Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Developing Your Spiritual Life by Gazing at Glory:

a Meditation on 2 Corinthians 3:18 (Part 1 of 3)


"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord,

are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."

2 Corinthians 3:18 KJV


     Although electronic digital cameras with their instant results have exploded with popularity, perhaps you still remember or use a camera which requires actual film.  These cameras cause an image to be captured as a negative on the film.  The film is taken to a photo development lab, where equipment in a darkroom transfers the image from a negative to a positive print.  Whereas a digital camera allows you to see an image of the finished picture instantly, you actually have to wait (usually at least an hour) before seeing how film turned out.

     Sometimes pictures do not turn out as we expect.  Whenever taking a picture with such the film cameras, one would need to ask a few questions if the picture did not turn out as expected.  The questions might include:  Did I take the lenscap off?  Did I give the camera sufficient exposure to the scene I tried to capture?  What does the development actually show?

     There is an analogy here for our spiritual lives.  We are not like digital cameras that produce the image for instant viewing.  Rather, we are in a process of development much more akin to the film that had to be developed.  God made man in His image, to reflect His glory (Genesis 1:26-27), but this image was shattered by man's rebellion against His Creator.  Christ, the perfect image of God (Hebrews 1:3), came to restore this image in those who believe in Him.  God's plan for His chosen ones is that they be "conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29).  In order to develop properly, 2 Corinthians 3:18 reminds us of three things we must keep in mind.


1. The lenscap must be removed. 


     Proper spiritual development requires an unveiled face.  Paul speaks of an "open" or "unveiled" face.  In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul makes use of contrast to bring home his point.

     The first contrast is that of the Old to the New Covenant.  In the Old Covenant, only a privileged few, such as Moses, beheld God's glory.  However, because of the coming of Jesus Christ, the New Covenant offers such beholding to all believers.

     The second contrast is that of the veil that exists for those who do not trust Christ with the unveiled faces of believers.  The Bible says that the veil that Moses had to place over his face to shield the Israelites from the reflected glory of God continues as a veil over the "reading of the old testament" to this day, unless they turn to the Lord, who takes the veil away in Christ.  The Spirit of God accomplishes this through His omnipotent power – the same power that created the world.  "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). 

     So, the first thing to remember in seeking spiritual development is that the lenscap must be taken off.  God does this for those who turn to the Lord.  He is the one who removes their blindness, gives them life, and shines His glorious light in their hearts.  There is absolutely no growth in Christlikeness unless one is converted to trust in the Lord.

     What do you think a blind man in a dark room would do if he knew that his sight had been restored?  He would desire to get out into the light to see all the things he had been missing.  In the same way, when God removes the veil so we can see His glory, we will desire to do so, and that leads to the second thing we must remember for proper spiritual development, which I will take up in my next post.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Imprecatory Psalms - 3 of 3
 Enjoying God Ministries
Those Troubling Psalms of Imprecation (3) (Ps. 35, etc.)
Sam Storms
May 16, 2007

