For “Megan” – thank you for your comment. This might help answer some of it. I will add my response when I can…
I’ve been having a hard time finding words to say. Perhaps it is because I’ve said them before, or perhaps I am just tired. The world now is experiencing what many of us have experienced for years.
Some of us know what it is like to have a debilitating, and perhaps deadly, illness that doctors can’t do anything about.
But I really don’t mean this to be a “I told you so” post, because it isn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact. I mean it to be a comfort with the same comfort that my wife and I have learned over the years of struggling with isolation and illness.
It has something to do with idols. Where do we turn when we don’t have any answers? Where do we go when we don’t have any strength? Where do we place our trust when the world is upside down.
When it strikes hard, your idols are revealed. That is painful, and it is a hard ride, but it is glorious in the end. As long as you learn what the Psalmist finally learned:
(Psalm 33:16-22) 16 The king is not saved by a mighty army; A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
17 A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.
18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
19 To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart rejoices in Him, Because we trust in His holy name.
22 Let Thy lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us, According as we have hoped in Thee.
Remember all of the money that you spent on conferences? Remember all of the power that you gave your favorite celebrity pastor? Remember the televangelist that promised you that you would be healthy, wealthy and wise?
Remember all the books you bought? The long theological debates that you had online?
Remember when you thought that the person you voted in office would really save you from all your troubles?
All of the times you thought that your righteousness and your own hand would save you?
Just 6 weeks ago, I spoke to someone who told me that these kinds of diseases only happen in other countries, where they don’t know how to eat healthy food, and sanitize themselves, and live like proper Christians….
And to a certain extent, we tend to think the same way. These kinds of things happen to others. Not to us.
We are God’s people. We are American Evangelicals! We finally won the cultural wars! We are back in the business of building that “city on the hill” for the whole world to see. The American dream!
Funny how things disappear, isn’t it? Funny how it proves true, over and over again, that we are but dust. Like the flowers of the field, we fade and die.
And God sends things to remind us that the greatest assets that men and women have – wisdom, righteousnesses, social charity, cultural wars, armies, battleships, money, power, institutions (even “Christian” ones) – will all fade and die and be forgotten. One tiny virus brings the world of men to its knees, until the Keeper of Time says, “stop now”.
It is interesting how and illness that no one can do anything about can change our perspective.
And why is this? Because God will never give his glory to another.
So here is the comfort. God has ways of stripping away our trust in horses, armies, kings, medicine, doctors, politicians, elections, church leaders, celebrities.
And the purpose for all of it is for us to finally fall on our knees and say, “Our soul waits upon the Lord. He is our help and our shield.”
We can’t even get toilet paper unless he decrees it. And that is a wonderful thing, for he is good and his lovingkindness is forever.
We hope in YOUR lovingkindness, O Lord. Remember us, for the sake of Christ. He is our help and our shield.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As a pastor, I would like to take a moment to plead with my fellow pastors and elders. I would like to plead with you on behalf of someone in your congregation that you have not met yet.
And so I would like to introduce you.
In my introduction, I will use “she”, but be assured that this person you haven’t met could very well be a male.
It is true that you might shake her hand every day.
You have probably done the pastoral visit, if you are of the Reformed persuasion. You have most likely taken an elder or a deacon and sat in their living room and asked questions like this:
- Do you tithe?
- Do you attend church regularly?
- Do you have any issues with the leadership?
- Do you have any unresolved sins in your life?
And she (or he) gave all of the expected answers and you smiled and nodded and said a prayer and ate a cookie and moved to the next house.
But you didn’t meet her.
She might be involved in every good work. She might be the first to volunteer to bring a meal to the shut-ins. She might be the first to be the meal coordinator and refreshment planner for the congregation.
Or she might be one who sits in the back and leaves the minute the service is over.
She might come sporadically. She might be at every service and every prayer meeting.
You might have known of her and seen her in the pews for 25 years.
And now I would like to introduce you to her. It is about time, don’t you think?
She is carrying in her heart an unspeakable burden, which she has never shared with anyone. And she certainly won’t with you.
