Tag Archives: gospel

The Banner of Love

I’m preparing for Bible study tonight. God reveals himself to us by his names. His name revealed in Exodus 17 is “Jehovah-nissi” – which means, “Jehovah my banner”.

So I am doing a study on the word “banner” and got sidetracked by the Song of Songs.

3 As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
4 He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. (Cant. 2:3-4)

In the history of the church, it has been noticed that there is a parallel between God’s love for his bride and a man’s love for his bride. This parallel is seen in the Song of Songs. In order to understand it, one first has to understand the ordinary language. This is a bride in love, praising her groom and overwhelmed with his love for her.

She sings, “His banner over me is love.” “Banner” in this instance is a flag. It is used as the flag identifying the tribes as they journeyed through Israel, similar to state flags today. A flag is a rallying point, an identification, a symbol that symbolizes the essence of the social structure.

Think about these words. His banner over me is love. Run it through your brain for a moment. Think about a man and a woman in love. Now think about the basis of a marriage covenant. What flag would you put over your covenant that sums it up completely – Authority and submission? Command and obedience? “Two ships that pass in the night?” “Two separate flags” “The male flag held up by a tired woman?”

Or “love”?

Maybe a quick example. Most frequently in CBMW circles, you hear this advice concerning wives and husbands. “A woman gets her say, but if the man and the woman can’t come to an agreement, then she must submit to what he says.” It sounds like good advice. And I know that I am finite and can’t possibly exhaust every possibility, but I cannot, for the life of me, think of an example of how this would work.

When I ask, I get something like this. “He wants to buy a motorcycle. She thinks it is dangerous and a waste of money. They can’t agree. Eventually, she must submit.”

Hmmmm. I guess I see things differently. If the banner over her is love, that brings to mind another question to the husband. “Why do you hate your wife so much that you are willing to cause her so much unrest and unease over something so trivial as a motorcycle?”

Take another example. “He thinks we must homeschool the children. This causes her great anxiety and she does not believe she can do it. They do not agree. She must submit.”

Really? If the banner over her is love, why doesn’t he love her enough to listen to her concerns? Is she not also a believer led by the Holy Spirit? Do her gifts and abilities matter so little to him? Is his commitment to a principle so important that he is willing to sacrifice his wife on that altar?

Do you see where I am going? It changes the question from authority and submission to one of love.

And a simple reading of the Song of Songs will show that true love of a woman is not the same thing as love for a pet or love for a possession. Love is not the attachment one has to property, but value, honor, respect, attraction, desire, longing. It upholds personhood and dignity, choice and opinion. Love desires communication and connection.

And when we have this straight, we have a tiny glimpse into who God is and what Christ has done for us. He also longs for us as we long for him. His banner over ME is love. And yes, this love changes my nature and my affections so that I more and more die unto sin because I know that my beloved hates it. But that is not the same as “authority/submission”. That dynamic was the dynamic of the Old Covenant, which was broken (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

And so, as the great Song prophesied, the Groom comes for his Bride, and his banner over us is love.

Like marriage, this dynamic changes everything.

How you think of your marriage will affect how you think of Jesus. How you think of Jesus will affect how you think of marriage. They go together.

And the question for both is this: Whom do you truly love? Yourself, or your wife?

Yourself, or Jesus Christ. Is your faith simply a love affair that you are having with your own sense of superiority? Or is it a living faith in a living savior? Do you long for the coming of the bridegroom, or are you more concerned about losing your position and your social status.

It’s something to think about, anyway.

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Filed under Gospel, Love, Marriage

By Faith Alone

Scripture Reading

Acts 15:1-35

Sermon

Recently we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It is good to remember history and learn from the mistakes, as well as rejoice in the good things that the Lord has done. But it is also good to remember what Solomon wrote:

10 Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For you do not inquire wisely concerning this. (Eccl. 7:10)

As for me, I confess that I get a little weary at the scholars pontificating about ancient disputes, wrangling over words and living in a world of books and dust and centuries past, while the rest of us live in a world of real hurt and real pain and real sins.

But as I look at the time of the reformation and compare it to our time, I also see a lot of similarities, and our need to recover the gospel is as great as it ever was.

Today, as in the sixteenth century, theology has become the area of the experts, who look in contempt at laymen trying to get involved. Those who have not gone to the right seminaries and read the right books are dismissed and told that they have no right to question people far more educated than they are.

In the sixteenth century, the common people didn’t know how to read and didn’t have Bibles in their homes. Today, we know how to read and have Bibles readily available, but the common people generally don’t crack one open. If they do regular reading, they are at a loss as to how to read and interpret the scripture. The experts have trained them to be dependent upon the teat of the learned. And the people have learned their lessons well. They figure that the experts will tell them what they need to know.

In the sixteenth century, there was an infallible pope, who got rich on the backs of the ignorant. The flimflammery of Tetzel and the selling of indulgences is well-known by students of Reformation history. The medieval church peddled salvation in exchange for money, which prompted Martin Luther to pen his ninety-five theses and post them on the door of the church. Today, there are thousands of “infallible” popes, who are also peddling salvation in exchange for money. If you question one of the learned ones, you will soon pay the price through isolation, ridicule, name-calling, and banishment from the circle of the important ones. Money and power of strong incentives to keep the common people ignorant of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And, just like in the sixteenth century, The true gospel is Jesus Christ is shrouded by a miasma of qualifications, modifiers and conditions. The purity is lost. The beauty is shrouded with impenetrable language. The people of God are left as sheep without a shepherd, wondering if they are truly good enough to inherit the kingdom of God.

