Tag Archives: Worship

Echoes of an Empty Tomb

Echoes of an Empty Tomb
by Tad Pruitt (@tadcpruitt)

An echo starts then fades away
While dawn begins a dreaded day.
A thought perhaps that three days on
Will bring more hope than three days gone.

She rises, tired, restless, sad.
All seems lost, as if a fad
Deemed useless now to all with reason,
Faded faith, a worn-out season.

Hoping not to hope as past
But just to share a moment last
With lifeless, shrouded, silent friend
Who’s life less sounded Law, but End.

Less Law, but what? The echo rang
Around inside her heart and brain,
But came confused with curse and fears,
Drowned out by questions, sobs and tears.

Down the path to hated tomb
She walked and murmured funeral tune
And prayer, for death and Rome had taken,
Tortured, pierced and left forsaken

Her good friend, her healer, teacher,
Prophet, shepherd—more than preacher.
Echoes of Hosanna ringing,
Then replaced with chains and clinging

Blood-soaked tunic, jeers and jibes
From those so easily turned by bribes
Of peace or order, power kept
If under rug The Way was swept.

For dangerous, disruptive was
The Way, the Teacher’s sacred cause.
It seemed to tear apart the Law—
The life religious all now saw.

And what then? Echoed words from wise,
Both skeptics, guards from false-taught lies,
And seekers, wandering, wanting still,
But wondering how Law’s void to fill?

But she cared not for thoughts so lofty,
Philosophical while softly
Near the cave she came so sure
That death was final, hope no cure.

And what of sin? What did He say?
It had not died that skull-cross day.
Or so it seemed at this dark hour
New day dawning bitter, sour.

But at the tomb a thing not right
Filled her with dread. This horror might
Get worse! “Dear God, I could not bear,”
She thought, “if desecration paired

With death.” The stone so massive moved,
Unsealed the grave, unlocked and shoved
Aside by forces greater than
The guards could muster or demand.

So now unguarded was the trail
That led to final lifeless tale.
Now all had left, abandoned him
Who came to join those cursed by sin.

But wait, where is he? There’s no bone
Inside that shroud now left alone,
Abandoned as like chains put down
And walls now echoed different sound.

It was a voice, a face so glowing
Speaking what her heart was knowing,
That he was not here, not now,
Nor ever more; and more, ’bout how

Death could not keep him in that grave.
His life had lived to ransom, save,
Secure and station at His side
In Father’s love—for that he died!

She knew it! Surely he had come
Not just to teach, then die or run
From what we needed most of all,
A cure from sin and warped wrong call.

But his life in exchange for yours
And mine and hers. An open door
To any who will call his name
As Savior, Chosen One Who came.

Now echoed from that tomb her cries
Of marvel at His sacrifice
And songs of praise and thanks resounded
From the stone the slab surrounded

Out into the sun she bolted,
Hope renewed, despair revolted
From, as those she rushed to tell
Came all to mourn their friend who fell.

“He is not dead! He lives, I’m sure!”
She said three times because they were
So stunned. “Her grief has made her mad,”
They first thought, til she visaged glad.

And as she spoke His words came back
To mind and heart, and now unpacked,
Now understood, the Good News clear
And what he said made sense to hear.

For grace now echoed from the tomb,
And gospel filled that hopeless room,
And all believed or soon would see
The Law fulfilled on alter’s tree.

And echo of the lifted curse,
It rang throughout the universe,
And rings today in Easter’s bells
For all to hear and all to tell

The Good News that his power to save
Is yours; it’s mine! But more, He gave
In grace, sustaining, changing might,
Not ours, but His! Because the fight

Was won that day as Jesus rose
From death to life. And so it goes,
The echo of that empty tomb
Is grace for all, our new found tune.

Yes, Christ is risen from the dead
For sinless life he crowned his head
And Church is made His chosen bride
Sing loudly, Church! His grace is life!

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The Power to Change

“You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV)

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14 ESV)

Often times, in our Christian experience, we believe that morality is the goal of our faith.  It is relatively easy to define, there are many scriptures that reinforce that we should live moral lives and we are able to accomplish morality by being disciplined; in short, morality is measurable.  We can produce morality on our own which should scare us!  There are plenty of non Christians who are very moral (far more so than I am):  they don’t cheat, steal or lie, they are benevolent, faithful to their spouses, and kind to others.  These are good things, right?  YES, they are!  Morality can be easily defined, and sometimes produced, by a list of things “to do” and things not “to do.”  We like lists because they put us in control.

