Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Our Souls are Not Fountains, Part 1- Psalm 25

Our souls were not made to be fountains. We are not the abundant, overflowing, sustainers of life for others to draw from. We may serve as conduits for others, but our sustenance must always come from a source that is greater than us. Without assistance, we dry up spiritually and physically. The results of our lack are varied forms of soul sickness- fear, guilt, discouragement, loneliness- amongst others. Fortunately for us, God promises to be all we need. He is the overflowing fountain who delights to pour Himself on His creatures, and His resources never run dry. His face may be hard to find at times, but He never disregards those in Christ. Psalm 25 is an encouragement to those who are struggling to find joy in their circumstances- for the one whose soul is like desert sand. In this reflection on His goodness, God promises to be everything His people need for restoration. Whatever your spiritual state, there is something for you in this psalm...

Vv. 1-3, 21: 
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous...
May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.

God is trustworthy. We may hastily put our hope in others or material possessions to give us comfort and security, but because these things were never meant to satisfy our hearts, they ultimately will always fail us. We lift up our souls, not to governments, or savings accounts- not even to loved ones who are responsible for our earthly well-being. God alone is our trust, and none who wait for Him to act for their good will be put to shame. Through every difficulty, our confidence in Him will preserve us.

Vv. 4-5:
Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.

God is our teacher. The truth of man's salvation and hope is out of his reach if God does not first reveal it to him. He can see evidence of his Creator through what has been made, but the paths of redemption are hidden from him if God, Himself, does not make them known. The kind Teacher graciously wills to do this, though. He does not want us in darkness, but desires that we yearn to know the best of knowledge- His ways- not settling for teaching that is perishing with the rest of the world. In His Word, and through His Spirit, God provides light for the darkened mind. As He reveals the Gospel of Jesus Christ to us, we can know what our souls were made to crave, and receive from His generous hand. After gaining such delight, who wouldn't return for more, and even wait (in our day!) to gain it?

Vv. 6-7:
Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!

God is merciful and full of love. It is possible, even for the redeemed, to be weighed down by guilt, when the Gospel is set aside and (even briefly) forgotten. Former sins swiftly come to mind and attack the soul like daggers. When this happens, we feel, in our emotions, that our identity has shifted from one reconciled to God, to one judged by Him. Because our sins are so clear in our remembrance, we believe they are to God as well. We forget, that in Christ, our sins have been lifted from us and God no longer identifies us as rebels, but as His beloved children. He thinks of us according to His steadfast love, not according to the sins of our youth, or even according to our current transgressions. The death of Jesus serves as a reminder that God is for us, and because He has gone to such an extent to prove His love for us, when the waves of guilt wash over us, the truth of the Gospel pulls us back to shore.

V. 8:
Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

God is good. It is a natural human tendency to do good things for those we believe are also good- those we deem deserving. It is also a human tendency to recoil from doing good for those we believe are evil, or undeserving of our kindness. God, we are told, is the epitome of goodness, and He shows that to be so by doing the best for sinners- not leaving them in their condition, but instructing them in the way they should go. There would be nothing unjust about God if He allowed the unrighteous to continue on their path toward destruction, but out of the wealth of His own character, God freely and generously chooses to sound the alarm for their rescue, after already providing the way of their escape.

V. 9:
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.

God gives grace to the humble. This might seem to be in opposition to God's goodness toward the undeserving. Is He here only giving Himself to those with a humble spirit? Who, though, could be humble but the one who has accepted the truth of God's judgment of him as a sinner? All others resist Him in their pride, and deny that they need saving. God reaches out to steer them from their way of death, but by rejecting His offer, they choose what their hearts desire most. On this course, they make God out to be a liar, steel themselves in self-will, reject God's offer of love in Christ, and march steadily over the cliff, following so many before them. The humble, however, accept what God says about their condition as true- that they once were dead in their sins and hopeless without Him. But they also accept what God says in the Gospel as true- that in His death, Christ died for their sins; and by His resurrection, they are raised to be new creatures. Being reminded of this each day, they remain pliable- easily taught, plumbing further into the things of the Gospel, growing in humility. Here, then, God leads and teaches those who submissively desire to be led and taught.

