Friday, June 14, 2013

Walk in the Truth

"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth."
     -- 3 John 4 (NIV)

St. John the Evangelist wrote 3 John to his dear friend Gaius. Gaius was a faithful Christian who walked in the way of Christ. He showed hospitality to Christian missionaries and was devout in his faith. John was an apostle with the gifts of evangelism and encouragement. Gaius had the gifts of hospitality and faith. Everyone has their gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit. John had his. Gaius had his. And we have ours. However, all of us can use our various gifts for the sake of the Truth. Jesus is the Truth, and it gives me no greater joy than to hear that any of my loved ones are walking in him.

-- Jonathan

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Fight Heresy Everywhere

"Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son."
     -- 2 John 9 (NIV)

St. John the Evangelist wrote this beautiful letter in order to warn first-century Christians to be wary of false teachers and to refuse them hospitality if they enter your town. It is not out of hatred for the false teachers that John commands them to do this, but out of love for them and their neighbors. These heretics were seriously harming many people by spreading lies about their Lord Jesus Christ. The heresy these false teachers proclaimed was called Gnosticism. This taught that Jesus did not actually become man, and that our bodies are not important, but only our souls. To my great distress, many churches today flirt with this ancient heresy. It was the first-century Christians' duty to fight this and every other heresy wherever it was proclaimed... even by guests in their own homes. Even by trusted friends. And we must do the same. All heresy is evil, whether it is Gnosticism, Works Righteousness, or Antinomianism. It's all around us, and we must be wary of false teachers just as much as the Christians John was writing to had to be. For anyone who proclaims a gospel other than the good news of Jesus Christ does not have God. But, as John writes, whoever continues in Jesus' teaching has both the Father and the Son. I'm guilty of speaking heresy as well. Repent, and rejoice in the authentic Gospel of Jesus, the one who died and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins... Including the sin of preaching heresy.

-- Jonathan

Monday, May 20, 2013

Even in Exile

"'O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.'"
     -- Daniel 3:16b-18

In the book of Daniel (the final major prophet) we see two things: the faith and trust of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, the unfailing goodness and love of God. Judah had just been exiled into Babylon. These four men had reason to believe that God had abandoned them... but he hadn't. Even in these decades of exile, the LORD not only remained active in their lives (in saving the three men from the furnace and Daniel from the lions), but he even continued to communicate with them through prophets like Daniel. God never fails to be with us. The verses above shown how deliberate and immovable the faith of these men were. They knew God would be with them in their death sentence, either by saving them from the fire or by bringing them to eternal life. The former happened immediately. The latter happened a while later. In Daniel, we see that God never left his people, even when they were forced to leave their Promised Land. And he never leaves us either. Jesus surely is with us to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He was with his people in exile, and he is with us today... Always.

-- Jonathan

Monday, March 18, 2013

Let Justice Roll Down

"'Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba. For Gilgal will surely go into exile, and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.' Seek the LORD and live, or he will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire; it will devour, and Bethel will have no one to quench it."
     -- Amos 5:4b-6

