DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Filtering by Category: theology

Every Spiritual Blessing (Ephesians 1:3-14)

This summer we went swimming on the ocean in Chatham, Cape Cod. As we left the beach we actually read the warning sign that you're supposed to read as you enter the beach. If we had read it sooner, we probably wouldn't have let our kids swim in the water. It warned of dangerous rip currents and undercurrents and actually scared some of us in the family. Sometimes it's good not to know what you're getting into.

I feel a little like that as we look at today's passage. The passage we're about to look at is deep and dangerous water. We have a number of challenges in front of us this morning. First, it's one sentence in the original. Verses 3 to 14 are one long sentence in the Greek, with clause piled upon clause. Second, nobody can really agree how to untangle this passage. One commentator said, "Every attempt to provide a strophic structure for [this passage] has failed." It's like an explosion of praise. It's hard to see where one concept ends and another one begins. Third, there are some deep and profound theological truths here. This isn't introductory theology. You could go deep into almost every phrase in this sentence.

So I almost feel like posting a warning sign as we look at this passage. There are dangerous currents, and this is not easy swimming. But it's definitely worth diving in.

The apostle Paul is writing to a group of ordinary people who live in a diverse city, an important commercial center, one of the biggest cities in the area. It was a center of learning, and it was strategically positioned near some key routes. And it's written to some ordinary people, people just like us: some who were well off, some who weren't. This isn't some abstract treatise written to exceptional people. This is a letter written to people just like us.

It's important to keep this in mind because in these verses Paul pulls back the curtain and lets us peer in to witness a cosmic drama. Why does he do this?

If someone were to ask you about the drama you're a part of, you might say, "What drama?" But then you might talk about the drama at work or the drama at school or the drama that's going on when your family all gets together and all the personalities react to each other. But chances are you'd be talking about a drama that wasn't too grand, or if it is grand, one that you'd rather not be part of.

But Paul wants his readers to know that they are part of a much bigger drama than they even know. The biggest drama is not your kids when they run wild. It's not when your in-laws come to town and drive you crazy. The biggest drama in your life is not trying to balance your checkbook at the end of the month. For a minute, Paul wants to pull back the curtain and let us see what's really going on in this world that we don't even know about.

This is especially important for us, because somebody's said that we now live in a world without windows. They're not talking about Microsoft Windows. It's a phrase from sociologist Peter Berger. Traditionally, people have recognized that there is someone to appeal to beyond themselves, something and someone much bigger than this world. But we've lost this window to an unseen reality. More than ever, we need the message of this passage. We need to see that there's more going on than the things we see around us.

So Paul writes in verse 3: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." There's enough here in this one verse that we could just stop here. Paul praises God, because God the Father has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing. In other words, we are participants - or should we say beneficiaries - of what God is up to in the world. We have been blessed because of what God is up to in the cosmic drama of redemption. As Paul is about to draw back the curtain, it's like he's saying, "This includes you, you know."

And then in verses 4 to 14 he explains exactly what God has been up to in this cosmic drama, and how it touches each person who is a recipient of his grace. Now, I told you that nobody quite knows how to structure this passage. You could study this passage according to time. You could study all the different spiritual blessings that he mentions in this passage - there are at least seven, by the way. But since I'm a preacher, and we all know that preachers like three points, I want to look at this passage according to the actions of the triune God within this cosmic drama.

1. God the Father initiated

Verses 3 to 6 speak of God the Father:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

So as these ordinary people listen, Paul pulls back the curtain to before the world even began and lets us see where this cosmic drama began: in the mind of God the Father. Verse 11 continues the same thought: "In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will..." In fact, in this whole long sentence, God the Father is the subject of almost every verse. He is the main character, the one who is behind all the spiritual blessings we read about in this passage.

