Drawing Near

A Pastoral Perspective on Biblical, Theological, & Cultural Issues | The Personal Website of James B. Law, Ph.D.

Thursday

29

November 2018

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COMMENTS

Yes It Is! The Local Church is the Epicenter of God’s Kingdom Purposes in This World

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When I was a freshman in high school, I had a football coach who was intense. Really intense. He had a mustache that resembled the look of a proverbial Viking which made him all the more intimidating. He was the kind of man who during his tour-of-duty in Vietnam spent his free time killing water buffalos with his 50 caliber machine gun.

In the strangest of contrasts, school administrators assigned him to teach driver’s education.  I will always remember how he greeted the class as he looked out at us on that first day, “Well,” he scoffed, “This isn’t the freshman class at Harvard.”

I remember his greeting every time I read the Apostle Paul’s assessment of the Corinthian church, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (I Corinthians 1:26-29)

Paul was saying to the Corinthians, “Notice, your gathering is not made up of the ‘movers and shakers’ of the culture. Your curriculum vitae is not very impressive in the world’s eyes, but that’s okay. It’s okay because the church is not about you. The church is about showcasing God’s grace and glory through the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ.” (more…)

Thursday

15

November 2018

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COMMENTS

Always We Begin Again

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It has been said that nothing drags more stubbornly than a sack of failures. Every one of us who has breathed the air of this world knows what failure is like in one form or another. Whether it is a missed free throw, a failed relationship, a business that went south, or a devastating moral disaster that has caused deep sorrow and collateral damage, the pain from failure and loss can cut deep into the heart.

For the believer in Jesus Christ, His victory over sin, death, and the grave gives to us a living hope and becomes the foundation for our worldview. With an empty tomb, there will always be hope through the Risen One. With every failure and setback we experience, the Lord gives hope and grace to begin again.

In the loving discipline of God, trials come into our lives for the purpose of conforming us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). The Lord’s discipline is multi-faceted and masterfully applied.  For instance, God brought corrective discipline into the life of David; preventive discipline in the life of Paul; and educational discipline in the life of Job. (more…)

Thursday

1

November 2018

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COMMENTS

His Commandments Are Not Burdensome

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Some years ago media mogul Ted Turner suggested that we ditch the Ten Commandments and hold a contest on who could come up with a better set of guidelines. To put forward the idea of replacing God’s standard of righteousness, and the foundation of jurisprudence, with pithy progressive ideas is the epitome of what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” Lewis was referring to the danger of saying that things are better because they are new, and deficient because they are dated.

Ted Turner is not the only one who advocates jettisoning the Ten Commandments. Pastor Andy Stanley in his recent book, Irresistible, writes,“The Ten Commandments have no authority over you. None. To be clear: Thou shalt not obey the Ten Commandments.”

Stanley sought to establish that any contamination of the old covenant commands upon the new covenant life found in the grace of Jesus Christ would be a corruption of the whole relationship. However, Stanley ignores that the Old Testament is full of examples of God’s grace and compassion for His wayward people. (Exodus 34:1-6; Psalm 103)

When Moses received the Ten Commandments on top of the mountain, Israel was below breaking covenant with the golden calf. Upon seeing this Moses shattered the stone tablets. (Exodus 32:19) However, God’s grace is on display when He commands Moses to cut two new tablets, and again He would write these wonderful words of life for His wayward people.

In Exodus 34, this is how Yahweh, the Lord God, is described and revealed, “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

Stanley’s view of the Old Testament directly contradicts the teaching of Jesus Christ who never once questioned the authority and trustworthiness of the Old Testament. The commandments that Stanley calls his readers to not obey are all affirmed and commanded in the New Testament. The exception would be the Sabbath command which is presented as fulfilled in the rest found in Christ. (Hebrews 4:1-11) (more…)

Thursday

18

October 2018

1

COMMENTS

Carry On My Wayward Son

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Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_ProjectRembrandt van Rijn was a brilliant painter who, among other subjects in his career, captured biblical scenes with magnificent clarity.  His painting, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” portrays the return of the wayward son to his father based upon Jesus’s parable in Luke 15.

The painting captures that life had been hard for this young man, as Rembrandt presents him with a missing shoe, and with the remaining shoe in tatters.  His clothes and hair are disheveled, and his body emaciated and spent. It had been a mad race leaving him empty, exhausted, and ashamed.

We know from Luke 15 that this son had demanded his inheritance from his father, and in so doing was communicating that he wished his father was dead. The father yielded to the request, and subsequently this brazen rebel squandered it all on wasteful living.

The parable fast forwards us to this son who had spent all his money and was now starving in a pig pen far from home.  The turning point in this rebel’s life is found in Luke 15:17 where the text says in an economy of words, “he came to his senses.” As he reflected on the good nature of his father, he acknowledged to himself that his behavior was indeed crazy.