- She won’t tell you of the years that her father snuck into her bedroom at night.
- She won’t tell you of being terrified of her husband.
- She won’t tell you that she curls into a tight ball and shakes uncontrollably every night.
- She won’t tell you about how she walks to her car every night with her keys clenched between her fingers, always on hyper-alert.
- She won’t tell you about the time that dinner was late and her husband screamed at her for hours; or the time that she cried herself asleep because her husband was out all night again.
- She won’t tell you about that time when she was so afraid she lay in her bed with her clothes on in case she had to run.
- She won’t tell you about her grandfather’s roaming hands or what she had to do to get that job or why to this day certain songs cause her to break down.
Or perhaps this person you haven’t met yet is a man. He might be an elder, or the leader of the youth group. He might always be there. He might have a wife and kids. He might be single. He might be the first to serve, or the first to leave. He might have been sitting in your congregation for 25 years.
But he also carries around unspeakable burdens that he will never, ever tell anyone.
He especially won’t tell you.
- He won’t tell you about the time his father took a belt to him until blood ran down his legs.
- He won’t tell you about his struggles with lust or same sex attraction.
- He won’t tell you that he is terrified of being known and terrified of being alone all at once.
- He won’t tell you that his biggest fear is that one day his children will look at him with contempt.
- He won’t tell you that he fears that his wife will someday find out what he is really like and head for the door.
- He won’t tell you about Uncle Marty and all of the secrets that they kept; or the overnight scouting trips with Dad’s best friend and all of the dark things that happened in dark rooms with heavy breathing and foul breath and how to this day certain songs and certain smells cause him to panic and curl up in a ball.
And when you read this, you might say, “They should talk to me. They know I’ll listen. There’s no excuse for not talking to the pastor.”
And that is one of the reasons they aren’t going to tell you. They know you wouldn’t understand. They know that you wouldn’t care to understand.
Perhaps they know that you view your congregation as simply a stepping stone in your career. They know that you will only be there are year or two, until something better comes along. You are upwardly mobile, after all. And tiny, rural churches aren’t nearly as significant as big city churches.
Or perhaps they know that you already know everything and they are terrified that you will find out what they are really like. Dirty; outcast; unclean – they aren’t really fit for any company, either God’s or man’s.
And there is a part of them that knows that this is what you will think of them if they tell you who they really are, and they can’t bear that.
Better to keep it buried inside and carry it to the grave.
For those who haven’t dismissed everything I’ve said yet – if you truly want to know this person that I am introducing you to, then perhaps you will hear me one more time. I am begging you for the sake of the one you haven’t met yet.
There is a reason why she won’t tell you who she really is. She doesn’t trust you.
There is the obvious reason. She is perhaps afraid that you might gossip. But I think it even goes deeper.
She doesn’t think you can handle the darkness that is inside and know what to do with it.
She thinks that you will respond with revulsion and rejection, and that is what she (or he) can’t bear.
She heard you when you mocked the #metoo movement as a bunch of money-grubbing whiners, or scorned exes.
She heard you when you said, “God hates f**s”.
She heard you when you blamed the rape victim by asking “What was she wearing?” When you preached about dressing like a hooker and inciting men to lust. I don’t know what you meant, but what she heard is that it was her fault that her mom’s boyfriend snuck into her bedroom every night when she was nine years old.
She heard you when you preached about Bathsheba inciting David to take her by bathing on the roof, even though the scripture says no such thing.
She heard you when you preached that a woman’s responsibility is to give great sex on demand so her husband won’t stray. “If he has milk at home, he doesn’t need to go looking.” And she watched everyone chuckling at your wit. And she wondered what was wrong with her that her husband has a new girlfriend every week, and spends every evening with pornography. She tries, but won’t ever measure up.
And she watches you squirm uncomfortable whenever anyone mentions sex. She sees your indignation and fear over cleavage and bare shoulders and exposed knees, and she wonders to herself – if he can’t handle that, then how on earth will he be able to deal with reality?