To strip away all of the Latin phrases, and the disputes of the wise of this world, the question is put simply – just like this: When God sees me, what does he see?

I tend to view myself as a good person, lovable, kind, generous. Does God see the same thing? I’ve done my best to obey. Sometimes I make mistakes, but will this change how God sees me? If God sees me as a sinner, can I change that? What should I do when I fall short?

Ultimately, it comes down to this. The day will come when I will die. I will meet God. What happens then? Will I be accepted by God? Will I be cast into hell forever? When I die, it will be too late to answer that question. So how can I be sure that I have the right answer BEFORE I die? Can I be sure?

This is the most important question you can ever ask. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this: How are you righteous before God?

To those who are outside of the covenant (what the first century would call a Gentile, a stranger to the covenant promises) the answer is “Just do the best you can and hope for the best.” And many different religions sprang up, trying to answer how to manipulate the gods to get a better afterlife. It is our natural religion. It is the religion of Cain, of Esau, and of Ishmael.

But to those who knew the covenant (the promise that was made to Abraham) they knew that there was a resurrection from the dead, and that the heirs of the promise to Abraham would inherit the new earth.

Today, we call this “heaven”, although it is a little misleading. We know that when the resurrection from the dead happens, all creation will be renewed, including this earth – and we will inherit it. But we also know that nothing unclean, wicked, sinful, will inherit.

So the question remains: When the time comes and we are laid in the dust, how do we know that we will inherit the promise made to Abraham? When the kingdom of God comes in its fulness, will we be a part of it?

How are we righteous before God?

The Jews (that is, the Pharisees at the time of Christ) answered this question with circumcision. Those who are circumcised inherit. Those who keep the law of Moses will inherit the kingdom of God.

At the time of Martin Luther, the Roman church answered: you can’t know for sure, but if you go to confession, do the penance, receive baptism, take mass, and submit to the pope, you can shave off years in purgatory and hope for the best.

But the Bible gives a far different answer. The answer is so contrary to everything that we believe about ourselves and about God that we cannot even see it unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.

How are you righteous before God?

60. How art thou righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart (Heidelberg Catechism).

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which will set you free from the bondage of sin and misery.

But the devil never lets go of his power easily. He is continually at work. The devil is always in the background saying in your ear, “yes, but….”

That is just too easy. You mean you don’t have to do anything? That means that you can just live how you want and it won’t even matter on the judgment day? That can’t be right? I know that you are saved by grace through faith, but you still have to obey God in order to make it into heaven. Otherwise, someone could just live how they want to and say, “I believe” and think they are saved!

I am 50 something years old. This means, in the circles that I have been in in my life, that I have been to fifty something reformation celebrations and conferences. I have heard every angle of Sola Fide (faith alone) my whole life. I have heard from my youth the story of Martin Luther writing in the margins of his Gutenberg Bible “sola” – by Rom. 1:17 (the just shall live by faith).

And I have seen, more and more, as the years have gone by, these same circles adding the “Yes, but…”

You still have to obey, right?

You preach on justification by grace through faith, and you will get the whispered “Amen” and the pious nod, and the muttered, “And obedience, of course….”

We even turned it into a hymn:

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

In the first decade of the 21st century, my father fought the battle when it was called “Federal vision”; you are saved by grace and covenant faithfulness. He said we would have to fight it again, and he was right. The devil always adds the “yes, but…” to the finished work of Jesus Christ.

The “yes, but…” always takes the same form. You are saved by grace alone, but you won’t inherit the kingdom of God unless you add obedience to that faith. Whatever you put in the space of obedience – more love, more submission, more devotions, more, more, more – whatever you add, it doesn’t matter. You are adding something to the completed work of Christ. And when you go there, you have denied the gospel and you have denied Christ.

And this is what the book of Galatians is all about.

On this 500th year after Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church, I thought it would be good for us to remind ourselves of how we are righteous before God. Where is peace to be found? How can I become a better person? How can I put to death the sinful nature that I still see in my life? How can I become more and more like Jesus?

And this is the book of Galatians. Today, I would like to give an overview, so we can see the argument from start to finish, and then I will go back and take it section by section. But I hate things out of context. So I will continually remind you of the context.

On Paul’s first missionary journey, he went to the Roman Province of Galatia and founded many churches. They had heard the gospel gladly and believed.

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, there were many thousands of converts, and the other apostles were busy there. Some of those converts were Pharisees.

The Pharisees misunderstood the sign of circumcision. It was so heavily engrained in the Jews that circumcision was necessary for salvation that they could not fathom it any other way. In Jerusalem, it wasn’t a problem, because everyone was circumcised. But then Paul returns from his journey to Antioch and tells of the marvelous conversions among the Gentiles.

And they weren’t circumcised! It is somewhat hard for us to imagine how shocking this must have been to the converted Pharisees in Jerusalem. They had heard the promises in the Old Testament – how God would bring the gentiles to the light. But the idea of circumcision had been engrained so deeply into them for 2,000 years, that they just assumed that this meant that Gentiles would also be circumcised and keep the calendars, feast days, and rituals of the Jews.

So as Paul is in Antioch, some of these Pharisees came down to the church there and started insisting that every new Gentile convert become circumcised, or they couldn’t be saved. They also pretended to be sent by the apostles in Jerusalem. In this pretense, they said that Paul wasn’t sent by any apostles, so he was less authoritative than they were. We are sent by the apostles. He wasn’t. Listen to us, not to him.

