Monthly Archives: March 2020

Who carries whom?

Bel bows down, Nebo stoops; Their idols were on the beasts and on the cattle. Your carriages were heavily loaded, A burden to the weary beast.
2 They stoop, they bow down together; They could not deliver the burden, But have themselves gone into captivity.
3 “Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, And all the remnant of the house of Israel, Who have been upheld by Me from birth, Who have been carried from the womb:
4 Even to your old age, I am He, And even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; Even I will carry, and will deliver you.
(Isaiah. 46:1-4)

One of the greatest things you can do in times of distress and uncertainty is to learn who God is. And one of the best passages for that endeavor is chapters 40- 55 of Isaiah.

In the context, God has shown his prophet that Babylon will take Israel into captivity and scatter them throughout the world. But, God goes on to say, it will not be the end of his promises. God will provide a highway in the desert, a return to the land and he will bring judgment on his enemies. And then God gives his people assurances of his promise by reminding them of his almighty, everywhere-present power.

In the ancient world, a war was a battle between the gods of the nations. The context would be between Yahweh, the God of Israel, and Bel and Nebo, gods of Babylon.

That is the context of Isaiah 46. God shows Isaiah that this is no contest at all.

Bel and Nebo have to be carried from place to place. They not only are incapable of delivering their people when they go into captivity, THEY will go into captivity themselves. But they won’t even be able to walk into captivity. They will be loaded onto the carts and become a burden to the beasts who will struggle to pull them from place to place.

What good are gods that you have to help get from place to place? What good are gods that are powerless to save? What good are gods that require your sacrifice, and your efforts and your wisdom! What good are gods that require you to defend their honor, to fight their battles?

What good are gods that have to be carried from place to place?

In contrast, the true God, the God of Israel, the God who has become OUR God through Jesus Christ, carries US. We don’t carry him. He carries us.

He carries us from birth. He lifts us up through the hard times. He bears us when we are at our full strength. He carries us when we are young and strong. He carries us when we are old and grey.

He doesn’t decide we are too old to be valuable to him. He doesn’t decide that we can do this on our own now, for he knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust.

He KNOWS that we are like flowers of the field. Strong one day. Fading and blowing away the next.

13 As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him.
  14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.
  15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
  16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more.
  17 But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children, (Ps. 103:13-17)

And still, he carries us. We don’t die for him. He dies for us. We don’t carry him. He carries us. We don’t defend him. He defends us.

This is the God we serve. He is our God and we are his people.

Learning more about who he is will go a long ways towards our comfort.

As the old hymn says,

“E’en down to old age all my people shall prove

My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;

And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,

Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.”

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Filed under Church, theology

The Sabbath and Life

6 Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered.
7 So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him.
8 But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, “Arise and stand here.” And he arose and stood.
9 Then Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?”
10 And when He had looked around at them all, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.
11 But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. (Luk 6:6-11)

I keep hearing very disturbing things from churches. There are so many who are exposing themselves right now for who they really are. Some things never change. I have heard certain Christians argue like this: “God has commanded us to gather together on the Lord’s day. We must obey God rather than man. God will protect us from the virus if we honor him with our obedience. And if not, it is better to obey and lose our lives than to disobey.”

The Pharisees of Jesus day reasoned the same way. And Jesus looked at them with anger.

The Pharisees, in the passage above, were far more concerned about the ceremony of the Sabbath than they were about the meaning of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was given to Israel that they might understand that it is God who heals and saves and gives life. It is God who will overcome the curse, not us.

13 “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying:`Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. (Exo 31:13)

The Sabbath was given so that God’s people might learn to rest and wait for the Lord of the Sabbath to do his work, which only he can do.

For that reason, it was necessary that Jesus heal on the Sabbath, since that is what the Sabbath was for – to point to the one who heals, apart from any works of ours.

But the Jews turned the Sabbath rest into a work to be performed in order to earn God’s favor! The exact opposite of what it meant. In fact, the Sabbath was given to teach us that only God sanctifies and we have nothing to do with it. We rest. God sanctifies. Get it?

Fast forward to the Lord’s day. We gather on the first day of the week, the Day of Resurrection.

In the words of one of my favorite hymns, “Today he rose and left the dead, and Satan’s empire fell” (Isaac Watts).

The Lord’s Day is the day of resurrection, of life! Death is conquered, the enemy is cast out!

