Old Testament Theology

Why Modern-Day Christians Need the Minor Prophets

For some reason, many Christians today are scared of the Minor Prophets. Maybe it’s the complex prophecies, or the chaotic violence, or perhaps the puzzling historical context. Whatever it is, we have a cultural tendency to camp in the cozy familiarity of the Psalms and the Gospels—and leave the doom-and-gloom prophets alone.

Yet this is a tragic mistake for any Christian. These books—just like Leviticus, Revelation, and yes, Psalms—are God-breathed words (2 Timothy 3:16). This alone makes them worth studying. But there’s more. Unlike contemporary caricatures and stereotypes, these books practically explode with relevance for Christians today. While we do have to understand them as first and foremost written for God’s people in ancient Israel, these books still bubble over with truth, correction, and meaning for God’s people in the twenty-first century.

How? Here are just four ways.

The Minor Prophets Teach Us About Justice
In the book of Amos, the Israelites are condemned for oppressing the weak through the merciless practice of debtor’s slavery. This was a heinous irony for a people redeemed from the bonds of enslavement themselves. God warns his people of punishment for their sin and demands they turn to justice. In Amos 6, these famous words are declared: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” God is crystal clear in Amos: He hates apathy and pride in the face of suffering and injustice.
The Minor Prophets are replete with calls to love our neighbors, care for the poor, protect the outcasts, love the orphans, speak out against injustice, and do what is right. These are lessons we desperately need in this day and age. The Minor Prophets offer us insight into how we should treat people who are different than us (e.g., poorer than us, richer than us, healthier than us, sicker than us, a different color than us) and the paramount importance of justice.

As we wonder how to think about adoption, abortion, the refugee crisis, homelessness, human trafficking, racism, persecution, and oppression, the prophets sing of God’s love for justice—and they counsel us to do the same.

The Minor Prophets Teach Us About Joy
I believe Zephaniah 3 is one of the happiest chapters in the Bible. After two and a half chapters of judgment and punishment, the shackles of sin are suddenly broken and joy breaks out in the prophecy. Zephaniah begins a happy, hopeful description of the restoration of God’s people.

"Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil." (Zephaniah 3:14-15)

The prophets teach us that humanity was made for joy, created with the capacity for all-satisfying happiness, and they teach us where to find that: Rejoice in the Lord. Find delight in true worship. And look forward to the unbreakable, everlasting joy that is coming.

The Minor Prophets Teach Us About God’s Sovereignty
It’s woven like a golden thread throughout the whole Bible, but it blazes fiercely bright in the Minor Prophets—God’s sovereignty. The Lord destroys, and the Lord builds up. The Lord judges, and the Lord shows mercy. The Lord takes, and the Lord gives. The whole world is absolutely in his hands.

It was true in ancient Israel, and it is just as true today. God is sovereign over the polls and politics. He’s sovereign over hurricanes and tornadoes. He’s sovereign over terrorism and war and sickness and death and life and everything. And our responsibility is to trust him. Have faith in him. Believe him. Seek him.

"Seek the LORD and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel." (Amos 5:6)

The Minor Prophets Teach Us About Hope
Evil will not win the day. A time is coming where fears, frustrations, trials, shame, and suffering will be washed away forever. A time is coming when sin will be no more. We will live in constant joy, constant worship, and constant peace. And that’s where we need to place our trust. Not in ourselves. Not in our finances. Not in our marriage or our government or our children or our jobs or our vacations or our success—but in God’s glorious restoration.

"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:18-19)

The Final Thing Minor Prophets Teach Us
The Minor Prophets are filled with rich and redemptive themes that should convict, equip, and encourage Christians today. But that is not what they are ultimately about. And that’s not ultimately why you should read them.

Ultimately, they’re about Jesus.

Jesus, the only human who was perfectly just and true, full of compassion and mercy, yet also full of indignation at evil. Jesus, the source of lasting joy, the fount and expression of joy, the one who found peace and happiness in the will of his Father. Jesus, the one who is totally sovereign, who is reigning and ruling for his glory. Jesus, the one who is bringing hope and restoration, the one whose death and resurrection secured life, the one whose return will mark the coming of his unending kingdom.

