Written by J. V. Fesko |
Tuesday, October 24, 2023
We should realize that we have come to listen to the word so that it would critique us, not so that we could criticize the preaching of it. Such is the difference between listening to the sermon and critiquing it—it’s humility vs. pride. We should also realize that God has established his church in such a way that there are people whom he has assigned to critique the preaching of the word—the elders of the church. The elders have the Christ-given responsibility to guard the purity of the preaching of the word of God.
One of the biggest problems in Reformed churches, I believe, is that people come to church to critique the sermon rather than listen to it. How so? In Reformed churches there are always a number of theological commandos, people who love to study the Bible, read serious theological works, and encourage and spur others on to improve their own knowledge. These are all good things, however, knowledge apart from humility and love is a dangerous thing as Paul warns us (1 Cor. 8:1). What begins as a thirst and hunger to know God becomes a case of pride and the person no longer comes to eat the meal prepared by the chef but instead comes as the food critic.
Some people will sit down and listen to the preaching of the word, but find problems with the way a text is preached, the illustrations used, the inflection of the pastor’s voice, or the application that the pastor presses. The person will then approach the pastor and raise his or her concerns regarding the “flaws” in the sermon. I can completely understand why pastors find such “counsel” annoying. It doesn’t matter how long he studied in college, seminary, how many hours he invested in exegeting the text, praying over his preparation, or how many hundreds or even thousands of sermons he’s preached over the years. All of this is for naught. In this day and age where expertise has been democratized, all you need is twenty bucks and a website and a person can anoint himself as an “expert” on any subject. I think such a trend is especially true for seminarians—they take one or two classes, have preached maybe three sermons in their whole life, and all of a sudden, they’re a preaching expert.
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By Richard P. Belcher Jr. — 2 months ago
Written by Richard P. Belcher, Jr. |
Wednesday, October 18, 2023
A wise person submits every aspect of life (thinking, willing, and feeling) to God’s Word….A foolish person rejects God’s Word, which is a rejection of God’s way of wisdom, and pays the moral consequences for not fearing God.
No one wants to be considered a fool. A fool will act in ways that bring shame, ridicule, and condemnation to his life. But what if a large group of people define what has been deemed foolish as wisdom and what has been deemed wisdom as foolish? We see this happening in many different areas of our culture today, including how people want to express their sexuality. How are we to decide such questions? Where is wisdom really to be found?
God is the God of wisdom, which means that He is the source of wisdom. He has revealed in His Word what wisdom and foolishness look like. He defines the characteristics of a wise person and a foolish person. We become wise people as we live our lives according to the way that God defines wisdom. In so doing, we will also avoid the heartache and trouble that come with living a foolish life.
The Old Testament has a lot to say about wisdom. The main term for “wisdom” is the noun hokmah (there is also a verb and an adjective from the root hakam). “Wisdom” can refer to human wisdom, which always falls short of God’s wisdom because it comes from human strength rooted in arrogance (Isa. 10:13) and it leads people astray (47:10). True wisdom begins with God’s definition of wisdom. Wisdom can be defined in two broad ways. It refers to a skill that is learned or developed and a basic perspective on life. The first definition of a skill that is learned is also seen as a gift given by God. The skill needed to build and furnish the tabernacle is called “wisdom.” This includes the craftsmanship to devise artistic designs; to make Aaron’s garments; to work with gold, silver, and bronze; and to cut stones and carve wood (Ex. 28:3; 31:3–5; see also 35:25–26, 31, 35; 36:1–2). These skills are said to come from the Spirit of God. They are also skills that would need to be developed through training and experience. Solomon specifically asked God for wisdom to be able to govern the nation of Israel and to administer justice (1 Kings 3:7–14; 4:29). In the book of Proverbs, “wisdom” refers to the “skill” to navigate the difficulties of life. It helps us avoid the pitfalls of life to achieve the right goals in life.
