Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Mighty God, Yahweh

The Mighty God, Yahweh speaks
And summons the earth
From the place where the sun rises to the place where it sets.
(Psalm 50:1 JVD)
This verse presents us with a combination of God’s names: El Elohim Yahweh (אל אלה'ם 'הוה). El speaks of God in His might and authority. Elohim is how God revealed Himself in the creation of heaven and earth. Yahweh is the name of His person, and is the name by which He made covenant with His people, Israel.

There is only one other place in the Bible where we find this combination of the divine names. That is in Joshua 22, where the Reubenites, Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh were accused by the rest of Israel of turning from the Lord and being unfaithful to His covenant. They appealed to God to judge the matter between them: “The Mighty One, God, the LORD, the Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows, and may Israel itself know. If it was in rebellion, or if in an unfaithful act against the LORD do not save us this day!” (Joshua 22:22 NASB). It soon became apparent that they had been faithful and just.

In Psalm 50, this same name is used of God when He summons heaven and earth to witness as He judges His people (v. 4). Divine court is in session.
Gather My saints together to me,
Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrificed.
Let the heavens declare His righteousness,
For God Himself is Judge.
(Psalm 50:5-6)
The heavens and the earth were present when God made His covenant with the children of Israel, in the book of Deuteronomy: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth” (Deuteronomy 32:1). Now they bear witness that God is righteous in this dispute.

This is all about covenant, the covenant God made with Israel. He has a bone to pick with them: He has been faithful to the covenant — which is what righteousness is about — but they have not. Two groups are in the dock. First, there are those who have kept all the mandatory rituals, but all in a very impersonal, obligatory way, and as if God was dependent upon their burnt offerings. His corrective word to them is this:
Offer to God thanksgiving,
And pay your vows to the Most High.
Call upon Me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.
(Psalm 50:14-15)
This is a sacrifice of thanksgiving, a voluntary offering of fellowship. God is not looking for a perfunctory people — it is our fellowship He desires, an offering of the heart. The more we come to Him with thanksgiving and praise, the more we realize our dependence upon Him, the more we come to trust Him, the more we learn to call on Him, and the more we discover that He is there for us in the day of trouble. The second group is those who make a pretense of covenant fidelity with their lips, but their hearts are far away from God.
But to the wicked God says:
“What right has you to declare My statutes,
Or take My covenant in your mouth.”
(Psalm 50:16)
They hate the instruction of the Lord and cast off His words (v. 17). They consent with thieves and partake with adulterers (v. 18). They give their mouths over to creating evil and their tongues to speaking deceit (v. 19). They sit in fellowship with their brothers and sisters, but then, in the greatest hypocrisy, speak slander against them (v. 20). God will rebuke them and bring their offenses out in the open for all to see (v. 21). However, all is not lost for them; God offers them opportunity for repentance.
Now consider this, you who forget God,
Lest I tear you in pieces,
And there be none to deliver:
Whoever offers praise glorifies Me;
And to him who orders his conduct aright
I will show the salvation of God.
(Psalm 50:22-23)
To those who turn to God and acknowledge Him with praise from the heart, and walk according to His instruction, He will show His salvation. God desires covenant fellowship with His people, but He also requires covenant faithfulness from them.

Israel never was able to remain faithful, so God’s plan all along was to keep Israel’s part through the Messiah, the perfect Israelite in whom all the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled. Through faith in Him, we are justified, declared to be right with God.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
The Mighty God, Yahweh, is the divine judge who counts us faithful covenant-keepers through Jesus the Messiah.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Storehouse of Faith

“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” Jesus said (Matthew 12:34). Then He talked about the storehouse of the heart. If we store up good things in our hearts, that is what will come out; if we store up evil things then evil will come out (v. 35; see What’s In Your Storehouse?). Now, let me show you one reason why this is so important. Consider the words of Jesus in Mark 11:22-25.
Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.
See the dynamic of the heart and the mouth, how they word together? If you have faith in God and do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will be done, you words become very powerful, even to the moving of mountains. But notice what must be in your heart in abundance — not just in your heart, but in your heart in abundance? Faith! Yes, it starts like a mustard seed, but like a mustard seed, when you plant it, it grows (see Faith is a Seed). When faith is in your heart in abundance, and your mouth speaks out of the abundance of your heart, that is a powerful combination.