Shall we then take that which was meant to celebrate life and use it as a means to spread death? God forbid!

“Is it lawful to save life, or to destroy?”

Close your churches, people. Quit thinking that the ceremony must be kept, even though it might mean the deaths of thousands. Shall we tempt God?

And I, being a pastor, do truly believe in the value of the Word and Sacrament, and the gathering of ourselves together. The word and Sacrament are the ordinary means of grace, which is another post. In ordinary times, we should do it as long as it is possible for us to do so.

But our wooden, outer keeping of the Lord’s Day matters nothing when we destroy lives by doing so. When we gather together while an unstoppable virus threatens, we are corrupting our Lord’s day with the leaven of the Pharisees – trying to squeeze a blessing out of God through our sacrificial law-keeping. But the Lord’s day isn’t about that. Christianity isn’t about us offering ourselves to God. It is about God offering himself for us. Christ died that we might be freed from the curse of the law. How monstrous it is to think that God, who sent his Son to die for us, requires that we put our lives at risk in order to keep the ceremony of the Lord’s Day!!

Jesus looked around in anger at the Pharisees. They reasoned the same way that many are reasoning today.

When we despise the lives of his people, he also looks in anger at us.

Something to think about.

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Filed under Coronavirus, sabbath

Fear, Death and Panic

As most of California, we are staying at home.

I also have symptoms. I’m not worried about me. But I certainly don’t want to spread anything around, out of love for my neighbor.

As I watch the stockpiling of weird supplies, the fist fights in the lines,  the empty shelves ravished by frightened people, I remembered what Satan said to God, accusing Job of loving the Lord simply because the Lord gives him things.

4 And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. (Job 2:4)

The power of the devil is the fear of death. It is HIS voice that causes the panic and the fear and the bargaining.

And that makes me sad. Life is a vapor (James 4:14) and we have no control over it anyway. Virus or no virus, every moment we are under the sentence of death, and held in bondage by the fear of death.

All that a man has, he will give for his life.

But this is not us, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus became flesh, united himself to us and was obedient unto death. The sword fell on him and the sting of death is removed. And then, in this flesh, he rose from the dead for our justification. When the sword of God’s wrath fell on Jesus, Satan’s greatest weapon was destroyed – the fear of death.

14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Heb 2:14-15)

For us, we are now no longer in bondage to the fear of death, since death is now no longer a punishment for sin, but a dying to sin and an entering into eternal life.

19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.
23 For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.
(Phi 1:19-24)

Whether we live, then, or die, our concern is for the glory of Christ and the good of our neighbor. If he calls us home tomorrow, or down the road apiece, we still belong to Him and our prayer should always be that Christ be magnified in our bodies, whether we live or die.

This does not mean that we willfully put ourselves in danger. It does not mean that we act foolishly. And it certainly does not mean that keeping the outward ceremonies of the law (the physical gathering of the church) should outweigh our neighbor’s life. This was the mistake the Pharisees made, and it made Jesus angry.

It means this: Love your neighbor. Don’t sell your dignity, honor and birthright for a case of toilet paper. Don’t take all the eggs. Leave some for someone who needs them more than you.

Consider that person in line as more important than yourself. “Will God not clothe you, O you of little faith?”

And don’t prove the devil right. Don’t sell everything in exchange for your own skin. It’s a bad bargain, and you will lose it anyway.

“What shall it profit a man if he corner the market on eggs and toilet paper, and lose his own soul?”

The fact is this: One day – maybe sooner, maybe later – you are going to stand before your Maker. He has given you one talent, and maybe more. But one that he has given you is your life, like a tiny flower, on this earth for a little while.

How did you use that gift? In love and service, in quiet and calm, resting in him, magnifying the Lord Jesus in your body?

Or did you bury it in exchange for your own skin? Do you die alone surrounded by all the eggs and all the toilet paper and all the cartons of milk?

It’s a metaphor, people! I think that love for our neighbor requires that we practice what we are told to practice. Shut yourselves in for the good of your neighbor.

But you don’t have to hoard. You don’t have to panic. You don’t have to fear.

Don’t sell your peace and don’t sell your dignity and don’t sell your birthright to save your own skin.

Let the peace of God rule your hearts and minds.

