Friday, October 28, 2011

Characteristics of a Godly Watchman Pt. 1: Vigilance

Photo courtesy of grzswe
Most everyone has heard an alarm go off. It may be something as mundane as the alarm clock every morning that tells us it is time to get up and get ready for work, or it may be something as frightening as a fire alarm. No matter what the specific purpose of the alarm they all share one common theme: they are meant to alert people and warn them of impending danger. 

In Joel 2:1 the Lord commands the prophet to; Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain because the day of the Lord is coming. That is, God’s judgment is coming upon Israel for their sinfulness. Further along in the chapter, in verse 15, Joel is again commanded to blow a trumpet but this time it is to call the assembly of the people together so that they can, consecrate a fast. This tells us two important things about the role, or the duty, of the prophet of God. First, it tells us that the prophet is to act as an alarm to warn the people of God’s coming judgment. Secondly, the prophet is also to be the mouthpiece of God in preparing the people for His movement. Knowing the role of the prophetic voice, or watchman as I will begin to call them is vitally important. Furthermore, it is also crucial for us to understand some of the characteristics that the Bible gives us of a godly watchman because this is no small calling.

1.  Vigilance

In Habakkuk 2:1 the prophet says this;

I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me.

One of the most important characteristics of a godly watchman is that he, or she, be vigilant and keep watch over God’s people. When I was going through basic training we were required to memorize the three general orders. The first, and perhaps most important, was this;

I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.

I believe we can extrapolate much truth about being a godly watchman from this general order. First of all, along with the imagery from Habakkuk 2:1, we get the idea that the watchman is standing guard over their people, over the things that they care about. The watchmen of Israel stood guard on the walls of the city, a clear vantage point, from which they could see the approach of invading armies. Their concern and dedication to their duty came from a love and care for the people inside the walls. That was where their homes may have been, their families and their livelihoods. They would have been keeping a keen eye out for any form of danger that could potentially affect the city. If we are to be godly watchmen over God’s people then we must keep our eyes peeled for any signs of danger or God’s approaching wrath due to the sins and wickedness of His people. Habakkuk was not literally standing on the walls to watch for an approaching army. He was standing on the spiritual ramparts of the nation and trying to see things from a “God’s eye view” so that He could warn the people to turn back to God.

Secondly, and I draw this from the first general order, we are to quit our duty as watchmen only when God has told us that the mission is finished. It may be that our mission is short like Habakkuk, Joel, or Haggai. Alternatively, we could be standing on the walls keeping watch for months, years or decades. Take Daniel for example. He was a watchman over the house of Israel for most of his life and he outlived three kings in the process. There are those who have waited and prayed that God would send revival their entire lives and yet they maintained their station and refused to abandon their post.

Finally, as vigilant watchmen we must not only be on the lookout for signs of God’s judgment but we also need to keep an eye out for His movement. As we saw in Joel, the first trumpet was to sound the alarm while the second was the call the people to preparation for a move of God. As watchmen we must be in-tune with God enough to sense when His Spirit is beginning to move and then call His people to prepare for what He is going to do. That means calling the Church to repentance, prayer, brokenness, reconciliation, fasting, and a host of other things we can do to prepare for a movement of God. This idea of being in-tune with God leads us directly into the next characteristic that we will explore, but you'll have to wait until next time!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Jesus Who?

Courtesy of ba1969
Through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 2 Peter 1:3b.

If you ask people whether or not they believe in Jesus you would probably find the overwhelming majority of people answer affirmatively. In the face of the historical evidence for His existence denying that a man called Jesus lived in first century Palestine would be like denying gravity, or holding to the idea that the earth is flat. The simple fact is that history shows that Jesus lived. The trouble comes, not from verifying His life, but in understanding what that life meant and who, exactly, this Jesus was. The answers that people give to the questions of who He was and what He did provide us, as Christians, with a critical litmus test for discerning true and false doctrine, and true and false teachers.

In his second letter Peter is tackling the problem of false teachers and profits in the Church. Just as Paul does in his first letter to Timothy, Peter not only uncovers false and deceptive doctrine but he also expounds true doctrine. Just yesterday our pastor made reference to the practice of the agents in the treasury department who are tasked with exposing counterfeit money. These people spend the vast majority of their time handling and getting to know real money so that when a counterfeit emerges they will see it. It is not hard to see the application of this practice to our theology and faith. While it is important and valuable for us to study other religions and false doctrines, if we have an intimate knowledge of true doctrine then the false will be that much easier to recognize (Many thanks to Pastor Mike for that illustration).

Let me get back to the subject at hand. What Peter is expressing here is that Christ's divine power has granted us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3a). This comes to us through what? The true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. Peter is putting a high value on the "true knowledge" of Christ. This tells us that it is not through invoking the name of Jesus that we receive salvation and all the other gifts of Christ in us. Even Jesus tells us as much in Matthew 7:22-23;

Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness."

There are many faiths and perversions of Christianity that claim the name of Jesus but they are applying that name to someone who wasn't the Christ. Likewise, there are many non-believers and even opponents of the faith that have no idea who Jesus Christ truly was. In short, they do not have a true knowledge of Him, as Peter would say. For example, if someone says to me, "Yes, I believe in Jesus as my savior." It may behoove me to ask, "Who do you believe Jesus to be?" They may say, "Well, He was the archangel Micheal." This would be a false definition of Christ and therefore this person's hope and salvation may as well have been in someone named Jim or Fredrick. This gets us back to the root of the issue. Our salvation is not contingent upon the five letters J,E,S,U,S in that order. It is contingent upon the person behind those letters, the very Son of God who lived, died and rose again for our salvation and justification.