So where does faith come from, and how to you get it into your heart in abundance? Paul said that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). When God speaks, things happen, and God always keeps His Word. When we give our attention to the Word of God, to meditate on it, and when we let it instruct our hearts and change our thinking, the Spirit of God works through that. Faith in God begins to rise up within us. As we continue meditating the Word, faith begins to fill our hearts in abundance. Then, when we speak, and our words are in alignment with the Word of God, they come forth with the force of faith. Things we thought improbable, or even impossible, begin to happen.

But there is also something else that must fill our heart, and that is forgiveness. We must be willing to forgive everyone we have anything against. It is no coincidence that Jesus speaks of forgiveness immediately after He talks about faith-filled words and prayer. No, it is integral to the operation of faith.

When Jesus told Peter and the disciples that they must forgive “seventy times seven,” they said, “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:4-5). They realized that real forgiveness requires the power of faith. However, Jesus teaches us that the opposite is also true: powerful faith requires a heart of forgiveness. They must go together. If we do not have the faith to forgive then we do not have the faith to move mountains. Paul tells us that even if we did have faith to move mountains, but do not have love, then we are nothing and our accomplishments are in vain (1 Corinthians 13:2).

This brings us, then, to a third thing we must have in our hearts in abundance: Love. In a religious dispute that was taking place in the first-century Church over a ritual issue, Paul concluded, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).

There it is. Faith works through love. That is, faith is activated, energized, made effective, through love. If faith worked without love, we would soon destroy the world. Imagine the debris that would litter the highways as people charged their road rage with the power of faith. No, there must be love if we are to have mountain-moving faith. Indeed, love is the most important. “Now abide faith, hope, love, these three,” Paul said, “But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Out of the storehouse of the heart the mouth speaks. When faith, forgiveness and love fill your heart in abundance, your words will become very powerful. Mountains will move.

What's in your storehouse?

(See also Faith Comes by Hearing and How to Forgive by Faith)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Confessions on Romans 8:28

If you have been a Christian for while, you’ve probably heard this verse: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). It is quoted often (one of those “refrigerator verses”), especially in difficult times. One of the keys to understanding this verse is to recognize that this is about those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. It is a comfort to know that God’s purposes for us will be fulfilled.

But another important key, I believe, is found in the words “work together,” or rather, the Greek word behind it, synenergeo. It is a compound word: syn means “with” or “together” and energeo means “to be at work.” As you might guess, it is from this that we get our word “synergy.” It is this prefix, syn, that interests me most — we find it in various forms (sym, sys, and syg) a number of times in Romans 8:
  • “The Spirit Himself bears witness with [symmartureo] our spirit that we are children of God ...” (v.16).
  • “… and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs [sygkleronomos] with Christ, …” (v. 17).
  • “… if indeed we suffer with [sympascho] Him, that we may also be glorified together [symdoxazo].” (v. 17).
  • “For we know that the whole creation groans [systenazo, ‘groans together’] and labors with birth pangs together [synodino] until now” (v. 22). The whole creation is waiting, Paul says, for the manifestation of the sons of God, when it is “delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (v. 19-21).
  • “Likewise the Spirit also helps [synantilambanomai] in our weaknesses” (v. 26). This word speaks of two parties laying hold together, each one doing his part, like oarsmen, to obtain a goal.
In verse 23, Paul says, “Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” And in verse 26, “For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” The Holy Spirit groans within us and we also groan within ourselves. So, even though the prefix is not used concerning this, the Holy Spirit groans within us together with us.

What is more, Paul adds, “Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (v. 27). The Father knows the mind of the Spirit who is at work within us, and the Spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God. In other words, the Father and the Spirit are working together on our behalf.

It is at this point then that Paul concludes, “For we know that all work together [synenergeo] for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Many translators add the word “things,” which I have left out here because it can be misleading. It is also not necessary because, in the context and flow of Romans 8, “all” refers to all that Paul has just finished listing. We can just as well say, “All these things” or leave it simply at “All.”

