Cuddles with Minimal-Wiggling

My daughter just started blogging… Proud papa here

Cabbages & Kings

Two fifty-five. I don’t want to get up yet. I’m warm under my throw blanket on the couch. I read too long and nap too little. (This week’s portal transports me to a small Channel island after the war. Letters and telegrams, small snippets of lives, until I’m sure we’ve met before and just forgot to schedule a get-together.)

Three o’clock. I love technology. Hate it. I don’t want to get up yet, but the night light turns on at three. By the time I remember to tell Alexa to turn it off, it’s too late. He’s already seen it. The LED beacon that announces his freedom to exit the sleeping area. He wakes his brother, his partner in shenanigans. He goes to the bathroom. I still am not used to it, the freedom of him using a toilet. It’s the little things.

He goes right past me when he’s…

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Loss and Grief

Some of you might have noticed that I haven’t published anything for a couple of months. I’ve sat down to write a few times but could think of nothing to say. I think I am grieving. It’s an unfamiliar emotion. I don’t know how to analyze it.

In our culture, we learn very quickly to not grieve, especially if you are male. Grieving itself is viewed as a weakness. I think this is changing. But I’m not sure.

I know that in my own upbringing, weeping was a sign of weakness. Big boys don’t cry.

So I’m trying on this new feeling for me. Grief. Sometimes loss is just a bit overwhelming. Sometimes I wish I could just experience what they call the “ugly cry” but I don’t think I’m able to. Too unseemly. I have too much of my father in me I guess. But I still grieve.

I am grieving for lost youth. I wasn’t ready for middle age. I wasn’t ready for old people problems. I wasn’t ready for cancer. I haven’t finished being young yet. I wish that I hadn’t squandered my youth with childishness. But now that is gone.

My fingers cramp now when I type. My knees hurt when I walk. The arthritis gets my joints when it rains. I haven’t learned the third movement of the Waldstein sonata yet. There was always a part of me that knew it would always be a little beyond my reach, but now I say goodbye to the dream. It’s a strange feeling. Some days I don’t know who I am.

I am grieving things that I cannot speak of, for they are not my stories to tell. I am grieving the missed opportunities, the lambs that have wandered, the words unspoken, the good deeds left undone.

It’s hard to explain. I don’t know if this is what grief feels like. I know what being sad is, but it isn’t really exactly like that.

It a sigh, it’s a reset of the brain. The remembrance of things past.

I think it is like this: There have been moments in life when a grand buffet table was within your grasp. You tasted it for a moment, but it was taken away before you were finished with it.

Maybe this is how the grass feels. Just when it starts to bloom, the mower cuts it down. Always growing, always becoming, always cut short.

But then I remember that God remembers that we are grass.

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 (Psa 103:13-17 NKJ)

I am fading.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. I was made to live forever. But now, I fade and die.

To grieve that loss is to be human, I think. But to be a child of God is to try to remember that God knows that.

I am tired of saying goodbye. I am tired of saying goodbye to youth, goodbye to dreams, goodbye to friends, goodbye to family.

I’m tired of it. But God remembers that we are dust. And I try to remember that I will never, ever have to say goodbye to God’s mercy.

God’s mercy is from everlasting to everlasting. You don’t have to say goodbye to the one who doesn’t change.

“O thou who changest not, abide with me.”

Some days I forget to remember that God’s mercy is from everlasting. But God doesn’t ever forget.

Some days, I am in the valley of the shadow of death, and I forget to remember that God is with me. But he doesn’t forget.

He doesn’t leave me behind and forget that he has a child. He doesn’t forget his little lamb.

I think that is astounding.

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Trust

4 Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength: (Isa 26:4)

We have a natural tendency to attempt to add our own works to our salvation. We like to think that there HAS to be something that we contribute to justification.

Popular theologians will sometimes separate initial justification from final justification, trying to preserve the reformation doctrine of sola fide and at the same time bring human effort back into the final judgment. This shows how strong the pull is to revert back to our natural religion.

Our natural religion says that we aren’t as bad as God says we are. That we are at bottom pretty good people who just made a few mistakes along the way. Natural religion also views God as a harsh judge to others, but far more lenient with US and those just like us. The first priest of the natural religion was Cain.

But the Bible doesn’t allow us to fudge on the holiness of God. God as a just judge should rightly cause us to tremble in terror, because we are on the wrong side of that justice, and we all know it.

But Christian doctrine is as opposed to natural religion as east is from west, as oil from water. Christian doctrine places God’s acceptance of us in the righteousness of another – Jesus Christ. It is only His righteousness that can stand before the judgment throne. God does not now and never will accept “good intentions” in the place of perfect righteousness.

Not even a game show host will accept “I was just going to say that” in the place of the correct answer. How much less will a perfect, holy God accept “I was just going to do that” instead of perfect righteousness?

But God has provided that perfect righteousness. It is found in only one place. He sent forth his Son, made of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those who were born under the law (Galatians 4:45).

