Liberty

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker. (Galatians 2:15-18)

As Baptists, we believe in something called “individual soul liberty.” No one can force us to believe anything. Or do anything. We have something called “The Baptist Faith and Message”; it says what Baptists believe. But an important thing to understand about it: it is descriptive, not prescriptive. It gives us an idea of what most Baptists think, if we took all the millions of us in aggregate. But it doesn’t tell us what we have to believe. The Bible is the only authority for our faith and practice. If the Baptist Faith and Message were prescriptive, then that would mean we’re placing it above the Bible. If we needed to do what men in authority told us to do, or to think, then we’d be putting them above the Bible. If we honored and obeyed the traditions of men, then again, we’d be putting them above the Bible. We have no Baptist pope or Baptist bishops. Each and everyone one of us is a priest before God, filled with the Holy Spirit. We are congregationally ruled. We get together and talk and pray and make decisions. We vote. No one but God and our collective decision determines our course of action.

There is no human intermediary between us and God but the man Christ Jesus, who also happens to be God. No one has more of the Holy Spirit than anyone else. We all stand equal before God.

That’s why Paul felt no qualms putting Peter in his place or ignoring parts of the letter from the Jerusalem church council. The “so called pillars” were just that. They were no better than Paul. And Paul’s no better than us.

Keeping the law does not justify us. The traditions of the religion he grew up in did not justify him. His relationship with God was not dependent upon what people said, whether they recognized God’s call on his life or not. His relationship with God was dependent upon God, upon the finished work of Christ on the cross. His calling was from God, not from people. He would obey God rather than man.

Paul is leading up to the point that we are not saved according to what we do, but according to what Jesus did.

The only peer pressure to feel is the pressure of Jesus.

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What God Puts Up With

“I have held My peace a long time,
I have been still and restrained Myself.
Now I will cry like a woman in labor,
I will pant and gasp at once.
I will lay waste the mountains and hills,
And dry up all their vegetation;
I will make the rivers coastlands,
And I will dry up the pools.
I will bring the blind by a way they did not know;
I will lead them in paths they have not known.
I will make darkness light before them,
And crooked places straight.
These things I will do for them,
And not forsake them.
They shall be turned back,
They shall be greatly ashamed,
Who trust in carved images,
Who say to the molded images,
You are our gods.’
“Hear, you deaf;
And look, you blind, that you may see.
Who is blind but My servant,
Or deaf as My messenger whom I send?
Who is blind as he who is perfect,
And blind as the LORD’s servant?
Seeing many things, but you do not observe;
Opening the ears, but he does not hear.” (Isaiah 42:14-20)

God has feelings too. He is passionate, he is expressive, he is not ashamed to let people see his heart. God can be very patient, he can outwait anyone. For the longest time, it may seem like he isn’t there or that he doesn’t care. But sometimes he is merely restraining himself. Because of his desperate love for his people, he would like to act immediately. But because he is also wise, he waits for the right moment. Like a parent who keeps the wonderful present hidden until Christmas morning, no matter how much the parent would like the child to enjoy it now, so God restrains his excitement and joy. Likewise, a soldier might wish to destroy his enemy this instant, but he holds back squeezing the trigger until the enemy is actually in his sights. Too early, and he will miss.

Israel was God’s servant, designed by him to serve as the world’s priests (Exodus 19:5-6). He had hoped they would lead the world to him. Instead, the world had led Israel astray. God knows what those he loves most need, and he knows when they need it. He can wait until just the right moment, to give just that which is most needed. Sometimes it may seem God is doing nothing, when the reality is that he is very busy indeed.

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Dissing God

“I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.

“You have said harsh things against me,” says the LORD.

“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’

“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’ ” (Malachi 3:6-15)

God’s character is consistent: he is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and never fails. All part of Paul’s definition of “love” and since God is love (1 John 4:7-8) what Paul says of love is true also of God. As a result of who God is, God has not destroyed Israel. From the time of the Exodus until the time of the prophet quoting God’s words in this passage, the Israelites had been rebellious and disobedient, chasing after other gods and concerned only with themselves instead of others. In typical fashion, they are oblivious; they don’t understand why God could be bothered by their behavior. But despite all their sin, God’s love for them has never—and can never—falter.

So the Israelites are unconvinced that it is in their best interests to serve God. Because the rain falls on the just and the unjust, they think it doesn’t matter which they are. As if one should be good only if one gets paid for it—as if the only reason to get good grades in school is because your parents paid you more for an A than they did for a C.

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Worthless Sacrifices

The LORD of Heaven’s Armies says to the priests: “A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. If I am your father and master, where are the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for my name!

“But you ask, ‘How have we ever shown contempt for your name?’

“You have shown contempt by offering defiled sacrifices on my altar.

“Then you ask, ‘How have we defiled the sacrifices?’

“You defile them by saying the altar of the LORD deserves no respect. When you give blind animals as sacrifices, isn’t that wrong? And isn’t it wrong to offer animals that are crippled and diseased? Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.

“Go ahead, beg God to be merciful to you! But when you bring that kind of offering, why should he show you any favor at all?” asks the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.

