Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Judging the Nations

Rise up, God, judge the earth,
For all the nations belong to You.
(Psalm 82:8 HCSB)
The judgment of God comes, not to condemn, but to set things right, to line everything up with His will and purpose. God is good, so His purpose is nothing but good. That is why Jesus came, why the Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God. (John 3:17-21)
In Psalm 82, God calls the rulers of the nations, especially Israel, to account. “He judges among the gods” (v. 1). They are called “gods” because He intended for them to represent His justice on earth. But instead of defending the poor and fatherless, and doing justice for the afflicted and needy, freeing them from the hand of the wicked, these faithless rulers judged unjustly and show partiality to the wicked (vv. 2-4).

God chastises them: “They do not know, nor do they understand; they walk about in darkness. All the foundations of the earth are unstable” (v. 5). They love the darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. They have no understanding because they are not interested in truth. And the world is unstable because of it. So God delivers His verdict:
I said, “You are all gods,
And all of you are children of the Most High.
But you shall die like men,
And fall like one of the princes. (vv. 6-7)
Then comes the call for God to rise up and judge the earth — to set things right all over the world — because all the nations, not just Israel, belong to Him.

The prayer for God to rise up and judge the earth is not a call for destruction and death but for redemption and life, to rescue the nations. God answers this call in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life of God for all the earth (John 14:6). God’s desire is to rescue the world, not condemn it. Condemnation is a condition of unbelief. When we do not believe God, when we do not love what is light and good and true, we condemn ourselves to darkness, evil and deception. The judgment of God does not come to condemn but to expose our true condition. If we are willing to do the truth and come to the light — to receive the Son — the judgment of God rescues and restores us.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Bold Confidence of Faith

Who through faith … quenched the violence of fire. (Hebrews 11:33-34)
Hebrews 11 has often been called the “Hall of Fame” of faith. It begins with this definition: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (v. 1). It describes a solid confidence that is rooted, not in what is seen but in what is unseen.

The ones who by faith quenched the violence of fire are, of course, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, the three young Hebrews who refused to bow down to the image of Nebuchadnezzar. Consider the deep confidence of their faith as Nebuchadnezzar confronts them:
Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands? (Daniel 3:15)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego boldly answer:
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up. (Daniel 3:16-18)
Notice the elements of their answer:
  1. “We have no need to answer you in this matter.” It was immediate and direct. They needed no time to reconsider. They had taken their stand and they were sticking with it. “We’ve already done what we’re going to do. Now you go ahead and do what you are going to do.”
  2. “If that is the case.” This is a conditional statement. Not about their action but about the action of the king. They had already made their decision. Now they were laying out, in logical fashion, the king’s choices and what would happen with them.
  3. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace.” They had no doubt that God was quite capable of protecting them from the fire.
  4. “And He will deliver us from your hand, O king.” Here is where the confidence of their faith is fully seen. It is one thing to speak theoretically about what God is able to do, quite another to declare what He will do.
  5. “But if not.” This is another conditional statement. It is important to understand that this if not statement corresponds to the earlier if statement.
  6. “Let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” Whatever Nebuchadnezzar decided would make no difference at all to these young men. Either way, they were not going to bow down and serve his gods.
Here is where a lot of preachers and Bible interpreters get it wrong. They think the answer of the young Hebrews runs like this: “If you throw us into the fiery furnace, our God is able to deliver us, and he will deliver us. But if He does not, we still won’t serve your gods or bow down.” It sounds like a very valiant faith, trusting in God even if He does not come through and deliver them.

The problem, however, is that the text does not say, “But if He does not.” Some translations will render it that way (the NASB and the NIV, for instance) but in the Hebrew text, it is simply, “But if not.” That is why it is important to notice points 2 and 5 above. They are both conditional statements. One says if, the other says if not. They correspond to each other. The if statement means, “If you cast us into the fiery furnace ...” The corresponding if not statement means, then, “If you do not cast us into the fiery furnace …” In other words, the if not statement is not about whether or not God would deliver them but about whether or not Nebuchadnezzar would toss them into the furnace.

Besides the corresponding nature of the if and if not statements, there is another simple reason why the if not statement refers to the king’s actions, not God’s. It would be completely unnecessary for them to point out that, if God did not deliver them from the fiery furnace, they would not serve Nebuchadnezzar’s gods. It would be exceedingly obvious. If God did not deliver them, they would be instantly killed by the flames — and dead men don’t bow to anything, not even to the king and his gods.

But hear the boldness of their answer and the confidence of their faith. In context, it runs like this: “O Nebuchadnezzar, if you cast us into the fiery furnace, our God is able to deliver is — and He will deliver us! But if you do not cast us into the fiery furnace, know this: We still will not serve your gods or bow down to your image.”

As we know from Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar did throw them into the furnace — and God did indeed deliver them, just as they had declared. Their response was not based on that which was seen, Nebuchadnezzar’s threats or the reality of the fire, but on that which was unseen, the faithfulness of God. They trusted not just in the ability of God, but just as important, in the faithfulness of God to deliver His people. They may have been uncertain about what the king was going to do, but they had no doubt what God was going to do.