Morality is not, however, the goal of the Christian life – holiness is the goal of the Christian life.  Morality doesn’t require Jesus, but holiness is built entirely upon Jesus.  Far too many have settled in to a Christless Christianity.  If morality is the target then we look to ourselves and our own power to produce it, and when we do we become very self-righteous.  Those who have a hard time producing morality are looked down on because they aren’t strong enough, disciplined enough or don’t measure up.  So should we not be moral people?  No, we should be!  But morality is not the aim.  When our target is holiness then we are driven to Christ in despair because we know that we are not holy as He is – and as we are commanded to be.  When we aim for holiness, morality is produced as a byproduct.  One is built upon us and our own efforts and one is built upon Jesus and the work He did for us.

Morality focuses on behavior and the consequences associated with our behaviors; holiness focuses on the heart’s motivations and the power of God to transform our hearts of stone.  Should we not be concerned with our external behaviors, should we just live however we want?  NO!  But we all know that managing behavior, suppressing our feelings or just trying to take our thoughts captive never results in true and lasting transformation.  Our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are indicators of what we really believe down deep in our hearts – in our gut!  It is so hard to change because the root of our sin runs very deep and we seldom do the work that is required to unearth what we are really believing so we become content with just replacing our sinful thoughts, feelings and behaviors with less offensive ones. This is why Jesus said that our work is to believe (john 6:29).  So let us learn to do the painful and difficult work of excavating the false beliefs that are driving our sinful thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Beliefs -> Thoughts -> Feelings -> Behaviors.
Our beliefs lead to our thoughts which lead to our feelings which lead to our behaviors.  Most people who attend church are pretty good at managing external behaviors because we know what is acceptable and what is not and we really want people to think highly of us.  So we become content with not swearing, sleeping around, drinking too much and trying our best to stay out of the ditch of the really “bad sins.”  We aren’t overly concerned that our hearts are filled with anger, impatience, angst, lust, jealousy or discontent.  All we are really doing is replacing “unacceptable” external behaviors with more “acceptable” ones like self-righteousness, self-reliance and self-control.  Managing behaviors is rooted in self.  If we are really honest, we’d far rather deal with the self-righteous elder brother’s life than we would deal with the egregiously sinful life of the younger brother (Luke 15:11-32).  This is because the consequences of the elder brother’s self righteous behavior is not as disruptive to our lives as the consequences to the younger brother’s sinful life.  Despite the fact that the younger brother is the one in the parable – and normally the one in real life – that understands his need for grace.  We prefer good behavior over contrite hearts.

Our feelings are underneath our behaviors and they are far more difficult for us to manage.  They come on like a wave and can be overwhelming.  Feelings of angst, impatience, lust, covetousness, jealousy, inadequacy, guilt, shame and discontent – just to name a few.  Who hasn’t resolved to be more patient only to find themselves stuck behind a intolerably slow driver or picking the slowest check out line at the grocery store?  Most won’t scream out the window at the driver ahead of them to “hurry up,” or yell at the clerk at the store to “put a move on it!”  This is because we have learned to manage our external behaviors, but the feeling of impatience (and probably growing angst) is overwhelming and nearly impossible to manage.  We don’t know what to do with these feelings so we try our best to ignore them or shove them down.  This is not the biblical way to handle our feelings.  Instead of suppressing them, we should follow them – all the way to the root belief that is producing them.  This takes time, energy and dependent surrender upon a good and gracious God to do this.

Instead, we resolve to change how we think; we resolve that we should take every thought captive to obedience to Christ (and we should 2 Corinthians 10:5) and we resolve to think on excellent things instead of those things which stir up our anger, lust, jealousy and impatience (Philippians 4:8).  So how’s that working for you?  We all know the answer to that question!  Resolving to think differently does not work because your thoughts are a byproduct of your beliefs – you are closer to your beliefs, but attempting to just change the way that you think is a frustrating and unfruitful endeavor.  We must follow our sinful thoughts to their roots of unbelief in the heart.

