Rally around your banner

Hurrah for the flag of the free! May it wave as our standard forever,

The gem of the land and the sea, The banner of the right.

Let despots remember the day, When our fathers with mighty endeavor

Proclaimed as they marched to the fray, That by their might and by their right

It waves forever.

lyrics from The Stars and Stripes Forever

When Moses was leading Israel through the wilderness, Amalek attacked them. Moses ordered Joshua to choose some men and go fight Amalek. Moses said he would stand on the top of a hill with the staff of God in his hand. During the battle, whenever Moses held up his hand Israel prevailed. Whenever he lowered it Amalek prevailed. As fatigue grew in Moses, Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one man on each side of him. In this way Moses’ hands remained elevated and Israel overwhelmed Amalek on the battlefield.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner…” — Exodus 17:14-15a

This name of God “Jehovah Nissi” — The LORD Is My Banner — is no incidental thing. Moses is that generation’s visible mediator between them and God. He is a type of Christ. In his declaration, “The LORD Is My Banner,” he is making a clear statement on behalf of the people he represents.

Thid-TatteredFlagDon’t forget, the banner of any people is the thing around which they rally. On the battlefield it was (and is) their focal point. It was their entire identity. From their banner a people draw their worth.

Moses has declared that God, Himself, is the Banner of these people. God is their sole identity. He is their defender, sustainer and their inheritance. Their identity is that they are God’s Chosen People.

This is an exclusive relationship.

You can only have one banner.

Oh, it may be possible to identify with more than one banner for a while.  If you have an ally in a cause, as the U.S. did in World War II, you can have a sort of joint allegiance. Americans could take refuge around the Union Jack, the banner of the British, because the British were fighting alongside Americans with the same objectives. But allegiances change. Don’t forget, it was from the British that Americans had to wrest their liberty through a long and bloody conflict. Today’s allies can be tomorrow’s enemies. So, ultimately it really is possible to have only one allegiance.

But, some may want to argue that it is possible, and even honorable, to serve “God and Country.” This is a common conviction among many Christians. It is especially common among evangelicals in the United States where religion and patriotism have become so intertwined as to be almost indistinguishable.

But, if you claim Jesus as your Lord, then you might want to seriously reconsider His words…

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” — Matthew 6:24

Jesus doesn’t say you “shouldn’t” serve two masters. He says you “can’t.”

Besides, evidence is mounting that suggests the kingdom represented by the Star-Spangled Banner is no longer an ally of Jehovah Nissi. In fact, the kingdom represented by the Star-Spangled Banner is daily placing itself at odds with the Kingdom of God, as these stories clearly illustrate.

I believe the day is fast approaching when the rulers of this earthly kingdom will demand you rally around one banner or the other (and I’m not the only one who thinks so). Don’t wait for them to make such a demand — rally around your banner today.

For me the decision is already made. I appeal to Scripture and allow the book of Joshua to express my thoughts on the matter…

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” — Joshua 24:14-15

Despite the claims of John Phillip Sousa in “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” ultimately every banner will end up on the dust heap of history — every banner except one…

…and around this last banner will rally a people from every tribe, nation, and tongue to the glory of God alone.

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Who are we to make such a claim?

Apologizing for God’s Wrath

A bit of a debate has been stirred up among Southern Baptists stemming from the comments of Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist, in his August 8 editorial. In that editorial Terry admitted he did not sing some of the lyrics to the hymn “In Christ Alone” apparently because they are offensive to him. Which lyrics, you ask?

BulletHolesThese…

“Till on that cross as Jesus died — The wrath of God was satisfied.”

“Some popular theologies do hold that Jesus’ suffering appeased God’s wrath,” Terry said. “That is not how I understand the Bible and that is why I do not sing the phrase, ‘the wrath of God was satisfied’ even though I love the song ‘In Christ Alone.’”

This is no small matter. This is the essence of the Gospel. The substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement — that God treated Him as if he were sin so that we, in exchange, might be clothed with Christ’s righteousness — IS the Gospel.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” — 2 Corinthians 5:21

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forth as a propitiation (italics are mine) by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” — Romans 3:23-26

That word “propitiation” means “satisfied” or “appeased”. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross DID satisfy God’s wrath toward sinners. This is the clear message of God’s word. But Terry is not convinced the message is so clear…

“Yet there remains a question about whether God was an angry God at Golgotha whose wrath had to be appeased by the suffering of the innocent Jesus,” Terry wrote. “Sometimes Christians carelessly make God out to be some kind of ogre whose angry wrath overflowed until the innocent Jesus suffered enough to calm Him down.”

