Plain Vanilla

“So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” (Neh 8:8).  

WE need to preach the Bible as it is, plain vanilla. Is it such a novel concept to let God speak for himself, to us from the written Word? Just to preach the scriptures without marketing, slogans and flimflam. That is why I believe God is calling out to men today to make known openly and publicly the Word of God it in its full strength. We should make it obvious that we are intentionally and unmistakably broadcasting the scriptures in our homes and from our pulpits. The scriptures ought to be perspicuous: plain to the understanding especially because of clarity and precision of presentation (Merriam Webster).  How preachers need to stop apologizing for the Bible and avoiding certain topics and take up the attitude, “What I am saying is between you and God!” with the people they pastor. God has not called us to force his words down people throats but he has called us to preach them until their hearts are under the influence of Sovereign grace and saving faith.  We also need to recognize that we deal with holy things and that we should not waste them on wild dogs and ungrateful pigs, so said Jesus Christ in Matthew 7:6. We should take the book of the covenant of God and his elect people and read it in the audience of the people (Ex. 24:7). In Nehemiah’s Day It says, “they read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage.”  (Neh. 8:9NLT). 

Christ unbolted the closed minds of men so the could understand the Older Covenant scriptures in their revelation of Him (Luke 24:25). The Holy Spirit would bring back to the Words of Christ as spoken to their minds (John 14:26; John 16:13-15). They would write these things down and give them to us in a book, “Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord. Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.” (Matt. 13:52).  The apostles wrote and proclaimed the scriptures (2 Peter 3:16). God has called men to bring out the treasures of the Word of God its silver, gold and precious gems to those who are humble, harassed and hungry for righteousness.

Only his Words are powerful enough to save the soul (Heb. 4:12). There has never been a generation more ignorant of the scriptures than today. I see in churches, among the most well meaning pastors, the methodologies of the flesh, that only have human power and cannot save. It frightens me. The tactics of manipulation, placing Divine endorsement like a stamp on the packages they sell and of course speaking of how relevant and practical these methods are, go forth like a new gospel. It is positively medieval. I would rather “fail” in my “ministry” preaching the whole of scripture and only winning a few people than preaching motivational psychology and ending up with many people who participated in a clinically tested religious laboratory experiment that is not endorsed by scripture. Why you ask? “Thus saith the Lord, “Cursed is the man and maketh the flesh his arm and whose heart departeth from the Lord.” (Jer. 17:5). As the Old hymn says, “The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own.”

Only his Word can save the soul from hell, not human tradition. Not new experiences.  People are spiritually sick because the Word is not flaunted. I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)  Paul was full of passion to warn his brethren, build them up and preach a message that if they would believe, it would assure them of their part in their eternal inheritance. Like the ground that God cursed because of Cain, we should reject the notion of being only, “engaged to the method but married to the message.” Paul tells Timothy, “thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15).  It is the scriptures that make people wise about salvation. But not the philosophy and psychology of the world.  The lost will die in their sins unless we preach the Word of God to them. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (1 Cor 1:21). This is not God calling for us to be stupid but to be uncompromising. God the Savior of all men especially those that believe (1 Tim. 4:10) is calling us away from the impotent, lifeless methods of the flesh because the world cannot know God by philosophy and psychology. They can never know God by speculation and behavioral science, only by preaching God’s Word by the power of His Spirit. Jesus made it clear to his disciples “What gives life is God’s Spirit, human power is no use at all. The words I have spoken to you bring God’s life giving Spirit.” (John 6:63TEV).

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BEHOLD YOUR GOD!

THIS is from a small portion of the Westminister Confession of Faith drawn up in 1646. A confession of faith is a teaching and assertion of beliefs based on the scripture. It is also a defense of the faith. I find that it is absolutely beautiful in its theology and expression. While many in my circles still try to reinvent the theological wheel God has given us such documents that we can draw wonderful biblical teaching.

“There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible,  without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, 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 has all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He has made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things;and has most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleases. In His sight all things are open and manifest, His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands. To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them.”

“In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.”

Sola Scriptura: Christ is the Final Word

Great BibleSola Scriptura or “the scripture alone” was not just a term born out of the Reformation but it is the heart of the gospel. If John Piper is right and “God is the Gospel” then I believe that God is The Word.  Imagine, the Apostle John breathing out the words that were breathed into him, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1 cf. 2 Tim. 3:16). 