She hears you when you make your funny, funny jokes from the pulpit about how women are. She sees how you laugh when famous preachers say, “go home.”
She hears the jokes and she sees everyone laughing at it and she dies just a little bit inside.
And it isn’t just her. There are also men who will never talk to you about their true struggles.
They hear your contempt about “effeminate” men, and how you praise the hunter and the sportsman and the athlete, and the hardbody, and the one who goes to the gym and works out (like Paul did, you know, when he “beat his body into submission”. Obviously he is talking about crossfit, ancient Sparta style!)
He hears you when you mock the poor, the sick, the lame. He hears when you show so much contempt to the one who “doesn’t keep his woman inline”.
And when you ridicule depression or chronic illness. When you roll your eyes at yet another man who “won’t work, so he shouldn’t eat!” because you have no concept what continual, chronic illness feels like.
Every time you preach on Christian manhood, or testosterone-fueled sanctification, he shrinks a little more inside.
Every time you say, “Men need to man up!” he hears his schoolyard bully, his father’s voice, his old PE coach.
- “What are you? a girl?”
- “You’ll make a great wife someday. Hahahahaha”
- “Quit your bawling, you baby”
- “Act like a man, you sissy. God hates f**s.”
And so when he hears those voices in you, he shrinks a little more. He might puff out his chest, and laugh along at the poor unfortunate, but inside he vows to himself that he will never, ever, ever speak of the darkest places of his heart.
And for all of these who carry dark recesses in their hearts – they know that Jesus said, “Who touched me” and then listened.
They know that God hears them and that Jesus knows them by name. But how they long to talk to someone! How they fear the loneliness of the dark, but even more than that they fear exposure.
Worm the Judge says, “I sentence you to be exposed before your peers!” and they continue to lay in the curled ball, building the wall around their soul, higher and higher and higher.
And at the same time, they are terrified of dying alone.
And scripture teaches us that Christ came to restore our voice. It is speaking aloud that brings light into the darkness. As long as we stay hidden, the darkness reigns. But speaking into the light is terrifying, especially when they know what you will do with their greatest fears.
In Proverbs 31, we read this:
Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die. (Prov. 31:8 NKJ)
The translation doesn’t quite capture it: “Appointed to die”. The NASB says, “The unfortunate”. The ESV, “Destitute”.
The literal is “sons of vanishing”.
Those who have the characteristic of hiding, silently waiting until they can slink away. Those who desperately want to never be known and yet want to be known all at once.
If you have ever seen “The Wall”, you can picture Pinky curled up in a ball on the ground behind the wall. “The son of vanishing”.
And I don’t care if you have a church of 20 people, all of them born and raised in the best tradition – or if you have a church of 300, from every walk of life – up to a mega-church of thousands.
Your congregation is full of sons of vanishing. They are the ones that you so desperately need to meet.
The first step is to acknowledge to yourself that you need to meet them. And then seek to understand the point of view of someone else.
We profess the “Total Depravity of Man” in the creeds of most churches. But do we act like it?
I wonder how often we dismiss the ugly things because we really don’t believe that people are that ugly.
Elie Wiesel remembers that his whole village had plenty of time to leave before the Nazis got there. The Jews could have escaped. They were even warned of the danger by someone who made his way back after seeing first hand what was going on.
But they kept going like they always did, because things like that don’t really happen.
- “She is just looking for attention”.”
- “He’s just melodramatic.”
- “He’s just trying to get clicks on his blog”
At bottom, we confess Total Depravity with our tongues but don’t really believe it. Not us. Not our town. Not our tribe. Not our denomination.
And the child of vanishing in your congregation knows that. You’ve preached on it often enough – the wonders of being Reformed and the horrors of being “other”.
So she will continue to bring meals to the shut ins. He will continue to teach Sunday School. They will put on the happy face and everything will be just fine.
The panic attacks should go away any time now.
The nightmares and cold sweats should stop sometime.
He doesn’t hit me ALL the time…”
If I learn some new tricks and buy some new lingerie maybe I can get him to love me again….