Paul the Apostle, saw that this was actually far deeper than it appeared on the surface. It would have been easy to cave and to avoid all sorts of strife. But he knew what was at stake:

If circumcision was necessary for salvation, then Jesus is not a savior. He didn’t actually save anyone. He just made salvation possible – if you add a ritual or a work or something to it. But if Jesus truly saves us from our sins, then we are actually and truly saved. And if we are truly saved, nothing else needs to be added.

If it is necessary to be circumcised, then Christ died for nothing. And in the place of circumcision, you can add any work you like, the theology is the same. If it is necessary for you to do ANYTHING to inherit eternal life, then Jesus died for nothing. We could have just saved ourselves if we had had the right motivation.

If circumcision was necessary, then Christianity was just another sect of Judaism, and just another religion that teaches another way to do something to gain God’s favor.

This is what was at stake. The church at Antioch understood the issues and, together with the church in Jerusalem, they called a council to be held in Jerusalem to examine the issue. We read about this in Acts 15.

Paul returns with the decree. We aren’t laying any burdens on you. You also are led by the Spirit. You also are righteous before God. You have all that you need.

The four stipulations that they add are out of concern for harmony in the church. They are not four works that you must add to the completed work of Christ, as Paul will explain in Galatians. Rather, they are simply instructions for how Jewish and Gentile converts should live together in harmony. They had never done that in thousands of years.

So Paul returns with that decree. But the Pharisees still added their “yes, but…” to the council’s decree. They continued up to Galatia. They continued to slander Paul, saying that he wasn’t sent by any apostle and he had the gospel wrong. To the gospel of Jesus Christ, they substituted their false gospel – that it was necessary for new converts to be circumcised in order to be saved.

When Paul heard that the churches of Galatia were starting to be troubled and believe what they were hearing, he wrote this epistle. His purpose was to explain the decision of the Jerusalem council, warning the sheep about the denial of the gospel that was taking place and teaching Christians of every age how to answer this question: “When I stand before God, will I be judged a sinner or will I be judged righteous”? How can I know for sure?

When you answer that question right, everything else flows from there.

Salvation by grace alone through faith alone doesn’t ever do away with the law of God. It establishes the law. In fact, it is the only way to actually begin to keep the law, as Paul will argue in chapters 5 and 6.

First, God is not interested in man-made rules. So we can immediately throw away all relics, saints, kissing hands and toes, masses, purity balls, and the other rituals – whatever they are.

But what about God’s law, summarized in the Ten Commandments. Doesn’t God require that we keep them? Then how can you say that salvation is by grace through faith alone?

When you understand the nature of God’s law, the question becomes more clear. God is not interested in outward obedience, for God sees the heart. A command can be obeyed out of fear or out of desire for reward, but God wants hearts that love him. How can you love God with all of your heart if there is even one part of you that believes that God is just waiting for you to mess up so he can throw you into hell forever? If you are not righteous before God, then love is impossible, for you cannot see God except as a terrifying judge. This is a God to flee from, not a God to love.

But the gospel is a changed heart, not a check-list.

15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (Gal. 6:15)

Paul begins by defending his call against the lies of the usurpers. He isn’t just making up a man-made religion; but is bringing the very words of God as an apostle of Jesus Christ. It is true that he wasn’t sent by the apostles. He didn’t even confer with them. He was commissioned directly by Christ.

His point is this: You have the gospel directly from God through my mouth. If anyone tells you otherwise, I don’t care who they are, let them be anathema. This whole “appeal to authority” is useless!

In fact, even Peter got it wrong. He was visiting Antioch and when these Pharisees arrived he chickened out. He even left the table of the Gentiles to eat with the Jews!

Paul says, in effect, “I didn’t care that this was Peter. I rebuked him, because he was wrong.”

Since the time of the reformation, there have been many who have said “yes, but…” to salvation by faith alone. They can find many quotes in many sources: Puritans, Dutch reformed, Presbyterians. Since 1517 There have been many who have succumbed to the temptation to revert to our natural religion and add the “Yeah, but…” to the finished work of Christ. Just like the Judaizers troubling Galatia, they quote authorities, seeking to drown out the opposition with contempt and verbiage, seeking to silence opposition through intimidation. You don’t know what you are talking about. Just keep quiet and let the experts deal with this.

And Paul responds with this:

8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:8)

After he establishes that the gospel is from God and not up for debate, he expresses his shock that they so quickly denied Christ. He explains what he means in chapters 3 and 4.

They want to add circumcision and make it necessary for salvation. So he breaks that down. Did they forget what the promise to Abraham actually was and who qualified for it? The law requires this:

3 Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place?

4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully.

5 He shall receive blessing from the LORD, And righteousness from the God of his salvation.

(Ps. 24:3-5)

Pure means pure; No admixture of sin. A little bit of poison is still deadly, even if the water it is mixed in is pure. A little leaven leavens everything. A little sin ruins every chance of standing before God. Only those pure in all of their thoughts and clean in all of their actions can stand before God. So, you who think you can add to Christ, think of the last work that you did. Can it really stand before God? Just that one work? If you said “Yes” then you can add lying and pride to that work. Now where are you?

This is why the promise was given to Abraham’s seed. Not seeds. Seed. There was only one who qualified, and the only way for you to qualify is if you are found in him. And you are united to him only by the Holy Spirit.

And how do you receive the Spirit, by keeping the law, or by faith?

The first option (keeping the law, doing things, earning rewards) Paul calls “the flesh”. It is our natural religion, which we inherited from Adam. If I do good things, or at least better things than Abel, God will be forced to let me back in to Eden. This is the flesh. The second, righteousness of another received by faith, is called the “spirit”.