Let me conclude our study of these unsettling psalms with a few words of practical application taken from my book, The Singing God (pp. 169-75).
Although it may sound contradictory, we are to "love" those whom we "hate". We love our enemies by doing good to them (Luke 6:27). We love them by providing food when they are hungry and water when they thirst (Romans 12:20). We love our enemies by blessing them when they persecute and oppress us (Romans 12:14). We love them by responding to their mistreatment with prayers for their salvation (Luke 6:28).
And yes, we are to "hate" those whom we "love". When they persistently oppose the kingdom of Christ and will not repent, our jealousy for the name of Jesus should prompt us to pray: "O, Lord, wilt Thou not slay the wicked? Vindicate your name, O Lord, and may justice prevail in the destruction of those who have hardened their hearts in showing spite to your glory."
Our love is to be the sort that cannot be explained in purely human terms. It isn't enough simply to refrain from retaliating. We are to bless and pray for those who do us harm. I don't know who said it, but I agree: To return evil for evil is demonic. To return good for good is human. But to return good for evil is divine!
That sentiment is certainly Pauline! The apostle said as much when he told us not to seek vengeance on those who do us dirty. However, many have misunderstood Paul, as if he's saying all vengeance is evil. But he says no such thing. The reason we are not to seek vengeance is because God has said he will (Romans 12:19), and he can do a much better job of it than we!
Enemy-love means that instead of responding to evil with evil of our own we are to do good. "In many cases," says Dan Allender, "'doing good' is simply being thoughtful and kind. It boils down to nothing more glamorous than pouring a cup of coffee for someone or warmly greeting them at church and asking about their weekend. Kindness is the gift of thoughtfulness ('Let me look for ways I can serve you') and compassion ('Let me know how I can enter your heart')" ( Bold Love, 211).
Paul tells us that in loving our enemies we shall "overcome evil". Allender points out that when your enemy receives good for evil it both surprises and shames him, both of which have the potential to transform his heart.
The enemy spews out his venom expecting you to respond in kind. Part of the wicked pleasure he derives from being an enemy comes from provoking you to act just as wickedly as he does. "Goodness," though, "trips up the enemy by foiling his battle plans. The enemy anticipates compliance or defensive coldness, harshness, or withdrawal. The last thing he expects is sustained kindness and steadfast strength. Therefore, when evil is met with goodness, it is apt to respond with either exasperated fury or stunned incredulity. Goodness breaks the spell the enemy tries to cast and renders him powerless" (216).
Goodness, empowered by God's grace, might even open a crack in his hard-shelled heart. Powerless to explain your response in terms of what he knows about human behavior, he is led to acknowledge the life-changing presence of divine love in and through you and your response to his malicious intent. Allender explains the impact of this "turning the other cheek":
"The enemy's real pleasure in striking out is the power he enjoys to intimidate and shame. He enjoys inflicting the harm, to some degree, because it gives him a sense of control and the fantasy of being like God. Turning one's cheek to the assault of the enemy demonstrates, without question, that the first blow was impotent and shameful. What was meant to enslave is foiled. Like a boomerang, the harm swoops around and smacks the back of the head of the one who meant harm. A sorehead may, with the working of the Spirit of God, ask, 'Why did I strike that man?' and eventually ask of the one hit, 'Why didn't you retaliate?' Again, a measure of astonishment and curiosity is stirred, and the path toward repentance becomes slightly less dim" (224-25).
Furthermore, goodness shames the enemy. It forces him to look at himself rather than you. When the light of kindness shines back in the face of darkness, the latter is exposed for what it really is. Attention is diverted from the abused to the abuser. The shame he feels upon being "found out" will either harden or soften his heart.
In the very early days of my ministry, I was interim pastor of a small church with a history of internal problems. The tiny congregation stood on the brink of yet another split. A congregational meeting was convened at which everyone was given an opportunity to speak his or her mind.
I was young and a bit uncertain of myself, but when the time came I rose to my feet and tried to speak words of encouragement and unity. Suddenly, quite literally in mid-sentence, I was loudly interrupted by a lady who proceeded to accuse me of trying to "steal" the church for my own selfish gain. Unknown to her, or to anyone else present, I had previously accepted an invitation to join the pastoral staff at another church in the same city.
Her words were sharp and cut deeply into my heart. I distinctly remember formulating in my mind a plan of attack, to be launched as soon as she quit speaking. Were it not for the grace of God I would have destroyed her (and perhaps, unwittingly, myself as well). But the Spirit silenced my youthful impetuosity. As soon as her verbal barrage ceased, I resumed my comments at precisely the point where I left off. I did not respond to her accusations. I made no attempt at self-defense. It was as if she had never said a word.
The outcome was stunning. My refusal to engage her in the verbal gutter (a decision I attribute wholly to God's grace) served to both silence and shame her. By declining to respond in kind, her baseless attack was exposed for what it was. Goodness acted like a shield that caused her venom to ricochet back upon her own head. My intent was not to humiliate or harm her in any way, but to lovingly compel her to own up to the motivation of her heart. For the first time I understood what Paul meant when he said, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head" (Romans 12:20).
"But Sam, you don't know who my enemies are. You have no idea how vile and vengeful and irritating they can be. They take advantage of my goodness, they are unfair, they exploit the fact that I'm a Christian, they constantly embarrass me in front of others and lie about me behind my back."
I don't doubt for a moment that what you say is true. I've still got a few enemies like that myself. But if Stephen could love those who viciously stoned him, what excuse do we have for not loving people whose attack on us is admittedly far less grievous?
And what of Jesus himself? Did he not lovingly pray for his executioners even as they drove iron spikes through his hands and feet? John Stott is surely on the mark: "If the cruel torture of crucifixion could not silence our Lord's prayer for his enemies, what pain, pride, prejudice or sloth could justify the silencing of ours?" ( Christian Counter Culture, 119).
So, the next time someone starts throwing stones in your direction, remember the words of Peter:
"For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:19-23).