V. 10:
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

God is faithful. We see in this verse why we should remain faithful to God's commands, even when they are hard, or when we fear the results of our obedience. God promises reward to us. When we choose Him and His ways over doubt and fear, God, who is always faithful, promises that this path will deepen our understanding of His love for us. It should not be a surprise then, when the alternative is also true- that disobedience will leave us with a lack of assurance, until the truth of the Gospel in the New Covenant is reaffirmed by repentance and faith. But when we delight in His teachings, we receive from God what satisfies us most- greater understanding of Him and His presence on the path of His leading.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Old Cross and the New Cross

There is power in the cross of Jesus Christ to save (1 Cor. 1:18-25). It needs nothing added to it to give it strength. When it is removed from our speech, our words lose what power they had for mankind's eternal bliss and his true knowledge of God. The cross will not be deemed relevant by the culture, since its message is counter-cultural. There are times when all need to be reminded of this, and trust that God, in His wisdom, has made the cross of Jesus Christ the central message of salvation. Though this was written half a century ago, it is probably more applicable now than then, and worth reading and reflecting upon:

"ALL UNANNOUNCED AND MOSTLY UNDETECTED there has come in modern times a new cross into popular evangelical circles. It is like the old cross, but different: the likenesses are superficial; the differences, fundamental. From this new cross has sprung a new philosophy of the Christian life, and from that new philosophy has come a new evangelical technique-a new type of meeting and a new kind of preaching. This new evangelism employs the same language as the old, but its content is not the same and its emphasis not as before.

The old cross would have no truck with the world. For Adam's proud flesh it meant the end of the journey. It carried into effect the sentence imposed by the law of Sinai. The new cross is not opposed to the human race; rather, it is a friendly pal and, if understood aright, it is the source of oceans of good clean fun and innocent enjoyment. It lets Adam live without interference. His life motivation is unchanged; he still lives for his own pleasure, only now he takes delight in singing choruses and watching religious movies instead of singing bawdy songs and drinking hard liquor. The accent is still on enjoyment, though the fun is now on a higher plane morally if not intellectually.

The new cross encourages a new and entirely different evangelistic approach. The evangelist does not demand abnegation of the old life before a new life can be received. He preaches not contrasts but similarities. He seeks to key into public interest by showing that Christianity makes no unpleasant demands; rather, it offers the same thing the world does, only on a higher level. Whatever the sin-mad world happens to be clamoring after at the moment is cleverly shown to be the very thing the gospel offers, only the religious product is better.

The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect. To the self-assertive it says, "Come and assert yourself for Christ." To the egotist it says, "Come and do your boasting in the Lord." To the thrill seeker it says, "Come and enjoy the thrill of Christian fellowship." The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.

The philosophy back of this kind of thing may be sincere but its sincerity does not save it from being false. It is false because it is blind. It misses completely the whole meaning of the cross.

The old cross is a symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said good-by to his friends. He was not coming back. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing; it slew all of the man, completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck cruel and hard, and when it had finished its work, the man was no more.

The race of Adam is under death sentence. There is no commutation and no escape. God cannot approve any of the fruits of sin, however innocent they may appear or beautiful to the eyes of men. God salvages the individual by liquidating him and then raising him again to newness of life.

That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of men is false to the Bible and cruel to the souls of its hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world, it intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our old life up onto a higher plane; we leave it at the cross. The corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die.

We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum.

God offers life, but not an improved old life. The life He offers is life out of death. It stands always on the far side of the cross. Whoever would possess it must pass under the rod. He must repudiate himself and concur in God's just sentence against him.

What does this mean to the individual, the condemned man who would find life in Christ Jesus? How can this theology be translated into life? Simply, he must repent and believe. He must forsake his sins and then go on to forsake himself. Let him cover nothing, defend nothing, excuse nothing. Let him not seek to make terms with God, but let him bow his head before the stroke of God's stern displeasure and acknowledge himself worthy to die.

Having done this let him gaze with simple trust upon the risen Saviour, and from Him will come life and rebirth and cleansing and power. The cross that ended the earthly life of Jesus now puts an end to the sinner; and the power that raised Christ from the dead now raises him to a new life along with Christ.

To any who may object to this or count it merely a narrow and private view of truth, let me say God has set His hallmark of approval upon this message from Paul's day to the present. Whether stated in these exact words or not, this has been the content of all preaching that has brought life and power to the world through the centuries. The mystics, the reformers, the revivalists have put their emphasis here, and signs and wonders and mighty operations of the Holy Ghost gave witness to God's approval.

Dare we, the heirs of such a legacy of power, tamper with the truth? Dare we with our stubby pencils erase the lines of the blueprint or alter the pattern shown us in the Mount? May God forbid. Let us preach the old cross and we will know the old power." (A. W. Tozer, Man, the Dwelling Place of God, 1966)

Christ bids us, "Come and die," and when we do, there we'll find life.