Jesus, the reason we need the Minor Prophets today.

Post Credit: Unlocking the Bible. | Originally appeared November 2016.

6 Reflections from Reading the Minor Prophets

Note: I've changed the publication schedule for jaquelle.ca. Instead of new posts every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, you can expect new content Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. 

Yesterday I finished reading through the minor prophets again. It has been incredible. I say that without sarcasm or bluster or fakeness. I honestly have never enjoyed them so much or benefited from them so richly as this time through. Every single book, from Hosea to Malachi, has taught me something new or filled me with hope or quietly brought me to tears.

Here are 6 reflections I made from reading the minor prophets.

1. God's justice demands the punishment of sin (Zeph. 3:5). It is spelled out as clear as day - God hates sin. And His justice requires that He deal with it. No matter who is doing the sinning (whether it's pagan nations and their violence or His own people and their impure sacrifices), God cares about righteousness.

2. Restoration is the hope of God's people (Zeph. 3:15). One day God is going to make all things new. He will bring permanent peace and lasting joy and wipe away every tear and fear for good. Sin and injustice will be eradicated. He'll restore our sin-sick world and sin-stained hearts. That is the ultimate source of our daily hope.

3. Christians sin and need repentance (Amos 7:2). In the minor prophets, you hear about God's people doing horrible things. They were apathetic in the face of suffering and injustice. They were proponents of debtor's slavery. They worshiped idols. Their religious leaders were corrupt, selfish, and manipulative. They distrusted and disbelieved God's promises. And they desperately needed to repent - which is why the prophets came along.

4. God's mercy goes on and on (Micah 7:19). Yet God would have been totally just in wiping them out without sending any prophets. He didn't need to show mercy. He didn't need to show grace. Yet He did - and He does.

5. God is totally sovereign (Mal. 1:14). Over His people, over the nations, over history, over evil, over war, over everything, God is sovereign. He is ruler and controller.

6. God protects His people (Zech. 9:15). That doesn't mean He never punishes them, but it does mean that as their Shepherd, He lovingly protects them. He is faithful, even when His people aren't. His covenant love is unbreakable.

Why Zephaniah Is One of the Happiest Books in the Bible

Today I'm reading Zephaniah for the third time in three days.

It wasn't planned. I've just been so overwhelmingly encouraged by it, I want to keep reading it. Yes, there are some horrible, sad, and scary things in this book. After all, the majority of it is about God's fierce judgment, on both the pagan nations and His own people.

But there's a bigger picture to the book. The last half of the third (and final) chapter makes that clear. God will save His people. He will restore them, because He loves them. He will forgive their sin and do whatever it takes to make things right. The imagery in chapter 3 is so beautiful and joyful. God will rescue His people. He will rejoice over us. He will actually sing over us! We will no longer fear evil.

This is the passage that has been making me so happy this week:

“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering. 

'On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. 

But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. 

They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD, those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. 

For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.'

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 

The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. 

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: 'Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. 

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. 

I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. 

Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 

At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,' says the LORD" (Zephaniah 3:9-20 ESV).

The 10 Pleasures (Instead of Commandments)

David Murray attempts "to re-frame the 10 commandments as 10 pleasures to pursue." I love what he does. It gives one a little fresher, more holistic perspective on the law.

1. Enjoy the pleasure of knowing, worshipping and serving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

2. Enjoy the pleasure of worshipping God in ways that He approves, loves, rewards, and responds to.

3. Enjoy the pleasure of speaking and singing about God’s beautiful persons, names, attributes, and acts.

4. Enjoy the pleasure of six days working in God’s calling for you and then enjoy the freedom of one full day off work to worship God and rest.

The Root of All Saving Christianity

J.C. Ryle was an Anglican bishop and the author of the stunning work, Holiness

I'm only a few chapters deep into Holiness but am finding myself constantly struck and convicted and moved and blown away by what I'm reading. These paragraphs are from his chapter on sin, conveniently titled, "Sin."

