A Tale of Two Choices: To Believe or Not to Believe

For many of us, the turning of the calendar from one year to the next brings fresh thoughts of what the future might hold…of the better selves we hope to become…of the goals we desire to accomplish. And, if we’re honest, we understand that these noble goals we hope to achieve are often only possible through the many small, day-in-and-day-out choices we make—tiny, often spur-of-the-moment choices that, over time, are the stone-upon-stone masonry upon which we build our future selves. The inimitable C.S. Lewis helps the Christian understand how truly significant these choices are:

“[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking C.s.lewis3your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.” —C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

For the true believer in Christ, these choices reflect our obedience. On a daily basis, some of our most significant choices boil down to answering one question: Will we choose to believe what our God has said?

The Bible repeatedly juxtaposes belief and disbelief in the children of God (sometimes within the same person and sometimes between different people). If you are a student of the Bible, specific instances of this juxtaposition have probably already come to mind.

As I’ve been reflecting on the 49th chapter of Isaiah this morning, I couldn’t help but consider the stark example of disbelief that the people of God reflected right after being given a command to praise Him for what He had done and what He was going to do for them:

Isaiah 49:13-14 (ESV)—The Choice of Disbelief

13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;    
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
    and will have compassion on his afflicted.

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.” [emphasis mine]

“But Zion said.” Astonishing, isn’t it? Through their words, their disbelief charges God with lying. “Comfort? Compassion? Are you kidding? You have forsaken me. You have forgotten me.” 

Oh, how easy it is to accuse Zion of horrifying disbelief—until the Holy Spirit unveils the mirror of my own disbelief in theirs.

Yet God is too good to leave us staring dismally at our own disbelief. He continually provides us with examples of obedient belief. Of course, the perfect example of belief we have comes through the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ; however, the Bible also provides us with others who, even in their imperfection, choose in the moment to believe, who refuse to succumb to blind unbelief, even in terribly trying moments. The commentator Alec Motyer describes a two-step process to making this choice of belief: “The antidote to despondency is first to direct the mind to God and secondly to rest on His word” (Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 394).

One of the most brilliant of Old Testament examples of the choice of belief occurs in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30, the story of the people of Judah and their king, Jehoshaphat, whose circumstances involve the terrifying prospect of a battle they can’t win (according to all outward appearances). As I re-read the account aloud this morning in the context of thinking about Zion’s unbelief in Isaiah 49, I was astonished at the choice to believe that occurs over and over again in these thirty verses—of, as Motyer says, the children of God directing their minds to God and then resting on what He had said.

Here is the account in its entirety. You will be much helped by reading it aloud. 

2 Chronicles 20:1-30 (ESV)—The Choice of Belief

After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites,came against Jehoshaphat for battle. Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi). Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.

And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God,drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’ 10 And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy— 11 behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. 12 O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

13 Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. 14 And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. 15 And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. 16 Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. 17 You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

18 Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord, worshiping the Lord.19 And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise theLord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.

20 And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.” 21 And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say,

“Give thanks to the Lord,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.”

22 And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. 23 For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another.

24 When Judah came to the watchtower of the wilderness, they looked toward the horde, and behold, there were dead bodies lying on the ground; none had escaped. 25 When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take their spoil, they found among them, in great numbers, goods, clothing, and precious things, which they took for themselves until they could carry no more. They were three days in taking the spoil, it was so much. 26 On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Beracah, for there they blessed the Lord. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Beracah to this day. 27 Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat at their head, returning to Jerusalem with joy, for the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies. 28 They came to Jerusalem with harps and lyres and trumpets, to the house of the Lord. 29 And the fear of God came on all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard that theLord had fought against the enemies of Israel. 30 So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around. [emphasis mine]

Beautiful belief. Belief that is chosen. Belief that is spoken. Belief that is God-honoring and God-honored. 

Oh, may God give us this spirit of belief. May each one of us pray alongside the broken-hearted father of Mark 9:23-25, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

But let’s not stop there. Let’s also pray this for our brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, we are commanded to help one another fight the sin of unbelief. Hebrews 3:12-13 give us the following command: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a wicked heart of unbelief that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” So let’s pray that, especially in moments of despondency, our brothers and sisters in Christ will make many daily Godward choices, choices that result in turning their minds toward our triune God and then standing on His perfect Word. And may He receive much glory from these choices.

 

Soli Deo Gloria.