In Genesis We see God’s presence moving like the brooding dove, and a gentle wind in the cool of the day (ruach) but when He speaks us when we know Him. How clear can Almighty God be as he inaugurates the universe with the words, “And God said…” (Gen 1:3)? He also framed or arranged the world by His Word (Heb. 11:3). God is always speaking. His Deity, eternality, power are seen in his creation (Romans 1:20) and that Creation never keeps silent: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. (Psalm 19:1-3). His words are translated into every form of known language.

You will notice the Johannine language in the way God relates to Christ. God and His Word and then Father and Son (John 1:1, 14). God and the Logos were of course, the Eternal Father and Eternal Son. The Invisible Word of God becomes the Visible Son of God. We see God speaking or “with the Word” as He declares himself intimate with his Word. God is invisible dwelling in an inaccessible light (1 Tim 6:16). He has to allow us access. he did this by faith in Christ (Romans 5:1-4). It is like a person who reveals the hidden thoughts and expression of his spirit and mind as he expresses his thoughts to us (1 Cor. 2:10-11). Without his Word we would know nothing of God except he declared him. “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18).He has revealed Him and brought Him out where He can be seen; He has interpreted Him and He has made Him known.” (AMP).

Then he identifies Himself as His Word, The Logos.  “Forever O, Lord, thy word is settled in heaven (Ps. 119:89).  Besides the scriptures the fact that scriptures were not the afterthought of God but were his intention from the beginning, God was speaking unaffected by time. God’s law, his Word, testimonies, statutes, commandments are the perfect expression of who He is (Psalm 19: 7-9). Logos to the Greek mind means definition, and reasoning, and calculation. But he is so much more to the Christian mind than an equation. The identity of the Word is God the Son. His unique identity is more than logic and thought, because while he does not contradict them, he does transcend them.  Not only does he transcend them but he alone is His Word. Obviously, these words are the direct revelation of God in the scriptures written by the finger of God (Ex 31:18). 

God’s ultimate Word in the scriptures is Christ. Christ’s testimony is in the Old Covenant (John 5:39) and the spirit of prophecy in the New Covenant is “the testimony of Jesus.” ( 19:10). Woven through the fabric of all God has written is Christ. He is the final Word. But we could ask what impressed John the most about Jesus Christ? The answer: His Words. We all know Peter’s confession of faith when faced with thought of leaving Christ. He asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68).  You would think there were be more sentimentality in his words. Such as “We love you too much to leave you, Lord.” But we see the bare truth of the matter. Going back to apostate religion with all its fleshly inventions was out of the question.  There was no other recourse in life once these men were exposed to the Words of the Son of God! They were ruined after a godly manner as far as the world was concerned. Oh that they would have that effect on us!  His words bring to worthless ruins all the man made religion we used to trust in and they bring rebirth to a new life.

Of course, the Word was more than Christ articulating vocal sounds. It is not their beauty or their sagacity. Christ spoke the truth from a perspective no one else in the universe could. His very word is by which all things consist (Col. 1:17) and the universe is upheld by his Word (Heb. 1:3). Because he is the Truth. He is the Word. The Word of God took on an existence of its own. The Word was alive, walking, talking and communicating as a human being. This is the heart of the doctrine of the incarnation. The implications of this are mind boggling at it is, but think of it! God spoke to us in the Older Covenant “at sundry times and divers manners” (Heb. 1:1) but in the New Covenant as he speaks his Word, God “tabernacles” and lives among us as the Son of God (John 1:14) who is “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.” (Hebrews 1:3). The Word personified. The Word becomes the man Christ Jesus. After that everything becomes only “a word” as compared with “the Word.”  Christ is the Final Word.

Sola Fide

Faith Alone Saves“The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb. 10:38).

The whole biblical truth of being saved by faith in Christ and by God’s grace alone thrills my entire being. It teaches that salvation, the securing of ones soul to spend eternity in heaven in the presence of God is based on faith all by itself in what Jesus the Christ did in his death, burial, resurrection, ascension and exaltation. 

Most people forget this truth flowed from the Old Testament. In Habbakuk chapter two, a prophet troubled by the terrible times in which he lived was yelling out to God for answers.  He so prayed boldly he scared himself, for he knew at any moment that he was going to hear from the awesome God so he braced himself for the answer. 