The plain truth is that a right understanding of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are "words and names" which convey no meaning to the mind. The first thing, therefore, that God does when He makes anyone a new creature in Christ is to send light into his heart and show him that he is a guilty sinner.

The material creation in Genesis began with "light," and so also does the spiritual creation. God "shines into our hearts" by the work of the Holy Spirit and then spiritual life begins (2 Cor. 4:6). Dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies and false doctrines of the present day. If a man does not realize the dangerous nature of his soul's disease, you cannot wonder if he is content with false or imperfect remedies.

I believe that one of the chief wants of the contemporary church has been, and is, clearer, fuller teaching about sin.

What God Thinks About You

John Rinehart writes:

"We all want to know who we are. We seek and search and try to 'find ourselves.' Many of us have taken personality tests and other assessments. We learn that we are a lion, a beaver, an ENFP, an activator, a competitor, a high I, high D.

But as helpful as those tests can be, have you ever stopped to ask, 'What does God think about me? Who does he say that I am?'

In all my years as a Christian, I had never asked the question quite this way until recently. And what I found is that God has a lot to say about what he thinks about us — a whole Bible full. But if we could summarize it in a short space, here’s how it might sound.

You Are Valuable

I am the Creator and you are my creation. I breathed into your nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). I created you in my own image (Genesis 1:27). My eyes saw your unformed substance (Psalm 139:16). I knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). I know the number of hairs on your head, and before a word is on your tongue I know it (Matthew 10:30; Psalm 139:4). You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).

You are more valuable than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31). I have given you dominion over all sheep and oxen and all beasts of the field and birds of the heavens and fish of the sea (Psalm 8:6–8; Genesis 1:26, 28). I have crowned you with glory and honor as the pinnacle and final act of the six days of creation (Psalm 8:5; Genesis 1:26).

However, from the very beginning, you exchanged the truth about me for a lie. You worshiped and served created things rather than me, the Creator (Romans 1:25). You have sinned and fallen short of my glory (Romans 3:23). Just as I said to Adam and Eve, the penalty for your sin is death (Romans 6:23; Genesis 2:17). And in your sin, you were spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). You were children of wrath, living as enemies to me (Ephesians 2:3; Romans 5:10). You turned aside from me. You became corrupt. There is none who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:2–3). What you deserve is my righteous judgment (Psalm 7:11–12).

And yet, in my great love, I gave my unique Son, that all those who believe in him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). While you were still sinners, Christ died for you. While you were still hostile toward me, you were reconciled to me by the death of my Son (Romans 5:8, 10). Sin doesn’t have the last word. Grace does (Romans 5:20).

Now everyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved (Romans 10:13). You who have believed are born again (1 Peter 1:3). I have adopted you (Ephesians 1:5). You are children of God, heirs of God (1 John 3:2; Romans 8:16–17). You are no longer orphans. You belong to me (John 14:18; 1 Corinthians 6:19). And I love you as a perfect Father (1 John 3:1; Luke 15:20–24)."

3 Things People Without Joy Need to Do

Dad is preaching through Hosea right now, a book that is undeniably gloomy. Its central focus is on God's judgment being poured out on God's people. But in the midst of destruction, there is always hope.

Yesterday Dad preached on Hosea 9:1-9, a situation that found God's people without joy because they were living in sin. Through the text, Dad gave us three applications that Christians without joy today need to hear and do.

1. Call out to God and ask Him to reveal your sin.

This is no airy-fairy, dream-like revelation in the sky you're praying for, Dad assured us. It's actively reading God's Word and seeing your sin revealed through that. To have joy, read the Bible.

2. Call upon the Holy Spirit to convict you.

If you don't have joy, that is ultimately your problem, not God's. There is sin in the way. Ask the Spirit to bring that sin to your mind so that you can repent and deal with it. God will give you joy - but it is only found in faithful living.

3. Look to Christ and His work on the cross.

Joy isn't found in doing what you want to do. Joy isn't found in people. Joy isn't found in food or money or popularity or any ephemeral thing that we are tempted to trust in. Joy is found in depending on Christ through good or bad.

Are you without joy today? Look to God, the author and giver of joy.