Advertisements

The “All Things” of Life and Godliness—Christ in You, the Hope of Glory

Brothers and sisters in Christ, just in case you’ve not been blessed today by considering who you are in Christ Jesus, would you please read—slowly and carefully—the following verses from 2nd Peter 1, and then meditate on two paragraphs from a sermon on Isaiah 49:8 from Charles Spurgeon? May grace and peace, indeed, be multiplied to you (as it has been to me).

2 Peter 1:2-4: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.” (Italics mine.)


The following paragraphs are excerpted from Charles Spurgeon’s sermon “Christ in the Everlasting Covenant”:

“I will give you as a covenant to the people.” (Isaiah 49:8)

Here is a GREAT POSSESSION—Jesus Christ, by the covenant, is the property of every believer! By this we must understand Jesus Christ in many different senses. We will begin, first of all, by declaring that Jesus Christ is ours, in all His attributes. He has a double set of attributes, seeing that there are two natures joined in glorious union in one person. He has the attributes of very God and He has the attributes of perfect man; whatever these may be, they are each one of them, the perpetual property of every believing child of God! I need not dwell on His attributes as God—you all know how Infinite is His love, how vast His grace, how firm His faithfulness, how unswerving His veracity. You know that He is omniscient. You know that He is omnipresent. You know that He is omnipotent and it will console you if you will but think that all these great and glorious attributes which belong to God are all yours! Has He power? That power is yours—yours to support and strengthen you—yours to overcome your enemies, yours to keep you immutably secure! Has He love? Well, there is not a particle of His love in His great heart which is not yours. All His love belongs to you! You may dive into the immense, bottomless ocean of His love and you may say of it all, “It is mine.” Has He justice? It may seem a stern attribute. But even that is yours for He will, by His justice, see to it that all which is covenanted to you by the oath and promise of God shall be most certainly secured to you. Mention whatever you please which is a characteristic of Christ as the ever-glorious Son of God and, O faithful one, you may put your hand upon it and say, “It is mine!” Your arms, O Jesus, upon which the pillars of the earth hang, are mine! Those eyes, O Jesus, which pierce through the thick darkness and behold the future—your eyes are mine to look on me with love! Those lips, O Christ, which sometimes speak words louder than ten thousand thunders, or whisper syllables sweeter than the music of the harps of the glorified—those lips are mine! And that great heart which beats high with such unselfish, pure and unaffected love—that heart is mine! The whole of Christ, in all His glorious nature as the Son of God, as God over all, blessed forever, is yours, positively, actually, without metaphor, in reality yours!


Consider Him as man, too. All that He has as perfect man is yours. As a perfect man He stood before His Father, “full of grace and Truth,” full of favor and accepted by God as a perfect being. O believer, God’s acceptance of Christ is your acceptance! Do you not know that that love which the Father set on a perfect Christ, He now sets on you? For all that Christ did is yours. That perfect righteousness which Jesus worked out, when through His stainless life He kept the law and made it honorable, is yours. There is not a virtue which Christ ever had, that is not yours! There is not a holy deed which He ever did which is not yours! There is not a prayer He ever sent to heaven that is not yours! There is not one solitary thought towards God which it was His duty to think and which He thought as man serving His God, which is not yours! All His righteousness, in its vast extent and in all the perfection of His character, is imputed to you! Oh, can you think what you have gotten in the word, “Christ?” Come, believer, consider that word, “God,” and think how mighty it is. And then meditate upon that word, “perfect man,” for all that the Man-God, Christ, and the glorious God-man, Christ, ever had, or ever can have as the characteristic of either of His natures—all that is yours! It all belongs to you—it is out of pure free favor, beyond the fear of revocation, passed over to you to be your actual property—and that forever!
in glorious union in one person. He has the attributes of very God and He has the attributes of perfect man; whatever these may be, they are each one of them, the perpetual property of every believing child of God! I need not dwell on His attributes as God—you all know how Infinite is His love, how vast His grace, how firm His faithfulness, how unswerving His veracity. You know that He is omniscient. You know that He is omnipresent. You know that He is omnipotent and it will console you if you will but think that all these great and glorious attributes which belong to God are all yours! Has He power? That power is yours—yours to support and strengthen you—yours to overcome your enemies, yours to keep you immutably secure! Has He love? Well, there is not a particle of His love in His great heart which is not yours. All His love belongs to you! You may dive into the immense, bottomless ocean of His love and you may say of it all, “It is mine.” Has He justice? It may seem a stern attribute. But even that is yours for He will, by His justice, see to it that all which is covenanted to you by the oath and promise of God shall be most certainly secured to you. Mention whatever you please which is a characteristic of Christ as the ever-glorious Son of God and, O faithful one, you may put your hand upon it and say, “It is mine!” Your arms, O Jesus, upon which the pillars of the earth hang, are mine! Those eyes, O Jesus, which pierce through the thick darkness and behold the future—your eyes are mine to look on me with love! Those lips, O Christ, which sometimes speak words louder than ten thousand thunders, or whisper syllables sweeter than the music of the harps of the glorified—those lips are mine! And that great heart which beats high with such unselfish, pure and unaffected love—that heart is mine! The whole of Christ, in all His glorious nature as the Son of God, as God over all, blessed forever, is yours, positively, actually, without metaphor, in reality yours!