Just because you didn’t kill someone, didn’t steal something or didn’t honk at the driver in front of you doesn’t mean that you are free.  And make no mistake, Jesus came to set you free (John 6:36; Romans 6:7, 18, 20, Galatians 5:1).  Angry hearts aren’t free hearts, lust filled hearts aren’t free hearts, impatient hearts aren’t free hearts.  Therefore, we must learn to follow our thoughts, feelings and behaviors to their roots – we must use them to diagnose the roots of sinful false belief in our hearts.  The unbelief in our heart is the root of all sinful behavior (Matthew 12:34, 15:18-19).  We must learn to repent of the sin underneath the sin.  We must learn to ask and mine out why we are angry, greedy, lustful, selfish, rude, prideful?  We must ask ourselves, “what have I really set my hope upon, where is my treasure really?”  When you begin to ask these questions you will ALWAYS FIND that your real problem is a worship problem.  You will always find that you have attached ultimate value and worth to a created thing (relationships, marriage, success, pleasure, children, morality, service, acceptance) and this thing is not able to hold the weight of your worship.  And whatever we worship converts us in to its image.  You BELIEVE that this thing at the center of your heart will produce security, significance and happiness – it will not, it cannot.  This is why the gospel always invades the heart – not primarily the thoughts, feelings or behaviors.  As Christ begins to reign in those areas of our hearts as its greatest treasure then our thoughts, feelings and behaviors slowly begin to change.

It really is simple, it’s just not easy!  Running is not mechanically complex – anyone can run.  Running is simple, but driving your mile time to 7 minutes, 6 minutes or even less is not easy!  Just because following our behaviors, feelings & thoughts to their root of false belief & false worship in our hearts is simple does not mean that it is easy.  It requires grace driven effort.  But let us not shy away from pursuing godliness – for it is what we are called to.  If you will pursue Christ like this then you will find liberating joy, regardless of the circumstances that you face.  God is most glorified when you are most satisfied in Him.

Thoughts from Jude (part 2)

“These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.” (Jude 1:16 ESV)

These people are grumblers – those who are discontent and complain against God.  These people have a low view of the Almighty, as if He existed to sprinkle them with fairy dusted blessings.  This brings to mind the generation that died in the wilderness for their complaining and grumbling.  Jude goes further calling these people malcontents.  Malcontents are “finding fault or being discontented with one’s lot, querulous; a discontented, querulous person, a complainer”  Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament.  These people follow their own sinful desires instead of subduing them into obedience with the Scriptures.  They boast loudly and manipulate to get what they want.  Wicked people!  How often do we find ourselves complaining, grumbling, finding fault, being discontent?  These attitudes are rooted in an extremely low view of God – as if He owes us anything.

“But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.”  (Jude 1:17–19 ESV)

Jude uses Beloved.  We are God’s beloved.  That is something that we should sit in and marvel over.  How could a perfectly holy and loving God shower us with love and affection?  The better question is why would He?  Just because He wants to.  What glory it heaps on Him to love the truly unloveable – like me.  There are scoffers who are evil & divisive that only desire to follow their ungodly passions.  These people are not redeemed – these are wolves in sheep’s clothing that were false teachers within the church.  We must fight against this in our midsts!

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”  (Jude 1:20–21 ESV)

 

Pursue Christ!  That is the best defense against these ungodly scoffers!  Pursue an abiding relationship with the risen Christ that is fueled by the Spirit!  God, help us.  Keep yourselves in the love of God.  This means to cherish, to think on, to pursue, to understand more fully how much God loves us and to be deeply moved by that truth.  If it weren’t for the grace of God, we too would be lost!  We should yield to the Spirit’s leading in accordance with His revealed will in the scriptures.  Let us pursue doctrinal soundness, Spirit wrought dependance and worship laden love.

“And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”  (Jude 1:22–23 ESV)

Be merciful to those who doubt the promises of God. How beautiful is that? Be patient with those who waiver – help them, love them, walk with them. I do believe, help me with my unbelief!  This is a powerful passage on hating sin and its consequences, but mercifully engaging those who are wrapped up in it. Hate the sin, love the sinner. This is really only possible when one knows how deeply depraved they really are and how close they are to the same sin – except for God’s restraining grace. God help us!