The cosmic drama of redemption began long before you existed. In fact, it began even before this world existed, before time began. It actually began in eternity when only God himself existed. Before any human acted or even existed, God not only knew that Adam would sin. He had already purposed to repair the damage done by sin, and to fulfill his original intention for humanity: to create a people for himself who are conformed to the likeness of his Son. And even more: he actually chose us to be adopted as his children. His purpose has always been to bring the people he chose into a personal relationship with him through Jesus Christ. Not only do we get to enjoy a relationship with God, but we also get to enjoy all the benefits that come from being a member of his family.

This is the doctrine of election or predestination. It's one that a lot of people struggle with because it brings up a lot of things that we don't understand. Does it take away our freedom of choice? Actually, no. You can choose anything you want. The only problem is that in our natural state, damaged by sin, we were completely incapable of choosing God. It's like gravity: I can throw an apple in the air, and once I release it, it can go any direction it would like, but because of gravity the only direction it's going to go is down. Unless someone reaches in from outside of that apple and changes its direction, it's always going to go down. God's sovereign choosing of us is not about taking away our choice; it's actually enabling us through the Holy Spirit to choose him.

Someone's said, "Instead of destroying the value of human choices, election gives us a capacity for choosing that we did not possess previously as an unregenerate person" (James Boice).

What about those God hasn't chosen? It's so unfair, we think. But here again we have to admit that there are things that we don't understand. Just because we can't comprehend of a reason doesn't mean that God doesn't have one.

How do I know if I am one of those God has chosen? Here's the beautiful thing: you never do up front. It's like those arguments I love to get going between couples when I ask which one of the two became interested in the other person first. If you are finding yourself drawn to Christ, you may feel like you are taking the initiative, but it is in fact because God is drawing you to himself. God initiates. He chooses us before we could ever choose him. Paul pulls back the curtain and says that before time or this world ever began, God initiated this cosmic drama, and this drama included you. God chose you before this world began.

By the way, this should make us incredibly humble, because we can't take any credit for our relationship with God. We didn't have anything to do with it.

It also gives us confidence. If we chose God, then our decision could change at any moment. Our salvation would be as unstable as we are. But our salvation is rooted in God's eternal choice, and nothing we do can thwart his purpose.

It also leads to gratitude. You see that this is exactly how Paul responded. Paul couldn't contain his gratitude that God had somehow chosen us for no good reason except for his own good pleasure. It's like the way they used to pick sports teams in school when we were growing up. Entertainer Garrison Keillor recalls the childhood pain of being chosen last for the baseball teams:

The captains are down to their last grudging choices: a slow kid for catcher, someone to stick out in right field where nobody hits it. They choose the last ones two at a time— "you and you"—because it makes no difference. And the remaining kids—the scrubs , the excess—they deal for us as handicaps. "If I take him, then you gotta take him," they say.

Sometimes I go as high as sixth, usually lower. But just once I'd like Darrel to pick me first and say, "Him! I want him! The skinny kid with the glasses and the black shoes. You, c'mon!" But I've never been chosen with much enthusiasm.

Just once, Keillor said, he wishes he could have been chosen with enthusiasm. But that's exactly what happened before this world ever began. If you are in relationship with God through Jesus his Son, it is because God chose you to the praise of his glorious grace.

You think your life has no drama. Before you were born, before this world even existed, you were part of the divine drama that God the Father initiated.

2. Jesus accomplished

I want you to notice something as you read this passage. Verse 3 says that we've been blessed with every spiritual blessing "in Christ." Verse 5 says that we've been predestined to adoption "through Jesus Christ." Verse 6 says that we've been given grace in Jesus, "the One he loves." Verse 7 says that it's in Christ that we have redemption - being bought out of slavery to sin - and also forgiveness of sins. And it tells us of the price that has been paid to bring us freedom and forgiveness: "through his blood." Verse 9 says that God purposed the mystery of his will "in Christ." Verse 13 says that the Gentile believers of this letter have been included "in Christ." All the blessings of God are found in Christ. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said:

If you leave out the "in Christ," you will never have any blessings at all...Every blessing we enjoy as Christian people comes to us through the Lord Jesus Christ...Paul is writing here to Christian people, and his concern is that they should understand and grasp the special blessings and privileges possible to them as Christians; and so he emphasizes that all those blessings come in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, and in and through him alone. You cannot be a Christian without being "in Christ." Christ is the beginning as well as the end. He is Alpha as well as Omega. There are no blessings for Christians apart from him.