And here is an important implication of this doctrine, which will affect everything that you do:

We are called to trust in the Lord with all of our heart. We have no other place to stand. Doctors fail, with a 100% failure rate – eventually. Politicians never bring change. Horses won’t save us. Princes won’t save us. Knowledge and science won’t bring peace to our souls or stave off death.

The wisdom of the world changes every few years. The opinions of men cannot even settle what kinds of foods are healthy and what are not, how much less can they tell us how to be accepted by the Holy One of Israel?

Men and women, above all, battle a ferocious enemy whose weapons are fear, shame and guilt. He drives humanity to extreme cruelty, extreme despair, extreme illness, extreme mistrust and hatred.

And this enemy is far, far too powerful for us. Where will we turn for salvation? Where will we stand when all around is sinking sand? Where will we find rest? Who will take away our distress?

And here is the kicker: You cannot trust anyone if you are not fully persuaded that they are actually on your side.

Israel mistakenly believed that Assyria was on their side. It cost them their lives and their inheritance. Judah falsely trusted Babylon and Jerusalem was destroyed. Syria, Babylon, Assyria were on their own side, and looked out for their own interests.

How much more damaging is trust in a God who isn’t actually on our side? Can anything be more terrifying than this pronouncement from God?

4 Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, wherewith ye fight against the king of Babylon, and against the Chaldeans, which besiege you without the walls, and I will assemble them into the midst of this city.
5 And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath.
6 And I will smite the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast: they shall die of a great pestilence.
(Jer 21:4-6)

And these are the words spoken to Israel. How can you trust in the Lord if the Lord Himself is against you?

And here is the problem with all schemes that seek to put even one little work back into the plan of salvation. If I have to prove to God that my faith is genuine, if I have to add one little thing to the perfect work of Christ, if I have to love or desire God as a condition for my salvation – then how on earth am I supposed to trust him? What if I didn’t do enough? What if the law still thunders its curse at me?

What if I fail? What if the water I give isn’t cold enough, or my longing for the face of God is too sporadic and changing, what if my love isn’t worthy of the beauty of the object of my love?

What if my sacrifice isn’t enough? What if my submission isn’t enough?

Did I miss something?

And then I realize that I am not actually SURE that God is on my side, because a holy God cannot dwell with sinful man and the more I examine myself, the more I see just how corrupt I am.

So how can I trust God to do me good if God’s view of me depends upon me – even a little bit.I don’t even like me all that much, how can God?

This is why trust in God is always based on only one thing: the person and work of Jesus Christ. There is no fault found there. There is no failure or mistake, lapse in the perfect Son of God made flesh for us and for our salvation.

I can completely and absolutely and without reservation commit my salvation, my health, my livelihood, my retirement, my daily bread, and the forgiveness of sins into the hands of the one who did not even spare his own son for me and for my salvation. THAT is trust. Even my prayers are made in the name of Jesus, for apart from that name, God isn’t actually on my side and I have no reason to trust that he will hear me.

Because of Jesus our righteousness is perfect, complete and finished – now and forever. And since this is true, we can boldly say,

31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.
34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Rom 8:31-39 KJV)

If our salvation isn’t actually finished and certain, then how can we possibly say this and where will our souls find rest?

Come to Jesus who is able to clothe you perfectly. His garments cover your nakedness and shame. His blood makes you acceptable to God as his dear child. His righteousness has you covered forever. Only when you know this can you actually trust God, and love and joy and peace flow from there.

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Filed under Faith, Gospel, justification, Trust

What is your name?

Have you ever stopped to think about how tremendous words are? Words, more than anything else, display our creation in the image of God. God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1) and when he created, he gave names. He called the light, “Day”; and the darkness he called, “Night”. But when he created the animals, he didn’t name them. He created a man in his image and commanded him to name the animals. What a tremendous thought!

Our speech is the connection of our soul, our ideas, our bodies, with creation (the molecules of the air vibrate with our vocal cords shaped by our tongues and lips). The molecules vibrate from our mouths and cause the same vibrations in the membrane of the ear of another image bearer and our souls and ideas and bodies are connected in fellowship! What an astounding thought!

And God himself speaks to us in his word, and we respond with hymns and prayers and he hears those prayers. Does not he who created the ear hear? (Psalm 94:9).

This was why the fall of man was so disastrous.  That tremendous gift of fellowship between God and man and woman was torn to shreds when the man and the woman listened to the lie of the devil instead of the truth from God. Immediately, speech turned into manipulation and blaming. Speech was used – not for fellowship –  but to tear down and destroy. Words became carefully chosen to destroy communication, shut down fellowship, and dominate people. Words became weapons of destruction, designed to enslave and destroy other image-bearers, and so gratify the lusts of wicked men.

And those destroyed, oppressed, abused, used and discarded, became silenced. It is the devil’s best work: to destroy fellowship and imprison men and women in the bondage of silence. The Bible calls it darkness.

But Jesus is the light of the world!

I have been teaching through Luke 8 in our Sunday Evening Bible Studies. Notice, in this chapter, how Jesus used words. He spoke words of life and tied eternal life and fruit-bearing to what we do with his words. Will we believe them and again enter into fellowship with God?