Come Behold The Wondrous Mystery

Come behold the wondrous mystery
In the dawning of the King
He the theme of heaven’s praises
Robed in frail humanity

In our longing, in our darkness
Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended
Took on flesh to ransom us

Come behold the wondrous mystery
He the perfect Son of Man
In His living, in His suffering
Never trace nor stain of sin

See the true and better Adam
Come to save the hell-bound man
Christ the great and sure fulfillment
Of the law; in Him we stand

Come behold the wondrous mystery
Christ the Lord upon the tree
In the stead of ruined sinners
Hangs the Lamb in victory

See the price of our redemption
See the Father’s plan unfold
Bringing many sons to glory
Grace unmeasured, love untold

Come behold the wondrous mystery
Slain by death the God of life
But no grave could e’er restrain Him
Praise the Lord; He is alive!

What a foretaste of deliverance
How unwavering our hope
Christ in power resurrected
As we will be when he comes

What a foretaste of deliverance
How unwavering our hope
Christ in power resurrected
As we will be when he comes

– Matt Boswell, Michael Bleecker, Matt Papa 2013

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Pursue Fruit, Not Peaches

Once a woman told John Piper, "I don’t think you should say, ‘Pursue joy with all your might.’ I think you should say, ‘Pursue obedience with all your might.’"

Piper responded, "But that’s like saying, ‘Don’t pursue peaches with all your might, pursue fruit.’"

I've been thinking about this as I read the Psalms. Joy and obedience are all tangled up together.

God gives us commands so that we can delight in Him.

"Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!" (Ps. 32:11)

"Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore, 'Great is the Lord, who delights in the welfare of his servant!'" (Ps. 35:27)

"Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth" (Ps. 67:4).

God expects both obedience and joy. But as Piper suggests, aren't they really intertwined? For the Christian, we obey God with joy and delight in God by obedience.

And that's pretty encouraging.

Why I Need You (And You Need Me)

There is something innate to our humanity that fears loneliness, some drive that puts us in people's way. Even the greatest introvert among us loves to be with her family and treasures contact with her closest friends.

That's why I cried during Castaway. There was something so heartbreaking about a man lost in isolation - a man who needed community so desperately that he painted a volleyball, named it Wilson, and talked to it like a friend.

Physically, he could survive alone. But not emotionally, not mentally.

Our desire for community was God-given. Back in the beginning, when the world was paradise and its inhabitants vegetarians and one man named Adam lived, God said: "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Genesis 2:18 ESV). And He made Eve.

We were made for people, to do life with others, to love and be loved, to laugh together and cry and talk and just be together.

The thing is, our need for community betrays our lack of autonomy. We frequently fool ourselves into believing a vain lie that we are totally self-sufficient creatures - that we don't need anyone, that we have the power to survive on our own.

But our desire for community reminds us that we are needy people. We are dependent creatures. And this need reminds us that we don't just need people; we need God.

He created us for community in His image; we were made to reflect Him as a relational being. Our relationships with people remind us that the God who created me and you and the sunshine and stars and the mountains and laughter and smiles and everything our eyes can take in - everything beautiful - He wants a relationship with us, His people.

That's why I don't want to be alone. I was not made for isolation, for a burlap robe and a hermitage in the wilderness. I was created for community, to reflect my relationship with the greatest Being in the universe in all my interactions with smaller, imperfect, God-created beings in my universe.

People need people. And that ultimately reflects our need for God.

Photo courtesy of Dave B and Flickr Creative Commons.

5 Ways to Make God's Name Famous

God takes His name seriously. That's why we have the third commandment:

"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain" (Ex. 20:7).

We must - with no exception - use God's name with the honor that it deserves. A part of that means making it famous, bringing glory to Him by spreading His name.

That's what we talked about in Sunday School yesterday. My dad offered five ways to make God's name famous.

1. By calling upon His name (Acts 2:21).
We honor His name as holy by recognizing that it is the only thing that can save us. He is Savior; we are not.

2. By telling people that there is no other name by which they can be saved (Acts 4:12).
We honor His name as holy by recognizing that there is power only in His name. And we expressly tell the world that so that they can share our hope.