Blessed Lent to you all. An appropriate book to reflect on during this season of repentance is the book of Amos. Amos, a lowly shepherd from Judah, was chosen by God to pronounce judgment on Israel for their wickedness. Amos begins by declaring God's wrath on the nations bordering Israel, which his hearers undoubtedly rejoiced over. However, once judgment on the pagan nations had been prophesied, Amos condemned Israel and Judah: God's people. Judah and Israel were blessed with God's Law, and they spat on it. Judah rejected the Law, abandoned God's decrees, and turned to false gods (2:4). Israel "trampled on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and denied justice to the oppressed" (2:7). Therefore, God promised to punish the Israelites through death and exile. How could this have happened? After all the LORD had done for his people and given them, how could they have rejected him? The LORD gave them many warnings, yet they heeded none of them (4:6-11). How could they have been so evil?
Before we get carried away here, let us not forget one of the purposes of the Lenten season: self-examination. Israel had no pity on the poor (2:7). Do we not neglect the poor? Israel perverted justice. Do we not attempt to justify our sins? Israel partook in hollow worship (5:23-24). Is our worship always as reverent and Christ-centered as it should be? Do we not lose focus during worship? Israel, in their time of prosperity, lived in idle luxury (6:4). Are our hands not often idle? Do we not embrace the materialism of our Western society? Just like Edom, the pride of the Israelite's hearts deceived them (7:17). Do we not delude ourselves with foolish pride? And on top of all of these heinous sins, Israel did not even grieve over the ruin of their nation (6:6). How often do we turn a blind eye to the injustices occurring in our nation, such as abortion? How often do we grieve over the sins of our nation?
We are just as evil as they are... Repent.
For after all we have done, after all we have failed to do, after all we have been, God has mercy. "Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is" (5:14). "Hear the Word of the LORD" (7:16). God calls us by name, like he called Amos (7:8, 8:2). He sees our sins, forgives them, then remembers them no more... because of Jesus. God promised to restore David's fallen tent... Not to allow the Israelites to restore themselves, but to restore them himself (9:11). Sure enough, the Israelites came back from exile. And as surely as we are sinners, our sins are forgiven. For our Father sent Jesus to earth to restore salvation unto the Israelites and to us. Jesus is the one who restores us. We deserve nothing but exile and death, just like Israel did. But Jesus says no. He took the exile and death we deserved on himself. He carried that exile and death to the cross, making full atonement for our sins. Praise be to Christ! It is because of Jesus that we have the will to repent. It is because of Jesus that we are forgiven. And it is because of Jesus that we will one day see his glory in our restored bodies and souls.... Blessed Lent.

-- Jonathan

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Deceptive Pride

"The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, 'Who can bring me down to the ground?'"
     -- Obadiah 3

In his book, Obadiah warns the Edomites that the pride of their hearts has deceived them. In the recent past, they had boasted at their might and at Israel's recent defeat by an enemy nation. Edom prided itself in being hidden and well-fortified in the mountains around Judah. But here, the LORD says through Obadiah that the pride of their hearts has deceived them. They trusted in themselves instead of in God. Because of this, they had a false sense of security. This resulted in the destruction of Edom in the years following Obadiah's vision.
How often do we trust in our own abilities instead of in Jesus? When we do, we deceive ourselves with the pride of our hearts. We fool ourselves! Just like the Edomites relied on their rocky fortifications, we rely on our emotions, our good deeds, our reason, you name it! Our pride deceives us. But Jesus delivers us from our pride. "Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau. And the kingdom will be the LORD's" (Obadiah 21). Jesus is our deliverer, and heaven is his kingdom. And because he has delivered us from our deceitful sin, we will dwell in this kingdom as well.

-- Jonathan

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Minor Prophet Pushing Major Repentance and Mercy

"The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble. But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel."
     -- Joel 3:16

The book of Joel, like so many other prophetic books, is incredibly rich with language of repentance followed by restoration. Joel begins his book by assuring us that this is indeed the word of God that came to him (1:1). He continues by speaking of the sins of Judah, and their immediate result: an army of locusts that has devastated the nation. Joel speaks gently to his people, speaking the truth with loving respect, but not skimping out on the penetrating Law Judah needed. He called them to repent, pleading with them to rend their hearts to God instead of to sin (2:12-13). The reader almost gets the impression that the tender-hearted Joel is begging them to turn to their LORD. Following Judah's repentance, God answers them with abounding grace and blessings, for which one can tell Joel is eternally thankful.
Joel has a lot to say to us. It's a shame his book rarely gets cracked open. St. Peter found it worthy to base his first sermon on, leading the way for Christian preaching that came in the millenia following the first Pentecost. The message of repentance and restoration has its roots in Genesis 3, and continues to be preached by faithful pastors today. And while we don't experience earthly punishments such as locusts for our sin today, sin is equally destructive to our lives now as it was then. Joel does well to lead us to repentance. And in this Christmas season, we find our joy in the grace Jesus won for us on his cross, and the restoration that will come on, as Joel says, "the Day of the LORD." The LORD dwells in our hearts as surely as he dwells in Zion (3:21).

-- Jonathan