He said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” Since the fall of man was centered on breaking fellowship with God through “breaking fellowship with his words”, if you will, then the redemption of man is restoring man to the family of God by restoring fellowship with God’s words. Hearing those words, and doing them. This is the essence of faith: believing the words of the Word of God, who became flesh and gives the words of life.

Are his words trustworthy? He shows us that his words are words of power and life. He silences the storm with his rebuke. He casts out the demons with his word. He heals the woman with the issue of blood. He raises Jairus’s daughter.

That is the context of what I want to say.  When Jesus is confronted by the man possessed by a Legion of demons, he asks, “What is your name?”

This man’s voice had been silenced by demons. This man’s voice had been taken away by the power of wickedness and evil. This man’s voice had been turned to screams and groans and shouts of rage. But Jesus is about to return to him his name.

“Who are you? This isn’t you.”

Jesus is God, and knew what his name was. But the Word of God who created the world took upon himself our breath, our lungs, our tongue and lips, our ears. So he speaks, for he came to open the tongue of the silenced ones and calls them to shout for joy.

And this begins when he asks, “What is your name?” The demon answers, for they have not yet been cast out.

But when they are cast out of the man, we read that this:

35 Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. (Luk 8:35)

They were talking! Jesus was teaching his new disciple, who was sitting in the position of a disciple and learning. He had his name restored; he had his dignity restored. He had his voice restored.

The very next scene that Luke takes us to is the woman with the issue of blood. I have written on this before, so I will just mention it briefly. Jesus asked her “Who touched me?” And she told him everything. He asked her this because her story mattered. He asked her because he desires that his children speak to him. He asked her because he came to restore what we lost with our sin and misery – to give a voice to the voiceless and words to those who were silenced.

This is why the misuse of language is so deadly and hateful and destructive. This is why a reviler will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Reviling is the very work of the devil. To tear down and to destroy with the tongue, to silence the voice, to ridicule and mock is so very hateful to God. It strikes at the very heart of who God is and who we were created to be.

But Jesus came to restore to his people the image of God, as they were created. We are called to be as he is. We are called to begin to use our ears and our tongues and our lips to open the ears of the deaf and open the tongue of the dumb. Of course, we don’t work miracles. This isn’t what I am talking about. I am speaking about listening to those who have never spoken of their hurt. I am talking about learning to use words to edify and build up rather than confuse, destroy and silence. The connection between our soul, our ideas, our bodies and the soul, idea and bodies of our neighbor must again be made.

In order to do this, we must listen and learn. We must learn to be trustworthy and faithful listeners. We must cease with the gnat-straining and learn to hear, for that is what our Lord would have us do.

Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger opens with these words:

MOTHER died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure. The telegram from the home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP. SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday.

Do you see what he has done here? He took the matter of tremendous importance – the death of mother – and made it of the same importance as the timing of the event. Whether she died yesterday or today takes the center position. The death of his mother becomes secondary, and not important. By focusing on the trivial, he silences the import of the death of his mother. This sets the stage for the whole book. It is a bleak, but brilliant, read.

I think that we fall into the same trap. We who are pastors, who are trained to examine words and exegete scripture, are particularly bad at this. Recently, Oprah made a speech about how women have been sexually assaulted. She spoke of degradation and losing dignity. She spoke about how many women have just become used to being raped and silenced. They tolerate it because they have no choice. They cannot speak because their voice has been taken away. If they speak up, they are outcast and unable to work. So they suffer in silence just to put food on the table. She skillfully outlined the brutality of her upbringing and the tremendous suffering her mother went through, just to survive. She went on to encourage those who have been silenced to speak and not suffer in silence any longer.

And we focused on her words “her truth” and “their truth”, and didn’t hear anything else. We thought that she was giving a lecture on post-modern literature instead of speaking about the experience that so, so many of our wives and daughters and sisters and neighbors have to put up with daily.

We thought that what we were hearing was a college discussion about the merits of enlightenment thinking versus the philosophy of Derrida and Foucault, and we didn’t listen to the pain of our sisters, made in God’s image. The death of the women through assault and silence was trivialized by the emphasis on a mundane matter of grammar and philosophy.

Because evangelicalism didn’t listen, and still doesn’t listen, it continues to disbelieve. It continues to tolerate sexual assault and degradation of women by pretending it doesn’t happen. It appears as if the modern evangelical machine will use any excuse it can come up with to shut its ears to the cries of the oppressed – especially those with different politics, different backgrounds, different skin color, and different cultures that ours.

Ouch.

Don’t get me wrong. I despise the postmodern philosophy that denies all absolute truth, making moral judgment and even truth relative to the mind of the knower. By a denial of certain, objective knowledge, postmodernism becomes simply another tool of Satan to convince us that we are alone, not capable of communicating, and locked in our own thought bubble.

But I also really don’t think that anyone truly believes that outside of a university classroom. Regardless of the foolishness of the classroom, people still look both ways before crossing the street. I also don’t think Oprah was saying that.