The point is that we have all the things Paul talks about in Romans 8 working together on our behalf. They are mighty indeed, full of the power of God, and through them God can bring forth good even in the worst of situations. So this is my confession of faith in good times and bad:
The Holy Spirit bears witness together with my spirit that I am a child of God, that I am a joint-heir together with Christ, that if I suffer together with Him I will be glorified together with Him. All creation is groaning together, waiting for me to manifest as a mature child of God, because I walk in the glorious liberty of the children of God. The Holy Spirit is groaning together with me, interceding in me, with me and for me with powerful prayers that’s express God’s great desire for me — and these prayers are being answered! All these things are now working together for my good, because I love God and I am called according to His purpose. Nothing can stop His good plan for me from being fulfilled.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What’s in Your Storehouse?

The tagline of the current Capital One(TM) campaign asks, “What’s in your wallet?” Let me tweak that a little bit and ask, “What’s in your storehouse?” Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 12:35).

The Greek word for “treasure” is thesaurus. The Septuagint, which is a very early Greek translation of the Old Testament, uses thesaurus to translate the Hebrew word for “storehouse.” My translation of Matthew 12:35 is, “The good man out of the good storehouse of the heart brings out good things, and the evil man out of the evil storehouse brings out evil things.”

What is a storehouse? It is a place where things are deposited, collected, laid up, stored away for future use. Each one of us has a storehouse in our heart and we are continually making deposits into it. These deposits are the words, thoughts, deeds and desires we focus on and give place to in our lives.

For example, in Luke 2, when the shepherds came and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby Jesus lying in a manger, they told of the angelic visitation and all the things that were told them about Jesus. Then we read, “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). That is, she gathered them all up and gave place to them in her heart, where she could consider them, meditate on them, and let them shape her thoughts, her decisions, her emotions, words, her deeds — her life! She made a deposit of good things into her storehouse, and they were there for her to draw upon every moment of her life.

Another example is found in Acts 5, where Ananias and Sapphira pretended to bring all the proceeds of a piece of land they sold to lay at the apostles’ feet. Peter saw through their deceit and said, “Why has satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? … Why have you conceived this thing in your heart?” (Acts 5:3-4). The Greek word for “conceived” means to set, place or put forth. Ananias and Sapphira made a place for satanic deception and treasured it in their storehouse. It filled their hearts with evil, and when opportunity arose, evil is what they brought out.

We must be very careful what we allow in our storehouses and deposit in our hearts, because that is what will come out in our lives. “Keep your heart with all diligence,” Proverbs says, “for out of it spring the issues of life” (4:23). We are always making deposits and we are always drawing on our storehouse account. If we collect up and ponder good things — the promises of God, the fruit of the Spirit, the things Jesus taught — that is what will come forth from us. Paul said, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Now, you can tell what someone has been storing up in their heart by paying attention to what they say. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” Jesus said (Matthew 12:34). What is in their heart in abundance, whether good or bad, is what they have been depositing in it over time. When they open up their mouths to speak, what they have stored up is what comes out; this is especially true when they are under pressure.

This is very important because, as Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” That is why we will have to give account before God for the things we say. Jesus said, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

Words that are in line with the love of the Father, the faith of King Jesus the Messiah, the fruit of the Spirit and the promises of God, are words that will bring forth good things. Every word that is out of alignment with the Word of God will bring forth evil things. It all begins with the deposits you make in your heart.

What’s in your storehouse?