3. By preaching and teaching in Jesus' name (Acts 4:18). 
We not only evangelize but we also take the time to systematically teach others the gospel by relying on the authority of Jesus.

4. By suffering in Jesus' name (Acts 5:41; 1 Pet. 4:16)
We show the world our allegiance to His name when we suffer for the gospel. We show His sufficiency; He is truly all that we need.

5. By living in worship and obedience to God so that Jesus' name is exalted in our lives (Acts 11:26).
Ultimately, how we live our lives should make His name famous. We should be modelling to the world that His name is exalted in our lives.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Justin Vern.

A Refuge Better Than Helm's Deep

While we east coast Canadians continue to battle Old Man Winter, my dad has been lapping up the California sunshine this past week at the Shepherd's Conference. During last week, Mom and Travis and I have been enjoying lots of candy and, among other things, a Lord of the Rings movie marathon.

Three nights ago we finished off the second movie, The Two Towers. If you're familiar with the story, you'll know Helm's Deep. Helm's Deep was a massive refuge for the people of Rohan, built into the cliffs, solidly protected. It was said that no army could get into this refuge. It was utterly untouchable and stolidly implacable.

But there was a tiny flaw. You see, there was a small drain that cut underneath the refuge and entered the city through a little grate. And when the good people of Rohan holed up in Helm's Deep in The Two Towers and the evil Uruk-Hai armies of Sauron marched against the refuge, the Uruk-Hai found the drain. And they stormed the keep. As massive and protected and apparently unapproachable as Helm's Deep was, this refuge was not unbreachable.

My church was blessed to have Bert Kuehner guest preach yesterday while my dad's in California. He preached on Psalm 46 and Martin Luther's age-enduring hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." He pointed out one thing that was utterly powerful, especially in light of the movie we finished off on Friday.

In the first verse of Psalm 46 we read:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

What Bert Kuehner pointed out was that God is the only refuge that will never fail. Even Helm's Deep could be stormed. Only God will never let you down. For the people of Rohan, Helm's Deep was their saviour, their hope, their lives. But instead of fulfilling their desire for total protection, it only revealed that their hope was ultimately misplaced.

We have our own substitute refuges, Mr. Kuehner pointed out - money, sex, people, pleasure, possessions. But all will fail us. Only One can give us the safety, the protection, the care that we crave. He will never let us down.

And that's some beautiful encouragement for the people of God.

Image Credit: http://elvenesse.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/HelmsDeep.jpg

The Intangible Lure of the Forbidden

Ever since we were toddlers we have known the lure of the forbidden, that intangible enticement to a thing we are not supposed to have. It started with a cookie or your brother's blocks. But really, the lure of the forbidden started long before that.

It started with Eve and the twisted words of a snake. You know you want to eat from the tree; it's the one thing you can't have. God had given Adam and Eve freedom and domain over every other tree in the Garden of Eden. There was only one tree they were not allowed to eat from: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Immediately, this tree became desirable and Satan knew it, and he used that to tempt Eve to disobedience.

There is an intangible lure to the forbidden.

And this clicks lock and key into our sin natures. As human beings we are born with hearts intent on evil, natures fastidiously prideful. We are captains of our own destinies. Do not tell us what to do - or, more accurately, what not to do.

We are drawn to the forbidden because we don't think it should be forbidden. We don't like to think that someone else knows better than us. Something forbidden appeals to our vanity and arrogance.

Eve's obedience toppled under the pressure of the lure of the forbidden and the promise of fulfilled desire. It was a strong pull but she didn't have to give in.

As Christians we are daily tempted by the forbidden - the seemingly easy, cheap, pleasurable opportunities of cheating, fudging the truth, keeping the extra change, viewing pornography, wasting time, speeding, listening to that song with lyrics black and ugly but a tune overtly catchy, overeating, avoiding our devotions, pirating the movie everyone's talking about, sinning.

But Eve's story did not end well. She got what was forbidden all right, but then she realized why it was forbidden. Suddenly crushed under the weight of sin, perfect communion with God was shattered, healthy community with man was splintered, and she and Adam were banished from the garden. Tasting the forbidden has consequences. There's a reason that it's forbidden.