Perhaps she was just saying, “Everyone has their own version of the story. The abuser has twisted and lied long enough. Speak your truth.” I don’t think that she meant that all truth is relative to the person, but simply that you know what happened. Speak it out.

The problem with the Christian community is that we think we know everything. When someone begins to speak, before the words even leave the mouth, we already have the answer.

And this is why we fail. We don’t listen. Perhaps someone needs a lecture on epistemology and the follies of the philosophy of Derrida, but maybe when you are being told of the horrors of the assault to dignity that our sisters face every day isn’t the time or the place to give that lecture.

I have a suggestion. Instead of focusing on our philosophy and apologetics classes that we took in seminary, maybe we should practice this:

“What is your name?”

Use words to open communication, not shut it down. Use words to encourage the light, not to continue to keep wickedness in the dark. Use words to connect, to fellowship – not to shut down.

And that’s not just me. That is what our Lord would have us to do.

11 And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;
12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.
13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.
14 For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”
15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise,
16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
(Eph 5:11-16 NAS)

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Filed under assault, practical theology, Words

On Unconditional Covenants

“Marriage is not a contract; it’s a covenant.”

Maybe you’ve heard that. It’s catchy. Someone says it at a big conference, everyone nods. They go back to their churches and repeat it. Everyone nods. And so it goes viral.

But does it actually mean anything? I’ve heard it explained that covenants are unconditional, but contracts can be broken. Hmmm.

This got me thinking about covenants and whether they are actually unconditional, and then I started thinking about falsification theory. I know. My mind flits.

Falsification theory was first mentioned by Karl Popper and popularized by Anthony Flew. Both, to my knowledge, were atheists. But they made interesting observations. The thinking is that for a statement to be meaningful at all, it must be falsifiable. I’ll try to explain. If I say that Felicity is a cat, what I mean is that there is a creature in my yard named Felicity and she belongs to a category of creature called a cat. It means something. If someone came to my back yard and proved to me that Felicity was indeed a raccoon, then my statement would be proven false. It is a falsifiable statement. If the statement was not falsifiable, then it is meaningless.

If, for example, I stated that Felicity is a cat, and what I meant by it was that Felicity is whatever you wish Felicity to be, and even her existence is up for debate, then I actually am not saying anything at all and should just keep quiet. In that case, when I say Felicity is a cat, and you say, “No, that is a raccoon” and I respond with, “mmm yes. That’s what I said. Cats and raccoons and fish are all one. It’s whatever you want it to be,” then you could justly accuse me of speaking nonsense. My statement is non-falsifiable. I should be pelted with rocks and garbage. Or perhaps a raccoon.

“This post is weird”

“I thought he was going to talk about marriage”

I’m getting there. When we say things like “covenants are unconditional”, it seems to me that we are making the same mistakes as those who speak non-falsifiable gibberish. If a covenant means anything, of course it can be broken. Otherwise it isn’t actually saying anything at all.

If, for example, I say to my wife “I promise to love you and honor you” and what I meant by it was “I plan to do whatever I want whenever I want to” then I actually haven’t vowed anything at all. I haven’t made a covenant or a commitment or anything of that nature. I was simply speaking gibberish, and again deserve to be pelted with rocks and garbage, because my wife was counting on my words meaning something.

It is commonly stated that the New Covenant is unconditional. But is this really true? Is it actually true that God will just zap us into heaven and we can do whatever we like to do whenever we want to do it?

The teaching of scripture is not that the New Covenant is unconditional, but that Christ has fulfilled the covenant in our place. He also creates in us clean hearts as was prophesied by the Prophets:

33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer 31:33)

We are justified, sanctified and glorified in Christ. Our salvation is assured in Christ. It can never be lost in Christ. But this is far different than saying that the covenant is unconditional.

Even the covenant with Abraham was conditional.

Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised…. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.
(Gen 17:9-10, 14)

We need to be more careful with our speech. How can an unconditional covenant be broken? Did God say to anyone, “Live exactly the way that you want to and do whatever you want when you want to do it. It’s all good.”

Never!

It is also true that we can never fulfill the conditions of the covenant. But this is different than saying that the covenant is unconditional. The gospel is that Christ has fulfilled the covenant in our place. He is the mediator of the New Covenant.

To say that a covenant is unconditional is to speak gibberish. How can I enter into covenant with you if the covenant doesn’t mean that I will do something and that you will respond in some way? Are we just speaking gibberish?

Classical Reformed Theology speaks about unconditional election, but this is a different thing. It was an answer to the claims of the Remonstrants that God’s election is dependent upon foreseen faith. The Council of Dort answered that God’s election flows from his good pleasure alone, and does not flow from a condition of any kind that he foresees as being fulfilled by the creature. Someone somewhere simplified the decrees of the council with the acronym TULIP, but to my mind, that is an over-simplification of the Canons of Dort. (For those new to TULIP, the “U” stands for “unconditional election.”)

