The Purpose and Practice of Marriage – Ephesians 5

marriage supper

(What is the Purpose of Marriage?   Here is a sermon I recently preached on the Purpose and Practice of Marriage.)

 

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. – Ephesians 5:22-33

 

Introduction:

A while back, a friend of mine posted a video on Facebook entitled “Dad, How Do You Like Your New IPad.” I got a pretty good laugh from it.    Let me describe it for you.  It is about a minute long clip that opens up on two adults, a daughter and her elderly dad, working on a salad in the kitchen.   The daughter asks the dad who is busy chopping up onions in the background if he likes his new iPad.   He likes it pretty well, he says.  She then asks if he has figured out how to download apps. However, just as she gets that question out of her mouth, he turns around and you can see that he is using the iPad as a cutting board.   He proceeds to scoop the onions off the iPad, rinse off the iPad in the sink and then stick it into the dish washing machine. The whole time the daughter just stands with her mouth wide open.   The dad looks at her standing mouth agape and says with a confused look of his own, “what’s the matter.”   It reminds me of when my daughter Jasmine was younger.   She is a pretty sneaky little girl. She somehow got a hold of my cell phone when I laid it down within her reach. Plop, straight into her mouth it went. She followed up that by using it like a hammer to beat on her toys.   I guess what I am trying to say is you can’t trust old people and babies with technology . . . just kidding.   What you see in these examples is that if you don’t know what a thing exists for, you will end up using it wrongly.   You may even break it.   To say it a different way, if you don’t know the purpose of a thing you will end up abusing the thing.

Marriage is an institution that so many people in our day do not understand the purpose of. If we were to take a survey among people in this room and ask what the purpose of marriage is, we would probably get back several different answers.   Our culture is so confused about marriage.   And this confusion is leading to a misuse, neglect, and abuse of what marriage is supposed to be. A few examples will show how prevalent this confusion about marriage has become.   A recent study done by the Pew Research Center has shown that after decades of declining marriage rates and changes in family structure, the share of American adults who have never been married is at a historic high. When these people are surveyed regarding the role marriage plays in society, they reflect an attitude regarding marriage that shows why these marriage rates are lowering. The Pew Research Center finds a public that is deeply divided over the role marriage plays in society. Survey respondents were asked which of the following statements came closer to their own views: Society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority, or society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children. Some 46% of adults chose the first statement, while 50% chose the second.   As marriage rates are dropping, divorce rates remain still too high. According to an Enrichment Journal article on the divorce rate in America, the divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%. The divorce rate in America for second marriage is 60%. The divorce rate in America for third marriage is 73%.   During the time that marriage rates have been dropping, support for allowing two men or two women to get married has been increasing.   In 1989, 69-79% of Americans opposed allowing homosexuals to marry.   In 2014, 59% are now in favor.   Also add in the fact that according to a USA Today story, between 1990 and 2012, the percentage of unmarried couples living together more than doubled.   NBC news reported that by the time they’re 20, 1 in 4 women ages 15 to 44 in the U.S. have lived with a man, and by the time they’re 30, that ratio climbs to 3 in 4.

What does this all mean? To summarize, more people are living together instead of committing in marriage, too many people get married who will not stay married, and too many people think that marriage is something other than what really is.   When we do not know the purpose of something, we will abuse it.   Fortunately, God has provided us with the answer so that we can know about what the purpose of marriage is.   Please turn in your Bible’s with me to Ephesians 5:22-33.   As we look at this passage today, we will be drawing out two primary points.   We will first see the purpose of marriage is to be a physical, tangible symbol and sign that shows off God’s love for His people. And next, will see how this purpose leads us to rightfully practice marriage in our homes, community, and church. The purpose will lead to the practice.

Purpose:

Let’s begin by looking at the purpose of marriage.  But before we look at the specific purpose of marriage, let’s lay down a principle that should guide us whenever we are looking at the purpose for anything.   Two passages in particular help us with this principle.   Romans 11:36 says “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” And Colossians 1:16 says “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” The principle is this: All things are created by God through Christ and find their purpose in Him. All things exist to bring God glory. God burns with a white-hot passion to make his Glory known in the entire universe. Therefore, all things both good and bad exist to give God glory. Whether it is through the display of his wrath and justice on evil or the display of his mercy, grace, and love in all goodness, all things were created for God’s glory.   You and I exist to showcase God’s glory.   Marriage also was created by God to demonstrate God‘s glory.   This is the principle behind all things.

 

With God’s glory the ultimate purpose, how does marriage complete this purpose?   There are many secondary ways marriage brings God glory. These include operating as a tool to sanctify Christians, to overcome loneliness, and to provide for the procreation of the species but marriage’s ultimate fulfillment of its Godly purpose is listed here in Ephesians 5. As we look at this passage, you see two lines of thought moving about it. There is the very real practical instruction regarding husbands and wives given here.   But underlining all of this practical instruction is a larger glorious theme. You will see throughout this passage the phrases “As to the Lord” and “As Christ. “ These phrases occur 6 times in this brief passage.   All the practical instruction in this passage is tied to these phrases. We are to obey these practical instructions because they are done “as the Lord” or “as Christ” has. Verse 31 and 32 bring into clarity what this all means. Here in these two verses we are given what marriage primarily exists to accomplish.   Marriage exists to bring God Glory by being a tangible, visible, and living picture of God’s love for His people.   Marriage is a symbol.

 

All throughout the Bible, God uses physical acts or objects to act as visible signs to represent abstract and invisible ideas.   Children often have a hard time with abstract ideas.   For example, when teaching a child to add we often use blocks or toys.   Addition using only numbers with no corresponding concrete object like finger so toes to count is a very hard concept for a child to learn.   When reading stories to children, we use books with larger colorful pictures that often pop out.   This is also one of the reasons that movies and TV shows for even many adults have become such a popular way of imparting ideals and philosophies.   A picture is equal to a thousand words.   God throughout the bible has used visible signs to represent something else.   He used the rainbow to represent his covenant promise to Noah. God uses the sacrifices in the Old Testament to point to Jesus’ sacrifice. We have other physical signs such as circumcision, Passover feasts, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism.   These all represent far greater things than just their immediate application.   We see here in Ephesians that marriage was created by God to also be a sign or symbol.

 

Marriage is a sign to all the world of God’s love for His elect people.   Paul quotes Genesis 2: 24 here to explain this.  So like Paul let’s take a quick tour through the Bible to see this picture at work.   This tour is going to be a quick fly over so we are not going to be landing on any one verse for an extended time.   There are however plenty of sources of information on these passages to help guide you in a deeper study on them.

Sit back and put your seat belt on as we take this biblical tour.   If you will look out your right side window, you will see first up on our tour of marriage in the Bible, that marriage goes all the way back to the beginning. In Genesis, God creates Adam alone.   None of the animals are a suitable helper to Adam, so God created Eve to be a companion to Adam. Genesis 2:24 describes this first marriage and how it relates to all others. This is the verse that the apostle Paul quotes:“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”   What we see in here is more than just the introduction of Adam to Eve.   We see that marriage is a gift and is itself an example of God’s love for Adam and all mankind.   Marriage from the beginning is tied up with the love of God.   Next, in Genesis 3, we have the temptation and fall of mankind.   In the fall, the marriage order is turned on its head as Eve takes the spiritual lead and Adam neglects his responsibility to lead his wife. Satan attacks marriage from the beginning. He knows it is to be a picture of God’s love so Satan attacks it. Adam and Eve fall. God gives out curses in this passage and explains that because of sin, child-birth will be harder and that marriage will also be tough. God also gives the promise though that it is through the birth of a child, in particular Jesus that all will be restored.

It is in Exodus that God rescues his people from slavery in Egypt.   God renews his covenant with descendents of Abraham at Mount Sinai by the giving of His law. This covenant ceremony is in many ways similar to a wedding ceremony.  The covenant is of course also alike a marriage.  This may be one of the reasons that in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, Marriage and family is protected strongly in 3 of the Ten Commandments. There are various laws in Deuteronomy protecting marriage, prohibiting adultery, and calling for the purity of virginity. God’s people are to abstain from sexuality immorality in part because our sexuality is to be a picture of the commitment of God’s church to be pure.  Also in Deuteronomy, we see the first indication that idolatry is like infidelity in marriage. Deuteronomy 31:16 explains to Moses that the Israelites will commit spiritual adultery.   They will break their covenant vows. Yet God will be true to his vow. This theme is picked up greatly in the later prophets.   What is certain here is that God’s love for his people is the ultimate marriage and for his people to follow other gods is for them to play the part of a prostitute.

The entire book of Ruth is a love story that beautifully showcases marriage as a picture of God’s love.   We see in the book of Ruth, God bringing into his covenant a woman who would not normally have been included. She is included by marriage. Marriage as a picture of God’s love for the nations is shown in the inclusion of this foreign woman.   Ruth of course plays a huge part in redemption history.   She is the ancestor of  David and more importantly Jesus.

In the books of Psalms and Proverbs, marriage is both praised and compared to God’s promises.   In perhaps what is the strongest example yet in our tour of the Bible is the book of Song of Songs.   This book is a poetic account of marital love, fidelity, and intimacy. The early Jewish rabbis taught that the book pictures God’s love for Israel. Early Christian writers took the same approach. One writer in the third century wrote a ten-volume commentary on Song of Solomon, telling how the book describes God’s love for Christians.