This is a very helpful commentary on sin and rebellion. In short, it is insanity. The narrative of the Bible underscores that rebels never live “happily-ever-after” if they carry on in their rebellion. From the earliest pages of the Scripture, the Lord God of heaven expresses hatred toward rebellion and pledges to judge it. We also learn that this God who abhors sin is also a Father who forgives and restores those who come to Him with their brokenness and failure. God is the ultimate rebel lover, but we must come on His terms.

One of the memorable rock anthems of the 1970’s was from Kansas entitled, “Carry on My Wayward Son.” The song speaks eloquently of the pride, confusion, and lostness of a prodigal in search of truth and meaning. (more…)

Wednesday

3

October 2018

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COMMENTS

Nehushtan: Just a Piece of Bronze

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th-6We are often tempted to dismiss idolatry as a serious threat to our spiritual well-being. When we think of idolatry, we can easily retreat to Old Testament days and believe that it was their problem. We confine idolatry to the work of wood or stone, and thereby dismiss it as an ancient sin with no impact to our generation.

However, in the New Testament, idolatry is mentioned as a major spiritual peril for the believer in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul in no uncertain terms warned the Corinthians to “flee from idolatry.” (I Cor 10:14) Paul also placed idolatry in the noxious list of behaviors called the deeds of the flesh and as a root behind the insatiable appetite of greed. (Galatians 5:20; Colossians 3:5)

The Apostle John concluded his first epistle with this pastoral warning, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (I John 5:21)

God allows no substitutes. At times He permits certain symbols to represent Him, however He never allows these symbols to replace Him.  God alone is to be the center of our worship.

Idolatry pollutes true worship and obedience as we create objects of worship that exalt other things as more worthy than God Himself.  Idols that grip the heart come in many packages. A few of the popular include: power, prestige, education, relationships, money, business, addictions, religion, entertainment, popularity, ego, and pornography. (more…)

Thursday

20

September 2018

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COMMENTS

When Rabshakeh Opens His Vile Mouth

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The Old Testament is given to the people of God as vital revelation for the strengthening of our faith, the instruction of our doctrine, the foundation of the Gospel, and the encouragement of our soul.

The historical narratives of the Old Testament are filled with many priceless gems. In this short post, I want to take you to an episode from the life of King Hezekiah. Hezekiah was one of only eight kings of Judah who were said to be godly. While not perfect, they did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

In several sections of the Old Testament, we read the account of Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah (2 Chronicles 32; 2 Kings 18,19; and Isaiah 36, 37).  Sennacherib of course was the king of Assyria who had in recent days sacked the northern tribes of Israel leaving a tremendous body count in his wake.  He was a clear and present danger to Hezekiah and the southern kingdom of Judah. His presence was beyond intimidating.

In Isaiah 36, Sennacherib was focusing his military might on the fortified cities of Judah.  He sent the Rabshakeh to deliver one of the most daunting messages recorded in the Bible. The Rabshakeh was a title for an important official in the Assyrian military, and according to Assyrian records came to be the designation for an elevated military position.

This account is a demonstration of how the people of God should respond when fear and intimidation come. The Rabshakeh’s menacing message was especially effective because he spoke impeccable Hebrew, so all the people on the wall could hear the bullying first hand.

Listen to some of the threats of the Rabshakeh unleashed upon Hezekiah and the people of Judah:

*He mocked their faith, “On what do you rest this trust of yours?”(Isaiah 36:4)

*He scoffed at their weakness by saying that even if we gave you two thousand horses, if you were able to set riders on them…a single captain among the least of my master’s servants could defeat you.(Isaiah 36:8-10)

*The Rabshakeh introduced confusion by claiming that the Lord had told him to come up against the land to destroy it. (Isaiah 36:10)

*Speaking in Hebrew, and in the hearing of many, the Rabshakeh says, “you are doomed to eat your own dung and drink your own urine.” Yes, that’s in the Bible! (Isaiah 36:12)

*The Rabshakeh attacked the leadership of Hezekiah by saying, “Do not let Hezekiah deceive you…Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord…Make your peace with me and come out to me.”(Is. 36:14,16)

Gothmog,_general_of_MorgulNeedless to say, this was a full-frontal attack on the minds and hearts of God’s people. This scene reminds me of the one in the Lord of the Rings trilogy where Gothmog has assembled the horde of orcs before Minas Tirith in a siege.  Gothmog says as they stand before the fortress city, “Fear, the city is rank with it.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e_NeF3d5Ew

This is a fitting commentary for Jerusalem on the day of the Rabshakeh’s message. It was indeed rank with fear.

(more…)

Wednesday

5

September 2018

2

COMMENTS

Beware of Religious Silver Bullets

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We are a culture that prizes convenience and pragmatism, and consequently we love “silver bullet” solutions to our problems. By “silver bullet,” I’m referring to the term that commonly describes an action that cuts through the complexity of an issue by providing a quick solution.

silver-bullet-thinkingWhen bacterial infections rear their ugly head, we are grateful for the silver bullet of antibiotics. When the heat of summer blows its hot breath, God bless Willis Carrier for the silver bullet of air conditioning! When traveling globally, I’m thankful for the silver bullet of jet travel which brings a connection of friends for the cause of Christ. I’m grateful, in the common grace of God, for innovations that make life easier, better, safer, and more comfortable.