So when you feel the intangible lure, the enticing pull, think of the reality of the result. Think of the pain that sin causes and realize that what has been forbidden for Christians is for our good and for God's glory. And rejoice in that.

You Are Not Strong

There are many moments when we are weak and our stark inability drags us to humility. We feel that our only recourse is to rely on strength not our own. When we are weak, we have faith and we lean on God for repose. We enfold ourselves in the everlasting arms.

But then we have another moment. And we are strong - or at least we believe that we are strong. And suddenly, suddenly leaning doesn't seem so necessary any more. Humility becomes a degradation. If weakness drives us to our knees, strength drives us to our feet, our tiptoes, at our tallest, where we think nothing, no one, can touch us.

Meet Rehoboam, king of Judah.

"When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he was strong, he abandoned the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him" (2 Chronicles 12:1).

The pride swelled within him, his own desperate self-trust, his magnanimous self-esteem. And then his strength crumbled and he learned the hard way that in the face of a holy, righteous, wrathful God, we are not strong.

"In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, because they had been unfaithful to the Lord, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. ... And he took the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem. Then Shemaiah the prophet came to Rehoboam and to the princes of Judah, who had gathered at Jerusalem because of Shishak, and said to them, 'Thus says the Lord, ‘You abandoned me, so I have abandoned you to the hand of Shishak’'" (2 Chronicles 12:2; 4-5).

And then Rehoboam thought that he got it and he humbled himself (v. 6) and said, "The Lord is righteous" probably because he didn't know what else to say. That day, the Lord extended mercy and did not let Shishak destroy him. Nevertheless, for his pride, Judah was forced to go into service for Egypt - as a reminder: we are not strong, and pride goes before destruction.

I am just as wont as King Rehoboam to pridefully deceive myself into self-importance and strength. I am just as wont to slip into idolatry, to lead others into sin with me, to feel self-righteous, proud, and strong. To feel like humility is beneath me.

Rehoboam's story did not have a happy ending. Shishak razed Jerusalem and put the nation in bondage, and Rehoboam lived out the rest of his days in disobedience to God. Our stories need not end so unhappily. Humble yourself before God. It is not a degradation; it is a right response in worship. Lean on the everlasting arms. Trust and obey.

Rejoice in your weakness, for then, you are strong.

It's Okay to Be Sad at Christmas

The Christmas season naturally buoys many people's moods. The lights, the tinsel, trees, turkeys, canned carols - all of it contributes to a positive boost in many's mental state. As Jim Carrey's Grinch facetiously quips, "Even if we're horribly mangled, there'll be no sad faces at Christmas." After all, it is the most wonderful, magical, twinkly, sparkly, holly, jolly time of the year!

But not everybody is happy at Christmas. And that's okay. Sometimes grief lingers at Christmas. Sometimes Christmas reminds us of loss. Sometimes Christmas reminds us of empty chairs. Sometimes Christmas reminds us of the things we can't do any more. Sometimes Christmas reminds us of the physical disabilities that restrain us. Sometimes Christmas hurts. Sometimes Christmas makes us sad.

We need to remember the hurting this Christmas, those suffering loss, those who are discouraged and depressed, those who are ill. Christmas is not a naturally cheery season for them. And then we need to encourage them in joy. That doesn't mean we play "Jingle Bells" until their ears bleed or tell them Santa jokes until they proffer a conciliatory chuckle. We don't necessarily try to cheer them up; we encourage them to seek their joy in the Lord. We model that and we love them and we point them to Jesus.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

Only in Christ do we see joy. Only because of Christmas can we say, "Joy to the world."

Image Credit: https://eclecticopiners.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/sad_santa.jpg

Why Protestants Need a Priest

Being a Protestant, priests make me kind of uncomfortable. Most of them are nice enough, kind enough people but we disagree significantly and deeply about theological concerns. Priests conjure up comparison images of unnecessary trappings, adornments to a false view of Christianity. When I think of priests, I think of pure unnecessity. Bible-believing Christians do not need the clerical-collared fathers of the Catholic church.