But then look at verses 8 to 10:

With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

As part of this cosmic drama, God has revealed a mystery to us. The term mystery in the New Testament usually means that something was previously hidden, but has now been disclosed. Paul is saying that we now know something that was previously hidden, and that God purposed this mystery to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment.

What has been made known? That it is God's intention to "bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ," according to verse 10. It's to make Jesus Christ the main point of all of history. God has chosen Christ as the one in which he will sum up the entire cosmos, in whom he will restore harmony to the universe. Jesus Christ is the focal point of the entire universe. Everything that was fragmented, everything that is currently dislocated, everything that needs reconciliation and restoration will be restored to harmony in Jesus Christ.

I have to quote Lloyd-Jones again here:

The perfect harmony that will be restored will be harmony in man and between men. Harmony on the earth and in the brute creation! Harmony in heaven, and all under this blessed Lord Jesus Christ who will be the head of all! Everything will again be united in him. And wonder of wonders, marvelous beyond compare, when all this happens it will never be undone again. All will be reunited in him to all eternity. That is the message; that is God's plan. That is the mystery which has been revealed to us...These things are so marvelous that you will never hear anything greater, either in this world or the world to come.

You are part of a cosmic drama in which you have been blessed with every spiritual blessing, says Paul. And this drama was initiated by God the Father, but it has been accomplished by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it is God's intention that one day everything will be restored that is currently broken, that everything sad will become untrue. And all of this will take place in Jesus Christ, who is the main point of all of creation. God initiated, but it is Jesus who died to ransom and forgive us, and he is the center, the climax, of the entire cosmic drama of redemption.

So God has initiated, and Jesus accomplished salvation and is the main point of all of history. Finally:

3. The Holy Spirit applies

Verses 13 and 14:

When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.

So here we have had the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father has chosen us and initiated this entire plan before the world ever began. Jesus Christ has ransomed us - bought us out of slavery to sin. He has forgiven us, and is the main point of all of history. Now we have the Holy Spirit, who applies the benefits of all that God has purposed and that Jesus has done for us.

In fact, there are two images of the Holy Spirit's work here: seal and deposit. Seal has the meaning of ownership and protection. In those days, owners would brand their cattle and even their slaves to signify ownership, and to protect what they owned against theft. God stamps us with the Holy Spirit, signifying that we belong to him, and that he will protect us through the trials of our lives.

The other image that Paul uses to describe the Holy Spirit's work is deposit, or down-payment. The Holy Spirit is, in fact, the first installment of all the blessings that God has promised us. God isn't just promising us our final inheritance as his children; he's actually giving us the Holy Spirit, which is a foretaste of all that we will receive one day.

Notice, by the way, the phrase that keeps repeating throughout this passage in verses 6, 12, and 14: to the praise of his glory. This reminds us that God's ultimate purpose is not that we are saved. That's his purpose, but it's not his ultimate one. God's ultimate purpose is his glory; our salvation is a means to accomplishing that purpose.

There's much more here, but this is just a sample of what Paul tells us about the cosmic drama of redemption. I asked myself this week: why would Paul write to ordinary people in an urban center like Ephesus - like Toronto for that matter - and tell them all of this? And here's what I think the answer is: He wanted them to understand that their lives are about much more than making the kid's lunches for school tomorrow, or paying the bills, or making it through another week of school. You are part of the cosmic drama of redemption. And the more we can pull back the curtains and see what is really going on in this world, the more we will realize our place in what God is doing.