However, many things in life are not resolved by silver bullets. In fact, some of the deepest experiences in life are journeys of perseverance through many seasons and sacrifices. For instance, no marriage has all the issues worked out by a silver bullet solution. No friendship can remain without giving our best efforts to the relationship. The same is true with one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. (more…)

Thursday

31

May 2018

1

COMMENTS

Don’t Take 30 Minutes To Kill a Wasp

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paper-wasp-nest.jpg.838x0_q67Growing up I was blessed with a father who could fix most things and was not afraid to build anything. You would think that some of that skill would rub off on his son, however my interests were elsewhere. From the time I was five until the age of twenty-two, I was on a ball field or in a gymnasium either playing or training for the next game.

Consequently, when it was time to take care of repairs and other life skills, I was woefully deficient. Filled with some regret that I had missed opportunities in my youth, I vowed a vow that I would do my best to pass on some trade, or skill, to my sons.

What do you pass on when you have such a lean resume and you can’t fix anything?  Well, as I was thinking about that one day, the thought came to me that I do know how to push a lawn mower, and so with that seed thought our family lawn business was launched about twelve years ago.

This venture has opened many doors for ministry, as well as a steady stream of life lessons for my sons. They have had to face the trials that come with broken equipment, with customers who do not pay for services rendered, with working in the Louisiana summer heat, and with an occasional wasp sting.

It is the last of these mentioned that comes to mind when I think of the importance of staying on task. Wasps abound in south Louisiana, and when my sons were younger, their curiosity and intrigue when they found a wasp nest was fun to watch.  A newly discovered wasp nest could shut down work for ten or fifteen minutes in order to see that the execution was carried out thoroughly. (more…)

Tuesday

17

April 2018

0

COMMENTS

Tenth Commandment- You Shall Not Covet

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tenCommandmentsWallpaperWe end our journey through the Ten Commandments this week with a look at the last of these commands which forbids coveting. We might be tempted to dismiss coveting as a mild offense in light of the other commands which forbid murder, adultery, or stealing.  However, the tenth commandment addresses the desires of the heart as an important indicator of the direction of one’s life.

Interestingly, the Apostle Paul refers to this tenth commandment in his personal reference of how he came to understand the sinful dictates of his own heart.  Paul writes in Romans 7:7, “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” He could have referenced any of Ten Commandments to describe his discovery of his sin nature, but he mentioned covetousness because it brought him to the wayward desires of his heart.

The tenth commandment forbids the coveting of your neighbor’s house, your neighbor’s wife or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17) I believe God gave this word to keep us from many sorrows and to call us to find the satisfaction of our life in a personal relationship with Him.

Rodney Clapp some years ago wrote an essay published in Christianity Today entitled, “Why the Devil takes Visa.”  In the article Clapp addressed the universal battle with covetousness:

The consumer is schooled in insatiability. He or she is never to be satisfied—-at least not for long.  The consumer is tutored that people basically  consist of   unmet needs…..Accordingly, the consumer should think first and foremost of himself or herself and meeting his or her felt needs.  The consumer is taught to value above all else freedom, freedom defined as a vast array of choices.

These “vast array of choices” seem to describe what fuels a frenzy of consumption.  In this world’s philosophy, such a passion for things is linked to one’s happiness. However, this is a dangerous way to think and to live. This vicious cycle helps us understand why God lovingly goes on record by forbidding covetousness.  (more…)

Saturday

7

April 2018

0

COMMENTS

Ninth Commandment- “You Shall Not Bear False Witness”

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tenCommandmentsWallpaperIn January of 1996 William Safire, noted author and journalist, referred to Hillary Clinton, then first lady of the United States, as “a congenital liar.”  This started an exchange in the pundit world with many being outraged by the acidic tone of Safire’s words.  Through his press secretary, President Bill Clinton suggested a punch in the nose was in order.

“Liar” is one of those words in our culture that picks a fight quickly. It brings into question one’s integrity, one’s honesty.  But is there any truth to William Safire’s statement?  Not just about Mrs. Clinton, but what about Mr. Safire? What about you, and me?

Consider the cry of the psalmist, “I said in my alarm, ‘All men are liars.’” (Ps. 116:2) Or the apostle Paul’s referencing of other psalms to establish the universal guilt of humanity with regard to sin. Speaking of all of us, Paul writes with precision, “’Their throat is an open grave;  they use their tongues to deceive.’ ‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’  ‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’” (Romans 3:13,14)

Truth be known, as God sees the human race, we are all marked by the inability to speak the truth consistently. The Lord God established the importance of truth speaking in the ninth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness.” Bearing false witness, declaring falsehood and lies, is part and parcel of what it means to be a sinner. (more…)