomplish what Balak asked. But it turns out, Balaam was quite effective, just in another way.

Balak, the king, originally tried to hire Balaam, a prophet, to curse Israel (Numbers 22:1-6). Balaam was interested in the money, and was almost killed on his way to meet Balak, saved by his faithful donkey who stopped him short of the sword of the angel of the Lord (Numbers 22:23, 25, 27). The LORD prohibited Balaam from cursing Israel, in fact, the LORD caused Balaam to pronounce a verbal blessing on the, which only made Balak more irritated (Numbers 23:11-12).

However, a few chapters later, we learn that Balaam had some effective advice.

“Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident in Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD” (Numbers 31:16).

The “incident” was the men of Israel taking Midianite women, committing sexual immorality with them, and then worshipping their gods. The Israelites weren’t pure in their relationships or their religion, and according to Moses, the temptations came about due to Balaam’s strategy.

Jesus refers to some in Pergamum who were holding to Balaam’s teaching (Revelation 2:14), and they were those indulging themselves similarly in immorality and idolatry.

But we should know better and not listen to anyone who “does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3).

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Let’s be honest (as we always should be anyway). As Christians good works are often hard, sometimes harder than others. What’s even harder than good works is a hot cup of zeal in your heart, the sort of first love affections that yield the fruit of the first kinds of good works (think Christ’s message to the Ephesians in Revelation 2:4-5).

There are a number of Scriptural ways to examine our works, to make sure that they are spiritual and that they glorify our Father in heaven, not just our names on earth. One way we get a good sense that our works are truly good is when others lie about us.

This is a level of blessing that not everyone is ready for, or even wants. But it is the right thing.

Jesus topped off all the blesseds in His sermon with this:

“Blessed are you when others revile and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:11)

Peter heard Jesus sermon, and later wrote to his beloved:

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:14)

Earlier in his letter Peter exhorted them,

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12)

In Revelation 2:8-11 the Christians in Smyrna were slandered, and yet the lies against them couldn’t touch their spiritual riches.

So, Christian, don’t you speak falsely. And also, Christian, be ready to be insulted and misrepresented and falsely accused. Not only can you not guarantee that everyone will speak truthfully about you, your good works should be so obvious that they’ll have to lie about you to criticize your works.

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In John’s vision of the Lord, he saw one like the son of man in the midst of the lampstands (Revelation 1:13). When John wrote the words of Jesus to the Ephesians, Jesus identified Himself as the “one who walks among the seven golden lampstands” (2:1). Jesus is with His body, He is among His church in her various locations. He is present. This also means that He knows what’s happening.

After identifying Himself, in every message to each of the seven churches Jesus says “I know.” He knows their endurance, tribulation, poverty, location, faith, service, reputation, and above all, He knows their works. He knows what is good; there is something good named for six of the seven. He knows what is bad; He calls five of the seven churches to repent.

I’m open to the idea that there is an angel of the church in Marysville, though we don’t have an inspired letter addressed to us. Yet by way of application we are still a lampstand, and Christ is present among us. We are a supernatural organism, an outpost of the heavenly realm. For the saved, we are filled with the Spirit of Christ. He dwells in us and among us. And He knows.

Perhaps what we need to repent of is low levels of love like the Ephesians. Perhaps it is the photo negative of Ephesians, and we need to repent of not fighting for the truth. Maybe we are compromising with the syncretistic ways of the world, and find it easier to be quiet rather than to conquer. Jesus knows our corporate problems, and He knows your heart. Make it right with Him.

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I’ve mentioned it a few times recently, but I keep thinking about it, I keep having opportunities to try it, and I keep thinking that it could really work.

What I’m about to say connects with the image used in Revelation 1 for the churches. The image that Jesus uses for the churches is a lampstand, a light giver. Jesus told His disciples that they were the light of the world, and collectively our light should shine brighter.

How do we give off light? I suppose it is somewhat verbal, especially when we have opportunity to name names for why we do what we do. We believe in and love and live for Jesus Christ the Lord. But the light is also behavior; the light of life should be visible. Look at the light.