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Imprecatory Psalms - 2 of 3
 Enjoying God Ministries
Those Troubling Psalms of Imprecation (2) (Ps. 35, etc.)
Sam Storms
May 14, 2007

I love the Psalms. No book in all of Scripture has ministered to me as powerfully as this collection of inspired prayers and praise. Any suggestion that they are less than the inspired Word of God is deeply troubling to me. So how are we to make sense of these imprecatory outbursts in which the psalmist pleads for God's wrath and destruction of the wicked?
Let me make several suggestions that might help.
(1) We should remember that in Deut. 27-28 the Levites pronounce imprecations against Israel if she proves unfaithful to the covenant. Israel, in accepting the law, brought herself under its sanctions. She in essence pronounced curses upon herself should she break the covenant, and God looked on their response with favor. In other words, God's people were commanded to pray for God's curses upon themselves if they forsook him! As Wenham has said, "The 'jealous' God of the OT is every bit as severe on His own covenant people when they are unfaithful to Him, as He is on the nations who have always served other gods."
(2) These prayers are not expressions of personal vengeance. In fact, most imprecations are in psalms written by David, perhaps the least vengeful man in the OT (consider his dealings with Saul, Nabal, Absalom, Shimei, etc.; see especially 2 Sam. 24:12). David never asks that he be allowed to "get even" with or "pay back" his enemies. His prayer is that God would act justly in dealing with transgressors. There is a vast difference between vindication and vindictiveness. David's passion was for the triumph of divine justice, not the satisfaction of personal malice . The OT was as much opposed to seeking personal vengeance against one's personal enemies as is the NT (see Exod. 23:4-5; Lev. 19:17-18).
(3) We also must remember that imprecations are nothing more than human prayers based on divine promises. One is simply asking God to do what he has already said he will do (often repeatedly throughout the Psalms themselves). For example, in Matthew 7:23 Jesus declares that on the day of judgment he will say to hypocrites, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." Is it wrong for us to pray that Jesus do precisely that? Is it wrong for us to build a prayer on a promise? "Oh, Lord, cause those to depart from you who do evil," appears to be a perfectly legitimate petition. (In this regard, compare Pss. 35:5 with 1:4; 58:6 with 3:7; 35:8 with 9:15; and 35:26 with 6:10.)
(4) Imprecations are expressions provoked by the horror of sin. David prayed this way because of his deep sensitivity to the ugliness of evil. Perhaps the chief reason why he wasn't bothered by prayers of imprecation and we are is that he was bothered by sin and we aren't! It is frightening to think that we can stand in the presence of evil and not be moved to pray as David did.
(5) The motivation behind such prayers is zeal for God's righteousness, God's honor, God's reputation, and the triumph of God's kingdom. Is our willingness to ignore blasphemy and overlook evil due to a deficiency in our love for God and his name? Could our reaction to the imprecatory psalms be traced to the fact that we love men and their favor more than we love God and his?
(6) Another factor to keep in mind is that David, being king, was God's representative on earth. Thus, an attack on David was, in effect, an attack on God. David's enemies were not his private opponents but adversaries of God. David's ire is aroused because they "speak against you [God] with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain! Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?" (Psalm 139:20-21; cf. Psalm 5:10; emphasis mine).
(7) The prayers of imprecation are rarely, if ever, for the destruction of a specific individual but almost always of a class or group, namely, "the wicked" or "those who oppose Thee".
