Monday, November 30, 2009

Against Hope, with Hope He Believed

Against hope, with hope he believed. (Romans 4:18 HCSB)
Abraham received a promise from God. Not only that he would have a son, but also that he would father a nation that would bless all the families and nations of the world. By the world’s thinking, there was no reason to believe that this could ever be so. After all, Abraham was an old man and Sarah was well beyond child-bearing years. No matter. God had spoken and that was enough to settle it in his heart.

So, against hope, with hope Abraham believed. The Greek word for “hope” does not speak of what is tentative, as we often think of it today, but of what is sure and certain. It is a positive expectation, a joyful anticipation. That is what Abraham had.

Understand, though, that hope was not the object of Abraham’s faith. For some people who believe in the maybe-so-maybe-not variety of hope, hope seems to operate as a kind of faith all by itself. “Oh, there is always hope,” they say. No, hope is not the object of faith. Rather, faith is the basis for hope. The author of Hebrews says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

The Greek word for “substance” speaks of the underlying reality of a thing. It was sometimes used to refer to the title deed for a piece of property. If you possessed the title deed for a piece of land, you possessed that land itself. The title was the underlying reality of ownership for the property. In the same way, faith is the underlying reality of things hoped for. That is, it is the basis for having a positive expectation about a thing.

Understand also that faith is not the object of itself. It is not enough to say, “Have faith,” as if the desire to believe a certain thing is sufficient reason to expect to see that thing. No, faith must have a basis. Elsewhere in Romans, Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). Indeed, faith is about believing what God has promised. When God speaks a word, that is sufficient reason for believing whatever God has said.

That’s how it was with Abraham. God made a promise; Abraham believed it. Even though all the circumstances in the world appeared to be against it ever coming true, Abraham received the word of promise and had faith that it would come to pass. Against hope, with hope he believed. The joyful anticipation of hope came by faith, and faith came by the Word of God.

It does not matter what in the world is going on in your life right now. It does not matter how you feel or what others may think. God has spoken a promise about it. Find that promise in His Word and let it fill your heart with faith. Then you will have a solid basis and a joyful reason for expecting a positive outcome.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Time of Comfort, Joy and Thanksgiving

For the LORD will comfort Zion,
He will comfort all her waste places;
He will make her wilderness like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the LORD;
Joy and gladness will be found in it,
Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
(Isaiah 51:3)
“Waste places” refers to what has been laid to ruin. What once was abundance has now become desolate, a waste land. This is what happened in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, when man rebelled against God. Adam unplugged from the life of God, and in so doing, brought the world into a state of ruin. Likewise, Israel, by her idolatry and spiritual adultery, defiled the land and brought ruin upon it.

“Wilderness” refers to that which is untamed. Barren desert land that has not been cultivated. In the beginning, the Garden of Eden was only a small portion of the earth. God’s plan was for man to extend the boundaries and make all the world a garden of “pleasure” (the Hebrew word “eden” means “pleasure”). God’s plan for Israel was that they would bring His salvation and redemption into all the earth. He said to them, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). The function of priests is to intercede. As a kingdom of priests, Israel was to be a mediator between God and all the nations of the world, to extend the boundaries of His blessing everywhere. But again, like Adam and Eve, Israel failed because of her rebellion against God.

However, God did not cease from His plan. He promised that there would be a comfort, a consolation for Israel and all her waste places. It was a promise not only of restoration but also of fulfillment. God would once again bring Israel into her destiny. The Garden of Eden would once again be established — and enlarged to include all the nations.
Listen to Me, My people;
And give ear to Me, O My nation:
For law will proceed from Me,
And I will make My justice rest
As a light of the peoples.
My righteousness is near,
My salvation has gone forth,
And My arms will judge the peoples;
The coastlands will wait upon Me,
And on My arm they will trust.
(Isaiah 51:4)
God would bring His light and justice to the peoples, the nations. Even the far off lands would look to Him in patient expectation, and they would trust in Him.

This is the kingdom of God, the rule and reign of God that brings light and life into the world. It is the righteousness of God revealed, the justice that sets things right. It is the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven — heaven and earth becoming one. It finds its completion in Jesus the Messiah King, who fulfills the purpose of Israel and brings the light of God to the nations. Even in infancy, when Jesus was presented in the Temple for dedication, Simeon saw this and gave thanks to God:
Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles [the nations],
And the glory of Your people Israel.
(Luke 2:29-32)
As Isaiah observed so many years ago, it is a cause of comfort and joy, gladness and thanksgiving. What God has started out to do in the beginning, He is now in the process of bringing through to completion in the reign of King Jesus.