Scripture flat out declares God’s anger toward sinners…

“The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.” — Nahum 1:3

“The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.” — Psalm 5:5

“…whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” — John 3:36

Terry, apparently, does not see it that way and goes on to conclude with, “God is not the enemy. He is our seeking Friend (Luke 15). That is why I prefer to focus on His love evidenced at Calvary rather than on His wrath.”

Here’s the rub: You can’t fully understand the love of God apart from His wrath. Think about that for a second. How did Jesus dying on the cross display God’s love?

ThidBugle“Well, Jesus saved you,” the wrathless evangelist might say.

“From what?” replies the unrepentant sinner.

“From sin,” the wrathless evangelist continues.

“What is sin?” asks the unrepentant sinner.

“Any transgression of the law of God?” the wrathless evangelist explains.

“Like what?” wonders the unrepentant sinner.

“Lying. Cheating. Stealing,” says the wrathless evangelist.

“Big deal. I’ve done those things and I don’t feel so bad,” says the unrepentant sinner. “Everybody does those things. I’ve even benefitted from some of those things. Why would I want to be saved from them?”

“Because the day is coming when, when…” stutters the wrathless evangelist.

“When what?” goads the unrepentant sinner.

Exactly.

See the point?

But even if our little speculative drama does not drive the point home, perhaps Scripture will. Recall Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is overwhelmed by what faces him. So much so he sweats drops of blood.

Some claim Jesus feared that cross and those cruel Roman nails. Now, I don’t want to diminish the cruel nature of the cross, but this is not what Christ feared primarily. If you know anything about Christian history you know there have been many Christian martyrs who have gone to the cross singing. Would you have me believe that they — mere men — could joyfully meet the cross while the Captain of our Salvation cowered at the same prospect?

Don’t ever think such a thing. Christ faced much, much more than a Roman cross. Consider the account in the Garden of Gethsemane…

“And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’” — Matthew 26:39

Quick question: What was in the cup?

Hint: Not a Roman cross.

Answer: The wrath of God.

“Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.” — Jeremiah 25:15-16

“The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.” — Revelation 16:19

“Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.” — Isaiah 51:17

Make no mistake; the cup of God’s wrath rightfully belongs to us. But Christ drank every last drop on behalf of his people so that they might be justified before God.

I understand the temptation to “take the harsh edges off of the Gospel.” I really do. But we must be very careful when that temptation strikes. To think we need to take the edges off is to think we know better than God what message is appropriate to preach to the nations. That’s dangerous ground. When we find ourselves tempted this way, it may be necessary to revisit Revelation chapter 6. The apostle John is recounting his vision of the Lamb (Jesus) and the one who is seated on the throne on the day of judgment…

“Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb…” — Revelation 6:15-16

Jesus is coming again. When he does unregenerate men will wish that mountains would crush them if only that would hide them from the wrath of the Lamb.

Scripture does not apologize for God’s wrath.

Neither should we.

Thideology News of the Day

Here are a few interesting tidbits from around the internet today…

Is there anyone like God?

The very first mistake people make when they try to figure out what God is like is this: they try to make God like people. We see people every day. And, since we sort of have a basic understanding of how people behave, we try to force God into that mold — it’s the best example we have.

Please allow me to address this right from the start. GOD IS NOT LIKE PEOPLE. PEOPLE ARE NOT LIKE GOD.

There, that should be clear enough.

The question may then arise, “Is there anyone like God?” To best answer that question, we need only to look at one of God’s main characteristics — a thing scholars like to call, “The solitariness of God.”

The idea here is that God is alone in His character, power, and being. Put in the simplest terms the solitariness of God means there is no one like God. So the answer to the question, “is there anyone like God?” is “no.”

But, as easy as it is to explain the meaning of the word “solitariness,” the aloneness of God is an idea very few people think about any more. It is even likely very few of the people who read the Bible are aware of the greatness and majesty of God. Oh, people will say God is “great in wisdom,” “wonderfully powerful,” and “full of mercy” — perhaps because they think saying such things makes them sound “Christian” or perhaps they are just repeating something they’ve heard someone else say. In either case, to actually understand these things about God is something very few people ever seek to do.