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”  (Jude 1:24–25 ESV)

God is the One who keeps me from stumbling.  He is the One Who is able to present me blameless before Him.  He does this for His glory and our joy.  He is over all things!  Praise God that my salvation & growth are not up to my faithful obedience, but are the result of His faithful obedience on my behalf!

Thoughts from Jude (part 1)

“To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.” (Jude 1:1–2 ESV)

Jude writes to those who are called – “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30 ESV).  Don’t miss the string here – or elsewhere in scripture – there are no human fingerprints on it!  God called us to be His BELOVED (those are familial words) and He will KEEP US in Christ Jesus.  He predestines, He calls, He justifies, He keeps & He glorifies.  We are along for the ride as we ACTIVELY contend for the faith.

“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 1:4 ESV)

Ungodly people had crept in and perverted the truth.  These were designated for destruction – they did not catch God off guard and they did not cause God to have to figure out what He was going to do!  They were unnoticed because they acted like Christians, but were not.  They talked it, but did not walk it.  They perverted grace and made it cheap grace, which is no grace at all.  Cheap grace always produces license – sensuality.  They ultimately denied Christ by their actions and unwillingness to submit to His commands and obey Him.  We may be able to talk a good talk, quote bible verses, walk aisles & pray prayers, but ultimately if we are not willing to walk in joyful obedience to Christ and submit to Him then we prove ourselves to be on shifting sand.  This is perhaps the greatest risk in our modern evangelical churches.  We don’t know what we believe, we don’t teach it and people have a very weak view of God and His grace.  God is nice, but He is not compelling.  Unless one has been deeply moved by the sovereign majesty of God, he will not understand the grace that has been given to him – He will not be moved to worship or obey.
  This is why Jude starts with God calling, God loving & God keeping.  Most in our midsts today would not deny Jesus explicitly, but deny Him by the way that they live.  He is not important to them, He is not the hub that their lives revolve around, He is not adored or served, He is just One of many gods in our lives.  This should scare us all!

“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” (Jude 1:5 ESV)

Jesus saved a people out Egypt.  Wow, Jude is saying that Jesus is God!  Powerful.  Those who did not believe were destroyed in the desert – that should really scare us.  These were people that experienced the miraculous deliverance God had provided them from Egypt, His commands at Sinai and His ongoing deliverance and guidance.  And yet they did not believe and were destroyed for their unbelief.  Our battle is for belief!  Those who did not endure in belief did not see the Promised Land (1 Corinthians 10:5; Hebrews 3:16–19) – and neither will we unless we endure.  Judgement awaits those who persist in unbelief!

“Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.” (Jude 1:8–10 ESV)

These false teachers had come to rely on the subjectivity of their dreams instead of the objectivity of the scriptures.  Revelatory dreams still happen, but they should always be subjected to the authority of scripture. These people pollute the flesh and defy authority. They blaspheme the glorious One.

We do not know what Jude is referring to in verse 10, it has been lost in history. Won’t it be a glorious day when we can see more fully what we only see in part now!?  Michael understood his place in God’s created order so he did not tread on God’s authority. Lord, help us to learn from your authority!  Michael left the devil to God’s authority.

These false teachers operated on their instincts (like an animal) instead of on the authority of scripture.  We must subdue our instincts, feelings and sinful thoughts – they must be engaged by the grace of God and wrestled into submission by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  All that these people knew was how to follow their instincts and feelings regardless of whether they adhered to God’s moral decrees or not. This is dangerous – this is how people end up in the weeds and destroy their lives and the lives of others.

“Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 1:11–13 ESV)

These false teachers were motivated by coveting and greed because they were dissatisfied with the position that they currently occupied. He uses examples of Cain (Genesis 4:5-8), Balaam (Numbers 22:5-7, 2 Peter 2:15) and Korah (Numbers 16:1-3, 31-35). How often do we get derailed by being dissatisfied with where we are in life? We need believe that our deepest satisfaction in life is found in an abiding relationship with Jesus alone.  It is not found in the next accomplishment, relationship or position in life.

