Monday, September 24, 2012

Rampaging Bulls

James 1:19-21 (NKJV)
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

Excuses, as they say, are a dime a dozen. At no time do excuses range more freely than when we are angry. Like cattle freed from the stockade, when we are angry excuses start pouring out the open doorway of our lips and become a stampede trampling down any hapless victim who happens to confront us for our sin. But as the stampede makes its way precipitously forward the excuses confront the granite wall of James’ declaration – the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. And when the bovine excuse finds itself charging the wall it has two choices – veer out of the way and continue its rowdy course into the distance or hurl itself against the wall and die.

And so what of us? Are we pouring out excuses for our anger? That kid just won’t listen. My boss is too damn hard on me. My wife won’t have sex when I want to. My husband didn’t lead family devotions yesterday. My mom and dad spoke harshly to me. And so our anger rises, the blood boils, the face becomes red. And then our Lord places before us the granite wall – the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God – now what do we do? Do we veer out of the way, avoid the word of God, and continue in our rampage? Or do we instead crash headlong into the text and let it kill us? Let it kill our anger? Jesus declared, “He who desires to be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow after me.” Let him die.

Have you been a disciple of Christ this week? Have you killed yourself on the Word of God? Slain your excuses for getting angry and sought forgiveness for your sin? Or have you avoided the Word of God instead and offered up your litany of reasons why it is just for you to get angry? Let us kneel and let us confess that we are often quick to anger and more foolish than a rampaging bull.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Fruit of Self-Control

Galatians 5:22–23 (NKJV)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

Today we conclude our meditations on the fruit of the Spirit with self-control. Permit me to use this as an opportunity to clarify some things I said last week about gossip.

One of the chief obligations that we have as the people of God is to exercise self-control over our tongues. Providing that we are exercising self-control, there are times when speaking about an individual or situation is not gossip. For example, it is not gossip to seek counsel. If you were struggling with a decision, endeavoring to act in wisdom, then Solomon would urge you to seek counsel. Seeking counsel necessitates that you explain the situation about which you need counsel. Remember that the principle the Shunammite revealed was that we beware telling our problems to those who are not part of the solution. Seeking counsel is not gossip because the person to whom you are speaking is part of the solution – but beware gossiping under cover of seeking counsel.

Likewise, speaking is not gossip when you are endeavoring to understand. Paul commands wives to be quiet in the public assembly and to ask their husbands at home if there is something they do not understand. And Solomon urges us to seek for understanding like silver or gold. This implies that seeking understanding, asking questions, is not gossip provided that we’re prepared to learn from the questions we’re asking and that we’re not simply asking questions to vent the matter more openly.

Finally, Scripture tells us that it is not always wrong to speak negatively, even harshly, about specific individuals, provided that such words are in accordance with God’s judgment. Jesus calls Herod a fox, Paul called down a public curse on Alexander the coppersmith, and John in his third epistle rebukes Diotrephes publicly for his arrogance and pride. If the charge is accurate then it is not always wrong to pronounce such – indeed, at times, it may be wrong not to do so. The important point is that in all cases, we must exercise self-control – governing our tongues in accordance with God’s Word.

James warns us that “the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity” (3:6). With the tongue we can bless our neighbor and with the tongue we can destroy a city. So Solomon observes that “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (Pr 21:23). Our tongues can get us into trouble not only with men but with God Himself. God hates a lying tongue; he hates those who cause strife; he hates talebearers and malicious gossips. God takes our tongues seriously.

Because of the seriousness with which God takes the tongue, the instruction of the Church is to address sins of the tongue routinely. Paul contrasts righteous elders with “idle talkers” – those who pratter on and on about their own opinions rather than speaking the Word of God. He commands that deacons not be “double-tongued” – speaking this way and that just to gain the approval of others. Rather, they must be men who speak the truth with integrity. Paul also insists that the female assistants to the deacons are not to be slanderers – that is, those who use their tongues to destroy the credibility of others. And in his letter to Titus, Paul urges Titus to instruct the older women according to the same principle. We must govern our tongues. We must exercise self-control in our use of the tongue.

So reminded of our calling and obligation to manifest self-control in the use of our tongues, let us kneel and confess that we have often failed to do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Josephus Quotations

Quotations from Josephus' The Wars of the Jews excerpt as found in David Chilton's Paradise Restored: An Eschatology of Dominion.