But this doesn’t say anything about “unconditional covenants”. A covenant is an arrangement between two parties. In the case of God’s covenant with man, it is decreed by a sovereign and is therefore non-negotiable. God says, “I will be a God to you, and you will be my people”. He didn’t say, “I will be a God to you and you can dance around a calf or whatever if that makes you feel groovy.” When Israel whored after other gods, God called them “covenant breakers” and finally issued a bill of divorcement.

Because God never speaks gibberish, a covenant means something. It asserts a relationship based upon conditions and therefore can be broken. Just as a statement that is non-falsifiable is meaningless, so a covenant that cannot be broken is gibberish.

If by “unconditional covenant” you mean that Christ fulfills all of the conditions of the covenant and I stand before him perfect and whole as if I had never committed nor had any sin, then I’m with you. I wish that you would use different language, but you have no argument. If, however, you mean that God is stuck with taking us to heaven no matter what we do in this life as long as we accepted Jesus into our hearts at church camp when we were teenagers because we wanted to get it on with Betsy – then I am going to have to part ways.

The Jews thought like this. John said to them, “Don’t say that you are children of Abraham. God is able of these stones to raise up children of Abraham.” God is never “stuck” with a scoundrel because of some nonsense about an “unconditional covenant”. Repent, and be converted.

Back to our original statement. “Marriage is not a contract; it’s a covenant”. I still think this is meaningless. But I fear that it is used to teach this strange and unbiblical idea that covenants are unbreakable, even though scripture is full of those termed “covenant breakers”.

To apply it to marriage, a man takes a vow. He says, “I promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to love, honor, and cherish you, to keep myself only for you, as long as we both shall live.”

These are solemn vows. If they are unbreakable vows, then they mean nothing. They are like a cat who is also a raccoon. But God would not have us speaking gibberish. If a man fails to love, fails to honor, fails to cherish, and is unfaithful, he has BROKEN THE COVENANT!

If that is not the case, let’s change our wedding ceremonies to whatever we want, marry our livestock, dance naked in jello, and do as we please. Words apparently mean nothing.

Call it a contract or a covenant, we take solemn vows when we marry. Our spouse takes solemn vows. The solemn vows are dependent upon one another. A woman won’t vow those vows to a man who has no intention of vowing those vows. Lives are at stake, which is why we take solemn vows. If one of the parties taking those vows has no intention of keeping those vows, then the covenant is broken.

Let’s look at it from a business standpoint. I sign a contract promising that I will haul a cord of wood to your barn in exchange for 200 dollars. Since words mean things, this is an enforceable vow (or contract, or covenant – whatever you want to call it.) If I fail to haul the wood to your barn, then the covenant is broken, and you are not obligated to pay me 200 dollars.

Covenants can and are broken, because of the hardness of men’s hearts. This is what Jesus meant when he said concerning the decree of divorce, “Because of the hardness of your hearts, Moses wrote that.”

Men and women are covenant breakers. For the sake of order, it is sometimes necessary for the law to recognize that the covenant is broken. God would not have his children in bondage to the gibberish of the devil. Shine some light on it. Speak words that mean what they say. Keep your vows.

This is what a Christian does.

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Filed under Divorce, Marriage

A Greater King

I’ve been thinking lately about a challenging passage in the Bible. I think that too often, we read the stories of the Old Testament as quaint fables of old, or stories of another people and another time and we wonder what it has to do with us today.

But those stories are written records of God’s redemptive history. The written accounts of the Old Testament are given to us by God to teach us how God has prepared the world for his Redeemer, who would save his people from their sins.

The disturbing account that I have been meditating on is found in 2 Samuel 24, and the parallel account is in 1 Chronicles 21.

If you haven’t read these accounts lately, or if you have never read these accounts, please do so before you read my comments. I’m just a guy trying to point you to Christ. The Word of God gives life to the dead. So read it. I’ll wait….

OK. The first thing that you see is that 2 Samuel says that the Lord was angry with David and stirred him up to number his army. Then you see that 1 Chronicles says that Satan incited David. This brings us to a deep subject that cannot really be exhausted in one blog, but the fact is this. Satan does nothing apart from God’s decree. It is God who is sovereign over every event that comes to pass, even the temptations of the devil.

Now, that being said, it seems very odd to us that God would be angry with David and allow Satan to tempt him to sin, especially since God knows that this chain of events will end with the death of 70,000 men in Israel. This doesn’t seem to fit our notions of God.

But very briefly, in this short blog, I want you to see something about God.

God is holy and cannot dwell with sinful man. David was a sinner. He was proud, lustful, bloodthirsty, fearful. He was a real sinner with real sins. In fact, not only was David a sinner, but every person alive in Israel was a sinner and deserving of the eternal wrath of God. Not one of those who died in the plague was treated unjustly by God.

Which brings us to the next point. Because Israel was sinful, God gave them a king and a priest. David was the king, and Zadok was the priest. David protected them from their enemies and ruled over them as the representative of God. In fact, the earthly kingdom of David on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem was so closely related to the Kingdom of God that the term “Zion” was used interchangeable for the Church in the Psalms. God ruled and met with his people on Mt. Zion, through the priesthood, and through the line of David. David also was given a promise: that his seed would reign forever and ever, and of his kingdom there would be no end.