“How I wish one of you would shut the Temple doors so that these worthless sacrifices could not be offered! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “and I will not accept your offerings. But my name is honored by people of other nations from morning till night. All around the world they offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name is great among the nations,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 1:6-11)

God wanted the Temple shut down. He was tired of offerings that were meaningless because they were thoughtless: a mere empty ritualism that grew not out of any genuine devotion to God, but out of superstition. The Israelites performed the rituals because they thought that in so doing they could get God to perform, as if God were a vending machine awaiting the right number of quarters before he would pop out the bag of chips. For that reason, God wanted the Israelites to stop sacrificing to him.

The prophet said that God’s name was honored by people of other nations and that they worshipped him. While some have suggested that this is referring to those Jewish people already in exile in Babylon and Assyria, the more likely understanding is that this is a prophesy of what was going to happen: the gentiles, those who were not Jewish, would see the light and become worshippers of God. Then the Temple would be destroyed, ending the sacrificial system once and for all. The Temple was destroyed by the Romans during the summer of 70 AD, and the gospel message has been taken around the globe. As Jesus said, his true worshippers worship not at a temple, but in spirit and truth.

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The Inhertance

Some time after this conversation, Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” He took his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, and went to Jacob. When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come,” he roused himself and sat up in bed.

Jacob said to Joseph, “The Strong God appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me. He said, ‘I’m going to make you prosperous and numerous, turn you into a congregation of tribes; and I’ll turn this land over to your children coming after you as a permanent inheritance.’ I’m adopting your two sons who were born to you here in Egypt before I joined you; they have equal status with Reuben and Simeon. But any children born after them are yours; they will come after their brothers in matters of inheritance. I want it this way because, as I was returning from Paddan, your mother Rachel, to my deep sorrow, died as we were on our way through Canaan when we were only a short distance from Ephrath, now called Bethlehem.” (Isaiah 31:4-9)

The land of the Canaanites belongs to the Jewish people. Among the promises that God gave Abraham, was a promise that the land he was a wanderer in would belong to him and his offspring (Genesis 13:14-17). Later, God gave that same promise to Isaac, and then again to Jacob, to whom twelve sons were born: the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. The promise that God gave became increasingly focused; it was not given to all the descendents of Abraham, who was the father not only of Isaac, but also of Ishmael and many others (born to other wives that he married after Sarah’s death). Isaac alone was the son of promise. And the promise did not extend to both sons of Isaac, but only to Jacob and his twelve sons.

For the two sons born to Jacob’s son Joseph, Jacob does something special. He adopts them. They become the equal of his other twelve sons. Why? The descendents of one of his sons, Levi, would be separated from the other tribes of Israel. They would receive no land (Deuteronomy 10:9). By splitting Joseph into two tribes, the land that God gave to the nation of Israel could still be divided twelve ways. Though the Levites were given no territory at all, Joseph would get a double portion, divided between Ephraim and Manasseh.

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When the Spirit Comes

“Then I will make up to you for the years
That the swarming locust has eaten,
The creeping locust, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust,
My great army which I sent among you.
“You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied
And praise the name of the LORD your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you;
Then My people will never be put to shame.
“Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel,
And that I am the LORD your God,
And there is no other;
And My people will never be put to shame.
“It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
“Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
“I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth,
Blood, fire and columns of smoke.
“The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood
Before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.
“And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD
Will be delivered;
For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
There will be those who escape,
As the LORD has said,
Even among the survivors whom the LORD calls. (Joel 2:25-32)

On the day of Pentecost, the celebration that followed fifty days after the Passover, Peter quoted from this prophesy of Joel to explain the arrival of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus. He told his audience that these words had been fulfilled on that wonderful morning.

The word translated “Lord” in most English translations of the Old Testament is God’s name, Yahweh. Following their captivity in Babylon, Jewish people had decided to stop saying God’s name so that they could make sure they would never violated the commandment against using God’s name “in vain.” Instead, whenever they saw God’s name, they would substitute the Hebrew word meaning “Lord.” They even followed that custom when they translated the Bible into other languages. So in the time of Peter, when he used the Greek translation of Joel’s prophesy, he used the Greek form of the word “Lord.”

In his sermon that morning, Peter took that verse, “that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” and applied it to Jesus. For the disciples, all Jewish, when they called Jesus Lord, they were not calling him master or boss. They were calling him “Yahweh”—the God of Israel who had spoken to the patriarchs and who had led the people out of Egypt.

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SpaceX Launch and Landing for July 18, 2016

This is a video replay of the latest launch and landing of SpaceX’s Falcon 9, this time delivering cargo to the International Space Station. Coverage begins at about the 11 minute mark on this video.