The flesh is what we bring out of our own treasury. It is our will-power, our choices, our decisions, our law-keeping, our own purity. It’s what we inherited from Adam.

The spirit is what we received by our new birth. It is our complete reliance on the finished and perfect work of Christ for all that is necessary for our salvation.

And Paul says this:

3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Gal. 3:3)

And there is the theme of the book. The idea that you must add obedience to the completed work of Christ is called the flesh, and you won’t ever get what you think you will get from the flesh.

You think you will get purity and righteousness and something that you can offer to God. Instead you will get uncleanness of every kind:

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

And every church that teaches that we must add to Christ’s work, no matter what it is they say must be added, is full of oppression, adultery, fornication, witchcraft, hatred, etc. God said that is exactly what it will bring, and we have seen it for 2000 years.

Tetzel, the peddler of forgiveness of sins in Luther’s day, was also a grand inquisitor of Poland. He tortured, raped, slaughtered, raged against the weak and helpless in his lusts for power.

And so also today. We have come so far from the gospel, that the churches are full of all sorts of wickedness – just as Paul said.

What do we want instead? We as Christians want to please God. And here is a promise for all who hunger after righteousness.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)

Fruit is not something that is added to make the tree good. Fruit grows naturally from a healthy tree. And the health of the tree only comes from union with Christ by faith. You can’t hold to Christ and to your own righteousness at the same time. You can’t ever get there by seeking to add to the finished work of Christ. You can only get there by confessing how far away you are, and asking again for the gift of the Spirit, rejoicing that all of your sins are truly forgiven and that you are an heir of eternal life, because Christ died for you and you have already been crucified with him.

The more we understand that, the more we will see the fruit of the spirit in our lives. Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control.

And when those are perfected, the law is kept naturally, as birds fly and fish swim. This will be our state in heaven. There won’t be laws on stone, because they will be written completely on the heart.

So the gospel isn’t at all contrary to the law of God. Those who say so are the least in the kingdom of heaven. The law is actually established by the law. This is what Jesus meant when he said

Unless your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

In all of their striving to make sure the law was kept, they instead kept none of it. They were murderers and liars who tithed mint and anise and cumin.

Is that actually what God desires? How can we be so foolish?

So Paul concludes with this:

14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (Gal. 6:14-15)

This is what circumcision actually pointed to. Everything unclean must be cut off. But this is what the Holy Spirit is doing now, in the lives of all who come to him empty handed. God isn’t interested in what ritual these old, cursed, bodies went through. All of this fades into dust. We are dying men among dying men, and need to stop pretending otherwise.

Salvation is Christ alone. By faith alone. By grace alone. There is nothing more to be added, nothing more to be done. When we have that right, that is the beginning of new life, a new creature, for we have eternal life and it has begun already.

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Filed under Faith, Gospel, Work

Wretched, Miserable, Poor, Blind, Naked

15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot.

16 ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

17 ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,

18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.

19 ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.

(Rev. 3:15-19)

We have a rich heritage. On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church on the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins. This courageous act sparked the Protestant Reformation. Soon, John Calvin followed by publishing his great work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. The Reformed Churches were formed. Creeds, catechisms and confessions were written.

Today we have the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, and the little book that has such a cherished place in our hearts: the Heidelberg Catechism.

A rich heritage is a tremendous blessing. But a rich heritage does not leave us immune to the attacks of Satan. It does not leave us immune from the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. There is a great danger that is lurking for churches with a rich heritage.

To warn each of us away from this danger, Jesus speaks to the church of the Laodiceans. They also had a rich heritage. They were founded by the apostles. It is likely that Paul himself preached there. They had embraced God’s word and embraced Christ. They were part of a rich circle of churches that were the bulwark of Christianity in the area now known as Turkey.

They were also very wealthy in material things. God had greatly prospered the city, including the church within the city. Laodicea was a tremendously influential and wealthy Roman city.

But now something is very wrong. Jesus himself addresses them. There is something so wrong here that Jesus says that he is about to vomit them up.

He uses a metaphor to explain to them what their problem is. He calls them “lukewarm”. Perhaps He is referring to the mineral waters that were piped in from nearby hot springs. Perhaps he is speaking of the drinking water piped in from the nearby fresh water springs. By the time Laodicea got these waters, they were lukewarm and disgusting.

Hot water is good. Cold water is good. Tepid water is disgusting – especially tepid mineral waters. It is good for nothing but to be spat up. It makes the stomach sick.

It is tempting to simply exegete the word “lukewarm” and to ignore the rest of the text. Many sermons on this text do just that. A sermon on this text generally involves telling the congregation that they need to be hot for Jesus. Either be passionate about God or an outright unbeliever, but tepid Christianity is sickening.

They are right to a certain extent. But the text itself does not define what “hot” is, or what “cold” is. “Hot” and “cold” are simply used to contrast with “lukewarm”. Lukewarm water is neither therapeutically hot, nor is it refreshingly cool. It is simply sickening. Since the text is silent on the meaning of cold and hot, it would do no good to speculate. It is not actually necessary to know what hot and cold are in order to understand the message of the Lord, for the text does tell us clearly what is meant by “lukewarm”.

The reason, Jesus says, that Laodicea is “lukewarm” is because they say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.”

The problem is this. The Laodiceans have lied to themselves. They said that they were rich and didn’t need anything, when the reality was far different. They weren’t rich. They were “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.”