These false teachers are like hidden reefs because they are suffering no immediate consequences for their sinful behavior. This is sad! Like a ship sailing on the open water thinking that things are OK until they strike the reef just below the surface. These people live openly depraved lives and experience no consequences for their sinful behavior. They do what they want and are largely unchecked. Why is this? One can only speculate, but I wonder if this is because we don’t like conflict or because we feel like we are being ungracious by judging or confronting someone else?  It is not ungracious or unloving to confront people in their sin – it is what is required to help people see the light of day, though it is incredibly difficult!

In Christ Alone

Our only hope is to rest in Christ alone.  What a beautiful

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

Laws, rules & commands don’t produce love (1 John 2:7-11)

“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:7–11 ESV)

John is not launching a new command, but reiterating the singular command of scripture:  Love God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and others (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:34-40).  The requirement of God has always been to love Him first and to obey Him as a reflection of our love for Him.  Our obedience was always supposed to flow out of our love for Him.  However, we learn through the whole of the Old Testament and from our personal lives that being commanded to love God is impossible for us to obey.  Laws, rules & commands don’t produce love.  Love must be shown, love must be demonstrated.  The Law modeled what loving behavior looked like, but was powerless to produce it on its own.  It was all pointing to One who would demonstrate perfect love by coming and living a perfectly obedient life of love on our behalf.

John also says that this command is new.  The command to wholeheartedly love God has now been fulfilled by Jesus.  God clothed Himself in the confines of human flesh, subjected Himself to a life on broken earth, was tempted in every way (but never sinned), was spit upon, ridiculed and murdered for His goodness – all for us.  He demonstrated perfect love for God and for us.  Who goes through what He went through for His enemies?  Who does that to make enemies family?  Our love for God is the natural byproduct of believing what Jesus has done on our behalf.  The more we meditate on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection on our behalf, the more we are moved by His demonstration of love for us.  His love marks us and produces a love for God that flows into a love for others.

It is impossible walk in the light and hate others.  But, how do we learn to love others?  We abide in Him, we revel in and behold the beautiful love that Jesus had for us – the most depraved, broken and rebellious of people.  In an abiding relationship with Jesus, there is no darkness.  If we have hatred for others, we are walking in darkness and are blinded by the darkness.  So if we feel hatred boiling up in us, do we just try harder to love Jesus and that person?  No.  We run to the foot of the cross, we behold Him and Who He is and what He has done.  We beg God to awaken our dead hearts to the redemptive beauty and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  We ask to see God’s majesty, holiness & glory more clearly and to understand our depravity more deeply.  These are the things that make love and grace something that no longer needs to be explained because they are now experienced.  When we know just how bad we really are and just how perfect & powerful He really is, we fall on our knees in worship because we know how unworthy we really are to be called His children.  This worship gives way to a love for others that is supernatural.

Cornerstone

Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; it is in His righteousness alone that we will stand faultless before the throne.  Once we have been freed from believing that we are justified OR ACCEPTED based on our performance we begin to see that obedience to Christ’s commands actually lead to greater joy.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all

When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
My anchor holds within the veil

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all
He is Lord
Lord of all

Christ alone
Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless stand before the throne.

He is God and We are Not

“And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.

“Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest. His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.”

Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own— for how long?— and loads himself with pledges!” Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.

“Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

“Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink— you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness! You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.””

(Habakkuk 2:2–20 ESV)

Habakkuk had been questioning God and wanting to know why He seemed to be absent, disconnected & slow in acting in judging the wicked.  God tells Habakkuk (and us) that He will indeed punish all of the wicked in the right time!  God will judge all injustice, but it rarely happens on our timetable.  If it seems slow, wait for it.  Good counsel.  All injustice and sin will be paid for – either at the cross of Christ or at the end of time.  Judah would be judged in 586, but Babylon’s judgement would be another 50 years – in 539.  We don’t normally think in 50 year chunks.  But ultimately, It’s not about them (or us), it’s about Him & His story.

God says that the Babylonians, and specifically their king, are prideful and puffed up; they are relying upon their own strengths, abilities and savvy (sound familiar?).  But the righteous shall live by faith (Genesis 15:6, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Ephesians 2:8, Hebrews 10:38-39) and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Simple faith in the Almighty is all that is required to be deemed righteous by God and yet it seems to be the hardest thing for man to do – to admit that he can’t do it on his own, to admit that he is some how deficient in and of himself.  Trusting that God is in control and is redeeming all things for His glory is all that is required.  Even in the darkest nights of the soul, there is an abiding trust in God and in his promises.  He is at work, never distant, disconnected or unconcerned – regardless of how you feel.  Walk by trust in the gospel & in God’s promises and not by what feel or think.  Preach these great truths to yourself instead of running through your own feelings and thoughts continually in your mind.  You talk to yourself more than anyone else, what are you saying?  Are they good, noble, right, praiseworthy things or are they toxic, faith killers.