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Just Desserts

“They sow the wind,
And reap the whirlwind.
The stalk has no bud;
It shall never produce meal.
If it should produce,
Aliens would swallow it up.
Israel is swallowed up;
Now they are among the Gentiles
Like a vessel in which is no pleasure.
For they have gone up to Assyria,
Like a wild donkey alone by itself;
Ephraim has hired lovers.
Yes, though they have hired among the nations,
Now I will gather them;
And they shall sorrow a little,
Because of the burden of the king of princes.
“Because Ephraim has made many altars for sin,
They have become for him altars for sinning.
I have written for him the great things of My law,
But they were considered a strange thing.
For the sacrifices of My offerings they sacrifice flesh and eat it,
But the LORD does not accept them.
Now He will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.
They shall return to Egypt.
“For Israel has forgotten his Maker,
And has built temples;
Judah also has multiplied fortified cities;
But I will send fire upon his cities,
And it shall devour his palaces.” (Hosea 8:7-14)

The word for “sin” and the word for “sin offering” are one and the same in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament. This is why Paul later writes of Jesus that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The sin offering is identified with the sin, becomes one with the sin, and so as the sin offering is offered to God and burned up in the sacrifice, the sin is purged away, destroyed, and forgiven.

Just as a farmer will harvest the sort of crop that he planted back in Spring, so the nation of Israel is going to harvest what it has planted. They had put their trust and dependence upon vapor. Thus, when the Assyrians invaded, the Israelite’s non-existent gods rendered the aid of the pretend: and so Israel returned to captivity. Metaphorically speaking, they were back in Egypt. Once there, they would eventually figure out their mistake, repent, and God would forgive them, rescuing them once again from their mistake. Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive those who sinned against him. God’s relationship with Israel is an illustration of the answer.

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The Time of Reaping

For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed.
When I would restore the fortunes of my people,
when I would heal Israel,
the corruption of Ephraim is revealed,
and the wicked deeds of Samaria;
for they deal falsely,
the thief breaks in,
and the bandits raid outside.
But they do not consider
that I remember all their wickedness.
Now their deeds surround them,
they are before my face.
By their wickedness they make the king glad,
and the officials by their treachery.
They are all adulterers;
they are like a heated oven,
whose baker does not need to stir the fire,
from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened.
On the day of our king the officials
became sick with the heat of wine;
he stretched out his hand with mockers.
For they are kindled like an oven, their heart burns within them;
all night their anger smolders;
in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.
All of them are hot as an oven,
and they devour their rulers.
All their kings have fallen;
none of them calls upon me. (Hosea 6:11-7:7)

Harvests were happy times of celebration in ancient agrarian societies because they meant that the people didn’t have to worry about starving to death that year. A good autumn harvest meant there would be enough seed to plant next spring.

But Hosea used the happy time as a metaphor for God’s judgment on his people. How could such a joyful event become a symbol of judgment? From the perspective of the crops harvested, the reaping was a painful thing: the crops were mowed down, threshed, and the leftover chaff was burned. Harvests were inherently violent. Animals were slaughtered and their meat smoked or salted to preserve it during the long dark winter. The unconsumed grain went into the barns.

But harvests are not destructive. They are not designed to harm. They are for the benefit of all concerned, ensuring the continuation of life. So a harvest captures clearly the true nature of judgment. God loved his people. He disciplined them for their own good. God always acts in love, but how it is perceived depends on whether you look at things from the perspective of the grain being chopped down and threshed, or from the perspective of the hungry farmer.

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Unfaithful

The LORD said, “Hosea, Israel has betrayed me like an unfaithful wife. Marry such a woman and have children by her.” So I married Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and we had a son.

Then the LORD said, “Hosea, name your son Jezreel, because I will soon punish the descendants of King Jehu of Israel for the murders he committed in Jezreel Valley. I will destroy his kingdom, and in Jezreel Valley I will break the power of Israel.”

Later, Gomer had a daughter, and the LORD said, “Name her Lo-Ruhamah, because I will no longer have mercy and forgive Israel. But I am the LORD God of Judah, and I will have mercy and save Judah by my own power—not by wars and arrows or swords and cavalry.”

After Gomer had stopped nursing Lo-Ruhamah, she had another son. Then the LORD said, “Name him Lo-Ammi, because these people are not mine, and I am not their God.”

Someday it will be impossible to count the people of Israel, because there will be as many of them as there are grains of sand along the seashore. They are now called “Not My People,” but in the future they will be called “Children of the Living God.” Israel and Judah will unite and choose one leader. Then they will take back their land, and this will be a great day for Jezreel. (Hosea 1:2-11)

The worst job in the world is to be God’s prophet. In order to illustrate Israelite behavior, prophets became God’s performance art. The Israelites had betrayed God and chased after other gods. Therefore, God had Hosea purposely find a woman who would behave toward him just as the Israelites had behaved toward God. In marrying Gomer, Hosea had no illusions about what he was getting himself into. And from the very first day, she continued to live and act like the prostitute she was.

And the performance art extended to his children. The name Jezereel was given to his son as a symbol of God’s displeasure with what Jehu had done. The name “Lo-Ruhamah” means “unloved” while “Lo-Ammi” means “not my people,” standing for what Israel had become.

After repentance and restoration, however, the Israelites would be “as many as the grains of sand on the seashore.” The phrase is hyperbole, not literal. It simply means that there will be a lot of them. Hosea’s wife would one day become faithful to him, just as one day Israel would become faithful to God. Both Hosea and God get to have a happy ending.

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