So that's why I faltered a little when Nancy Guthrie told me I needed a priest.

In The Lamb of God, she writes not about the Catholic priesthood but the Old Testament priesthood, She carefully explains the significance of their tribal headship (being of the tribe of Levi) and their clothes and their customs and why God gave them such specific duties. The people of Israel needed priests, she wrote. They needed someone to intercede before God on their behalf and to offer atonement for their sins. They couldn't atone for their sins on their own. That's why the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies once a year and that's why priests offered sacrifice after sacrifice.

We today still have the same problem. We cannot atone for our own sins. But we don't need Old Testament priests anymore. That's because one Priest has offered atonement once and for all. That Priest has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. He has offered not the blood of bulls or goats but His own blood, shed for the forgiveness of our sins. That Priest is Jesus - and we need Him.

It is said that Jesus fulfills the three primary Old Testament roles - prophet, priest, and king. People often talk about both Jesus' kingship and His prophecies but it is rare that we soak in the priesthood of Christ. The author of Hebrews loved this concept, though. His writings are rich and heavy with the theme of Jesus' betterness as a priest. See this in the following passage:

"The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 

For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever." - Hebrews 7:23-28

We cannot wash away our sins ourselves. We need a priest to do it for us. But thank God that we have one, one named Jesus, who intercedes for us. Nancy Guthrie writes:

"Do you need to humbly acknowledge your need for this priest? You can have all the suspicion you'd like about the religious establishment, but you simply cannot ignore your desperate need for this priest. He who is clothed in holiness, glory, and beauty will represent you before God so that when God looks at you, he will see only absolute holiness, radiant glory, and rapturous beauty."

That is good news for us Protestants today, for we need a Priest.

God is Angry (And Other Musings on the Wrath of God)

Even to Christians who have a strong biblical understanding of God's justice, most of us still (perhaps secretly) think it's a little appalling. God is angry. We reject the effeminate, pretty Spirit in the sky that the world worships, but to think of our God as actively angry still makes us a feel squeamish and awkward and sad.

We studied this point in Sunday School briefly this past Lord's Day and discussed some worthwhile reflections on the anger of God. As with the rest of His attributes, God is purely righteous in His anger (Rom. 2:5). He is wholly justified and strictly blameless. This is difficult for us to comprehend because our anger is usually sinful. As we considered in Sunday School, our anger is an emotion that often arises out of sin. That's why Paul has to counsel in Ephesians 4:26, "Be angry and do not sin."

But God's anger is totally other-than ours. My dad defines His anger in a way that I think is very rich. He calls it God's "settled disposition toward His enemies." And God's enemies are all who willingly choose to reject Him. Thus God's disposition toward them is settled. It's not come upon Him in a fit of frustration. He doesn't blow a fuse. He righteously hates the evil.

"The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies" (Nahum 1:2).

"The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath" (Psalm 110:5).

But people with a deeply skewed understanding of the Bible like to see two different Gods - one in the Old Testament and one in the New. The Old Testament God is angry, a God of blind and bitter judgement. His fingertips itch for fire and brimstone. Punishment is what He does best. And then this vindictive God disappears for four hundred years and Jesus suddenly steps onto the scene in the New Testament, meek and lamb-like and simply nice. The flannelgraphs never lie; Jesus always carries around a smile and a vision to reduce physical suffering. He's so sweet.

Sadly, these people don't understand the character of God. Jesus is not a mild manifestation of an Old Testament dictator. He is a member of the unified trinity. He is God. And God does not have split personalities or mood swings, good cop, bad cop, furious one day, cheerful the next. There is no angry God in the Old Testament, nice God in the New. God's anger operates within the rest of His characteristics. And the unified Bible presents one God who is perfect in love and perfect in justice. He is holy, thus He must execute judgement as a just judge.

This theme of God's anger winds through the entire narrative of Scripture, Old and New. Sometimes I see His anger more bluntly in the New.

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18).

"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming" (Colossians 3:5-6).