But David was a sinner – as we established. He caved to the temptation of the devil and turned his trust onto his troops and his prosperity, rather than to the Lord God of Israel. And God is holy, and cannot abide with sin.

God said very clearly, “The soul that sins shall die.” And God cannot lie. What happens when those who are mediating between God and man are themselves sinners? What happens is that everyone dies. Not only the mediator, but also those who are represented by the mediator. How can a mediator save anyone if he himself is a sinner?

This is what we learn about God in this difficult passage. It is difficult because it shows us a God that doesn’t fit with our notions of what God should be like.

But the story doesn’t end there. If the story ended there, none of us would be alive.

Jerusalem was the newly conquered capital of David. David took it from the hands of the Jebusites and established his kingdom there. Now the angel of death is passing through Jerusalem with the sword of God’s wrath unsheathed and destroying. But then God commands the angel to stop. In the air above the threshing floor of a Jebusite named Ornan, the angel waits the command of God with his sword raised, prepared to destroy.

And God commands David to offer a sacrifice right there. When the sacrifice is offered, the angel puts up the sword. Get this point: God accepted a substitute for the death penalty decreed upon man.

Of course, this substitute could only be temporary, for the blood of bulls and goats could never atone for sin in the eyes of God. But that blood pointed to something far greater…

David understood the message from God and purchased the land from Ornan. David had been preparing to build a permanent temple for the worship of the Lord. But the law had clearly stated that the location for that temple would be revealed by God himself. No one could just decide for himself on a good location. It is only God who sets the terms for sinful man.

And David got the message. That plot of land became the site of the Temple of Solomon, where God met with his people, where the sacrifices were offered and accepted. But the priests were still sinful. The king was still sinful.

People kept dying. God’s wrath kept being unleashed because of the sin and idolatry of the people and the mediators. Eventually the line of David was offering human sacrifice outside the gates of Jerusalem and worshiping the gods of the Canaanites right in the very Temple of Solomon! God is just and holy, and Jerusalem would eventually be destroyed, God’s presence would depart, and the king would be imprisoned in Babylon.

What happens when the mediator is sinful? We are still in our sins and the sword of the angel is still raised.

And this all points to something even greater. The time would come when the angels would appear again, this time to shepherds outside of Jerusalem. But this time their swords would be sheathed, and they would be singing, “Peace on earth.” God provided the terms of peace.

This baby born wouldn’t be a sinful mediator. He would be the spotless lamb of God. This baby wouldn’t cave to the temptation of the devil, but would hold faithfully to God’s word without failure.

And the day would come when the perfect and sinless lamb of God would take the sword of God’s wrath upon himself.

When the mediator isn’t a sinner, the world is saved. When the mediator isn’t a sinner, the kingdom of God thrives and prospers. When the mediator isn’t a sinner, he can be offered to God as the perfect substitute for sin and the sword of God can be sheathed forever.

The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this:

What kind of mediator and redeemer then must we seek?

One who is true and righteous man, but also more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true God.

There is only one who fits THAT bill. There are a lot of men and a lot of women. But there was only ONE who could be called righteous before the judgment throne of God. Only one who never caved to Satan. Only one who was born without the corruption of Adam. And we are celebrating that birth this week.

And this same one is also true God. Everything you can say about God you can say about the baby in the manger. He is omnipotent, simple, everywhere present, eternal, infinite in power and majesty, upholding the universe by his decree. How one person can be omniscient and sovereign and have to learn how to walk and read is a mystery that we cannot explain. But we confess it and sing it and remember that his name is Wonderful.

Why then would we exchange the only mediator between God and man with a sinful creature? Why do we look to husbands or wives or kings or presidents or pastors or popes to act as the bridge between God and man? There is only ONE mediator.

David was anointed by Samuel, appointed by God, given a kingdom. God placed his name and his blessing on David’s kingdom. God blessed Israel for David’s sake. God blessed his people and loved his people and prospered his people for David’s sake.

And David sinned and thousands and thousands died from the sword of the Lord. We need a far greater mediator than that!

When your mediator is a sinner, you are a dead man walking.

As we celebrate the birth of this Mediator, as you read and hear about his birth, when you think about angels and shepherds and wise men, remember this inconvenient truth. The sword of the Lord has been sheathed for a while as the gospel is proclaimed. But that sword will fall. The wrath of God is still coming. How can anyone believe in a good and holy God and not believe in the coming judgment? Of course God is coming in judgment! That sword must fall because God is good and men and women are idolaters, murderers, fornicators, thieves. And the sword will indeed fall.

But before it falls, God has provided a perfect substitute, a perfect king, a perfect priest. He wasn’t sinful and weak. Born in a manger, and yet without sin. Worshiped by shepherds and wise men, wrapped in strips of cloths for a diaper. The creator and sustainer of the universe crying at night for the breast and a burp. And eventually nailed to a cross to take the sword of the wrath of God completely.