Habakkuk lands on the sweet sovereignty of God, which is the softest of all doctrines to the weary soul.  We know that God sovereignly controls man’s destiny, but we fail to walk in this truth daily.  “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”  (Proverbs 16:9 ESV).  A day is coming when God’s glory will be shown perfectly because sin will no longer cast a shadow over it.  Things will not be broken, man will worship Him, lives will glorify Him.

God then points out to Habakkuk that idols are stupid. We craft them and then look to them for direction, meaning and worth. Idols can’t speak, relate, rule or reign. They are nothing but wood with precious metals on top of them. They are not alive or powerful. Our idols are more “sophisticated” today – marriages, children, wealth, fame, approval, relationships – many are good things, but they are created things that cannot direct our lives.  
But the Lord is in His holy temple and His presence commands silence.  What a comparison between powerless, silent inanimate objects and the power and presence of the Almighty.  In His presence there is a palpable sense of power, holiness and glory that renders created things speechless (Isaiah 6:4-5). We rant and rave and shake our fists at God, we accuse Him as if we are sovereign, but there is coming a time when our mouths will be shut and we will know that He is God and we are not! “Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests” (Zephaniah 1:7 ESV).

What God reveals to Habakkuk about Himself is that He is God – just like in the book of Job – and seeing that renders a man speechless.  Far too often, we ignorantly careen through life relying on our senses and feelings for direction.  We feel like we have ultimate perspective and understanding – we are limited, finite and ignorant.  The most gracious thing that God can do is to crush us and reveal to us that we are not sovereign.  When we realize this and embrace the truth that He is in control – and that we are not – when we embrace that He is God – and we are not – our hearts worship.  Instead of staying crushed, we are lifted up and God’s power, holiness and justice meets His mercy, grace and glory – and we worship and experience joy.  Lord, please teach us that you are God and we are not.

The Lord is Patient Toward You

“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”(2 Peter 3:8–10 ESV)

This is a very controversial passage of scripture around which many arguments have erupted.  This seems to be one of the primary passages that we gravitate towards when we want to place our own freewill at the pinnacle of the bible.  But, before we can come to any conclusions regarding this passage, we need to understand the context of it and what the Apostle was attempting to communicate to His readers.  Far too often, we grab a verse that sounds nice and begin to apply it without ever having a good understanding of the context and the author’s intent.

The first question we need to answer is who the letter is addressed to?  Peter writes this letter from prison in Rome and knows that he will soon be executed for his faith (2 Peter 1:14-15).  The letter was written to Christians (2 Peter 1:1).  In the opening verses of this epistle, Peter affirms that there are no tiers in Christianity. He is an apostle – He walked with Jesus, personally – but, their faith is equal to his (1:1).  There is no varsity squad &  junior varsity squad in Christianity.  Their faith is equal to our faith. Our faith is obtained by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  This faith was obtained – we did not possess it on our own. It is a gift that was earned by the righteousness of Christ.  Peter calls Jesus God here which is one of the strongest New Testament arguments for the divinity of Jesus.

Why did Peter write this letter?  Peter is in Rome nearing his imminent execution (1:12-15) so what He covers in this letter is of utmost importance in his mind.  He covers such sweeping themes as God’s grace toward us and it’s centrality in our ongoing sanctification, the pursuit of holiness, the Lord’s patience towards us and He combats false teachers & scoffers who had managed to work their way into the church and were doubting God’s presence & faithfulness.

We want to gravitate towards the part of this passage that says that God “is not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (3:9b).  What is truly unbelievable is the preceding part of this verse that says that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you” (3:9a).  That is spectacular!  Don’t run past it!  What we perceive as slowness is really God’s patient mercy.  If I were God, I would have ended it all at Genesis 3 or 6:5-6, so the fact that we have air, gravity, water, a planet to inhabit and enjoy is nothing but His benevolent grace towards His creatures that want nothing to do with Him; we want His blessings & gifts, but don’t really want Him.  All of us – believer & nonbeliever alike – are recipients of His common grace.  If this part does not wow you and cause you to worship the Almighty then you are missing one of Peter’s main points!