The second way that wisdom is defined is as a description of a perspective on life. Two key passages are Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding,” and Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The perspective on life that comes with wisdom is the fear of the Lord. The word “fear” can have the connotation of being terrified of something or someone. When God appeared to the Israelites on Mount Sinai with thunder and lightning that caused the mountain to smoke, the people trembled (Ex. 19:16; 20:18). They were afraid that they were going to die (20:19). Moses tried to calm them with the words, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (v. 20). The word “fear” is used twice in this verse. Moses first commands the Israelites not to fear God. He is commanding them not to be terrified of God even though they have seen a manifestation of His majestic power. Instead, they should fear God so that they do not sin. Moses exhorts the people to have a reverence and respect for God that will affect the way that they live their lives. Such a reverence for God will lead them to want to honor God with how they think and what they do. They should be willing to submit the way they think and the way they live to the law that God has given them and to judge everything in life by the standards of righteousness that He has set forth. God becomes the center of a person’s life when he is willing to submit his life to the truth of God’s Word as the true path to wisdom. Deuteronomy 4:6 states that the keeping of the law of God is the people’s wisdom and understanding in the sight of the nations.
The book of Proverbs uses these same ideas to develop further the true path to wisdom and the implications for living life. The fear of the Lord is central to obtaining the knowledge that is key to living a life of wisdom. It is called the “beginning” of knowledge, which means that it is the first or controlling principle of a person’s life. You must start with the fear of the Lord to live a life of wisdom, but the fear of the Lord must also continue to be the basic perspective by which you live. It is foundational to everything else in life. First, it leads to knowledge (Hebrew da‘at). Knowledge includes information but it emphasizes more how to use that information. The craftsman who built the tabernacle had to know how “to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft” (Ex. 31:4–5). But to properly use that knowledge in ways that would be pleasing to the Lord included not just the work done on the tabernacle but also the right perspective that such work was done for the honor and glory of God. The Spirit of God was needed to help the craftsman approach the work with the right reverence for God (v. 3).
By Gabriel Fluhrer — 2 years ago
We live in a world that gives us good cause to be afraid. When crisis strikes or when world-altering events take place, our first instinct is fear. All of us want to know that everything is going to be OK. Focusing on God’s sovereignty helps us and our children understand that everything ultimately will be OK, even if it won’t be OK immediately. In short, we are calling them to put their faith in the One who controls everything that makes us afraid. We are asking them to listen to the Savior, whose favorite command is “Do not be afraid.” There is no one safer for us to listen to in uncertain times.
Faced with political confusion, economic turmoil, a global pandemic, and the disruption of just about every normal routine of life, many parents have felt ill-equipped to get through these times, let alone talk to their children about significant events. But as Christians have learned to expect, when we feel the most helpless, God is the most helpful. So what should we say to our children about events like those we’ve faced this year and similar events that I’m sure we will continue to face in the future? I’ll offer some observations, not as an expert but as a fellow traveler and father.
Far and away, the most helpful assistance a father can offer his children who are trying to understand noteworthy events is helping them to see the reality of God in every detail of this world and their lives. Everything around them is calculated to make God seem unreal, distant, and uncaring. The world invites them to consider reality as basically atheistic. A wise father will challenge this godless assumption by teaching his children to see every major happening that captivates their attention in the light of God (Ps. 36:9).
What, specifically, should we teach our children (even if they’re grown) about God? Chief among His many attributes we should highlight is the truth of God’s sovereignty. Children, not to mention adults, crave certainty. The world scorns this craving as an infantile, unobtainable desire. But God wants us to be sure about many things, not the least of which is His absolute control of all that comes to pass.
Again, our children are being bombarded with the message, “God is not sovereign. You are on your own in this harsh world.” To drown out this cacophonic jangling of falsehood, fathers must open their Bibles and walk their children through the countless passages that proclaim the life-giving truth of God’s sovereignty.
By Rev. Dr. Bill Fullilove — 2 years ago
Written by Rev. Dr. Bill Fullilove |
Friday, November 5, 2021
If ever one could have, should have, grumbled, if ever one got what he did not deserve, it was our Lord, Jesus Christ. But while we whine in the face of God’s blessings, he was silent in the face of God’s cursing. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) Amazing grace, indeed. Maybe just amazing enough grace to transform our grumbling and complaining into gratitude, kindness, and thanksgiving.
Numbers, the fourth book of the Bible, is undoubtedly the great book with the terrible marketing plan. The Greek title is arithmoi, the Latin numeri, and hence the English “Numbers,” a title that inspires only a few actuaries and statisticians to even open a sleepy eye. Yet, the New Testament insists that Numbers matters deeply to the Christian faith, serving as a corrective to so many common human tendencies, tendencies that creep into the church and into the Christian life, tendencies that if unchecked will twist and warp lives and communities of faith.