But the good news about God's anger is that, though it is fierce against God's enemies, it is removed from God's people. 

"For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:9).

"Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God" (Rom. 5:9).

This is very good news for today. It gives us hope for tomorrow! We can live in a right relationship with God, all because "For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). Because of the blood of Christ, our blood need not be shed. Because of the righteousness of Christ, we are free from having to live a perfectly righteous life (a task we could never accomplish). Because Jesus endured the wrath of God, we are free from it. Because Jesus was resurrected from the dead, our eternal life is secure.

Because of Jesus, God is not angry at us.

The Most Warped Love Story Ever

Jacob and Rachel had the potential to have one of the most romantic love stories ever. Despite their different upbringings, circumstances threw them together and upon love at first sight, it seemed the stars were aligned for these young lovers. But then their castle in the sky crumbled and everything fell apart.

But let's go back to their beginnings. Jacob had grown up in a home splintered by parental favoritism. His father loved his outdoors-man older brother more, but Jacob's mom favoured him, spoiling him, perhaps even babying him a bit. When Jacob and his brother grew older, a full out family feud between the two sons broke out (it probably had something to do with Jacob deceiving their father into leaving the portion of his will to Jacob instead of his brother). Jacob's mom grew worried and sent him to stay with relatives out of town.

These relatives were the family of Jacob's uncle. And among these relatives lived Rachel. Rachel grew up with an older sister, Leah, but Rachel got the looks in the family. Leah was the plain Jane, while Rachel more than made up for her sister's deficiencies. Her family was well-off, perhaps due to her rather shifty businessman of a father. And the day Jacob showed up and fell in love with Rachel, everything began falling into place.

But maybe you know the rest. This love story is found in Genesis 29. And its pure innocence was soon tarnished by sin and deceit. Rachel's father, Laban, clever as he was crafty, saw Jacob's love for his second-born daughter (key fact here) and when Jacob asked to marry her, Laban agreed. But for the bride price (a cultural payment made by the groom to his father-in-law to show his love for and commitment to the bride), Laban roped Jacob into working for him for seven years first.

So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. (Genesis 29:20)

Then came the wedding. After the feast, Jacob went into his bride. Fast forward to the next morning, the bride's veil was lifted, and surprise! Here was not his beloved Rachel, but her older sister, Leah - the firstborn. When Jacob stormed to Laban to ask him why Leah was given to him, Laban was all like,

"It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years."

So now Rachel and Jacob are Rachel, Leah, and Jacob. And soon when the children start coming, Bilhah and Zilpah (Leah and Rachel's slave girls) are given to Jacob to make more babies. So we've now got one guy, four women, and lots of kids. Furthermore, when Rachel begins struggling with infertility and Leah's womb gets opened instead, Leah sells mandrakes (a plant thought to bring fertility) to Rachel for a night to sleep with Jacob!

This is the most warped love story ever. What was once so beautiful fast spiraled out of control. Sin destroyed this love story.

And sin continues to destroy love stories today. Our culture is a sap for these stories, none of which are about true love - sexual purity, fidelity, faithfulness, and commitment in a marriage between a man and a woman - but instead about a false love. Their stories are just as warped as Jacob and Rachel's. Their stories are about emotions and feelings and men who want to marry each other and boyfriends and girlfriends who live together and teen pregnancy and divorce. They don't realize that outside of God's plan for marriage, there is no such thing as true love. What they have are the shattered remains of the Fall. Sin soaks their relationships.

God created sexuality to be a good thing within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman. It is an expression of true love. Last week in Bible Study we studied Proverbs 5-7, warnings against sexual immorality and calls to stay pure and faithful within marriage. The pure young man and his bride who follow the wisdom of Proverbs have the real love story. Jacob and Rachel (and Leah and Bilhah and Zilpah) said no to God's good design and let sin bring corruption and pain. That story definitely had no happy ending.

Standing up for the biblical, beautiful vision of marriage and sexual purity is a scary thing these days. It's awkward and weird and sometimes just plain painful. But true love is too important not to defend.

Image Credit: http://www.creationswap.com/artwork/9/3/22/9952/9322_9952_5.jpg