But notice, as we close, that Paul didn't write dispassionately. Verses 3 to 14 in one sentence. Nobody does that unless they're excited. When Paul pulled back the curtain, he was overcome with praise and was profoundly moved. God chose us before the creation of the world. He adopted us as his children, making us his sons and daughters with all of the privileges that go with that. He has bought us from slavery to sin by the death of Jesus Christ, and has forgiven us. Our slate has been wiped clean. God says, "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). He has revealed his purpose in history to us. He has sealed us with the Holy Spirit, guaranteeing that we are his and that he will protect us. He has given us the Spirit as a down-payment, promising that we are going to receive much, much more later.

Praise God for including us in the cosmic drama of redemption! "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3).

Knowing God (Judges 10:6-11:38)

I'll never forget the day. I was young, maybe 12 or 13. My brother came rushing in the house covered with paint. It turns out that he and a friend had been over at the church doing some painting. They started arguing about theology. One was a Calvinist, who believed in God's sovereignty. One was an Arminian, who believed in free will among human beings. One thing led to another, and before you knew it they were throwing paint at each other. They ruined a perfectly good day and some cans of paint with an argument about theology.

It's easy to see why people don't like theology. Theology means the study of God, which sounds like it should be okay. But we've all met people who delighted in taking the most obscure points and who have split hairs. They don't have time for anyone who believes any differently than they do. We've also all sat through sermons where the preacher has gone on endlessly about some idea that excited him, but to us it was as interesting as the small print on a contract.

When I go to a mechanic, I don't want to get a lecture on how cars work. I just want them to fix the car. And, by the same measure, people say that they don't come to church to learn theology. Leave that up to the scholars. Many are tired of all the talk about theology.

I've even heard pastors - lots of them - say something like this:

We've had enough talking. It's time for action. I don't preach theology. I think that people need to have an experience of God. People need to know how to relate. I'm into helping people who come on Sunday morning to have an experience. I don't give much time to theology. One thing I've learned is that you don't preach doctrine. Preach to people's needs.

I can understand this view, I really can. Preaching theology isn't a crowd-pleaser. We've all seen it done badly. It's much easier to find something that can relate right to our needs, and to leave the theological discussions for the ivory towers.

But before we decide to downplay theology, we may want to consider the story of this man. His name was Jephthah, a tragic character who lived years ago. His story is strange, but I think you'll soon discover that his story may cause us to reconsider brushing aside theology in our lives and our churches.

The Tragic Life of Jephthah

We've been working through the book of Judges these past couple of months. Judges contains a series of stories about - as you may have guessed - judges. These weren't judges like we're used to. They were tribal chiefs who delivered Israel from oppression. The cycle of disobedience, oppression, regret, and deliverance continues like a downward spiral in this book, until, as we saw last week, things fall apart within the lifetime of one of these judges, and God has to deliver Israel not from an enemy nation, but from one of their own leaders.

Today we come to the story of one of these cycles. You can tell things are getting worse. Last time they went through one of these cycles, God sent a prophet before he sent a judge to deliver them. He wanted to call them back to the covenant he had made with them. This time, again, the people disobey and are oppressed. God this time doesn't send a judge or even a prophet to save the people. Judges 10:11-14 says:

The Lord replied, "When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!"

God is both reminding them that he has saved them in the past, but scolds them for their ungrateful response. There's a big difference between regret and repentance. God knows they regret the situation that they're in. Repentance is turning away from sin and turning back to God. Regret is when you're sorry you've been caught.

God knew they hadn't repented. He knows they just want to use him to get out of their difficult circumstances. He's heard them in the past, but this time he says no more.

But then they intensify their cry. It still looks like a conversion of convenience. They haven't really changed. I don't really know what the end of verse 16 means: "He could bear Israel's misery no longer." Does this mean that God changed his mind once again and agreed to deliver them? Or does it mean that he just got exasperated and withdrew his help from Israel? I don't know for sure - but I do know that God is silent in the rest of this passage. There is no mention of God raising up a judge. There is no mention of God strengthening him.