Jesus is probably referring to a recent event as an illustration of the problem. In 60 AD, Laodicea had suffered a tremendous earthquake. The Empire had offered assistance, but the town refused. They said, “We have need of nothing. We are rich”.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. We should try not to be a burden to others. It is a good thing to labor so that we have enough to give to those who have need (Eph. 4:28).

But here was the problem: this attitude crept into the church. They began to think of themselves as rich, in need of nothing. They were all “good Christians”. The preaching of the gospel that the preacher does is good – but it is good for those “others”. “We, of course, are rich. The sinners need to hear it. A sinner is a poor unfortunate that really needs Christ – not like us, of course. We are rich.”

A rich heritage is a blessing. But too often it turns into pride. We begin to think that we are somehow a little holier, a little wiser and a little better that those “others” out there. Soon we begin to sound like the Pharisee in the front of the church, looking boldly into heaven and saying, “I thank God I am not like other men”.

Soon, like the Laodiceans, we begin to believe what every child of Adam believes deep in his heart: I am rich, and have need of nothing. “I’ve accepted Jesus into my heart. I learned the catechism when I was a kid. I was baptized. I am in church every Sunday. I really don’t need anything. I am rich.”

But this is a lie. And Jesus is about to vomit them out of his mouth.

For the reality is that the Laodiceans were not rich. They were wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked – just as all of us are.

Learning the catechism is a good thing. Learning theology from the wise pastors who have gone before is a good thing. Being reformed is a good thing. But these are only good things if they constantly remind us that we are NOT rich, but in continual, desperate need of a savior. We have never gone a moment – even AFTER we became Christians – when we have not deserved God’s eternal wrath against sin. And our misery is such that we are blinded to our own sins – even now!

This is why God put us all in churches – because we need to be constantly reminded that we are not really the cat’s meow. We are not “all that”. We are not the pinnacles of virtue and wisdom that we like to think we are. God is not “lucky” that we came to church today and put our tithes in the offering plate. We are really wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.

This is why we learned the catechism when we were young. This is why the catechism has been so beloved for so long. It continually reminds us how great our sin and misery is, and how great our saviour is. The more we know, the more we offer our lives as living sacrifices of thanksgiving to God.

But at no time in our lives, from the cradle to the grave, can we ever say, “We are rich, and have need of nothing.” We know this in our own consciences. Our consciences still daily accuse us that we have “grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and are still prone always to all evil.”

We confess this with our mouths. But do we confess this in our innermost being? Whether we are new Christians or have been Christians our whole lives, do we still say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”? Or is our attitude, “I am rich, and have need of nothing.”

We can argue with Solomon’s wisdom on the total depravity of man, and astutely apply the doctrine to politicians, celebrities, musicians, pastors and everyone in the pew next to us – but refuse to apply it to ourselves. Too often we act as if everyone else is wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked and we ourselves are rich, and have need of nothing.

This is why God so strictly enjoined the Ten Commandments upon us. Not so that we can pat ourselves on the back for our good efforts, but so we may always learn more and more of our sinful nature and so the more earnestly seek forgiveness of sins and righteousness of Christ.

Which is exactly what Jesus tells the Laodiceans to do (verse 18): “Buy from me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments that you may be clothed…and anoint your eyes with eye-salve that you may see.”

As long as we stubbornly refuse to confess our poverty, we will never know the riches that are found only in Christ. As long as we continue to take pride in the fig leaves that we have sewn together in the vain attempt to cover our shame, we will never know the white garments that come only from Christ. As long as we clamp our eyes shut while shouting “We see!”, we remain blind and have no part in the tremendous freedom that comes from open eyes.

And this is not a good place to be. Jesus says he will vomit you up. But Jesus is patient, and he pleads with us. It is not enough to simply admit that you are a sinner and then expect the world to deal with it. Rather, Jesus tells us that if we really are poor, naked, and blind then we are to DO something about it. “Buy from me,” he says.

But how do you buy gold and raiment and eye-salve when you are as poor as the Bible says you are?

Isaiah answers this question for us:

“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance” (Isa. 55:1-2).

Our fallen nature uses all of the wealth that we think we have to purchase those things that we think will quench our thirst. But the only thing that can cover our nakedness, quench our thirst, and make us rich is offered to us for free.

We seek to alleviate powerlessness and loneliness through adultery and fornication, because we refuse to see that Jesus was forsaken by all so that we might never be alone.

We covet and steal because we have forgotten that Jesus gave up the riches of heaven so that we may become richer than we can even imagine.

We fight and cause division and strife in order to gain recognition, acceptance and significance, because we forget that he was outcast as a criminal, made himself of no reputation, and crucified among thieves so that we might be “accepted in the beloved”.

We are anxious and full of worry about the future because we forget that he rose from the dead and is even now sitting at the right hand of God, ruling over all things for the good of the church.

We have not, because we ask not. We ask not because we think we are rich, and in need of nothing.

This disease is prevalent: none of us is immune. It is deadly: we cannot believe that we have need of nothing and have any part in Christ. It is deceptive: we don’t even know how pervasive it is in our own souls.

But Jesus will never allow any of his sheep to perish. Therefore he says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”

Since the disease is common to every child of Adam, the cure is applied to every member of Christ: it is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of heaven. It is through tribulation and trials that we learn by the grace of God just how miserable, wretched, poor, blind and naked we really are. It is when those trials that we cannot solve come upon us that we understand how utterly lacking in wisdom we really are. It is only when the armies of Sennacherib surround us that we realize our helplessness and danger. Only when we are brought face to face with giants do we fall on our faces and cry out, “Lord, save us!”