Bold and confident faith in the faithfulness of God is able to work miracles. It goes beyond saying, “God can deliver me,” to declaring, “God will deliver me!”

Monday, June 15, 2009

Imparting Vision with Inheritance

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children. (Proverbs 13:22)
The good man is the one who walks in the instruction of the Lord, the promises of God and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. He has an inheritance to leave to his children’s children. It is not limited to the spiritual realm, because the prosperity of God offers abundance for every area of life, as John demonstrated in his prayer for Gaius, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2).

The thing about inheritance is that it passes from father to son, from a dad to his kids. In other words, it is about relationship. It is significant in Proverbs 13:22 that is it not just the children of the good man, but his children’s children — his grandchildren — who receive his inheritance. They receive it because their parents have received it and passed it on to them. Their parents “get it.” That it, they understand what they have received from their father. They not only walk in the benefits of the inheritance but they also live in the vision of it. They know what it is about and where it is headed. Because they see what it is for, they are able to maintain it and even add to it and enlarge it for their own children. It has purpose, direction, focus.

Whatever else the inheritance of the good man may be, it comes wrapped in goodness and wisdom so that it is truly a blessing and not a curse to the next generation. Many an inheritance has been squandered because it was not imparted with wisdom, understanding and vision. That is why the second half of Proverbs 13:22 gives us this contrast: “But the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous.”

The good man sees that there is a future for those who do what is right, that it is full of peace, shalom — wholeness and prosperity, nothing missing and nothing broken (Psalm 37:37). He knows that those who delight in the Lord and His ways will prosper in whatever he does (Psalm 1:1-3). He understands that the ways and wealth of the wicked will not endure but be driven away like chaff blown in the wind (Psalm 1:4-6).

Those who disregard God and His ways are in a slippery place that leads to destruction (Psalm 73:18). Though they may increase in riches, it is only for a time. Whatever they have gained will quickly evaporate. Their wealth will not cease to be, but it will slip from their own hands and no longer be theirs. It will eventually find its way into the hands of the upright, those who know God and live by His instruction.

The good man imparts godly vision along with the inheritance. Indeed, it is the most important part of the inheritance. When the father is faithful to pass that on to his children, his children will pass it along to their children. He will know how successful his inheritance has been in his own children when he sees his grandchildren walking in the wisdom and wealth of it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Confessions for Your Children

To confess, literally, is “to say the same thing.” That is how the English word derives and also what its counterpart in New Testament Greek, homologeo, means. To confess something is to speak in agreement with it. When we confess our sin, as in 1 John 1:9 for example, we are agreeing that they are indeed sinful, things we ought not to have done. When we confess the Lord Jesus, as in Romans 10:9, we are agreeing and affirming that Jesus Christ is indeed our Lord.

When we confess Jesus as our Lord, we have so much more we can confess because we become heir to all the promises of God. And what wonderful promises He has given for us and our children! In difficult times, such as the present economic distress, when we might wonder how our kids are going to make it through, it is good to remember and affirm these promises and expect to receive them, for our children as well as for ourselves.

With that in mind, I have this list of things I confess, based on the Word of God, beginning with the commitment of our household to God. If you find them helpful, you are welcome to use them. If I may recommend, it is good to keep them in your thoughts and in the silences of your heart, but it is also very helpful to speak them aloud, even to shout them. That can be wonderfully freeing, help break the spirit of heaviness and despair, and assist you in laying hold of God’s promises with a vigorous faith. The Bible says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). That is, faith is the underlying reality of what we are expecting (see Faith is Reality and Faith Brings Expectation).

Here are the confessions I speak over my children:
  • Regardless of what anyone else may choose, as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15)
  • God’s promise of salvation is for our children as well as for us, and they receive it by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 16:31)
  • The empowering gift of the Holy Spirit is for our children as well as for us, and they bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in their lives — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control. (Acts 2:38-39; Galatians 5:22-23)
  • We are blessed in the city, blessed in the country, and our children will also be blessed. (Deuteronomy 28:3-4)
  • The LORD teaches us His ways so that we shall dwell in prosperity and our children shall inherit the land. (Psalm 25:12-13)
  • We shall never be abandoned, not even in old age, and our children shall never have to beg bread. We shall not have to borrow but will have abundance for lending and generosity. Our children will be a blessing because they themselves are blessed. (Psalm 37:25-26)
  • Wealth and riches will be in our house, and our children will be mighty on earth, an upright and blessed generation. (Psalm 112:2-3)
  • The LORD gives us increase more and more, to us and our children, and we are blessed by the LORD, Make of Heaven and Earth. (Psalm 115:14-15)
  • We are imparting a rich inheritance for our children and our children’s children. (Proverbs 13:22)
  • Our children are instructed by the LORD, and great shall be their peace, their shalom — their wholeness and prosperity, nothing missing and nothing broken. (Isaiah 54:13)
See also Confessions and Praying Over Your Children with Power.