In Philippians Paul exhorted the Christians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, reminding them that God was working in them, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (2:12-13). What does His good pleasure look like in conduct?

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. (2:14-15)

If you want to live straight among the crooked, don’t bicker about everything. If you want to be pure, give thanks. That’s the opposite of “grumbling,” which is a muttering (in Greek goggusmos, an onomatopoetic word that sounds like what it refers to) of disappointment and dissatisfaction. Paul identifies the no-complaint zone: this “twisted generation.” So your context for complaining is covered.

Do people grumble about their spouse? Their kids? Their job? Their government? Their president? Their age? Their future? They do, and we should not. We are the light of the world, so don’t put a bellyaching bucket over your light.

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In a recent sermon I made the case that the worst sin in the modern world is the sin of living as if God is irrelevant. Another name for this is unbelief. Yet another biblical way to describe it is forgetting God.

God’s people were exhorted not to forget Him in the Law.

Take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:12)

The history books of the Old Testament record forgetfulness.

The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and Asheroth. (Judges 3:7)

Not only the Jews, but all peoples were threatened about forgetfulness in the writings.

the wicked shall return to Sheol,
all the nations that forget God. (Psalm 9:17)

Mark this, then, you who forget God,
lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! (Psalm 50:22)

The prophets also admonish the forgetful:

For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge; (Isaiah 17:10)

I, I am he who comforts you;
who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,
of the son of man who is made like grass,
and have forgotten the LORD, your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth. (Isaiah 51:12-13)

Murder, theft, adultery, lying, coveting, homosexuality, idolatry, and forgetfulness of our Maker, these are all sins. Which means that Jesus had to die for our forgetfulness. But also, Jesus died for our forgetfulness. Let us not forget that.

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When it comes to the future, are you more optimistic or pessimistic? We need more qualifications before answering that. When it comes to the future of what? Of world history? Of your house remodel? Of your chances to get married? And what qualifies as optimism or pessimism? Are you allowed to think that the surgery will hurt, and badly, but make you feel better after six weeks of recovery? What if you joyfully plan to give up eating all desserts forever?

As we begin a study of the prophecies in the book of Revelation, we will consider different approaches and different results related to one’s take on the global, sociopolitical timeline. Is the world metanarrative a tragedy or a comedy? Some of what we expect to happen later necessarily colors some of what we expect sooner.

So for this moment let’s narrow the optimism/pessimism question to your sanctification. I’m not talking about your glorification; negative-ninnies about glorification are just little-faithed fools. But do you have high hopes for increased holiness today? Or do you have suspicion, if not cynicism about whether you will actually obey?

You may have a pattern of unconfessed sin that is dragging down your perspective. You may have experiences of disobedient crashes after obedient climbs. But, beloved, your sanctification depends on Christ and happens by faith through His Spirit. Is it hard? You are in the war against the seed of the serpent? Have you been beaten before, and accusations stick? These are not reasons to give yourself to hopelessness, these are reasons to keep giving yourself to Christ.

Sin is awful. More Christlikeness highlights how awful sin is. But though Jesus does not promise us perfection in this life, He does promise us help. So reckon yourself dead to sin in Christ and raised to walk in newness of life. Repent, and repent of defeatist faith.

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The apostle John makes an interesting, and optimistic, argument in 1 John 5. He says:

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. (1 John 5:3-4)

The second half of verse 4 is the first sentence I remember memorizing in Greek: hay nikay hay nikaysasa ton kosmon, hay pistis haymone. “This is the victory that victories the world, our faith.” Faith is sort of a big deal.

Consider the connections:

  • Love must obey, and is made known as we obey.
  • Love for God comes from those who have been born of God.
  • The born-of-God-ers are world-overcomers.
  • World-overcomers are also believers.
  • So, we are born again by God to believe in God and love God and obey God which is overcoming the world.

Both love and faith come from God who caused us to be born again. We know love as it obeys, and we know faith as it overcomes.