Grumbling holds pride of place among the signature themes of the book. The Israelites – delivered from slavery in Egypt by the ten plagues, rescued via the parting of the Red Sea, having received the Law, having seen God’s power at Sinai, eating manna daily – the very same Israelites, as they begin to march towards Canaan in Numbers 11, immediately begin grumbling and complaining about and against God.
Three episodes follow, the first merely setting the stage:
And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them. (Numbers 11:1–3, ESV)
“In the hearing of the Lord” is a technical term here, meaning that the people were gathered at the gate of the Tabernacle. This particularly defiant act is met with the fire of judgment. Hence the name of the place, Taberah, likely from the Hebrew meaning “place of burning.”
The second episode begins to show the spiritual dynamics of complaint:
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it. Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the Lord blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased.(Numbers 11:4–10, ESV)
In other words, the people ate every day by a miracle, and that was not enough.
We often take God’s care and provision not just for granted, but as something onerous and burdensome. We become accustomed to God’s gifts, much as we become accustomed to speed when riding in a car on the expressway. Accelerating down the entrance ramp, we ease slightly back in our seats, experiencing the acceleration. Yet, before long, 55 seems slow. So does 65. So does 75. And before long, if we are not careful, we are doing 85, whizzing by others, only to suddenly have our daydream interrupted by the flashing lights of the local police department! We become accustomed to speed, forgetting that we are not beings made to go more than a few miles per hour under our own locomotion. So it is with God’s gifts. We cease to notice that those gifts are even there. We start to complain about how slow things feel, how we want more.
Even more, a complaining spirit makes them (and us) revisionist. What do the Israelites begin doing? Talking about how good it was in Egypt! Remember their lives in Egypt? They were slaves, worked to the bone, their children killed, the victims of a genocide. Until God miraculously delivered them. But a complaining spirit forgets all that. They would rather – they think (Remember that they are fooling themselves, too.) – they would rather return to slavery than live in the Lord’s miraculous blessing. Hence, along their journey the place named, Kibroth Hattaavah, “marked graves” or “graves of craving.”
Isn’t it amazing that we do the same thing? We live every day in the miraculous love of Christ. We are fed by his grace, both physically and spiritually. Our every breath and being is sustained by him. Our work and our rest are his gifts. Yet before long we become accustomed to his gracious gifts and start to not just forget them, but to scorn them. We find ourselves saying, “Why do I have to go to this job? I hate it. Why do I have to care for these children? They take so much out of me? Why do I have to serve as a member in this church? I don’t like these people.” We take God’s gifts – jobs, children, church – not simply for granted, but we start to even complain about them.
One might think these Israelites would get the picture, but chapter 12 begins with a third area of complaint, this time against Moses, the leader that God had given them:
Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. (Numbers 12:1–2, ESV)
God’s people love to rebel against their leaders. In Numbers 12, Miriam and Aaron start to gripe about Moses’ leadership. They begin their complaint with ethnic prejudice – racism – the fact that Moses’ wife is from Cush (modern day Ethiopia). Sadly, the church has replicated this type of sin again and again, and we are hardly free from it today.
In verse 2, though, we realize that Miriam and Aaron are just dragging Moses’ wife into it to get at him (another thing that is far too common in the church today). Even underneath the racism is jealousy – they betray themselves with their words: “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” This jealousy is particularly important, as Aaron and Miriam had leadership roles of their own, and jealous infighting among the leaders of God’s people threatens the whole expedition. Now that is a lesson the church today needs to hear!
I must say that I am, sadly, not immune to any of this. None of us are. I am easily piqued and sometimes petty, full of pride. My best charitable moments are often overwhelmed by sin, and even when I think myself free of pride, I dig deeper and find it is still there, just another layer of the onion. I have had my share of being the guilty one (and the not guilty one) in these situations, and I think I am most scared of the times I think I was the “not guilty one.” That just smacks of rationalization. We are easily piqued and petty, and the one writing is the chief of sinners. And jealous infighting among God’s leaders can sink any church.
Thing is, grumbling is a precursor, not a steady state. Grumbling doesn’t simply stay put as low-level aggression and dissatisfaction. Sooner or later, it leads somewhere. In Numbers, it leads to rebellion, which characterizes the next section of the book. Chapter 13 begins with the rebellion of the spies. Israel reaches the southern edge of Canaan, sends in spies to explore the land, and receives back the report: “The land is wonderful…and full of giants. We will be crushed if we try to enter.”
At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel. (Numbers 13:25–14:5, ESV)