(8) We must keep in mind that in most instances these prayers for divine judgment come only after extended efforts on the part of the psalmist to call the enemies of God to repentance. These are not cases of a momentary resistance to God but of unrepentant, recalcitrant, incessant, hardened and haughty defiance of him.
In other words, the psalmist calls for divine judgment against them so long as they persist in their rebellion. We love our enemies by praying for their repentance. But if they callously and consistently refuse, our only recourse is to pray that God's judgment be full and fair.
It's important to remember that there often comes a time in human sin when God withdraws his merciful hand and gives over the human heart to its chosen path. Paul described this in Romans 1. Jesus envisioned a pattern of sin so persistent and calloused that he declared it unforgivable (see Matthew 12:32; see also 1 Cor. 16:22).
(9) It has also been argued that it is in fact the Lord Jesus Christ himself who is praying these psalms of imprecation. "David, by the Spirit of Christ in him, speaks far beyond his own understanding and experience. He anticipates the coming, suffering, deliverance, and exaltation of his Son and Lord – Jesus, the Christ" (Adams). But what about Christ's prayer from the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34)? James Dick offers this explanation:
"There would, indeed be a great inconsistency if Christ had prayed in the same circumstances and concerning the same persons, 'Destroy them,' and 'Forgive them.' . . . It was fitting that when he was executing His great commission to give His life a ransom for sinners He should offer a prayer that would reveal His goodwill toward men, and would prove incontestably that He was long-suffering, slow to anger, willing to forgive iniquity, transgression, and sin. This, doubtless, and much more that cannot be dwelt on now may be found in the prayer for forgiveness. But there comes a time, and there come circumstances, when His long-suffering has an end, and when those who refuse to kiss the Son must perish from the way when His wrath is kindled but a little. It is equally fitting, then, that in His mediatorial character He should pray for their destruction. The Psalms themselves present both sides of His mediatorial character and work in these respects" ("The 'Imprecatory Psalms,'" Psalm-Singers' Conference [Belfast: Fountain Printing, 1903], 94).
(10) John Piper makes the following important observation:
"The apostle Paul quoted the very imprecatory words of Psalm 69:22-23 in Romans 11:9-10 as having Old Testament authority. This means Paul regarded the very words of imprecation as inspired and not sinful, personal words of vengeance. . . .
Paul read the imprecatory Psalms as the words of Christ, spoken prophetically by David, the type of Christ. We can see this from the fact that David's words in one imprecatory psalm (69:9) are quoted by Paul as the words of Christ in Romans 15:3, 'The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.' The implication, then, is that David spoke in these Psalms as God's inspired anointed king, prefiguring the coming King and Messiah, who has the right to pronounce final judgment on his enemies and will do so, as the whole Bible teaches" ("Do I Not Hate Those Who Hate You, O Lord?" October 3, 2000, www.desiringgod.org.).
David knows that he needs spiritual protection lest he "hate" God's enemies for personal reasons. That is why he concludes Psalm 139 with the prayer that God purify his motives and protect his heart:
"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" (vv. 23-24)
Therefore, when David speaks of "hatred" for those who oppose God's kingdom he is neither malicious nor bitter nor vindictive, nor moved by self-centered resentment. But he most certainly is jealous for God's name and firmly at odds with those who blaspheme.
Still trembling,