Furthermore, our salvation is not based on the belief that Jesus lived on this earth. As I already mentioned that is a historical fact that need not be denied. I have used this illustration in the past but I think it applies here as well. Knowing that my wife has gotten me a Christmas present doesn't put that gift into effect. Two years ago she got me a Dewalt cordless drill. If I never bothered to open it I would still be looking around for something to drill holes in the wall. All the while there it is, wrapped up nice and pretty underneath the tree. If we know Christ lived and died for us but we don't apply that gift our life then it is our loss and our salvation is no nearer than when we didn't know about it.

I say all of that to say this. I true knowledge of Jesus is more than just knowing His name or even understanding what He has done for us. We must know who this Jesus was; the Son of God and Savior of all who accept His offer of life. He was not just a good man, or a good teacher as the rich young ruler called Him. He was God incarnate and His ministry set an example for us, His death provided redemption for us and His resurrection justified our faith and allows Him to take possession of us, and live in and through us. Knowing and applying this truth to our lives grants us everything we need as it pertains to life and godliness and with that realization comes the true knowledge that we didn't do a thing but say "amen" allowing Christ free reign in our life.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Overcome By Christ

Picture from
For by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 2 Peter 2:19.

In chapter 2 of 2 Peter the disciple begins to give warning about false prophets and teachers (As a side note there is a strong focus in the New Testament on being aware of false teachers that we should take note of today.). Around about verse 12 Peter starts to paint a picture of the offerings of the false teachers which looks an awful lot like a list of sensual, fleshly desires and lusts, and it is. Then in verse 19 he explains that false teachers offer freedom but in the end all that is received is bondage to sin. As you see in the quotation above the last part of the verse tells us that whatever it is that overcomes us, or overwhelms us, is what will ultimately enslave us.

The obvious take-home lesson here is that if we allow ourselves to be overcome by sin we will, undoubtedly, become slaves to it. That being said, Peter does give us a prelude to this "bad news" in 1:3;

seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.

and verse 2:9;

then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.

Despite the fact that we are subject to falling into sin, or stumbling along the path, we have been given the means to overcome it by God. The truly incredible thing that struck me like a ton of bricks was actually something that is not written explicitly at the end of verse 19 but I think Peter leaves the statement open to this interpretation. After having given us a list of all kinds of sinful behavior it seems obvious, as I mentioned before, that the lesson would be that if we are overcome by sin we will end up slaves to it. However, the inverse could also be true. What if we are overcome by Christ?

What if we are so in awe of Christ, who He is, and what He has done on our behalf that we become slaves to Him? Is that not the Biblical ideal? In Romans 1:1 and Titus 1:1 Paul identifies himself as a "bond-servant" of Christ, a word that could just as well mean "slave." In 2 Corinthians 4:5 Paul again says that he is a bond-servant of the Lord rather than one who is bringing attention to himself. Peter also makes the same claim in his first letter, Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-slaves of God (1 Peter 2:16).

How does one become a bond-servant or slave? I would suggest two elements to the answer to this question.

1. We must submit to Christ. This is a voluntary relinquishing of our will to His alone. James commands us to submit to God in James 4:7. God has given us freewill and we have the option, at least now, to voluntarily give ourselves over to Him. Make no mistake about it, there will come a day when the option is not given and every knee shall bow in submission to Christ Jesus as Lord and King.

2. We should be overcome by Christ. The explanation of this is somewhat difficult but I will try to do the best I can. Perhaps the best imagery for this idea comes from Revelation 1:17 which says;

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man.

John had just seen the risen and reigning Christ in all of His glory and the only thing he could do was fall down. The text doesn't say this but it sounds as if John passed out in the presence of Christ. The other day I was driving to Huntsville, Alabama to attend a friends wedding. The route took me through the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee before dropping into the foothills of northern Alabama. Along the way I found myself driving along the Ocoee River in south eastern Tennessee. The road followed the river as closely as a road can and as it wound back and forth through the gorge I was amazed by the beauty of the scenery. Then, all of a sudden, I made one turn and stretched out in front of me was Lake Ocoee. Though I was by myself in the car I actually said out loud, "Wow!" It was absolutely breathtaking and I was overwhelmed. The metaphor breaks down at this point because if I had remained entranced by the view I would have driven my car into the lake. However, for the rest of the trip my mind was a slave to that view and with each passing turn I found myself wishing for another, more dramatic glimpse of the lake.

As near as my feeble mind can understand this is what it means to be overwhelmed by Christ. Most of us can relate to the story that I just told. We all have seen views and scenery that takes our breath away. My question is, do we look with the same awe at the One who made the view? Do we catch glimpses of Christ and long for more? This must have been why John, at the end of his revelation, exclaimed, Come Lord Jesus. He had seen Christ, caught a peek at what was to come and the glory of God and he couldn't wait to see more. John, along with so many other characters from the Bible, was overwhelmed by Christ.

Just as a taste of sin leads to wanting more and more of it, tasting of Christ's glory and majesty leads to a desire for more and more if Him. The truth is, and a beautiful truth it is, that our hearts and minds "ain't big enough for the both of 'em." If our minds are filled and overwhelmed with sin there will be no room for Christ and the opposite is also true. If we, like Romans 12:2 encourages us, are being transformed by the renewing of our minds and are overcome by Christ there will be no room left for sin to enter in. Trying harder and harder not to sin will only get us so far and ultimately that effort will fail. The only possible way for us to overcome sin is to be overcome by Christ, thereby enslaving ourselves to Him. He is the only one who has truly defeated sin so why not pack our minds full of awe at His majesty, power, love, righteousness, justice, glory and all the rest?