Alternatively, disobedience is a sign of the world’s victory, and disobedience is a sign of faith’s faltering, or perhaps that there is no faith at all.

So, Christian, how are you stimulating your faith? You cannot conquer the worldliness in your own heart, let alone the worldliness of the world, without faith in Jesus, the Son of God.

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In a few weeks I plan to start teaching verse by verse through another book of the Bible: the book of Revelation. There are good reasons to study The Apocalypse on Sundays, and I’ll probably explain some of my intentions in the introductory message. I’m telling you know, ahead of time, not just so that you can make plans or prepare arguments (one way or another), but so that you can be excited.

On a higher level, God also reveals many things He plans to do and often some of His reasons. God does not only tell us what was and what is, but also what will be. When the Lord sent a prophet with a word, and that word came to pass, the Lord demonstrated that His Word is trustworthy. That He knows the end from the beginning distinguishes Him from other gods (Isaiah 46:10). It also shows God’s nature as a God who communicates. So prophecy, including future plans, causes us to worship God. For those who hear and keep His Word, it also causes us to be excited.

Think about Isaiah 53 from the perspective of Isaiah’s original audience. We know who the Suffering Servant is. We know His name: Jesus, the son of Mary, from the city of Nazareth. But what the Israelites knew around 700 B.C is that they were sinners, that they were in a cycle of sin and then in need of sacrifices to cover their sins. Though the promised deliverer in Isaiah 53 did not fit all of their expectations, and even though He didn’t come for about 700 years, they had every reason to be excited for His coming.

We worship the Lord because of who He is, what He has done, and what He has said about tomorrow. Don’t be anxious. A farmer is not pessimistic about all the seed deaths in his field, he knows those deaths will make for an abundant harvest. Listen carefully to the word of the Lord about the future, and believe.

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We live in the Information Age. We have data and statistics and algorithms and pages and podcasts. More information will be posted on the internet today than you could consume the rest of your life; you don’t have the time. We have all of this info, and not a lot of understanding to prove it.

Along with many of you, I’m continuing on the #samepagesummer Bible reading plan, and we’re more than halfway to finished. In studying Psalm 19 for the sermon this morning, I also read through Psalm 119 which is the longest love song of the Word in the Word. There are a lot of good names for Scripture in the long song, and a lot of prayers for God’s help. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).

But one line that turns up four times, the line that I think best embodies the psalmist’s cry, is “give me understanding.”

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law (34)

give me understanding that I may learn your commandments (73)

give me understanding that I may live (144)

give me understanding according to your word! (169)

Pray like David, yes. And beware. Understanding does not mean merely collecting information about God’s Word. Understanding means you will see how you are not keeping His law, how you have not known His commandments, how you have not been living right, and how you have not been actually paying attention to His Word.

True understanding can be painful. It’s humbling. It is why many Christians prefer to read or study their Bible like students rather than as servants. They would prefer to have their eyes opened to it rather than to have their eyes opened by it.

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There are at least four different expectations when it comes to good works.

A man could expect that his good works will please the wrong god. Or, a man could expect that his good works, by themselves, will please the right God. Or, a man could expect that his good works mean nothing to God and that God only cares about faith. Or, a man could expect that His good works will be blessed by God because he has faith that God said so.

We know that idolatry is wrong; offering costly sacrifices in a ritual context don’t matter if those sacrifices are to a false god; prepaying for $80 worth of gas doesn’t matter if you pump the gas into the trash can. We also know that without faith it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and that the best a man can do on his own is nothing noteworthy to God (Isaiah 64:6). We are not saved by works (Titus 3:5).

But, how often do sola fide kind of people not actually have fide that God blesses obedience? We believe that God wants us to believe, but we don’t believe that God uses believing obedience as a means to His ends of giving us good.

Wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8 about the life and honor and value and enduring wealth and fruit that comes from finding wisdom.

And now, O sons, listen to me:
blessed are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
Blessed is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors. (Proverbs 8:32-34)

The place of blessed, happy good is obedience by faith. Do you believe God about that? And then to you commit to keep His ways? What do you expect?

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