When we believe on his name and trust in him alone, the life that he provides is given to us. He who believes on him shall never die. The sword is put away forever in Christ, and there is now no condemnation. His resurrection is a sure pledge of OUR resurrection, because his sacrifice was accepted. And his sacrifice was accepted because in him, God was well-pleased. He was sinless, so that we could live.

Put away trust in men, put away faith in other mediators. Put away your blind faith in pastors, husbands, and kings. When your mediator is a sinner, you are a dead man walking. Rest in him alone. There is only one mediator: Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Rejoice Always!

There are a lot of people opening up about the abuse that they have suffered.So many must be feeling triggered right now. Holidays are so hard for so many – reminders of betrayal, heartache, loneliness – that we live in a cursed world full of injustice, lust for power, greed. Many are perhaps suffering from illness or ongoing pain. Many have gone to the church for help only to be attacked, shamed and abused in the house of God!

And yet we also see the command of God to rejoice always! How can we do this?

Here is a list of things that we can truly be thankful for, even in the whirlwind of this life in the flesh.

  1. We have been completely washed by the blood and Spirit of Jesus. On particularly rough days, I imagine the meaning of my baptism as I shower. Just as this cool, refreshing, cleansing water is cleaning my body, I really and truly am washed by the blood of Christ. I am clean completely in the eyes of God. He doesn’t see me as I see myself, or as others see me, but as a new creation, fit to enter his presence – clean. He sees me the same way that he sees Jesus – his well-beloved Son.
  2. Because I am in Christ, God loves me with an almighty, infinite, unchanging eternal love. So I can rest in him. Because he is almighty, there is nothing outside of his power. Because he is unchanging, nothing can remove me from his hands.
  3. He sets the lonely into families; he frees the prisoners; he heals the sick; he feeds the hungry. He cares for my broken-down body. He is at work in me and I am fearfully and wonderfully made! His faithfulness is everlasting – unchanging, almighty, infinite.
  4. God is just, and this is a cause for rejoicing! On this earth, justice always comes short. The wicked prosper and the righteous are oppressed. Ahab gets rich and Naboth is stoned and everything seems completely upside-down. There is even great wickedness in the house of God! But God told us there would be. And God told us that he will not forget. He sees it and there will be a reckoning. God’s judgment will be infinite, almighty and unchanging. He will thoroughly clean his threshing floor.
  5. Sometimes we tie ourselves into knots trying to figure out how a just God squares with an evil world. But since 1 and 2 above are true, we can stop trying to figure it all out, and just rest – knowing that God is not fooled, is not swayed by trends and opinions, and already has this sorted. Our job is to wait and hold to Christ. The secret things belong to him.
  6. And the day will come when Jesus will descend with a shout of the archangel and the blast of the trumpet. His people will be gathered together and meet him in the air, and descend triumphantly with him. They will be vindicated before everyone. Every slander will be revealed for what it is, every murderer and reviler exposed, every abuse and every degradation exposed and left without excuse. There won’t be any “mistakes were made” or “besides, I’m gay” or “we were protecting the ministry” or “everybody did it back then”. There will be only perfect justice.
  7. And God’s people, united to Christ by faith, will be vindicated before the world. Every glass of water given freely, every meal shared, every kind word, every prayer – not to prove anything to God, but to reveal God’s people for who THEY are. Slander and reviling and gas-lighting will all be destroyed forever. God knows his own, and his works in his own people will be revealed before the universe.
  8. And there will be no more curse. No more loneliness, no more wickedness and strife, no more illness and pain, no more death, no more lies.
  9. The day will come when we will crush the head of the serpent under our feet and reign over all things forever and ever.
  10. No matter how weak we are on this earth, no matter how many have trodden us underfoot, no matter what we have suffered, we are more than conquerors in Jesus Christ. In him there is no more male and female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, but we are all one in Jesus Christ. We share in his sufferings together. We share in his glory. We will reign with him over all creation forever. How astounding is that??

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Billy Graham Rule Follow-up

It keeps coming up. Here are some of my thoughts from a while back.

My Only Comfort

I recently wrote a blog to correct the misinterpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. You can find it here. I am certainly aware that in terms of the age of internet news, Mike Pence and the Billy Graham rule are the equivalent of 200 years ago, but I can’t seem to let bad theology go, especially when it harms the sheep.

I also know that most readers skim, so please – before you skim, read this paragraph: I have nothing against Mike Pence and his love for his wife and his desire to protect himself as a famous politician with a great deal of power. It seems like a wise thing to do, given his position in our country. So PLEASE don’t think that this post is about that. Also, I don’t know anything about Billy Graham or his rule, having never read his biography. How Billy Graham does things…

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Every Appearance of Evil, and the Billy Graham Rule

Perhaps it is time to look at this again. We need to get this straight. Bad theology always has bad consequences. If you are going to quote a verse, try to get it right at any rate.

My Only Comfort

I’ve been gone and out of the loop for a while. The debate over the so-called “Billy Graham” rule, in light of the comments of Mike Pence, went on without me. That was probably a good thing.