The broader context of this verse helps us because it is eschatological in nature. It is titled, “The Day of the Lord Will Surely Come (3:1–13).”  What Peter is combatting is what the scoffers have been saying in the church – that God is distant, disconnected & slow in acting (3:1-7).  There is much connection between Peter’s Jewish eschatological beliefs (see Habakuk 2:3) and the point that He is making here.  The Word Biblical Commentary is quite helpful in interpreting this section of the passage.  It says, “God desires all, without exception, to repent and escape damnation. But (“all”) is clearly limited by (“you”). There is no thought here of the Christian mission”  The author remains close to his Jewish source, for in Jewish thought it was usually for the sake of the repentance of his own people that God delayed judgment. Here it is for the sake of the repentance of 2 Peter’s Christian readers. No doubt repentance from those sins into which some of them have been enticed by the false teachers (2:14, 18; 3:17) is especially in mind.  We need not suppose that the author put the false teachers themselves entirely beyond possibility of repentance and salvation, but here he addresses his readers, who are distinguished from the false teachers (3:5, 8, 17).”

God takes not delight in the destruction of anyone that bears His image – even the most wicked.  He is connected to them and derives no pleasure in their destruction.  Though we have seen that the “all” in this passage is limited by the “you,” some will still use this passage to argue that it is the will of God that all people on planet earth be saved.  All people are clearly not saved so one of these must be true:
1) God is not able to save all people,
2) Some will not turn to God because their free will prohibits them,
3) Peter (and Paul) are lying, or
4) God has another purpose.

It is interesting that God seems to desire something that does not come to pass. He certainly has the power, so why not fulfill His every desire?  He desired that Adam & Eve would not have sinned and He desires that we walk faithfully to His revealed will.  We rarely walk faithfully, so God does not always fulfill His wants.  Some would say it is because He is is a gentlemen and will not force Himself upon anyone. This sounds nice to my flesh, but is contrary to the overall teaching of the scriptures. God has many desires that are not met (yet) because they all come under his ultimate desire – that He be glorified.  Some would disagree with this and teach that God’s greatest desire is for human free will.  If I’m honest, I like this because it appeals to my sense of control over my destiny, to my ability to choose, to my autonomy and control over my life (kind of sounds like the original sin, doesn’t it!).  But, if I’m intellectually honest – my free will has never been my friend, it has always been my enemy.  I always chose (apart from God’s regenerating my heart) what I saw as best and most beautiful – which was always me, my sin and my way and NEVER GOD.

One of the overarching themes of the scriptures is God’s electing love. God chooses people to shower His affection on – not because they are worthy of it or because they sought it. God chose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He chose Joseph over his brothers, He chose, David, the prophets, and Moses.  Men did not chose Him, they did not seek Him. God’s glory is most shown by redeeming a rebellious people. He is most glorified when He takes the heart of a dead man and makes it new, when He showers him with His saving love and that man comes alive. He is most glorified when He takes a dead heart of stone and makes it a soft, sensitive heart of flesh.  This is the power for us to love even when the love of others is not reciprocal.

Paul helps us with this in Romans 9:  “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. 
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”” (Romans 9:11–26 ESV).

God gets no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32 & 33:11) – indeed there is a sense of sorrow & remorse at the destruction of that which was created in His image.  The problem is that we lack the ability to come to God, apart from Him calling us. God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).  Some will say, “yes, no one can come unless God calls” (Jesus said so over and over in the gospels, especially in John) so God calls some (or all, depending on one’s belief) and those who respond of their own free will are saved.  The problem with this theology is what the rest of the bible teaches; this is man centered, intellectually lazy & theologically shallow.  There are challenges with the sovereignty of God in election and salvation, but by far and away the continuous theme in the scriptures is one of God’s effectual, electing love.  We would rather stop short and avoid asking all of the questions. There are mysteries, for sure, but there are not nearly as many as we’d like to lazily believe.  When we face these mysteries, we must ask Who & what is ultimate?  God’s glory or ours?  If we are the ultimate determining factor in salvation then we are most glorified.