But, the Bible has plenty to tell us about the solitariness of God…

“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” — Exodus 15:11

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The very first phrase in the Bible sets the tone for all of Scripture. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God…” Before anything else existed there was God. He was all alone. There was no heaven. There was no earth. There were no angels. No universe. There was nothing, no one, but God. It is at this point many people begin to think of God in human terms. They think, “I’d be sad if I were all alone like that.” And so, they assume God must have been sad, too. You may have heard someone say, “God needed a relationship with us, that’s why he created us. He was lonely.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When God was alone He was self-contained, self-sufficient, and self-satisfied.

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God didn’t need to create anything. He chose to create the world simply because it pleased Him to do so.

Ephesians 1:11 says He “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Which simply means He does what He wants to do and He doesn’t have to tell us why. We do know, however, one of the primary reasons for God creating everything. He did it for His own glory.

When people learn God created everything for his own glory they, again, have a tendency to make a mistake in thinking God had some need for glory. And when Scripture points out God saved some people so that they might praise him for his grace, these same people think God had a need for the praise of people. But the Bible says otherwise. Let’s consult it, shall we?

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things.” — Romans 11:34-36

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Even Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, added nothing to God’s glory. This may be a puzzling statement, I know. After all, didn’t Jesus do a whole lot of impressive stuff while here on Earth? Yes, He did. However, his entire life — all of the miracles He performed, the death He suffered, and the glory of His resurrection — did nothing to add to God’s glory. What Jesus did was make mankind more fully aware of God’s glory.

To help you better understand allow me to suggest a small exercise: Think about everything. That’s right, everything. Think about where you live. Take a moment and look out of the window. What do you see? Grass? Trees? Buildings? Streets? Think about how remarkably complex all of those things are. Now imagine what is beyond your yard. What is down your street? What is beyond the next one and the next one? How long would it take you to get to the next town? What about the one after that? Think about all of the people who live there. They have houses and yards and streets, too. But the world is much bigger than that.

Have you ever been to the beach? Do you remember just how big the ocean looked? Just think, the part of the ocean you saw is only a tiny part of all the oceans in the world. Just think about all of the countries and people you would find on the other side of the ocean. If you could travel to one of those countries and then across it you’d eventually run into another ocean with more countries and people beyond it.

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The simple fact is you can’t think about everything. Now think about how all of the stuff you can’t even think of was created to glorify God. Do you suppose all of the stuff you can’t even think of put together with all of the stuff you can think of adds anything to God?

The answer is no. Here is how big God is compared with the world…

“Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?” — Isaiah 40:15-18

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All of the stuff that is too big for us to think of is like nothing to God. How big, then, must God be? Much, much bigger than we can even imagine. A God this big is impossible for us to discover on our own. He cannot be found by our searching for Him — although, you wouldn’t know this from listening to people in our modern day.

Nowadays, you hear a lot of religious-sounding talk about “seekers.” “Seekers” is a term a lot of “Church experts” use to describe people who are seeking God but just haven’t found Him yet. “Church experts” is a term used to describe people who think they know better than God how best to run the church — but that’s another topic.

These “Church experts” believe so much in the idea of “seekers” that they’ve invented an entirely new kind of church — the “seeker-sensitive” church.  The idea behind a “seeker-sensitive” church is that there are thousands of people earnestly seeking God who just don’t know where to look. The “seeker-sensitive” church learns what is attractive to these “seekers” and then incorporates those things into their church.

There are two things wrong with this approach to church — well, there are more than just two things wrong, but for now, we’ll just focus on two.

Number 1: The Bible says there is no such thing as a “seeker.”

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” — Romans 3:11

Certainly there are people who are seeking some sort of “god” or religious experience. But, inevitably, they seek some made-up god who is to their own liking. They do not seek the one, true God of the Bible. The Bible clearly states it.

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Number 2: Churches that focus on “seekers” place their focus on the wrong thing. The focus of any church should be on God and His glory alone. Period.

There is a principle I’d like to share with you to help you better understand the Bible. Anytime you read the Bible apply this principle and it will help you gain a better understanding of what God is saying through His Word. Are you ready?

Here it is…

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Did you catch that? It ain’t about us. None of it.

  • The Bible.
  • Creation.
  • Salvation.
  • Church.

Everything God made and everything He has done He has done for His own glory. It is true that the Bible was written for us and that we benefit from what God has done, but we were never the focus of God’s plan. God was the focus. And he should be our focus.

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So, if God is too big to understand, if there is no one to compare Him to, and no one seeks Him then how can we ever know about God? That’s a very good question.

Here’s the answer:

He can only be known as He is revealed by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. And the best way for us to better know about God is through the study of His Word — the Bible.

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