But we are also stubborn. Our tendency is to refuse the yoke and kick against the pricks. So Jesus says, “Repent”. In other words, stop thinking the way that you normally think and remember the promises of God. In hard times, our tendency is to complain, doubting God’s goodness. We struggle letting our idols go. We still think that we can fix this if only we were smarter, wiser, or better people. It is precisely this that Jesus commands us to repent from. For the bread that we seek is free. The clothing that we need is free. The wisdom that we so desperately long for is free.

God brings us face to face with giants that are so formidable that we have no weapons that are any match against them. We have no armies coming over the hills to back us up. We have no strategy that will overcome. Retreat is impossible. Advance is suicide. We stand on the mountain with Barak and a host of farmers with sticks, while the valley below is full of chariots of iron, undefeatable soldiers and horses without number. What can be done? Why does God bring us to that point?

He brings us to that point because he loves us. He calls us to quit thinking that we are smart enough, strong enough and rich enough to overcome anything. As long as we say that we are rich and in need of nothing, we will never know the strength of Jesus Christ, our king.

Jesus uses a figure of speech to plead with us (verse 20). This passage does not speak of the universal call of the gospel. He is not saying to “invite Jesus into your hearts”. That sentiment is meaningless and foreign to the text. He is speaking to the ones whom he loves (verse 19) that would rather dine alone on the empty waste of their own wisdom and strength than admit their nakedness and fall before their king. He is speaking to those in the churches with rich heritages who are too wise, too righteous and too astute to need a savior.

He is not unwilling to save. He is standing at the door and knocking. He is pleading with the church to stop spending their money on that which isn’t bread, and open the door.

The Reformed Churches have a rich heritage. But something happened. The seminaries began to turn out pastors who were too wise to need a resurrected saviour. They were too righteous to need a crucified Lord. They were too strong to need an ascended Christ. These pastors inflicted the churches. They denied the resurrection, the incarnation, and eventually denied that Jesus ever existed at all. Soon the sound of knocking became the sound of retching, and Jesus vomited them up, just as He promised. The landscape of Europe and the United States became littered with useless, vain, empty churches that once proudly proclaimed their rich heritage. The dead fly of human wisdom and strength caused the ointment to stink, and Jesus removed the candlestick.

But for all who open the door, who remember their poverty and wretchedness, Jesus makes a tremendous promise. He will come in and dine with them.

Only when we are in fellowship with Christ can we soar with eagles’ wings. And we can only be in fellowship with Christ if we never forget that we ourselves are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. But when we come to Christ again in our poverty and need, we find that we do not dine alone. Indeed, he prepares a table for us even in the presence of our enemies, and causes us to rest safely in green pastures.

When we are in fellowship with Christ, we are truly flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones. His death was our death. The law has no more hold on us, for we have been crucified with him. His resurrection is our resurrection. We are no longer in bondage to the curse for we have been raised again to new life. And his triumph is our triumph. Where the head goes, the body goes. So he says, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21).

This is our rich heritage. Victory is not in our wisdom, nor our strength, nor the ingenuity of our fig-leaves, but only in the mercy of Christ. It isn’t in “accepting Jesus into your heart”, whatever that means. It isn’t in masses, submission to the pope or confession to a priest. It isn’t in the rituals of the church, nor is it in military strength.

Victory only lies in falling down again before our Lord and crying out, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

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Abuse and Conspiracy Theories

Once again, I am being bullied into “taking a stance” on conspiracy theories. I wish it would stop.

There are certain advocates of abuse victims that write about satanic ritual abuse, conspiracies to molest children, satanic rituals in high places, and so on. I don’t pay a lot of attention, so I don’t know if I know all of the details. I don’t have an opinion as to what they should do or what they should write.

But I have publicly separated from certain groups over it, so I thought I would explain again – as it tends to crop up again. This is just me. I have no intention of dictating what anyone else should do. This is my own conviction.

So here are a few points on my conviction.

  1. I have no doubt whatsoever that great evil exists in high places. I have no doubt that there is indeed ritual satanic abuse, pedophile abuse, conspiracies to cover up and deny the most horrific acts that mankind can commit. That is called “Total depravity” and I have always confessed it and believe it.
  2. I also believe that those with great power in the church and in the state commit great wickedness. It has always been that way.
  3. That being said, I also know that Satan thrives on fear, superstition, unrest, and suspicion. Scripture warns us against that as well. If he can sidetrack us with rumors of symbols, rituals, secret handshakes, hidden messages, then he can convince us that God is not powerful and good, and that Satan is truly in charge of this world.
  4. Satan also thrives on gossip and slander.
  5. Christ has defeated the enemy through his death and resurrection. It is the proclamation of the gospel that casts out all demonic activity, no matter what form it takes (Luke 10; Rev. 12)

So with these points in mind, here is my commitment:

I will not spread around any reports of Satanic ritual abuse, hidden messages, names of “Satan worshipers”, secret pictures, handshakes, conspiracies, rituals, or such like.

I also will have nothing to do with the propagation of such things.

It is NOT because I do not believe that they exist. It is because I believe that darkness thrives on fear, superstition and unrest, and I will not give that to them.

My calling as a preacher of the gospel is to proclaim deliverance and peace through the blood of Christ, not become a sounding board of the restless, superstitious and fearful.

Furthermore, if I spread around the reports that Pastor so and so is involved in ritual abuse, or President so and so eats children in his satanic rituals – these things MAY INDEED BE TRUE! – but if I pass them along I will only accomplish giving more power and more authority to the devil than he actually has. If these things are NOT true, however, I am guilty of great sin in the eyes of God.