Finishing up the Old Testament, we come to the prophets.   It is here we that God’s love for his people and his people’s commitment or lack of commitment is compared to a bride and groom.   Isaiah 49:18 speaks of God clothing his people like a bride. Isaiah 61 continues this message of God clothing his people with beauty, dignity, and love like a bride.   Isaiah 62 includes this beautiful passage:

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
2 The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel also make frequent use of this comparison.   Chapter 16 of Ezekiel is lengthy but in beautifully poetic terms it says that even though we have all went after false Gods and committed spiritual adultery, God is a loving groom that calls us back to Him.   God calls people from among all the nations to be His. He will cleanse their sin and make them pure as a virgin bride.

Hosea the prophet makes this point even more clear because God uses Hosea’s life and marriage to deliver this point. Hosea is told by God to marry a woman who will cheat on him and get herself sold into sex slavery. Hosea though loves his unfaithful wife and buys her back from prostitution. God uses this living picture to show that God loves and redeems sinners through Christ.

The Old Testament is clear. God’s love for us is compared to marriage.  Entering into the New Testament we are again greeted with this picture.   Jesus’ first public miracle is at a wedding. He institutes his blessing on the wedding and begins his ministry celebrating marriage.   Jesus also over and over refers to himself as the Bridegroom. He points the Old Testament promises of God to save his people and to love them. Jesus uses this marriage them all throughout his ministry and sermons.    Jesus is the ultimate groom who lays down his life to love his bride. Finally in Revelation of  we are told of the marriage supper of the Lamb.   It is His second coming that Jesus’ union with his people, the Church will be completed and celebrated.

And this concludes our tour of the Bible and we arrive back to our passage in Ephesians 5 now after having gone through the entire Bible.   We have seen that marriage is used extensively as a picture of God’s love for his people. We see this fully illustrated in the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ for his people.   This lines up exactly with what Ephesians 5 says.   In fact, Ephesians 5 goes a step further. God’s love is not just compared to marriage but true marriage here is compared to God’s love. That is the reason that God’s love throughout the bible is compared to marriage is because marriage itself is supposed to be a display God’s love.   Marriage exists to be a picture that we can witness in our lives and the lives others.   Marriage shows us the love of God for his people.     This is the primary mission of marriage.

We see in this passage that Jesus does 6 things for His bride, the Church.  Verse 25, Jesus loves His bride. He gives himself sacrificially also in verse 25. He sanctifies and makes pure the church  in verse 26. He presents her to the Father proudly in verse 27. Finally in verse 29, Christ nourishes and cherishes the church. This is that amazing grace and amazing love we sing about. This is what our marriages are meant to be and meant to point to.

If Marriage’s purpose is to point us to the love of God in Jesus, then knowing this will inform our understanding of the practice of marriage.   Again, the picture shows us the practice.

The Practice of Marriage:

 There are several things that knowing the purpose of marriage will lead us to understand.   We now know that marriage is about more than just romantic feelings.   It is a picture of self-sacrifice and commitment.   Marriage is also exclusive, that is it is only between one man and one woman. Today this part is under attack  in our country.   Marriage however is only between two people of the opposite sex.   It is the union of a bride and a husband, not a husband and husband. Nor is it mean to between three or more people.   Marriage is clearly defined in the bible this way both in the Old and New Testament.

Two objections are usually given here. The first objection is to say that Jesus himself did not forbid homosexuality or homosexual marriage.     This objection really misunderstands the nature of scripture and overlooks what Jesus does say about marriage. The argument that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality presumes that the rest of scripture are not the words of Christ. Jesus and the Holy Spirit co-exist in the Godhead and have been in perfect and eternal communion from eternity past. It is Holy Spirit – God Himself – who inspired all of the Bible, including epistles like Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy where homosexuality is addressed. Secondly, as already mentioned on our tour the Bible, Jesus in the Gospels does address marriage frequently.   He points to the same passage in Genesis that Paul uses here in Ephesians to say that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The second objection regarding marriage that some people make is to point to those in the Old Testament who had more than one wife.   To answer this objection we must be able to differentiate between prescriptive and descriptive texts.   For example when we go to a doctor with an illness, the doctor first diagnoses and describes our sickness to us.   He then proceeds to prescribe for us a medicine to cure the sickness.   Descriptive texts in the Bible merely describe the way things were.   They are not necessarily commandments or even models for us to follow.   The Bible describes a lot of things.   The Bible does not sugar coat things either. It describes the Old Testament kings and prophets, warts and all.   Prescriptive texts on the other hands are commands for us to follow.   We see that marriage in the Bible time was under attack just as today.   God warns the people that if they marry many wives they will face many bad consequences.   And often the Bible describes how this disobedience and distortion of marriage leads to the downfall of many great people including King Solomon.

The Bible is clear that marriage is between one man and one woman for life.   It is a permanent institution that is to endure during the life of the bride and groom. Malachi 2:16 says that divorce is violence.   Marriage is established by God and what God establishes should not be broken by man.   We do not have time to go into all of the teachings on divorce today but needless to say, divorce is never a good thing.

Because marriage is a picture of God’s love, it is fitting that marriage occurs all around the world.   People from all nations marry.  All nations are able to see this picture of God’s love.   Marriage as an institution is not just limited to Christians though its message is decisively Christen.   Christians however should seek to only marry believers. Single Christians should not become unequally yoked with a non-Christian.   Charles Spurgeon says this “When husbands and wives are well yoked, how light their load becomes!”   This is so true.

            Because Marriage exists from the beginning,  it is not primarily or even secondarily a political institution. The government’s involvement should only be limited to acknowledging what God has already declared marriage to be.   No Senate, House of representative, President or Supreme Court can change what marriage is.   They can try all they like but calling something marriage that can not be marriage does not change what is not marriage into marriage.  It is not up to popular vote.   Nations, politicians, and voters who seek to challenge God’s definition will ultimately face judgment for their distortion of God’s picture.

And lastly and as personal application for us today, our marriages as Christians should reflect the love of Christ. This love will reflect to our spouses and from there the world will see displayed in our marriages God’s grace. This points us to the very practical instruction in these verses.   This instruction is commanded by our Lord but has gone out of vogue in our current times.

We see from this practical instruction that because marriage is a picture of Jesus’ love for His church, husbands are love their wives sacrificially overlooking weaknesses and imperfections.   Just ask Jesus laid down his life for the Church, husbands are called to sacrificial love.   Just as Jesus sanctifies and makes the Church pure, husbands are watch out for their wives purity. They are to protect their wives spiritual life.   Husbands and men, this means first putting away all sexual immorality and lust from your own lives. You cannot protect the purity of your family and wife if you are looking at pornography in your private time.   Nothing will kill a marriage quicker than sexual immorality.   And the sad fact is that there are men who go to church every week yet go home and look websites that distort the beauty of the sexuality that God has given us to use within the confines of marriage.   Men or women if you are caught up in this destructive behavior there is hope, forgiveness, and cleanliness in Christ.   Repent and put your faith in Him. You also need to seek help by contacting other godly men if you are man or other godly women if you are a woman.  To repeat, husbands you are to guard the purity of your wife.  This means that husbands also lead their wives to follow Christ.   Husbands are to be the spiritual leader in their home.   You wife should not have to drag your butt out of bed on Sunday morning to get you to go to  church. You are the one who should be leading your wife and your family into a closer relationship with Christ.

Wives you are called submit to the loving leadership of your husbands. Just as the church submits to Christ, you are to follow your husband’s leadership. Submission is not welcome in our current culture but yet it is what God calls you to.   This is not a weakness as many may think. Christ himself is an example of submission. The night that he would be arrested and crucified, Jesus while gathered with the twelve disciples washed his disciples’ feet.   The Bible says He did this knowing full well that He was the king of the universe.   Jesus was also able to submit to the will of His father because he was motivated out a love for Him. Wives out of love for the Father and for your husband, you can submit to your husband knowing that you are the daughter of the King.

Wives and husbands pray for each other.   Wives and husbands keep the marriage bed undefiled. Wives and Husbands lead their children.   In all of this, we display to the world and to each other the love of God.

 

Conclusion:

So in conclusion all of this points us back to the savior who is full of grace and mercy, a savior who bought his bride at a great price, a bride who often plays the part of a prostitute  caught in adultery.   The church is made up of people who do not deserve the love of God yet he willfully sacrificed all for their sake.   Marvel at the love of this Savior.   Charles Wesley wrote a hymn that perfectly recounts his love

“And can it be that I should gain An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain— For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”     That is the picture that marriage is meant to be. May we all submit to that love and may all of our marriages beautifully display that picture.