But every generation renews its battle with the horrible interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22. You have probably heard it:

22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1Th 5:22 KJV)

This is generally interpreted by small-minded men as an excuse to avoid interacting for good in the lives of others. When the passage is poorly translated, and taken out of context, it appears as if it is saying that one should avoid doing anything that someone else might take as being evil. Thus, lazy and guilt-ridden men can avoid interaction with “undesireables” and still pretend to take the high ground.

For example, I heard one man say that if he were driving alone down…

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How does God see me?

The day is going to come when Jesus will come again and we will all stand before his judgment throne. We will be judged on our works.

This means that we have a problem. To illustrate that problem, take out a blank sheet of paper. On this sheet of paper, write down every sin, mistake, error in judgment, and failure that you have ever committed.

Wait.

Before you start, put down Adam’s sin in the very first spot. When you were conceived, you already had this one on your account.

Now, start with the things that keep you up at night. The kind words you should have said. The ugly words that you did say. The lingering looks over the girl walking by you and the horrible things that went through your mind.

The time you really enjoyed that tiny piece of gossip, destroying someone with your hateful tongue. Maybe the time that you were unthankful to God and doubted his goodness. Add your road rage, your hateful words at the customer that is standing in your way. Add your thoughts of rage against your server or cashier for being an idiot and a moron.

And those are just the things you did and didn’t do. What about who you are as a person? Your first thought isn’t about the glory of God; it is about your own glory. Your first love isn’t the love of God, it is a love for yourself. You don’t wish your neighbor to have success, even if it means you don’t. You want to be first. You don’t want to worship the God who is; your first thought is to worship a god that you like better than the one true God.

Maybe you try really, really hard to love God. Maybe you really want to be a better person, so you have learned to reign in your tongue.

But you still have sleepless nights, don’t you? You know that when Jesus comes again, all of those thoughts will be revealed to the whole universe so that every mouth will be stopped. There won’t be any more excuses. They weren’t indiscretions; they weren’t inappropriate gestures; they were sins, affronts against almighty God and worth his eternal wrath.

And you can’t do anything about it.

Write them down on your piece of paper. Remember that all of the ones that you missed, or excused, or forgot about, God already has written them down. He will never acquit the guilty.

Now think about Jesus. Look at the law. He kept all of that perfectly. Imagine never once failing to act according to perfect love. Imagine loving God with all of your heart and mind and strength, and never once failing. Never saying a cruel word. Never rejoicing in gossip. Never abusing and defiling, even in his mind.

It’s hard to imagine because we have no experience of it. We don’t know what it is like to NOT be corrupted by sin. But we have the law. We have the proverbs – God’s description of wisdom – a character reference of Jesus, the Wisdom of God made flesh.

Imagine perfect righteousness, spotless holiness, and unflagging wisdom written in a book.

Now you have two ledgers. You have the works that you have done and have failed to do. It’s pretty ugly. And you have the works that Jesus did and the sins that he refused. It is beautiful, wise, holy, without blemish. It is clean.

When Jesus stood before Pilate, Pilate declared him innocent. Pilate knew that he had done nothing deserving of death. As the temporal judge, he bore witness to God’s judgment: Jesus committed no sin and had no guile in his mouth. But because of Pilate’s character and the treachery of the Jews, Pilate condemned him to death anyway. But when it came time to write up the charge and nail it to the cross, Pilate had a problem. He didn’t have anything to write.

So he wrote, “The King of the Jews” in order to insult the Jews. He refused to change it.

God says this:

13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. (Col 2:13-15 KJV)

Even though Pilate had nothing to write on Jesus’ cross, God did. He took that ledger that you just filled out. Your sinful nature, every sin that you committed and every deed of righteousness that you failed to do. God even took the ones that you didn’t add, the ones you didn’t know about, the ones you excused and justified – he took them all and nailed THAT to the cross of Christ.

The charges were against YOU. The condemnation fell on Jesus.

“What thou, my Lord, has suffered

Was all for sinners’ gain

Mine, mine was the transgression,

But thine the deadly pain” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)

What happened to the other ledger – the one with Jesus’ perfect righteousness? It’s the book that is opened when I stand before God on the judgment day. Every work that he did, every perfection, every spotless act of beauty and wisdom, is put on MY account.

It isn’t how much I loved God in this life. It is how much Jesus loved God.

It isn’t how much I desired God or lived a life of Christian hedonism. It is HIS perfect righteousness, faith, and obedience, put on my account.

It isn’t how much I persevered or how tightly I held on. It isn’t about the strength of my faith or the purity of my faith. It is about the strength and purity of my savior. With my empty hands, I cling to him. With my filthy heart, I cry out for mercy. With my sin-filled tongue, I call to Him.

His righteousness is mine. My sin and filth were put to death on his cross, and that puts to death the bondage and power of the devil. That great exchange will always lead to a changed life, but the changed life will always fall far, far short of the righteous requirements of God. The only thing that will EVER stand before God is the perfect righteousness, holiness and satisfaction of Christ put on my account.

If only I accept it with a believing heart.

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