Instead, the people go looking for their own judge. They remember a man named Jephthah. He's essentially a gang leader. He used to be part of Israel, but he had a dysfunctional past and was no longer part of his family. Judges 11 reads:

Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. Gilead's wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. "You are not going to get any inheritance in our family," they said, "because you are the son of another woman." So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a gang of scoundrels gathered around him and followed him. (Judges 11:1-3)

By any standard, Jephthah came from a dysfunctional family. He was rejected by his own family for financial reasons. He still made something of his life, becoming a freedom fighter or a gang leader, depending on your perspective. If you come from the right family and have all the right connections, you can reach positions of power without even really trying. But to become a leader after growing up with rejection and dysfunction says something. Jephthah has something: male aggression, drive, leadership ability, maybe even anger. He became a warrior, and he and his group developed a reputation.

He developed so much of a reputation that when Israel goes looking for someone to fight the Ammonites, Jephthah's name comes up. I'm sure that they kept trying to think of other names, knowing that they would have to eat some major crow in asking him to come back and rescue them. But evidently, there weren't a lot of other options. So they send a committee and go to see him.

This must have been an enjoyable moment for Jephthah. It's like when the people who used to pick on you come back to you begging for your help. Jephthah says to them, "Didn't you hate me and drive me from my father's house? Why do you come to me now, when you're in trouble?" (Judges 12:7) But the elders are willing to swallow their pride. They need help desperately, and they've decided that he's the man.

Sometimes stories tell us a lot by what's not said. Notice that in selecting Jephthah as leader, God is nowhere to be found. "Far from playing the decisive role, as he had in the provision of all the other judges, God is relegated to the role of silent witness to a purely human contract between a desperate leader and an ambitious candidate" (Daniel Block).

If we're honest, we have to admit that we're tempted to do the same thing today. There are a lot of times that we get into trouble, and we go looking for something to save us. We try to find our own solutions, often without looking at the underlying problems. In this case, Israel never really considered repentance as an option. They went for the quick fix, and they included God only as an afterthought.

By this point in the story, we're not expecting much. What could you expect from a son of a prostitute, the product of a dysfunctional family, a gang leader, somebody chosen without any input from God?

You wouldn't expect much, but surprisingly, Jephthah looks like he's going to pull it off. Instead of going right to battle, he tries to negotiate, arguing not only with history but with theology. Jephthah is a man who takes God seriously:

  • He refers to God as Jehovah, which was the covenant name of God, more than any other person in the book of Judges.
  • When he goes to battle, the text says that the Spirit of the LORD came upon him. This is said of only three other judges.
  • Before he went to battle, he presented himself to the LORD.

Against all odds, Jephthah is taking God seriously. He's making all the right moves. He appears to have faith in God, and things are looking really good.

But right before going to battle, Jephthah makes a huge mistake. Read verses 30-31:

And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."

There's a lot of debate about what Jephthah is doing here. Is he promising to sacrifice an animal to God, or a human? I've looked at both sides, and to be completely honest I'm not sure. But I am sure of one thing: Jephthah was heavily influenced by his belief that you could bargain with God like the Canaanites bargained with their gods. He thought he knew about God, but what he knew came more from culture than it did from Scripture.

In the nations surrounding Israel, sacrificing your child to the gods was at the pinnacle of spirituality. It was the height of piety. Jephthah had learned more about spirituality from the culture than from God himself. He thought, "If I promise to God what is most precious to me, I can get God to do what I want."

It's the same problem that we face today. By the time that we sit down to read Scripture or to listen to a sermon, we are so shaped by culture that we're already conditioned to approach God. David Fitch puts it this way:

We ask parishioners to sit and take notes on sermons on Sunday morning. Meanwhile their souls, character, and imaginations are being formed by the culture technologies of the Cineplex, the television, the university, or the local Starbucks...While parishioners sitting in the pews are agreeing with doctrines intellectually, their so-called autonomous minds are being compromised before they even come to church. They can no longer hear the preacher's words alone apart from the ways of seeing the world. (The Great Giveaway)

The real problem for Jephthah - and the real problem for us as well - is that the ways that we think about the world are formed more from the world than they are formed by God's world - the world of Scripture and his kingdom. And here is where it leads.