Monday, January 10, 2011

God, Exalted Among the Nations, Exalted in the Earth

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
(Psalm 46:10)
One of my favorite mugs has the first line of this verse imprinted on it: “Be still and know that I am God.” It is what is called a “refrigerator verse,” something people stick up on their iceboxes as a reminder. You can also find it at your local Christian bookstore or inspirational shop, on a variety of kitschy products: calendars, plaques, mugs, and even magnets to hold other kitschy things on your refrigerator. It is often thought of in a personal-devotiony sort of way, as if it were instructing us to go find a cozy little place to nestle into and get all quiet and still with God. There is no problem with that sort of thing, of course — I’ve had many precious times with God that way, silencing all other voices in and around me so that I can hear the voice of God more clearly. But the context of this verse presents it a bit more … militantly. Look, for example, at the verses that immediately precede it.
Come, behold the works of the LORD,
Who has made desolations in the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the fire.
(Psalms 46:8-9)
The “works of the LORD” are the desolations He makes in the earth (not of the earth), and the desolations are the end He puts to wars and all their implements. He settles things decisively and those who remain are unable to stand against Him. It is at this point that the psalm writer, one of the “sons of Korah,” says, “Be still and know that I am God.” That is how many versions, such as the KJV, the NKJV and the NIV put it. However, consider how some other versions render it; I think they capture the sense of what “be still” means much better.
  • “Cease striving” (NASB)
  • “Stop your fighting” (HCSB)
  • “Desist” (Young’s Literal Translation)
  • “Let be” (JPS Bible)
  • “Stop fighting” (Good News Translation)
Put an exclamation point after each one of those, and I think we will have the force of it. God is speaking to those who have been warring against Him, and against His people! He is calling them to cease their striving with Him, to give it up. More than that, He is calling them to “know” — to recognize, acknowledge, confess — that He is God. He is not calling them to destruction, though, but to something very much better. In Psalm 2, He puts it this way.
Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.
(Psalm 2:10-12)
“Exalted among the nations, exalted in the earth.” This is what He is; this is what He will be. The Hebrew can be rendered either way. God exalts His name among the nations, and in the end, the nations will acknowledge that He is King. Even now, this is coming to pass. God has raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him far above all principality, power, might and dominion, and has put all things under His feet (Ephesians 1:20-22). He has given Him the name that is above every name, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

After the resurrection and before He ascended to heaven, Jesus came to the disciples saying, ““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” (Matthew 28:18-20).

All the nations will be taught of Him and be baptized. They will “kiss the Son” and be blessed, and they will know that He is God, Exalted in the Nations, Exalted in the Earth.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Yahweh, God of Truth

Into Your hand I commit my spirit;
You have redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.
(Psalm 31:5)
Pursued and harassed, David looks to Yahweh, the God of Israel, as a “rock of refuge” and a “fortress of defense” to which he can run and be saved (v. 2 ). He knows that traps have been set for him and he calls on God to pluck him out of the net (v. 4). He has come to know Yahweh as the God of Truth.

“Into Your hand I commit my spirit.” The Hebrew word for “commit” means to give as a trust or deposit. There is an idea of stewardship here: David entrusts himself to God to watch over him, to keep him safe. The “hand” of God speaks of action, what God does. It is dynamic. David does not look to God to passively hold him but to actively keep him.

“You have redeemed me.” The word for “redeemed” means to ransom or rescue. The pictograph of the Hebrew letters in this word (Pe, Dalet, He) is interesting. It gives us the image of an open door (Benner, Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible). God “opens the door” for David so that he is no longer trapped but is set free.

The tense of this word is also interesting. The NKJV and many other translations render it in the past tense, as an accomplished fact. Other versions, such as the HCSB, have it as “You redeem me” (present), or as the NIV, as a petition, “Redeem me.” However, Keil and Delitzsch, in their Commentary on the Old Testament, note that it is “the praet. confidentiae [confident past tense] which is closely related to the praet. prophet. [prophetic past tense]; for the spirit of faith, like the spirit of the prophets, speaks of the future with historic certainty.” In other words, what David was asking God to do, he was so confident that God would do it, he considered it a “done deal!” Why? Because He was committing himself to Yahweh El Emet — Yahweh, God of Truth.

Now, notice how he contrasts this in the next verse. “I have hated those who regard useless idols” (v. 6). Many newer versions say “useless,” or “worthless” or “vain idols.” However, older versions, such as the KJV, the Jewish Publication Society Bible and Young’s Literal Translation say “lying vanities.” Keil and Delitzsch render it as “vain illusions.” This is a more literal translation of the Hebrew words, although the phrase was often used as a reference to idols. Everything that is not of God is a lying vanity that can very easily become an idol to us.

Notice also the word “regard.” The Hebrew word speaks of those who “guard” or “keep” or “watch over” something. David has no use for vain illusions. They have no power to watch over and keep him, but must be protected themselves. So David has no respect for those who guard such vanities and illusions. He reiterates his faith: “But I trust in the LORD.”

Yahweh is the God of Truth. He is true to Himself and true to His word. What He says is what He does and what He does is what He said He would do. We can always count on Him to keep His promises and we can entrust ourselves to Him in perfect confidence that He will take care of us in all things.