 

Teach Them Well (Deut 6:4-7)

(The following is a sermon that I recently preached at Irvington Baptist Church and Westmoreland Baptist Church)

chalkboard

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”- Deuteronomy 6: 4-7

 

I have a confession to make, I love watching documentary movies.   It’s nerdy I know but I love them.  My wife and I have Netflix and it has a ton of them.  I like to watch documentaries on about anything: War, history, food, politics, dinosaurs, or grass growing. You can film someone putting up wall paper, get Morgan Freeman to narrate it and I will want to watch it. I’ve tried to show my wife a few but they often just put her to sleep.   Anyways, the other day I was on Netflix and came across this documentary called “Hitler’s Children.”   So I watched it.   It was one of the most powerful documentaries that I have ever seen.  It has occupied my thoughts for several weeks now.  Now you may know, Adolf Hitler did not actually have any children of his own.   He only got married a couple of days before his death; however, some of his closest companions did have families and children. This documentary focuses on five people who are the descendents of those Nazis. One such person is the grandson of Rudolf Hoess, the commander of a concentration camp.   As I watched the documentary, I saw five people trying to come to grips with the legacy that their parents or grandparents left them, each of them  enslaved to an overwhelming guilt of being associated with those horrible Nazis.   They want to love their parents as any child would but yet are horrified at the things their parents did.   After watching this film, I was just overwhelmed with thoughts about how our lives affect those around us. And now as I stand here at the beginning of this sermon with you, I am reminded of the impact of that movie: “Your legacy matters.”  The things we do matter to the next generation, to our children and those around us.   Just as these Nazi’s left a legacy to their children that will haunt them their entire lives, we too leave a legacy behind.   With that in mind, I want to preach to you a message from God’s word regarding the type of legacy God would have us leave.

What verses or passages come to mind when you think of the great passages of the Bible? What bible stories stick out in your mind? You might think of John 3:16, The Great Commission, “Judge Not”, The Ten Commandments or even Genesis 1:1, “In the Beginning.”   We believe all of the Bible to be God-breathed and useful for correction and reproach but even in the church there are some passages that we know more than others.   I want us to look at one such passage in the Old Testament that for the nation of Israel and even for Jewish people today is the passage that would stick out in their minds.  The Jews call this passage in Deuteronomy the “Shema Israel”.   It gets that name because the first two words of these verses in Hebrew are ,you guessed it, “Shema Israel.”   For Jews, this passage is one that they remember from childhood. This is their version of John 3:16. This would be the first verses that they teach their children. Even today if you were to go to a synagogue on any given Sabbath you will hear this passage recited.   It is of extreme importance to them.   A Jewish boy or girl would be taught these verses and would read them every night in what is called the “Bedtime Shema.”   They would also be taught that these words should be the last on their lips as they die.   In 2006, Roi Klein a major in the IDF, said the Shema before jumping on a live grenade to save his fellow soldiers. So as you can tell this passage is important.   In fact it is important not only for ethnic Jews but for us as well.   Jesus was once asked what the most important commandment of God is and he recited this passage.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

A little background information to this passage will be helpful as we dig in. You will remember how the Israelites had been enslaved to Egypt and how God had inflicted the plagues on Pharaoh  The Israelites led by Moses crossed the red sea on dry ground and were heading to the promise land.   They, however, refused to trust God and thus he swore that they would wander for 40 years in the desert.   So for 40 years, the Children of God wondered the desert instead of entering the promised land.   Moses who had led them faithfully for 40 years was nearing his death so in the book of Deuteronomy, He recounts to the Israelites who would be entering the Promised Land the Law that God had given them at Mount Sinai.     In Chapter 5, Moses tells how God had appeared to the Israelites in the dark clouds over Mount Sinai and had given them the Ten Commandments. Chapter 6  is the capstone or summary of all of the ten commandments and beginning of the exposition of the law to follow. With that in mind, we see four things from this passage.   1. Who God is  2. What God commands. 3.  What God fulfills 4. and How we respond.

The first thing mentioned here is “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”     Everything begins with originates from and gets validity at their source which is God.   Thus we begin looking at God.  God in this passage starts by identifying himself.   It is God who reveals himself to us. God is the one who defines who God is. And the very first thing He mentions is that He is Lord. This is something we have forgotten or lost in our current culture. We have sometimes rush so quickly to “Jesus is a Friend of Mine” that we forgot the Holiness, the otherness, the supreme-ness, the Kingship of God.

We must have a right understanding of God as he reveals himself to us before we can ever get to the awesome good news of the Gospel. And while the cross and Jesus’ death on it are the central part of the Gospel, we must first, however, have a right view of God before we ever get to the cross.   God is creator of everything.   The 2nd London Baptist Confession gives an excellent summary of how God reveals himself in the Bible.  It says :

“The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.”

 

God is Holy.   And He is Creator. And it is He and He alone who decides the purpose for our lives and the way that we should live. The creation never gets to say to the creator what its purpose will be. That comes from God. God’s holiness also explains how he is also unable to be around sin and imperfection.

2Samuel 7:22 says “Wherefore thou art great, O LORD God: for there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears.”

C.S. Lewis wrote a series of books called Chronicles of Narnia. Some of you may have read them or seen the movies but in them, Aslan the creator is a lion.   This lion represents God in the world of Narnia. Recurring over and over again in the book is this phrase about Aslan: “ He is not a tame lion.”   We need to remind ourselves this about God: We have not and cannot tame Him either. All throughout the Old Testament we are given pictures of the awesome wonder and power of God.   Many times it is scary. In fact, King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that the beginning of knowledge is the Fear of God.  

We need to reclaim the fear of the Lord. When we come to worship God we are to have a reverence for God. We are entering the presence of the Holy God who created everything and who holds the power over life and death. I like how John Piper talks about Worship and how it fuels missions:  “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. “

Worship then is the ultimate reason we exist.   We should seek to present to God our very best. We should not come flippantly into worship as if this time is just the hour before lunch.
There is another documentary called “Grizzly Man.”   It was about a guy named Timothy Treadwell. He had a strange fascination with Grizzly Bears.  He went to Alaska each summer and lived in a tent right out in the wilderness next to the bears.   Over the course of several years, he began to name the bears.  He even would pet the bears and get on all fours and walk around with the bears.   As Timothy came to know and care for these bears, he forgot one important thing; they are bears.   He became too comfortable with them and lost track of the fact he was human and they were bears.   Things didn’t end well for Timothy because one summer both he and his girlfriend were killed by a grizzly bear.
We need now more than ever to remember that we are not humans and that God is God. And God burns with an infinite passion to declare and uphold the glory of His Name.   This passage begins with the declaration that God is Lord.

If I left you here, we would miss something for important.   The passage says the Lord “OUR” God.   While God is holy and perfect. He is personal. He is good and can be known.   He is not a grizzly bear that may lash out irrationally in the heat of the moment.   This untame God has created us for the purpose of knowing and enjoying Him forever. He created us for His glory.   The Westminster Catechism asks this question about man “What is the chief end of man?”   The answer given is this” To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” That fact the Lord is Our God makes this possible.    God receiving glory and our enjoyment go hand in hand.   John Piper again says this famously, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” God is personal and we can know him.   He is not just some being out there in the nebula of space but is closer than any brother.

This verse also reveals to us that God alone is God.   God is one. 1Ch 17:20 says O LORD, there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears.

In the New Testament 1 Corinthians 8:6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

There is only one God and He exists eternally in three persons, The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit.   We sing his praise every week.  Sometimes we sing a song that says “Glory Be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.”     This Trinity God is the only God. As the first of the 10 commandments say we are to have no other God before Him.

Theology or the study or thinking about God is important and vital for us as Christians and for this church. Theology is not just left to your pastor. Each of you are theologians in some way or another.     In fact every person is a theologian in the sense that they have think about God. You will either have thoughts about God that either conform to what God says about himself or you will follow some other god.  Many people get caught up listening and following all kinds of different voices. There are plenty of people with nice personalities who may have charisma and speak words eloquently.   However none of those traits are worth a hill of beans if the person does not have a right understanding of God and his word.

This brings us to the second point.   God commands:   Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Jesus was asked what was the most important command and he answered Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

 What is love? Baby Don’t Hurt Me No More.   You can’t turn on the radio without hearing a song about LOVE.   The Beatles sang “All We Need is Love.  Elvis couldn’t help falling love.   The Righteous Brothers lost that Lovin Feelin.  Stevie Wonder was a Part time Lover. In today’s world, Love is often nothing more than a song. In our culture it is definitely is only a feeling. And as all feelings go, Love can to.   Maybe when we think of love, we think of all butterflies in the stomach and knots in the throat we got in middle school.  We were all shook up.   But as Tina Turner sang “What’s Love got to do with it?”   So What is love? Like Foreigner sings “I wanna know what Love is”   We need to rethink Love.   It’s more than a radio jingle and more than roses and flowers.

One contemporary Christian song describes God’s love this way “ God’s loves like a Hurricane and I am the tree.”

But here we are commanded to love God.   We don’t often think of being commanded to love.   But here it is, a commandment to love.   Love then must be more than these feelings. It must be a conscious determination to make the object of your love more important than yourself.   We are to love God with our Hearts:

This is the seat of our emotions so feelings do play a part. And when we think of God and his holiness and what he has done for us it does move us to love him with our hearts. It is not however only a part of our heart that God wants.   He wants the entire thing. No looking back as Sodom with love in our hearts for the idols there like Lots wife. No this love takes our entire heart.