The answer came with Sovereign grace! God replied that he wanted him to write his answer in letters so large that everyone can read and make it so plain that everyone can understand it. This vision of the future may seem slow in coming but it is steady and sure  and he says this: “The just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4).  Glory to God. Others may live with their bloated self ego in religious activities not knowing where they stand for God and only basing their relationship to him on the basis of what they do for him, but the just, soul made right with God by embracing the glorious transaction that took place on the cross is made right with God and lives all their life in light of God’s promises.  The writer of Hebrews reiterates this, “For yet a little while he that shall come will come and not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them that draw back unto perdition but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.”  (Heb. 10:37-39).

They believe to the saving of the soul! We do not have to dumb down the scriptures and present the some “gospel for dummies” but, oh that we in plain large letters in our preaching would make plain the doctrine of justification by faith. This is what Martin Luther called the “wonderful exchange” that Christ took our place and became our sin and we became his righteousness. It is our hope and we cannot please God in anything that we do because we fall so short of the glory of God that salvation is unfathomable and impossible to achieve by ourselves.

But like Abraham in Genesis 15:5-6 we are told to gaze at heaven, even beyond those stars and see the infinite gap between us and God and believe his promise of salvation procured by God the Son. That we would simply trust in the God who cannot lie that heaven and eternity have been opened up to those who embrace this promise. “For the promise is unto you, and to your children and to all that are afar off, even as many as the lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:39).

Words for the Fickle

heal“Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.”  The prophet Hosea is speaking to a people that God dealt with so severely he uses words as torn and smitten.  The Contemporary English version words it bluntly, ‘he has torn us to shreds.” The Message version says “he hurt us…he hit us hard…”

People today are not used to hearing about God becoming angry at sin. The post modern Babylonians that have invaded the church with an unbiblical foreign tongue would call such a concept brutal, abusive or legalistic.  They cannot possibly understand how that anyone could be hurt or hit hard, needless torn to shreds by God. They think they have tamed God by changing the wallpaper and curtains as the market the church to the world but God remains an untamed lover of his people. The Bible clearly says, “They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger.” (Deut 32:16).

John Calvin says, “The Prophet means by these words, that God does not so punish men as to pour forth his wrath upon them for their destruction; but that he intends, on the contrary, to promote their salvation, when he is severe in punishing their sins…God has not inflicted on us deadly wounds; but he has smitten, that he might heal.” God chastisement of sin is non lethal for his own (Heb. 12:5-11). It is his purging and refining of his people. “When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.” (Isaiah 4:4). It is with this, “hot breath of fiery judgment” (NLT) that he deals with them.

Why? 

Israel has been faithless to God who is like their husband. Any husband seeing his wife and wife seeing her husband not only distracted but involved with another man or woman would be provoked to jealousy. God, “whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14) in his holiness has become like a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24) to cleanse away their unpredictable, fickle love.

God’s love always is revealed as a “covenant love.” The Hebrew word chesed (hesed) describes it as a love beyond law. It is beyond the stones given in the glorious older Covenant. That Covenant with the two copies of the Decalogue were given for God and his people and stored in the Ark of the Covenant. In the place of his throne, his heart, his presence they were stored. But now the New Covenant communicated from his heart is written on fleshly tablets of the human heart. Therefore, God is supremely devoted to his elect people and he desires them to love him supremely. He is committed to them not only to save their souls but to purify and make them holy in his sight.

God brought Eve to Adam. In the same way, Christ must present the church to himself.  He loves the church and gave himself for her. He loves her as his own body. The side of Adam was opened up to bring forth the sophisticated woman, Eve and Christ side was pierced on a bloody cross so that the water and blood to purchase our salvation!  In order for  us to be come closer to Christ He must be our Master and King. His role therefore is, “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. ” (Eph. 5:26-27).

It was the sun burned, weathered Shulamite, the woman who symbolizes the church who said, “the king hath brought me into his chambers”  (Song 1:4). She stands out like an Eliza Dolittle among the religious fashion models of the palace, and they will attempt to teach her all the right words to say and how to act. But her lover has seen a beauty beyond all the sterile, manicured looks of the daughters of Jerusalem. He loves her and he will work in her and transform her, “So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.” (Psalm 45:11). 

Have you left him for other loves? Have you substituted and replaced him with other things? You have provoked the one who gave his all for you. He has dealt with you harshly in your own eyes but our own human stubbornness must be broken by seeing the futility of a life that is lived without God. He invites you to return. His healing may not be immediate as your wounds scab over for a while but after a few days you will see that his face will shine on you and a new day will begin as you in his wholeness and love walk with him and know him more and more as the lover of your souls.