"The first man who was slain by [the Sicarii] was Jonathan the high-priest, after whose death many were slain every day, while the fear men were in of being so served, was more afflicting than the calamity itself; and while everybody expected death every hour, as men do in war, so men were obliged to look before them, and to take notice of their enemies at a great distance; nor, if their friends were coming to them, durst they trust them any longer; but, in the midst of their suspicions and guarding of themselves, they were slain." (p. 238) cf. Mt 10:34-36

"...I cannot but think that it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, and was resolved to purge his sanctuary by fire, that he cut off these their great defenders and wellwishers, while those that a little before had worn the sacred garments, and had presided over the public worship, and had been esteemed venerable by those that dwelt on the whole habitable earth when they came int our city, were cast out naked, and seen to be the food of dogs and wild beasts." (p. 250)

Already the city of Jerusalem was divided into two factions and the leading Jews made the remarkable decision to invite a third, the Idumeans, into the city under the leadership of Simon. Josephus remarks: "Now it was God who turned their opinions to the worst advice, and thence they devised such a remedy to get themselves free, as was worse than the disease itself." (p. 255) (cf. with irony that it is directed against Edom, Obadiah 8-9)

The siege engines of the Romans wreaked awful destruction, reaching even the courts of the Temple where Jew and Gentile would be slain in the midst of offering sacrifice. So "the dead bodies of strangers were mingled together with those of their own country, and those of profane persons with those of the priests, and the blood of all sorts of dead carcases stood in lakes in the holy courts themselves." (p. 256)

Josephus speaking to the Jews in Jerusalem and urging them to surrender: "Wherefore I cannot but suppose that God is fled out of his sanctuary, and stands on the side of those against whom you fight." (p. 262)

"It is therefore impossible to go distinctly over every instance of these men's iniquity. I shall therefore speak my mind here at once briefly: - That neither did any other city ever suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world..." (p. 264)

Josephus writes of the tragedy of those who deserted to the Romans only to be slain by the Syrians who were searching for hidden gold in their bowels: "in reality it was God who condemned the whole nation, and turned every course that was taken for their preservation to their destruction." (p. 269)

"I suppose, that had the Romans made any longer delay in coming against these villains, the city would either have been swallowed up by the ground opening upon them, or been overflowed by water, or else been destroyed by such thunder as the country of Sodom perished by, for it had brought forth a generation of men much more atheistical than were those that suffered such punishments; for by their madness it was that all the people came to be destroyed." (p. 270)

Josephus speaking to John of Gischala after John rejected another overture of peace: "It is God therefore, it is God himself who is bringing on this fire, to purge that city and temple by means of the Romans, and is going to pluck up this city, which is full of your pollutions." (p. 272)

Josephus remarks on the Providential timing of the Temple's destruction by the Romans - it was destroyed on the same day that the first Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians: " for that house [the Temple], God had for certain long ago doomed it to the fire; and now that fatal day was come, according to the revolution of ages: it was the tenth day of the month [Ab], upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon." (p. 274) cf. Jer 52:12-13

"Yet was the misery itself more terrible than this disorder; for one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the temple stood, was seething-hot, as full of fire on every part of it, that the blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain more in number than those that slew them; for the ground did nowhere appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it; but the soldiers went over heaps of these bodies, as they ran upon such as fled from them." (p. 277) cf. Nah 3:3

"...before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover at the feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, 'Let us remove hence.'" (p. 279)

He remarks on the career of Jesus, son of Ananus, who went through the city of Jerusalem for seven years and five months announcing the same message of woe against the city. in the end he was slain by one of the stones from the Roman catapults. (pp. 279-80)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Fruit of Gentleness

Galatians 5:22–23 (NKJV)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

Today we come to the fruit of the Spirit identified by Paul as gentleness. It “is the character that will show calmness, personal care, tenderness and the Love of Christ in meeting the needs of others.” It is the opposite of roughness and violence, endeavoring to force others to comply with one’s own wishes.

Since gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, it is quite obviously a characteristic of God Himself. Jesus assures us, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus is gentle and displays this gentleness throughout his earthly ministry.

Following in the footsteps of our Master, we are to be gentle in our dealings with believer and unbeliever alike. Paul writes to the Thessalonians that when he and his companions were among them, they did not “seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.” Paul’s love for the Thessalonians moved him to treat them with gentleness.

This same gentleness is to shape not only our conduct toward our fellow believers but to unbelievers as well. Paul writes to Timothy, “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth…” God has treated us gently, not holding our sin over us but forgiving us freely in Christ. So we are to be gentle in turn.

Often, however, like Moses we grow angry and frustrated with others and fail to treat them with gentleness. When God told Moses to speak to the rock and provide water for the people, Moses was too consumed with anger to follow the Lord’s will. Instead of speaking to the rock he spoke to the people in anger, rebuking and chastising them. Then he struck the rock and water gushed forth – but Moses lost the privilege of leading the people of Israel into the promised land.

So how are we doing with those who make demands of us, irritate us, frustrate us, annoy us, and disappoint us? Are we showing gentleness, reflecting the character of Christ, or have we been rough and violent. I fear that it is often the latter – so let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

We will have a time of silent confession following which I will pray on behalf of the congregation.

Our God and Father,

You have been gentle with us – showered your grace upon us time and again despite our sin and rebellion. But we have been harsh – unforgiving to our friends and enemies, cruel to those who have harmed us, short with those who have irritated us. So too our culture. Forgive us for the sake of Christ and restore us into the image of a perfected humanity, full of gentleness and restrain. For the glory of Christ our Lord,