It is more than appropriate that the season of Thanksgiving leads us into the season of Advent and Christmas, pointing us toward the source of true comfort and joy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

To the Hearer of Prayer All Flesh Will Come

Praise is awaiting You, O God, in Zion;
And to You the vow shall be performed.
O You who hear prayer,
To You all flesh will come.
(Psalm 65:1-2)
The Hebrew word for “awaiting” literally means “silence.” As it is used here, it signifies the stillness of anticipation and yieldedness to the God of Zion. “Vows” are the dedications and commitments made to God.

Zion’s God is called, “Hearer of Prayer” (Hebrew, shama tephillah). Not as one who hears idly or indifferently. Rather, what is implied is that God hears with great regard and answers the prayers of all those who come to Him. It is for this reason, when word of it gets out, that all humanity will come before Him and, finding Him to be the Hearer of Prayer, will commit themselves to Him without reserve.

Does it sound na├»ve today to think that all humanity will come to Yahweh, God of Zion, when there is so much conflict in the world against the people of Yahweh? Yet back when this psalm was written, the situation was considerably worse. The surrounding nations were exceedingly vicious towards Israel. But God’s plan all along has been to reach out to the nations through the descendents of Abraham and bring His goodness, His salvation, His shalom into all the earth.
Also the sons of the foreigner
Who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him,
And to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants —
Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath,
And holds fast My covenant —
Even them I will bring to My holy mountain,
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
Will be accepted on My altar;
For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.
(Isaiah 56:6-7)
Jesus was passionate for this cause. It was why He cleared the moneychangers out of the court of the Temple that was reserved for the Gentiles (the nations) to come and worship the Lord. “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves’” (Mark 11:17).

That physical structure, however, was destroyed in AD 70, just as Jesus predicted (Matthew 24). It was only a type and a shadow, whose function and purpose is now fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah:
But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)
And now there is a new temple, one not made of dead stones but of living flesh, not made by human hands but by the hand of hand of God. 
Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ … But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10)
It is a living house of prayer for all nations, for everyone who will come and believe the promise. This is why, before He ascended to His throne at the right hand of the Father, King Jesus sent out His disciples with this commission:
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)
This commission will not fail but will do just as Jesus said. The nations will come. In the end, there is the song of praise sung to the One who sits at the right hand of the Father:
You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.
(Revelation 5:9-10)
The time is coming, and already is, when all flesh will come to the God of Zion. From every tribe and tongue and nation, they will come in faith to the Hearer of Prayer, to be discipled as kings and priests before Him.

Friday, November 6, 2009

We are Receiving a Kingdom

Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. (Hebrews 12:28)
Jesus came into the world preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15), and He said that it is the Father’s desire to give us the kingdom. The author of Hebrews says that we are receiving that kingdom.

Note the tense. It is not “we have received,” as if it has fully arrived and we have taken complete possession of it, nor is it, “we will receive,” as if it is all and only in the future. But it is “are receiving,” and that speaks of something that has already begun, is now in progress and will one day be complete.

It pleases God to give us His kingdom. That must have something to do with faith, since without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). We receive this kingdom by faith, that is, by believing what God has said and living by it. As we do, it will begin to manifest more and more in our lives and in the world. The author of Hebrews, in his context, shows us something of what this kingdom means:
You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to God who is the judge of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, to Jesus (mediator of a new covenant), and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24 HCSB)
  • We have come to Mount Zion. This is where God has chosen to dwell and manifest His presence among His people.
  • We have come to the city of the living God. This is the city Abraham was seeking, the city “which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). Now we have come to that city and Paul reminds us, “You are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16).
  • We have come to the heavenly Jerusalem. Heavenly Jerusalem speaks of a higher realm. In the Jewish mind, this represented the expectation of a future age. Now we have come to that city and the reality of heaven is already breaking into the world.
  • We have come to myriads of angels in festive gathering. The angels of God are now gathered together in a joyful convocation, a festival of praise because God has done what He promised, King Jesus has come into the world to redeem humanity and creation, and has ascended to the throne of God.
  • We have come to the assembly of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven. “Firstborn” shows that we have a Father, God, and that He has an inheritance for us, which is His kingdom. It is not just for us individually, but together as an assembly, a community of faith. Our names are written together on the citizen rolls of heaven. Paul says, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”: (Ephesians 2:19). “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).
  • We have come to God who is the judge of all. “Judge” speaks of God’s sovereign rule and authority over all. He is the one who sets all things right in the world and that is what His kingdom is about.
  • We have come to the spirits of righteous people made perfect. This speaks of our communion together, a connection stronger than death, even with those who have gone before us and no longer walk this planet. While we are still in the process of reckoning ourselves dead to sin but alive to God (Romans 6:11), they have been made thoroughly and completely perfect in Jesus the Messiah. “Perfected at last!” is the sense of the text.
  • We have come to Jesus, mediator of a new covenant. Jesus is the reason for how we have come to all these things. All the blessing of the kingdom is summed up in the new covenant, of which He is the mediator.
  • We have come to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel. This is the heart of the covenant: the shedding of blood, demonstrating the surety of the promise. In the new covenant Jesus mediates for us with the Father, Jesus is the sacrifice — He gives us Himself. This covenant, and the blood by which in which it was cut, speaks incomparable things for us, more than any other blood ever could. The blood of Abel cried out for revenge, but the blood of Jesus speaks of the redemption and restoration of humanity and all creation.
Regardless of what is happening in the world, the kingdom of God, which we are now receiving, cannot be shaken. Rather, it is already breaking into this present age to shake the world, as God sets things right in and through those who believe Him and receive King Jesus by grace through faith.