I ask myself, when it comes to the latest conspiracy theory – is it true? (almost always I cannot know for certain.) If it is, is it edifying? (almost always, it is simply providing fodder for the gawking crowds). Will it accomplish any good? (Almost certainly not.)

So why would I involve myself in matters beyond me – matters of darkness and great wickedness? The only thing that will defeat such things is the proclamation of the gospel, which is what I do anyway – on a daily basis.

It is one thing to write strongly about heresy or error, refuting someone’s own words. I do that frequently, and will continue to expose satanic doctrines and bad theology. But it is quite another to accuse someone second or third hand of horrible crimes based upon the word of someone you have never met. I have no knowledge of those crimes firsthand, and am quite aware of Total Depravity in bearing false witness, and the thrill of a really juicy story, and will have no part of it. The few times that I have shared on social media someone else’s story I have almost always regretted it.

I do not need to be a crusader against every evil simply because someone demands that I do so. Some abysses I have no interest in exploring, and would suggest that you all do the same.

If someone in my acquaintance or in my congregation suffers from severe satanic abuse, I would believe them. I would tell them the gospel. I would comfort them with Christ and his death and resurrection, and the promise of the second coming and judgment. I will never, ever underestimate the power in the blood of Christ, or his authority as the King of kings, and Lord of lords.

If it were possible, I would support them reporting crimes to the proper authorities.

But I would NEVER encourage or support their taking their accusations to social media to titillate and tickle the ears of the mob. There are already too many sons of Sceva out there. We don’t need more.

14 Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.
15 And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”
16 Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
17 This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
18 And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. (Acts 19:14-18 NKJ)

Do you see how the powers of darkness were overcome? Magnifying the Lord Jesus, confessing sins, believing the gospel.

8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy– meditate on these things. (Phil. 4:8 NKJ)

There is tremendous power in the blood of Christ. I will not get sidetracked by “satanic symbols”, rituals, cults, rings, filth of every kind and other stories designed to titillate the readers. I had enough of that in the 70s with the whole “backmasking” thing. No more. Nothing good comes of it. There is already too much unrest in the world.

This is not a flight from reality. It is the exaltation of the light over the forces of darkness. The gospel alone drives out the darkness, and that is my calling.

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The Sabbath and Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something to think about.

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Enslaved to the opinions of men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does that mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Proverbs 31 thoughts

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.

Get wisdom.

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.

(Pro 31:10-11)

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.
(Pro 3:13-18)

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.

(Pro 31:10-11)

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.

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God Sees

When the church was at its lowest point; when Israel was in hard bondage in Egypt; when they had no strength, no future, no hope…

We read this:

24 So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

25 And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.(Exo 2:24-25)

God uses our language to speak to us. He desires to impress upon us that he always hears the cries of his people. How can an infinite, almighty, everywhere-present God communicate to us?

We are finite, complex, multi-faceted, creatures of space and time. And God is none of those things.

So how does he speak to us? He uses our words. Eventually the word of God would become flesh, condescending to us so that we might know God. Eventually, that word, our Lord Jesus, would come and be the mediator of the covenant – fulfilling it all in our place. Our sins are put away in him that we might know God.

But until that day, God will speak by analogy.

He hears our groaning. Our pain rises to him. He who knew no sin and no oppression and no suffering hears the groans of his people.

He remembers. He doesn’t forget, but he does remember. He “brings to mind” what he promises. He will never forget his word for he cannot lie. But there are certainly times when it appears as if he hides his face from us.. But take heart. He has not forgotten his covenant. The Seed has crushed the head of the Serpent. Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved, for God remembers his covenant.

He looks with compassion – it is far more than simply seeing. He sees with compassion; he enters into our space and time and sees our afflictions. He does not delight in our suffering, although it is the just consequence of sin. But where sin abounded, grace super-abounded! He delivers us from all of our oppressors and afflictions because he looks upon us.

And he knows us. He knows us intimately. He loves us with everlasting, eternal, unbreakable love in Jesus Christ. We know this, not because we feel it in our hearts, but because he tells us. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

And when he speaks he cannot lie. He doesn’t change his mind. There is not a secret corner of our soul that he doesn’t know, for he knows his people intimately. He knows us and he gives us eternal life, for it is his desire that we know him.

Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”

When you lie awake at night recounting all of your sins, tossing in your bed; when you wonder about your life – am I in sin? Does God really love me? Am I really a believer? Am I truly one of God’s children?

Remember this – God hears you, he remembers his promise, he sees you, and he knows you.

It doesn’t feel like that all the time. In fact, in this valley of tears called life there seems to be more weeping and sighing than laughter.

We sigh and groan because of oppression. We cry out because of illness and pain. We lift our voices up to heaven because of sin and misery. And we sigh because we are not yet home and long for the appearing of our Lord Jesus.

And yet, he has promised to prepare a place for us. And he will wipe away all tears because he hears our groaning. He will take away the curse, for he remembers his covenant. He will cast death and hell into the lake of fire, because he looks upon our affliction. And he will dwell with us forever and be our God, and we will be his people – for he knows us.

That is truly something to be thankful for.

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Filed under Gospel, Hope

Rahab and the Gospel

(Joshua 2:4-6)  4 And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were:
  5 And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them.
  6 But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof.

For reasons unknown to me, those in Reformed circles continually discuss the ethical problems posed by Rahab.

According to the strict reading of the account, she did not tell the truth to the officials who asked where the spies were. To not mince words, she lied.