 

God Is at Work: An Application of Isaiah 11:1

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” ~ Isaiah 11:1

All of us have them. Those moments when we’re tempted to despair because we see no fruit from the seeds we’re sowing for Christ’s sake.

Take heart, fellow sower. God is at work.

“Don’t judge God’s work from external appearance.tree-sprout-stump-1500x1000 The shoot comes forth from a sterile stump. It seems like nothing’s going on. Learn not to judge a ministry or a person or a family by external appearance. Trust in the Lord. Do what is good and right—and let Him produce the fruit. Plant good seeds. Water them with your tears and with prayer—and let Him do the work. Don’t judge it by external appearance. God is at work.”

Sermon: “The Humble Beginnings of Christ’s Glorious Kingdom” (Dr. Andrew Davis, First Baptist Church, Durham, North Carolina)

When You’re Not On the Same Page, But In The Same Book

What a well-written and thoughtful exhortation to the church. I don’t want to forget this.

Stephen McAlpine

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord…whose names are in the book of life. (Phil 4)

The turn of politics in the West clearly shows that that Christians who aren’t on the same page politically better recognise they’re in the same book. If they don’t then there’s a shameful schism coming to the church that will expose how in thrall we are to earthly politics as our true hope.

1814691p

If my Facebook page is telling me anything these past days (indeed the past six to twelve months), it’s this: Many Christians are dangerously close to aping the partisanship of the world when it comes to how they view those who disagree with them politically.

The age of respectful discourse is pretty much over in the public political square. That much seems clear.  And it won’t be coming back any time soon.  That too is clear…

View original post 610 more words

A True Heart: Meditations on Hebrews 10:21-22

“Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” ~ Hebrews 10:21-22

According to the author of the letter to the Hebrews, this is how we must draw near to God: with a “true” heart. Thus translate both the King James Version and the English Standard Version. A “sincere” heart, the New International Version tells us. The Blue Letter Bible Dictionary offers more depth for this word translated “true” and “sincere,” the Greek alēthinos“that which is opposite to what is fictitious, counterfeit, imaginary, simulated or pretended.”

As easy as it is to hear the accuser’s words in our ears as we read these challenging words—words that challenge us because we know our own hearts all too well to believe that they are constantly true in our pursuit of God—we must remember the context of the book of Hebrews. The author sets before his beleaguered audience (and us) a great High Priest who understands our hearts because He had to be made like His brothers in every respect (Hebrews 2:17). This Great High Priest, Christ Jesus, knows our hearts, yet He encourages us to come boldly to the throne of grace “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

So we come. We do come. However, we come confessing to God, and—if we’re honest enough—to one another, that our hearts are often untrue…that we are too often distracted…that we come with unhungry hearts that are saturated with the world…that we must, in fact, pray with David for God to give us an undivided heart so that we may fear His name (Psalm 86:11).

And God, in His great grace, answers our prayers for a true heart—because our drawing near to Him is His goal for us. Our Great High Priest, ever interceding for His Bride, has prayed for us, that we would know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God has sent (John 17:3). This is how we know that God is pleased to continually fashion our hearts into the resemblance of His Son’s heart, the only heart that was and is undivided in its purpose: “Behold, I have come to do your will” (Hebrews 10:9).  And, as Kent Hughes so beautifully reminds us, “The life of Christ in us—the same life that said, ‘Behold I have come to do your will, O God’—animates us!”

What amazing grace.