Monday, May 21, 2007

Imprecatory Psalms - 1 of 3
I am glad I heard about Dr. Sam Storms' mailing list.  He has been sending articles about the Psalms, and I thought his recent series on the Psalms of Imprecation was particularly worth noting here.  With his permission, I am posting all 3 articles in their entirety on this blog.  To read more about and by Dr. Sam Storms and to sign up for his email list, visit his website at http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/.
 Enjoying God Ministries
Those Troubling Psalms of Imprecation (1) (Ps. 35, etc.)
Sam Storms
May 11, 2007

How is one supposed to respond to verses in the Psalms like these?
"Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you" (Psalm 5:10).
"Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life! Let them be turned back and disappointed who devise evil against me! Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them away! Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them! For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life. Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it! And let the net that he hid ensnare him; let him fall into it- to his destruction!" (Psalm 35:4-8)
"Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether who seek to snatch away my life; let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire my hurt! Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, 'Aha, Aha!'" (Psalm 40:14-15)
"For their crime will they escape? In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!" (Psalm 56:7)
"Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name!" (Psalm 79:6)
"Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few; may another take his office! May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit! May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil! Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity his fatherless children! May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation! May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! Let them be before the Lord continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth!" (Psalm 109:6-15)
"Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain! Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies" (Psalm 139:19-22).
Had enough? Get the picture? Honestly, that's only a fraction of the Psalms in which prayers for the judgment of God's enemies are found. Here is a more complete list, in case you're interested in reading all of them: Pss. 5:10; 6:10; 7:6; 9:19-20; 10:2,15; 17:13; 28:4; 31:17-18; 35:1,4-8,19,24-26; 40:14-15; 41:10; 54:5; 55:9,15; 56:7; 58:6-10; 59:5,11-14; 63:9-10; 68:1-2; 69:22-28; 70:2-3; 71:13; 79:6,10-12; 83:9-18 (cf. Judges 4:15-21; 5:25-27); 94:1-4; 97:7; 104:35; 109:6-19,29; 119:84; 129:5-7; 137:7-9; 139:19-22; 140:8-11; 141:10; 143:12.
Many believe these "prayers" (if it is even legitimate to call them "prayers") are beneath the dignity of the Christian and are not to be viewed as examples for us to follow. They are, rather, the expressions of man's sinful desire for vengeance on his enemies.
These psalms, so some have said, are not God's precepts but man's "defective prayers". They are "cold-blooded" expressions of "malignant cruelty" and must never be regarded as inspired of God.
No one struggled more with these imprecations than did C. S. Lewis. "The hatred is there – festering, gloating, undisguised – and also we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify similar passions in ourselves" ( Reflections on the Psalms, 22). These prayers of the psalmists, said Lewis, "are indeed devilish" (25).
What bothers Lewis and others most is what appears to be the untroubled conscience of the psalmists. They express no qualms, scruples, reservations, or shame for their desires. Indeed, they move easily from the most horrific of maledictions to petitions for deliverance according to God's "steadfast love" (Ps. 109:20)!
Peter C. Craigie, one of the more highly respected commentators on the Psalms has argued that these passages are "the real and natural reactions to the experience of evil and pain, and though the sentiments are in themselves evil, they are a part of the life of the soul which is bared before God in worship and prayer" ( Word Biblical Commentary, 19:41). The psalmist "may hate his oppressor; God hates the oppression. Thus the words of the psalmist are often natural and spontaneous, not always pure and good" (19:41). In sum, Craigie states bluntly that "these Psalms are not the oracles of God" (19:41).
Don't try to dismiss the problem by insisting such prayers are found only in the Old Testament or that they reflect a sub-standard morality inappropriate to the New Testament Christian. Both testaments present the same perfect and exalted standard for life. God's moral law is immutable and is everywhere the same. We must be careful never to pit Scripture against Scripture, as if to suggest that the OT calls for a different, perhaps inferior, ethical response to one's enemies than does the NT.
Furthermore, one must address the fact that in the NT similar "imprecations" on the enemies of God are found (see especially Luke 10:10-16; Galatians 1:8; 5:12; 1 Corinthians 16:21-22; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; 2 Timothy 4:14; Revelation 6:10; 19:1-2).
Have you considered that to pray "Thy kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10) is to invoke divine judgment on all other kingdoms and all those who oppose the reign of God? "When we pray as Jesus taught us, we cry out to God for His blessings upon His church and for His curses upon the kingdom of the evil one" (James Adams, War Psalms of the Prince of Peace, 52).
Even Jesus used imprecatory language in Matthew 23:13,15,16,23,24,27,29, and especially 23:33. See also his use of Ps. 41:8-10 in Matthew 26:23-24 as a pronouncement of God's judgment on Judas.
Harry Mennega has pointed out that
"the New Testament appears not in the least embarrassed with the Old Testament imprecations; on the contrary, it quotes freely from them as authoritative statements with which to support an argument. The New Testament not only quotes passages which, though themselves not imprecations, are found in a Psalm with an imprecatory section; but also, and this is more remarkable, it quotes with approval the imprecations themselves" ("The Ethical Problem of the Imprecatory Psalms," master's thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1959, p. 38).
One example of the latter is Peter's citation of the imprecatory section in Psalms 69 and 109 in reference to Judas Iscariot: "For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his homestead be made desolate, and let no man dwell in it'; and, 'His office let another man take'" (Acts 1:20). "Peter is here quoting an invocation of judgment and a curse against the betrayer of God's Anointed One" (Adams, 12).
What we read in these OT Psalms are not emotionally uncontrolled outbursts by otherwise sane and compassionate people. Imprecations such as those listed above are found in high poetry and are the product of reasoned meditation (not to mention divine inspiration!). They are calculated petitions, not spontaneous explosions of a bad temper. Certainly there are examples in OT history and prose narrative of actions and attitudes that are sinful and not to be emulated. But the psalms are expressions of public worship to be modeled.
How, then, do we explain them? And how do we reconcile them with the command of Jesus to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44)? I'll try to answer this in the next meditation.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Don Whitney has released an audio CD to go along with his book on Family Worship:  visit http://www.biblicalspirituality.org/fworder1.html#CD for more information.