Jephthah goes to battle. We read that the Spirit came upon him, and "the LORD gave them into his hands" (Judges 11:32). But then the unthinkable happened:

When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, "Oh! My daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break." (Judges 11:34-35)

It's interesting - Jephthah seems to blame her for what happened. He's crying, and they're not tears of joy. When his daughter realizes what happens, she tells him to keep his vow, but asks for two months to mourn that she would never have children. Because of Jephthah's vow, there will be no descendants. It's the end of Jephthah's blood line. We read the awful words in verse 39: "After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed."

The really sad thing about the vow is that he didn't have to make it. If he had just read the Scriptures, he would have known from Leviticus and Deuteronomy that God forbade human sacrifice. All he had to do was open a Bible:

You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. (Deuteronomy 12:31)

A vow is a vow, but if Jephthah had read the Scriptures, he would have known that there was a way to break a vow before God. Leviticus 27 allowed someone to pay twenty shekels to the priest as compensation for the life of his daughter. It's not exactly the same situation, but it certainly would have applied. If only he had known. If only he had read the Scriptures.

Haddon Robinson says:

We have churches in every community, sometimes on every corner. We have bookstores that sell Bibles. We have radio programs that have a continued array of preachers. We have television stations devoted to preacher after preacher. But how much do [we]...know about God? Not much, if you listen to the pollsters. They say the knowledge is very meager. Not very much, if you listen to the radio...Not very much, if you watch the religious television programs and the trivia that passes for religion...

Jephthah ends up winning a victory. He ends up being listed as an example of faith in Hebrews 11, which lists the great examples of faith. But what he doesn't know about God costs him, just like it costs us today.

Why Knowing God is Crucial

I began this morning by explaining why some of us are turned off by theology. We've seen the fights. We have endured the boring lectures. We have experienced enough bad theology to last a lifetime. The solution, for many people, is to get rid of theology altogether and to simply focus on what's practical.

I got an e-mail this week that said, "Forget your programs and denominational doctrines and theology. Throw out your religious-speak. Just give me more of Jesus. I want a relationship with the Triune God. If you can show people how to achieve that...Everything else will fall into place."

I know what he means. I'm all for getting rid of bad theology and irrelevant theological debates. But if you want to see where forgetting doctrines and theology gets us, then you have to look at Jephthah. It's not a formula for success. It's a formula for killing your daughter. In fact, as one person has said, the more faith you have in God, the more dangerous you are if your knowledge of God is not accurate.

Listen to what J.I. Packer says in Knowing God:

Knowing God is crucially important for the living of our lives...We are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentenced yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.

What we need - what we really need - is not more bad theology, but the best type of theology, the stuff that can really change our lives, and indeed our church, and then the world: to know God; to know all about him; to understand the Gospel; to let it soak into our minds down into our hearts and to every part of our lives; to understand who Christ is and what he has done for us at the cross. That's what will keep us from being Jephthah's. If you're looking at something practical that will change your life, there is nothing more practical than good theology that soaks down from your head to your soul.

Knowing God, and knowing about him, is crucially important for the living of our lives. There's nothing more practical, nothing more helpful, than really understanding and then living what God has revealed about himself.

Father, we live in a world that focuses on the practical, what works. We are always looking for the bottom line, and we often buy into the irrelevance of knowing about something, even about you.

This morning we have seen where this leads.

So would you help us to see the importance of knowing you, of really understanding in great detail who you are and what you have done for us. May we meditate on your Word day and night. May the gospel sink deep into our minds and then into our souls so that it shapes everything about us. Would you help us avoid living like Jephthah's, and instead make us into people who are renewed by the transforming of our minds. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.