And there may be a part of them that would wonder what it would be like to have a pastor that they could talk to.
Don’t get me wrong. They like you. But they won’t talk to you.
And if you are wondering if this is you, ask yourself – How many children of vanishing have talked to you?
If you don’t know of any in your congregation, then you have your answer.
“Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock?
3 “You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock.
4 “Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them.
5 “And they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered.
If you are a child of vanishing, wishing to remain hidden, I am so sorry. But God did not leave you to hide in the dark.
He calls to you – Come unto me, and I will give you rest.
2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “Yet you say,`In what way have You loved us?’ Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” Says the LORD. “Yet Jacob I have loved; (Mal 1:2)
There has been much ink spilled on this verse in relation to the doctrine of election. In fact, that is Paul’s entire point in Romans 9. I am unabashedly Reformed and hold to the doctrine of election and reprobation as summarized in the Canons of dordt. But I can’t tackle every subject every time I write. So lets assume that one, and look at this verse from another direction.
I would like to analyze the sneering response of Israel. God says, “I have loved you” and you say, “Yeah? Really? How?”
Satan’s first temptation was an attack on the goodness and benevolence of God. “Yeah, hath God said…”
And this is the heart of every sin. God says, “I am good.”
And we say, “yeah? Prove it.”
God says, “I love you”.
And we say, “Yeah? prove it.”
And every time we do, we fall into the same temptation that Adam and Eve succumbed to. I think that this is the primary battle against the flesh that we must war against daily.
It is so prevalent and deadly that the Reformed Confessions, primarily the Heidelberg Catechism, summarizes the whole duty of redeemed man as “gratitude” – embracing God’s goodness.
“Rejoice in all things, and again I say, rejoice!”
So how do you do that when you are in pain? When you are mourning? When you face disappointment and heartache and loss? How do you rejoice always, even in a Roman prison (which is where Paul was when he wrote that).
“Jacob have I loved”.
First, you start with the love of God, beyond all understanding. It is God’s desire that you know him. Not only in words and in theory and in treatises, but in actually experiential knowledge. That you might know his redeeming power, his strength in weakness, his love in a world of rage, his beauty in the midst of ugliness, his glory in the midst of ashes.
And because God loves his people in Christ, he shows us glimpses of his goodness, the amuse-bouche for the wedding supper of the lamb. He gives us just enough of a glimpse in this cursed world that we might long for him, set our affections where he is, and stop glorying in our strength and our wisdom and our goodness.
He gives us those glimpses of his goodness in the midst of the ashes of this cursed world.
The tang and crunch of the apple. Try the Opal, if you haven’t yet.
The brilliant skill of a talented baker of pie (I’m a sucker for good cherry pie. If you are ever south of Yuba City on Highway 99, try Stephen’s Farmhouse. Amazing pie – they can even do gluten free!)
Fresh baked bread and sharp cheese.
The smell of rain on dry ground (petrichor – I didn’t know it had a name until recently.)
The astounding beauty of a skilled musician; the breathtaking scope of art; the curve of the tulip…
The thrill of discovering something new; the kiss on the cheek; snuggling with your sweetie while watching British mysteries; the wine on the back porch around the patio fireplace in the evening…
Far too often we are so busy demanding that God prove his goodness to us that we miss the innumerable proofs that he surrounds us with daily.
Elie Wiesel wrote that Adolph Hitler was the only one who kept all of his promises to Israel. I understand why he thought that, but what a sad statement! God kept every promise to every one of his people, and always has. The problem is not in the reality. It is in our eyes.
“I have loved you.”
“Yeah? Prove it.”
We all do it, because we are in the midst of a cursed world and because we have inherited the sin of Adam. Don’t we all mimic the sentiment of Elie Wiesel when we are at our lowest? God is not good. He does not love us.
But God has not left us there.
“First of all, I love you. I called you out of Egypt. I redeemed you from your misery and sentence of death that you might know me.”
Even in our darkest moments, God is near. He doesn’t abandon us in the valley of the shadow of death. He walks with us.