So when we are tempted to despair of our hearts that seem so often to be the opposite of a true heart, we must preach the Gospel to ourselves—and to one another. We must remind ourselves and each other that it is “since we have a great priest over the house of God” that we can “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:21-22). Our faith, my friend, is not in our own hearts, but in our Great High Priest over the house of God.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident, wrote several poems from prison shortly before he was executed by the Nazis on April 9, 1945. One of those poems, “Who Am I?,” deals with this issue of a divided heart. As you read his poem, keep in mind the honest evaluation of his own heart that Mr. Bonhoeffer offers. And, more importantly, allow his last line to cause your own heart to sing to the God who beckons you to come.

Who Am I?BPK 10.016.073
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

“Jesus, the Nazarene”

“I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus,

the Nazarene.”

        How many times have we earnestly sung those lyrics? And how many times have we fully meant what we have sung about standing “amazed?” Yet, how many times have we fully failed to understand what we’re singing in identifying Jesus as “the Nazarene?”

Sadly, the demoniac in the synagogue in Capernaum may have known and recognized much more fully the truths that fail to register with us in our complacent familiarity with certain phrases and titles associated with Jesus.

       For example, as Jesus is teaching in the synagogue, Mark 1:24 records that the demoniac cries aloud, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

“Jesus of Nazareth.”

 Nazareth. Outside of the New Testament, this tiny city is never mentioned until the Byzantine period (4th c. AD). In the Bible, Nazareth is a relatively isolated village in the time of Jesus with a population less than two hundred.[1] Nathaniel underscores the contempt that people felt about Nazareth during the 1st century AD when he asks Philip, “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

       Hear what the 18th-century English Baptist commentator John Gill has to say about Nazareth:

The whole country of Galilee was had in contempt with the Jews; but Nazareth was so mean a place, that it seems it was even despised by its neighbours, by the Galileans themselves; for Nathanael was a Galilean, that said these words. It was so miserable a place that he could hardly think that any sort of good thing, even any worldly good thing, could come from thence; and it was so wicked, as appears from their murderous designs upon our Lord, that he thought no good man could arise from hence; and still less, any prophet, any person of great note; and still least of all, that that good thing, or person, the Messiah, should spring from it: so that his objection, and prejudice, proceeded not only upon the oracle in (Micah 5:2 ), which points out Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah; but upon the wickedness, and meanness, and obscurity of Nazareth.[2]

       To say, then, that Jesus is a Nazarene is anything but complimentary. Matthew Henry goes as far as to say that it appears the demon “was the first who called him so, and he did it with design to possess the minds of the people with low thoughts of him, because no good thing was expected out of Nazareth; and with prejudices against him as a deceiver, because everybody knew the Messiah must be of Bethlehem.”[3]

       So to identify Jesus as a Nazarene is always to emphasize his manhood…his humanness. Edmond Hiebert notes that, “In the New Testament, the designation of Jesus as Nazarene is never used apart from His human name”[4] (italics mine).

       However, the demon doesn’t stop with the identification of Jesus’ lowly humanity. After identifying Jesus as human, he finishes his outburst with the acknowledgment of Jesus’ divinity: “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

Fully human. Fully God. The breathtaking paradox of the dual nature of our Savior.

In his book The Pleasures of God, Dr. John Piper caused my heart to soar as he dealt with this concept of the paradox of Christ’s nature in a passage totally unrelated to this excerpt from Mark. Be blessed as you meditate on these paradoxical glories of Christ’s dual nature:

In Jesus Christ meet infinite highness and infinite condescension; infinite justice and infinite grace; infinite glory and lowest humility; infinite majesty and transcendent meekness; deepest reverence toward God and equality with God; worthiness of good and the greatest patience under the suffering of evil; a great spirit of obedience and supreme dominion over heaven and earth; absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation; self–sufficiency and an entire trust and reliance on God.[5]

Oh, the paradoxical glories of our Savior…Glories which allow Him to have one hand on the throne of God, one hand on the head of man as He stands to ever intercedes for us. His dual nature, accurately identified by the demon: “Jesus of Nazareth.” Fully man. “The Holy One of God.” Fully God.

I do, indeed, “stand amazed in the presence of Jesus, the Nazarene.” And I hope I never sing those words in the same way again.

[1] Bible Places. http://www.bibleplaces.com/nazareth.htm (3/23/13).

[2] John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible. http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/john-1-46.html (3/23/13)/

[3] Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible. http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/mark/1.html (3/23/13)

[4] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville: BJU Press,1994) 50.

[5] John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2012) 16.