Here is the problem. In her lie, she saved the lives of the men. In saving the lives of the men, she saved her own life and the lives of her family. And, to take it one step further, the scripture itself commends Rahab for her lie and states that it was done in faith.

(James 2:25) 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

So here is the ethical dilemma, for those who are wired for disputes over the law: Did Rahab sin when she lied?

On the one hand, we certainly do not want to say that the Ten Commandments are situational. Committing adultery and murder are wrong, no matter what the situation is. And the devil that is a liar. God’s people are to be people of the truth.

On the other hand, Rahab’s only other option was to say nothing or to tell the truth – either way, she would have condemned the spies to death and condemned herself and her family along with them.

So which is it? The debate will continue forever.

But may I suggest that the debate itself is wrong. The accounts of scripture are not given to us as moral tales. The point of Rahab is not the importance of truth telling. When you look at these accounts as moral fables as is done by countless children’s Sunday School books, you miss the point. The Old Testament is not a McGuffey reader or the Aesop’s fables of Israel. Jesus said all of scripture is about HIM.

All scripture is given to point us to Christ. Let’s look at the account of Rahab through the lens of the New Testament, as the apostles would have us do.

(Hebrews 11:31)  31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

Let’s put the account in its proper place. The people of God, the nation of Israel, was bringing the judgment of God to Jericho. They were being led by Christ himself, the Captain of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5:14). Utter destruction was the plan. The city of Jericho knew it, for they trembled at their arrival. Rahab testified that there was no more courage in the whole city. Judgment was upon them.

Rahab only had one chance – side with the people of God, and perhaps God in his mercy would spare her. The only other option was destruction.

We could, by the way, endlessly speculate on other options, but scripture does not. These are the only options in scripture.

When the official came to Rahab’s door, it was not an ethical exercise. It was very, very real. Save the lives of the spies and be spared yourself. Or hold on to your own self-righteousness and die.

Now was not the time for self-righteousness. Now was the time to choose a side. Throw in your hand with God’s people and the promised seed? Or be destroyed with the whole city?

So let me suggest reading this account through the eyes of faith, and learning from the example of Rahab, as the writer of Hebrews would have us do.

This world is heading for judgment as certainly as Jericho was. This judgment will begin in the house of God, and is already taking place. Incest, abuse, rape, oppression, spiritual bullying, extortion, casting out the widow and orphan take place continually – in the Church of God. Judgment is coming. And if this is the state of the church, how much worse is the state of those outside? When the salt has lost it’s savor, what will it be salted with?

Perhaps, as Rahab did, now is the time to say, “Lord, have mercy on us!” and cling to Christ, as Rahab did. Rahab saw his coming by faith and rejoiced. The Pharisees bickered over the law.

Paul wrote:

(Philippians 3:8-9)  8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
  9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Perhaps now is the time to exalt Christ, cling to him by faith, and count our own “righteousness” as dung. Remember that Rahab was a harlot – not exactly a moral paragon. Just as each one of us, we either receive the mercy of God, or we die on our sins. Now is not the time to bicker over the law. Now is the time to flee to Christ, as Rahab did.  Her choice was to either cling onto some weird self-righteousness (at least I don’t lie) and die. Or come to Christ in the shadow of the spies and live.

She chose to live – to count her own righteousness as dung, that she might gain Christ and know the power of his resurrection.

That – it seems to me – is the point of the account. The rest we can argue over until doomsday, but it doesn’t seem to be to be a fruitful use of time.

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Filed under Gospel, Union with Christ

My only comfort

For three weeks now, I have been sitting beside my daughter’s bedside in the hospital. I have documented the journey on my facebook page. But, long story short, she was finally diagnosed with herpes Simplex 1 encephalitis. It is rare, brutal, ugly, with a high fatality rate. You can find all of the details on wikipedia so I won’t give them here.

But I would like to document here some of my thoughts, now that I am getting them together.

Yesterday was an awesome day. She’s eating with a full appetite. Pizza, fries, mashed potatoes, ice cream…

This morning, she said, “heyo dad!” when I walked in. It is really fabulous.

But that is the limit of her words. The virus has caused damage in the part of the brain that processes speech – but she is young and the brain is remarkable. We are hopeful.

When you look death right in the face, when your loved ones go through trials like this one, you learn to say things like this:

What is thy only comfort in life and in death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own but belong to my faithful savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sin and redeemed me from all the power of the devil, and so preserves me that without the will of my father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head….(Heidelberg Catechism, Q1)

We have trivialized Christianity into a political movement, a culture war, a movement of power rather than a cry of helplessness.

We have become a church of moral busybodies, so concerned about what others are doing and so afraid of everything…and we forget that there are real things to actually fear.

And when we forget the real curse that is on the world, we turn Christianity into a weird ethical system that is all about homeschooling, courtship, virginity, tattoos and earrings and power plays and making sure women “know their place” and we forget that it is about redemption.

Because bondage is real, death is real, the curse is real, my sins are real.

I don’t need to win a culture war. I need a savior.

I don’t need an ethical movement. I need a savior.

I don’t need moral busybodies. I need a savior.

When you forget that, then you are no longer a Christian in your thinking.

When you stare death in the face, that is when you remember the power of the resurrection. That is when you know what Paul meant when he said that he counts everything else as dung that he might know Christ and the power of his resurrection.

And thank you, Great Physician, that my little girl is eating and saying “Heyo, Dad!”

Thank you, Shepherd of Israel, that her face lights up when her friends visit.

And thank you, Father of Lights, for the light in her eyes.

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Filed under Encephalitis journey