And beyond that, he did not need to create the world in color. He could have given us food in the form of tasteless paste to keep us alive. What purpose does music serve if the point of life is simply to stay alive?
When we remind ourselves that “Jesus loves us, this I know for the bible tells me so”, from there we will see endless examples of his love and beauty and goodness to mankind.
To paraphrase Calvin, every blade of grass is created that the hearts of the sons and daughters of men might rejoice. The fault is not in the love of God. The fault is in our ingratitude.
Remind yourself of the gospel. Stop being afraid of everything. You don’t catch sin by looking at the wrong thing, or hearing the wrong thing. Your sins are washed away completely. And then look around. See all of the beauty that you are missing?
Here’s a thought I’ve been having.
The first 9 chapters of Proverbs are a sermon (all connected) about the value of gaining wisdom. If you have wisdom, you are blessed of God and are delivered from the snares and traps of foolishness (wickedness of every kind). I preached on that theme here.
Because of the curse on the world, our default state is wickedness. We are ensnared by sin of every kind, our nature is attracted to its allure – the allure to be as God knowing good and evil. This results in the works of death – rage, reviling, fornication, adultery, covetousness of every kind, and so on…Until we find ourselves caught and unable to get free. “Not knowing that it is for our life”.
The concept of wisdom is personified as a wise woman calling from street to street – come to me and live.
The concept of folly is personified as the harlot, also seeking to ensnare and enslave humankind.
It isn’t about men versus women; it is about wisdom versus folly. Which one will you hear? Where will you turn in? Whose call will you answer?
If one has wisdom, one is protected from the woman “folly”.
(Proverbs 7:4-5) 4 Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” And call understanding your nearest kin,
5 That they may keep you from the immoral woman, From the seductress who flatters with her words.
This has far deeper application that simply keeping one from the allure of fornication.
As you read through these nine chapters, you see that Lady Wisdom actually delivers you from Lady Folly. One is the path of life and the other is the path of death.
And the wisdom of God was made flesh and dwelt among us. The wisdom of God is a person, our Lord Jesus, who call us to himself, fills us with his spirit so that the fruit of the spirit may be seen in us.
This is what Proverbs is about. Get wisdom, and your life will look different than if you remain in folly. One path ends in death and ruin. The other in life and prosperity.
So, all of that to say this: How does Proverbs end?
10 Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain.
Perhaps Proverbs 31 isn’t about Lori Alexander at all. Maybe it isn’t even talking about the ideal Victorian “Proverbs 31 woman”.
I think that the compiler of the proverbs ended the book with this poem on purpose and that it isn’t random. Since the book opens with that sermon on the value of gaining wisdom, personified as “Lady Wisdom”; the book ends the same way. “Get wisdom. Her price is above rubies.”
As a brilliant poem, a metaphor of wisdom, with depth and beauty, the whole book is summed up. “Do you wish to be wise and understanding? Get wisdom.”
The book begins here:
13 Happy is the man who finds wisdom, And the man who gains understanding;
14 For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, And her gain than fine gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies, And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her.
16 Length of days is in her right hand, In her left hand riches and honor.
17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, And all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy are all who retain her.
And ends here:
10 Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain.
So the application is here – Nabal married a wise woman, but it did him no good, for he was a fool. He never married “wisdom”.
In order for you to prosper and no longer be a fool, you must marry wisdom. Wisdom will guard you from the Woman “Folly”.
So marry wisdom. Her price is above rubies.
Or, in New Testament terms – “Come unto me, and I will give you rest”.
Again, it is about Christ.
The Proverbs 31 woman is Christ. And you – whether man or woman or child – are called to marry her. The advantages are incalculable.
Of course, when you marry Christ, you begin to look like Christ. So the hard-working, kind, loving, honored, blessed, prosperous “woman” becomes your model to follow – but this isn’t just for women, for it isn’t just women who are called to follow Christ. This is for all who profess his name.
Most of the time, we need to lift our eyes a little higher. The gospel sets us free.
…in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, (1Tim 2:9).