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Filed under Coronavirus, Providence

Enslaved to the opinions of men

Yesterday, in my sermon, I brought up this text.

13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,
14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.
16 Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day–
17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
(Col 2:13-17)

You can listen to the sermon for the main thrust of this text, but the basic idea is that when Christ died on the cross, he removed the curse that was on me. He drank the cup of the wrath of God to the fullest, so that now I am clean, innocent, pure, and an adopted firstborn son of God. This is who you are, whether you are rich or poor, male or female, bond or free. You are the heir of all things in Christ.

The devil thrives on accusation. You aren’t good enough, pretty enough, masculine enough, strong enough.

You would be acceptable to people and worthy of their affection if only you had one more thing….

And so many of us have spent our lifetime trying to gain the approval of men by trying to add just one more thing. Maybe if I learned to like sports. Maybe if I hung out more at men’s clubs. Maybe if I wore the right kind of clothes.

And as we get older, we add to that list of things to do to add just one more thing. It is a powerful motivator. We fear, more than anything, to be rejected by our peers.

If I don’t do ashes, people will shame me. If I DO ashes people will shame me. If I don’t wear the right clothes to church, people will shame me. What are the right clothes? Should I wear a suit? A tie?

Is this dress plain enough? Too plain? Should I wear a hat? What if I accidently call the fellowship meal a “potluck” and the world stops spinning and everyone stares at me?

What if I am caught talking to the wrong sort of person?

If you have been to church, you know what I am talking about. It is the devil’s greatest weapon. You aren’t good enough. You need something else to yourself acceptable.

But you won’t ever find that “just one more thing” because it doesn’t exist. It is just designed by Satan to keep you in bondage.

If you are in Christ, though – every sin and every shame and every failure has already been nailed to his cross and has been put to death in the sight of God. It is finished.

So not only has Satan’s weapon been taken away, but YOU have been set free.

So what does that mean?

Here is what struck me when I was thinking through this passage.

From now on, I will continue to fight against sin. But I will try everything in my power to quit living in fear of men. I have too much to do to spend a moment doing a poll with imaginary people in my head to determine what I should wear, what I should listen to, what I should read, what I should like.

Yes, I will strive to love my neighbor, and be kind to all that God brings in my path, but I will do so out of thankfulness to the One who died for me, not out of the fear of the opinions of men. And that makes all the difference.

The fact is, as my pa would have said, you would quit thinking about what people thought about you if you realized how little they did.

If you are looking to the human race for your acceptance, you’ve got a long ways to go. Most everyone in the human race is busy with their own issues to deal with yours as well.

So live for the one who died for you. Serve God without terror of rejection because you are already accepted in the beloved. You are actually complete in Christ right now, and there is nothing left to add. Flee from anyone who says, “but there is just one more thing….”

It is finished. So don’t live in the sight of men anymore. Honor God, serve the Lord, be kind to all, do good as the Lord has done good to you.

But remember that the world rejected Christ and they will reject you. So for the rest, dance to your own tune.

Love God, and do as you will – as Augustine said.

Wear that shirt if you like it. Listen to the music that you like to listen to. Celebrate Christmas or Ash Wednesday however you want to. Do Easter. Don’t do Easter. Hunt eggs with the kids. Don’t hunt eggs with the kids. Wear a suit to church. Don’t wear a suit to church.

Wear that hat; don’t wear that hat. Call it a potluck or a fellowship dinner.

Just do it for the glory of God, and not in the sight of men. Be without guile and dissimilation. If you are at dinner with friends, if you want a beer, order one. If you don’t and just want water, order one. If you want an appletini with an extra umbrella then order that. Quit letting people shame you by what you want to drink, for crying out loud. give thanks to God and all things are pure.

Love God, and love your neighbor. Be kind to all. But don’t let the opinions of men put you into bondage for a moment.

Human beings will accept you or reject you. Jesus didn’t put too much stock in it, for he knew what was in the heart of man (John 2:24).

Love God, and do what pleases you, for you are complete in Christ.

(For those who are always nervous that someone might get away with sin if we are too antinomian, if you truly love God, you will keep his commandments. That isn’t what I’m talking about. Now tend to your own heart, and leave God’s people in peace).

And also, I am thinking of taking up knitting. It seems to me that it would relax me greatly and help me to be patient with others in long meetings.

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Filed under Gospel, liberty