It takes our Heart and Soul.  But what does it mean to love with our soul. We might summarize loving God with our soul as Greg Simas does:

“We love the Lord with all our soul by living a life of faithfulness to all that the Lord has required of us. While loving the Lord with all our heart has to do with affection, loving the Lord with all our soul has to do with devotion. The soul literally is the part of us that defines who we are. The essence of the biblical definition for soul means life, personality, the inner self and our identity. It’s where we make our decisions and choices that ultimately decide our lifestyle and behavior. Think of the soul as the “core you”. To love the Lord with all your soul means to love Him in the way we live, in the choices we make and in the behavior and lifestyle we adopt.”

Next we are to love God with our  Mind:   I think this is most of the neglected parts of this commandment today. There are several components to intellectual love for God. 1. Dedicating our minds to knowing him. 2 Thinking clearly and truly about him so that we don’t have false ideas in our minds.

We can only love God with our minds if we use them.   We need to be in his word reading it daily.   There are many false teachers out in this world. Loving God with our mind means testing the teaching we hear and seeing if it truly is from God.   We can only do that if we know our Bibles.   Did you guys know that before you got here this morning that I got on a ladder and painted the word gullible on the ceiling.   How many of you looked up?   We can’t be gullible.   Not every person claiming to speak for God does.   There are preachers who will tell you what you want to hear and may say things that sound nice but they distort the scriptures for financial gain.   You can turn on the tv and see some of them with large smiles and big wallets ready to take you for a ride.   I don’t want to name names but they might rhyme with Foel Bosteen and Royce Fryers.   Stay away from them.   Open your Bible and turn them off.   Loving the Lord your God with your mind means engaging your brain.

And the final component of love is our strength.   Some translations put it as resources.   I think that is a fair translation. To love the Lord God with our strength is to love him with our resources. It is to love God with our time and the things that we have.

The biblical definition of love according to Voddie Baucham  is that love is an act of the will (it’s a choice) accompanied (not led) by emotion that leads to action (it’s proved by our efforts) on behalf of its object.

This is the great commandment. And it’s a commandment. Sometimes we treat God’s commands like great suggestions. We read a command in the Bible from God and think, “Alright God, I’ll take it under advisement.”   We hear sermons and then leave thinking that what we heard was optional.   God’s commandments are not optional. They require our obedience.   This commandment to love God with everything requires our obedience.

When this command was first given Mt. Sinai, Moses was on the way down the mountain with the great tablets of stone that God had written with his own finger and the Israelites were already worshipping a god made out of their own hands.  Again when Moses writes this down in Deuteronomy, the ink could not have even dried on the paper before the Israelites broke the commandment.  It’s like the bride stopping off on the way from the wedding to the reception for a fling with another lover.

There is more bad news as we read this commandment because the truth is that we disobey it. From birth, we want to be god.   Like our fore-parents Adam and Eve we reject God. One of my favorite rappers Shai Linne writes about our rebellion this way:

“So why do the nations rage and all of the peoples plot in vain?
Their sin and offense is against His excellence and they’re not ashamed
As though He’s lacking the power to shackle them now in the hottest flames
And so they cock and aim- the target? His cosmic reign
That’s like a kid with a super soaker trying to conquer Spain!
Man thinks he’s a pugilist, trying to ball up his puny fist
At the LORD, who is ruling this
What’s amusing is God just laughs, like “Who is this”?
Stupid kids who persist in foolishness
It’s only by God’s power you exist
Now you declare war on the LORD
When before you were born, He formed you in the uterus?”

The Bible says there is not one who loves God not one.  Yet, here we are stuck with a commandment we don’t obey and the punishment for this commandment is Hell.   We deserve God’s wrath and judgment.

God fulfills this commandment. But there was one who did complete this.  His name is Jesus.   It was the greatest commandment. He lived it, breathed it, and died with it on his mind. Jesus fulfilled this commandment because we couldn’t    He obeyed God’s law and lived a Holy life free from sin. Yet ,He chose to take our sin and punishment upon himself and die. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that God made Jesus to be sin even though he did not sin, so that we might become righteous.   He did this as 1st Peter 3:18 says by suffering in our place so that we might be forgiven by God.   The prophet Isaiah prophesied that this would take place years before Jesus would come. Isaiah said “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Jesus however not only died but defeated death by rising from dead.   Jesus did this so that we might have a right relationship with God and this demands a response.

Our response to the good news that Jesus died for our sins is to turn from our sins and to put our faith in Jesus. Romans 10:9 says it this way, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”   We realize the evil in our hearts and the rebellion that we have against God’s commands. We then throw ourselves at His mercy and accept the gift of salvation that is offered in Jesus.   We respond to the Gospel by faith. This is not a blind faith but a trust in the reliability of Jesus.   We can trust Jesus because he loves us and because He rose from the dead. When we trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, God places on us the righteousness that Jesus earned and removes the guilt and shame of our rebellion and sin. , Paul wrote that when someone trusts in Jesus, they become a new creation.  They are forgiven and will have eternal life. Jesus said in John 5:24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”      God then writes on the heart of the new creation his law.

While we were dead in our sins and rebellion to God there was no way for us to keep the Shema. We would not and could not obey this command because of the enslavement to sin.   Yet when we place our trust in Christ and repent of sins, this is a sign of the change in our heart that God has done.   And when God changes our heart in salvation, we can now return to this commandment with gladness.   It is no longer a burden but is something that the repentant heart, soul, mind, and strength will want to do.

We can keep this commandment because God made a way for us to do it. Maybe Elvis wasn’t too far off when he sang that he couldn’t help fall in love. When you have been saved by Christ, you can’t help but love God.   It will be imperfectly done in this lifetime but God will work in you to bring you to completion.

I want to ask you to examine yourself.   Can you see in your own life a desire to love God with all that you are? Do you see in yourself a desire to obey God’s commands? Do you still have places in your heart where you hold onto rebellion? Repent and turn to God.

 

Finally this passage ends with an example of the outworking of our response.   This example is one of the first ways we love God with everything we have.   This part of the passage has become my personal mission statement as a student minister and father.

 

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise

 

I want to encourage you that this command is part of the previous. Loving the Lord means you will teach your children and those around you to love him as well.   It is a way of life. Not something that can be done on Sunday and Wednesday Nights alone. It is not something that you can outsource to a youth pastor or a children’s church worker.   You as parents and church members are commanded to teach these things to those around you especially your children.   We see from this passage that it is to happen all day every day in everything we do.   When we sit around the house, when we go out for a drive, when we lay down at night and when we wake up in the morning, we are to be constantly teaching and speaking about the love and commandments of God.

I want to share with you some statistics:According to researchers, between 70 and 88 percent of Christian teens are leaving the church by their second year in college.  That’s right, modern American Christianity has a failure rate somewhere around eight (almost nine) out of ten when it comes to raising children who continue in the faith.

Over the past several years a number of researchers have discovered that the overwhelming majority of our teenagers who still attend church and identify themselves as Christians have belief systems that mitigate their claims. Researcher George Barna, for example, discovered that 85 percent of “born again teens” do not believe in the existence of absolute truth.”

From the same study George Barna comes to this conclusion:

” Our research suggests that religious congregations are losing out to school and the media for the time and attention of youth. When it comes to the formation of the lives of youth, viewed sociologically, faith communities typically get a very small seat at the end of the table for a very limited period of time. The youth-formation table is dominated structurally by more powerful and vocal actors. Hence . . . most teens know details about television characters and pop stars, but many are quite vague about Moses and Jesus . . . Many parents also clearly prioritize homework and sports over church or youth group attendance.”

Youth are not leaving the church because the games are not cool enough.   Youth are not falling into the world because we didn’t serve the right pizza.   We are losing this generation because we have neglected to keep this commandment. We send our children to the enemy for 8 to 10 hours a day to be educated and don’t live out a life of God’s love before them the rest of the day and then take them to church on Sunday for 2 hours and expect that to be enough.

The Bible here and elsewhere gives Parents, not the student minister, not the church workers, not the nursery workers, not the schools but the Parents and in particular the fathers the responsibility to teach their children the commandments of God and to raise them to be followers of Christ.

Related research among church goers, however, revealed that a majority of parents do not spend any time during a typical week discussing religious matters or studying religious materials with their children. . . . About two out of three parents of children 12 or younger attend religious services at least once a month and generally take their children with them. . . . The survey data indicate that parents generally rely upon their church to do all of the religious training their children will receive.

However, Parents are the primary teachers in their children’s lives, even if they don’t know it. Some parents are better teachers than others, but every parent is a teacher when it comes to the children with whom he or she shares a home. Parents are the primary disciple-makers, every ministry should exist to support but never to replace the parents’ role. A key objective for this entire church must be to equip and support parents in making their homes ministry centers for the spiritual growth of their children.

Voddie Baucham says “A family without a commitment to the God of the Bible has no hope of stemming the tide of cultural onslaught. If we mix a little biblical truth, a little secular psychology, a little romance novel ideology, and a little eastern mysticism, we will get a deadly mixture of lies. Unfortunately, this is exactly what many Christian families do. We do marriage according to Dr. Phil, raise our children according to Dr. Spock, govern our sex lives according to Dr. Ruth, and only run to Dr. Jesus when things have gotten so bad we can’t find another doctor to help us.”