The subject keeps coming up. Previously, I wrote about the source of sin, and encouraged men to examine their own hearts (see here). Sin never comes from what another person is wearing. You cannot blame women for your lust, period. As Jesus said,
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. (Mar 7:21)
But then the question arises, are women responsible for how they dress? Did not Paul command women to dress modestly?
One of the reasons that I am writing about this is that I truly hate the multiplication of laws. God gave us ten, and added no more. It is the spirit of the Pharisee that seeks to hedge the law about with the traditions of men and it always leads to bondage and further sin.
The scripture commands us to flee and hate all adultery and fornication and everything that entices towards that. I teach and preach that without hesitation. Where things bog down is when we start prescribing what sort of clothing or body parts lead to adultery…
And this is where it gets more complicated. First of all, a man is alone responsible for his own heart, as I have said.
But a woman is responsible for her own heart as well. If a woman is dressing for the specific reason of arousing lust she must answer for herself to God, just as a man must answer to God. But, to be fair, I have never known a woman to say to herself, “Hey, I bet if I wore a sleeveless dress the horny old preacher will get turned on. I should do that….”
Much of the motive attributed to women comes from the unquenchable pride of the heart of man, I believe. Men, do we really believe that teenage girls dress the way that they do in order to cause you to lust? Deal with your own heart, you adulterer!
“But what about 1 Timothy 2:9???”
Paul is addressing a pastor and teaching him how to instruct his congregation. Many converts of the early church were slaves and had no opinion or choice in what they wore at all. A slave generally wore a toga if the master was generous. Some slaves wore nothing at all, which is why Jesus spoke so often of clothing the naked.
The attire of a prostitute had nothing to do with how much skin was showing. In some places, a prostitute wore shoes that stamped “follow me” in the sand as they walked. The attire of a prostitute, then as now, was a sign advertising what was for sale.
It has nothing to do with Paul’s instructions to Timothy. We must be careful not to read OUR cultural battles into the text of scripture. We have to read the scripture in the context of the day.
Paul concern was NOT how much skin was showing. If that were the case, most slaves would have been shamed into staying home. They had nothing else to wear. Such, by the way, is the state of our witness to our culture. We must be careful not to shame people into staying home for want of “proper attire”.
Paul’s concern was something else entirely. In that day, status was everything. Where you were on the social ladder was a matter of great importance. When one achieved a status, it was mandatory in that culture to advertise your importance. The number of slaves you owned, how expensive your clothing was, how many jewels, how fancy the hair – all of it served to advertise your importance in the pecking order.
This whole way of thinking is a denial of the communion of the saints and the first principles of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). The doctrine of the church and the communion of the saints is here: In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, bond or free.
The apostle James warned of the same thing from a different perspective:
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.
2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes,
3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,”
4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?
7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well;
9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. (Jam 2:1-10 NKJ)
When we fight for status and recognition, when we dress to highlight our own personal importance, when we seek to elevate ourselves above our neighbors, we have, in effect, denied the blood of Christ who bought us.
To be “immodest” in apparel, according to scripture, is to advertise our importance, wealth and social standing through our clothing, jewelry, hair, makeup, etc. THIS is what the apostles warned of.
3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward– arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel–
4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
We are not given instructions on how much skin to cover, or what kinds of clothes are appropriate or inappropriate. That all is cultural. Sexual attraction is a complicated matter, and far more in depth that covered collarbones or shoulders or exposed knees. We are making fools of ourselves.
And yet, how often do we advertise our importance and wealth and standing through our clothes? Do we shame those who don’t own suits or Sunday best into staying home?
Do we shame those who are seeking refuge from the assaults of the world into fleeing from us because they don’t have the right clothes? This is Paul’s concern far more than how short a skirt is.
We should dress as beautifully as we can (appropriately and well-arranged), but with “shamefacedness” – an old fashioned word. It means, “Not so impressed with your own importance”.
This is the heart of what meekness is. And all Christians should be meek as Jesus was meek.
Remember, in that day, most people only had one garment.