It is the Father’s good pleasure to give us His kingdom, and those who receive the king receive the kingdom.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Soul of Prosperity

But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
(Psalm 1:2-3)
True prosperity does not come from outside us. It arises from within. It begins as delight in the Lord and in His ways, His instruction (torah, the Hebrew word for “law” can just as well be translated as “instruction”). That is, it starts as an attitude, an orientation of the heart. It grows and develops by giving diligent attention to the Lord and His instruction. In other words, it is a matter of the soul, the inner being.

God is big on that. Indeed, He promised that He would make a new covenant with us in which He would internalize His ways in our hearts.
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah … I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:31, 33)
More than that, He promised He would give us His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, so that we would not only be able to understand His ways but also to do them.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
God has fulfilled His promise. He has cut a new covenant with us in the blood of Jesus the Messiah. At the Cross, Jesus defeated all the powers that stand against us. At the Last Supper, He took the cup of wine and said, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Then at Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection, God put His Spirit within us, to enable us to fulfill all that is required and do what is right. All who receive the Lord Jesus receive the Spirit of God. That now changes everything, for Paul tells us,
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
What the law engraved on tablets of stone could not accomplish in us, because it was external to us, the Holy Spirit dwelling within us can. As we yield to Him, He brings forth this fruit in our lives. This positions us to live in divine prosperity in all things. The Apostle John’s prayer for Gaius in 3 John 2 shows that this is the desire of God for everyone of us:
Beloved, I prayer that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.
When we are out of joint with God, we are out of joint with ourselves, with others and with creation as well. But as we turn to Him, we come into proper alignment. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). The kingdom of God is His rule and reign; His righteousness is the rightness of His way of doing and being. When this becomes our priority, everything else will be taken care of itself. This is the prosperity of soul that prepares us for prosperity in all things.

Prosperity of soul is the soul of prosperity.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Divine Portrait of Prosperity: Psalm 1

It is the first of the month and, as is my habit, I am praying through the first five psalms — one hundred and fifty psalms divided by thirty days in a month equals fives psalms a day. By the end of this month I will have gone through the book of Psalms, ready to begin again on the first of next month. I have been doing this for twenty years or so and it is been a very profitable practice.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
(Psalm 1:2-3)
Here is a divine portrait of prosperity, and how it comes. Picture a tree, well irrigated and well established, healthy and strong. It is always bringing forth fruit. When the harvest comes, it offers an abundance that bless many. Afterwards, it does not dry out or wither, but sets about to produce more. Picture a man or woman who is like that tree — whatever he or she does goes well and finds success. That is divine prosperity.

How does one get to that place? First, by avoiding those things that lead in the opposite direction — the counsel of those who have no regard for God, the path of those who do not walk in His ways, those who mock the good and prefer evil (v. 1). The fruit of their lives will be bitter and toxic, blown away like in the wind like chaff (v. 5).

It is not enough, however, to avoid evil things. They must be replaced with the good. The secret to that is found in verse 2: Delighting in the law of the Lord and constantly meditating in it. The Hebrew word for “law,” torah, actually means “instruction.” God has given us instructions in His Word that lead to prosperity in all things. Our part is to delight in it and meditate on it continually. To dig into it with relish and chew on it for all its worth. To pursue it diligently for the purpose of doing it.
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8)
Now, notice what it does not say. It does not say that God will make our way prosperous for us. It says that we will make our way prosperous. God will show us the way, but we must be diligent to walk in it. It is in meditating that we take hold of God’s wise direction, but it is in doing it that we make our way prosperous, for the instruction of the Lord leads us into good success.

God has provided us the way to be firmly established and fruitful, to enjoy divine prosperity and success in every area of life. It is living in and living by the instruction of the Lord.