You cannot read the bible without getting the vision from God that parents and families are important.   You will also see in our culture that families are under attack.  Fathers and husbands are called by God from the very beginning in Genesis through the Old Testament and right into the New Testament to be the servant leaders and biblical leaders in their home.  This fact has been under attack since the beginning.   Since the beginning men have abandoned this role.   When Eve ate the fruit and sinned, the bible makes it pretty clear that Adam was standing right there and did nothing about it. In fact , the bible places the responsibility of sin on Adam the man.   Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned”   Men the bible holds you accountable for how your families turn out.   You have the spiritual responsibility and no one else.   I do not have time to go through all the verses and there are a ton of verse s about male headship to point this out but you can begin in Ephesians.

My point is this- fathers and men, you are called to lead your families and to love them like Jesus which is sacrificial with great gentleness and strength. Many men must move from merely bringing their families to church to embracing their God-ordained role as their families’ spiritual shepherd and mentor.

 

Women and mothers you are called to come along side your husband and to also be responsible in raising your children in the nurture of the Lord.   Look at proverbs 31 to get a picture of what a strong woman who willfully submits to the godly leadership of her husband while raising children that are pleasing to God looks like.We are to be teaching our children all day. It’s when you are at home, when you are on the road, when you walk by the way.

 

“What you do for God beyond your home will not typically be greater than what you practice with God within your home.” – G. Wishall.

Teaching your children happens every day and all day long. You teach with your words and actions.   What is important to you will be important to your children.

I want to give you one practical thing that my wife and I begun when Jasmine was born and has become the highlight of my day. Every night about an hour before bed, we get the girls ready for bed and sit down with them in the living room. I as a father read the Bible passage for the evening. We then sing songs with our girls. Some of them are silly children songs but others are hymns and worship songs.   We then pray together. This time is precious to me. It is refreshing and it is amazing to see Jasmine learn these songs.   I want to encourage you whether you have children or not, to start this practice with whoever is in your household

This may be a completely foreign concept to some of you. It may take some getting used to.  So many parents think they don’t have enough Bible knowledge to teach their children. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you can read, you can teach your children God’s Word. All you have to do is stay a step ahead of them. Don’t be afraid. God has given you everything you need to do this. You don’t have to be a seminary-trained theologian to read the Bible and talk about what it means. Besides, God would not have given you the responsibility unless He knew you could handle.

Regarding Family Worship, parents, you have the responsibility to carry this out. Fathers and men, again the bible places it squarely on your manly shoulders.   Don’t neglect to lead your family and this church family in worship. Do not let worship and music be the domain of woman only.   There are boys in this church that need you men to step up and be an example of Jesus.   Men should be some of the loudest singers and worshipers we have. Women and mothers, don’t let your husband’s neglect this responsibility.   And when they take responsibility follow them into worship of Jesus.   Girls and young women need adult women to lead them into loving the Lord.

Finally, The world’s limited view of life says that the most important thing we can teach our children to do is get good grades, go to a good college, get out of school, and get a good job so they can make more money than their mom and dad did.

“Being a member of an organized traveling baseball squad at age ten doesn’t add a single day to one’s life. In fact, many of these activities get in the way of much loftier pursuits. If I teach my son to keep his eye on the ball but fail to teach him to keep his eyes on Christ, I have failed as a father. We must refuse to allow trivial, temporal pursuits to interfere with the main thing. Making the team is a tremendous achievement; however, it must be put in its proper perspective. No sports endeavor will ever be as important as becoming a man or woman of God.” -  Voddie Baucham

It all comes down to a simple question: Why are we here? Does your family exist to prepare children for the NBA? If so, then basketball will be the center of our family’s universe, and everything will bow to the whims and wishes of the basketball god. Does your family exist to produce little pop culture icons? If so, then our family must revolve around the social calendars of our overloaded teenagers and their hectic schedules. However, if your family exists to love God then we can not allow anything to interfere with our commitment to family worship, prayer, and Bible study.

  

Today we have looked at who God is, what He commands, how he fulfills and how we are to respond. How will you respond?   Will you join me and making this passage one of your life’s goals?

Hitler’s Children: The Sins of the fathers

‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’                                                               -Numbers 14:18

 

HitlersChildren

I have always been interested in history and have read quite a lot on World War II.  For some reason other another, perhaps because the war happened years before my birth, I had never given much thought about any one who would be related to the Nazi leaders being alive today.  That was until the  other day when on netflix, I stumbled across a documentary entitled “Hitler’s Children.” The documentary focuses on five descendants of some of Hitler’s closest accomplices.  This film is emotionally gripping in so many ways.   As I watched it I could not help but be moved as these people struggled with the desire to love their parents or grandparents as is natural for anyone and the hatred of all that these same parents, grandparents, and uncles had done.   One such lady,Monika Hertwig,  tells about when a viewing of “Schindler’s List”  she came to the complete realization of the monstrosity of her father, Amon Goeth.  She had a panic attack while in the theater and felt like she was going to die if it got any worse.

While watching the film, I could not help but think about several themes from the Bible.    God’s Word has a way of dealing with the intense needs of our world.  There are two themes in particular that I want to pull out from the Bible that kept flooding into my mind as I watched this documentary

1.  The first theme I thought of was how we are all under the shame of our ancestors and share in this guilt.  In the beginning, when our first ancestors began a cosmic rebellion to their Creator’s authority and sovereignty by disobeying His command, they began a projection of guilt and sin that carries on to this day.  They believed a lie and this lie gave root and bore fruit in all the sin and shame that fills our world.   We are all born in this sin.   Psalm 51:5 states that we all come into the world as sinners: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”  The horrors of the Nazi atrocities did not just begin in the 20th century but they were born all those years earlier in the garden when Adam and Eve decided that they knew better than God what was right and what was wrong.   The sins of our father Adam then are replayed and repaid through out all generations.   Alas that anyone would claim not fair that they should share in this guilt, Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned.”    It is not as if you or I had been the one in the garden we would have done in any better.   We would have then done the same thing.    We are guilty.   God is just, Numbers 14:18.     I think this is part of the reason we recoil so much at the Nazis.   We watch as a whole nation of people are sucked into an evil philosophy and wonder how they could have allowed themselves to become that way.  The truth is that if not for the grace and restraining power of God, our hearts in our natural state are capable of doing unspeakable horror.

2.  Watching this documentary, I also could not help but be reminded that while we are effected by the sin of others and we do have real guilt in our sin,  the good news is God has made a way to remove that shame and guilt.  We are not our parents.   We do not have to bare the shame of Adam.   We do not have to continue the path of destruction that came before us.    One particular scene in film that moved me was when the grandson of Rudolf Hoess traveled to the concentration camp where his grandfather had been commander.   While there you could see the pain on this grandson’s face and the shame he carried.   He was invited to speak to some young Jewish teenagers who were also taking a tour through the camp.  They were curious why he was there and some were bothered by his presence.   It was an elderly man, a Jewish survivor of the camp, who changed the entire scene.  He walked up to the grandson of the man who had tortured him and shook his hand.   This holocaust survivor looked him in the face and said to him, “You didn’t do it.  It was not you who did this.”    There was a certain relief that filled this descendent of the Nazi.   You could see in the weight lifted right off of him.     This scene from the documentary while emotional is a small picture of something more grand.

“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”                                      – Ezekial 18:19-20

What Ezekiel wrote in the above passage gives a sense of relief.  The guilt of our ancestors does not have to carry on with us.   The children do not have to remain in punishment for the sins of their fathers.  If only they will live in righteousness.    But that is the problem isn’t it.   The above passage only gives hope to those who live in righteousness.   But we know this, that we are not righteous.  It brings us no hope.    However there was one who did live righteously.   His name is Jesus.   He lived without sin.  He did not deserve death but instead should never have suffered.   However, for our sake, Jesus was made to be the unrighteous.   Jesus took upon himself the same shame, guilt, and sin that pervades our world.   He took it upon himself so that we may be forgiven.   “ For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22

Jesus did that for us and he calls us to repent of our sins and to put our complete trust in Him.   He did it out of love for the unlovable.   One day for those who have been saved, who repent and put their faith in Christ,  we will stand in front of the Father and when we think of the sin and shame that we deserve He will say to us,”You did not do it.”    He will say that because the sin we committed was placed on Jesus and in its place we carry the righteousness of Christ.   The cycle of guilt and shame has been broken.   The guilt of the fathers and sins of the sons of those saved by Christ are no more.

 

As I finished the film, I prayed for these five people that they may find the beauty of the gospel.

” For my father and my mother have forsaken me,but the Lord will take me in.” Psalm 27:10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessed Assurance

blessed-assurance_t
What if a church member came up to you  and shared that they were doubting their salvation or were wanting to be assured that they were saved?  Other than scripture, one tool that I would use would be to walk through what the 2nd London Baptist Confession has to say about assurance. Using this tool, I would begin and end by pointing to the gospel as the only message that has the power to save and give assurance.

Following along the format of the 2nd London Baptist Confession which you can read in full here , I would first let this person know that assurance is a real and true thing. We can have assurance of our salvation and that it is a good thing to have. Article 1 on the chapter of assurance in the Confession states: “. . .yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.”
Knowing this, I would then try to probe with questions to see if the person is able to articulate the gospel. Jesus is the one that saves and therefore we must place our complete trust in what He did on the cross, in his resurrection, and what He does in us. The gospel is the foundation of assurance. There can be no assurance where the person has not experienced the life changing power of the gospel.

Secondly, I would point out that there are basically three ways that God gives us assurance. The primary way is by staying focused on the object of our faith. This once again comes back to the Gospel. We do not save ourselves; salvation is the work of God. This means that we can be assured because God has promised salvation to those who have repented and put their trust in Jesus. The second means of assurance is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Bible says that “the Holy Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the Children of God.(Romans 8:16)” The Holy Spirit does this by convicting us of sin and moving us to good works. We also have the internal witness that our faith is truly in Christ. The third means is related to the second in that the Spirit moves us to bear fruit(Galatians 5:22-23). We should examine our lives and be able to see where we have been changed by Christ. Do we desire righteousness more than sin? Are we growing in maturity and in the love of Christ for the things that Christ loves? Our works do not save us but they are the result of salvation. If we do not see these fruits than that may be cause for concern.

Thirdly, I would point out that we may at times lose not our salvation but our assurance. Grievous sin in our life can cause the Spirit of assurance to leave us. Christians will not remain in sin but we can fall into it at times. Sin can cause our hearts to lose the assurance we once had. We should repent and turn from this sin(Psalm 51:12). Sometimes, however, God may withhold assurance to cause us to seek after Him. He does not do this out of spite but out of love so as to motivate us to thirst for Him. God however will never leave us completely alone. And with much diligence and searching, God rewards us with the object of our search, Himself.
Assurance then should be sought after and cherished. Jesus must be the focus of our faith. He is the one we trust in, not a prayer that we have prayed or a walk down an aisle. We can only have assurance of salvation if we have truly repented and placed our faith in Jesus.  Then we can be assured:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels, descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

 

How to become a Christian? The Gospel in Four Words

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The Gospel can be stated using four words: God, Man, Jesus, Response. Let me unpack each of those words briefly and you will understand the Gospel and how to become a Christian.

God: It all begins with God. The Bible in its first verse (Genesis 1:1) says that “In the beginning, God created. . .” God is the author of life and creator of everything we see. He is not only creator but owner of everything. Job 41:11b says” Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” Because God is creator and owner, He determines the purpose of everything and everyone. God is also Holy and commands us to be Holy. Leviticus 19:2 God created us to be Holy and to live in relationship with Him. The word “Holy” has a lot of meaning but it essentially means that we are to be pure and free from evil. This leads us to the second of the four words.
Man: Mankind was created by God and thus are His. God revealed to Man how they should obey him. God’s commands can be summarized in two commands: Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. People however since the creation have not obeyed. Beginning with Adam and Eve people have rejected God’s ownership and commands. The Bible says that we have all sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Sin is disobedience to God. Sin also separates us from God. Isaiah 59:2 says “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Since God is the source of life and all that is good; separation from him leads to destruction and evil. The Bible says what we earn with our sin is death. (Romans 6:23). If you look around at the world or watch the news you can see the effects of sin everywhere. But the effects of sin don’t only affect our life in this world, Sin also will be judged by God. Just as everyone will die, they also will be judged after death. (Hebrews 9:27). Everyone has sinned and has lived in rebellion against God. This punishment is a terrifying thing because God is a just and holy God who cannot and will not allow sin to go unpunished. God however also loves, which leads us to the next of the four words.
Jesus: God loves us and thus wanted to make a way to both punish sin and forgive us. God decided to take the punishment sin upon himself in our place by sending His Son, Jesus to live and die on the cross (John 3:16, Romans 5:8) Jesus was born, God in the flesh. He obeyed God’s law and lived a Holy life free from sin. Yet ,He chose to take our sin and punishment upon himself and die. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that God made Jesus to be sin even though he did not sin, so that we might become righteous. He did this as 1st Peter 3:18 says by suffering in our place so that we might be forgiven by God. The prophet Isaiah prophesized that this would take place years before Jesus would come. Isaiah said “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Jesus however not only died but defeated death by rising from dead. Jesus did this so that we might have a right relationship with God and this demands a response.
Response: Our response to the good news that Jesus died for our sins is to turn from our sins and to put our faith in Jesus. Romans 10:9 says it this way, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” We realize the evil in our hearts and the rebellion that we have against God’s commands. We then throw ourselves at His mercy and accept the gift of salvation that is offered in Jesus. Becoming a Christian is not about trying to do more good things but is about trusting in what Jesus has already done in our place. We respond to the Gospel by faith. This is not a blind faith but a trust in the reliability of Jesus. We can trust Jesus because he loves us and because he did rise from the dead. When we trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, God places on us the righteousness that Jesus earned and removes the guilt and shame of our rebellion and sin. One of Jesus’s followers, Paul wrote that when someone trusts in Jesus, they become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). They are forgiven and will have eternal life. Jesus said in John 5:24. “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”
How does one become a Christian? Admit that you are a sinner deserving of judgment. Believe in your heart in what Jesus did on the cross. Confess and make Jesus Lord of your life.

If you have responded to the Gospel today, send me a message and I would love to follow-up with you.

Is the OT God immoral?

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A friend of mine and I were having a discussion about the existence of God on facebook.  And we came to the issue of the moral argument for God.    Without posting our entire discussion I will post a  comment of mine followed by his response.

My Facebook post:  I have to also say something to my friend’s denial of the moral argument. Facebook friend stated “As for the Objective Moral Values and Duties, there is no such thing as objective moral values. There are only subjective moral values. If they were objective, they would be universal to every man, woman, and child on the planet. They are not. Therefore, false.”There are several problems with your critique. First of all you misunderstand what Objective means. To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. It is to say this morality is universally binding on everyone whether they believe it or not. And if you argue that there are no such things then you must then be arguing for subjectivity. But there are objective morals. I can give you one. It is wrong no matter who you are or where you live whether you believe it or not to sexually abuse a 2 year old. This is objectively wrong and evil. If you are going to deny objective morality then you have to be open to the possibility that somewhere sexually molesting a 2 year old might be right. Ultimately you would have no grounds for objecting to anyone who would molest a 2 year old other than to say that it is wrong for you but it might be right for them.. No reasonable person would accept this. The reasonable man knows in his heart that there are objective morals even if he may not know all of them.

Now here is his response:

Ok, I’ve thought about it for awhile, and I will now try to present my argument. First of all, I want to say that I would love if not only child rape, but all rape was universally immoral. Unfortunately, not only in our culture in the USA, but all around the world, rape of women is somewhat acceptable. In the USA, we have a ridiculously high rate of blaming the victim or not even believing the victim. In other parts of the world, the victim is completely blamed and often times put to death. Now if morals are objective and created by God, then what is God’s (not Jesus in the New Testament) stance on rape? Here is Deuteronomy 21:10-14,”When you go out to war against your enemies and the LORD, your God, delivers them into your hand, so that you take captives, if you see a comely woman among the captives and become so enamored of her that you wish to have her as wife, you may take her home to your house. But before she may live there, she must shave her head and pare her nails and lay aside her captive’s garb. After she has mourned her father and mother for a full month, you may have relations with her, and you shall be her husband and she shall be your wife. However, if later on you lose your liking for her, you shall give her her freedom, if she wishes it; but you shall not sell her or enslave her, since she was married to you under compulsion.” While one can argue that this constitutes a marriage by God, it is still rape, and it is ordered by God. This isn’t even the worst part. There are Bible verses that claim God tells Israeli soldiers when they conquer places to throw babies off the city walls. How is that moral? This may be the Old Testament, but Christians still claim this is the inspired and perfect Word of God. Well, at one point in history, your God condoned and ordered both rape and child murder. These are not moral values you have now, and these are not moral values I have. They are your Objective Moral Values and Duties, though, since they are God’s Word and Law. Isn’t that where you said Objective Morals come from? I can’t accept the morals of a god that orders baby murder.

Because his question is a good one, I want to give it a fair response.  Therefore this blog post will serve as that response.

I want to begin by first restating what I mean by objective morals. Objectivity means that it does not depend on human opinion or knowledge. It is simply valid and binding, regardless of human opinion. This means that the objective morals are not dependent upon public opinion or popularity. We also need to be careful to understand what “objective “ does not mean. One of my favorite Christian thinkers William Lane Craig describes objectivity as opposed to absolute:

“The reason I think it preferable to talk about objective moral values and duties rather than absolute moral values and duties can best be seen by considering their opposites. The opposite of “objective” is “subjective.” The opposite of “absolute” is “relative.” Now very little reflection is needed to see that “relative” does not mean “subjective.” Just because one’s moral duties are relative to one’s circumstances doesn’t in any way imply that they are subjective, that there is not an objectively right or wrong thing to do in such a situation.”

He goes on to say :

“Absolute” means “regardless of the circumstances.” “Relative” means “varying with the circumstances.” We can agree, for example, that it is not absolutely wrong to kill another person. In some circumstances killing another person may be morally justified and even obligatory. To affirm that one’s moral duty varies with the circumstances is not to say that we have no objective moral duties to fulfill.

This distinction is important to remember for the moral argument as evidence for God.

Now having said that I want to get into your objection. If I may summarize your objection I think you are saying (correct me if I am wrong) that if there are objective morals then it seems contradictory for God to be commanding the destruction of a people or nation. You would say that God himself is being immoral here. Now the first and easiest way to dismiss your argument would be to say that if you don’t believe in objective morality than you have no real case for saying that God commits an immoral act. Since morality is subjective, you have no real grounds to object to anything. Which is why in my post above I pointed out that you do not have grounds to say that child molestation is wrong.  In a way your question betrays your spoken belief in subjective morality.

However, I think it would be fairer to you to say that your objection about God commanding certain things is that they may seem to go against objective morality. It would seem to be an internal contradiction to Christianity and thus based upon the coherence theory of truth,  Christianity doesn’t hold up.  This is where I want to devote the rest of my time.

I will not be addressing specifically your issue of rape and the legal code for punishment and protection of women. Instead I will just give you a link to a source that I think deals well with that issue.  The link to that article gives a fair  look at the issue from both a Christian and Jewish perspective. However, while i will not be addressing that issue specifically, what I have to say will still cover it in principle.

This leads us to what I believe to be the core of your argument. It has been called the Moral Monster argument and is often used by the likes of Richard Dawkins.  We need build a solid foundation to work with when dealing with this issue. Therefore, I want to go through the Old Testament and pull out some things we can learn from it about God. This section of my argument will also address the idea that the OT God is different from the NT God. I know you didn’t bring up that objection but I might as well kill a couple of birds with one stone.

The first thing we learn from the Old Testament is that God is the creator and lawgiver.  It is because God created everything that He has the right to do with His creation as He pleases and to command of it what He pleases. At first glance that could be a scary thing especially if God is this moral monster as Dawkins likes to accuse him of being. However,  we learn from the Old Testament  that the commands of God issue from Him as a reflection on his character. What does the character of God look like from the Old Testament?

Well, the OT points out that God is good. His goodness causes Him to create good things.  In the much maligned first book of the Bible, God says of his creation, Gen. 1:31, “that it is good.” God’s creation not only showcases his awesome power but it also showcases his love for people. Psalm 8 says it like this :

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

I don’t know about you but I find it pretty amazing that the God who created the entire universe of unimaginable scope and measure still thinks of mankind as a special creation. He gives us dominion over His creation. Because of his love for us, he gave mankind such an awesome responsibility. The OT continues on describing the love of God. Here are just a handful of the verses that speak of God’s love:


The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Ex 34:6-7) “Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD. (Jer 31:20)

I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul. (Jer 32:40-41)

The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” (Hos 3:1)

The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.
(Ps 145:14-17)

He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
(Ps 146:7-9)

In particular, God’s love and concern for people who are disadvantaged is frequently mentioned throughout the OT. The law contained several rules for treating orphans, widows and foreigners fairly and providing for their needs (e.g. Dt 24:10-22).

But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
you consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless…
You hear, O LORD , the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.
(Ps 10:14, 17-18)

Craig says, “You can’t read the Old Testament prophets without a sense of God’s profound care for the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the orphaned, and so on. God demands just laws and just rulers.”

God is love but there is also another aspect of God. He is just. In fact, his love demands that he be just. He must punish evil. But even in his justice he is merciful. We see in the OT that He literally pleads with people to repent of their unjust ways that He might not judge them. “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ez. 33.11).

The story of Jonah is a story of God’s mercy upon a wicked and evil people. God sent Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh that He would punish their evil ways. Jonah didn’t want to go because He knew if the people repented God would spare them.

God’s judgement is anything but whimsical or arbitrary. When God announces to Abraham his intention to destroy Sodom, God is willing to spare the cities for the sake of righteous people.

“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18.25).


One last verse will suffice to showcase God’s patience and desire to withhold judgment. This verse comes four hundred years before the verses that you pointed out regarding God’s commands to Israel to wipe-out the Canaanites.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. . . . And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites [one of the Canaanite clans] is not yet complete” (Gen. 15. 13, 16).

This verse shows that God was patient with the people of Canaan and that He would not let Abraham destroy them because of his patience. But the verse also projects forward to a day when the sin or iniquity of these people would be so full that God would punish them.

To summarize all of the above, God as creator is loving, merciful, patient, and just.

This justice then is at the root of the question at hand. Gregory Koukl says this :”Those who are quick to object that God isn’t doing enough about evil in the world (“A good God wouldn’t let that happen”) are often equally quick to complain when God puts his foot down (“A loving God would never send anyone to Hell”).”

In the end of time, God will settle the ultimate judgment.  God often judges people and nations here on earth in the present and in the past. God uses several means to carry out this temporal judgement:

  1. He uses natural disasters and other natural means. In the OT we have the flood, the plagues on Egypt,  horde of locusts, famines and ect.
  2. God uses people.  In particular, he gives government the responsibility to punish evil here on earth. God may use people who act righteously but he also uses people who act out of evil intents. God used the Assyrians and the Persian kings to punish the people of Israel. These kings were pagan and evil and often acted out of evil motives yet God uses them to seek punishment on the people of Israel for idolatry. God also promises to punish the Assyrians and Persians for their evil motives.

There is one other foundation that we must look at before we finally put all this together into an answer. That is the fact that every person born is sinful. This means we are all deserving of punishment. The fact that any person is given another breath of life is because of the absolute mercy of God. William Lane Craig says this “since God is the highest Good, we have a moral obligation to love and worship Him, and He would be evil if He did not care whether people fulfill their moral obligations or not.” This means that when we refuse to worship him or obey him we are rejecting the highest good.  A  just God, a good God would care about that.
Now  lets  put all that together and see where we stand. God is loving, good, merciful, patient, and just. People are sinful deserving of punishment. God passes over a lot of suffering but his patience does not last forever. He then will punish people. He warns people. He gives them time and then he punishes those who did not heed the warning. This is what happened with  the Canaanites. In fact we see this pattern again and again in the OT.  Robin Schumaker describes the pattern :

1. God declares an annihilation form of judgment to stamp out a cancer.

2 .The judgments are for public recognition of extreme sin.

3.  Judgment is preceded by warning and/or long periods of exposure to the truth and time to repent.

4.  Any and all ‘innocent’ adults are given a way of escape with their families; sometimes all given a way to avoid judgment via repentance or leaving a particular region. It should also be noted that expulsion from a land was the most common judgment, not extermination. This pattern goes all the way back to the ejection of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen. 3:24).

5.  Someone is almost always saved (redeemed) from the evil culture.

6.  The judgment of God falls.

What do we know about the Canaanites. They were evil. They would often attack the rear of the Israelite’s caravan where the poor, sick, eldery and children were located . Deut. 25:17-19  These same nations and tribes were rampant with child sacrifice to pagan idols, homosexuality, prostitution as a religion, bestiality, theft, and murder. God put up with this for 400 years before finally commanding the Israelites to wipe them off the map and out of the land. But before this God told the people to warn the local tribes and nations of this judgment.

So this brings us right up to your objection. Is God being objectively immoral in commanding the slaughter of a group of people including their children? The answer is firmly no. I have explained that God has the right to do with his creation as he wishes. God also is loving and merciful and patient. God also gives a warning of judgment and time to repent. God then acts upon his judgment.
Schumaker further addresses this aspect in regard to the children :

“First, the typical Israeli rules of engagement included a warning and declaration period of the coming, impeding war. Women, children, the elderly, and others who wished could easily flee far ahead of the fully announced military attack. Only those who (or whose parents) stubbornly remained would face war and its outcome.Second, in the case of Amalek, it has already been shown that the entire culture had been corrupted by the sin of the adults. From the perspective of eternity, there was no hope for any child who was left behind. Scripture implies that young children who die go to be with the Lord (cf. 2 Sam. 12:23), so while some children may have been killed in war, they were ultimately saved by God from becoming what their parents were.Last, socially and physically, the fate of children throughout history has always rested with their parents, whether they were in good hands (in the case of Noah) or bad (Amalek). The actions of the parents were the final determinant in the temporal/earthly well-being of the children.”

I feel the weight of your objection in this matter and I would agree that if any human were to command the slaughter of a group of people then that human would be wrong.  We even have a phrase that we say when people do this thing.  We say that “they are playing God.”   They are playing God because ultimately life and death are God’s prerogative.   No human has the perfect knowledge or wisdom of God, so if the Israelites acted apart from a divine command then they would be wrong.

But God does have perfect knowledge.  Traditionally we have divided this knowledge into categories.   God has a perfect knowledge of the present.  This means that he knows ever minute detail with complete understanding of its cause and purpose.   God knows all of the facts in the present condition.  But God’s knowledge doesn’t stop with the present.  It goes backwards into history but also forward. This is often called God’s foreknowledge.  This means God knows everything that will come to pass exactly as it will come to pass.   A third category is what we call middle knowledge.  This is a knowledge of all possible worlds and all possible outcomes.  This means God knows every possible outcome of every possible decision or action in the universe.   God’s present knowledge, fore knowledge, and middle knowledge means that God has a complete picture of all things.    It is this knowledge along with a perfect wisdom that understands what to do with the knowledge that gives God the ability and the right to determine life and death.  It gives God the right to issue forth the command to the Israelites to kill the people of Canaan.

Now I have tried to address your objection. I think that far from being a problem for the idea of objective morality, God’s judgment is just and underlines not only the existence of objective morality but the seriousness of it too.

I lastly want to put this into the larger context of the Bible and to explain why these stories are in the Bible.  I think this will ultimately give a small glimpse of another reason why God would issue this command then and why it would not be appropriate today.   Christians often described how the Bible came together as “progressive revelation“.  This means that unlike Muslims which believe the Koran was revealed at once, the Bible was written over a period of years by many different authors.   I think this characteristic alone speaks volumes for how awesome the Bible is.  One of the last great presidents of Princeton, Charles Hodge described progressive revelation this way, ” What at first is only obscurely intimated is gradually unfolded in subsequent parts of the sacred volume, until the truth is revealed in its fulness.”    This means that God revealed his truth to humans through the course of history leading up the time of Jesus in which the revelation would reach its completion.   God did this because Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection are really the focal point of history and the entire Bible.

God revealed this truth first to Adam and Eve in only a small way after they sinned.    This occurred in Gen 3:15 and is called the protoevangelium.  This verse reveals that one day the child of woman would one day destroy the serpent.   When Adam and Eve sinned, God put into motion the plan to redeem mankind from its sin.   The Bible would then progressively reveal the unfolding of this plan.   God would make promises to Noah and then Abraham.   Theses promises would foretell of a day when a messiah would come from the offspring of Abraham to save the people from their sins.   This leads us up to the nation of Israel.   The nation of Israel was to be the nation and people group that Jesus would come from.  God intended for these people to remain separate and to be committed to Him.  Thus many of the Old Testament laws are set up to maintain this distinction from the other pagan nations.   This explains the dietary and ceremonial requirements of the Israelites.   This also explains why the Bible has legal code meant for the nation of Israel including the verses protecting conquered women from rape that you posted about above.   Finally because it is because of God’s promise and commitment to send Jesus to be the savior for the entire world that God strictly commands exact obedience to the Israelites.  It is to preserve his promise and commitment.  This is another reason on top of the one mentioned above for why God would command the Israelites to remove from Canaan the pagan people there.   God knew that those people would either try to destroy the Israelites(and they did try) or that they would bring the people of Israel to accept sinful and evil practices.  Ultimately it is for the sake of our salvation that God worked in the way that He did.

I am aware however that his answer may not be satisfactory for you. I will add this objection is not a problem for me because I trust that character of God. I know that his judgments are just and good. I also know that ultimately I am just a creation lacking the perfect knowledge or wisdom of God. Therefor there are decisions of God that I may not like but I know that as his word says that all things work to good for those who trust him. This trust I think is completely founded in evidence.  I also think that the Cosmological argument along with the fine tuning argument, the moral argument, the ontological argument, the evidence for the resurrection, and the evidence from the lives of Christians throughout history including my own are more than enough to prove the existence of God and to give me basis for my faith.

The following sources also may provide a little more help with this issue:

Rational Christianity

Carm
Reasonable Faith.org
The Blaze

Is God Immoral for Killing Children

Is Yahweh a Moral Monster

You will also notice that throughout the blog post I have included links to give articles and other sources that also provide valuable insight.

Jesus Never Ducked the Truth (Thoughts on Duck Dynasty and Mark Driscoll)

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As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say. Luke 11:53-54

  People often think of Jesus as a mild-mannered man not wanting to offend anyone.   Luke in chapter 11 tells  a different story.   Jesus had been invited to dine at the home of a pharisee.  The pharisees were the leading religious and political figures of the Jewish day.     An invite to a pharisee’s house was as Joe Biden might say a “big deal.” Jesus wasted no time getting to the point during his visit.  He poignantly called out the pharisee and his guests for their sins.  His honest words rang like insults in the ears of his hearers.  “Fools, white washed tombs,  hypocrites, and brood of vipers” where some of the words that Jesus had for the pharisees and scribes.  Today we might say Jesus was a bit uncouth.   He was frank and to the point.   It’s hard to imagine how you might feel if your invited dinner guest begin to compare you to a murderer before the food had even had a chance to settle in your stomach.   Talk about indigestion.  Yet Jesus loved these people.  It was his love for them and their followers that motivated him to call out their sin.   

And then as Jesus left that dinner party, the pharisees plotted their revenge.  They were constantly on look out waiting for the opportune time when Jesus would slip up and say something.   They were like a rookie journalist hoping to make his big break by catching Jesus with a hot mic saying something under his breath.    Jesus was wise to their game though.   Yet, He would still answer their questions with the truth.   I imagine that every time that Jesus answered one of their questions in a way they didn’t expect, it would leave them jaw-dropped and infuriated.  He continued to call  sinners to repent while lovingly warning them of hell.   The pharisees eventually had enough and  conspired to kill Jesus.  

So if the pharisees treated Jesus this way, how shall his followers expect to be treated.   Jesus explained what to expect in John 15:18-25

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

It’s simple, if the world hated Jesus then they will hate his followers.   The way they treated Jesus is the way they will treat us.  This has been evident throughout the history of Christianity.   From its struggle  under the Roman rule to present day in places like Syria and China, Christians have been and are still persecuted for their faith.

In America where I write from, Christians have enjoyed a great amount of freedom.   However, it does seem like that freedom is under attack.   Which brings us back around to the first passage.   The pharisees watched and waited for Jesus to slip up.  They also asked him questions hoping to provoke an answer.  Two recent cases provide excellent examples of Luke 11:53,54.    

The news explodes yesterday that after an interview and profile in GQ magazine, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame was going to be suspended from the hit show.    What was his crime?   When asked about his opinion on homosexuality, he gave it.   Some of have said that his response was a bit uncouth while GLAAD cried that he was offensive and hateful.   Phil Robertson paraphrased from the Bible while listing what he thought were sins. This included homosexuality, adultery, bestiality, and drunkenness.  A&E, the television network that Duck Dynasty airs on, under pressure from gay organizations put out a statement saying they were going to suspend Phil from the show indefinitely.   Then came the media storm.  Everyone and their brother has an opinion on the situation.  There have been several good posts from some leading Christian thinkers on the situation.  Dr. Albert Mohler of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in a blog piece entitled “You Have Been Warned”, came to the conclusion:

So the controversy over Duck Dynasty sends a clear signal to anyone who has anything to risk in public life: Say nothing about the sinfulness of homosexual acts or risk sure and certain destruction by the revolutionaries of the new morality. You have been warned.

Anyone who had watched the show or knows anything about the Robertson family knows that they are conservative Christians.  It should have been no shock to anyone that Phil Robertson would think that homosexuality is wrong.  And yet here we are.   It is sad that in America with its rich history influenced and shaped by great Christian thinkers like John Locke, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield, that paraphrasing the Bible would be considered a public offense.   To be fair A&E has every right to broadcast who they want or to not broadcast who they want.   However, the day may be coming that speaking out against homosexuality will be considered a hate crime.

Returning to the scripture, its easy to see how the world when it is confronted with Christians living a godly life will not like it.   Just as the pharisees plotted against Jesus for speaking out against sin, the world will do the same to us.   You can also be sure that the world will be waiting and watching for Phil Robertson and family to slip up. 

Which brings us to another lesser known but still widely blogged about story.  A pastor that I have often enjoyed hearing preach through podcasts and the like, Mark Driscoll was caught in a “scandal.”   Driscoll is pastor of Mars Hill church in Seattle.  He is also a popular author and speaker somewhat controversial for his uncouth style and directness. (I personally appreciate his directness and willingness to tackle tough questions)   He went on a radio show back in November expecting to discuss his newest book.   While on the radio, the host accused Mark of plagiarism.  The blogosphere exploded when more accusations of plagiarism followed after the radio show.    Because of Mark’s bold stance against homosexuality, feminism, and biblical manhood, it seems like many came out of the woodwork to attack him.  After a month-long investigation into plagiarism by Tyndale House Publishing, they released a statement.   The initial accusation by the radio host was considered unfounded as Driscoll had properly cited in his book the source of his argument.   However, it was found that an internal publication for Mars Hill had mistakenly left out a citation in some sermon notes.   Mark also released a statement publicly apologizing for the mistake and promising to correct it.  In reality, the whole thing was blown way out of proportion.   I appreciated Mark’s willingness to own up to a mistake but this was not the big scandal that some were making it out to be.   Instead it looked to be as if some were once again looking for Driscoll to trip up and fall.

Both stories are slightly different with different lessons to learn.   In one, Driscoll did make a mistake.  I think his story serves as a warning that when Christians speak boldly upon anything, there will be plenty of others looking to take them down.   It means that Christians have to live above reproach.   We also like Driscoll  must be willing to own up to mistakes and work to correct them.  Christians are not perfect and nor will they be until Christ’s return.   Christians  need to be willing to accept apologies and to give grace especially over innocent mistakes. We need to be graceful to fellow Christians when they fall.  We also need to be willing to show that same grace and mercy to everyone around us.

The Duck Dynasty story goes to show that ultimately it is not the fact that Christians are imperfect that the culture finds offensive but it is the message of Christianity that they can not stand.   The world doesn’t need for someone to make mistakes to try to destroy them.  This culture is increasingly becoming offended by the Bible message.   While the verdict is out on whether Duck Dynasty will continue as a show with or without Phil, the time is coming and is here when anyone who speaks out about sin will be considered a bigot and hateful.   The world will be waiting like the Pharisees waited for Jesus to say something offensive.   Like Jesus, we must not be afraid to speak the uncouth and politically-incorrect truth.  In a culture where the only sin is to say that there is sin, the Christian message is going to be offensive.  Christians in America will have to learn to live with courage, speaking the truth in love