All of history is in the hands of the Lord and it is moving to the climax of Jesus’ return and restoration of all things.  Verse 9 is in response to the scoffer’s accusations in the immediately preceding verses saying that God is absent, disconnected, aloof and slow to act.  Peter says, “no He is delaying because He is patient with you – He is providing an opportunity for more people to respond to the Gospel by faith.”  God is indeed slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Exodus 34:6).  God’s patience is a central theme in the Old Testament and indeed it is a central theme in our own lives.  It is beyond me how the perfect holiness of God tolerates the continual rebellion and perversion of His creatures.  This is the definition patience.  Though He is long suffering, He will not tolerate it forever – His wrath will be spilled – and rightfully so!  He is patient, but His patience with sinners will eventually expire and all that there will be is His just wrath and judgement.  In the meantime, His patience are meant to lead you to repentance.  Will you repent & believe?

Only grace soaked people are able to walk in joyful obedience

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.  For
“Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”” (1 Peter 3:8–12 ESV)

Finally.  Peter transitions now from instructions aimed at specific groups to general godly virtues that should accompany all believers.  The Greek word for “finally” is also translated “end” or “goal.”  So the end goal should be behavior that encompasses these characteristics.  These are internal, heart level traits that are Holy Spirit wrought.  Peter mentions:
• Harmonious (unity of mind) – sounds like meekness; willing to press God’s agenda and not our own.
• Sympathy – sensitivity or sorrow for the hurting, broken & down trodden.  Even for those who are depressed and suffer mental ailments.  For it is the grace of God that we don’t suffer the same way.
• Brotherly love – more than just love, but love like a brother – permanent, covental, familial.
• Tender hearted or compassionate – We have to see the bigger picture of our ultimate inheritance in order to be truly tender hearted towards others.
• A Humble mind – Thayer:  “the having a humble opinion of oneself; a deep sense of one’s (moral) littleness; modesty, humility, lowliness of mind.”  Humility is knowing one’s place in creation; we are created, He is Creator.

Peter ups the the ante by telling his readers not to repay evil for evil, not to keep score.  People who keep tabs mentally are miserable people, let us not be numbered among them!  On the contrary bless those who curse for you are a blessing.  Only grace soaked people will be able to execute this.  It seems to be imbedded in the human psyche to get even and keep score and unless God rebuilds that we always will.

As believers, there will be a longing for the word of God because we have indeed tasted & seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8 & 1 Peter 2:3).  If there is an absence of desire for the word of God, the person has to ask if they have ever really tasted & seen that the Lord is good – does he really have a regenerated heart?  Peter connects his thoughts to the truths in Psalm 34:12-16).  Do you a desire to love life & see good days?
• Then don’t speak evil & deceitfully.  A life of daily obedience to God yields the blessings of God.  But our obedience must be a joyful obedience, a glad submission.  If we obey to get the blessing then we don’t love God, we love ourselves!
• Turn from evil & do good.  Obedience, in glad submission, yields the blessings of God (not always external) while disobedience yields the discipline of God, for the Lord is against those who do evil (Psalm 34:16, 21 & Hebrews 12:4-11)
• Seek & pursue peace.  Peace with God & peace with others.  Sounds like the words of our Lord:  ““Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9 ESV)
• The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous & his ears are open to their prayers.  Wow!  The sovereign Creator of all things has open ears to hear the prayers of the righteous!  That is amazing.  But, who is righteous – none are, no not one (Romans 3:10).  The righteous live by faith (Galatians 3:11).

As Christians, these should be growing in our lives.  It is interesting that Peter highlights the blessings of God while writing to suffering Christians.  How are they blessed while suffering, how are we blessed while we are suffering?  We are chosen children of the Creator with an inheritance beyond our wildest imagination.  That should produce wow and worship in our souls.  We should meditate upon and be moved by the fact that the divine, holy, perfect, sovereign Creator would determine before He formed the world to adopt you.  We were His enemies, objects of His holy wrath and He chose to make us new: He chose to regenerate us, forgive us and adopt us.  We weren’t good, we didn’t seek Him – He sought and saved us.  That is the fuel to suffer well.  When we have this perspective we begin to sound like Paul when he wrote:  “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV)